House of Commons
Thursday 27 June 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire in the room of Christopher Paul Davies, against whom, since his election for the said County constituency, a recall petition has been successful.—(Julian Smith.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Future Relationship: Public Vote
The Government’s position on a second referendum has not changed.
I am sorry to hear that. Brexit was supposed to deliver frictionless trade, the exact same benefits as the single market and the customs union and an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, but the Prime Minister was not able to deliver and any actual Brexit deal will fall far short of those promises. Should not the voters get the choice between proceeding on the basis of whatever deal is actually available or remaining?
The voters in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, such as those at Tate and Lyle, should get the choice. Eight hundred and fifty people work at Tate and Lyle in his constituency. It is a business that has suffered because of the EU protectionism applied to sugar beet and a business where 19,000 lorries bringing sugar in could be transferred if we moved to cane. He should be listening to voices such as those at Tate and Lyle who want to see us leave because they see what the voters who voted to leave the EU saw, which is the opportunities that Brexit will unlock.
Prior to the referendum, the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and for Wokingham (John Redwood) and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), none of whom are in their places today—no women are on the Conservative Benches either—plus Nigel Farage from outside this House all argued that, if the result were close, we would have to have a confirmatory referendum to be sure. Three years on from parliamentary stalemate on a deal that the EU will not reopen and in a process that involves election law illegality, surely they had a point, as does the Chancellor who says that a people’s vote is perfectly credible. To break the logjam, the will of the people should now prevail.
The hon. Lady talks about a people’s vote. What she really means is a politicians’ vote. What she should do is listen to the voice of people such as John Curtice, a very respected voice, who wrote on 23 June:
“Our poll of polls of how people would vote in another referendum continues to report that the country is more or less evenly divided between remain and leave, much as it was three years ago.”
There are 19,000 EU nationals in my Kensington constituency who have no say over their future post Brexit. They pay their tax, but they have no voice apart from mine. How can I reassure my constituents that I and those who do have a vote will be able to make their representations on the deal?
It is a slightly odd position to take to be talking about how people can be heard in their vote by overturning a vote in which people are seeking to be heard. We have had three questions, all from London MPs, ignoring the fact that, across the nine regions of England, eight voted to leave and only one voted to remain. It is time that we heard more than the voice of London from the Labour Benches.
Perhaps a representative of Leeds might ask a question.
One of the arguments for going back to the people is the economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Over the past three weeks, the Select Committee has been taking evidence from the leading industrial sectors of the country representing great British success stories, and we asked them what a no-deal Brexit would mean for them. They said that it would lead to prohibitively high tariffs on farmers and medicine shortages. They said that it would be disastrous, the worst possible option. In the words of Make UK, it would be
“nothing short of an act of economic vandalism”.
Does the Secretary of State support leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October, and, if so, what would he say to those industries?
What I say is, it is better to leave with a deal. That has always been my position, which is why I have consistently voted for a deal. The question for the right hon. Gentleman is why, although his party’s manifesto said that he would respect the referendum result, he is against leaving with no deal and is also against leaving with a deal. The truth is that he wants to remain, and he should be candid about that.
On Monday the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister a question, but unfortunately she did not answer it, so I am just going to ask the Secretary of State the same question. What would be worse: crashing out with no deal in October, or putting this issue back to the people for a final say?
What would be worse is going back on the democratic decision of the British people—the 17.4 million people who voted to leave. We are committed to honouring that result. The question for the Opposition is: if they do not want to leave on a no-deal basis, why have they consistently voted against a deal when the EU itself says that it is the only deal on the table?
This is questions for the Government, not the Opposition. My grandfather fought in the second world war, and then served in Malaya. When he returned to the UK, he worked at ICI on Teesside. In 2019, there are 7,500 people working in the chemical industry on Teesside. I ask the Secretary of State to put himself in the shoes of one of those workers. For that worker, which is worse: no deal or a second referendum?
The point about the second referendum—[Interruption.] Which is worse? I have answered this question many times. The choice the hon. Lady presents me with would actually be between no deal and no Brexit, for which a second referendum is a proxy because, as the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) has said, a second vote is actually a stop Brexit referendum. If a Member on the shadow Minister’s own Benches can be honest about that, she should be equally candid. In answer to her question, between those two options, I think no Brexit is worse than no deal. No deal would be disruptive, and I have been clear about that to colleagues in my party, but the shadow Minister has consistently voted against a deal, and it is the deal that would have secured the interests of businesses such as the chemicals industry.
I assure the House that we continue regularly to meet our counterparts from across the EU and its member states on a number of issues, including our security relationship after the UK leaves the EU. The political declaration sets out a shared UK-EU commitment to a comprehensive future security partnership. That partnership will include close co-operation on law enforcement, criminal justice, foreign policy, defence and cyber-security.
Given that we do not know what our future relationship will look like at this moment in time, can I seek assurances from the Department that, in the event of a clean break from the European Union, we will be seeking mutual co-operation on matters such as security?
I assure my hon. Friend that that is absolutely the case. We have a long history of co-operating with our partners in Europe and are working closely with many of our EU partners on Europe’s key defence challenges through capabilities such as Typhoon, A400M and Meteor.
According to Mr Barnier, a no-deal scenario would represent
“a break in the level of talks…risks to intelligence pooling… inconsistencies in applying sanctions regimes”,
and would leave the rules of co-operation with Europol and Eurojust still to be determined. Given the risks that no deal would present to our security, is the Minister happy that both of the Tory leadership contenders crow about their willingness to deliver no deal?
Of course, I have always championed the deal and the right hon. Gentleman has voted against the deal three times. In the case of no deal, we will absolutely co-operate with our EU partners, including through making use of Interpol and the Council of Europe conventions. For example, on extradition, we would rely on the Council of Europe’s 1957 European convention on extradition. There is huge scope for co-operation, even in the event of no deal.
Does the Minister agree that we must increase our level of security on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, given the threat that dissident republicans pose? In the knowledge that we are now moving to a position where hopefully we will leave in a few short months, we need to be exceptionally mindful of that security risk to all our citizens.
We are absolutely mindful of the risk that the hon. Gentleman describes. He knows that the Government are fully committed to ensuring that the dark days of the 1970s do not return to Northern Ireland.
I see that yesterday the Minister tried to mitigate fears about a no-deal departure by saying that it
“is not a world war.”
That might be an insight into his thinking, but is “less damaging than a world war” really a benchmark for success? Does he agree with the Security Minister, the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who said:
“A no-deal situation would have a real impact on our ability to work with our European partners to protect the public”?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s questions, as always, but I would like to point out that he has wrenched my comments completely out of context, and they were made not yesterday but on Monday. I was merely echoing what the former Governor of the Bank of England, the highly respected economist, Mervyn King, has said about our GDP growth since 1800. On an annualised basis, there would be very little impact, even in the case of no deal.
No Deal: NHS
Ministers and officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union have regular discussions with their counterparts in the Department of Health and Social Care, who are working closely with industry to ensure that the NHS and patients are prepared for all exit scenarios.
Before March, the NHS was stockpiling medical supplies, including body bags, medicines and blood. Many people with long-term conditions fear that essential drugs or specialist food supplies such as those for people with PKU—phenylketonuria—will not be available. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ensure that medicines and other medical supplies are consistently available, on time, for people who need them?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point—one that has, sadly, been subject to quite a lot of misleading scare stories. She will have seen the written statement we published yesterday setting out steps we are taking to ensure the smooth flow of goods, and medicines will be the priority within that. She will be aware that it is not simply an issue of flow, but also of stock and of regulation. The Department of Health, in particular, is doing considerable work on these issues.
May I remind the Secretary of State that this is not just about medicines, although that is important enough, but also about staff? Is he aware of how many distressed loyal servants of the NHS have now decided that this is a hostile environment in our country and are going home to their own European countries? That is very sad. Will he remind the contenders to be our next Prime Minister that they do not have a majority in the House of Commons and when they get back here they are going to get a short shower of reality on them?
The hon. Gentleman, like me, cares deeply about the NHS, but it is a fact that there are 700 more doctors working in the NHS today. He shakes his head, but it is a fact. There are 700 more doctors working in the NHS today than at the time of the referendum. It is important that we are welcoming. We recognise the talent, the service and the importance of EU citizens in our NHS. As a former Health Minister, I absolutely agree with him on that. But it is also important that our debate in this place reinforces that positive message and recognises that more doctors have come here, not fewer, since the referendum.
Over 100 third-sector organisations are supporting my private Member’s Bill calling for an independent evaluation of the effect of Brexit in the health and social care sector. They all agree that the UK simply cannot afford to cut itself off from the labour market on which we have become so dependent and will become increasingly dependent. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to the sector that that will not happen?
I will not dwell on the specific merits of the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill, but he will be aware that health is a devolved matter, and we are working closely with the Scottish Government in our planning. In terms of immigration, which goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), of course it is important that we retain staff. We are working to do that, and if we look more widely at staff figures, we see that there are 5,200 more EU citizens working in our NHS since the referendum—the numbers are up, not down.
No Deal: Preparedness
As a responsible Government, we have been preparing to minimise any disruption in the event of no deal for more than two years. In the light of the extension, Departments are making sensible decisions about the timing and pace at which some of that work is progressing and what further action can be taken, but we will continue to prepare for an EU exit in all scenarios.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has called on local authorities across the whole United Kingdom to set up food resilience teams to assess how different Brexit outcomes could affect food supplies. What reassurances can the Minister and the Secretary of State give that food supplies will not be impacted in the event of no deal?
Only yesterday, I had a bilateral meeting with my counterpart Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and we discussed the advanced plans that that Department has made in this area. I have also had meetings with the Food and Drink Federation, which represents sectors in the industry, and the British Retail Consortium. The Government are making significant plans to ensure that key supplies, including food, are available in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The hon. Gentleman is a very busy fella, with a full diary. We are all greatly impressed.
One of the major risks of leaving without a deal, which I very much hope will not happen, is cash-flow problems, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. I had understood that the Treasury and the whole Government were making plans to ensure that additional cash flow would be made available, particularly for SMEs, for delays in payments, customs dues and so on. But at the Exiting the European Union Committee yesterday, we heard from all witnesses that they were not aware of any such plans for their members. Can the Minister set out clearly what those plans are and when they will be made known?
The Government absolutely remain committed to ensuring that businesses, whether they are large, small or medium-sized, thrive in any Brexit-related scenario. The Governor of the Bank of England has said that we are well prepared. I will ensure that more details are circulated about what mitigating measures the UK Government will put in place for small and medium-sized businesses.
In the finest traditions of this Government, the Brexit Secretary used an interview in The Times today to publicly air his frustrations with colleagues from the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at their unwillingness to waste yet more public money on ramping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. In the same spirit of openness, can the Minister tell the House precisely how much additional funding his Department believes should be allocated to no-deal planning before 31 October and what it should be spent on?
The Treasury has made available over £4 billion for preparations for Brexit in all scenarios. As has been discussed at the Dispatch Box before, it is not possible to disaggregate the spending between planning for a deal and planning for no deal. If the hon. Gentleman or anyone else in the Chamber is concerned about the implications of a no-deal Brexit, I remind them that they have had a number of opportunities to take the prospect of a no-deal Brexit off the table, which is what they say they wish to do, by voting for a deal. The fact that he has failed to do so means that the Government have had to take sensible, pragmatic actions to ensure that we are ready to leave in the event of no deal, but it is not too late for him to repent.
Given that the Brexit Secretary who negotiated the last deal was so disgusted with it that he resigned in protest, I think it is a bit much to blame anyone on this side of the House for not supporting it.
As the Minister will know only too well, we are still waiting to see the results of the coronation of the next Prime Minister—a Prime Minister who will be chosen on the votes of less than one quarter of 1% of the people of these islands. The lead contender—in fact, both contenders have made it clear they are prepared to go for a no-deal Brexit. Will the Minister accept that there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit in this Parliament, and that there has never been a mandate for a no-deal Brexit from the people of the United Kingdom?
In the 2016 referendum, the mandate was given to this place from the British people to leave the European Union.
The Minister was asked what assurances he could give about food supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and he gave none. He was asked what mandate exists publicly for a no-deal Brexit, and his answer made it perfectly clear there is none. The man who is about to be imposed on us as Prime Minister promised he would get a deal that would not be a no-deal Brexit, and if the new Prime Minister’s promises are worth nothing, whose are?
May I take the Minister back to the desire expressed a few minutes ago by his boss, who wants this House to listen to more than just the voices of London? “Yeah, tell us about it” is all I can say to that. May I suggest that he listens to one of the equal partners in this Union, where the Scottish National party is the stop Brexit party? The only time no-deal Brexit has been specifically put on the ballot paper in the form of the official Brexit party, the Scottish National party—on a promise to be the stop Brexit party—got more votes than not only the official no-deal Brexit party, but the unofficial no-deal Conservative party and the “don’t know what they’re doing about Brexit” Labour party, all three added together. Does he not accept that the people of Scotland, who his Government accept are sovereign, have overwhelmingly rejected any promise of a no-deal Brexit, as indeed would the majority of the people of these islands if they were given a choice? Why does he not make sure that no deal is taken off the table once and for all?
I happen to be one of the people in this Chamber who is in the habit of respecting the outcome of referendums. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman is a representative of a party that is less comfortable with respecting the outcome of referendums. The simple truth of the matter is that the people of Scotland decided to remain an active part of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom collectively decided to leave the European Union, and we are delivering on that referendum.
No Deal: Resilience
The Government’s priority remains to ensure that a deal is brought before and agreed by Parliament, allowing the UK to leave the EU before 31 October. In the run-up to 12 April, various Departments were preparing civil contingency plans, which were regularly discussed with colleagues, with co-ordination from the Cabinet Office.
Devon and Cornwall’s deputy chief constable, Paul Netherton, is the national lead for civil contingencies. When asked by Plymouth Live, “What’s the worst case scenario for Brexit?”, he replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “No deal”. What conversations is the Department having with the Tory leadership contenders so that both of them truly understand the gut-wrenching and dangerous implications of leaving without a deal on 31 October?
The position that the Government have taken mirrors, without necessarily using the same language, the prioritisation of the hon. Gentleman’s deputy chief constable. It is that of the two Brexit scenarios available—leaving with an agreement, or leaving without an agreement—the Government’s preferred option of the two is leaving with an agreement. That still can be done if Opposition Members vote to do so. As a sensible and pragmatic Government, we are making sure we prepare for a no-deal Brexit, but we have said a number of times from the Government Front Bench that our preferred Brexit option is to leave with an agreement and for this House to vote to do so.
Across the Government, but especially in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, there is a big drive to improve the nation’s productivity. In the run-up to a potential no deal on 31 October, are there not projects that would improve the nation’s productivity, but also enhance our nation’s resilience to a no deal, especially with regard to transport infrastructure around ports, and better prepare us for a no-deal situation?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Government are looking at and planning a number of activities that will benefit the United Kingdom, irrespective of the nature of our departure. As we progress those plans, I am more than happy to share them with him.
What recent discussions has the Minister had with the Irish Government regarding co-operation and security on the Irish border were we to leave the EU on WTO terms? Will he reassure the House that there will be no stop to the freedom of movement of people and goods across the Irish border?
The Government have regular meetings with international partners. Indeed, my colleague, Mr Walker—[Interruption.] I apologise, Mr Speaker, I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). He will be joining others at the British-Irish Council to discuss those issues, and ensure that the concerns highlighted by the hon. Gentleman are addressed.
EU Settlement Scheme
I have regular discussions with Home Office Ministers regarding the EU settlement scheme. The scheme is operating well, and I am pleased that more than 800,000 applications have been received, and that almost 700,000 people have already been granted settled status.
The Government have reached a bilateral agreement with Luxembourg to ensure the rights of UK citizens living there, and Luxembourgish citizens living in the UK. Those rights include the right to vote and stand in local elections. Similar agreements are in place for citizens from Spain and Portugal, but we have not had confirmation for EU citizens from other countries. Will the Minister guarantee that no EU citizen will have their name deleted from the UK electoral roll as a result of a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Lady is right to point to those important bilateral agreements. We want to secure more of those, but the Government have no plans to change the register. It is the responsibility of Cabinet Office Ministers to look at the domestic franchise, and they have assured me that they have no plans to change that in the foreseeable future.
There is no back button on the app. I have been told of a citizen who mistakenly clicked to send a hard copy rather than completing online. When he tried to remedy that, the app told him that his application was withdrawn, and that he would have to wait three months to reapply. When will the Government admit that this “computer says no” system is an embarrassment, dump it, and restore some dignity to these citizens?
The hon. Lady raises a specific case, and if she would like to write to me about it, I would be happy to take it up with colleagues at the Home Office and ensure it is looked into. The numbers suggest that the scheme is working well, and that the vast majority of people are being granted settled status quickly. Of course, if it is not working properly in particular cases, we need to look into those and solve them. This scheme is about helping people to prove their status and allowing them to stay, and that is what we want it to do.
What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with the Home Office and the Local Government Association about applying for settled status for children in the care of local authorities? It is feared that some of them are being wrongly refused settled status, offered only pre-settled status, or that the local authority or the corporate parent is not applying for settled status for them at all.
The hon. Lady makes an important point that has been raised during questions to this Department before. I have taken it up with the Department for Education and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that all efforts are made to make sure that children in care are properly entered into the settled status system by those who care for them. I am happy to forward that correspondence to her so that she can see the follow-up that has already been done on that front.
GATT: Article 24
The Government and the European Commission have been clear that our trading relationship must comply with WTO rules. Under the withdrawal agreement, the implementation period is compatible with GATT article 24. In addition, paragraph 17 of the political declaration envisages the UK and the EU forming a free trade area, which will also be compatible with article 24.
On an all-party visit to the World Trade Organisation, it was made clear that if there was the prospect of a negotiated free trade agreement in the future, tariff-free trade could continue. Does the Minister agree that if the EU does not agree to that negotiated free trade in the future, which would allow tariff-free trade on leaving, that will be because it wants to punish the UK, not come to the best agreement in the interests of its people?
I am not in a position to credibly assess the motivations of the European Union. The British Government’s position has been clear—it is a long-standing position—that it is in our mutual interest to come to a trading relationship between the UK and the EU. We will continue to seek to do so.
No Deal: Economic Impact
I have regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of our EU exit. The Chancellor has provided £4.2 billion to prepare for all areas of our exit.
I have spent this week at the Community trade union conference, the steelworkers’ union, trying to reassure steelworkers around the country from British Steel that their industry has a future and that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government are doing all they can to support them. If we leave the European Union with no deal, however, there will be an instant 25% tariff on steel exported to the European Union, which will cost the British steel industry £1 million a day. The industry has been very clear with me: no deal means no steel. Please, will the Secretary of State rule it out?
Again, the way to rule out no deal is to back a deal, but the hon. Lady raises an important issue in relation to British Steel. As she is well aware, the Government have been working very closely with the industry and the owner, Greybull Capital. She will be well aware, given her constituents’ interests, of some of the global issues in terms of demand, but this is a live issue. I am discussing the issue with industry leaders and trade unions, too.
Even the International Trade Secretary appears to recognise that article 24 of GATT cannot be invoked unilaterally. There will be no transition period in the event of no deal. That much must be clear to everyone by now. Will the Secretary of State agree that no self-respecting Minister could possibly serve in the Government of a Prime Minister in denial about the reality of a no-deal Brexit?
The clue is in the hon. Gentleman’s own question. He talks about “unilaterally”. Clearly, GATT 24 would need to be agreed. I think all the leadership contenders recognise that.
Beckie Hart, the director of Yorkshire and the Humber CBI, said recently that many firms are unaware that it is not just their relationship with EU customers that is at risk from a no-deal Brexit, but relationships across the globe. Tonight, Hull MPs and the shadow Brexit Secretary are meeting the Hull and Humber chamber of commerce to discuss our region’s economic prospects under Brexit. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give to Humber businesses on what is being done to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and what is being done to prepare for it to minimise the damage to the northern powerhouse from years of underfunding and austerity from his Government?
The hon. Lady raises a number of issues within the question of how we are preparing for no deal. It is essential, which is why the Government are investing in that preparation. I am keen to see to us do so at pace. In terms of the wider economy, it is about looking at, if we were in a no-deal situation, what flexibilities we could exploit, what issues of mutual benefit to the EU and the UK we can agree on, and where the flexibilities are that we can work on with the industry in that particular region. Those are the discussions we are having with applicable sectors. We are looking at key sectors to the region, such as offshore wind, and seeing what support the Government could provide in that situation.
No Deal: Agriculture
We continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across the Government on all aspects of exiting the EU. To provide certainty to farmers and landowners, the Government pledged to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament. That commitment applies to the whole of the UK in both a deal and no-deal scenario.
