House of Commons
Thursday 11 July 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Free Trade and WTO Reform
This weekend, it will be three years since my Department was formed, and in that time the UK has worked with partners to ensure that the World Trade Organisation is equipped with the tools needed to tackle present challenges and address 21st century trade issues at a time of significant global headwinds. I emphasised the urgent need for WTO reform in discussions with my counterparts at the G20 trade and digital economy ministerial meeting in Japan a few weeks ago.
Can the Secretary of State please explain why some nations, such as Canada, are refusing to roll over their existing EU free trade agreements, while many others, such as Switzerland, have happily done so?
Continuity of existing trade terms is in everybody’s interests. I have to say that when the House of Commons gives mixed signals about the possibility of a no-deal exit, quit understandably some of our trading partners wonder whether it is worth investing in getting those continuity agreements. What I would say to those trading partners is that a no-deal exit is not entirely within the control of the United Kingdom; we might end up with a no-deal exit from the European Union. It is in everybody’s interests to have those safety nets in place.
Free trade has the ability to spread the blessings of prosperity and to bring nations closer together. What is my right hon. Friend doing to spread free trade, particularly with our friends in the Commonwealth and the Anglophone countries?
I would go further than my hon. Friend and say that free trade is beneficial for prosperity, stability and security, in the United Kingdom and beyond. The creation of Her Majesty’s trade commissioners is one of the most important elements of the Department for International Trade, and I am passionate about increasing the size of the DIT’s overseas network, including in the Commonwealth. Therefore, this morning I am proud to announce the creation of a new HM trade commissioner for Australasia. The post will be a senior civil service 2 director role and will be externally advertised later this year, to attract the best and brightest talent.
To return to the subjective continuity agreements, a number have been put in place but they do not apply to some of our biggest trading partners. Does the Secretary of State really think that by the end of October we will have a significant number of agreements in place with those countries with which we do the most trade?
Well, 10.7% of our trade is done under EU trade agreements with third countries. In fact, the largest of those, with Switzerland, and some of the other largest—for example, with the European economic area and South Korea—have already been concluded or signed, and I expect further agreements to be reached.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State saw the alarming report in yesterday’s Financial Times on the impact on the Amazonian rainforest of the EU-Mercosur trade deal. Of course free trade is a good thing, but not if the cost is climate change. Does he agree?
This Government have been very consistent in our approach to this matter. In fact, next week I will be setting out, at a slightly lesser level, moves that the Department for International Trade intends to take to mitigate our own international travel. We all have a responsibility, at international, national and personal level, to take climate change absolutely seriously. In international agreements, the environmental impacts are very much looked at. Of course, that agreement has not yet been finally concluded.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and his Department on the latest export figures, which have reached another new high, but there is clearly potential for further growth, particularly post Brexit. What plans does he have to ensure that we have sufficient staff and personnel in high commissions and embassies throughout the world looking for those opportunities and feeding them back to British firms?
For Britain to be able to sell abroad, we need to be able to do two things simultaneously: understand what Britain has to sell abroad and understand the markets we are selling into. That is why my Department is bringing in a major change to rotate our staff from our international posts through our sectors in the UK, so that they can understand what the UK can do in terms of services and goods in a real-time way as well as understand the markets. It is not just about how many people we have in the market, but about how well they understand what is happening in the UK. I hope that this innovation will lead to an increased capability for the UK and improve our competitiveness vis-à-vis other exporting countries.
We recognise the need to reform the WTO, not least in the area of speeding up dispute resolution. We also recognise the benefits of regional trade agreements and bilateral agreements that can be WTO-compliant. However, it remains essential that we have a fully functioning WTO implementing globally agreed trade rules, so may I ask the Secretary of State to take on board and to agree with me that in these negotiations on reform he should reject some of the approach of the United States, which is to suggest that it will walk away from the WTO if it does not get its own way?
I absolutely agree that we need an international rules-based system based on the WTO. It does require reform, but the fact that it needs reform is not an excuse to leave—it is an excuse to be more engaged in those reforms. It is worth pointing out that the United States has done very well, winning around 90% of the cases it has taken to dispute at the WTO. I hope that we all understand that the alternative to a rules-based system is a deals-based system, and the biggest casualties of that will be developing countries.
Renewable Energy Exports
Promoting renewables is, of course, one more function of a dedicated trade Department, and we have export campaigns targeting renewable energy opportunities across Europe, Latin America and south-east Asia, along with support programmes. For example, the offshore wind sector deal commits the Department for International Trade and industry to increase offshore wind exports fivefold to £2.6 billion by 2030 and puts in place support mechanisms to help UK suppliers grow.
I thank the Minister for his answer. In Wales, the low- carbon and renewable energy economy employs nearly 10,000 people. However, as he has already said, this could be hugely expanded if there were more opportunities to explore and to export renewable energy, so what steps are the UK Government taking to boost the economy and export more to provide more jobs across Wales and the wider UK?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman for championing those employers and, more importantly, employees in his constituency across the world. We are absolutely dedicated to doing that. As I said, the offshore wind sector deal puts a lot of that in place. UK Export Finance now has a dedicated team to support renewables. Colleagues from across the Department worked with Taiwan, and I was there last year at the signing of a memorandum of understanding that opens up its offshore wind opportunities for local companies.
The Society of Maritime Industries says that export finance support in the UK lags behind what is available in other countries. It is calling for a much-needed follow-up detailing the specifics of the export strategy. If the Government are serious about the UK being a zero-carbon economy, where is the detail, the coherent plan and the investment into exports of our world-leading renewables sector? Labour believes in the industry; when will the Government start to?
I shall try to give a straight answer to a not entirely straight question. As I said, we have the sector deal. We have the export strategy and we are putting enormous effort into that. I am pleased to say, Mr Speaker, that in this 100th centenary year of UK Export Finance, it has, under this dedicated trade Department, been rated the best export credit agency in the world.
It is good to know that a centenary year marks 100 years and that 100 years would be considered to constitute a centenary. I wonder whether a 100th centenary year might be in danger of being a tautology.
Leaving the EU: UK Trade Policy
Establishing the Board of Trade has been one of this Department’s major achievements over the past three years, and it will continue to meet in all UK nations and regions. Included as advisers to the board are the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, for Scotland and for Wales, and it has representation from business advisers from across the UK. We will make sure that all parts of the UK benefit from the jobs and investment that come with an independent UK-wide trade policy.
My right hon. Friend will know that Copeland is home to a thriving agriculture sector. Will he tell us more about what is being done in his Department to open up new markets?
There are a number of ways in which we can do that. The traditional trade agreements are one of them, but market access is another. For example, countries such as China are huge markets for Northern Ireland dairy products and Scottish beef, and the Department is focusing increasingly on identifying regulations that, if removed, will automatically increase market access for UK exporters.
When the Foreign Affairs Committee met businesses in Hirwaun, south Wales, they were very critical of the Board of Trade. They said that it simply did not listen to Welsh concerns and did not project Wales on the international market. Is there not a danger that the Welsh Assembly might take it into its head that it wants to do that work instead of—and, I would argue, less effectively than—the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman may be slightly confusing the Board of Trade with the Department for International Trade. They have slightly different functions. When the Board of Trade met in Wales recently, we presented a number of awards to Welsh exporters, but the Board of Trade is an augmentation of the DIT in that it is able to take its own trade missions abroad. The advantage of the DIT to Wales is that it provides access to a much bigger network than could ever be achieved by the Welsh Government, and thus gives Welsh business a far greater capability than it would otherwise have.
I am delighted to say that the outcomes of the Department’s efforts have already been pretty beefy. The important point is, however, that because Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and therefore has access to a Department of State with a very large international footprint, we are better able to tackle issues such as market access to Scottish beef than Scotland would ever be if it were an independent state.
The north-east is the one region that consistently exports more than it imports, but its voice in international trade policy and its representation on trade missions do not reflect that. What is the Board of Trade doing to support the voice of the north-east, rather than providing a platform for the Secretary of State so that he can tour the regions without delivering change?
The point of the Board of Trade’s visits to the regions is gathering information that the Department can use for the purpose of export policy and recognising the excellence of those who have already succeeded in exporting. I should have thought that the hon. Lady considered it a worthwhile exercise for the Government to recognise the excellent exporters in her own region.
Will the Secretary of State hold a meeting of the Board of Trade in Kettering, so that we can meet the Northamptonshire chamber of commerce to discuss export opportunities?
I am astonished that we have got this far with only one bid for a meeting place for the Board of Trade. As with all my hon. Friend’s suggestions, I will take it seriously.
If trade is to work for all parts of the UK, all parts of the UK—including Kettering—must be heard before, during and after trade negotiations. The Government have announced the creation of a ministerial forum for international trade, but they have provided no information about its membership, how often it will meet, or what its exact terms of reference will be. Will the Secretary of State now give us some much-needed detail on how both the nations and the regions of the UK will be included in the entire trade negotiation process?
As I have said, the Board of Trade’s advisers—which is what they are technically called—are the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have visited all the English regions, and I intend in future to be constantly moving around the regions and nations of the UK, to thank the businesses that have contributed to Britain’s export performance, to consult those businesses and to create a network of business people who will act as champions and mentors for companies that want to export.
This summer marks three years since the DIT was established and one year since the publication of the Department’s export strategy, which sets out how the Government will encourage, inform, connect and finance UK businesses to take advantage of the international demand for British goods and services. Last month, we announced a new package of financial support from UK Export Finance to help businesses, and small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, to do just that.
Does the Department’s export strategy make provision for promoting the expertise of British business in the emerging markets of offshore wind and the late-life decarbonising management and decommissioning of oil and gas fields?
Yes, the offshore wind sector deal announced earlier this year will support UK companies to seize the export opportunities generated by the rapidly expanding market. The DIT is working with markets such as Taiwan, with which I recently hosted an offshore wind roundtable last month, to support their engagement with the UK supply chain. On oil and gas production, the DIT is engaging with the industry and stakeholders on export opportunities across the full industrial lifecycle.
We have already heard that our trade agreements with the EU amount to about 11% of our trade, which is significant. Will my hon. Friend update the House on where he expects to have got with rolling over all the existing trade agreements by the time we are able to make our own independent trade policy?
Since the Department’s formation three years ago, the DIT has grown its trade negotiating capability from a standing start to a fully trained core of specialists. That has allowed us to negotiate the transition of EU free trade agreements, representing almost two thirds of trade covered by these agreements, and we continue to work intensively on the balance.
What is the Secretary of State doing in relation to manufacturing in the west midlands, which has the Jaguar Land Rover and black cab companies, to increase their exports given the market has had a slight downturn as a result of Trump’s sanctions on China?
Of course, Jaguar Land Rover remains an extraordinarily important company to the UK. It has faced some challenges recently, but the announcement of the new electrification programme in the west midlands is extremely welcome. As the hon. Gentleman might expect, the DIT has been very heavily involved in that process.
But what has the DIT been doing through its export strategy about the automotive sector in Wales and in particular in Bridgend, with the announcement that Ford will close the engine plant? What can the Department do to try to persuade Ford to change its mind about this and to ensure that we have a thriving export sector?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been very heavily involved with Ford at Bridgend; in the end this is a matter for the company itself, but I have no doubt that BEIS has had productive conversations with it. The DIT is, along with BEIS, investing very large amounts of money across government in electrification and the automotive market of the future. That involves huge amounts put into research and development at universities, and we believe that will put the UK car industry in a very good position for the future.
UK-US Trade and Investment
Over the past three years, the DIT has laid the groundwork for an ambitious free trade agreement with the US once we have left the EU, including through the UK-US trade and investment working group, which met for the sixth time in London yesterday. This week, I have been in Washington to discuss the progress of these preparations with my American counterparts and make sure we are ready to grasp this golden opportunity once we have left the EU.
Is it not the case that, notwithstanding the little local difficulty—or even large local difficulty—in Washington DC at the moment, the underlying facts remain that the United Kingdom is the biggest investor in the United States and vice versa, that military and intelligence integration between the United Kingdom and the United States is bigger than any other in the rest of the world and that our strength remains with the United States?
My hon. Friend is correct. The UK and the US have a deep long-standing relationship with a strong and enduring bond. We have a shared heritage, legal system and language, and we co-operate extensively in security, prosperity and defence, and at many levels of our society, culture and economy, our co-operation is closer than that of any other two countries—something that my hon. Friend contributed to in his time as shadow Trade Minister.
Has the Secretary of State woken up to the fact that when we trade with America, and with other countries, we have to take manufacturing very seriously indeed? This also involves our universities. I have a good memory and I remember that, on his first outing, he refused to meet the all-party parliamentary group on manufacturing. He has still not met it. Why does he not take manufacturing seriously? It matters for our trade relationship with America, which is very close.
When it comes to the manufacturing element, we take it very seriously. Our goods exports have actually exceeded the growth in our service exports in recent times, which is testament to the way in which the manufacturing sector has been encouraged and grown under this Government, in stark contrast to what happened under the previous Labour Government, when it shrank substantially.
The Secretary of State is obviously aware of the unprecedented way in which our ambassador in Washington was removed from his post yesterday by the former Foreign Secretary and the President of the United States. Does he think that that will harm or hinder our trade investment with the United States?
I deeply regret the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch, whom I was with actually in the time before his resignation. He was a great, dedicated and professional public servant. I hugely decry the leak that led to that resignation. The leak was unprofessional, unethical and unpatriotic, and I hope that, if we are able to discover the culprit, we will throw the book at them.
