House of Commons
Wednesday 24 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act 2019
National Insurance Contributions (Termination Awards and Sporting Testimonials) Act 2019
Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019.
Business Before Questions
Standing Orders (Private Business)
That the new Standing Order relating to Private Business stated in the Schedule be made.
“118A Power of Committee of Selection to sit when House adjourned
(1) The Committee of Selection shall have leave to sit at any time on any day on which the House sits.
(2) On days on which the House does not sit, the Committee of Selection may sit only with the leave of the Chairman of Ways and Means, the grant of which shall be entered in the formal minutes of the Committee; and no notice of a meeting on a day on which the House does not sit may be given unless accompanied by a notice of the grant of such leave.”—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
20 Years of Devolution
As there will not be another opportunity for Scottish questions before September, I draw the House’s attention to an issue that was raised in an earlier session of Scottish questions. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will join me in looking forward to the Murray trophy ATP Challenger tournament that will take place in Glasgow from 16 to 22 September. We all welcome this positive addition to the tennis calendar, and I particularly look forward to welcoming you, Mr Speaker, to the tournament.
After 20 years, I believe that the current devolution settlement is the right balance, with appropriate decisions being taken for Scotland at Holyrood and for the whole UK in this Parliament. Since the first Scotland Act, Holyrood has become one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world.
On the devolution of powers, my question to the Secretary of State is about Falkirk Council’s growth deal bid to both the Scottish Government and the UK Government. To give him credit, he has taken a keen interest in the proposed deal. As he well knows, it is an ambitious bid to bring together horizontal community and business integration. Will he update my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and me on the timeline for the investment zone and growth deal bid? Will he assure us on where the business case will sit in respect of the new Government?
I commend the hon. Gentleman and his colleague, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), on their lobbying efforts for the Falkirk deal. The UK Government are committed to taking forward that deal. After a productive meeting with the leader of Falkirk Council earlier this week, we are looking forward to the council submitting proposals by the end of August and to a presentation in September.
I am glad the Secretary of State seems to think that constitutional perfection has now been reached on these islands. I wonder whether that means he agrees with his new party leader, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who told a group of activists that we do not need
“an England-only parliament. We have an England parliament, it’s in Westminster.”
If the Secretary of State does agree with that, does that not make his post and, indeed, all of us who represent Scotland a little redundant? If he does not agree, why has he been so effusive in welcoming his new leader? Is it perhaps because he himself does not want to be made redundant?
Given that, 20 years on, fewer than half the people in Scotland think that devolution has led to better outcomes in education, health or the growth of the Scottish economy, does my right hon. Friend agree that what Scotland needs is a Government who will utilise with full effect Holyrood’s extensive powers, not deflect and delay powers like the Scottish National party has done?
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend and it is a message that I get back from my own constituents. They want to see the Scottish Parliament focusing on education, health, and transport—the issues that are important to their daily lives—and not pursuing an obsession with the constitution.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the frustrations that those of us who cherish devolution feel is the SNP’s apparent reticence to use many of the Scottish Parliament’s powers. For example, what a difference they could make to the lives of the 6,000 WASPI women in my constituency of Edinburgh West if they used the powers they had to alleviate the difficulties, rather than using them as another grievance.
May I begin by asking the hon. Lady to pass on my congratulations to her new UK leader? It is very good to see a Scottish MP in that role. I agree wholeheartedly with her sentiment. It is well documented that if, having aligned themselves to the WASPI cause, the SNP Government really wanted to do something for WASPI women, they have the power and, indeed, the capacity to raise the resources to do so.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the benefits of devolution is when our two Governments work together, such as with the Moray growth deal? The £32.5 million from the UK Government was matched by the Scottish Government, which means that it will make a real difference to the whole of Moray. Therefore, devolution delivers when our Governments work together.