After studying the Government’s no deal notices, the National Farmers Union has said that a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for British agriculture. Why then does the Secretary of State talk up a no deal as a viable option and back a leadership candidate who supports leaving on 31 October, “do or die”?
We have had a deal, which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and colleagues rejected three times. It makes absolutely no sense for them to complain about the prospect of no deal when they rejected a deal so comprehensively on three occasions.
What progress has been made in setting up the successor scheme to the EU’s geographical indications system, which has proved so commercially lucrative for food and drink manufacturers, including people who produce Welsh beef and Welsh lamb?
We have made a lot of progress on trying to replace a lot of the EU’s funds and the regional way in which they allocate money. We have the UK shared prosperity fund, details of which will be introduced next year.
In the recent Tory leadership debate, the Foreign Secretary challenged his rival over no deal, saying:
“Let me ask Boris a question: what would you say to a sheep farmer in Shropshire that I met whose business would be destroyed by 40% tariffs?”
What would the Minister say to that sheep farmer?
We have already made a commitment in this House to support our agricultural industries and our farmers under any circumstances, whether that is a deal or no deal. We have an Agriculture Bill that will allow the Secretary of State to provide the support that our people need.
No Deal: Pharmaceutical Products
Our highest priority is for patients to continue to have access to the medicines and medical products that they need. Since the extension of article 50, close engagement with the pharmaceutical industry has continued and we are confident that we will have the necessary plans in place to ensure continuity of medical supply.
A no-deal Brexit would see the UK lose access to the falsified medicines directive, which prevents substandard and counterfeit medicines from entering our market. The head of the Healthcare Distribution Association has said that, as a result, the UK would be “less safe”. What steps has the Minister taken to prevent that?
The hon. Gentleman will be unsurprised to hear that I have had recent meetings with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. We have discussed the quantity and nature of cross-border movements of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. The British Government take this as one of our top priorities, protecting the supply in general and ensuring the quality as well as the quantity of medical supplies, and we will continue to do so.
Citizens’ Rights: Elections
The Cabinet Office is responsible for the domestic franchise, but my Department has been pressing to negotiate bilateral agreements on voting rights and I have regular contact with Cabinet Office Ministers on this matter. After writing to each member state, we have now signed agreements, as discussed earlier, with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg to secure voting rights for UK nationals in EU member states and EU citizens here.
In my constituency, I have more than 10,000 Romanian citizens, who are contributing directly to our economy, working hard and contributing to Britain. They want to know when their voting rights will be safeguarded. Given the all-party basis that we have for safeguarding citizens’ rights, why do we not bring forward legislation on a cross-party basis to deliver precisely that?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. As he appreciates, it will be for the Government to decide what new legislation is brought forward. It is already the case in law that EU citizens from all member states have the right to vote in our domestic local elections, and it would require a change in the law to alter that.
That is usually a polite way of saying, “I hear what you say and will look at it in the round.” If the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is encouraged by that, he is very easily encouraged.
Article 50 Extension
The Government’s policy is not to extend article 50.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that unequivocal answer, because people in Corby and east Northamptonshire are tired of the delay and the attempts here in Parliament to frustrate Brexit. They are particularly frustrated, by the fact that that is denying certainty for businesses. I am clear that there must be no more extensions and that we must leave on 31 October—no ifs, no buts. What steps is he taking to ensure that outcome?
I share my hon. Friend’s frustration that we have not left; I have consistently voted to leave. I represent a constituency where 70% of voters voted to leave, and three years on, they are keen to ensure that this House delivers on that. There are over 300 no-deal workstreams in progress across Government. Considerable work is ongoing, and it is important that we prepare while continuing to seek a deal.
Customs Union: British Ceramics Confederation
Ministers continue to carry out extensive engagement on EU exit across all sectors of the economy, including with the British Ceramics Confederation, in meetings that in many cases have been organised by third parties. I have personally engaged with business and civil society organisations at national and regional level, and we have met representatives of the security, voluntary and engineering sectors, among others.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The British Ceramics Confederation has been clear that what it wants to see is a deal for certainty for the ceramics sector, but as part of that it also wants to see the UK’s participation in a customs union. The benefits of a customs union work for EU-UK trade, but without that common external tariff and the continuation of trade deals with countries such as South Korea, which is now the biggest emerging market for the ceramics sector, our industry will suffer significantly. Will Ministers meet me and a delegation of ceramics providers so that we can look at ways of mitigating those problems if necessary, and ultimately changing Government policy for the better?
I am pleased to note that the hon. Gentleman has belatedly come around to the merits of a deal. I hope that we can get a deal and leave in an orderly way. I am always happy to meet him and other representatives of the ceramics industry to discuss the interests of his constituency.
Economic Effect: Scotland
The Secretary of State has frequent discussions with the Secretary of State for Scotland, who ensures that Scottish interests are always well represented around the Cabinet table. He and I regularly speak with the Scottish Government. Indeed, we are both looking forward to seeing Mike Russell tomorrow at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations.
The Scottish chamber of commerce has warned that the drop in GDP in April and the widening of our trade deficit does not bode well for Scotland’s economic fortunes. When will the Government realise the damage they are already doing to Scotland’s economy and offer business some certainty?
This Government can be proud of the record high employment across the United Kingdom. Perhaps the Scottish Government need to look at the poor performance of the Scottish economy compared with the rest of the UK.
Since I last updated the House, treaties on reciprocal voting rights have been signed with Luxembourg and Portugal, and work continues on other bilateral agreements, led by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). I attended the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg last week and spoke with a number of senior EU figures. Technical and business groups have met in the past weeks to work on alternative arrangements for the Irish border. My Department is preparing for all scenarios in the run-up to October. I want to put on the record my thanks to officials for their continued professionalism and dedication.
The best chance of getting a good deal is to be deadly serious about no deal. Could the Secretary of State update the House on the current status of no-deal planning?
As I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, considerable work is ongoing across Government. All the primary legislation necessary for no deal is in place, over 500 statutory instruments have already been laid, and work continues to ensure that we are ready for that scenario, while remaining focused on our priority, which is to leave with a deal.
In a letter to the Secretary of State this morning, I said that he has a duty to give an honest assessment of the difficult choices facing the next Prime Minister. He will be aware that in recent days his preferred candidate for Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has made a number of misleading statements about Brexit. Therefore, on behalf of the Government, could the Secretary of State make it clear today, first, that it is simply not possible to guarantee no tariffs under a no-deal Brexit—in particular, can he scotch the nonsense spouted about article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, which, as he well knows, is simply not available under a no-deal scenario—secondly, that technological solutions for the Northern Ireland border do not currently exist; and thirdly, that the UK cannot cherry-pick the withdrawal agreement?
There used to be a scurrilous rumour in the House that when a Minister got advance notice of questions, it was perhaps the work of the Whips Office tipping them off. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy, because he actually emailed me his questions half an hour before Question Time—he has always been a courteous fellow, but this morning he has exceeded himself. Never mind “buy one, get one free”, this is a four-in-one question.
In his letter, the right hon. and learned Gentleman listed a number of issues. Because he sent the letter ahead of Question Time, the first of them has already been addressed by the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), who asked about GATT. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, there is a difference between what is possible and what he may argue is probable, but it is a distinction that the candidates have addressed.
As for side deals and cherry-picking, again there is an inconsistency. I have been asked by the House on a cross-party basis, following what is referred to as the Costa amendment, to seek a side deal with the European Union to protect citizens’ rights, and I am happy to do so, but there is that inconsistency. The House has called for me to reach out to the European Commission, as indeed I have, because I agree with the House that it is right to protect citizens’ rights, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that side deals are cherry-picking and should not be sought.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about technology. He will know that, in the Strasbourg statement, the EU itself has accepted that technology has a role to play on the border. Indeed, it stands ready to work with us as soon as the withdrawal agreement has been ratified. What is getting in the way of that is the Labour party’s consistent opposition to the withdrawal agreement—and that is because, notwithstanding the manifesto on which he stood, the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s true position is that he wishes us to remain in the EU. That is what his letter did not say, yet that is what he actually means.
I thought that, with a bit of notice, we might get a better answer than that. The answers to my three questions are no, it is not possible to guarantee no tariffs under a no-deal Brexit; no, technological solutions are not currently available in relation to the border in Northern Ireland; and no, the UK cannot cherry-pick the withdrawal agreement. Perhaps, since I am giving the answers, we should swap places sooner rather than later.
Let me ask the Secretary of State just one further question about a claim that has been made in recent days. Will he answer it with a simple yes or no? Can the UK secure an implementation period with the EU without a withdrawal agreement—yes or no?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well, the implementation period was part of the withdrawal agreement, which he himself voted against. He talks of swapping places, but the clue is in the name of the Department: it is the Department for Exiting the European Union. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to exit the European Union, so it is rather odd for him to be auditioning for a role when his whole purpose is not to do what it says on the tin.
My hon. Friend has made an astute observation. He will be aware that 40% of Irish exports go through the short straits between Dover and Calais. We hear forecasts of delays at Calais from Labour Members, but it is not simply UK goods that will be delayed there; it will obviously be Irish exports too, as well as the many Irish imports.
There are a number of areas in which it is in Ireland’s interests to avoid the disruption of no deal. There has been very little debate in the UK about the impact on Ireland, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight it.
The hon. Lady will know that this is not Department for Transport questions; this is questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union, and she will know from the written ministerial statement we published yesterday that we have set out a framework. But in respect of Seaborne Freight it is worth reminding the House that it was a contract in which payments were linked to performance, and as the performance did not flow the payment did not go with it.
My hon. Friend asks me to detail what actions have been taken; those actions are so numerous that I would not want to list them all, because I am sure you want to have time to go on to other things this morning, Mr Speaker. But I have already highlighted a number of meetings that I and ministerial colleagues have had with representatives of industry, helping them to understand what actions the Government have already taken and what actions they and their members can take for a no-deal Brexit. We have also had international meetings on both a bilateral and multilateral basis. Discussions among officials and Ministers and at Cabinet level happen regularly to ensure that the UK Government and UK businesses are in a good place to leave under no deal if needs be.
Yes, it is possible. The question is whether the EU would reciprocally agree, and that is what the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is questioning, as he does not feel that it is a probable outcome. There is a distinction between those two positions; I have addressed it, but I am very happy to address it again.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his record of championing the aerospace industry in his constituency; he is a fine advocate of its interests. Working together through the partnership, industry and Government have made a joint funding commitment of £3.9 billion to aerospace research from 2013 to 2026, as he will be aware. Ministers and other officials across Government remain in close contact with the aerospace sector, and we have met more than 100 companies in the supply chain across the UK to discuss the implications of exiting the EU.
The Secretary of State referred earlier to the number of statutory instruments that have been laid to date; can he tell the House how many SIs remain to be enacted in order for us to exit the EU in an orderly fashion on 31 October?
The answer to that question is that one cannot give a precise figure, because as we saw—[Interruption.] I am coming to the precise issue; the number will be around 100, but one cannot give a precise figure because issues may arise such as we saw in the run-up to the March and April exit date; a correction of a previous SI might be required, or as part of the planning for exit certain issues might come to light through the Commission that necessitate an SI. So it is not possible to give a definitive number, but it will be in the region of 100.
Will my right hon. Friend detail the discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the preparedness of British business for a no-deal Brexit?
I have had regular discussions with my right hon. Friend on that issue, and to a degree I would point to the difference between large business and small business. A lot of large businesses have undertaken considerable work to prepare for the possibility of no deal; we have more concern about the extent to which some small businesses have prepared. Often part of what flows into that is the debate in this place, where they are told that it will not happen and therefore the assumption is made that it is not necessary to prepare. It is worth reminding the House—particularly Members who look for a second referendum or for some other outcome—that it is the EU’s decision, to which any one of the 27 member states could object, whether any extension is offered, notwithstanding the position of certainly one of the two Conservative leadership candidates not to seek such an extension.
In the answer that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) a moment ago about the devastating impact of tariffs on sheep farmers in the event of a no-deal Brexit, he appeared to give the impression that the Government would compensate farmers for the cost of those tariffs. Can he please clarify this for the House: is it the Government’s policy, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, to pick up the cost of the tariffs that farmers would face—yes or no?
What I endeavoured to suggest was that the Government would continue to support those industries. We cannot guarantee a specific payment, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, but there is a broad commitment to support those industries, as we have done for more than 80 years.
Data flows are absolutely vital for business, for health and for security, and in many other areas, but the problems would be immense in the case of a no-deal Brexit. We heard yesterday in the Exiting the European Union Committee that, even in the case of leaving with a deal, the UK would no longer have any influence over the general data protection regulation, even though the GDPR is becoming a standard right around the world, well outside the European Union. Is this a case of giving up control or taking back control?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about data adequacy and the EU Commission’s position on that. Unilateral action can be taken to put standard contractual terms in place, for example, which a lot of firms and organisations have done. The wider point, however, is that 40% of the EU’s data centres are within the UK, and many of the underground cables carrying data go through UK waters. It is important to remember that there are reciprocal benefits in coming to sensible arrangements on data adequacy, because not having a flow of data would be devastating to many European firms if they were to find themselves unable, for example, to send personal data linked to tourists. That is just one of the many examples that I could cite.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is absolutely right. The Prime Minister failed in her aim to secure a continuing place for the UK on the European Data Protection Board, which oversees GDPR. Is it not a profoundly unsatisfactory aspect of the Prime Minister’s deal that, in that area and lots of others, we would have to comply with loads of EU rules over which we would have no influence at all?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Within any future trade deal, whether with the EU or further afield, there will always be a trade-off around what access we would get and what sovereignty we would trade. He knows from his time in the Treasury that that is always at the core of the debate around trade deals. In relation to the political declaration, when the debate around medicines and a number of other EU agencies has come up, we have said that we stand ready to work with the Commission on developing good regulatory standards. There is no race to the bottom on regulation from this Government, but there is also the question of what the Commission is willing to agree. It is in our mutual interests to come to sensible arrangements on data, for the reasons that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 1 July—Estimates day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on estimates relating to the Department for International Development and the Department for Education.
Tuesday 2 July—Estimates day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on estimates relating to the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Wednesday 3 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No.3) Bill, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Draft Capital Allowances (Structures and Buildings Allowances) Regulations 2019, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2019, followed by debate on a motion on whistleblowing. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Thursday 4 July—Debate on a motion on ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans, followed by general debate on the functioning of the existing law relating to assisted dying. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 5 July—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for announcing the business for next week. The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee seems to be the de facto Leader of the House once again, because he is setting the agenda with debates on two days—lucky him.
The motion for the House to rise on 25 July was passed on Monday. I understand that the results of the ballot for the Tory party leadership will be out on Tuesday 23 July. The Prime Minister may have to go Buckingham palace on Wednesday 24 July, and then the new leader of the Tory party will also have to go to the palace—possibly on the Thursday—to confirm with our gracious sovereign that he has the confidence of the House. Many hon. Members are concerned that there may be no time to question the new Prime Minister before the House rises, so will the Leader of the House assure us that he will make time for the new Prime Minister to make a statement and answer questions from hon. Members?
Last week, the Leader of the House said that the House would return on 3 September. Some press reports suggest that he has been involved in discussions about the House not rising for the conference recess. Will he confirm whether those discussions have taken place, whether and when the conference recess will start, or whether the House will sit during our conferences?
It is no wonder that ambassadors are saying that the UK’s standing around the world is diminished. On the one hand, the Government said that they are setting net zero carbon targets for 2050, but on the other hand the Treasury introduced its Value Added Tax (Reduced Rate) (Energy-Saving Materials) Order 2019, which is in effect a steep VAT increase for the installation of energy-saving materials. More importantly, is the Leader of the House aware of the point raised by my noble friend Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords? The Prime Minister said that Labour peers were blocking the motion relating to climate change targets, but it is a regret motion, not a blocking motion, and it seeks to improve the proposals. Baroness Smith said that she regrets the lack of detail in the SI, because it leaves shipping and aviation out of the targets. Will the Leader of the House ask the PM to apologise to my noble friends in the other place? The Prime Minister was plain wrong, and I have the relevant exchange here if it would be helpful to the Leader of the House.
The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) withdrew the dangerous bendy buses from London, and they have since been removed in Swansea, York, Bradford and Leeds. Despite that, the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, has proposed bendy buses for a route between Walsall and Birmingham. It is a wholly inappropriate use of public funds, because a perfectly good service already exists and local people are opposed to the decision. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to ensure that the Mayor understands that bendy buses are dangerous and unwanted? The Mayor said that the buses were being introduced for the Commonwealth games. The Government have announced a funding package for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth games, with 75% coming from central Government and 25% being raised locally. However, there was no news of consequential funding for Wales, and the Secretary of State for Wales did not mention that yesterday. I am pretty sure that the Government have to provide such funding, so will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State writes to the First Minister of Wales to explain whether Wales will receive it?
More than 40 Members have signed early-day motion 2368, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) and calls on the Government to automatically fund the legal representation of all victims of terrorist atrocities and their families.
[That this House expresses concern that victims of terrorist atrocities are not automatically eligible for legal aid; regrets that a recently published government review rejected introducing automatic non-means-tested legal aid funding to bereaved families after a state-related death; notes that state organisations involved in deaths from terrorist attacks have access to legal teams and experts at public expense; recognises that in France victims of terrorism, and their families, are automatically eligible for state-funded legal representation; and calls on the Government to automatically fund the legal representation of all victims of terrorist atrocities and their families, inclusive of all coroner hearings and inquests.]
Lawyers acting pro bono on behalf of families of the victims of the London Bridge terror attack have had their legal aid applications denied. At the same time, Government agencies have used public funds to hire some of the best legal teams to represent their interests in court. Families of victims of the March 2017 Westminster attack have also been told that they are unlikely to receive funding for the inquest, which ended last year. This is an insult to victims of terror, and the Government need to reverse it as soon as possible.
It is Armed Forces Day on Saturday to honour the men and women who make up our armed forces, and we had a good debate on that this week. At this very moment, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Defence Secretary are announcing our five pledges to support the forces and their families—fair pay, decent housing, a voice for servicemen and women, an end to privatisation, and support for forces children—but there has been a real-terms pay cut for our servicemen and women over the past seven years. The starting salary of an Army private is now £1,150 lower in real terms than in 2010.
Sunday 30 June is the United Nations International Day of Parliamentarism. In total, there are 272 Chambers of Parliament, with more than 46,000 Members, and there has been no shortage of demand for you, Mr Speaker, to visit other countries. It has been helpfully pointed out by certain people that your ambassadorship and valuable insight into the workings of this Parliament are so important. On Sunday we can celebrate how the parliamentary system improves the day-to-day life of people across the world. That allows us to raise the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which I will do every week from this Dispatch Box until she is free. Turning to the hypocrisy of President Trump, he brought his family on a state visit while presiding over a policy that separates families. With Oscar and his daughter Valeria lying dead, I am sure every single parliamentarian around the world, and the whole House, joins me in saying, “May they rest in peace.”
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks, which I will address in detail in a moment.
First, Mr Speaker, I join the Prime Minister who earlier this week rightly congratulated you on having served as Speaker for 10 years. The Prime Minister said it does not seem like 10 years, to which an Opposition Member was heard to mutter that it seems more like 20, which was a foolish and misguided remark, as I am sure you would agree.
I have been feeling somewhat guilty since last week, as I invited several regular attendees of business questions to join me on holiday over the recess but did not extend the invitation to you, Mr Speaker. Do please join us. It is just £500 for the week, which you will be pleased to know includes all flights.
I concur with the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) about the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who has indeed shown his worth in allocating time on the Order Paper. I congratulate him on the important debates he has secured for the coming week.
The hon. Lady specifically asked about the recess motion to which the whole House agreed. The Government are clear that there should be an opportunity for the new Prime Minister to appear before this House before the recess and that, in the event that there is any doubt in the matter, I have no doubt that Parliament will express itself. Hopefully that is now sufficiently clear.
The hon. Lady also asked whether there will be a recess to accommodate the conferences. All I can say is that that will of course be a matter for the new Prime Minister, but it is usual for time to be set aside for the conference recess. One might reasonably expect time to be made available in the usual way.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of the VAT rise for energy-saving materials, but she did not point out that, in fact, the rise is due to EU regulations and an EU requirement. In the absence of that imperative from the EU, it is not something we would necessarily have brought forward.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the House of Lords regret motion relating to the climate change targets. I understand her point about the meaning of that motion, which will have been noted by this House. The main point remains that, as a Government, we have taken a leading step on tackling emissions and climate change, and that step should not be downgraded or overlooked in any way
The hon. Lady also raised the issue of bendy buses in and around Walsall, and I believe she was seeking my assistance in reaching out to the Mayor of the West Midlands. If she needs any assistance, I am happy to do that, but I am sure that if she were to approach the Mayor directly, he would, in his usual manner, be very accommodating and wish to engage with her.