Arms Sales: Saudi Arabia
We disagree with the judgment and are seeking permission to appeal. Alongside this we are considering the implications of the judgment for decision making. While we do this, we will not issue any new licences for exports to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners which might be used in Yemen.
Given the evidence from organisations such as the Red Cross, and given what we know about the humanitarian violations in Yemen, does the Secretary of State not think it is time, once and for all and regardless of any review, to look at the international evidence, and stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia to break international law?
We take a rigorous and robust view in this country, as the court said, and we are very aware of any potential breaches of international humanitarian law. I think the hon. Lady will find that the United Kingdom has one of the most stringent sets of rules around arms exporting anywhere in the world.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing independent trade policy and export promotion. I am proud to announce that, on 17 July, my Department will be launching the MP Exporting toolkit. This will highlight the role that all MPs can play in helping to promote local businesses in their own constituencies. It says “Become a Trade Minister for your constituency”, and 650 Trade Ministers would be even more effective than the Department for International Trade.
My right hon. Friend is a brave man to let us all loose like that. He will be aware that the Royal Navy has done incredible work in the past couple of days to protect our British shipping as it moves through the Strait of Hormuz. Does he agree that, given that 95% of our goods travel by sea, it is imperative that our armed forces have the resources they need to keep all those exports and imports safe?
Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz. HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and to issue verbal warnings, which caused the vessels to turn away. Our thanks go to the crew of HMS Montrose and to all those who protect the safety of vital international maritime traffic. It is our duty as a Parliament to ensure that all those forces are adequately resourced.
Last month, the Department released the worst foreign direct investment statistics in five years. New projects were down 14%, new jobs were down 24%, and investment to safeguard existing jobs was down 54%. I know that the Secretary of State will want to explain the reasons for this to the House, but will he also tell us whether he still thinks he was right to announce that, in the event of a no deal, he would unilaterally drop more than 80% of our tariffs to zero for a period? I ask this because Canada has said that it will not now conclude a roll-over agreement conceding preferences to the UK because the Secretary of State is offering market access for free. In June, he boasted to the Select Committee that the roll-over was 99% there. Now, it is 100% not there. Was he right, or is Canada?
As ever, it is nice to know that the hon. Gentleman is consistently wrong. He talks about our investment figures, but investment into the United Kingdom was the third highest of any country in the world, and it was the highest in Europe. At a time when global foreign direct investment fell, it continued to rise in the UK. When it comes to tariffs, one reason the Government introduced the temporary tariff scheme was to stop a price shock in the UK, and one of the reasons for that is that those on lower incomes spend more on goods than services. Introducing liberalisation will help to protect consumers on lower incomes, and I would have thought even today’s Labour party might have supported that.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are some huge opportunities in market access. Indeed, we have identified one potential change in China that, if negotiated, might be worth £10 billion of turnover over a considerable period through one regulation alone. Resources at the Department at the moment are necessarily skewed towards FTAs, because of the trade agreement continuity process, but they will in due course shift towards market access, which is terribly important.
I had a number of discussions in the United States about that issue this week, as the hon. Gentleman may have guessed. It is likely that tariffs will be applied following the WTO determination of the level of tariffs that the US is allowed by law to set following the judgment on Airbus. Of course, the judgment on Boeing, to which he alluded, is also coming. At some point, we must ensure that both European countries and the United States are able to give appropriate support to their aircraft industries, because the alternative will be market access for China, which will be in the interests of neither.
The transition agreement will replicate the effects of the preferential market access in the existing EU-South Korea FTA, providing certainty for businesses and allowing them to continue trading on preferential terms. It will provide a firm basis for the further strengthening of our ambitious trade and investment relationship as we work together in future.
I could just ask the hon. Gentleman to look up the answer that I gave a few moments ago. We have signed roughly two thirds of the deals already and we expect there to be more. As for the number, it is well over 50%, and a large number of the countries in there are agglomerated into blocs, but we are confident in terms of trade that we will have two thirds or thereabouts.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but an article 24 agreement would cover tariffs and quantitative restrictions; it would not cover services, standards and regulations. An agreement covering those latter elements would have to be negotiated separately and would probably take longer to strike. In the meantime, the UK would be subject to the full array of existing third-country checks and controls carried out as standard by the EU. In other words, even if we both did agree an article 24 continuation, it would not cover access to the single market—it would not be trading as usual.
Further to the question from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), is it not time that the Department for International Trade undertook a thorough review of all 29 or 30 countries identified as countries of concern for human rights by the Government’s own Foreign Office?
We do, and we act in line with the consolidated criteria of the EU. We look at all those elements. In fact, the Court of Appeal was clear that the Government were rigorous and robust in doing so.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Before I respond, may I say, on behalf of our Front-Bench team and, I hope, of the whole House, how proud we are of the Lionesses for their exceptionally inspirational performance in the women’s World cup?
Recent state pension reforms have meant that by 2030 more than 3 million women will be £550 a year better off on average. Automatic enrolment has helped to equalise workplace pension participation, and the Government’s gender inequality road map sets out our proposals to tackle financial instability in later life.
Equalising the pension age has been very painful. We understand the reasons for it, but it is very painful for many of my constituents—females born in the 1950s. What has the Minister’s Department done to mitigate against that? What more can be done to avoid hardship for that age group?
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for his constituents. This Government have already introduced transitional arrangements costing £1.1 billion; this concession reduced the proposed increase in state pension age for more than 450,000 men and women, and means that no woman will see her pension age change by more than 18 months, relative to the original Pensions Act 1995 timetable. For those experiencing hardship, the welfare system continues to provide a safety net, with a range of benefits tailored to individual circumstances.
The Minister must recognise that, particularly for working-class women in the north-east who started work earlier, sometimes at the age of 14 or 15, and are in manual trades, which take a huge toll on the body, this pension inequality is really affecting lives. What is he doing to meet the just claims of the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women and provide support for those women so disproportionately affected?
As I say, the Government have already introduced transitional arrangements costing £1.1 billion. We have considered the alternative options and found that there are substantial practical, financial and legal problems with all alternative options offered by stakeholders so far to mitigate the impact on those affected.
In addition to the Lionesses, will the Minister also congratulate the Scottish women’s football team on their efforts and wish the Scottish Thistles netball team all the best in the netball world cup, which is coming up this week?
The WASPI women have already been cheated out of their pensions by this and previous Governments, but a further issue is emerging, with the Association of British Insurers talking of £20 billion of unclaimed pensions, in 1.6 million pension pots. That will disproportionately affect women, as they are more likely to have changed jobs multiple times during their careers. What is the Minister going to do to make sure that those women do not also lose out on pensions to which they should be entitled, in unclaimed pension pots?
I will certainly echo the comments made by the hon. Lady about those sporting teams in Scotland. Her question is better related to the Pensions Minister, so I will ensure that he responds fully to the points she raises. However, I would say, on WASPI women, that any amendment to the current legislation that creates a new inequality between men and women would be unquestionably highly dubious as a matter of law, and the Government’s position on the changes to the state pension age remains clear and consistent.
British Sign Language Courses
A range of qualifications in BSL are available, but of course it is for schools and colleges to decide whether to offer these qualifications or other courses in BSL. The Department for Education is working to develop draft subject content for a potential GCSE in BSL.
Cheshire College South and West, in my constituency, has had to cancel the BSL courses altogether, due to cuts in the adult education budget. That pattern is being repeated all over the country, so may I urge the Minister to look carefully at the impact of the cuts his Government are implementing?
I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the particular issue regarding that college. He will be aware that the exam board Signature has a number of BSL qualifications at different levels. He will also know that the DFE funds the I-Sign project, which has developed a family sign language programme course, which is available online, and post-16 funding is of course a priority in the upcoming spending review.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), as nobody in the Portcullis House atrium yesterday can have failed to have been moved by the signing choir, who performed to great acclaim. Will the Minister join me, the hon. Member for Waveney and the choir in calling for a GCSE in sign language?
I did enjoy meeting Daniel Jillings’s mother, Ann, and I am only sorry that I could not go to the performance of the Lowestoft Signing Choir last night. The hon. Lady will know that in February the Department announced that it would begin the process of developing draft subject content for a GCSE in BSL, which will need to be considered against the requirements that apply to all GCSEs.
The new Equalities Hub includes the Government Equalities Office, the race disparity unit and the new disability unit. Not only does it bring together the parts of Government that lead on gender, race, disability and sexual orientation, but it will use the convening power of the Cabinet Office better to leverage work across Whitehall.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for putting together for the first time ever an Equalities Hub. How will she make sure that Government Departments still see it as their responsibility to work together to deliver better equalities policies in future? In our inquiries, the Women and Equalities Committee often highlights that as a real problem.
The hub will hold those Departments to account. It will have some new tools to do that: better data and the ability to look at the multiple disadvantages that individuals face. There are also single departmental plans and other methods that the Cabinet Office has. We will make further announcements this week that will provide other means by which we can hold everyone across Government to account.
I welcome the Equalities Hub, but I urge the Government to make hubs available throughout the country. Will the Minister pay particular attention to a group that lobbied me only last week? They were women who have been in prison, come out of prison, and had to return to the atmosphere of bullying and oppression in the home they were in before they served their prison sentence. These women need the full service in the Equalities Hub. They are a very special case, so will the Minister help them?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice recently visited some women’s prisons and spoke to people there about further things we need to do. Part of the work of the Government Equalities Office is to create better networks across the whole of the UK in all these policy areas.
Gender Bias: Employment
My hon. Friend has asked a deviously difficult question, in that there are many ways to interpret it. I have taken it to reflect the gender split in sectors. The worst sectors in terms of the gender split for women are construction; mining and quarrying; and water supply, sewerage and waste management. All those sectors have workforces that are more than 80% men. The worst sectors in terms of the gender split for men are education, human health and social work. We are working with all those sectors to drive action plans to address the specific problems that men and women face, whether in recruitment, retention, or progression to senior leadership roles, in those sectors.
Brilliant though the Minister is, she cannot be expected, any more than any of us can, to know the inner workings of the sophisticated mind of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone).
There is a highly disproportionately low number of male primary school teachers. What can the Government do to address this?
My hon. Friend asks a good question. There is interesting research on what and how gender stereotypes form at early ages. By the age of seven, girls tend to think that they should be in what we call very loosely the caring industries, and boys tend to think about the mechanical and engineering-type industries. So it starts at the very beginning. We have to work on, and we are working on, ensuring that the gender stereotypes for boys and girls are not allowed to continue. That is precisely why the gender equality road map that we published last week will help with those limiting and limited stereotypes. We must very much encourage boys to grow, and to be great teachers in our schools and colleges.
I am sure the Minister would agree that in the care sector—where my mother has worked for the past 30 years—the focus tends to be purely on women working in that sector, often because it is part-time and low-paid work. What more will the Minister do to make sure that the care sector is seen as a real profession, with good qualifications and a decent salary.
The care sector is such an important sector in our economy—all the more so as we age and live for longer—so through the gender equality road map we are very much looking into how we can help to ensure that the part-time roles are paid properly, and also that there are career opportunities. A tiny step is, of course, the gender pay gap regulation reporting, which helps to set out the disparities between pay, not only within industries and sectors but across the economy. It is through that that we will start to get much better quality.
Only 1% of the tradespeople who work in building maintenance in housing associations are female, so will my hon. Friend endorse the work of the Guinness Partnership and its ambassador tradeswomen who are trying to drive up that figure by going into schools and colleges, encouraging women to pursue a career in construction?
I endorse not only the work of the Guinness Partnership, but the work of my hon. Friend, who is a powerhouse himself for trying to ensure that women and girls see construction as a really good industry and a really good employment opportunity for them.
Prison Officer Training: Women’s Mental Health
From April of this year, a new specialist training package known as Positive Outcomes for Women: Empowerment and Rehabilitation has been devised to support prison officers working with women in custody and the community. That will help staff to have the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with those with specific needs.
Given that women in prison account for a disproportionate amount of self-harm incidents, it is increasingly important that they are given support in prison. When will the Minister commit to enhancing support for vulnerable women with a mental health need in prison?
The hon. Lady will have heard what I just said about the new training programme, but it is part of a wider policy framework. In particular, there is work on the Lord Farmer review to improve family ties for female offenders and a further investment of £5 million for community provision. My experience last week at Her Majesty’s Prison Eastwood Park taught me a lot about how women can help each other and support each other through the process, which can often be a very traumatic time for them.
This year’s inspection of HMP Foston Hall identified that 74% of women had mental health problems, but only two thirds were receiving any help. At the same prison, only half of officers had received any mental health awareness training despite a general feeling that they would like more. What more can be done to improve mental health training across the estate to reduce self-harm and suicide and to improve on the current position?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that important point. As I have said, the roll out of the new POWER scheme is going to be very important in terms of giving prison officers the tools they need to help support women with mental health needs. I do think that our overall strategy is now translating into real change, with the key worker scheme allowing prison officers to work with individual prisoners to identify their needs, so there is progress, but I accept that much more needs to be done.
Windrush: Home Office Investigation
The Home Secretary commissioned a lessons-learned review to consider the key policy and operational decisions that led to members of the Windrush generation becoming entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants and appointed Wendy Williams as its independent adviser. We understand that Wendy Williams has been considering a great deal of material during the course of the review and has spoken with a wide range of people. We will publish her report following its receipt.