I commend my hon. Friend for his tireless efforts to pursue the Moray growth deal, which has been raised at every Scottish questions during his tenure. Yes, the Scottish and UK Governments working together is the best way to deliver for the people of Scotland. Let us see more of it.
Leaving the EU: Effect on the Union
The UK Government’s policy has been to strengthen our Union of nations; it is at the heart of all that we do and has guided our approach to our exit from the EU.
If the Secretary of State were to abide by his promises, it would be his last day in office, so I wish him well and thank him for his unstinting courtesy in that role. The new Prime Minister’s election yesterday means that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is now the Scottish Conservative and Brexit party, which means that it is abandoning Unionism. Is not the new Prime Minister now as big a threat to the Union, if not a bigger threat to the Union, than any nationalist, and what will the Secretary of State do about it?
That is a bit rich coming from the hon. Gentleman, whom I have always respected in my deliberations from the Dispatch Box. I think that he would agree with commentary this week that one of the biggest threats to the continuation of the United Kingdom is the total and utter collapse of the Scottish Labour party.
More than 100 powers that are currently held in Brussels are to be transferred to Holyrood after Brexit. Therefore, does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from removing powers from Scotland, leaving the EU will give the Scottish Parliament more power?
What my hon. Friend says is absolutely correct. We have been subjected again, as we have so many times during this Session, to hearing about a power grab, but not once have we heard the identity of a single power that is being grabbed. Instead, what is identified is the fact that more than 100 powers and responsibilities are coming to the Scottish Parliament.
What I am interested in is the conversations that the right hon. Gentleman has had with his soon-to-be Prime Minister, because what he has said in the past is that it would be “extremely difficult” to stay in a Cabinet under the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). Will he ever develop anything approaching a backbone, or are Ruth’s Scottish Conservatives now the exclusive property of their biggest electoral liability?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that leaving the EU provides many opportunities for the businesses, communities and people across Scotland, not least for the fishing communities in places such as my constituency of Banff and Buchan when we leave the common fisheries policy and become an independent coastal state?
I absolutely do, and I always commend my hon. Friend for being such a champion of the fishing industry. Yesterday, I met the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which remains excited and upbeat about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU and the hated common fisheries policy.
Politics is about principles. A few months ago, the Secretary of State told us that the threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom was “the principal issue” for him, but he also told us:
“Mr Johnson and I do not agree on a whole range of issues, and I do not see myself able to serve in this way.”
So how far will the Secretary of State allow his principles to be stretched in defence of the Union, just so he can keep his job?
I am not going to take any lessons on the question of leadership from the hon. Lady. Only yesterday, she said that
“we need a serious, mature politician who can be relied upon to keep his promises”
to be our Prime Minister. I am sure she was not referring to Richard Leonard or the leader of the Labour party.
I think that we would find more maturity in both those quarters than we might in the Prime Minister to be. However, those were the Secretary of State’s opinions, although he has obviously traded them in and got some new ones. He wants us to believe and that this Government are guardians of the Union, yet by pandering to the dog-whistle politics of English nationalism, the next Prime Minister has already abandoned the tradition of the Conservative and Unionist party. The Tory party is now a real and present danger to the integrity of the United Kingdom, so will the Secretary of State now confirm that he will not sell out the people of Scotland and that he will not be part of a no-deal Cabinet?
The hon. Lady has a nerve. Her position has been to sell out to the SNP. She told her colleagues that she would gladly give up her own seat to the SNP so that there could be a Labour-SNP alliance that would inevitably lead to another independence referendum. But to give her credit, she is doing a pretty good job of crashing the Scottish Labour party in the polls—losing two MEPs and finishing fifth in the European elections. Only the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland will stand up for our United Kingdom, and I will certainly continue to do so.
Leaving the EU: No Deal
The Government delivered on our commitment to provide objective analysis to Parliament of how exiting the EU may affect the economy of the UK and its sectors, nations and regions in the long run.