The hon. Lady also asked whether I could prevail upon the Secretary of State for Wales to ensure that he writes to his counterpart on the matter of consequential costs arising from the Commonwealth games, and I will be happy to do that. As this has been raised at the Dispatch Box this morning, I know that that message will have been heard. She also raised the issue of legal representation for the victims of terrorism. I believe that the Justice Committee will shortly be considering these matters in some detail, which may be of interest to her, and of course a lengthy debate on just this subject took place in Westminster Hall a short time ago. I wish to echo the hon. Lady’s words on Armed Forces Day, which is on Saturday. We owe all our brave men and women a huge debt of gratitude for all that they do to keep us safe in these islands.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the UN International Day of Parliamentarism and rightly registered the fact that you, Mr Speaker, have played such an active role, over time, in making sure that the ideals of our mother of Parliaments and all the good things that flow from that are promoted across the world.
Finally, the hon. Lady rightly raised the issue of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who went to Iran on holiday to see relatives and has been incarcerated for far too long. Our thoughts are with her, with her family and with her husband, and I assure the hon. Lady that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to work hard to try to secure her release. Indeed, the Prime Minister has raised this specific matter with the Iranian authorities and leadership on more than one occasion.
Mindful of the upcoming celebrations of Armed Forces Day, and notwithstanding the reports of Army instructors being accused of historical abuse, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to mark Victory over Japan Day, so that we can record the terrible atrocities suffered by prisoners in the Japanese war camps?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of VJ Day. We tend to think about the victory in Europe, but of course the war continued beyond that point and, as he has stated, many awful atrocities took place that were particularly associated with the Asian element of the second world war. The Royal British Legion and the Government will be working together to ensure that the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on 15 August 2020 will be commemorated in the appropriate way.
May I, too, congratulate you on your 10 years in the Chair, Mr Speaker? You will recall that I was one of your sponsors, and a very good decision I made at that time.
May I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing what there is of the business for next week? As well as the purgatory of this business, we now have the purgatory of the never-ending Conservative leadership contest. May we therefore have a debate not on bendy buses but on the construction of model buses, historic photography and uncut fields? It has to be said that that would be a lot more interesting than all the unicorn chasing that seems to be going on over Brexit. When it comes to Scotland, it seems for both candidates to be a matter of their telling Scotland, “You cannae dae that”, “We’re no going to let you do this” and “Don’t even think about that.” I am not sure how telling Scotland what it cannot do is somehow going to endear them to the people of Scotland. We know that with just the prospect of Prime Minister Boris support for independence rises to 53%, so we on these Benches are having a particularly good Tory leadership contest.
May we have a debate about Select Committees, given that we are celebrating 40 years since they were established? As you said yesterday, Mr Speaker, they are the key to holding Ministers to account for the Government’s conduct—except that they do not, because Ministers regularly refuse to attend Select Committee hearings, thereby evading scrutiny. The Scottish Affairs Committee has asked for a Home Office Minister to give evidence to our drugs inquiry, to explain the Government’s criminal justice approach to drugs. The Home Office has contemptuously refused to supply a Minister to appear before the Committee. In the next couple of weeks, we are likely to receive the news that there will have been 1,000 drug deaths in Scotland last year, so this refusal is a gross insult to the families of those affected. What sort of message does it send to reluctant Select Committee witnesses when Ministers themselves defiantly refuse to appear before Select Committees? It is a disgrace and it undermines our Select Committees.
Lastly, we have estimates next week. Thanks to the SNP—and perhaps in part because of my intervention—we can now actually discuss estimates on estimates day. A couple of amendments have been tabled that would link the estimates to a no-deal Brexit. Given that we will not have an another opportunity properly to discuss Brexit, take a view on it and vote on it, I hope that the Government will engage with the process constructively, so that before we break for recess we can have another say on their Brexit plans.
As usual, it is the same old tunes. As we know, the hon. Gentleman is a gifted musician—I will keep coming back to this—and the House may or may not know that he played in Runrig, which was an excellent band, and Big Country, in which he was not the best-looking member in the line-up, I have to say, but he was none the less—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”] All right, it might just have been the way they were photographed. Anyway, he was indeed very talented. I have been thinking about the other bands that perhaps he should have played in at some point in his career. Given his grip on the great issues of the day, perhaps it should have been Wet Wet Wet; given his party’s manifesto, perhaps it should have been Madness; or, given the heartbreak and blubbering anguish that the hon. Gentleman would cause if his scaremongering policies ever led to Scottish independence, perhaps he would have been best placed in Tears for Fears. [Hon. Members: “Oh.”] Well, it was better than last week, Mr Speaker, if nothing else. You will have to agree that I am improving. [Interruption.] Perhaps it was worse than last week.
As for the specific points that the hon. Gentleman raised, he asked for a debate on model buses; I think he was referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and the cheery faces that he paints on these model buses, apparently. All I can say is that that is one of the most sensible suggestions I have ever heard the hon Gentleman make in the Chamber. We will certainly take that forward as a serious proposal.
More seriously, the hon. Gentleman rightly salutes 40 years since the formation of Select Committees. We should remember Norman St John-Stevas, who was instrumental in ensuring that Select Committees were brought to bear. The hon. Gentleman raised the specific issue of the appearance of Ministers before Select Committees, particularly in the context of the effect of drugs in Scotland. I am sure his comments will have been heard both in the Chamber and beyond the House.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the amendments to the estimates that we will consider next week, and suggested that there should be some discourse on matters relating to Brexit. I assure him that my door is always open to him so that we can discuss whichever matters he would like to raise with me.
Notwithstanding the Leader of the House’s gentle teasing, which has been taken in very good part by Members across the House, I think it only right to record that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is a distinguished member of the parliamentary rock band, MP4—I say this really by way of a public information notice—and he performs with great skill and dexterity on keyboards. MP4 raise money for Help for Heroes and have performed with considerable distinction in my own constituency. Their performance is still talked about widely in the highways and byways of my beautiful constituency. The hon. Gentleman is greatly appreciated and I would not want him to feel unloved in this place.
Can we have a debate on the issue of transparency and the Heathrow third runway decision? Yesterday, like many Members, I met climate and environmental campaigners. People in my community are simply baffled as to how such an irrational decision to expand Heathrow could have been taken by a Government who, I know, care about the environment. When I put in freedom of information requests, what came back was so heavily redacted that there was little information to tell me how the decision was reached. Will the Leader of the House approach the Department for Transport to encourage it to be more transparent and to remind Ministers that they should bring people with them on a decision by explaining it fully, not by hiding it away in secret?
First, let me congratulate my right hon. Friend on the strength and veracity of her campaigning on this matter, albeit that the direction of travel is not exactly as she would wish. She raises the specific issue of transparency. I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting with any Minister whom she may wish to approach in order to discuss that matter.
As the Leader of the House has announced, the Backbench Business Committee has debates on both Wednesday and Thursday of next week, but, of course, it also determines which Department’s estimates will be debated on Monday and Tuesday, so it is a clean sweep for the week: four days of business determined by the Backbench Business Committee. Under those circumstances, it would be churlish of me to ask the Leader of the House for more time on this particular occasion.
I have a bit of sadness from my locality. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who is in her place, discovered this week that, as we anticipated, 170 members of the workforce at De La Rue are being made redundant as a result of the Government awarding the contract to manufacture the British passport to a French-Dutch company. In future, the passports will be manufactured in Poland. One hundred and seventy workers lose their jobs in Gateshead, and our post-Brexit blue British passport is to be manufactured in Poland—you just could not make this stuff up.
Finally, let me make a very impassioned plea. A Nigerian mother and her three children live in my constituency. I will not give their names out at the moment, but I am very, very concerned that, if they are deported as they are threatened to be, the smallest child, a two-year-old girl who was born in this country, will be sent back to Nigeria where the family will subject her to female genital mutilation. It must not happen. Please, can we get it stopped?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to his prowess in bringing forward the various motions and debates to the House. I just have this feeling that all this will end up, on around 23 July, with him standing at this Dispatch Box. It cannot be inconceivable in the impenetrable combinations of what might happen between now and, for example, the end of October.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of De La Rue and the passports, which I know will have been noted and is on the record. As to the very serious matter that he raised at the end of his remarks around the Nigerian family facing deportation, I say not only that my door is open, but that I would be personally very keen to sit down with him and look at that in some detail so that we can determine between us the best way forward.
I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on reaching the halfway mark in your career as our Speaker.
That we plant trees for those born later seems lost on the denizens of Network Rail who continue, despite a very good independent report, to destroy trees and shrubs trackside on an industrial scale, including in places such as Grantham in Lincolnshire. This is certainly unethical and much of it, given the effect on protected wildlife, illegal. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement by Ministers to say how this decimation and destruction can be brought to an end before all that is bright and beautiful is made dark and ugly by the brutal bureaucrats of Network Rail?
I thank my right hon. Friend very much indeed for his eloquently placed question regarding trees and Network Rail. As we know, he is a lover of poetry, particularly the poetry of John Clare, who wrote a poem called “The Wind and Trees”. I know my right hon. Friend has a long-term love of trees and a long-term problem with wind, by which I mean, of course, his verbosity in this Chamber on occasion. May I share one small section of that poem with the House?
“I love the song of tree and wind
How beautiful they sing
The licken on the beach tree rind
E’en beats the flowers of spring.
From the southwest sugh sugh it comes
Then whizes round in pleasant hums”.
On that rather beautiful note, I think I should concede entirely to my right hon. Friend’s request and ensure that I secure a meeting with him and the Environment Secretary as soon as possible.
That exchange should be framed and displayed in a prominent place in the Lincolnshire abode of the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) .
As I am sure the Leader of the House is aware, Hull is a beautiful city and definitely a place that every Member should take time to visit. One way to make it even more beautiful than it already is—if that is possible—would be to introduce butterflies throughout the city. Hull wants to become the first city in the UK to be a butterfly city and adopt the brimstone butterfly, so please could the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the importance of biodiversity, butterflies and the beautiful city of Hull?
How nice to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for raising the matter of the brimstone butterfly, about which I currently know absolutely nothing, but will shortly know a great deal. I would perhaps point her to an Adjournment debate, where an appropriate Minister could be brought to the House to listen to her proposals.
Can we have a debate on the appalling plans being put forward by the Mayor of London and TfL to build tower blocks over the carparks at Cockfosters and High Barnet tube stations, so that I can express my constituents’ very strong opposition to these plans?
My right hon. Friend does a great deal in her constituency, particularly on these issues. These are matters for the Mayor of London, as they relate to planning, but I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting between my right hon. Friend and the appropriate Minister if she would find that useful.
The Leader of the House will be aware, as we all are, of what seems to be a rise in homophobic attacks across the country. I say, “what seems to be a rise”, because the reporting has probably not yet caught up with the day-to-day reality. This is causing alarm across the country and on both sides of the House. Could we have a statement from a Home Office Minister on homophobic attacks?
I think the whole House is united in saying that there is no place in a civilised society for homophobia or anything related to it. Let me take this opportunity to refer to the Duke of Cambridge’s recent very positive remarks on this matter. This may well be an opportunity for a further debate in the House—perhaps a Backbench Business Committee debate.
On 21 June 1824, in the wake of the end of the Napoleonic wars and the mass industrialisation of this country, the Vagrancy Act 1824 was introduced in Parliament and came into effect. The Act criminalised begging and people who are homeless sleeping on our streets. Disgracefully, that law is still on our statute books today. Given the sparsity of legislation that the Government are bringing forward, is it not time that we repealed that Act and modernised the position? Does my right hon Friend not agree that homeless people should be assisted, not arrested?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important. He has campaigned on this issue for a considerable period of time, and I congratulate him on being instrumental in bringing forward the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. I believe he also has an article on homelessness in The House magazine this week. He asks specifically about the Vagrancy Act, which is indeed well over 100 years old and its fitness for purpose is highly questionable. If he would like to have discussions with me, I will have a look at what possibilities there may be along the lines he has suggested.
These proceedings are being watched live by the pupils of Hillington Primary School, who invited me last Friday to see the outcome of their school project on the keys to unlocking education, which is about ensuring that young people across the world receive education, particularly in poverty-stricken and war-torn nations of the world. May we have a debate or a statement from the Government about how we, as Members of Parliament, on behalf of pupils like those at Hillington Primary School, can advance this cause to ensure that young people across the world receive access to education?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point about the importance of education. We often focus on that in the context of our own country, but it is also extremely important globally in terms of raising young people and families, and people generally, out of poverty. The hon. Gentleman and Hillington Primary School are to be thoroughly congratulated on the excellent work they have done on the keys to unlocking education. I am delighted that the pupils are all watching at the moment. May I say to each and every one of them, thank you for all you have done?
We welcome the pupils of Hillington Primary School to our proceedings this morning. I hope that they think the Chamber this morning has been as well-behaved as they have.
If my right hon. Friend would like to visit the beautiful constituency of Stafford, he will see that we are contributing greatly to house building in the UK, with a rate more than double the national average. However, developers are taking advantage of rules about councils falling very briefly below the five-year land supply to put in developments that are unwanted by local residents and environmentally unsound, particularly in the village of Penkridge. May we have a debate on the way in which developers are taking advantage of loopholes in planning legislation, and on how we should abide by the plans that have been put in place by our councils, in consultation with residents, and not see these unwanted, unplanned-for housing developments springing up simply because the developer wants to put them there?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point about housing. We too often speak simply about volume. Of course, the Government have a very clear record in that regard, with 220,000 homes built in the last year for which we have records—the highest number of each of the past 31 years, bar one. None the less, he is absolutely right that quality of development, in the right place, is absolutely key to getting our housing policy right. I would perhaps point him to an Adjournment debate to discuss this and make his points to the relevant Minister. He is no stranger to that, as I believe he has an Adjournment debate next week on the issue of precious metals.
A constituent of mine sadly diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s has started a petition signed by over 26,000 people that outlines the devastating impact on her life and calls for routine screening to be extended to younger women. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on what we can do to increase early diagnosis of breast cancer at all ages?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. Cancer is one of the key targets that the national health service has in terms of getting survival rates up, and they are at historically high levels. A lot of progress has been made in that respect. She also raises the equally important issue of prevention and early diagnosis rather than dealing with problems later on. That is central to the national health service plan that has been brought in on the back of the record cash funding that we are now putting in.
Early-day motion 2453 has very quickly gained substantial support from 47 MPs to date.
[That this House welcomes the establishment by the UN General Assembly of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on 22 August each year; is deeply concerned that acts of violence based on religion or belief are increasing all over the world and often flourish with impunity; notes the concerning findings of the interim report of the Bishop of Truro's Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians; recognises the dire situation of religious minorities in many parts of the world; calls on the Government to mark the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief and use the initiative to develop and implement a comprehensive action plan, across Departments to address religious persecution whenever and wherever it occurs; and further calls on the Government to use all its diplomatic powers to combat religious persecution around the world and bring impunity for such atrocities to an end.]
The EDM welcomes the establishment by the UN of an international day commemorating the victims of violence based on religion or belief. Will the Leader of the House also welcome it and consider how this annual day could be appropriately recognised by this House, bearing in mind that it will fall during our recess on 22 August?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that she is, rightly, deeply passionate about that matter, and we have discussed it personally on a number of occasions. The Government are entirely committed, and rightly so, to freedom of religion and belief and to promoting respect between people of different religions and beliefs. I wonder whether this would be a good subject for an Adjournment debate. However, as she pointed out, the event to which she refers falls within the recess. I do not have a ready answer to that conundrum, but I would be happy to discuss with her later what options there might be, if that is of use.
The Leader of the House is getting on my right side this morning. As chairman of the John Clare Trust, I was delighted to hear him quoting John Clare’s poetry. My favourite poem, and probably his best love poem, is entitled “I do not love thee”; I recommend that the Leader of the House reads it.
The Leader of the House also mentioned Norman St John-Stevas. I knew Norman St John-Stevas in the early part of my career here. I add my thanks to him for setting up the Select Committee system. He was also a great social campaigner. To read his speeches against capital punishment, social injustice and women in prison is a wonderful treat. He had a sense of humour and dagger- like incisiveness when it was necessary.
There have been many big demonstrations this week, but there was a smaller one by women in prison. On the whole, I do not believe that women should go to prison unless they are very violent. We should not be sending women to prison for not paying television licences or for minor crimes. Can we have a debate on women in prisons? Why can we not have women’s centres up and down our country that support women who get into trouble with the law? At the moment, they come out of prison with no housing, no support, no counselling and no work.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reference to John Clare and Norman St John-Stevas. As he may know, they have a connection, in that they both come from Northamptonshire, I believe. They are both great, late and much missed individuals.
The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about women in prison. The female prison population is a minority. None the less, there are issues as to whether incarceration in that form for women is appropriate in all instances, as he suggested. He referred to the very effective rally yesterday in the Emmanuel Centre here in Westminster, and I believe that the speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), was well received. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks will be heard.
May we have a debate about the Send My Friend to School campaign? Last Friday, I attended an assembly at Hythehill Primary School in Lossiemouth where P6 pupils Jack MacKenzie and Chloe Thomson spoke in front of the whole school about the campaign. Along with deputy headteacher Rachael Blackhall, I received hundreds of brilliantly designed messages from pupils across the school, which I delivered to Downing Street earlier this week. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Jack, Chloe, Mrs Blackhall and everyone at Hythehill Primary School on what they have done for this campaign and, indeed, what schools across the country are doing to raise awareness of it?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the important Send My Friend to School campaign, which recognises the global importance of education. Just as he has entreated me to do, I congratulate Jack, Chloe and Rachael Blackhall on all they have done for this very important campaign.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I ask for your assistance and that of the Leader of the House? Ten days ago, a 73-year-old constituent of mine was on holiday in Zante. He left to go for a walk to a monastery on top of a local mountain, and he has not been seen since. The Greek authorities have pulled out of any search and rescue efforts. The Western Beacons Mountain Search and Rescue Team are willing to leave tomorrow to conduct the search, but they need £5,000. I have contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether any financial assistance is available, but may I ask for your assistance in finding a source of Government funding that would allow the team to leave just after 12 o’clock tomorrow, so that we can at the very least find this gentleman and bring him home?
This is clearly a matter of the utmost urgency, and I would be very grateful if the hon. Lady met me immediately after these questions to discuss it.
The hon. Lady asked if the Chair could do anything to help. I can merely say that this is clearly a serious and urgent matter, and I am delighted to hear what the Leader of the House has said, which I am sure will move matters forward.
May we have a debate on UK resilience planning in the face of weather emergencies? I ask this because, last Monday, the people of Stirling experienced an extraordinary weather event, which resulted in widespread flooding and flood damage in the constituency. Will the Leader of the House also join me in expressing appreciation of the professional and highly effective response of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland; the business community and their employees; and especially the employees of Stirling Council—led by the chief executive, Carol Beattie, as well as Brian Roberts, head of infrastructure, David Creighton, head of roads and land services, and Kristine Johnson in relation to emergency planning—and the staff of Castleview Primary School, and Ochil House and Wallace High School, because it was one of their finest hours?
There is no doubt that in these changed circumstances, with different weather conditions right across the United Kingdom, including in the south-west—the seat I represent is in Devon—we are seeing just such effects of erratic weather. As Members, I think we all know of the devastation, and the highly personal devastation, that can bring when it has an impact both on people’s businesses and their homes. I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Carol Beattie and all those at Stirling Council on their work with primary schools and the others he mentioned in his question.
This week, we saw a report of a leaked A-level maths paper. In my constituency, there have been allegations about questions being shared when one part of the country takes exams before the same paper is sat in another. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the security processes maintained by school exam boards? The situation appears to be deeply unfair to students up and down the country.
I can but wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady that the situation she describes of tests being taken at different times—with questions common to both tests therefore being available from the earlier stage to the advantage of those taking the second test, as it were—is clearly totally and utterly unacceptable. I believe, although I stand to be corrected, that there have even been some arrests in relation to this particular issue, such is its seriousness. It would perhaps be an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate, with an opportunity to put such points to a Minister from the Department for Education.
Earlier this week, Crawley News 24 reported that the recently relocated main post office in WH Smith in my constituency did not even have any of its self-service counters available—ironically, due to a lack of staff. Can I get an assurance from the Government that pressure will be brought to bear on the Post Office—obviously, it is a Government-owned entity—to ensure that there are adequate staffing levels, particularly where the relocation of main post offices has taken place, as it has in Crawley and other towns across the country?