The Government seem obsessed with pushing through a damaging no-deal Brexit, and Windrush victims feel ignored, as they have to make do with an apology, or perhaps another review, then a report, and then a consultation on the report and the review. Words are cheap; actions count. Can the Minister please explain how the process of compensating Windrush victims is progressing?
I am glad that the hon. Lady has asked this question, because it gives me the opportunity to inform her that more than 6,400 people have been granted some form of documentation by the Windrush taskforce and more than 4,200 people have successfully applied to become British nationals through the Windrush scheme. We have announced that the Windrush compensation scheme is open for claimants. The forms, rules and claimant guidance were published in April and the free phone helpline is available for those wishing to receive printed copies of the forms or for any other queries.
The Government said that it would take two weeks to resolve the Windrush cases; it has been over 64 weeks thus far. I have a live petition, which garnered more than 800 signatures a day, which I plan to present to the Prime Minister next week. Will the Minister join me in fighting for justice and fairness for the Windrush generation, and support the call to get all cases resolved before we break for recess?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she knows from the work she has done, every case is complex. We want to ensure that they are being thoroughly considered. We will continue to update the Select Committee with work and progress on this, but I reference her back to the fact that more than 6,400 people have been given some form of documentation and more than 4,200 people have successfully applied to become British nationals through the scheme.
Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
It is a pleasure to answer this question from the hon. Lady. In September 2018, having considered the evidence of the review, the Home Secretary reached the conclusion that introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response given the experience of the vast majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are passive in nature; but we of course watch with great interest the incidents that are happening in her constituency.
Ealing’s buffer zone is pioneering, but it is a local byelaw and its renewal process will have to start next year, notwithstanding its High Court challenge next week. Women up and down the country—clinic users and staff—need the certainties of protection from harassment by national, lasting legislation, and the evidence of the Minister’s review does not bear out what all the pressure groups are saying. So when will the Government have the guts to act?
It is not a question of having the guts or otherwise. We looked at this very carefully. We looked at the range of hospitals and clinics across the country that offer these services, and the overwhelming majority did not report the sorts of activities that the hon. Lady has described taking place outside the clinic in her constituency. However, we of course keep the matter under review, and I am always happy to discuss this with the hon. Lady, because I know she takes such an interest in it.
Workplace Gender Equality
The cross-Government gender equality road map sets out our plans to address the persistent gender barriers that people face at every stage of their life. It addresses the cumulative impact faced disproportionately by women as a result of gender barriers at every stage of their life.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Ogden Trust, participating businesses, higher and further education providers and John Best for their sterling work in promoting the coastal energy internship programme, which in three years has grown from providing five to 50 internships, and which is ensuring that female interns have every opportunity to work in an industry that has long been male-dominated?
I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in highlighting that fantastic example and congratulating all involved on its success. In order to improve gender representation in STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—industries, we are raising awareness of the opportunities that these career paths present, through the Government careers strategy.
Sexual Violence Support Services
The Minister for victims, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), and the Minister for mental health, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), meet quarterly, and in their most recent meeting they discussed mental health support for victims of serious violence and sexual assault, as part of the Government’s continued work to implement an integrated system of care for victims.
A recent public petition brought by campaigner Fern Champion on the issue of funding for rape crisis centres has attracted more than 150,000 signatures. Fern’s experience, echoed by many, is that rape crisis centres are so oversubscribed that survivors are being turned away or are told to wait for up to two years before they can receive support. Will the Minister commit to meet me—preferably before the summer recess—to discuss how we ensure that all survivors of sexual violence can access support?
I am happy to commit the victims Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), to that meeting; I am sure he will be very pleased with me. This is an important and serious issue, because rape crisis centres form an invaluable part of the service. I am glad to say that from April this year my Department has increased funding for specialised rape and sexual abuse support services by 10%—up by £8 million a year—and that, for the first time, we will have centrally funded services in all 42 police and crime commissioner areas. That is a sign of our deep commitment, but we will work further with the hon. Lady.
All employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service have the right to request flexible working—that is over 90% of employees. Employers can only refuse a request for flexible working if they have sound business reasons, which are set out in statute. We have also established the flexible working taskforce to promote wider understanding of implementation of flexible working practices. Earlier this year, we launched a flexible working website specifically aimed at helping working mothers to find flexible jobs.
Women who work at Asda in Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor, and indeed across the whole country, are currently facing dismissal if they do not accept a new contract that would end the flexibility they currently have. In view of the helpful answer that the Minister has given, will she join me and the GMB union in calling on Asda to think again and have a proper negotiation?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the concerns among her constituents with regard to the change of contract. As she well knows, that is a debate and a negotiation between the employer and the employees and their representatives. I am sure that the unions involved will be making their feelings clear. I advise those of her constituents who have any concerns about the practices that are happening within Asda to ring ACAS, which will be able to give them good, sound advice.
The law is absolutely clear: pregnancy and maternity discrimination against women in the workplace is unlawful. The Government recognise the importance of tackling pregnancy and maternity discrimination more widely, and have consulted on extending redundancy protections. We have received over 600 responses, which we are currently reviewing, and we will set out the next steps very soon.
Flexible working enables women to stay in work and develop their careers after they have children, and helps to prevent maternity discrimination. It could also help to close the gender pay gap. It has made a huge difference to a member of staff in my constituency office with regard to getting back into work after having a child. What steps can my hon. Friend outline to ensure that flexible working is offered in employment contracts, and is also a priority when advertising the job so that people understand that it is a possibility?
My hon. Friend is quite right. This Government recognise that we need to do as much as we can for working families, and particularly for women who may suffer from discrimination. She is right to talk about flexibility. She will know that the Government have committed to consult on a duty on employers to consider whether a job can be done flexibly and to make that very clear in the advertisement for the job.
Following the long overdue consultation on the rights of pregnant women and new mothers, does the Minister expect the Government to support the recommendation made by the Women and Equalities Committee that the German model offers the best solution for protecting women from the worst employers?
The hon. Lady is right: we have had the consultation, on which we will hopefully make further announcements soon. It is absolutely right that we have consulted on the extension of the pregnancy and maternity protections for up to six months. The Government have looked at the German approach to enforcement, which uses a state body to grant permissions to make new mothers redundant. This would diverge from the UK system of enforcement of individuals’ employment rights through employment tribunals.
All workers should be safe and able to thrive at work. Workplace harassment reflects an unacceptable sense of power, entitlement and disrespect towards others. Today I have launched a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace. I am seeking views on whether the law is fit for purpose and how we can ensure that we have the right processes in place to keep people safe at work. We want to hear from people affected by this issue and design solutions that work for them. I urge everyone with an interest to go on to gov.uk and help us in this exercise by filling out the consultation questionnaire.
According to the Home Office, only 15 police forces have had training in relation to domestic abuse and violence. What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office to ensure that all police forces receive that training?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. There is work going on to build further capacity in police forces across the four nations. The UK is also making a major contribution to deliver that capacity in the police forces of other nations. I will get my hon. Friend the Minister for Women to write to him with the specifics.
The consultation has finished, and some funding is ring-fenced as part of the inclusive transport strategy for ensuring that audio-visual equipment is installed on buses. The Department for Transport is in the process of bringing forward regulations and publishing guidance. That will be later this year. In the meantime, we are encouraging operators’ efforts to ensure that there is accessible information on their services.
The Prime Minister cites the race disparity audit and the gender pay gap regulations as some of her proudest achievements, seemingly not realising that they are symbolic of her failures. The report highlighted the systematic institutional racism of her Government’s policies, and we now have the real possibility of a casual racist and misogynist entering No.10—[Interruption.] I am afraid it is true. I hope the Minister will give assurances that the women and equalities agenda—[Interruption.]
Order. Let me be absolutely clear: nothing disorderly has occurred. People have free speech within the rules of the House. I will adjudicate the enforcement of those rules. Nothing disorderly has taken place, and I certainly do not require any assistance from occupants of the Treasury Bench.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I could go through the list of things that have been said, but we do not have time. I hope the Minister will give assurances that the women and equalities agenda will not go backwards under the new Prime Minister. To adapt Stormzy lyrics:
“We have to be honest
Rule number two, don’t make the promise
If you can’t make the deal, just be honest
Equalities will never die, it’s like Chuck Norris
Rather, chuck this Government and chuck Boris.”
Although I am sure that there will be a lot of column inches and debate about the Prime Minister’s legacy, one of the things she can be proud of is setting up the Race Disparity Unit and the work she did to shine a spotlight on practices in particular parts of Government and public services. She has also supported me in setting up the equalities hub, which brings together that disparity team with disability, women and equalities and LGBT issues at the heart of Government. She should be very proud of that.
I gently point out to those on the Opposition Front Bench and all Members of the Labour party that they really should have come to the House today with a bit of humility, following the shocking and, quite frankly, chilling things we saw last night. There are Members of the Labour party—a once great political party—who are standing up for the Jewish community, and long may they continue to do that, but those on the Front Bench have to understand the graveness of what we saw. It is one thing to be incompetent and fail to grip a situation. It is quite another to be complicit in it.
I thank my hon. Friend, particularly for the work she has done in focusing both domestically and internationally on this issue. As I said in my opening statement, we are today issuing a consultation, which will apply across every sector, to protect workers against harassment, particularly sexual harassment. Of course, the Department for International Development has done a tremendous amount in the wake of the Oxfam scandal, ensuring that the victims’ voices can be heard, but also that we are building the systems we need globally to protect people from predatory individuals.
If the hon. Lady would give me the details of that case, I will be very happy to look at it.
I am delighted to confirm that we are committed to the development of a BSL GCSE. Daniel Jillings and his mother Ann have been formidable campaigners on this issue. Daniel in particular, despite his young age, has been very influential indeed with his campaign. We are pushing this work forward as soon as we can, while also ensuring that it can be completed to the highest standard. My hon. Friend will be aware that the development of a new GCSE is a complex and lengthy process, but, as I say, we are committed to it as a new GCSE.
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. It will not be my last Women and Equalities questions; I just may be sitting in a different place. I agree, absolutely, that guidance is incredibly important. The work that the Department for Education has been doing has been making good progress on that. I think we need to have absolute clarity on these issues, and I am confident that the Department for Education is doing that.
Resignation of UK Ambassador to USA
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the resignation of the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States.
It was with deep regret that, yesterday, the Government accepted the resignation of Her Majesty’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch. Over a distinguished 42-year career, Sir Kim has served his country with the utmost dedication and distinction. He brought dispassionate insight and directness to his role. It is an outrage that a selection of his very professional reports back to London should have been leaked.
Quite rightly, Sir Kim received the full support of the Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet. In an act of selfless duty, Sir Kim made the decision to resign in order to relieve the pressure on his family and colleagues and to protect the UK-US relationship. The Government profoundly regret that this episode has led Sir Kim to decide to resign. The tributes that have been paid to him from across both Houses, which I would add to, and from so many other corners of this country and others, have been fitting and rightly deserved.
Before we open to general questioning, may I thank the Minister of State for that pithy but very gracious statement? Many people in the Chamber will have had personal interaction with Sir Kim. He is an outstanding public servant, a point that has been beautifully encapsulated by the Minister of State. I call Liz McInnes. [Interruption.] I do apologise—Mr McFadden.
I thank the Minister for his opening statement. The resignation of Sir Kim Darroch marks a dark moment for our democracy and for the standing of the United Kingdom. He is a hugely respected professional diplomat with an exemplary record of serving both Labour and Conservative Governments. In writing his dispatches, he did nothing wrong. He was doing his job. It is his job to tell it as he sees it. He carried out his duties in the finest traditions of the civil service. These traditions are not just rusty relics from the past; they are essential to the proper workings of our parliamentary democracy. His response has been characterised by dignity and professionalism, which is more than can be said for others in this affair.
Any other President would have brushed this off and seen the importance of the bigger picture, but the response that we got was the opposite of mature leadership. Thankfully, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is bigger than this matter and bigger than this President. The response of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was an appalling abandonment of someone in the firing line. Real leaders protect their people; they do not throw them to the wolves because they can sniff a prize for themselves. His actions were a chilling warning of what is to come if he becomes Prime Minister.
How can those in the civil service be expected to do their jobs properly now? How can they operate if they fear leaks, followed by abandonment by our political leaders? What are our ambassadors supposed to write home, from whatever country they are in—“The President is perfect. The people are happy. They sing his name in the street”? What use would that be from our postings abroad? How can civil servants advise Ministers at home if they feel that candid advice will be taken as evidence of disloyalty and treachery?
Those who welcome Kim Darroch’s departure believe that we need a civil service of true believers. They are profoundly wrong. We do not need a civil service of true believers; we need a civil service able to do its job without fear or favour, and that has become much harder this week. Does the Minister share the concern that this attack on the civil service is part of a broader attack on institutions essential to the functioning of our democracy—judges called enemies of the people; MPs called traitors to their country; broadcasters vilified as having hidden agendas?
Our democracy is under fire. Those who value and cherish it must speak up and defend it. Whipping up anger against one institution after another and dressing it up as an attack on the establishment is doing profound harm to the country. We must call it out for the insidious agenda that it is. I conclude by asking the Minister whether this is understood by at least some in Government, so that the damage done this week does not continue into the future.