Deal or no deal, Scotland faces a £1 billion financial hole, £737 million of which will be bridged by funds from Westminster funded by other parts of the United Kingdom. What analysis has my right hon. Friend done of how deep that hole would be if Scotland was separated from the rest of the United Kingdom?
It is well known that there would be a multibillion-pound funding gap in the event of Scottish independence that could only be dealt with by significant tax rises or cuts in services. Those who propose independence have still not answered the question on where that money is to be found.
A no-deal Brexit will be catastrophic for Scotland’s hill farmers, especially those looking to export sheepmeat to the European Union. That is not just my view but the view of the National Farmers Union Scotland and the NFU across the four parts of the United Kingdom. Can the Secretary of State give me and them some assurance that he will not just sit in Cabinet and watch their livelihoods destroyed?
Drug Consumption Room (Glasgow)
The causes of drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses. I am aware that the Home Secretary has offered to meet Scottish Government Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick to discuss a broad range of issues around the tragic matter of drug-related deaths in Scotland.
I am glad that the Home Secretary is finally going to meet the Scottish Government on this. When NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde published its proposals for a supervised drug consumption in 2016, the number of drug-related deaths stood at 257; last year, it was 394. So I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, how many people would still be alive in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area if the Home Office had not blocked, for ideological reasons, drug consumption rooms in Glasgow?
As I said in my initial response, issues around drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses. I welcome the fact that the summit that my Scottish Parliament colleague Miles Briggs MSP suggested is going to go ahead. I can confirm that UK Government Ministers will take part in that, and I am sure that all the issues will be discussed on that occasion.
Scotland’s drug death rate is three times higher than in the rest of the UK. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that in addition to UK-wide action, the Scottish Government should be using their substantial powers over healthcare, education, housing and criminal justice to tackle this?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. Of course the UK Government want to work closely with the Scottish Government on this. The statistics released last week are shocking to everyone in Scotland and, indeed, throughout the United Kingdom, but it should not be suggested that any of the UK Government’s policy decisions are the sole answer to this issue: it is complex, and the powers that the Scottish Parliament already has will go a long way towards dealing with it.
Two weeks ago, my constituent Chelsea Bruce died in a drugs-related incident. She was just 16 years old. The time for handwringing is over. We know that drug consumption rooms, drop-in testing and even safe clinical prescribing of illicit drugs will save lives. The international body of evidence is unequivocal, yet the Secretary of State has been sceptical and vague on this. If only he would show some leadership in urgently finding a route through the impasse between the Home Office and the Lord Advocate to help to rapidly roll out these facilities in Glasgow and across Scotland. How many more must die before the Secretary of State recognises this public health emergency and acts to save these lives?
That sort of politicking is completely unworthy of this serious debate. The Home Office, the UK Government and, with respect, the Scottish Government take this issue seriously. We are going to have a summit in early course to discuss all the issues around this, and I sincerely hope, because I have had constituents die as well, that we can move forward.
I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has been unwavering in her passionate support for our Union. We have regularly discussed the UK Government’s continued commitment to the devolution settlement and to a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.
Leaving the EU: No Deal
I have had regular discussions with the Prime Minister on a range of matters related to exiting the EU. It is essential that we respect the result of the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.
A no-deal Brexit combined with ending free movement of people, which is the inbound Prime Minister’s prospectus, would restrict Scottish business and the public sector from recruiting the staff they need, yet the Secretary of State has welcomed the appointment of the inbound Prime Minister. Can we conclude then that he is prepared to throw business and public services under a bus simply to protect his own career?
What amounts to throwing Scotland under a bus has been the actions of the SNP throughout the Brexit debates in this Parliament—voting three times against an agreement that would have allowed Scotland to leave the EU on an orderly basis and largely in accordance with its own document, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”.
In recent weeks, I have read reports that house prices in London are falling and job vacancies are down—two classic signs of an economy going into recession—and I can add to this mix the potential for a no-deal Boris Brexit boorach. Given these circumstances, what is the Secretary of State’s plan B for the Scottish economy?