My hon. Friend’s question does not surprise me in the least, knowing how vigorously he has campaigned locally in his constituency on the matter of post offices and local services, and he is absolutely right that they are vital. As we all know, post offices often provide the vital banking services that are often not present because the last bank in the town or local community has disappeared. On his specific question about staffing, I would point him to Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on Tuesday 16 July.
Following what has been said about Wales, may I say that Scotland and Northern Ireland are also due full Barnett consequentials from the Birmingham games funding? We recently heard the Tory leadership candidates and their Conservative representatives in Scotland state that only an outright SNP majority would be a mandate for the Scottish Government to implement their manifesto promises, despite the Scottish Parliament having voted to do so. Given those statements, may we have a debate on parliamentary democracy, and on where this minority UK Government’s mandate has emerged from?
On that matter I would probably point the hon. Gentleman towards Cabinet Office questions. I do not have the precise date, but I know they are coming up before the recess.
This year marked the 75th anniversary of D-day. It also marked another anniversary—that of the Great Escape, during which 50 prisoners of war were murdered by the Gestapo. One of those 50 was Sandy Gunn, from Auchterarder in my constituency, whose Spitfire has recently been discovered in Norway as a result of the ongoing AA810 project. Sandy served as part of the photographic reconnaissance unit—a highly skilled and dangerous unit that carried out missions across enemy territory to try to bring valuable information back to allied forces in the UK and elsewhere around the world. Despite that great service, more than 70 of those who died are still without any known graves or national memorial. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate a national memorial for those men who served in the photographic reconnaissance unit and gave so much to our country?
My hon. Friend raises the important issues of the Great Escape and Sandy Gunn, and the importance of photo reconnaissance to our efforts in winning the second world war. Sandy Gunn is one of many unsung heroes in that conflict, and the idea of holding a debate on that issue is a good one. Perhaps my hon. Friend might seek a debate in Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate, or he could prevail on the good offices of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns).
Last week, NHS Health Scotland published the first data from the official evaluation of minimum unit pricing in Scotland. The figures are highly encouraging, and I commend them to comrades and colleagues in the House. They show that alcohol consumption in Scotland dropped by 3% last year. It rose by 2% in England and Wales where no minimum unit pricing is in place, although it will be introduced in Wales next year. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming those results, and will the Government make a statement on their plans to reduce alcohol harm in the rest of the country?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the fall in alcohol consumption in Scotland. He suggested that it has been rising in England and Wales, which I am not sure is the case as I think it may also have been declining, although I may be wrong on that point—[Interruption.] Somebody says I am wrong, so perhaps I am. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that under our national health service long-term plan, we have signalled our support for improving treatment for patients, and expert alcohol care teams will work in the 25% worst affected parts of the country, supporting patients who have issues with alcohol misuse and their families.
Before he left the Chair, Mr Speaker mentioned the rock band MP4, and I cannot resist segueing neatly into a tiny little plug for the newest entry in the parliamentary musical bloc: string quartet the Statutory Instruments. Modesty forbids me from saying much more, other than that Members should check their emails for an invite to the debut concert next Tuesday.
The Leader of the House may have been forewarned by his predecessor that I have a penchant for asking for the location of missing pieces of legislation. In no particular order, and with no priority, can he say where the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, and the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill are? I could go on, but those are the three at the top of my list.
As with all legislation, I will make announcements from the Dispatch Box about what Bills will come forward in the usual way. I think the hon. Lady is a member of the Labour Whips Office, so she will be party to discussions between the usual channels on those matters.
Currently, two in five pensioners who are eligible for pension credit do not claim it. In my constituency, over £7 million of pension credit payments are not claimed and are therefore retained by the Treasury. All of that is occurring as we witness an increase in pensioner poverty. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what his Government will do to ensure that all pensioners eligible for pension credit are made aware of this support and how they can claim it?
The hon. Lady raises a very important and specific point about the non-claiming of pension credit. I totally agree with her. It is very important that those who are entitled to it are aware that they are able to claim it and do make that claim. This is important finance which aims to support them. Given the fact that this is a very specific matter, I will point her to Work and Pensions questions on 1 July.
Eighteen young people from Coventry are to take part in the 53rd international children’s games this summer, which are due to be held in Ufa, Russia, in July. The Coventry team will be competing against 1,500 other children from 90 cities around the world in many different sports, including athletics and swimming. I know these young people will have an unforgettable experience, and will build friendships with children of different nationalities that will hopefully last a lifetime. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing all those young Coventrians all the best? Will he look to arrange a debate in Government time on the benefits of sport, not just for health and wellbeing but for its ability to develop cultural relationships between cities and friendships between competitors?
I congratulate every single one of those children who have stepped up and said they are willing to travel halfway round the world to engage in what sounds like a fantastic sporting competition involving 1,500 other competitors. I wish them well. Sport and exercise for young people is a very worthy subject for debate. I might direct the hon. Lady to the hon. Member for Gateshead and the Backbench Business Committee.
I thought the Leader of the House was very ungracious to suggest that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was not the best-looking member of Runrig. If I can paraphrase Paul McCartney, he is not even the best-looking member of MP4! [Laughter.] I’m not saying who is, obviously. By some strange omission MP4 have not been booked to play the Glastonbury festival this weekend, but it is a reminder of the importance of music festivals to the economy and to people’s wellbeing. A lot of smaller music festivals are now being hit for the first time by business rates bills, making their survival marginal at best. May we have a debate on why it is that music venues and music festivals now seem to be being picked on for business rates and other costs by the Government, when they contribute so much to our wellbeing and our economy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, first, for his observation about the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I think we have plumbed new depths in terms of his desirability. It is a very cruel observation, but I will check the photographs and see whether it is true. Perhaps I will report back next Thursday with my observations.
On the serious matter of music venues and business rates, I think the hon. Gentleman may be referring to the applicability or otherwise of tax reliefs, which have recently been announced, in relation to business rates. They typically apply to pubs, but currently I do not think they necessarily always apply to music venues. On music festivals, I am not familiar with exactly how the business rating system works in that respect. These are both matters for the Treasury, specifically the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. If he would like to drop me a line, I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting with the Financial Secretary to discuss them.
Following on from the question from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), I have previously raised the issue of understanding pension credit and doing more to promote it. After the launch of the independent “Credit where it’s due” campaign yesterday, I was shocked to find out that £5 million was not being claimed by pensioners in my constituency. I ask the Leader of the House to find time for a debate and not to refer us to DWP questions—there needs to be a debate so that we can highlight this issue. It affects not just one or two Members, but Members right across the House, so can we please have a debate on this important issue to ensure that pensioners receive the benefits and pension credit that they deserve?
The hon. Gentleman has quite fairly pressed me to go a little further than I did in answering the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), inasmuch as he points out that this is quite a wide-ranging issue. I point him to DWP questions on Monday—it is worth being there to ask a question on that point—but equally, perhaps he would consider applying for a Westminster Hall debate. [Interruption.]
As a fellow hay fever sufferer, I send my best wishes to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you are obviously suffering from the high pollen count today.
Can we have a statement before the summer recess on progress in the infected blood inquiry? We know that a victim dies on average every four days and that the inquiry will probably not finish for another couple of years. Along with seven Opposition party leaders, I have requested the Prime Minister, and the two people who are standing to be the next Prime Minister, to commit to providing compensation now rather than waiting for two years, when we know that so many more people will die. Can we please have an interim statement?
The hon. Lady has put an enormous amount of work into the whole issue of infected blood and highlighting how important it is, and she should be congratulated on that. On compensation, the best way to take that forward would be a meeting with a Minister, and I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting with the appropriate Minister so that she can discuss those issues.
The blistering incompetence of the independent members of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is becoming legendary across Staffordshire. Their most recent wheeze is to instruct a secondary school in my constituency, Birches Head high school, to increase the number of children that it takes but not to provide a single penny of capital funding to build the classrooms for the children to work in, forcing the school to cancel its in-house bus transportation scheme for the rest of the school to make budgets work. Can we have a statement at some point, perhaps from the Department for Education, on the sustainability of capital investment in school buildings, and perhaps a debate on a fit-and-proper-person test for cabinet members such as Ann James and Janine Bridges and whether they are fit to run cabinet, executive-level positions in any authority?
I do not think I will get too drawn into the—how shall I put it?—cross-fire of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in respect of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, other than to say that if the hon. Gentleman writes to me about the general matter of capital investment in schools, I will be very happy to have a close look at whether a debate might be appropriate or whether I might suggest facilitating a meeting with an appropriate Minister.
It was announced to the press this morning that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has appointed Henry Dimbleby to lead on a food review that will result in the publication of a national food strategy next year. A lot of us have been very excited about this and have spoken to Henry about it, but I am quite disappointed—particularly given the Environment Secretary’s fondness for appearing at the Dispatch Box—that we have not had a statement on that, nor have we even had a written ministerial statement. It is another example of things being announced in the press and not here. Will the Leader of the House lure the Environment Secretary to the Dispatch Box next week?
The Environment Secretary should be congratulated on all that he is doing in this area. I know that he takes it extremely seriously, and the appointment that has been made is an extremely good one. None the less, the hon. Lady is urging us to make a statement. Her remarks will have been heard by the Secretary of State, and if she wanted me to help to facilitate a meeting with a Minister in that Department to discuss the national food strategy, I would be very happy to do that.
There is a heatwave rolling across Europe, with record June temperatures recorded in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Yesterday we saw huge numbers of people from across our communities—30 or so from my constituency—travel to Westminster to lobby MPs about the urgent need to respond to the climate emergency that we as a Parliament have declared. May we therefore have a debate, in Government time, on the role that tidal energy could play as part of the UK’s future energy mix? There are many projects all the way along the west coast, from Solway to Somerset, but I am particularly interested in the potential for tidal energy on the River Wyre at Fleetwood.
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and she is right to refer to yesterday’s gathering of people from across the country to underline the importance of global warming and the need for renewable energy, including tidal energy. She will be aware that we are now the leading economy to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We have also reduced emissions by 25% since 2010, we have now had the longest period of producing power without the use of coal since the industrial revolution, and we are seeing more and more energy being generated from renewables. I think that tidal energy would be a very good subject for an Adjournment debate.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have given Mr Speaker’s office notice of my intention to raise this matter. Yesterday, during Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister not once but twice made an assertion that was not only inaccurate—she might have been misinformed—but really damaging. She twice asserted that Labour peers were attempting to stop the legislation needed for the net zero carbon emissions target. That is categorically not the case. The noble Lord Grantchester had tabled a motion of regret as an amendment to the statutory instrument, and his intention was not to block it, but to improve it along the lines that I was asking the Prime Minister about. I was attempting to make a clear stand so that the members of the public outside yesterday could hear some sort of cross-party consensus, which is what I had been hoping for. I was disappointed that what the Prime Minister said was not just an attempt to make political capital; it was also not the case.
I do not wish to imply that the Prime Minister deliberately chose to mislead the House—I am sure that is not the case—but she has now had adequate opportunity to correct the record, and I understand that has not happened. I therefore seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, on what I can do to ensure that the record is corrected, and not only in a timely manner, but with as much publicity as Prime Minister’s questions allows.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving notice of her intention to raise this matter and, as I understand it, also informing the Prime Minister’s office. She will know that I am not responsible for the accuracy or otherwise of answer given by Ministers at the Dispatch Box. She asks me how she might achieve a correction of the record. She has given her account of the matter and drawn the House’s attention to exchanges in the House of Lords yesterday, which may be relevant. If she wishes to pursue the matter directly with the Prime Minister, she can consider tabling further such questions—the Table Office will be happy to advise her on that. In the meantime, those on the Treasury Bench will have heard her comments, and she has obviously put her point on the record.
Co-operative and Mutual Businesses
I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the contribution of co-operative and mutual businesses to the UK economy; notes that they provide substantial jobs in Britain, generate significant tax revenues and involve consumers and employees in decision making; and calls on the Government to review what further steps it can take to help grow that sector.
It is a pleasure to move the motion in this, the first week of Co-operatives Fortnight. Co-operative and mutual businesses—from retail giants such as John Lewis, Nationwide and the Co-operative Group through to social enterprises, credit unions, energy co-ops, community banks, childcare co-ops, friendly insurers and housing co-operatives—offer a route map to a more democratic and fairer economy. Co-ops and mutuals exist already in every sector of the economy, from financial services to housing, food retailing, public services and sport, supplying affordable and sustainable services to consumers, providing rewarding work and strengthening community enterprise.
My hon. Friend has mentioned financial services. Does he agree that building societies in particular provide an excellent service on the high street? High street banks have vacated many communities en masse, but building societies are a mainstay, and are gaining more business and better understanding from consumers because they are there to support them week in, week out.
That is an extremely good point. Building societies are one part of a co-op and mutual movement that already has a combined income of more than £133 billion, with assets worth many billions more. It is a serious and significant part of our economy, yet all too often Government, regulators, policy makers and thinkers dismiss its huge potential for expansion—expansion that could help to challenge wage stagnation, widening inequality and our growing environmental crisis.
Co-ops and mutuals put economic power in the hands of ordinary people, and, remarkably, those ordinary people, supported by skilful management, can be entrepreneurial, highly productive, and visionary—who knew? There are those on the right who criticise co-ops and mutuals for being some sort of left-wing throwback to the 1970s, dangerously radical; and there are those on the hard left who think that they are not public ownership at its best, but just a front for business as usual. More generous critics take a benevolent, paternalistic approach, tolerating co-ops and mutuals until bigger, more serious players in the City or the unions enter the room.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent start to what I am sure is going to be a great speech, but may I suggest to him that co-ops are, in fact, dangerous? They undermine the existing order, and empower people to take charge of their own lives. They are dangerous, and they should be.
I was about to say something that I hope my hon. Friend will be able to support even more wholeheartedly. I have always believed that co-ops and mutuals are the future: that they spread wealth and power more fairly, that they strengthen British-owned business, that they provide competition and choice for consumers in a range of critical markets, that they create diversity and enterprise, that they take a long-term view, and that they are a counter to the short-termist, riskier business models loved by City editors. We in this great Chamber should surely be able to allow our communities to direct and influence the economies that surround them and on which they depend.
Will my hon. Friend join me in supporting agricultural co-operatives, which play an important role in trying to bring about more sustainable, locally connected food and farming systems? Does he share my disappointment that countries such as the Netherlands and France have far more of them than we currently have in the UK?
I absolutely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I know that fisheries co-ops are another part of the sector in which she is interested. They, too, make a huge contribution, and could do a lot more with a little more help.
The economy is not some separate space to be run only by so-called management experts on grotesque levels of pay who can continue to ignore the rest of the country. Why should our neighbours, our friends and those we see at the school gate not have a say in how businesses and services on which they depend are run? They are allowed a say in political decision making, so why should they not be allowed a say in the businesses that they work in or depend on? Co-ops and mutuals can be life-changing and transformative, and the Government and the other Opposition parties should join Labour in committing themselves to double the size of the sector from between 4% and 5% of GDP to 10%.
The Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank was redeveloped by the enterprise Coin Street Community Builders. It now contains five floors of social housing run by Redwood Housing Co-op, subject to some of the lowest rents in the capital while being in one of London’s prime spots. Armed forces credit unions are another powerful example of the difference that co-ops can make. They were established after a long campaign by the Co-operative party, and are helping to combat the problem of payday lenders who prey on our armed forces personnel. Those are two remarkable stories, in my view, but much more is possible. Access to capital, further legislative reform, better Government funding, more Whitehall efforts to raise awareness and more expertise on the sector in the civil service are the key asks of Britain’s co-op and mutual sector.
I appreciate that finance is not an issue or problem reserved to co-ops and mutuals, but because of their different ownership models they often have real difficulty in accessing finance for expansion, and indeed for getting started. Big corporations can access large investment through debt funding or, crucially, can create capital by selling shares. Co-operatives and mutuals cannot at the moment do the latter without demutualising. Clearly we need to protect this unique governance model but also allow mutuals to issue permanent investment shares— that is to say, create indivisible reserves—which cannot be distributed to members even beyond the lifetime of the mutual. The European Union states offer this already in their mutual and co-operative legal set-ups, and a further five EU states have it in a slightly different form, yet in the UK we do not offer this route to raising significant finance for co-ops and mutuals.
Such a form of co-op and mutual share capital would offer stronger protection against demutualisation and therefore maintain and enhance corporate diversity. Above all else it would allow co-ops and mutuals to compete in the marketplace with other big businesses without one hand tied behind their back. In the UK building societies have a version of this already, called core capital deferred shares, which allows them to access capital markets without risking their mutual nature, but other financial mutuals and co-ops in the UK do not have anything like that.
Outside the EU, Desjardins in Quebec has raised more than $4 billion through this route, and Australia passed legislation on 5 April this year allowing its co-ops and mutuals to issue share capital while protecting their co-operative and mutual nature. If the Australians can do it, if most of Europe can do it, and if British building societies have it already, why should not British co-operatives and other mutuals also be allowed to raise finance in this way?
I recognise that the Minister and his officials have looked at this once already in the light of Lord Naseby’s successful Bill in the other place, and indeed my own and mutuals’ representations, but I hope he might be persuaded, particularly given that similar legislation is now on the statute book in Australia, to bring key experts in this area together with officials again to try to find a resolution to the problems that have stopped this method of raising finance being allowed in the UK. The Co-operative Group, other retail co-op societies, Co-operatives UK, friendly insurers and the Building Societies Association all support progress on this issue, and I urge the Minister, who has been sympathetic to co-operatives and mutuals in the past, to be willing to take a fresh look at this.
Britain’s co-op and mutual movement suffers from a lack of dedicated banking funds. Across Europe, dedicated mutual or co-op banks exist, are highly profitable and have been around for ages. I have long thought that the Royal Bank of Scotland could and should be converted into a mutual to help address this gap in the UK and to challenge the continuing big banking monopoly in the City. The Minister may not yet be ready to join me in making that jump, so perhaps I can ask him to explore whether the British Business Bank might begin to have a dedicated mutual growth fund to encourage the setting up of new mutuals.
Responsible Finance, an excellent organisation that champions Britain’s existing community banks, highlights the need for dedicated finance for start-up worker co-ops. There is at present an absence of patient capital or capital blended with grants to reduce investment risk for start-up worker co-ops. A dedicated fund would enable specialist co-op lenders to take a higher level of risk in this area and mean that more capital would be available.
Does my hon. Friend agree that almost all start-up businesses have difficulty in accessing finance but that, ironically, it is more difficult for co-ops, notwithstanding the fact that the survival rate of starter co-ops over five years is almost double that of other businesses? That is an anomaly that we would reasonably expect the financial services market to correct.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to the work of programmes such as Co-op UK’s Hive programme, the resources that are available from Stir to Action, some of the local measures that we have seen in Manchester and Preston, and Social Investment Business’s mutual Reach Fund, but these are all relatively small-scale and need to be scaled up.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear me—and, I suspect, other hon. Members—urge the introduction of further legislative reform to help credit unions offer more services to their members and enable them to invest their members’ money in an expanded range of ways to generate a return for savers. Credit unions are the most active, responsible lenders to the poorest and most financially vulnerable and excluded people in the UK, but they are held back from doing more by outdated legislation and a digital approach to regulation by the Financial Conduct Authority.
I declare my interest as a former director of the Staffordshire credit union, which sadly went bump because the FCA’s misunderstanding of the difference between the capital reserves we had to hold and the sustainability of our loan book meant that we could never meet its ever increasing targets and thresholds. That has left a number of former consumers unable to access even the basic banking arrangements that we offered, and I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend’s comments about the way in which the FCA regulates. It needs to better understand what credit unions are, and how they differ from commercial high street banks.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. There needs to be a significant culture change in the FCA’s approach to credit unions and other financial mutuals. I recognise that there has been some Government support—indeed, the Minister has been helpful in ensuring more support for credit unions—but wholesale reform of the objects and powers of credit unions through primary legislation, providing a clear basis for innovation and development in the sector, is overdue.
I do not usually stand up for the Financial Conduct Authority, but is it not in the interesting position where the rise of digital currencies, crowdfunding and all the new opportunities opening up to co-operatives mean that we are in a challenging and innovative but quite unstable situation?
My hon. Friend seems to have gone from being dangerously radical earlier to being conservative within the space of about 10 minutes. He makes a reasonable general point about the changing landscape, but I am struck by the number of credit unions that have stories to tell of their difficulties with the FCA, and I believe that the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and I have made about the need for cultural change in the FCA’s approach to mutuals is justified.