My apologies to the right hon. Gentleman, whose question it was my privilege to select.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken with authority and wisdom. What he said should be pinned on every wall as an instruction to people on how to act, respectively, in public life and about public life. I commend him for what he has just said.
We have emphasised throughout the importance of ambassadors being able to provide honest, unvarnished assessments of the politics in their country, and to be able to report without fear or favour. We will continue to support civil servants in carrying out that duty. On Tuesday and again today, I have been very grateful to those on the Opposition Benches for the support and cross-party unity they have shown. Their decency, with all those across the whole country who support officials when they are under attack, is something for which I personally am very grateful. When I spoke to Sir Kim yesterday, he was too. He asked me to pass on to the entire House his gratitude.
The right hon. Gentleman is right about the decay in our institutions. We can have a ferocious contest across the Floor of the House, but we have to do that under certain rules and certain codes of conduct—being able to say hello in the bar afterwards, having expressed our differences. So many codes of conduct are in freefall. It is leading, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, to unacceptable attacks on judges, Members of Parliament and broadcasters. Attacks of that sort are a fundamental attack on all the basic freedoms within the democracy in which we operate.
While the failure of the former Foreign Secretary to leap to the defence of Sir Kim shows a lack of leadership that is lamentable, is not the priority now to restore the shattered confidence of our diplomatic corps? Is not the best way to do that to identify the miserable perpetrator of this act and then to see them charged with a criminal offence?
I hope the House will understand if I hold back today from making any further comment on my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). I said enough yesterday to make my position entirely clear.
In terms of the confidence we need to have in our officials and their morale, the permanent under-secretary in the Foreign Office, Sir Simon McDonald, had an all-staff meeting yesterday, which included people who were able to come in on phones and by video conference. The mood was palpable. There is deep upset, but a fantastic united defence of Sir Kim Darroch. I think and I hope that the very, very deft manner in which the PUS handled that meeting will have absolutely reassured our diplomats and officials everywhere that they have our full support. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the leaking. I really hope that we find who did this, and that their name and the consequences of what they did become very, very clear indeed.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on securing it. He spoke for almost the whole House, and certainly everyone in the country, as indeed did the Minister in his response, in expressing his dismay about the circumstances that have led to the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch—who has had to resign, let us remember, simply for doing his job and telling the truth about what is happening in Washington.
While Sir Kim is entirely innocent and can leave office with his head held high, there are many guilty parties in this affair who should be hanging their heads in shame. First, there is whoever is responsible for leaking the memos. Then there is Donald Trump, and his ridiculous temper tantrums. Then there is the outgoing Prime Minister, who has indulged Donald Trump so much but received nothing but disrespect in return.
For me, however, the biggest villain of all is the man who is about to become our Prime Minister. He had the chance on Tuesday night—not just once, but six times—to defend Sir Kim and oppose Donald Trump, but instead he made an active choice to throw our man in Washington under the bus. It was the most craven and despicable act of cowardice that I have seen from any candidate for public office, let alone someone running to be Prime Minister. It sends the worst possible signal to our diplomatic service abroad, and it should send warning signs to our whole country—if we thought that the current Prime Minister was bad when it came to her spineless attitude towards Donald Trump, then things are about to get a whole lot worse.
Will the Minister therefore ensure that a new ambassador to the US is appointed before the next Prime Minister takes office, so that we still have at least one UK representative willing to speak truth to power in Washington?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady—at least for her kind words about me. I do feel obliged to defend my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I think that in these difficult times the relationship between the Prime Minister and the President has obviously seen us disagreeing on some things, such as the Iran nuclear deal, so it is inevitable that that relationship has needed a lot of work. But I do not think that my right hon. Friend has been spineless; indeed, I think that she has been very skilful. She has done her utmost, with a high degree of success, to ensure that the relationship has been functioning in the best possible way. The next ambassador will be appointed in the usual way: by the Prime Minister, on the Foreign Secretary’s recommendation, with the approval of Her Majesty the Queen.
May I first welcome the comments of my friend the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and my right hon. Friend the Minister? This has been a very difficult moment for British diplomacy, and it is worth thinking about why that is so.
This is a direct challenge to a sovereign nation and its ability to nominate its own representative. If sovereignty does not allow a nation to choose its own representative, frankly, what is it but servitude? That is why Britain must stand up for our envoys. If we do not think that they are up to it, we must replace them, but we must not be bullied into seeing them kicked out or silenced. May I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to assure me, and everyone in this House, that Her Majesty’s Government will always stand up for those we send abroad, military or civilian, and back them as necessary, in the interests of the British people and no one else?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said consistently over the past few days. I thank him for his response and his support, and for that of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which he chairs. I am also grateful for his kind words about the permanent under-secretary when, at short notice, he appeared before his Committee yesterday as a witness about these leaks. The permanent under-secretary very much appreciated that the Committee was able to appreciate what he said to it in that session.
Yes—we appoint ambassadors. Nobody else does. They are Her Majesty’s ambassadors and nobody else’s. We will also stand up for them, and I can tell from what has been said by Members on the other side of the House that if ever there were a Government of a different colour, that Government—I hope—would too. It appears that they would.
I thank the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) not only for securing the urgent question but for his remarks, which I think reflected the views of many of us in this House. I also thank the Minister for his strong remarks over the past few hours, and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee for his remarks. They have put some members of their own party to shame over these past few hours. I also want to thank Simon McDonald. The letters he exchanged with Kim Darroch show a dignity that is lacking in some members of the Conservative party.
It is so important that ambassadors and other officials know that they have our support and that of their colleagues. I hope—and I hope that the Minister will give us a fuller answer on this than he gave the Labour spokesperson—that we will have a speedy replacement, because the role of ambassador to the United States is a key one. The civil service system has been damaged; they must be able to speak truth to power.
I think that it is a disgrace that a member of the Conservative party, who sits on the Minister’s own Benches, said that we do not need to defend diplomats when they are doing their jobs. What is the Minister’s message about that? Good governance relies on candour. People from all parties might not like that sometimes, and might hear things we do not like, but it goes to the heart of what makes good government for everyone.
The Minister was right to say that the former Foreign Secretary threw the former ambassador under the bus. President Trump cannot be held to account by this House for his actions and his words, unfortunately. Others can. Time and again the former Foreign Secretary has shown that he is unfit for office. Does the Minister agree with me that he should never be allowed to hold the role of Prime Minister?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bowling me such easy balls and I will endeavour to answer as frankly as I can. He will forgive me if I do not commit to a timescale, simply because I do not know: I am not in a position to inform the House with authority. I would merely observe that if one makes a speedy appointment, it is very likely that one would create a vacancy elsewhere, so what is solved in one corner of the world becomes a gap in another. It is very important that we appoint a new ambassador in the proper way so that we get the very best person appointed in the best possible way for the long-term interests of the UK and our relationship with the US.
Where I can totally agree with the hon. Gentleman is in saying that it is everyone’s duty—and that of everyone in this House—to defend our ambassadors. They are our ambassadors doing their duty. If they do something terribly wrong and break all the rules, that is altogether different, but Sir Kim Darroch was, as the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) said from the Labour Front Bench, doing his job and appears to have been punished, as it were, for doing so. We must defend every ambassador who is properly doing their job. We will and we should. As for his final question, I hope that the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) will allow me to defer that a little.
A leak is, by its very nature, a conspiracy. Who benefits?
There are those who break all the rules of decency who think they can benefit from it themselves. Quite who is benefiting from this, I cannot see, but what is quite clear is that the interests of the country do not benefit. This is an absolutely unacceptable leak that has had a very significant consequence that is detrimental to our interest as a country and of course, in an utterly unfair way, to the personal life of a highly capable ambassador and his family.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on securing this important urgent question and on the manner in which he put it, and I thank the Minister for his remarks. Sir Kim Darroch was and is a distinguished and principled man who has given huge service to our country, and we must all thank him.
Does the Minister understand the deep concern about the fact that the man who is about to be our Prime Minister repeatedly refused to back Sir Kim and the civil service? That concern is not only about the implications for this case and for our diplomatic service more generally, but about the implications of our potentially having a Prime Minister who will be pushed about on all sorts of issues by the bully that is President Trump. I agree with the Minister that that is the behaviour of an utter wimp
I seem to recall that that was one of the kinder words that I used yesterday. [Laughter.]
There is one thing that I have omitted to say today, which I hope I can say now in response to the hon. Lady’s comments. Sir Kim Darroch’s career is not over. I hope the House will recognise that although this is a difficult moment, it does not mean that that is the end of his career, and I hope that the Foreign Office and the entire apparatus of government will look after him, appreciate his merits, and ensure that he can be redeployed somewhere else for the benefit of our United Kingdom.
As for the hon. Lady’s somewhat more party political questions, again, I think I would prefer to concentrate on the specific details of the question put by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), and to concentrate on the merits of Sir Kim Darroch rather than the—merits of anyone else.
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said earlier about the critical importance of the impartiality of the civil service. I do not feel that he needs to add those comments, so may I ask him instead to expand on how he sees the special relationship going in the next few weeks?
I commend to Members Henry Kissinger’s book “White House Years”. Among the many thousands of pages of his memoirs is, as I recall, a remarkable description of the special relationship. In essence, he says that the relationship is not just that between two people who are Heads of State, or Heads of Government. It is really about how, on so many layers and in so many areas—security, culture, business—so much between our two countries works, from day to day, on an assumed foundation of trust. That will continue, and that is why the web of affection and activity between our two countries will never be destroyed by a difficult moment such as this.
I think that I can, in all honesty, answer my hon. Friend’s question by saying that the relationship will remain special—that a relationship between two English-speaking nations with histories that are so entwined, and friendships and activities which will never be destroyed, will continue. I hope that it does continue, and I hope that both countries thrive and flourish.
I commend the Minister for the integrity with which he has conducted himself over the last 24 hours. He rightly drew the House’s attention to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), but may I draw the country’s attention to Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation letter and the response from the permanent under-secretary, which are two very good examples of why our Foreign Office is respected around the world? People’s attention should be drawn to them, rather than to the comments of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson).
The Minister said that the application process for a new ambassador in Washington would be undertaken in the “proper way”. May I encourage him to ensure that the “proper way” means a proper application process through the Foreign Office, advertised externally, so that the Foreign Office can choose the most appropriate person for the job, rather than making a political appointment and choosing someone who would be a stooge of the next Prime Minister?
Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and agree with him, and I thank him for his comments about Sir Kim Darroch and Sir Simon McDonald, who have both conducted themselves in such an exemplary way; we can be proud of both. In terms of the application, it would be normal to do exactly as the hon. Gentleman has said, and that is what I expect will happen. It will be a proper appointment process in the normal way, so that from the pool of talent that we have we can, I hope, find the very best person to go as Her Majesty’s ambassador to Washington.
As my right hon. Friend has outlined, it is absolutely fundamental that Foreign and Commonwealth Office employees remain candid, irrespective of the issues that they face in their host countries, but what further steps can he take to reinforce the imperative message that they can continue to do such an important job without threat?
To a large extent, elsewhere it is business as usual. On a daily basis exactly that sort of process is happening: our ambassadors and consuls across the world will send in their perceptions, their advice and their views of what they think is happening in their host country. The key thing that I can assure my hon. Friend of is that we as Ministers will fully defend our officials in doing that to the high professional standard that they always have done.
The loss of Sir Kim Darroch in this way diminishes our standing in the world; it also diminishes our vision of ourselves, and there are further implications. The Minister, who has spoken eloquently, must acknowledge the concern about having a Prime Minister who is capable of such craven cowardice leading our negotiations with the US on a free trade agreement. What other national assets—our manufacturing, our NHS, our farming—can consider themselves safe?
I take issue with the hon. Lady for saying that this has diminished us. We can hold our heads high in the world; we have behaved with integrity. This of course is an absolutely unprecedented course of events in our relationship with the US, or indeed with anybody else. I do not quite agree that it has diminished us in the way the hon. Lady implies. In negotiations on trade, the UK interests must be fully upheld, and trade talks are far more complicated and take far longer than a lot of people have been pretending. In the meantime, though, I hope that in all other respects our bilateral relations with the United States can continue and that we can get over this and draw a line under this moment so that the interests of commerce, culture and everything else can continue as they have in the past.
I understand that this is a fast-moving situation, but can the Minister give any further details on the inquiry? Has it begun or will it begin soon? If this was a hack and not a leak, does the Minister have confidence in the Firecrest system and the system that will replace it that the FCO will use?
Yes, I have confidence in the system; what has happened here is that somebody has abused it. The inquiry is under way, and I hope the House will understand that it is probably unhelpful to give a running commentary on what it might have found from one day to another, but it is going ahead very fully. As I and others have said in this House, if it turns out that we find the culprit and they have broken the law, the police may well become involved and there may well be criminal proceedings.
This is a truly exceptional moment: not for 175 years has the Head of State of a nation friendly to the United Kingdom said that they would refuse to deal with a British envoy sent by the British state. This is behaving worse than Chavez’s Venezuela, which would never have done such thing; it is behaving worse than Iran. And to be honest the concatenation of events has humiliated this country. I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States of America, but I also want to stand shoulder to shoulder first with our Foreign Office diplomats, and for that matter with our Prime Minister, who has been humiliated directly by the United States President. When we are appointing a new ambassador to the United States of America in these truly exceptional moments, will the Minister make sure that the candidates for that post appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee so that this House can take a view?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is unprecedented. I do not think that this has ever happened before. As the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East said, a lot of these codes of conduct and assumed rules of the game are rather being turned on their head. This means that the normal process of diplomacy has become extraordinarily complicated by such trends in the world. The normal responses and expected reactions have to be crafted differently in circumstances such as this. In that sense, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In terms of having approval hearings before his Committee, of course I cannot give that guarantee—
I see that he is trying to entice me to do so. I can but say that the appointment process will be of the sort that has taken place in the past.