Let me read this for fear of misquoting the Secretary of State. He told the last Scottish Conservative party conference:
“Unfortunately Mr Johnson seems to behave in a way that suggests he is only focused on his own self interest and not on the interests of our country, and I find that very disappointing.”
Has the Secretary of State now overcome his disappointment, and will he continue to serve the new Prime Minister?
Just like the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, everything I have ever said is on the record. What I want to make clear is that my priority remains Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom, and that—in government or out—will be my continuing priority.
The House will observe that that is not actually an answer to my question. The Secretary of State sits besides Cabinet colleagues who have demonstrated integrity and conviction in deciding that they will resign over the question of a no-deal Brexit. If he is against a no-deal Brexit, would it not be a better look for Scotland for him to do likewise, rather than wait to be sacked or abolished?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman’s position is not a deal Brexit or a no-deal Brexit; it is no Brexit. That is what he is seeking to bring about. There is no evidence that the SNP has at any time been serious about getting a deal for Scotland. On each occasion it has had the opportunity to vote for a deal, it has voted against it.
I hope that the Secretary of State will stay in post, but apparently that means he will have to sign the pledge, because in order to serve in the next Government he and others will have to agree to leaving the EU come 31 October, deal or no deal. So will he be at the Dispatch Box again—yes or no—or are these his last questions?
The Prime Minister was asked—
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Following my duties in this House, this afternoon I shall have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen. I shall then continue with my duties in this House from the Back Benches, where I will continue to be the Member of Parliament for Maidenhead.
I profoundly disagree with many of the decisions that the Prime Minister has made and many of the things she says, but I recognise that she does have a respect for public service and for the future of our country, so how does she feel about handing over to a man who, among many things, is happy to demonise Muslims, is prepared to chuck our loyal public servants and diplomats under a bus, and promises to sell our country out to Donald Trump and his friends?
I am pleased to hand over to an incoming leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister who I worked with when he was in my Cabinet, and who is committed, as a Conservative who stood on a Conservative manifesto in 2017, to delivering on the vote of the British people in 2016 and to delivering a bright future for this country.
First of all, I thank my hon. Friend for all his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which, crucially, we are seeing actually having an impact—that is so important for the people who are benefiting from the work he did. I know that he has been doing a lot of work as part of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. I agree that we need to start viewing health as an asset to protect throughout our lives. That is why we have taken bold action on smoking and childhood obesity. I am proud that we have delivered not only the biggest ever cash boost in the history of the national health service, but a long-term plan that, as he said, will focus on prevention—as well as on cancer care and mental health—trying to ensure that people do not get ill in the first place. Preventing smoking and obesity are key parts of better lives for people in the future.
Today marks the final day in office for the Prime Minister, and I pay tribute to her sense of public duty. Public service should always be recognised. Being an MP, a Minister or indeed a Prime Minister is an honour that brings with it huge responsibility and huge pressures personally and, I am sure the Prime Minister and probably the whole House would agree, on those very closest to us, who are often not able to answer back for the criticisms made against them. I hope she has a marginally more relaxing time on the Back Benches. Perhaps, like the Chancellor, she will even help me oppose the reckless plans of her successor. [Interruption.] If I may continue—[Interruption.] I am glad the Government party is in such good heart today, for tomorrow it won’t be.
In the past three years, child poverty has gone up, pensioner poverty has gone up, in-work poverty has gone up, violent crime has gone up, NHS waiting times have gone up, school class sizes have gone up, homelessness has gone up and food bank use has gone up. Does the Prime Minister have any regrets about any of the things I have just said?