As the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd and the Building Societies Association have noted, new primary legislation for credit unions could allow them the chance to offer additional services at an affordable price in areas such as house insurance, where consumers often pay a premium if they pay on a monthly basis. Under the Credit Unions Act 1979, credit unions are permitted to offer credit to their members in the form of a loan, but the Financial Conduct Authority has taken a strict and literal view of this, limiting credit unions to offering cash loans. ABCUL and credit unions such as Plane Saver and London Mutual have noted that credit unions could provide an affordable and responsible alternative to a number of other consumer credit markets, such as secured car lending. Indeed, one credit union highlighted to me that the FCA had effectively stopped it offering an alternative to the high-cost credit that BrightHouse locks its customers into when they cannot afford to pay outright for basics such as cookers and fridges.
There should be a legal right for payroll deduction to join a credit union to be available to an employee if they desire it. I hope the Minister will ask his officials to check that every branch of the Government offers payroll deduction to join a credit union if civil servants want that facility. There should also be a requirement for the Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities and housing associations to signpost those in need to credit unions to help them avoid the payday loan companies and illegal lenders who prey on our most vulnerable people. Further help to allow credit unions to invest in new technology, so that they can provide a good digital offer, is key.
Greater understanding of the needs of the co-op and mutual sector by the civil service, and across all parts of Government, is important, and the Treasury is in a good position to facilitate such an awareness-raising effort. In Homes England, for example, a dedicated group of staff could promote and help housing co-operatives. A co-operative development agency could be tasked with promoting interest in co-ops and mutual entrepreneurialism across the country. The Treasury should be able to check that Government funding announcements do not discriminate against co-operative and mutual models. Co-op schools and energy co-ops have not been helped at key moments. Finally, why oh why are the Government not doing more to promote employee ownership trusts—a move they announced in the 2014 Budget—as a way of enabling the owners of companies to get the exit they want, realising the value of their business while securing its ethos, values and employees for the future?
The Government have sought to dispose of unwanted buildings and other land, but some of that should be allocated for sale or transfer for co-operative housing. We need more community land trusts to lock down ownership of land for those who need it most, and I will give just one example, with Armed Forces Day this Saturday in mind. In the US, homeless veterans are being helped into homes built on donated Government land, subsidised by Government funding and run as housing co-operatives. That has given veterans the chance to take control of the environment, rules, regulations and rents that they live by and pay, while getting proper support to rebuild their lives.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he accept that community land trusts have a particular benefit in rural areas, where they can provide cheaper or affordable housing? Does he agree that we need to examine how planning rules can encourage, rather than disadvantage, community land trusts in such settings?
I do agree, and I hope that my hon. Friend will catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to develop that point further.
Soldier On, a US veterans charity, opened the Gordon H. Mansfield veterans community in the autumn of 2017, with 51 homeless veterans moving in. Those veterans received not just the keys to their own apartment in a housing co-operative, but the keys to a new life away from the danger and insecurity of the streets. Soldier On has 14 new units under construction and is looking to develop 100 more units in New York and a further 70 in New Jersey. That model of housing co-ops on, probably, donated Government land could work in the UK and should be happening here. I gently ask the Treasury to encourage the Ministry of Defence to stop some of the sales of the almost 50 empty properties of which it is trying to dispose.
Co-operatives and mutuals are a great British success story, but they could be an even bigger one. I urge the House and the Government to embrace the sector and to champion the doubling in size of its contribution to our economy.
It is a great pleasure and a privilege to follow the lead of the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas). I sometimes disappoint him in other matters, but I salute his work on furthering the co-operative movement.
I will never forget the moment when I fell in love with the principles and ideas of the co-operative and mutual movement. Shortly after my election, I had been encouraged to study a book called “Working-Class Patients and the Medical Establishment” by David Green, who now runs the Civitas think-tank, and the moment that I mention came when I read this quote—I hope that Members will forgive the old-fashioned language—taken from the Oddfellows Magazine on the eve of the passage of the National Insurance Act 1911:
“Working men are awakening to the fact that this is a subtle attempt to take from the class to which they belong the administration of the great voluntary organisations which they have built up for themselves, and to hand over the future control to the paid servants of the governing class… This is not liberty; this is not development of self-government, but a new form of autocracy and tyranny not less but the more dangerous because it is benevolent in its intentions.”
That speaks to the kind of radicalism that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) introduced to the debate. Perhaps it is a spirit too radical for our age, but it is pretty obvious that, in so many countries around the world, there is a crisis of political economy and a lack of faith not only in the institutions of government but in the institutions of market economy. I am grateful to see Opposition Members nodding, and in that spirit we need to recapture some of that radicalism. It is about free individuals in society standing up not only for themselves but against entrenched interests and entrenched power better to serve their families and their communities. That was the moment when I realised, as a free market Conservative, that I perhaps had something to learn from the traditions of the left.
What is it that make co-operatives different? A briefing supplied by Co-operatives UK states:
“What makes co-ops different is how they allow people to democratically own and control the things that really make a difference—like capital, organisation and scale—so that these create real value for people and planet. They are one of the best tools we have for applying social responsibility, solidarity and democracy in a market setting.”
Perhaps it is that language of solidarity and democracy in the market that frightens off some of my Conservative colleagues, which I very much regret.
The Rochdale principles of the movement’s founding pioneers talk of open membership; democratic control— one person, one vote—not based on share ownership; distribution of surplus in proportion to trade, which is economic participation; payment of limited interest on capital; political and religious neutrality; cash trading, so that people do not get into credit trouble on the basics; and the promotion of education.
Those principles have of course been refined by the International Co-operative Alliance to open and voluntary membership; democratic governance; limited return on equity; surplus belonging to members; the education of members and the public in co-operative principles—my goodness, we could do with more of that; and co-operation between co-operatives.
If we accept, and I am afraid that today it is a question of if, that prices, profit and loss are the only way to co-ordinate a global society of billions of people, and if we accept that we must live in a free market society to best serve one another, it is time to look at civil society—that great panoply of institutions between the individual and the state—and ask how that inclusive spirit of free enterprise shared by mutuals and co-operatives can help to rebuild people’s faith not only in a market economy but in government. We therefore need to recapture the Rochdale principles, and I encourage my colleagues on the Treasury Bench to think carefully about how a Conservative Government can stand for some of these principles in a market economy.
The hon. Gentleman and I are bitter opponents over the UK’s future in Europe, but we sometimes put that to one side. We are working together on a new initiative called FairLife—he knows I agree with the Rochdale principles—to open up the system so that people know they are getting a fair deal on financial services, just as they know they are buying ethical products through Fairtrade.
I always enjoy my moments of agreement with the hon. Gentleman, and of course regret those moments when we disagree. Hopefully I will persuade him one day of the correctness of my cause in that other matter.
Co-operatives and mutuals, throughout the history of society, have played a really important role in standing against tyranny and monopoly power, whether it was the Rochdale pioneers providing good-quality food for themselves, their families and their children or, as I discovered in my research, the African-American communities that used co-ops and mutuals during the despicable Jim Crow era to provide aid to one another when they were denied it by the state, whether through unjust laws or extra-legally. I am advised that the Mondragon co-operatives were founded in the Basque country partly as a response to the oppression of Franco.
More recently, Taxiapp allows drivers in London to fight back against the competition of Uber. Of course, farmers co-operate through co-operatives in a way that should be expanded.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fantastic work of Drive, the new taxi co-operative in Cardiff? In Wales we call on Drive to take us somewhere, which is exactly what it does. The co-operative is a response to some of the practices of the private-hire sector, the influence of Uber and others. It is doing fantastic work, supported by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, as I was not aware of Drive—I shall certainly Google it after this debate.
We need to ask ourselves why, given all the benefits of co-operatives and mutuals, they have not advanced further. They flourish, but why have they not advanced further? I was reflecting on why the Thatcher Government of my youth did not understand the great value that could come through inclusive free market participation with co-ops. They never got as far as embracing mutuality. That language of “solidarity” and “democratic participation” perhaps frightens off Conservatives. For too long, we have been afraid of some of these ideas of the left, and a more communitarian and voluntarist Conservative party should be embracing this idea of equality and market participation, not exclusively but as an important component of our society. I once heard the term “a parastatal”, and I wonder whether the idea of an enormous “The Co-op”—that enormous group of co-operatives—frightened off Conservative Governments in the past. I am encouraged that the “Open Public Services” White Paper of the coalition years makes provision for more mutuality in public services. I very much hope that when we get past our current distractions we might return to some of those ideas.
It has been suggested to me that one reason the Thatcher Government were not very good at embracing co-operatives was the preceding Labour Government’s failed attempts in the ’70s to turn failing companies into co-ops or co-op-like entities. Although I philosophically really embrace the hon. Member for Harrow West’s ideas about turning RBS into a co-op, and he and I have previously discussed the idea of Channel 4 becoming a co-op—
I will just finish the point. Enormous sums of capital are involved, particularly in relation to banks, so I have some misgivings that we might repeat the errors of the past. With that, I, of course, accept the hon. Gentleman’s help.
Let me help the hon. Gentleman on the history, because I knew Margaret Thatcher and her attitude to co-ops. We have to remember that she was the daughter of a small shopkeeper and traditionally saw the Co-op as the great competitor. She had an old-fashioned view of co-ops and what they meant, and she would never shop in one; there was a tradition that those on the radical side did not shop in co-ops, because they were the competition. I hope that that bit of history adds to his knowledge.
Of course I did know that, but the hon. Gentleman has certainly added colour to my understanding of the idea that we are all prisoners of where we come from, and perhaps that was one of the reasons. Now is the time we can have a renewal in our understanding of what can be achieved. Today, as the hon. Member for Harrow West set out, co-operatives are extremely important. They give an opportunity for people to gain control and agency over local economies, whether in land trusts or in other areas—we have mentioned public services. I will never forget listening to a young woman talking highly entrepreneurially about how a social care co-operative was working. It was remarkable to listen to the degree of ownership that lady felt. In other circumstances, she might have been doing “just” the valuable work of practically caring for a person, but in addition she felt really engaged in the operation of the business. That is an entirely noble thing. It is part of the process of becoming what it is to be human—to be really engaged like that in how these businesses run.
I wish to bring a few matters to the Government’s attention, and again this comes from Co-operatives UK. These are a few of the barriers out there and some policy options, which I would like the Government to consider. Co-operatives UK suggests:
“Fertile conditions for co-op formation are often absent”
because, for example, there is a shortage of
“social capital and limited devolution of economic power and funding to the community level.”
Going back to the 1911 Act, I wonder whether this is a part of a broader trend over 100 or more years, and whether we need to make sure that social capital and the devolution of economic power facilitate mutual and co-ops. Co-operatives UK then cites:
“Established cultures and norms of behaviour”,
with people sometimes “culturally disinclined to co-operate”. We need to think of ways we can encourage people to join in co-operatives.
There is, of course, a lack of awareness, practical understanding and good advice about this, which, I am sorry to say, we can witness on my side of the House today; too few Conservatives understand the role of co-operatives and mutuals. We could do more, as a Government, to explain to people the role of mutual and co-ops in a free society. Co-op frameworks are not as user-friendly as they should be, and we have heard some examples of that.
Of course, I support what the hon. Member for Harrow West said about building societies and extending capitalisation opportunities to other co-ops. I remember opposing the demutualisation of building societies as a young man. I did not really know why at the time; it just seemed instinctively wrong not to have that plurality. Our corporate frameworks and governance arrangements should be friendlier to co-ops. Members have touched on financing challenges, and they are generally part of the operating environment.
The proposals from Co-operatives UK include:
“Rather than giving all the funding and power to LEPs”—
local enterprise partnerships, in England—
“government could commit 25 per cent of the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund for community economic development”.
The Government should certainly consider that, along with encouraging LEPs to look seriously at the role of co-ops in their local communities through local industrial strategies.
Co-operatives UK proposes that there should be a social-investment tax relief, suggesting that we should:
“Use the current review of Social Investment Tax Relief to make it more supportive of Community Shares, by making community investment in land and real estate, housing development, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy eligible.”
It also suggests employee ownership tax support and help for co-ops with making tax digital, which is something of a curse on a number of small businesses.
I have reservations about the idea of dormant assets being used to support co-ops. My concern is related not to co-ops, but to the idea that dormant assets are someone’s property. We should be a little cautious there, but Co-operatives UK has made that recommendation. It also proposes legal reform to ensure that we bring things up to date and support co-ops in the law.
At this time of great political turmoil, not only in the UK but in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and the USA, we need to think extremely seriously about the institutions that we have and how to make them flourish. A great and wise defender of the liberal market order once wrote:
“Society is co-operation; it is community in action.”
I very much hope that, through the kind of collaboration we see in the House today, we might one day educate Members of Parliament and the public as to what that idea of society as co-operation really means, and through doing that reinvigorate our society and better fit it for the future.
It gives me great pleasure to follow that rather enlightened speech by my friend, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). As I said in my earlier intervention, we work together on the FairLife initiative, which shows the children present today that sometimes we work positively across party lines; we do not just disagree over Brexit or other things.
I suppose my admission today is that as a young academic teaching at Swansea University, I got involved in learning about worker co-operatives and wrote an article about them. I got so enthused that I started to set up worker co-operatives. Eventually, someone said to me, “You’re very political and interested in co-operatives; why don’t you join the Co-operative party?”, and I said, “What is the Co-operative party?” The person said to me, “Come down to a Co-operative party meeting at the Elysium buildings”, which were by the railway station in Swansea. It was a pouring wet night—we specialise in those in Swansea—and I got down to this meeting and came out as the secretary. You will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, how politics works in that sense. I have been a co-operator ever since.
I have also been a bit of a dissonant voice, because I have always called into question the idea of having a single view of co-operation. We all look at Google these days, and when I did I saw this definition of a co-operative:
“A farm, business, or other organization which is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits.”
It is a simple thing, but it is also the most liberating thing I can think of in terms of the politics that I do, because it is absolutely the kind of politics that says, “Politics is not just about general elections, referendums or the big scale; it is about ordinary people deciding that they are going to take control of their own lives and that they are not going to be manipulated.”
I do not want to go too much into the history, but we all know that the industrial revolution pulled people off the rural economy—the farms and the life they knew—and into awful conditions in the factory towns of Britain. They had to shop at the company store: the company not only employed them, but paid them in its own currency so that they could shop only at the company shop. That was called truck. The Truck Acts passed by this House banned the practice of companies having their own currency.
Co-operatives sprung up—one could see at least 50 co-operatives from Castle Hill in Huddersfield. They started as local communities saying, “We are going to be able to buy fresh, good food that isn’t overpriced, and we are going to take control of that by setting up a retail co-operative.” Members will know the old principle: people used to put in a pound and they would have a share, so they were a shareowner in that co-operative. People were then employed to run the co-operative.
I have a criticism of that model. It is a good model, and by the 1950s most people shopped in co-ops. The co-operative retail movement was so powerful that it was the major retailer in our country. Indeed, in 1917, when Lloyd George was Prime Minister and the co-operative shops were not getting their fair share of flour and sugar because the Germans were blockading Britain, people marched down to Westminster Hall and started the Co-operative party. The biggest retail movement in Britain was not getting a fair share. Very soon, the Co-operative party came to an agreement with the Labour party that we would never stand candidates against each other, which is why there is a Labour and Co-operative wing of the labour movement.
That is the history, but let me bring things up to date, because that was an important lesson. People’s lives were in turmoil: the whole social and economic nature of the country changed in the 18th century and into the 19th century. There was radical change, and radical change is now happening again in respect of the assured ways of life. People thought they were going to get a job and probably have it for life, working in the public services or at a big company. In questions this morning there was mention of someone having worked for ICI—Imperial Chemical Industries. I worked for ICI. It is long gone, but many of the people with whom I work at ICI worked there for life. It was the norm that people joined a company and, although perhaps they would change their job once or twice, by and large the structure of life was stable and secure. That stability and security has largely disappeared for many of the people we represent in this House.
We have to come to terms with things and to change. Human beings are quite good at responding and saying, “This is really difficult; let’s do something to mitigate this and take control of our lives.” What happened during the industrial revolution? Working people set up trade unions to represent them, and housing associations and mutuals—a whole range of things. They set up mutuals and co-ops to make sure that people could have a holiday with their family once a year. They set up mutuals to make sure that people had money for Christmas presents and other big occasions, when they could get their dividend. People set up co-ops for burial, and the Co-op is still today a big player in that sector. They covered holidays, funerals and all those sorts of things. What is the great cause today? It is housing. Young people, and even people on reasonable incomes, cannot get a foothold in the housing market. In the current circumstances, why are we not going back to those mutual and co-operative ideas to meet that need?
All that brings me to the second part of my speech, although I do not want to keep the House’s attention for too long. As life is changing radically, the opportunities are changing. I am a long-term social entrepreneur: since I have been in this business, I have started more than 50 different social enterprises. A lot of social enterprise is about asking people for money, and it is difficult. It is tough. As a member of the court of governors of the London School of Economics, I was befuddled, because every time we hired a fundraiser, they did not even make enough money to pay the wages of the fundraising team. Eventually, we hired a young American woman—I think she was called Sally Blair—who raised tens of millions of pounds. People gave us whole blocks of buildings around the LSC in Holborn. She was the most magnificent fundraiser. I said, “Sally, why is it that you have been so successful? She said, “I am an American. If you’re an English fundraiser, you ask someone for some money, and if they say no, you go and sulk forever. We ask seven times, and put a person on the back burner only after the seventh time.”
As a social entrepreneur and a co-operator, I was in the business of asking people for money for good causes, and it was hard. Then we had the big financial crisis. George Osborne always used to say that the Labour party had caused a worldwide breakdown in modern capitalism. I used to say to him that I wished that we were that powerful. The issue was actually something to do with international banking and the corrupt way that banking had emerged.
The point I want to make is that technology has changed the opportunities for raising money for co-operation. I chair the Westminster Crowdfunding Forum. Social media can achieve immediate results. For example, if someone has an idea for a co-operative, they could raise money worldwide. They could identify a particular need in Yorkshire, in Huddersfield, or even in your own constituency of Doncaster, Madam Deputy Speaker. The technology presents us with an amazing opportunity.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I completely agree with him about those challenges of raising money to get new social enterprises and co-operatives off the ground. In that regard, crowdfunding is a way forward, absolutely, but it also needs leadership from Government. Does he welcome what the Welsh Government have done in the past few days in announcing a new £3 million fund for the Social Business Wales New Start initiative to kick-start hundreds of new social enterprises and co-operatives across Wales? It was, in fact, launched at a restaurant called The Clink, which is next to Cardiff prison and is itself a social enterprise. Does he agree that that is exactly what the Government should be doing—kick-starting the co-operative economy in the UK?
I was amused by that intervention because, of course, my origins in co-operation are in Wales. It is a delight to hear about that initiative. There is also a Clink in London—in Pentonville I think.
The point that I am trying to make is that there are new opportunities. I got fed up talking about co-operation and how wonderful it was. I worked with John Smith, who was a passionate supporter of co-operatives and who started the Co-operative Commission with an international committee on mutuals. We had lots of debates and we set up the Co-operative Development Agency. The problem now is that the co-operative movement is too conservative these days. It clings to the old model, the basics and the values of which are right, but sometimes, I think, we miss the point.
When I went into Co-op shops, I felt that the conditions for the workers were worse than those in Woolworth’s, Asda or Morrisons, which was wrong. I made myself unpopular when I said, “Why don’t we do what John Lewis does?” John Lewis, as I am sure everyone on the Government Benches know, is a workers’ co-operative; it is owned by the workers. They call them partners, but it is a workers’ co-operative; and it works and it is successful. It is still doing relatively well even with all the pressure on the high street. So, we have to be critical about the co-operative model and we have to modify it, but, essentially, we have to energise the workers. Worker co-operation is essential if we are to make an organisation work. That blend of everyone having a share as a consumer along with measures to energise the staff is absolutely the way forward.
Finally, now that we have all these new opportunities— we have not only crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, but blockchain and digital currency—there are real possibilities for transforming the economy big time, not little time. I am not talking about a couple of small shops or a couple of little start-ups; we need massively to change the way that we do things in this country. Most international business people whom I meet believe—partly because of Brexit but not entirely so—that we are heading for another global collapse of the economy, another global meltdown, another major recession. We will need, as never before, co-operatives, new mutuals and new ways of doing business. If those new ways of doing business are rooted in empowering people as individuals and as communities, a brilliant future will lie ahead.