While acknowledging Sir Kim’s exemplary public service, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that we must now move on from this serious event and start to rebuild our relationship with our most important and closest ally?
Of course we have to draw a line under this, because the world does not stop and diplomacy is needed to ensure that such an important relationship as this has a proper functioning diplomatic structure. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we have to move on from this and draw a line, and I hope that having a new ambassador will enable us to do so at all the layers, once the new appointment is in place.
I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed by the Minister earlier. Does he agree that in failing to support Sir Kim Darroch, the former Foreign Secretary was putting the American President first and the United Kingdom second? Surely this damages the United Kingdom’s influence in the world.
The House is certainly aware of my view that everybody should have been there in full support of Kim Darroch and should continue to extend that full support to him without any kind of criticism whatever or any stain on his character because, as the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) said, he was doing his job and doing it well.
Like everyone else in the House, I have nothing but the highest respect for Sir Kim Darroch. Does the House agree that he has acted in the highest tradition of the civil and diplomatic service in so far as he has laid down a job that he must have considered to be right at the top of his career in the interest of his country?
My hon. and gallant Friend understands chivalry, decency, duty and honour, and that is precisely what we saw yesterday in the personal conduct of Sir Kim Darroch.
These attacks on, and the undermining of, the legislature, the judiciary, the civil service and the press are profoundly worrying. They have frightening historical echoes of dangerous political forces, and I applaud my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East for his wise and moving comments.. His illustration of what happens when we have a cowed diplomatic service should haunt us. The Minister has responded with dignity and cross-party inclusivity, so what else does he think we in this House and the other place, and particularly the new Prime Minister and Cabinet, should do to reverse those damaging and worrying trends?
We should stick together in defence of the standards that apply to us all. We should ensure that we all uphold those standards in everything we do, and try to keep our political attacks on a higher and non-personal plane than we so often see in this House, in our politics and, more deplorably, on social media.
How right the Minister is to deplore personal attacks, especially those on senior colleagues in my party. The attacking of colleagues is completely wrong, and the people involved should be ashamed of themselves. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on asking this urgent question, but there should have been a statement. The Government should not have been dragged here; they should have volunteered a statement. This is an unprecedented event. Confidential, sensitive cables have been leaked within the Foreign Office. The Minister has to tell us what he is doing to discover the culprit, because if we do not get the culprit, what ambassador will ever trust sending cables to the Foreign Office again?
I am not sure where my hon. Friend has been over the past couple of days, but this is my second response to an urgent question on this topic, and the Prime Minister made her own comments yesterday in Prime Minister’s Question Time. There have been several clear statements to this House on this issue and about the nature of the inquiry, so that should satisfy my hon. Friend for the time being.
One can only imagine what the American ambassador’s cables say about governance in this country. Maybe we shall find out some time—but hopefully not, eh? How confident is the right hon. Gentleman that this is a leak, not a hack? Will he also please rule out any suggestion that Nigel Farage will be the new ambassador in Washington?
Perhaps the only cheering moment in this unfortunate episode was when I learned that Nigel Farage had ruled himself out of becoming ambassador to Washington. Was the hon. Gentleman asking about the inquiry?
Leak or hack?
We do not at the moment have any evidence that this was a hack, so our focus is on finding someone within the system who has illicitly released these communications, which cover periods both very recent and from two years ago. That is where the inquiry is primarily focused.
Sir Kim Darroch is the epitome of all that is the very best about Britain and our institutions. Notwithstanding the enormous pressures of Brexit and all its consequences, does my right hon. Friend agree that our diplomatic and civil services are fundamental and vital cornerstones of British governance that none of us must ever undermine?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In my years as a Minister, I have always seen ambassadors serve the interests of their country and the Government they serve. I have seen that in terms of diplomacy, and I have also seen that whatever their private views—by and large, one never knows their private views—on the issue of Brexit and preparation, they have gone full tilt in support of the requests and requirements of Ministers to take all the steps that may be necessary to cope with that process. They are the envy of the world. One of the great components of our soft power is the reputation of our diplomats for professionalism and integrity, and we must never see that undermined. I know perfectly well that if the Government were of a different colour—looking across the Chamber—our ambassadors would serve them just as well.
The right hon. Gentleman, whose conduct this week has been exemplary, just said that there is no evidence that this was an attack rather than a leak. With respect, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s investigation into disinformation has seen a whole web of connections, which include many of the characters involved in this very sad tale, so will he at least retain an open mind about the fact that this may well have been an attack, either from an enemy or even from an ally?
I do not, in any way, dismiss what the hon. Gentleman says. I take it at face value as a perfectly legitimate observation about where we face risk and about what might have happened. I have absolutely no doubt that, under the terms of the inquiry, it will do everything to investigate the elements he describes. It is just that we have not seen it yet. Although I do not want to give a running commentary, I want to advise the House of as much as I know so that I do not hold anything back.
Now that we no longer have an ambassador to the United States, who is in charge of the British embassy in Washington? Do they have the same level of ambassadorial access to the US Administration, or do we have to wait for a formal ambassadorial appointment?
We have an enormous embassy in Washington. It is standard practice in the diplomatic world that when an ambassador is away or being replaced, a chargé takes over. We have a highly capable deputy ambassador called Michael Tatham, who is assuming the responsibilities that Kim Darroch had until yesterday. I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that this will work seamlessly and that all the diplomatic functions we expect of an embassy will continue in very capable, professional hands.
It is important for the House to pause and reflect on the fact that this is the first time in modern British history that a third country has been able to dictate who should be Her Majesty’s ambassador, and this is not a hostile state but an ally. Is the Minister concerned that other countries might now seek to take a similar approach? What more could the British Government do to make it very clear that it is Her Majesty’s appointment as to who should be our ambassador?
I suppose, strictly speaking, it was who it should not be rather than who it should be, but let us not dance on that pin. This is unprecedented, and it is absolutely right that it is not for host countries to choose who can be sent to them by other countries. I am as confident as I possibly can be that this phenomenon will not be replicated anywhere else in the world, and we are absolutely resolute in making it quite clear that appointments of Her Majesty’s ambassadors are made by the United Kingdom, and not by anybody else. Once they are appointed, we will defend them to the hilt.
I went to Washington in November 2018, and I met Sir Kim Darroch. He had very warm words to say about Donald Trump on that occasion.
Does my right hon. Friend not feel it is incumbent on every Member of Parliament to back our excellent diplomats and civil servants and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) should come to the House and apologise?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his words. He points out what is evident to anybody who visited Washington when Sir Kim was ambassador. There was a very cheerful team and a great esprit de corps. He was very popular, and there were very good parties, which I hope will continue.
If you’re invited.
Yes, I hope I am allowed back. Sir Kim was absolutely excellent.
The other thing my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) allows me to point out is that one of the great tragedies of this is that the leaked communications were not at all representative of the tenor of the vast majority of those emanating from Washington. If the President were able to read them, I think he would have been perfectly happy.
Attacks on the fundamental pillars of our democracy, whether it is Parliament, the judiciary, the civil service or the media, are coming not just from an organised alt-right but from the left. Silence in the face of that is complicity, so may I commend the Minister, the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee for what they have said?
Would not the best way to send a message about the independence of this country and our ability to choose our own ambassadors and, frankly, to defend the Prime Minister and her office be for the Prime Minister to immediately nominate her ambassador to Washington, to represent the Queen, this Government and, indeed, the next Prime Minister?
I absolutely understand what the hon. Gentleman says about the stamp of authority that would be secured by doing this very speedily, but I reiterate that we want to make sure that we get the very best person. It would be a pity if, in the interest of alacrity, we chose a No. 2 rather than a No. 1. It is not for me to make any further comment on that. I do not know whose name might be in the frame, but that is a matter for the Prime Minister to decide.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 15 July will include:
Monday 15 July—Remaining stages of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019.
Tuesday 16 July—Second Reading of the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on a motion relating to the inter-ministerial group on early years family support. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 17 July—Second Reading of the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords], followed by a general debate on the Gemma White report, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the changes to the independent complaints and grievance scheme.
Thursday 18 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a debate on a motion on the Bishop of Truro’s review on persecution of Christians overseas, followed by a general debate on the spending of the Department of Health and Social Care on non-invasive precision therapies. The subjects for these debates were recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 19 July—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. I note that the Government have found time for the debate on the Gemma White, QC, report and the amendment to the independent complaints and grievance procedure. The report came out at 10 am today. I have not had an opportunity to look at it in detail, but Labour Members wish to thank Gemma White, QC, for the time and effort she has put into her report. We will look seriously at the detail of the recommendations and work on a cross-party basis to make Parliament a modern workplace, and I encourage all Members to undertake the Valuing Everyone training, as it is a very good training session.
Just two weeks are left until this House rises for the summer recess, but we still do not have the conference recess dates. Can the Leader of the House give us any advance on returning on 3 September? Will he give an undertaking that when a new Cabinet is formed, on 24 July, a new list of ministerial responsibilities will be published as soon as possible? The last one was published in December 2018.
I am sure the Leader of the House would like to correct the record: last week, when I raised the Conservative candidates’ spending spree, which totals £100 billion—these are uncosted policy changes—he claimed that the Labour Opposition are spending “£1 trillion”. As a former Financial Secretary, he can do better than just pulling figures out of thin air. He will know that Labour’s 2017 manifesto was the only one that was costed. I would be happy to arrange a meeting for him with the shadow Chancellor to go through all the costings.
What chaos: a future Prime Minister refusing to support his own ambassador in the face of verbal abuse. It is disgraceful that there was a malicious leak of emails. Sir Kim Darroch was doing his job. The Secretary of State for International Trade vowed to apologise to the President’s daughter, an unelected representative. What on earth is he doing meeting the President’s daughter, and why is he apologising to her and not to Sir Kim Darroch? Was this an official visit, when he met the President’s daughter, and was Sir Kim excluded from that meeting? Was the abuse of our ambassador about removing an obstacle because they would rather negotiate in a golden lift away from those who serve our country and want the best for our country? As the head of the diplomatic service has said, we stand in solidarity with Sir Kim Darroch.
On Monday, the Leader of the House said that he would “take on board” my request to find time for a debate on the message from the House of Lords on setting up a Joint Select Committee, and that he would give it “further thought.” Does he have any further thoughts? We are happy to debate it on an Opposition day, if he will give us one. I do not think that it is for the Opposition to go to the Backbench Business Committee to request time for a Backbench Business debate.
The Leader of the House will know that the Bank of England estimates that a worst-case Brexit will involve border delays and markets losing confidence in Britain, which could shock the economy into a 5% contraction within a year—nearly as much as during the global financial crisis. Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, raised the “ugly prospect” of customs checks and political instability in Northern Ireland in a no-deal situation, which he said would
“put many businesses and many people under a great deal of strain”.
Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union, said this week that
“everybody should be worried about what happens in a no-deal situation. We would be taking a step into the unknown.”
Mr Rycroft said that leaving with no deal would be “fraught with difficulty”.
The economy is going backwards: we have now had a third quarter of falling productivity, which decreased by 0.2%, and manufacturing has hit a six-month low. Deutsche Bank is sending people home with boxes; the last time we saw that was in the global financial crisis of 2008. Before the Leader of the House says anything, let me remind him that it was not Labour brothers who did that; Lehman Brothers was responsible. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has repeatedly refused to rule out no deal, so I ask again: please will the Leader of the House give us time to debate the Lords message?
Will the Government explicitly rule out proroguing Parliament to force a no-deal Brexit? The Opposition stand with Sir John Major, who said that he would seek a judicial review in the courts if the new Prime Minister tried to suspend Parliament to deliver a no-deal Brexit. The former Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), said that, were that to happen, it would be
“the end of parliamentary democracy”.
Yesterday, United Nations experts voiced their “deep concern” over Iran’s “consistent pattern” of denying life-saving medical treatment to detainees, and the UN said that the continued detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a mockery of justice. Will the Leader of the House update the House on what steps the Government have taken this week to free Nazanin?
Finally, the UK Parliament newsletter reminds us that on 11 July 1859, Big Ben rang out for the first time. We wish to hear him or her again.
I echo the hon. Lady’s comments on Gemma White, whom I thank for that report. As the hon. Lady pointed out, we received it only at 10 o’clock this morning so, as you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, I have not had time fully to digest the full findings of the Gemma White report on the bullying and harassment of MPs’ parliamentary staff, but I am sure that Members from all parties will share my concern at the initial reports, at least. Let me be clear that there should be absolutely no place for bullying and harassment in this place. We all bear a responsibility to uphold the proper standards of dignity and respect in Parliament.
As you know, Mr Speaker, over the past year, we have made significant progress that will help to bring about meaningful culture change, but more remains to be done. Indeed, as I have announced today, we are bringing forward a motion that will implement the important recommendation in Dame Laura Cox’s report that historic cases should be in scope as part of the independent complaints and grievance scheme. Our Parliament must be a safe place, free of bullying and harassment, and I am determined to play my part in delivering that.