It is very good to see the Conservative party in good heart; it is more than I can say for the Labour party. But let me just say something to the right hon. Gentleman about my record over the past three years and how I measure it. It is in the opportunity for every child who is now in a better school. It is in the comfort for every person who now has a job for the first time in their life. It is in the hope of every disadvantaged young person now able to go to university. It is in the joy of every couple who can now move into their own home. At its heart, politics is not about exchanges across the Dispatch Box. Nor is it about eloquent speeches or media headlines. Politics is about the difference we make every day to the lives of people up and down this country. They are our reason for being here, and we should never forget it.
Yes, politics is about real life and politics is about what people suffer in their ordinary lives. I did not mention that per-pupil school funding has gone down, police numbers are down and GP numbers are falling. In the 2017 Conservative manifesto, the Prime Minister promised that no school would have its budget cut, that she would protect TV licences for the over-75s and that she would halve rough sleeping. Which of those pledges is the Prime Minister most sorry not to have achieved?
I am pleased to hear that the right hon. Gentleman spent some time reading the Conservative party manifesto from 2017—he has not been known for always reading the documents he stands up and talks about. Had he read the manifesto properly, he would know that we made a pledge on rough sleeping: to halve it by 2022 and to stop rough sleeping by 2027. I am pleased to say that in the past year we have seen rough sleeping going down. In particular, rough sleeping is going down in those areas where this Government have been taking action.
I do not quite know where the Prime Minister gets her figures from on rough sleeping. All I know is that I travel around this country, just like other Members of this House, and I talk to people who have had a disaster in their lives and end up rough sleeping. We are the fifth richest country in the world. It is surely wrong that anyone should end up sleeping on the streets of this country. We can and should do something about it.
I have often disagreed with the Prime Minister and have many criticisms of her policies, but I welcome the reduction in the stake on fixed odds betting terminals, the adoption of the children’s funeral fund and the scrapping of employment tribunal fees. Which of those policies is the Prime Minister most proud of?
I am proud of all the policies that we have introduced that have been improving people’s lives. I am proud of the fact that through our balanced management of the economy, we now see more people in work in this country than ever before. I am proud of the fact that there are more children in good and outstanding schools. I am proud of the fact that the attainment gap between the disadvantaged and the advantaged has been narrowed under this Government. And I am proud of the fact that we are putting the biggest cash boost in its history into our national health service. We are ensuring that the national health service—the most beloved institution in this country—will be there for people into the future. This is a Conservative Government—my Government—delivering on the things that matter to people in their day-to-day lives.
The Prime Minister may have noticed that none of those things that I mentioned were actually in the Conservative party manifesto in 2017, but every one of them was a Labour pledge in 2017. On Brexit, the Prime Minister’s own red lines ruled out any sensible compromise deal. Only after she had missed her own deadline to leave did the Prime Minister even begin to shift her position, but by then, she no longer had the authority to deliver. Her successor has no mandate at all. Does she have confidence that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) will succeed where she has not?
I worked tirelessly to get a good deal for the UK, and I also worked hard to get that deal through this Parliament. I voted for the deal. What did the right hon. Gentleman do? He voted against a deal. He voted to make no deal more likely, and when there was a prospect of reaching consensus across this House, the right hon. Gentleman walked away from the talks. At every stage, his only interest has been playing party politics, and frankly, he should be ashamed of himself.
We have had three years of bungled negotiations, and we now have the spectacle of a Prime Minister coming into office with no electoral mandate looking for a Brexit deal that has been ruled out by the European Union, or in the case of a no deal, ruled out by the majority in this House and by anyone who understands the dangers to the British economy of a no deal. The next Prime Minister thought the Isle of Man was in the European Union and that the European Union made rules about kippers that, in fact, were made by the Government that he was part of. He also said that the UK could secure tariff-free trade through article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, despite the International Trade Secretary, the Attorney General and the Governor of the Bank of England all confirming that that is not possible.
At the start of 2018, the—[Interruption.] It’s coming, don’t worry. At the start of 2018, the Prime Minister herself set up a new unit to counter fake news, charged with “combating disinformation”. How successful does she think that has been?