The flag of the co-operative movement worldwide is a rainbow of colours. The United Nations has understood the power of our co-operative ideals to transform people’s lives not only in wealthy countries such as the United Kingdom and in Europe, but across the world. If we are to do something to stop what is happening in central America—the tragic picture of that father and little girl was still in my mind this morning—and if we are to bring wealth and power to people who do not have it at the moment, co-operation must be at the very heart of what we do.
Let me finish by saying that co-operation is wonderful, it must be updated and forward looking, and it has got to be, in the best sense, empowering and revolutionary.
As always, it is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). I thank the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) for bringing forward this really important debate.
Over the years that I have been in business and, indeed, in this House, I have come to see more and more the importance of the co-operative and mutual movement. Perhaps some Members know this, but I wonder how many people know which bank in the world is top of global sustainability rankings. It is Rabobank, a co-operative bank from the Netherlands, which, last year, had a net income of €3 billion and a balance sheet of more than €40 billion. That shows that a co-operative can be a global player. I have had the honour of working with the Rabobank Foundation in Tanzania where they supported a shallow well drilling project, which my wife was helping to run. I also have seen its work in other countries both as a commercial entity and through its magnificent foundation. That is one thing that a co-operative bank on that scale can do; it can give back enormous sums to the communities in which it works, both through better and cheaper services, financial services in this case, and also through supporting community work.
Further afield across Europe in Switzerland, the two biggest retail groups are both co-operatives: the Co-op itself and Migros, which has more than 100,000 employees. They show how co-operatives can work on a major scale and provide great benefit to their communities and to their staff.
On the international scale, I want to draw attention to Fairtrade, which I have been involved in for many, many years. Without the co-operative movement in the United Kingdom and, indeed, across Europe, Fairtrade would simply not be where it is. We need to remember that the UK has the greatest level of sales of Fairtrade goods of any country in the world—more than £2 billion a year—and the co-operative movement deserves huge credit for that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he also aware of the role that the co-operative movement and co-operative MPs have played, along with MPs from across the House in the all-party group for Fairtrade, in highlighting corporates, such as Sainsbury’s, that are trying to downgrade the role of Fairtrade products? We highlighted the fact that it was selling tea that it called “fairly traded” which was not Fairtrade tea. It is not only about boosting Fairtrade globally, but about defending its position. That is at the very heart of the co-operative principle.
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman says, and he is absolutely right. I would say that Sainsbury’s has also been a strong supporter of Fairtrade, but we do not want to see any dilution or diminution of those principles. Fairtrade is like a brand. People will pay that bit extra because they know that what they are buying has been reliably sourced from farmers or other producers who have been properly paid for their work. It is a brand like any other brand, but it is more than that; it is something that we have to have trust in, and we do not want to see any diminution of that at all.
I want to talk briefly about the role of co-operatives in financial services, in three specific areas. First, my constituency is home to the excellent Stafford Railway Building Society, which was founded in 1877. It is local and exists to provide mortgages to local people. It was set up, obviously, by the railway workers of Stafford—Stafford is one of the major railway junctions in the whole UK rail network—and it is still there, providing excellent financial services, profitably, to my constituents and the near neighbourhood. I pay tribute to all those who have made it what it is, because people give up a lot of their time to serve on the board or as staff in the building society. Particular credit goes to Mike Heenan, a friend of mine who was very much involved in the building society for many years; Susan Whiting, who took over from him as the chief executive; and the current board and management of the building society.
Stafford Railway Building Society will be around for the next decade, two decades and three decades, because it is run responsibly and its capital is built up every year as it does not have to pay dividends. Where it can help is by providing cheaper and better services to its members through the retention of that capital.
The second area I want to discuss is credit unions, which have already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell). I declare an interest in that I was a member of the Staffordshire credit union and was very sad indeed when it closed. I have to give credit where it is due; it was closed in a responsible manner and people got their investments back, but it was very sad that it had to happen. I ask the Government to look at why such an important local institution has to close because of regulation. We all know that there has to be regulation, but are there ways in which regulations could be changed so that they would not have such a dramatic effect on a very important and loved local institution? I very much hope that we will see the return of a Staffordshire credit union at some point in the near future.
The third area where the co-operative and mutual movement has a very important role to play is in small business finance, but it is not able to do that enough at the moment. The Co-operative Bank clearly has an excellent record in lending and providing accounts for small business, but the co-operative and mutual movement should have a much greater role to play in the provision of loans to start-ups or equity capital for small businesses. I pay tribute to the Black Country Reinvestment Society, of which I am a member. The society provides lending to businesses in Staffordshire in my constituency and across the Black Country. It is an excellent institution, but we need more such institutions and we need them to play a greater role in the provision of the equity capital that is so often as important—particularly for modern, high-tech businesses—as the loan capital that they more traditionally provide.
I pay tribute to the role that the co-operative and mutual movement has played in the history and economy of the United Kingdom. All speakers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe have mentioned the fact that it is about not just the money and the business, but the co-operation. It is about building our social fabric—goodness knows we need to bring people together more and more at the moment, in times of quite considerable division. I urge Members on both sides of the House to support mutuals and co-operatives in their constituencies, as I know many do, as much for the fact that they bring people together to work for the benefit of their community as for the undoubted financial and economic benefits that these great movements bring to our country.
What a pleasure it is to contribute to this debate. I congratulate the previous speakers, who have all, in their own particular ways, not only articulated the benefit of co-operatives, mutuals and so on, but have also played a part in promoting them during their careers. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is possibly one of the few people, certainly in the Commons Chamber, whose longevity and experience exceeds even that of my own.
I joined the Co-operative party well over 40 years ago. I spent 18 years as a political organiser in the party: first, trying to combat the process of Thatcherism and privatisation; but secondly, I have to say, trying to convince those within my own political party—the Labour party, which is the sister of the Co-operative party—of the benefits of co-operation and mutuality. It is not a fight that has had just one front.
I joined the co-operative movement all those years ago because I saw it as some sort of middle way. It was different from state ownership, which I felt lacked buy-in from both employees and consumers, and which, while it still had a role in our economy, did not satisfy all the values and aspirations that I felt were incorporated within the Labour movement. On the other side was the shareholder proprietary model, under which it seemed to me the benefits of consumers’ purchasing power and employees’ skills were inappropriately spread, with the shareholders getting a far greater benefit from that combination of organisations. Co-operatives, mutuals and employee share ownership companies were, in their own different ways and in their own different sectors, incorporating those values, and locking in the benefit of employees’ skills and consumers’ purchasing power, in a way that reinforced the quality of the businesses they were engaged in.
It is worth reflecting for a few moments on the sheer longevity of some of the businesses involved. As we all know, the co-operative movement started in Rochdale in the 1840s. Even though there is now a much reduced number of co-operative societies—the largest being the Co-operative Group—they all have histories of well over 100 years, with some in excess of 150 years. Building societies similarly started in the middle and later part of the 19th century, and although there has been a process of amalgamation and in some cases privatisation, they are still a huge player in the financial services market. They may be much changed from their origins, but they still incorporate the basic community-based values that we have discussed.
John Lewis is an employee share ownership company that started in the second half of the 19th century. It started giving its employees shares in the 1920s and is still going strong today. When I look at companies being founded nowadays, I wonder how many will still exist in the next 150 or 200 years. The fact that the basic model of co-operation, mutuality and employee share ownership has survived all the social changes and economic vicissitudes over the last 150 to 200 years is a testament to its resilience, adaptability and relevance in the current economy.
Having said all that, there is a recognition that despite the success of some of the major companies in the sector, and the proliferation within the movement of a whole range of co-operatives, we are still not living up to the potential that the model has in our economy. Ironically, the co-operative and mutual sector plays a far greater part in economies such as those of the United States and Germany, which are by no means considered socialist economies. It is reasonable to look at why that is the case and why we have underperformed in our development of this area.
Previous speakers have highlighted some of the barriers that have existed. The raising of finance is a crucial one, although I will not repeat the lucid exposition of that problem by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas). Ironically, the economic rationale for the privatisation of the building societies in the 1980s was their inability to raise capital to expand, so we had that process and we know where it ended up. One cannot help but think that if Governments of that time had looked at providing the financial mechanism by which the building societies could have raised more money, that rationale would have been destroyed. I am not saying that human greed would not still have prevailed in some cases, but it would have been far more difficult to prosecute the case for it.
On company law, the submission by Co-operatives UK and the New Economics Foundation has made it clear that one of the obstacles is an outdated industrial and provident society legal framework. There seems to be a disparity between the way the Government approach this—which is basically not to do much about it, notwithstanding the efforts of my hon. Friend through his private Member’s Bill—and the way in which company law legislation is continually looked at and revised. If it is appropriate for that to be done for the corporate, private sector, why is it not appropriate for the co-operative sector?
Partly as a result of all this, lack of understanding is a big barrier. Ironically, co-ops, building societies and organisations like John Lewis have strong brand identities and public faith in them, yet the public do not really understand what makes those companies different from others, and how, if they wished themselves to organise within a co-operative, they might go about it. We have had a huge proliferation in the number of people going self-employed. Many of those people might well feel that if they knew more about co-operation, they would be better at working with like-minded people in a co-operative structure to deploy their skills even more effectively.
The New Economics Foundation has pointed out that there are some 120,000 family businesses with owners of an age that means that they are likely to retire. Of course, those businesses may go to management buy-outs or be passed on to younger members of the family, and so on. But there should be an opportunity for management to understand and get support for a potential co-operative model in the event of a buy-out post the retirement of the existing owners. The report by the New Economics Foundation points out that if only 5% of the businesses where owners retired went on to co-operative management, that would double the number of such companies. That is a staggering statistic.
Local economic partnerships and other bodies set up to promote business in different areas seem to be either unaware or under-aware of the potential that co-operatives will offer to businesses in their area. This comes back to thinking about a co-operative development agency that would provide a centre for advice and contacts for access to finance, and would be proactive in looking for co-operative opportunities. I am encouraged that the Mayors in Manchester, Aberdeen and South Yorkshire are now considering having co-op commissioners with a brief to look at ways in which they can work with their local regeneration agencies to regenerate under co-operative models.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on outlining the benefits of co-operatives. The Mayor of Greater Manchester has identified that about 160,000 residents of Greater Manchester are members of co-operatives. He says that that offers a huge opportunity, beyond just having a commissioner in place, and has now launched a call for evidence for the people who co-produce whatever model is developed there. That is a good example of working together.
I thank my hon. Friend for that example, which underlines the point I am making. Given that these local government structures, and the policies that they are adopting, are in their infancy, it demonstrates the potential that might be available in those areas for other local government structures to actively promote co-operation.
I should have intervened earlier, but I wanted to check something before I put it on the record. A few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman pleaded for updated legislation, pointing out that the industrial and provident society legislation is out of date. I remind the Minister, who I can see is listening very closely to his speech, that in 2010 we promised a co-operatives Bill, but then, when it came forward, it was just a consolidation Bill—a tidying up exercise. I was very disappointed by that, as I expect the hon. Gentleman was. Let me say gently to my hon. Friend the Minister that if we do promise a Bill again, we really must make sure that it is a meaningful Bill that brings the legislation up to date.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that prompt to the Minister. Hopefully it is even more effective coming from his side of the House than from mine.
I will conclude by making one or two general observations. First, we have an economy where a huge number of people feel alienated or not engaged with the world of work that is controlling so much of their life. When there is so much international investment—welcome though it is, and sometimes deployed very effectively—that means that decision making and huge swathes of our economy are often centred in offshore countries or very far removed from the control of the company’s employees.
For the past 10 years, we have suffered from low productivity. It is an issue that does not seem to get any better. In terms of taxation and public expenditure, there are still huge swathes of the economy where the companies involved are not paying an appropriate level of taxation. It is interesting to note that the co-op movement pays more in taxes to the Government than a whole range of high-tech companies, including Google and Amazon. Developing the mutual sector would at least ensure that as these companies grow, they are paying the sort of taxation returns to the Government that would more than pay for any help they had had from Government.
I do not claim that the co-operative and mutual movement is a silver bullet for all these problems, but their performance in terms of both longevity—there are far higher survival rates among new co-operatives than other businesses—and worker satisfaction means that there is a strong case for far more proactive Government involvement and support. To take up the point made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), I hope the Government will look at introducing a co-operatives Bill that will actively deliver on the ground.
Like many people, my first interaction with the co-operative movement was going to the local Co-op store with my gran when she was doing her weekly shopping. At the end of the walk around the supermarket, the shop assistant would put the things through the till and say, “What’s your divvy number?” and she would say, “207619”. That was her getting her slice of the dividend back. I did not really understand what that was about until I was a bit older, when she explained to me that every Christmas, she got back her dividend from how much she shopped in the Co-op.
I did not think about it much until I reached my teenage years and went to university, where I remember other people talking about it. That number has always stuck with me. I grew up in a relatively poor household, and the Co-op basically funded our Christmas, because my grandmother used the dividend she accrued throughout the year to buy the nice things we had at Christmas that we did not have for the rest of the year. I am sure I am not the only person who has memories of enjoyable Christmases because of the dividend points that their families received through Co-op shopping. That is not something we should dismiss.
There have been a lot of excellent contributions—including from my fellow west midlands Co-op MP, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey)—about the huge opportunities in the co-operative movement to contribute to our economy and the greater good of the United Kingdom. We should also focus on the small co-ops and the little interactions of co-operative goodness that improve the everyday lives of individuals in our communities.
Labour has made a commitment to “at least” double the size of the co-operative sector—my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on the shadow Front Bench will realise that doubling it is not the end point in itself. Our aspiration in government is to at least double it and then go even further with growth of the co-operative and mutual sector in our economy, and I am sure that, having heard the many great contributions today, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will seek to replicate that.
There are so many great examples. Much like the one described by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), there is a wonderful building society in Stoke-on-Trent called Hanley Economic, which was formed in 1854 and originally called the Staffordshire Potteries Economic Permanent Benefit building society. Its purpose was to enable people who worked in the pottery industry to own a home, get on the housing ladder, have savings and manage their money better. It still exists today. Much like the Stafford Railway building society, it provides affordable, low-cost, sustainable and secure financial products for a number of people in north Staffordshire who ordinarily may be viewed by high street banks as being a bit too much of a risk. Because they can access suitable finance, they are able to make a better life for themselves. By building societies’ own admission, they are not going to change the world or overturn the economic hegemony of our current banking system, but they are making a difference to my constituents every day through the way that they operate and their business model, which is sustainable, ethical and fundamentally about trying to improve individuals’ lives.
That is where I want to add my contribution. I agree with pretty much everything that has been said by Members on both sides of the House about the opportunities if we were to properly unleash the co-operative movement and harness its economic potential. There are other things that we can do with the co-operative model. Someone—I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), but I do not want to attribute it to him, in case it was not—once talked about drainpipe devolution and the idea that if a decision is made in Westminster and Whitehall by half a dozen people, and then that decision is devolved to half a dozen people in Greater Manchester, the west midlands or north Staffordshire and called devolution for the purpose of devolution, we have not really devolved anything; we have just moved the decision makers to another office. We can harness the co-operative and mutual benefit by expanding the number of people who make the decisions in the first place.
Perhaps my hon. Friend wants to correct me.
My hon. Friend is right. During the EU referendum, people were talking about feeling powerless and wanting to take back control and have more say over their lives. We need to look at public services, and the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network is leading on that.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, because he takes me neatly to my next point, which is about learning from good practice on a smaller scale that directly benefits our economy. The Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network, of which he and I were both members when we were council leaders, demonstrates overwhelmingly what can be done if we put a small amount of investment into local projects. Tudor Evans, who leads the council in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), and Sharon Taylor in Stevenage are just a few examples of people who are pushing this agenda nationally.
If we put a small amount of investment into a group of people who want to change the way that their town works, we can get huge dividends back. If we move away from a simple contractual relationship for a new business towards profit share for rental purposes or an equity share in lieu of rent, we can suddenly start to sustain our high streets better. We can see empty units revitalised by businesses that can think about long-term business planning, rather than short-term business planning to meet next month’s rent and rates bill. We end up with a greater economic benefit to the local community.
If the Government thought about how they could help local authorities to do the sort of work that the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network is doing across the country, they would see an increase in potential tax take, because there would be more thriving small businesses. What do we know about thriving small businesses? We know that the people they employ spend their money in the neighbouring shops, and we have a circular economy, whereby one or two different thought processes about how we include more people in decision making in a community leads to economic benefits for not only the Treasury but local communities. That should surely be looked at by this Government or the next Government or as part of Labour’s commitment to at least double the co-operative sector.
The mutualisation argument extends to not only high streets but things such as public services for buses and trains. There is an argument for utilities to be mutualised, because these are things that we all use. If we mutualise and say that the people who use those services should have a stake in the control of them, those services can be driven to a higher quality and standard. There can be financial dividends for the users, but there can also be improvements in standards of delivery, because the people using the services are in control of how they are used. That is a fundamentally simple model that is not being exploited sufficiently by a number of Government bodies at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important point, and I agree with everything he is saying. One body that is, in effect, a mutual and is growing month by month almost under the radar is the National Employment Savings Trust—NEST. It is growing by several hundred million pounds. Last I saw, it had £5 billion, and by the end of the next decade, it will probably be one of the largest financial institutions in the country. It is doing a great job in many ways, yet almost all the top 10 investments of NEST are in overseas companies, not ones in the UK. It may have operations in the UK, but they are overseas investments. Does he agree that, given that it is a mutual, or at least owned with social purpose in the mutual interest, at least some of those investments could be put into precisely the things he is talking about?
I agree entirely. The hon. Gentleman, as always, has touched on a pragmatic and simple way of fixing something that should not be a problem to start with. He talked about the Staffordshire Credit Union. The reason the Staffordshire Credit Union ended up folding was that we were unable to meet the Prudential Regulation Authority’s 3% threshold rule between capital and assets. With a very small investment that a body like NEST could have provided, we would have been able to continue helping the thousands of people who were members, offering secure, low-return financial products to people who need it the most—people in communities such as Stoke-on-Trent, where payday lenders prey because they know that people want to borrow money quickly. While credit unions do not provide an immediate alternative to payday lending, they are part of the mix that is available. I can immediately think of a number of organisations that would benefit from the sort of investment the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and then the mutual role of NEST would get to grow and become even greater.
I want to go back briefly to my point about railways and buses. I may end up falling out with my Front-Bench colleagues on this issue, as on many others. State ownership is still a monopoly, and if we are talking about ways in which we could open up public services to be democratically controlled by the public, we need to mutualise them. We should allow and facilitate worker and management buy-outs of existing companies that are looking to be sold, and enable places to allow municipal bus companies to come back into the mix. This would help to sustain the market and—again, I go back to this point—make sure that people using those services have some semblance of taking control of those services and delivering them in a way they think is appropriate for their communities and sustainable in the long term.
This goes not just for public services. We have not touched on the potential economic benefits of things such as fan-owned football clubs and how we should do more to push fan-owned stadiums. In many other countries, it is not uncommon for sporting facilities and sports clubs to be owned, operated and managed by the users of those facilities. In this country, we have not particularly got into that model, as far as I can see, with the depth and the courage that others have.
Finally—I am conscious of the time—about 18 months ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) ran a very clever social media campaign pointing out that if the 5% profit of some of the largest companies in the country was shared among their employee base, each employee would receive a certain amount of money, emulating the French profit-sharing law. To turn full circle back to my first point, if we had such a law in this country—it is not necessarily a co-operative solution, but it is about profit sharing and sharing the values of co-operation—what would happen to that money? Most people who work in such companies and small-scale industries will spend that money locally: more money in their pockets means more money going into their local high streets, shops and facilities. I am sure the Government have already looked at the circular effect of an economic benefit coming from a co-operative solution, even if it is not a co-operative model, and if they have not already committed to looking at the French profit-sharing law, I would encourage the Minister to do so.
It would be wrong of me not to talk about the Co-operative Group as a whole. As has been mentioned by a number of my colleagues, it is not just about the financial products and services it offers, but the values and ethics it brings to them. The Co-operative Group is leading the way on dealing with modern slavery, food injustice and food hunger, and retail crime. It knows that, at the heart of everything it does, is its staff and its consumers, and those are the values that I am sure the Minister will have heard about in every contribution today and will want to make part of any Government strategy on co-operatives.
I add my thanks to the hon. Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker) for securing this debate.
We have heard many times already from Members right across the House that co-operatives and employee owner companies demonstrate a radically different way of how a company does business and how it organises its resources. As the hon. Member for Harrow West said in his opening remarks, these companies and enterprises come in all shapes and sizes and cover almost every—indeed, perhaps every—sector of the economy. Of course, one of the most welcome aspects of co-operatives and employee owner companies is that they allow people to democratically own and have greater control over the things that really make a difference to their business. In addition, by sharing and fairly distributing wealth, they promote employee wellbeing far more than perhaps traditional company models do.