The hon. Lady raises a number of other points. First, I thank her for welcoming the three hours of protected time that we have set aside to debate the Gemma Wright report on Wednesday next week. That will be followed immediately by one hour of protected time to cover the motion that will be tabled on the Laura Cox 2 recommendation.
The hon. Lady rightly raises the importance of the Valuing Everyone training. I urge everybody in the House to go on that training course. It is relatively short, but extremely important. I have written to all my Conservative colleagues in this House to urge them to take on that training, and I raised the importance of it at—let me just say—a very senior level of government.
The hon. Lady asks about the recess. The answer is that we will come back in due course with an announcement on the recess arrangements post the recess when the House rises on 25 July. She raises—as I think she did with my predecessor, to be fair—the publication of ministerial responsibilities. I will look into that and undertake to come back to her very quickly with an answer on when we expect that to be updated online.
The hon. Lady raises the profligacy—although she did not term it in that way—of the Labour party’s spending commitments and my £1 trillion price tag. I think that I will decline the invitation to meet the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter, because I have a volume of information that supports the assertions that I have made in this respect, not least, I believe, the £175 billion price tag on the nationalisations of the various utilities that the Labour party has in its sights.
The hon. Lady raises the important matter of Sir Kim Darroch. The Minister of State has clearly just answered an urgent question very thoroughly on that matter and put forward the Government’s very firm and resolute view on what has happened. She raised specifically the conversations that the Secretary of State for International Trade has had with members of the White House, and I know that he will be aware of the comments that she has made.
The hon. Lady raises the Joint Select Committee and the message from the Lords that we have received and asks when we will be responding to that. I am keen that we do so this side of the recess, and I am in discussions currently with our end of the usual channels in that regard.
The hon. Lady raises the matter of Deutsche Bank. I think that some 18,000 job losses are anticipated there, although it should be pointed out that this is a global retrenchment, not just one that affects the City of London. The Government’s record on employment is, of course, exemplary. We have the highest employment in our history and the lowest unemployment since 1974.
Once again, the hon. Lady also raises the issue of proroguing Parliament. The main thrust of her point was that this should not be used as a device for us to go into a no-deal situation without Parliament expressing its opinion on the matter. As I have said from this Dispatch Box in the past, I do not believe that that would be a desirable situation. The Government do not believe that that would be a desirable situation, not least because it would put the monarch in the awkward position of being involved in what is essentially a political decision given that it is Prorogation based on the advice of the Prime Minister, but ultimately granted by the Queen. I will also say, as I think you have suggested, Mr Speaker, that it seems inconceivable that Parliament will not have its opportunity to ensure that it has appropriate time to debate at the appropriate time these very, very important matters for our country.
The hon. Lady returns to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I can assure her that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office remains very robustly engaged with the Iranian authorities, and I have now taken it upon myself to ensure that my office keeps closely in touch with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in that regard, as indeed it has done very recently, particularly and not least because of the totally understandable concern that I share with the hon. Lady about her welfare and the desire that we all have in this House that she be released as quickly as possible.
Finally, Big Ben was mentioned. May I share the hon. Lady’s joy in referencing 11 July 1859? We do want to hear the bells again. An interesting fact that not many people may know is that this bell can actually be heard all around the world because the World Service has a live feed of it when it chimes, and that is the live bell that we hear when Big Ben is alive and whole.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the report issued by the Centre for Responsible Credit? It highlights a consumer debt crisis and recommends that the Financial Conduct Authority put a cap on the credit card market, similar to the cap on payday loan costs.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is typical of him that he should go out to bat for those who are least able to afford the consequences of high interest rates. The FCA has—or we have, as a Government—already placed a limit on payday lending. The FCA has particularly expressed concerns about the volume of credit that is being taken on to credit cards. In February 2018 it announced a package of remedies related to giving customers more control over credit card limits, encouraging customers to repay more quickly and other measures.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the next episode in the not-so-thrilling franchise, “Business for next week”. Thank goodness there are only two weeks left to endure this purgatory. I have to say that the Leader of the House’s holiday bus gets more and more appealing and alluring, and I would even be prepared to endure all his rotten jokes if we could just escape this oblivion for the summer.
Thankfully, the Tories’ pointless leadership contest is at last coming to an end, as the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) will soon secure his coronation. Last week both candidates were in Perth in my constituency telling me that they were going to put me on the run and take the run out of Runrig. The only thing running in Perthshire are the votes of soft Tory voters and Tory remainers, appalled at the prospect of this buffoon’s Brexit.
Mr Speaker, we are now at least on our way to stopping them proroguing Parliament and suspending democracy to get their no-deal Brexit through. The Government are now obliged to issue a bi-weekly report to Parliament from October, and that should just about be enough to see off these democracy-wreckers. We have Lords amendments scheduled for next Thursday, and I think we are all anticipating the Government to get up to their usual tricks and try and thwart that progress, but my plea to the Leader of the House is: just leave it alone. Let’s do what we can to stop the suspension of democracy and deny them the opportunity to suspend Parliament. Democracy must triumph, and if the Government do try to thwart that progress, we will find other ways to ensure that this Parliament is sovereign and retains its say.
Lastly, we do not have the business for the next two weeks any more, as was usual—a feature that I think should be returned—so we do not know whether in the last week the Prime Minister will be able to test whether he has the confidence of this House. I am just about to introduce a Bill that would mean that it was this House that would confirm the new Prime Minister and test whether he did indeed have the confidence of this House. Surely it should be this Parliament that decides the next Prime Minister, not 100,000 Tory members with all their curious and right-wing views. It is what we do in Scotland, and it should happen here.
Week by week, this House drifts further away from democracy. It is time that this House started to take back control.
Well, it is the same old tune from the hon. Gentleman. When it comes to music he is highly accomplished, but once again he has blown his own trumpet and tried to bang the drum for independence, but ended up just dropping another clanger, not least by drawing attention to his slim majority—a very unwise thing to do in this place. I think his majority is 20 or thereabouts, but I suppose 20 is enough. I am pleased, though, that he offered to join me on the bus trip. It is more like a car trip at the moment—[Interruption.] I have been deserted by just about everybody I have offered that opportunity to, but if it is just the two of us, so be it; I will look forward to it.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Prorogation. I refer him to my earlier comments, in which I was clear as to where the Government stand on that matter. However, I am intrigued to hear about the Bill that he is bringing forward for the appointment of the Prime Minister from this House, because it reveals, nakedly, the hon. Gentleman’s ambition. At one point he issued a manifesto to become Speaker, Mr Speaker, and now we find that he clearly has designs on being held aloft and marched to Downing Street, on a majority vote of this House. He might be slightly delusional but, were that to happen, the ultimate and rather beautiful irony would be that he would, of course, become Prime Minister of our wonderful United Kingdom.
You know, I must say to the Leader of the House, I always thought that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was very content in his existing role as Scottish National party shadow Leader of the House and as a magnificent practitioner on the keyboards in that illustrious parliamentary rock band, MP4, which it has been my great privilege to host in Speaker’s House and which has performed with panache and aplomb in the Buckingham parliamentary constituency, but obviously his ambitions extend further.
Like Members across this Chamber, I hold regular surgeries at which I try to give advice and assistance to constituents on any number of sensitive, emotionally charged, and for them, very often, vital, life-changing issues. So it is with GPs. For all of our lifetimes, we have gone to see doctors, sometimes in very harrowing circumstances, sometimes for minor conditions—but no longer, it seems. We are now being told that rather than that kind of personal and very private interface with a real person, we are going to have a virtual doctor. We are being told to ask Alexa—whoever it, she or he might be. This is a breach of the personal relationship that everyone deserves to have with their local doctor, and it has been described by one critic as a
“data protection disaster waiting to happen”.
Patients’ groups, doctors and privacy campaigners have said that this is a bad idea, and once the Secretary of State for Health thought so too—he said that we needed to preserve the “essential humanity” of that relationship. Now he says that we should embrace the technology of the information age. Well, T. S. Eliot said:
“Where is the wisdom...lost in information?”
He might say now, “Where is the wisdom lost in Government?”
I know that the Secretary of State will have heard my right hon. Friend’s comments about the importance of, as I might express it, the human touch in the interaction between patients and GPs, and the dangers of the use of technology. As a rejoinder to his poetic contribution, let me perhaps reach to paraphrase John Donne, the great metaphysical poet—
Yes, and MP. He said, on this issue of us being connected to humanity: “No man is an island entire of itself; any man’s death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind; therefore do not send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Well, well, well—previously hidden talents of the Leader of the House. One wonders whether he will regard as the litmus test of his poetical arrival being able to quote poetry on the scale and with the eloquence of the late Denis Healey. That was an experience to behold, I can tell you.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week—in particular, the Backbench business for Tuesday and Thursday. I also thank him for the very constructive meeting that we had on Monday to discuss how we can try to get some Backbench time if Government business in particular looks a little light. Can I be cheeky, though? The Backbench Business Committee has had a very good run of getting time, but we have already pre-allocated time for Thursday the 25th, should that come our way, when we would have debates on motions on women’s mental health and on the role and sufficiency of youth work.
My constituency of Gateshead is a place where asylum seekers and refugees are sent by the Home Office for settlement and the National Asylum Support Service finds them somewhere to live, so I have an awful lot of immigration cases. Can we have a debate in Government time about those who are refused the right to remain but whose countries are regarded by the Foreign Office as too dangerous to send them back to, so they are left in places like Gateshead without any support whatsoever? They are not going to be deported but not going to be assisted. Can we have a debate about that, because it is of very grave concern and not right?
Likewise, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the very constructive meeting we had recently. I reiterate what I said to him then: my door remains entirely open at any time that he wishes to raise any matter with me. I have noted his cheeky bid for a debate on 25 July, on the very important matter of women’s mental health, and his suggestion of a debate on immigration, particularly the right to remain. I will consider those.
Will the Leader of the House note concerns about legislation that affects the lives of many people going through this House without adequate parliamentary time for scrutiny? We have seen examples this week. Will he comment on the progress of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill? The Bill’s Second Reading took place in only a short time. Line-by-line consideration in Committee took about 47 minutes. This is a piece of primary legislation potentially affecting the lives of millions. Will he ensure that there is proper parliamentary time for scrutiny in the Bill’s remaining stages?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She and I have discussed that Bill. She makes reference to the time in which it went through Committee. There was an evidence session as part of its Committee stage. Time is also available for the tabling of amendments and further debate on Report but, if she would like to make any further points to me outside of this questions session, I would be happy to discuss those.
Will the Leader of the House join me in commending Zainab Gulamali, who last week won the accolade of “inspiring role model” at the House of Commons diversity and inclusion awards? Zainab is known to the former Leader of the House through her work on the independent complaints and grievance scheme. Sadly, Zainab is leaving Plaid Cymru’s office after three extraordinary years, but she came to us through the excellent Speaker’s internship scheme. Could we have time for a debate on how to continue to create opportunities to gain experience of working here for people who would not normally have either the access or the means?
I congratulate Ms Gulamali on achieving that award and wish her all the best, and I recognise the importance of the Speaker’s internship scheme, which is both popular and extremely helpful. I wonder whether the right hon. Lady might consider approaching the Speaker’s Office about an Adjournment debate, where she can raise that issue with a particular Minister.
I am afraid to tell the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that introducing his Bill today is a waste of time. Because we are in this exceptionally long Session of Parliament, there are no more private Members’ Bills days. Will the Leader of the House tell us when this Session is going to end, so that we can get a Queen’s Speech and, more importantly, get private Members’ Bills back on the agenda?
My hon. Friend raises the important matter of private Members’ Bills. I should point out that in this Session—albeit it is a very long one—we have had the highest total of private Members’ Bills receiving Royal Assent since 2003. He asked me when the Session will end. I think the answer to that will become clearer when we have a new Prime Minister in place.
I know that the Leader of the House is a man who believes in innovation. It worries me that we are coming to a long recess, and over that time really important issues are not going to go away. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still in prison, and we will not have the ability to debate that over the summer. The other Sunday morning, I stood outside the Iranian embassy to protest about that, and shortly I will be standing outside the Japanese embassy to protest about the disgraceful decision to kill hundreds of whales, many of which are endangered species.
I have an idea: we could run Westminster Hall as a place for debate on special issues in recess. We already have the petitions system. If we kept that little part of Parliament running through the recess, we could keep the campaign going on issues like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment and the poor whales being exterminated.
The first point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that when the recess actually occurs is of course a matter for the House, and it was subject to a motion that the House has agreed to. He makes a specific point about Westminster Hall and the use of Westminster Hall facilities for the purposes of debate during the recess. I think it is fair to say that it is a fairly radical idea, but that does not necessarily mean that it should not be fully and carefully considered. If he would like to write to me, or indeed come to see me for a cup of tea, we can talk about it. The final point I would make is that of course the work of government never stops, whether there is a recess or otherwise.
Over 800 bikes and thousands of visitors descended on my home town of Brechin for the Harley-Davidson in the City festival last weekend to celebrate the birthplace of this iconic bike. The Leader of the House would be very welcome to look out his leathers and join us for the festival next year. Ahead of that, may we have a debate in this place about support for the people who put on these very important festivals, such as Bill Sturrock, the chair of the committee, as well as Angus Council and local stakeholders, because without them we would not be able to celebrate these successes?