We on the SNP Benches will always support measures that give workers a genuine and more meaningful stake in their organisations. Any measures that enable everyone who has a stake in a company to have a say in how that business is run will find support here. The benefits to business are obvious—from increased productivity and innovation to being able to attract and, perhaps just as importantly, retain high-quality talent, which in turn can help safeguard the long-term future of businesses and bring benefit to the communities where they are based.
There is an awful lot to like about co-operatives and worker or employee-owned businesses, and I believe Governments should do whatever they can to support their voluntary expansion through both start-ups and conversions. In this, I think the UK Government should look at and perhaps learn from the success of the Scottish Government, who have been promoting employee ownership conversion as a mainstream option for ownership succession of small and medium-sized enterprises.
I am really pleased to see that, in the last five years, the number of such employee-owned companies operating in Scotland has more than trebled. That trend shows no sign of slowing down, with Scottish Enterprise reporting recently that it has been working on a deal a month over the past year. Currently, there are about 100 worker and employee-owned businesses operating in Scotland, which together create about 7,000 jobs and contribute around £1 billion to the Scottish economy. I am delighted that the Scottish Government have shown their commitment to helping more companies become employee-owned or worker-owned enterprises by announcing a programme that will seek to achieve a fivefold increase in the number of employee-owned businesses in Scotland by 2030.
At the end of last year, when the Scottish Cabinet visited the Isle of Arran, the First Minister launched Scotland for EO. It is a collaboration between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and business, and its ambition is to make Scotland a world leader in employee ownership and other co-operative models. Under the banner “Employees can do ownership” and backed with £75,000 of Scottish Government funding, this new leadership group has been charged with increasing the number of employee-owned and worker-owned businesses in Scotland from the current 100 to 500. Sarah Deas, a director of Scottish Enterprise and the head of Co-operative Development Scotland, who is a member of this leadership group, said:
“Promoting employee ownership helps drive growth in the economy and create greater wealth-equality in society.”
Thanks to Co-operative Development Scotland, a dedicated team working within Scottish Enterprise, any company wishing to explore employee ownership, or indeed any other co-operative-based model, will now have expert advice on tap. Any business or firm that submits an inquiry about moving to an employee ownership model is able to access up to three days of free support from the team at Scottish Enterprise. Thereafter, Scottish Enterprise will provide the company with a report, which will examine potential ownership structures, governance, management, funding and how a possible transition to employee ownership could occur. As Nicola Sturgeon said when she launched Scotland for EO, the Scottish Government
“want to make it easier for companies and workers to find out more about this model and to move towards it if it’s right for them.”
It is generally accepted that one of the biggest barriers to the development of co-operatives and employee-owned enterprises is the absence of readily available, impartial advice and support. Yet there is evidence to show that when entrepreneurs and businesses are given the right information—in the proper context, with access to expert help—they are more likely to choose the model of employee or worker ownership for a business. I urge the UK Government to look at what the Scottish Government are doing and, I hope, match the ambition being shown by the Government in Holyrood.
Despite the recent growth in the UK’s co-op economy, by international standards the UK still lags far behind most OECD countries in both the scale and the economic impact of our co-operative sector. Germany, for example, has a co-op economy four times that of the UK, while in France it is six times larger. As I have said, I believe one of the main causes of that is the lack of awareness and a paucity of good, impartial advice. All the evidence tells us that employee ownership delivers real benefits to businesses, to the people who work in them and to the communities in which they are located.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) knows only too well, one of the great success stories of a company transitioning to become an employee-owned business is the Auchrannie Resort in her constituency.
My hon. Friend is making a wonderful speech showing the potential for success in this area. I am the proud MP for the beautiful island of Arran. Does he agree with me that Auchrannie is a wonderful enterprise and that everybody would benefit from it if they had the good fortune to have an opportunity to visit it?
Probably the best reply to my hon. Friend comes not from me but from Linda Johnston, co-founder and managing director of the Auchrannie Resort on the Isle of Arran. She successfully transferred over to the employee ownership model a couple of years ago, and said:
“The staff were involved in the process from an early stage and were given the opportunity to input throughout. They are delighted that Auchrannie’s legacy will be protected and that they have the chance to play an active part in, and benefit from, Auchrannie’s future success. They also realise that what each of them does will affect the future success of the business and that this is directly linked to their own success. There is no, ‘them and us’ now, we’re all in this together.”
I commend the words of Linda Johnston and support this motion.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) for his powerful speech. There is always much to learn from our colleagues north of the border, and we have much in common on this agenda. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for securing this debate, and I put on record my thanks, and that of all co-operators in this place and across the movement, for his service as chair of the Co-operative party for 19 years. He has been a passionate and loyal advocate and champion of co-operation in this country and across the world. We thank him for his service, and know he will continue to champion co-operatives in any future role. It gives me great pleasure to succeed him as the new chair of the Co-operative party. That is a huge privilege and responsibility, and I am proud to add my contribution to this debate.
This has been a fascinating debate with values shared across the Chamber between people who have taken differing positions on other issues. It is fascinating to see how co-operation has led to many shared views, and I found myself in agreement with the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). We may disagree on other things, but we agree about much of what drove some of the anger, frustration and despair that we have seen in our communities over the past few years, and which expressed itself in the Brexit referendum in 2016. Whatever we think about how to fix things, there has been a sense of powerlessness, and a lack of agency and control over people’s ability to influence and shape their lives and the economy in which they live and work.
In my area, SSI, a Thai company, was able to pull the plug on the steelworks, with 3,000 job losses overnight. People have the sense that their lives are being buffeted by global forces over which they have very little control. It is no surprise that the “take back control” mantra that was used by those on the other side of the debate from me held such sway, and it was a huge driving force. For me, the co-operative agenda is all about taking back control, self-responsibility, democracy, ownership, and having agency in one’s life, and it is rare that people feel that about public services or about the wider economy. I think that the co-operative values and principles we have heard so much about today are the solution, and provide many of the answers to the challenges we face in our society and across our world. I am excited to help champion that agenda as we develop our policy thinking in the House.
I wish to focus specifically on the expansion of the co-operative sector, which I believe is necessary for us as a country. Labour Members have committed to at least doubling the size of the co-operative sector, and I am proud of that commitment. The Labour party’s boilerplate is “sharing power and wealth”, which points to why I do not believe the radical growth of the co-operative sector is an end in itself, but rather the beginning of the different kind of economy we seek—an economy that puts people at its heart. To support our growth we are lucky to find strength and solidarity from our movement, values and principles, but there is more to be done. The Co-operative party, working with the co-operative movement more widely, has taken a serious look at our infrastructure needs, and at the supportive environment required to grow the co-operative sector.
I pay tribute to the fantastic report recently published by the New Economics Foundation, “Co-operatives unleashed”, and I recommend it to the Minister as a good read. It sets out a series of steps that a supportive Government could take to support the co-operative sector. We must also consider what legislation we could pass, and we have heard fantastic examples of co-operative action around the world. We must reflect on the fact that our own sector and movement is not at the scale of those inspirational examples, because of this country’s legislative environment.
In many countries across Europe and beyond there is a basic legislative duty on the Government to promote the co-operative model. That will not be a panacea or cure all our issues, but it could signal intent and be a key driver of change to stimulate the co-operative economy. The framework in which co-operatives operate is not subject to constant review and updating in the way that company law is, for example. We have already heard about the Law Commission’s tidy-up job on co-operative and community benefit society law in 2015, which brought many disparate parts of the law together. The situation needs to be corrected, and a more visionary and forward-looking legislative framework should be sought—something we have not seen in this country’s legislative process for many decades.
There are also technical deficiencies in our current arrangements. For example, company law allows companies to act in the way they see fit where the law is silent and there is no guidance. When co-operative law is silent and has no guidance, it reverts to company law, and we could liberate our co-operative movement from that basic inequality. We should take more risks, and take more control of the environment in which the movement operates.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election as chair of the Co-operative party. It is fantastic to have her in that role. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas). Does my hon. Friend recognise the issue with devolution? We heard examples from Scotland but there are also some from Wales. Scotland and Wales have wanted to lead the way on much co-operative thinking, but they have sometimes been hampered by the devolution —or not—of powers. When we considered the new rail franchise, in Wales and the borders there was a lot of appetite for putting that in a co-operative or mutual model, but we were unable to do so because those powers had not been devolved by the UK Government. With Welsh Water we have the example of at least a semi-mutual. That shows the advantages of devolution in driving forward co-operatives, but perhaps we need some changes to allow innovation to take place.
I completely concur with my hon. Friend. We see a lot of passion and commitment for the co-operative sector and its values and principles in Wales, and we should be doing everything we can to allow people the freedom to develop those ideals with a supportive and co-operative approach from the Government.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) who has worked with Ministers to try to persuade them of the need to lift unfair and unnecessary regulatory burdens on small and medium sized co-ops—we heard a great deal of detail about that today. Such burdens should not exist in the first place, and we should endeavour to remove them. One aspect of the co-operative growth agenda that comes up repeatedly within the Co-operative party and the co-operative movement is the need for access to capital, which many other types of businesses can access in a routine way, while co-operatives cannot.
Of course there is a difference in the way the co-operative business model operates, but I encourage the Minister to listen carefully to ideas for new capital instruments as they come forward. In some countries around the world we can see that new capital instruments have been put in place relatively easily, and they are both attractive and maintain the integrity of the co-operative model. For example, I recommend that the Minister look at the developments in Australia, which is leading the way on this issue.
A second aspect of assisting the co-operative sector to grow and develop concerns the development of co-operatives themselves. We often look at small and medium-sized business development and support, and regional and local infrastructures are in place to facilitate that activity. The amount and type of bank lending is often scrutinised, which helps, and specialist support is available for entrepreneurs. It is evident, however, that such support is focused on just one type of private business. There are great co-operative development professionals around the country, but sadly there are not enough, and nor is the infrastructure in place to focus on how to grow more co-operatives around the country. It is clear that we would benefit from a more rigorous and systematic approach to co-operative development.
The wider benefit of co-operatives and mutuals to our economy is clear, and new co-operatives are more likely to last into their second and third years than private small businesses. Too often, those giving professional business advice know too little about the co-operative model, and as a first point of call for advice and mentoring they are highly unlikely to suggest a co-operative approach. All that needs to change.
One route to achieving that, which has already been mentioned today, is through a co-operative development agency for England. Such an agency could be a starting point for advice or grants, and advise Governments on the type of public policy that would help to create an enabling environment for co-operatives. I hope the Minister will take that idea from this debate and work with the co-operative movement to ascertain the best shape and form for such an organisation.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment as chair of the Co-operative party; she is a fantastic choice. Is this not a win-win for Government? For a small amount of investment and energy, they could double the size of the sector. She will be aware that the Co-operative Group, the Nationwide Building Society and Co-operatives UK have recently revised up the figure for the value of co-operatives to the UK economy to £60 billion. Imagine what even a small amount of growth could do to the UK’s GDP.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to his great history in the co-operative movement and everything he did while leader of the council. We have talked a lot about the social and values-based argument, but there is a huge economic driver here. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) mentioned the importance of keeping money in local economies, which is of huge benefit to them. We continually see it drain away, particularly in smaller towns, and co-operative economies could play a role in keeping money in local economies. There is a very important economic argument here for the Government.
Another issue I would like to raise with the Minister, which I hope he will look into further, is the shared prosperity fund. Co-operative organisations, including Co-operatives UK, Locality and the Plunkett Foundation, have a campaign called “Communities in Charge”, which calls for a shared prosperity fund to include targeted funding to ensure it is made available for people and in places that need it most; for local people to be able to scrutinise spending decisions through citizens’ panels; and for at least 25% to be controlled by local communities to spend on local priorities. This is a really welcome campaign and I hope the Minister will endeavour to look more closely at it.
In conclusion, I would like to make a point about the type of campaigning, work and activity that co-operatives add to our communities. It is in their DNA to go further than any other business type to add to, rather than take away from, the communities they serve. Their operation and their model leads them to lead campaigns on loneliness, modern slavery, food justice, fair tax, employee safety and community safety—to name just a few. Some of those areas have been championed by one of the largest consumer co-ops in the world, the Co-operative Group, which, I note, recently won the title of co-operative of the year. That is the difference co-operatives make and the wider benefit they bring. It is an inspiration for all of us here who want more. The smaller co-operatives fighting to compete in non-traditional sectors, co-operatives aimed at disrupting exploitative markets, and our larger co-operatives serving members and their communities so well are all part of the fantastic co-operative difference that we are proud to support today.
It is a great honour to follow the current chair of the Co-operative party, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). I am glad that her predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), was able to secure the debate. I am grateful to him for all he did, including taking the party through some quite difficult periods. The movement has also suffered, because of some of the well-known controversies that we had to face down. I thank the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who is no longer in his place. It is good that there is at least some support from those on the Government Benches for something that some of us, as proud Labour and Co-operative party MPs, feel is very important. We feel that the co-operative message is not always heard as much as it should be, in this place or, more particularly, in wider society.
I just want to touch on three quick points, but I will just mention what has already been said, which is that we need to see the growth of co-operation. It is an alternative to capitalism and state socialism, and it is important that we see it as an answer to the problems of the 21st century, rather than as purely a historical legacy. I hope the Minister will say some nice things and respond in kind to the suggestions I will make. I am not going to talk about credit unions, but it is important we recognise that they have a part to play in financial arrangements. I was one of those who set up the Stroud co-op union, which is still flourishing. It needs to grow and we need some help to make it grow, but it is an answer for those who find it difficult to access finance in other ways.
My first substantive point is on what I have always felt is a great problem with co-operation: where to get advice to set up a co-operative. State business support organisations, whether local enterprise partnerships or their previous incarnations, have all suffered from the same problem, which is that the people offering advice have either had no experience at all of co-operation, or their experience has been limited to what they have read about it. Co-operators need to be able to advise other potential co-operators. I hope the Government will consider this issue, because too often this is a huge lacuna. There is no one to go to who knows enough about the opportunities that the co-operative movement as a whole can bring. Since the loss of co-operative development agencies, which many of us have sadly witnessed over the past few decades, this issue has become much more acute.
Secondly, co-operative housing can be a solution, particularly in rural areas where community land trusts have now come into their own, but we need a number of things to happen to make them more available than they currently are. First, we need changes to the planning system. I am pleased that the Government have now looked at small sites and made them more accessible to this form of provision, but at the moment the planning system is such that too often communities and neighbourhood planning groups who want to have a small clutch of housing either give up because it is too bureaucratic, or they get turned over and it ends up as executive housing in villages, which is just what they did not want. They want affordable units. Dare I say it, they want social units.
The great benefit of community land trusts is that the land remains held mutually in perpetuity. That is very important, because losing the land means losing control. It would therefore be very helpful if the Government looked at the planning system in that regard and at what financial help they could provide to such groups. It is expensive to go through the rigours of trying to set up a community land trust, so I hope the Government will be generous and consider ways to help such communities solve these problems. They do not want masses of housing; they want 10 to 12 units and they want them to remain affordable in perpetuity. That is why community land trusts, as a form of co-operative housing, are so important.
My final point is on the role of co-operation in farming. The Agriculture Bill will one day come back to this House, but so much of it is predicated on public moneys for public goods and none of us quite knows how that will work. We are waiting to examine the environmental land management trusts in more detail so we can know how they will work in practice, but the simple fact is that farmers are already co-operators. More than half of all farmers belong to some form of co-operative. They may not always recognise that. They may think that NFU Mutual is a pure insurance company, but it is a mutual. It is a co-operative.
My hon. Friend describes a situation that applies to many people, not just farmers, who are members of a co-operative organisation. I think of the Asian community in Stoke-on-Trent, who have a savings scheme for funding family funerals. They would not think of it as a co-operative, but that is exactly the sort of mutual and co-operative model we are talking about.
Exactly. That is partly the problem of the movement, because it is not overt enough. It does not broadcast the fact that they are mutuals and co-operatives. On farming, the changes that are going to come will, to some extent, demand upscaling. Some of us may worry about that, but the reality is that with the change in the funding mechanism there will be a drive towards larger units. The only alternative to that is some form of greater co-operation among those practise farming at the moment. We want more people to come on to the land and particularly younger people, because the average age is 59. It will hardly be a burgeoning, growth-inspired movement without younger people coming in to do the exciting things that we all know could happen to provide more of our own food.
I hope we will look at how co-operatives are not only built into the Agriculture Bill, but given encouragement. All the pressure is on selling smaller units, whether that is what is happening to the county farms estate, where they are being gradually cut away one by one—some of us worry about that—or the fact that when land comes up for sale, the big guys come in and buy it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on all his work on the Agriculture Bill and everything around that. Does he agree that with the increased awareness of climate change and environmental impact, food miles are becoming more of an issue in people’s consciousness, and that the more we can grow and produce here, the better it will be for the climate and the country?
Of course. It is really important that we provide food as locally as we can, and many people want to do that, including through the Landworkers’ Alliance and all sorts of innovative schemes. The loss of the bank was sad for many of us, but the saddest day for me was when we lost the co-operative farm estate. We lost Stoughton and Down Ampney, which were model farms that showed the way and how co-operation can work. This was the nation’s biggest farmer for generations. Sadly, all that was lost, although it has gone to the Wellcome Trust, which is welcome in its own way. However, we ought to be encouraging co-operation and seeing it as a solution to many of the problems.
I hope that the Government are listening and are further prepared to change the Agriculture Bill to make it even friendlier to co-operatives, so that different farmers can find a way of staying in the marketplace, and that may encourage younger people, who, I am sure, will be keen to be co-operators.
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow south-west MP, fellow co-operator and fellow shadow Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew). As we have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, there is a real energy and dynamism around co-operatives and the values that they stand for. We need to grasp the opportunity to stop just talking about co-operatives and mutuals as a worthy activity that happens on the periphery of our economy; we should have it as a mainstream alternative and option in nearly every single area of public and private organisation. That is what we need to look at much more and I am really glad that so many Opposition Co-operative MPs, in particular, have spoken so passionately about the opportunities that lie ahead. That is what I want to talk about today, because the time for co-operatives is now, and we must seize the nettle.
Before that, I echo the praise and thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for serving for so long as chair of our Co-operative party—he would have got less time for murder. He has done a very good job. I also put on record my thanks to the outgoing general secretary of the Co-operative party. Claire McCarthy has served our party and movement incredibly well. We all wish her well for the next stage of her career and wish the best of luck to all the contenders who are being interviewed to replace her. As a Labour and Co-operative MP, I am very proud to have stood on a manifesto that pledged at least to double the size of the co-operative sector. As Plymouth’s voice in this debate, I will tell the House a bit about what Plymouth is aiming to do, because we have a Labour and Co-operative-run city council that has pledged to double the size of the co-operative economy in our city by 2025. The Minister will know many of these things well, as a former Conservative candidate for a Plymouth seat, and I know that he will welcome and pay special attention to my remarks.
Doubling the size of the co-operative economy is a worthy ambition of our times. To achieve that, we need not only to accelerate community wealth-building initiatives, reviewing procurement and providing support to grow the capacity of co-operatives to engage in procurement exercises, but to focus on economic development policies. For folks that are really passionate about co-operative politics, it is sometimes frustrating that co-operative politics tend to be put just in “procurement”—if only we procured differently, we could grow our economy. Yes, that is right—we should and we must—but we must also not neglect the importance of co-operative economic development policies. That is really where Plymouth city council has led the way.
In Plymouth City Council’s strategy, “Doing it Ourselves”, which was published recently, the ambition to double the size of our co-operative economy has been laid out. We want to grow from the 23 co-ops that we have in our city to 50 co-ops; from a turnover of £18.6 million to £40 million; from 9,500 members to 20,000; and from 226 employees to 500. That is a really good ambition and I want every single Member in this House to challenge their own councils—whether Labour, Labour and Co-operative, or of the blue team persuasion—by saying, “What are you doing at a local level to encourage the economic development, growth and starting up of new co-operatives?” Plymouth is rightly very proud of its focus on the wellbeing economy, community-owned infrastructure, worker-owned tech and creative industries, public-facing and cultural hubs and municipal co-operation, but that is not Devon-specific. It can work in every part of the country, and that is what many of things that I want to discuss relate to. Before I continue, I should say that I am a very proud member of the co-operatives that I am speaking about today. I hope that other hon. Members will consider joining them after they hear what I say.
I will first mention a co-operative that I have spoken about in the House before: the Plymouth Energy Community. It was set up in 2013 to provide radical and green solutions to fuel poverty, which affects 13.4% of the people who live in Plymouth. Since it started, it has done amazing things. In 2014, it invited members of the public to buy a stake in that co-operative. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) said, crowdfunding is really important. At the time, we had the lowest buy-in level—£50—of any crowdfunding co-operative in the country. That was nearly £450 lower than any other at the time, and it made co-operative ownership and innovative projects available to more and more people.
Having raised more than £600,000 and received a £500,000 loan from Plymouth City Council, Plymouth Energy Community provided solar panels to 21 schools and community buildings. It has gone further, adding 15 primary schools to that list, and we now have new solar panels on the roof of our Olympic-quality sports centre—the Life Centre. It has also opened its first solar farm at Ernesettle, which is incredibly exciting. It has also become a real champion for insulation and energy efficiency, particularly helping communities on low incomes—not only in Devonport, in the patch that I represent, but in St Budeaux and Ham in the north of the city—to reduce the energy costs of their homes by investing in infrastructure and upgrades. It is very proud of that and it should be.
I spoke to the Plymouth Energy Community during the “The Time is Now” demonstration on Lambeth Bridge yesterday. As well as being an organisation that has excited people to invest in infrastructure, it is also exciting people to get involved in the fight against climate change, and rightly so.
Plymouth is not just about solar panels on primary schools; it is also about how we use co-operatives to challenge the big evils of our time, one of which is hunger among our schoolchildren. That is where CATERed, the co-operative owned jointly by Plymouth City Council and 67 of our primary schools, has been pioneering. It has pooled all the school catering contracts for the entire city. That includes all the different types of school, as Plymouth has one of every school that every Government since 1945 have ever thought of; diversity of provision is not our problem in Plymouth, although a lack of funding is. CATERed now provides wholesome, healthy food all year round, including over the summer. To its great credit, instead of providing meals for kids who cannot afford to feed themselves properly over the summer from empty school buildings, it does so from parks, reducing the stigma for families who really struggle for food.
I congratulate Plymouth on the work that it is doing. It is genuinely leading the way on many of these issues and the council is fantastic. Is my hon. Friend not highlighting what makes co-operatives special? Not only are they an enterprise and profitable, but they are a movement that people take part in and feel really connected to.
Absolutely. There is the opportunity to engage more people in that energy and dynamism. As a response to what we have seen with Brexit and in a globalised world, where we can call anyone around the world from our phones but very few of us know our neighbours in depth, as we once used to, we need to build community cohesion, and doing that in an environment that supports business growth, enterprise and innovation through co-operatives has to be part of the solution.
I also want to talk for a moment about Nudge Community Builders, which is one of Plymouth’s newest co-operatives and, again, I am very proud to be a member of it. From the Minister’s time in Plymouth, he may know about Union Street, a famed drinking haunt that used to have pubs from one end to the other. When the fleet came in after its manoeuvres, it used to be seen having a few cheeky beers. We are now down to one pub on Union Street. Unfortunately, Union Street echoes Stonehouse’s story of poverty and deprivation.
The fantastic team at Nudge Community Builders have used a community share scheme to take over the Clipper Inn, once one of Plymouth’s most notorious drinking haunts—I would never have been found there in my youth—and have turned it into a real hub of community regeneration. The Clipper now provides low-cost space for people to demonstrate their products, bring creative arts to the market and grow their business. For example, the No Whey! co-operative, which provides incredible gluten-free, healthy food, has taken up residence at the Clipper and, having grown and grown as a business, is doing incredible things. That regeneration was crowdfunded by £204,750 from 151 investors in just 67 days, thanks to multiplier effects. Wendy, Hannah and the rest of the Nudge team have done something incredibly special. Again, that is not specific to Plymouth; it is a great example of what can be done everywhere.
In the true spirit of the Rochdale pioneers, Plymouth is going above and beyond. Plymouth City Council is the shareholder of the South West Mutual bank—it does not just talk about financial inclusion and what happens after the decline of high street banks; it is opening its own bank to serve the four counties of the far south-west. Plymouth is leading the way in that respect.
There is a co-operative renaissance happening in our towns and cities, which is sometimes lost on policy makers in London. I therefore encourage the Minister to send his officials to Plymouth, and to other cities and towns across the country that are really leading in this respect. We often host Government officials who come to see Plymouth’s co-operative story, and more are welcome, because that success story needs to be told.
That story is also a temporary one for local government. When Labour recently lost control of Plymouth City Council, we lost our status as a co-operative council. It is a matter of great regret—the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) spoke about this—that some of the same values and passions have not always been felt by the Conservative councillors who replaced the Labour ones. I am very glad that the Labour council is back, under the incredible leadership of Councillor Tudor Evans, who, alongside Councillor Chris Penberthy, is driving forward the innovative co-operative agenda.
The opportunities to double our co-operative economy at least also work for fishing, and there are around 1,000 fishing jobs in Plymouth—my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud spoke about agriculture, which is his passion, so let me speak for a moment about fishing. We already have an incredible co-operative success story in our local fishing industry, but we must now seize the opportunity to double the number of jobs that come from increased processing and catching, and from sharing opportunities and innovation, especially in tackling ghost gear and plastic pollution.
That is where I think the Minister has an opportunity to spread the narrative that doubling the size of the co-operative economy does not just mean creating another Co-op group; it means giving the tools, skills, funding and support to innovators right across our country to do interesting and innovative things alongside our communities, to innovate and change. That is certainly happening in Plymouth.
We have a real opportunity to mainstream co-operative values. I do not want my time as a Member of Parliament to be defined by an annual debate on co-operatives in which well-meaning Members on both sides of the House express their hopes and dreams about what the future could look like. I want us to put this into every single debate, whether about mutual social care provision or new mutual models for the future ownership of our public utilities, because the time for mutuals and co-operatives is now. I encourage the Minister to grasp this opportunity with both hands, because although Opposition Members share a lot of familiarity and common cause with co-operative values, I believe that he can find Conservative values in that co-operative spirit as well, so that, whoever is in government or in charge of our local councils, we can really drive that co-operative agenda forward. I encourage Members on both sides of the House, and local councils and communities, to grasp this incredible opportunity ahead of us.
It is a pleasure to speak in support of the motion standing in the names of the hon. Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker). I thank the hon. Member for Harrow West, in particular, for the massive contribution he has made, certainly over the time I have been here but also long before that, to support co-operatives and mutuals. We all appreciate that greatly. I concur completely with the sentiments set out in the motion, especially those relating to the contribution that co-operatives and mutuals play in the economy of the United Kingdom, which I believe is much under-appreciated. I therefore want to add my support to co-operatives and mutuals, with a particular focus on credit unions, which I know best, as they feature greatly in my constituency.
Recent years have witnessed an increase in the number of co-operative and mutual businesses being set up in Northern Ireland, after many years when none was established. Analysis by Co-operatives UK in the early part of this decade found that co-operative enterprises in Northern Ireland contributed £35.6 billion to the UK economy—that is over a period of time, but it is still a massive amount of money.
I want to highlight a couple of examples to showcase the growing strength and vibrancy of the co-operative and mutual sector in Northern Ireland, because sometimes society does not appreciate what co-operatives do. The hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) referred to agriculture. As a Member who represents a largely rural constituency, I know how crucial co-operatives have been to the size and success of our local dairy industry. One example is Lakeland Dairies, which has a factory in Newtownards, the main town in my constituency, and employs more than 220 people there. It is part of a cross-border co-operative business that processes 1.8 billion litres of milk a year. It has two factories in Northern Ireland and two in southern Ireland. The co-operative model has served the farmers, who are its members, well down through the years—they contribute to its policy and vision—providing them with an outlet for their production and, importantly, a say in the overall direction of the business. All that experience and knowledge points to the direction we need to go in.
Perhaps the single best example of the increasingly strong and vibrant co-operative and mutual sector in Northern Ireland is our credit union movement, which is massive. I will give some figures because I am not sure that all Members realise just how important credit unions are in Northern Ireland or the massive contribution they make. Credit unions are, of course, common to all parts of our United Kingdom, but they have woven themselves into the fabric of society in Northern Ireland in a way that has not happened elsewhere across our nation. Credit unions are a feature of my constituency, as we now have three or four of them. When one of the branches closed down in Greyabbey, a village just down the road from where I live—I opened accounts there for my three boys many years ago—it integrated with the branch in Newtownards.
People such as my old running mate Tommy Jeffers in Dundonald have given a lifetime of hard work to establish, run and expand credit unions across Northern Ireland. He was the instigation and strength behind that credit union, and although he is now in his mid-70s and no longer a councillor—that is how I first got to know him, as well as through party connections—he is still involved in it. The movement has been built by hundreds and hundreds of hours of work by volunteers. They have made a massive contribution.
One credit union that spoke to me ahead of the debate wants to open more branches on the high street, to help plug the gap left by mainstream bank branch closures, and it wonders aloud whether the Government might be sympathetic to the idea of extending business rates relief to credit unions seeking to open business branches. Does the hon. Gentleman think that could also help facilitate the greater spread of the credit union movement in Northern Ireland?
I thank my honourable colleague for that intervention. I am sure that the Minister is listening and hope that he will take on board that suggestion, which could be very helpful. I wholeheartedly support that suggestion. This is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I have had discussions with other Ministers about help with high street rates.
It should be borne in mind that credit unions are for their members. The members invest their money to lend their money. It is a fantastic opportunity, and a fantastic example of how lending should be looked upon. The big banks should note that example. It should not be all about dividends for shareholders; it should be about the customers—those who are involved.
The Northern Ireland movement is massive in comparison with its counterparts in Great Britain. Statistics collated by the Bank of England in each quarter show the scale of credit unions in Northern Ireland in comparison with that of their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom. Of the 437 registered credit unions in the UK, 145 are located in Northern Ireland. A third of all adult credit union members in the UK are in Northern Ireland, and four in 10 juvenile members are from Northern Ireland. We are encouraging our young people to open accounts early—although, to be fair, that will probably be done by their parents or, perhaps, by their grandparents, who open accounts for them to start them off. It is good to encourage young people to be part of a bank, to save money, and thereby to see the benefits of credit unions. As I have said, it is a fantastic opportunity. If Members have not had an opportunity to investigate or gain knowledge of what is happening in Northern Ireland, I suggest that they should.
I had the pleasure of being in Belfast over the weekend for a Co-operative party event organised by Tony McMullen, a fantastic advocate for co-operatives. The party has published a manifesto for co-operatives in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will read it and convey to the UK Government what we might take from Northern Ireland’s leadership in this regard.
I should be more than happy to do that. I read in the paper that the hon. Gentleman was the guest speaker at that event.
Our credit unions are clearly punching well above their weight, as so often happens in Northern Ireland. This is yet another example of what we do well there. I know from experience in virtually every corner of my constituency how vital credit unions are in helping some of the most marginalised in our society to save their money and borrow at very competitive rates. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Harrow West, they have often filled the gap left by bank closures. They filled that gap when banks closed in Newtownards, and they filled it by opening a brand-new office in Kircubbin on the Ards peninsula—where there had previously been a branch of the Danske Bank—to supplement the branch in Portaferry.
Credit unions fill the gap on many occasions, and have a great interest in the community. A recent article in the Financial Times recognised the role that they play in our community beyond simply lending money and providing facilities for saving, explaining how they can and do help to squeeze out loan sharks, who cause a great many problems in Northern Ireland. They lend money and then take exorbitant interest rates from the backs of people. They are a scourge on society, including my Strangford constituency. They prey on the most vulnerable among us, and have ruined countless lives. I want to place on record my thanks to the credit unions throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland whose service is helping many to break away from the grip of criminal moneylenders.
Despite the apparent strength of loan sharks, however, there are still significant opportunities in credit unions in Northern Ireland. Again, I agree with the motion: we must look to Her Majesty’s Government to work with the credit union movement, and the co-operative and mutual sector as a whole, to fulfil that untapped potential. More can be done with a little help. We have heard two suggestions in interventions, and other ideas are being presented.
The regulation of Northern Ireland’s credit unions moved from Stormont to the Financial Conduct Authority in 2016. I ask the Minister to engage with the credit unions in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, throughout the United Kingdom—and to help them to, in turn, work with the FCA to help them to grow further, and, furthermore, to help us to deal with problems such as financial exclusion.
Let me say in conclusion—and I realise, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I hear that cough I must take note of it—that there is an increasing desire across our nation for a different growth model for our economy. The hon. Member for Stroud referred to an alternative. We need a good alternative that can be successful, and this is the one: one in which the interests of workers and people are not overlooked, but rather are to the fore; one in which there is a greater sense of partnership between all the actors in our economy. Co-operatives and mutuals are already an incredibly important part of our economy, and they can be greater still. Northern Ireland is an example of their importance. I join Members in all parts of the House in recognising their existing contribution, and calling on the Government—and the Minister in particular—to work with the sector and help it to grow even more and benefit more people.
As ever, it is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I congratulate the hon. Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker) on securing this important debate, and thank all Members who have contributed to it.
I should declare an interest, as a member of a credit union, and, indeed, should declare an interest in the Auchrannie Resort, which was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). As a delighted former customer, I have to say that it is an amazing venture.
The Rochdale pioneers have been mentioned frequently this afternoon, and I feel that I would be failing in my duty if I did not point out that they were inspired by the work of Robert Owen of New Lanark, who set up the village store in 1813 for the benefit of his community, and used the profits to fund educational projects. He thus inspired the co-operative movement across Rochdale, and look where that has brought us!
There are a few Members scattered around the Chamber—or maybe not—who will be able to recite their mother’s, or their grandmother's, co-operative dividend number, such as, in my case, 4308. I must declare another interest, as my father was a milkman who worked for the Kilmarnock Equitable Co-operative Society. However, things have moved on considerably in the co-operative and mutual movement since I was but a girl. There are a number of useful and well-meaning co-operatives in my constituency, which help my constituents enormously. They include Forgewood and Garrion People’s Housing Co-operatives, Bridges Housing Association, three credit unions, Motherwell United Services Club, Clyde Supporters Trust and the Motherwell FC supporters club. I am particularly interested in the last-named, as I have just purchased my season ticket, and look forward to supporting Motherwell in a very successful season.
I am very grateful to Co-operatives UK and the Employee Ownership Association for the work that they do in raising awareness of the benefits of co-operatives and mutuals. Co-operatives UK’s 2018 annual report shows that there were 7,226 independent co-ops operating across the UK, with a combined turnover of £36.1 billion, an increase of more than £800 million on 2017. They employed 235,000 people, and there were 13.1 million members of co-operatives overall. As we all know, those numbers are increasing. The data indicates that co-ops of all shapes and sizes are thriving throughout the economy. Exciting new co-op clusters are emerging in industries such as digital and creative, in social care and in the community ownership of land, assets and enterprise, while they remain strong and continue to innovate in areas of traditional strength such as retail, wholesale, housing and agriculture.
The co-op economy in the UK is diverse, well-established and growing, but it is small by international comparisons. Globally, co-ops are a significant force, with a combined turnover of more than US$2.1 trillion and 1 billion members. The UK lags behind most OECD countries in the scale and impact of our co-op sector. Germany’s is four times the size of ours, while in France it is six times larger. According to Co-operatives UK, and as has already been mentioned, there are unnecessary barriers preventing the use and spread of this type of organisation, especially in England.
The corporate frameworks for co-ops are not as user-friendly as they should be. The registry function for co-ops, under the aegis of the FCA, can be cumbersome and is not linked into the increasingly important digital nexus between Companies House and HMRC upon which so many improvements for businesses, such as single filing and Making Tax Digital, are predicated. Also, co-op law is in need of both routine maintenance and strategic reform. That can add to negative perceptions about co-op options.
There are examples where the operating environment for co-ops is more challenging than for other models, including banks not understanding legal forms, and difficulties and unwarranted disadvantages in procurement —private and public—due diligence and credit scoring, adding to negative perceptions about co-op options. There can be some distinct challenges for co-ops in raising start-up and growth capital that go beyond those experienced by businesses generally, although that applies more to some types of co-op in some circumstances than to others.
In Scotland, with approximately 7,000 employee-owners generating a combined turnover of £940 million, the appetite for employee ownership has never been greater. As my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute said, in the last five years the number of employee and worker-owned businesses operating in Scotland has trebled and this past year Scottish Enterprise has been working on a deal a month on average.
Employee ownership gives employees a meaningful stake in their organisation, together with a genuine say in how it is run. It roots business in Scotland, drives performance and delivers economic wellbeing. In moving to a co-operative model, owners, the business, and the employees can benefit from the following: a competitive price and guaranteed exit for the owners at their own pace, which is particularly useful for SMEs; the safeguarding of jobs and improved employee engagement; safeguarding the future of the business; ownership and leadership transfer at low risk; enhanced employee engagement, as we have heard; and increased productivity and innovation while attracting and retaining high-quality talent.
While Westminster descends further into chaos, the Scottish Government are racing ahead with support to achieve a fivefold increase in employee and worker-owned businesses by 2030. Scotland aims to become a world leader in employee ownership and other co-operative models. The Scottish Government aim to increase the number of employee-owned and worker-owned businesses to 500 by 2030 through the new Scotland for EO industry leadership group backed by the Scottish Government and co-chaired by Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills. Co-operative Development Scotland, a dedicated team within Scottish Enterprise, has a practical remit to promote awareness of employee ownership and other co-operative models and provide advice to businesses considering adopting these models. Scottish Enterprise is running a series of workshops explaining employee ownership to build awareness and demand for this inclusive business model.
Any firm can submit an inquiry about moving to employee ownership and Scottish Enterprise provides up to three days of free support. Where employee ownership is identified as a potential exit solution for business owners, it will undertake an employee ownership feasibility study. Scottish Enterprise will then provide a report examining potential ownership structures, governance, management, funding and how a transition would occur.
The biggest issue facing co-operatives and mutuals in Scotland and across the UK is a Tory no-deal Brexit, which could slow down exports, lead to a hike in interest rates and cost our economy up to 100,000 jobs according to the Fraser of Allander Institute and the Bank of England. Under no deal, a Treasury analysis suggests exports would decrease by 15% and warns that disruption to cross-channel trade could lead to delays in UK food supply, 30% of which comes from the EU. The Bank of England has warned that crashing out of the EU without a deal would be worse than the 2008 financial crisis. The irresponsibility of the Tories is on full display with the claim of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) that there could be a temporary “standstill” in the current trade arrangements with the EU while a new trade agreement is struck, and that premise being rejected by two Brexiteer Cabinet Ministers. All these things will impact negatively on co-operatives and mutuals and inhibit their productivity and contribution to our economy.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister whether he agrees that we should focus on what the UK Government can do to support the voluntary expansion of employee and worker ownership through both start-ups and conversions using worker co-ops and employee ownership trusts. Will the Minister address the biggest barriers of awareness, understanding and available advice and support, as evidence shows that when entrepreneurs and businesses are given the right information in the proper context with access to expert help, they are more likely to choose employee and worker ownership?
In this matter, the UK Government can learn a lot from the success of the Scottish Government in making employee ownership conversions a mainstream option of ownership succession among SMEs. I again urge the Minister to look at the good work being done in Scotland on this and to follow suit.
It is a pleasure to close this debate as a proud Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament and as a member of the Opposition shadow Treasury team. What a good debate we have had to mark Co-operatives Fortnight. We have rightly heard that the co-operative and mutual tradition is one of the most significant in the economic and social history of this country. It is a tradition that was of course begun and built on the east side of Manchester in towns like mine—Stalybridge and Hyde—and Mossley, and I should also mention Ashton as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) is sitting beside me. But we have also heard that it is a tradition with much to offer for the future.
I want to be clear about what a co-operative is, because I am always conscious that while there is huge expertise in the Chamber today, there will be people listening to this debate who perhaps do not know exactly what co-operatives or the mutual sector are, and why they are different and why that is important. For the benefit of those people, let me say that co-operatives are enterprises that trade for the common good as opposed to the private benefit of their shareholders.
Legally, there are several differences between a company and a co-operative, but the most important are the following. First, the members of a co-operative are all equal and have one vote each, irrespective of the number of shares they hold. They all have the same right to participate in the affairs of the co-operative, which they democratically control. The members of a company, by contrast, of course hold their rights of control over the company in proportion to the number of shares they own. Greater power and control over the company can be acquired by buying more shares, but that cannot happen in a co-operative. Secondly, it is members, rather than shareholders, who provide the capital to a co-operative, and the distribution of profits is made by way of a dividend to those members based on their annual trade with the co-operative. In a company, profits are distributed in proportion to the shareholding a person has.
These legal differences point to a fundamental difference of purpose. A company carries on business for the private benefit of the shareholders at the time, whereas a co-operative is a trading mechanism for th