I call the Leader of the House.
Leader of the Pack!
The Leader of the Pack, indeed. I think my hon. Friend’s question is just a cunning attempt to see me in leathers, isn’t it? That is probably what this is all about. However, I should declare a personal interest in that, well before I had my mid-life crisis, I used to own and cherish a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which, sadly, I no longer have.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has taken a number of steps in recent years to support festivals of various kinds, particularly through the national Heritage Lottery Fund—specifically, for example, celebrating Shakespeare in Birmingham and Alfred Hitchcock in Walthamstow.
The conflict in Kashmir is now in its 72nd year. This is a great concern to many of my constituents. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on this important subject, so that we can try to stop this senseless loss of life?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. She is right that, for very many decades now, there has in effect been a frozen conflict in that particular part of the world. As to a debate, this may be something that would lend itself to an Adjournment debate to which a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister can reply.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware that I am very grateful to have secured a debate next Wednesday in Westminster on the value of aquaculture to the UK economy. In advance of that debate, will he join me in celebrating the launch of the world’s first sustainable, land-based, clean water prawn farm in Balfron in my Stirling constituency? From this summer, Great British Prawns in Balfron will be delivering prawns in the UK, saving them a 6,000 mile frozen journey from the far east and central America, and thereby slashing their carbon footprint.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing his Westminster Hall debate, and I look forward with great interest to reading it in Hansard. He raises the specific achievement of the work of the first land-based, clean water prawn farm. I wish it success, and it is good to know that prawn food miles are being kept to a minimum, as he has outlined.
We had a Westminster Hall debate on Monday on the Government’s proposal to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years’ imprisonment to life. The debate highlighted a clear cross-party consensus for the change in the law, with an unambiguous message: introduce this much-needed legislation immediately and it will be straightforward to implement, with a clear, unimpeded passage through the House. Unfortunately, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, ignored that message in the debate and failed to set out a timetable for introducing the Bill. Will the Leader of the House speak with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and urge them to bring forward a short Bill simply to raise the maximum sentence without further delay and assure them that parliamentary time will be made available?
The hon. Lady raises an extremely important matter. It was good to see the debate, as well as the cross-party support for the measures that she is keen to see introduced. I am not familiar with the intricacies of her dealings with the Ministry of Justice, but if she would like me to assist in facilitating contact and further discussions with the Department, I would be happy to do so.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have raised the issue of HELMS— Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems—and green deal mis-selling time and time again in this place. Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers have promised me that they would intervene to ensure that investigations into victims’ cases would be expedited. As my constituent Lynne McLellan and many others can testify, that simply is not happening. May we have a statement on this issue to allow us to interrogate Ministers about why that is the case?
The hon. Gentleman raises a specific point, relevant to one of his constituents. I would say two things. If he would like to write to me or discuss it with me, I would be happy to see what I can do to assist him with his endeavour. I would also point him to BEIS questions, which is next week, on Tuesday 16 July.
Yesterday it was my pleasure to meet Gary, the head porter at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to congratulate him on his imminent visit to Buckingham Palace to collect his MBE, which was awarded for services to the Foreign Office. Yet Gary was forced to take strike action yesterday, fighting for proper pay, terms and conditions, and recognition of his trade union, the Public and Commercial Services Union. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary setting out what action he will take to force Interserve, to which portering, estates and cleaning services in his Department are outsourced, to treat these valuable and loyal staff in a proper manner?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating Gary on his award of an MBE and wish him all the very best for that special day and special moment when he goes to Buckingham Palace to receive that award. As to the employment issues that she raises, I know that Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers will have heard her comments.
London City airport plans to massively increase the number of flights going in and out of east London over the next few months. This will profoundly affect a great arc of east London, going across the river, particularly in my constituency, yet London City airport is refusing to hold a consultation, which it is bound to carry out, in Redbridge and Waltham Forest, about which there is a great deal of anger. May we have a statement from a Transport Minister?
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the frequency and volume of flights from London City airport. I would point him to Transport questions, which will be held on Thursday.
Six months ago today, I visited my GP with a small mole on the back of my head. I was very fortunate that the GP passed me straight on to the dermatologist and everything happened quickly, but since then I have met dozens and dozens of people for whom the most galling thing about their cancer diagnosis is being told that is quite late—stage 3 or 4. I have met young women who have lost their mother, including one last week who was still in tears, because she felt that if only the diagnosis had been faster, they would have been able to save her life. Yet 97% of pathology units in England say that they are understaffed, we have about 600 too few dermatologists in the country, and in Wales we have 22 consultant pathologist posts empty. How can we make sure that we save people’s lives if we do not have enough staff? Can we have a debate on this?
I join the whole House in saying how pleased we are that the hon. Gentleman received prompt and appropriate treatment, and that he has had a full recovery. The Government’s record on cancer survival rates generally is good, but there is always room for improvement. What is really important is the additional funds being put into the national health service: £84 billion over the next five years, the largest single cash investment in its history. Cancer features prominently in the NHS 10-year plan, both in terms of getting survival rates up still further and ensuring we prevent cancers in the first place, and, as he rightly points out, in early diagnosis of cancer in all its forms.
Today, the Government announced that they will be reviewing the benefits system for terminally ill people. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) has worked tirelessly on this issue for many years. Instead of taking more time, why do the Government not simply adopt her Access to Welfare (Terminal Illness Definition) Bill and the comprehensive research already conducted by the all-party group for terminal illness, which is supported by Marie Curie and the Motor Neurone Disease Association?
The hon. Lady raises a very important matter. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has written movingly about this particular issue and the availability of benefits for those who have little time remaining. I know the review will be thorough. I think the hon. Lady can take comfort from the fact that the Secretary of State has personal and powerful feelings about the importance of these matters. We should allow the review to take place and see what the conclusions are.
Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed that her Department’s policy on intelligence-sharing that has derived from torture or could lead to torture has changed after it was revealed six weeks ago that the Ministry of Defence internal guidance was potentially illegal. She also announced to the media new troop deployments to Syria. May we have a statement on both those matters at the earliest convenience?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. As he will know, the Prime Minister requested that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Adrian Fulford, review Government policy in this area. That review has now concluded and there will be an announcement to the House in due course. The Ministry of Defence will continue to be fully aligned with that, and any future, guidance.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Dr Jennifer Garden, who won the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Fellowship for her work on finding alternative sustainable uses for polymers and plastics? May we have an urgent debate or statement from the Government on how better we can support innovative research and development that will help our climate?
I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Dr Jennifer Garden on her achievement and her important work, and on serving as an exemplar for other women. We wish to encourage more women to work in science, not least in the area of the environment. He will know that we are leading the pack in the world on getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which we have legislated for in this House. This would be an excellent matter for debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall.
This August bank holiday weekend, the north of England plays host to the Ashes at Headingley, the Ebor festival at York racecourse and the Leeds festival. Meanwhile, rugby league fans will be heading to Wembley for the Challenge cup final. On the same weekend, Network Rail has chosen to shut the east coast main line for engineering works. This baffling decision, with such short notice, will cause misery to thousands of northerners. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to make a statement on this decision as a matter of urgency?
May I first say how delighted I am that so many of our important sporting events are held in the north of our country, where there is a huge and enduring tradition of exactly that? On the rugby and the matter of trains, I point the hon. Lady to Department for Transport questions on Thursday 18 July.
The Leader of the House might be aware that there have been a number of deaths on the Clyde in recent weeks. It is to the frustration of many people—the council, campaigners and the Glasgow Humane Society, which has spent 229 years campaigning to save lives on the Clyde—that signs recently installed to discourage people from tampering with and damaging water safety equipment have themselves been damaged. Will he agree to a debate on tampering with water safety equipment? Does he agree with the campaign that “Taking a lifebelt is taking a life”?
The hon. Lady makes an important point: nobody wants to see anyone behaving dangerously or recklessly around water. I commend all the efforts that have been made, particularly on the Clyde, to ensure that such instances are minimised. Perhaps an Adjournment debate would be appropriate.
The St Rollox railway works in my constituency are due to close permanently on 26 July, ending 163 years of continuous railway engineering excellence in Springburn. Time is of the essence to find a solution and save hundreds of jobs at the site. I urge the Leader of the House to communicate with his Scotland Office colleagues to see what opportunities might be available to the UK Government, in collaboration with the Scottish Government. In particular, there is a proposal to bring a heritage steam locomotive back to the site so that the workforce could be temporarily engaged in a project to restore it, which would get around the impediment of state aid restrictions under EU rules. Will he please do everything in his power?
Clearly, this is a matter for the Scotland Office and perhaps other Departments. The most useful thing I can do is extend an invitation to the hon. Gentleman to meet me and talk about this in a little more detail. I will see what I can do to ensure that doors are opened for him to have the discussions across Government that are needed to maximise the opportunities and move forward in a positive way.
Next Tuesday, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough clinical commissioning group will hold an emergency meeting to discuss how to meet its current deficit of £33 million a year. It will consider cuts to early intervention, the Alzheimer’s Society, carers organisations and the Stroke Association. May we have a debate in Government time on how it is that when the Government claim there is more money for the national health service, there seems to be less money for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough?
In the first instance, I direct the hon. Gentleman to Health and Social Care questions, which are next Tuesday. On the general issue of funding, as I have already said in answer to a previous question, we are the Government who have now put more money, in cash terms, into the national health service than at any point in its history, and certainly more than was suggested in the Labour party’s last manifesto.
Dewsbury Memories, a group that helps older sports fans who are suffering with dementia, was established by Allison Simpson after her beloved dad, Tony Boothroyd, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although Tony could barely remember current events, he was in his element when recalling the great sporting events of his past. Sadly, Tony has since passed away, but Allison is absolutely determined to keep growing the group. Will the Leader of the House allow Government time for a debate so that we could encourage others to take up these opportunities and discuss how such volunteer organisations provide so much for our society?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s contribution, because I totally recognise that dementia is an increasing issue for the health of our nation and—although she did not express this—the cruel nature of the condition. I know that a huge amount of work is being done, particularly by volunteers: through memory cafés, for example—like me, she probably has some in her constituency. They do such wonderful work to find those areas where people with dementia can remember, enjoy and reflect. It might be a rather good subject for a Westminster Hall debate.
May we please have a debate on the responsibility of the Post Office to engage with the communities it is supposed to serve? Hope Farm Road post office in my constituency has been shut at random times without explanation, and the other day I heard on the grapevine that the post office in Willaston, which is an isolated, rural community, is being shut next month, with no consultation or forewarning. How are communities expected to access these vital services if there is no dialogue?
Post offices are absolutely vital. I think that, in terms of national affection, they rank second only to the national health service in the passion that people feel about what is almost an institution. That is for good reason, particularly in rural areas, because post offices often provide services, including banking services, to local traders and residents that would otherwise have been hollowed out and become unavailable due to the absence of banks.
I take the issue extremely seriously. The Government have generally protected the size of the post office network; there are nearly 13,000 branches across the country, and the vast majority of people live within 1 mile of a branch. How the Post Office is handling that network might be a rather good subject for a Westminster Hall debate.
A number of my constituents transferred from AstraZeneca to Avara Pharmaceuticals when the Avalon Pharmaceuticals site north of Bristol was sold. They did so because they were promised that if the business failed, they would still be entitled to their full AstraZeneca redundancy package. That has not happened and those workers are now being made redundant on statutory pay only, although AstraZeneca still has a legal contract with Avara to enforce that right, which expires in October. I have written to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and received a wholly unsatisfactory answer, and I have applied for an Adjournment debate four weeks in a row without success. Does the Leader of the House agree that the matter deserves ministerial attention, and that that should be given before the summer recess?
Clearly I am not in a position to comment on the specifics of the hon. Gentleman’s experience with BEIS Ministers, but I accept that it is very important that he has appropriate contact with them and a proper opportunity to explain the situation fully and see whether something can be done to help. I have two points to make. First, BEIS questions are on Tuesday 16 July, and I think that would be an excellent matter to raise then—I recommend that he give the Department advance notice of his question, if he intends to raise it in topical questions. Secondly, if he would like to meet me to have a quick discussion about the matter, I would be happy to do so, to see how I could otherwise assist.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that, despite the chaos and paralysis of Brexit, there are new opportunities ahead of us. In that spirit, will he make a statement setting out the need for whoever is our next Prime Minister to take the opportunity to put in place very much needed transitional arrangement payments for women born in the 1950s who have been robbed of their pensions and, as a result, thrown into unexpected hardship and poverty?
With regard to the pension arrangements to which the hon. Lady alludes, the Government have already provided £1.1 billion for the introduction of transitional arrangements, but I know that the Department for Work and Pensions and other Departments will have heard her comments.
Last Friday, at my advice surgery, Polly Davies and five of her friends from Nantymoel Primary School in the Ogmore valley in my constituency came to lobby me on the reduction, and hopefully the removal, of single-use plastics from society, and on their particular concerns about plastic in our rivers and oceans. They are also working on a scheme to try to get rid of single-use milk bottles from their school. I promised Polly and her friends that I would ask the Leader of the House for a debate on getting rid of single-use plastics from society, so will he oblige and guarantee us a debate before the recess?
I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Polly and all those at her school for all the work they are doing to try to see an end to single-use plastics. I point to our own record in this respect: the use of single-use plastic carrier bags has fallen by 86% as a consequence of the charges we have levied. As he will know, we are now looking to go further still by ensuring that we rid our country of single-use plastics as quickly as possible. An Adjournment debate might be a useful avenue for him to pursue.
And the prize for patience and perseverance goes to Hugh Gaffney.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House will be aware that PCS members who work in the Foreign Office took another round of action this week. These are dedicated, hard-working staff who face financial hardship because of the actions of the contractor, Interserve. Cleaners who work at the Foreign Office have seen their guaranteed overtime removed with no warnings or consultation. Will the Leader of the House urge the Foreign Secretary to intervene and support the work of his own Department, and to come back here with a statement?
I think the hon. Gentleman has shown his tenacity by waiting to be the last Member to be called and by raising this issue over time in the way that he has. I know that his words will have been heard by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Departments.
Prime Minister (Nomination) and Cabinet (Appointment) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Pete Wishart, supported by Deidre Brock, Tommy Sheppard, Gavin Newlands and Patrick Grady, presented a Bill to make provision for the House of Commons to nominate the Prime Minister and approve appointments to the Cabinet; to establish the office of Acting Prime Minister; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 420).
Points of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. From documents lodged in a Barcelona tribunal by the Spanish Government, it appears that Members of this House from the Conservative party, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru have been the subject of covert surveillance by agents of that Government in respect of their activities as members of the all-party parliamentary group on Catalonia.
Reference is made to meetings of the APPG, including one addressed by Josep Costa, the Deputy Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, who on that occasion also met the Chairman of Ways and Means. The APPG meeting was a public event and there was no need for participants, even those from the Spanish Government, to hide their identities. Reference is also made to Elin Jones, Llywydd of the Welsh Assembly, to the First Minister of Scotland, and to many others, including our own Speaker, who, in responding to my point of order on 13 February about the imprisonment of Carme Forcadal, the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, gave me a very favourable response.
The reference in the document is summed up by the headline this morning, “El speaker no es imparcial”. That was the Spanish Government’s opinion of our Speaker. For today, however, I seek your support, Madam Deputy Speaker, in confirming that the principles of openness and free debate are the bedrock of the workings of our House and its APPGs, and that “spying” by a supposedly friendly country—for that is what this is—has no place here.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very serious point of order. Of course, I confirm that the principles of openness, honesty etc. are the bedrock of how our democracy works and must be respected at all times. I cannot take responsibility from the Chair here in the Chamber this morning for matters that occur in Catalonia, but I take very seriously the points the hon. Gentleman has made. I would suggest perhaps that he ought to make his points in writing to Mr Speaker, so that Mr Speaker can give this matter his proper, full consideration, rather than just momentary consideration here in the Chamber. That is what it deserves.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That point was very important. Do you agree that Mr Speaker could perhaps make the point to the European Union that it is banning elected Members of the European Parliament from Catalonia, as reported in The Guardian? I am sure that the SNP and Plaid Cymru will want Mr Speaker to raise that issue with the European Union.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman makes a further and important point of order, but when allegations are made I cannot comment on them from the Chair. I do not know whether they are true or not, but if these allegations have any substance, I am quite sure that Mr Speaker will want to know about them. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman brings them to his attention. It is a matter of great importance that any elected representative from anywhere in the United Kingdom should be heard, wherever they are elected to.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will have heard in business questions that I asked the Leader of the House to urgently facilitate a statement from the Ministry of Defence about its policy on intelligence sharing when that intelligence is derived from or could lead to torture. The reason for that was that the policy was found to be almost certainly illegal. This week, the Defence Secretary told us that the policy has been reviewed and changed. Members of the House do not know what it has been changed to.
The issue was the subject of an urgent question some weeks ago from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and rightly so. Given that the rules and laws surrounding torture, both domestic and international, underpin the rules of engagement of the British armed forces and that such an important change in Government has occurred without Parliament even being told, would you expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, that a Minister should make a statement and should do so urgently?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which again is an important point. I recall the urgent question brought to the House by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and how seriously the matter was taken by the House and by Ministers. The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) will know, of course, that if there is a significant change in Government policy, there is a duty on Her Majesty’s Ministers to come to the House and inform it of that change.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will also know that if a Minister has not volunteered to come to the Dispatch Box, the mechanism by which he can require them to is to submit to Mr Speaker an application for an urgent question. I am quite sure that he will do so and that Mr Speaker will consider it with gravity.
We come now to the Backbench Business debate on 20 years of devolution—goodness me, is it really that long?
20 Years of Devolution
[Relevant Documents: Eighth Report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, The Relationship Between the UK and Scottish Governments, HC 1586; Fifth Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Devolution of Air Passenger Duty to Wales, HC 1575; and Eighth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Devolution and Exiting the EU: reconciling differences and building strong relationships, HC 1485.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered 20 years of devolution.
It is with great pleasure that I open this debate on 20 years of devolution on behalf of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Twenty years of devolution—it is hard to believe, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has been 20 years since our Parliaments opened their doors, transforming our nations and redefining the political culture of our countries. Our nations are better because of devolution. Our national life has been transformed, and we now have a distinctive voice because we have Parliaments within our nations.
Devolution has come of age and there will be no going back to before our Parliaments opened their doors to the world. I remember that day 20 years ago: I was going to be a candidate for the Scottish Parliament, and it was only the finishing of a Runrig album that got in the way and delayed my parliamentary career by two years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if had I managed to secure a place in the Scottish Parliament—[Interruption.] I am hearing that there is still time yet, but as someone approaching the autumn of their career I will maybe just think about that one.
I remember the expectation in the air that day—the sense of anticipation and excitement that at last we could get down to the business of designing our own future because we had our Parliaments. I will never forget the look on Donald Dewar’s face when he said, “There will be a Scottish Parliament,” and he just had to add, “I like that.” And I will never forget Winnie Ewing taking the chair for the first time—Winnie Ewing, whose 90th birthday was yesterday, a celebrated figure in Scotland to whom we owe a great debt—and saying
“the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened.” —[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 12 May 1999; c. 5.]
We have had our disagreements like any other normal Parliament or Assembly, and we have scrutinised Governments just as they do everywhere else, but we have worked with a great deal of consensus. There have been fantastic examples of cross-party work, pioneering and innovation in the Scottish Parliament, and it is worth looking at some of the things that we have achieved in the course of those 20 years.
There has, for example, been pioneering health work. We were the first country in the United Kingdom to introduce a ban on smoking in public places, and we know about the health dividend that has resulted from that piece of legislation. We recently introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and there is already reasonable evidence that that is starting to have an impact on health outcomes. We have also made democratic reforms: 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland now have votes, and we have proportional representation in local government elections, just as we do in the election of the Parliament itself. Then there is the social agenda: free personal care for our elderly in Scotland, free higher education, and free prescription charges. All those initiatives, and many more, are helping to make ours a better and fairer country.
This is often credited to Donald Dewar, but it was in fact a Welshman, Ron Davies, who said:
“Devolution is a process…not an event”.
What a process it has been, and what a journey we have been on! As a legislative body, the Scottish Parliament is an entirely different creature from the one that opened its doors back in June 1999. Two further Scotland Acts—the 2012 and 2016 Acts—followed the 1998 Act, which established the Scottish Parliament, and have significantly increased its powers. It now controls large swathes of welfare legislation, and its taxation powers mean that we can set our own income tax rates in Scotland. The Welsh Assembly is about to become the Senedd, and Scotland now has a Government. We in Scotland have had coalition government, majority government—although the rules are supposed to forbid such a thing—and two episodes of minority government, and still we move forward.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Welsh Assembly has advanced even further, given that we were somewhat behind our Scottish friends at the start of the process? It has travelled from being essentially a glorified county council to being a law-making body, which will hopefully proceed very quickly to take on many more law-making and tax-raising powers, leading eventually to independence.
I am more than happy to agree with my hon. Friend. As we observe what has happened in Wales, we see that the pace of the change has been quite dramatic. My hon. Friend is right to point out that Wales now has a law-making Assembly. There was some discussion yesterday about its being renamed the Senedd, which I think will prove very worthwhile and valuable. We are on a journey, and it is not finished yet.
The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case for what has been achieved in the last 20 years, and I welcome that. Does he agree that, by virtue of the make-up of the Scottish Parliament and the system by which we elect our MSPs, it is right for parties to work together—that there should be no demarcation lines marking who will work with whom, but we should always be working together for the benefit of Scotland?
There is nothing in what the hon. Gentleman has said with which I could possibly disagree. We have seen examples of coalition government in the Scottish Parliament, and, indeed, it was designed on that basis. When Labour and the Liberals, in the main, put together the Scottish constitutional convention, that was what was anticipated. The fact that we have been on a particular journey and have had a variety of different arrangements for government demonstrates our resilience.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I want to make sure that the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who chairs the Welsh Affairs Committee, has a chance to speak.
There has been a flurry of devolutionary activity recently. A review initiated by the UK Government is to be conducted by Lord Dunlop, and there is an ongoing debate about completing the powers of the Scottish Parliament with independence for Scotland. That continues to be the most debated and defining issue in Scotland’s political and public life. One thing that can be said about devolution is that it is never boring. Our Parliament has brought Scotland to the attention of the world. Our international footprint has increased because of devolution, and as a consequence more people know about our beautiful country and what it does.
I think it is still the case, and it was certainly the case at the time, that when the Scottish Parliament passed the Bill that became the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, there was a larger majority in favour of equal marriage in that Parliament than in any other legislature in the world. In fact, the Scottish Parliament is the only legislature in the world which, whenever it has been presented with legislation to extend equality to its citizens, has voted in favour of it. Is that not a good thing, and does it not constitute progress that should always be protected in future?
My hon. Friend has made a valid and strong point. He is absolutely right about equal marriage, and about the way the Scottish Parliament responded. There have been other progressive developments on social issues, and I am particularly proud that our Parliament has taken up such causes so dramatically and consistently. I look forward to seeing further examples of progress in the future.
It is right for us to keep devolution under review, and 1 am proud of the work that my Committee has done over the past few months in assessing it after 20 years. We focused particularly on intergovernmental relations, and suggested a number of far-reaching reforms. We believe that, if implemented, our conclusions will make a significant difference in the quality of the inter- governmental relations that currently exist throughout these islands.
I think we can all agree that, institutionally, the Scottish Parliament has functioned well and is now an immovable feature, secure in the fabric of our democracy. It is there to stay. However, the relationship between the two Governments has not kept pace with developments, and the machinery for dialogue and engagement has not kept up with the evolving dynamics of devolution. What we have found is that intergovernmental relations are under pressure as never before. It seems that, having emerged from the experience of the independence referendum, they have been challenged to within an inch of their lives by Brexit.
Before I go into that further, I will give the House the good news. The relationship between the two institutions seems to be functioning well at a sub-political level: the work between civil servants, for example, continues unabated. Our Committee heard solid evidence from senior civil servants that everything was being conducted perfectly well, and that work was being done behind the scenes. However, we were concerned about the quality of the relationships across these islands, and we made a number of recommendations in that regard.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very strong case, but does he agree that responsibility for the relationship between the two Governments is not something that we should dictate through paperwork, or something for which we should have to resort to legislation? Is it not up to the two parties in government to be grown up, to sit round the table and to take part in constructive discussions, rather than engaging in what we often witness here—petty bickering about just about everything when an excuse can be found for it?
The hon. Lady is an assiduous member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, and as I look around the Chamber I see other assiduous members. I agree with what she has said, but I think it is incumbent on us to have the mechanism, the infrastructure and the machinery to ensure that when Governments disagree—as they will when they have particularly different policy objectives —we can accommodate that disagreement, shape it up, and resolve some of the tensions and difficulties that are encountered.
Let me now go back to the beginning, because, as the hon. Lady knows, the Committee looked into this in great detail and heard a great deal of evidence. In the early days of devolution, everything was straightforward and easy. The Labour party was in government in Cardiff, Edinburgh and London, and intergovernmental relations were conducted among comrades, friends and colleagues who would just pick up the phone and get in touch with each other to resolve any difficulties. They were generally resolved very easily; I am sure that you remember those days, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Only one issue was not resolved, and it remains in the name of the bar in the Scottish Parliament. In a dramatic rebuke to Scottish colleagues who dared to suggest that they should become a Government, Big Brother down here—in the form of Labour Members—said, “They can call themselves the White Heather Club, but they will never be a Government.” To this day, the bar in Holyrood is called the White Heather Club as testimony to that fantastic rebuke from our Big Brother Westminster Labour colleagues.
It took the UK Government three years to keep up with developments and acknowledge the change when Alex Salmond rebranded the then—it has to be said—pathetically named Scottish Executive the Scottish Government.
I think it is fair to say that the cosy relationship that existed in the early days of devolution was pretty much shattered with the arrival of the SNP minority Government in 2007. This was an SNP Government who were prepared to push the boundaries of the devolution settlement and who tried to define a new means and method for us to assert ourselves as a nation, and they were not content being restricted to what was available in the then devolution settlement.
Then of course came the independence referendum, and who will ever forget that? Curiously, inter-Government relationships survived the referendum relatively intact, and that was because there was a need for engagement between the two Governments and we had the Edinburgh agreement and rules were set up for that. That taught us the lesson that things can be done if there is structure, rules and a means to come together for agreed objectives, and the agreed objective during the independen