Maybe the Prime Minister can have a word with her successor on the way out, but let me conclude—[Interruption.] For today. Let me conclude by welcoming some of the Prime Minister’s notable U-turns over the last couple of years. The cruel dementia tax was scrapped. Plans to bring back grammar schools were ditched. The threat to the pensions triple lock was abandoned. The withdrawal of the winter fuel payments was dumped. The pledge to bring back foxhunting was dropped, and the Government binned their plan to end universal free school meals for five to seven-year-olds. The Prime Minister has dumped her own manifesto. Given that her successor has no mandate from the people—no mandate on which to move into office—does she not agree that the best thing that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip could do later on today when he takes office is to call a general election and let the people decide their future?
My first answer to the right hon. Gentleman is no. If he wants to talk about people ducking manifesto commitments and commitments made during general election campaigns, might I remind him that the Labour party and he said that they would abolish student debt? After the election, he rowed back on that promise. What else did he say during the general election campaign? He said he was committed to Trident. What did he say afterwards? He said, no, he was not committed to Trident at all. He has broken promise after promise to the people of this country.
As this is the last time that the right hon. Gentleman and I will have this exchange across these Dispatch Boxes—[Hon. Member: “Are you going to answer the question?”] I was going to say that it is a strength of our British democracy that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have these exchanges across the Dispatch Boxes every week, two swords’ lengths apart, and that no quarter is sought and none is given. That is as it should be in our adversarial parliamentary democracy. But he and I are very different people and very different politicians and we approach the issues the country faces in different ways. I have spent all but one of my years in the House on the Front Bench trying to implement the policies I believe in, while he has spent most of his time on the Back Benches campaigning for what he believes in, often against his own party, but what we have in common is a commitment to our constituencies. I saw that after the terrorist attack in Finsbury Park mosque in his constituency. Perhaps then I could finish by saying this: as a party leader who has accepted when her time is up, might I suggest that perhaps the time is now for him to do the same? [Hon. Members: “More!”]
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks and for highlighting the work the Government have done in Wales. I would add that over 95,000 people in Wales had a pay rise this year as a result of the national living wage and that employment in Wales has risen by 167,000 since 2010. Conservatives have indeed been delivering for Wales. I know the concern about the franchise for overseas voters and I am sure that my successor will wish to look at that.
I discovered a new part of my hon. Friend’s past recently. I believe he was once the bodyguard to the legendary Hollywood actress Lauren Bacall. [Interruption.] I think his red face tells us all.
Prime Minister, it is fair to say that we have had our differences—it has not often been a meeting of minds— but, with her standing down today, the time for holding her to account has passed. The burdens of office are considerable, the loneliness of leadership can be stark. At times we have clashed on points of political difference, but equally we have stood together when it has been right to do so—over Salisbury and other threats to the UK’s national security. She rightly made sure that Opposition leaders were informed at key moments in national security. In particular, her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, always sought to make sure that I was kept informed of important developments. Prime Minister, I wish you and Philip all the best for the future.
As the Prime Minister departs, is she confident that the office of Prime Minister can be upheld by her flagrant successor?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He is absolutely right: he and I have a difference of opinion on some key issues, but I have been grateful for the position that the SNP has taken on key issues of national security, when it has stood alongside the Government as we have faced the actions of our enemy. I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point about keeping Opposition leaders in touch with things that have happened. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Gavin Barwell, who was a first-class Member of this House, a first-class Minister, and has been an absolutely first-class chief of staff.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question: yes, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) on winning the Conservative leadership election. He will take over as Prime Minister and I look forward to a first-class Conservative Government under his leadership, delivering for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister-elect has no mandate in Scotland. He has no mandate from the people. The Government he is busy forming have no mandate in Scotland. Scotland deserves better. A snap YouGov poll shows that 60% of people in Scotland are dismayed and disappointed by the new Prime Minister.
Those of us on the SNP Benches have tabled an early-day motion, with friends from parties across this House, rejecting the idea of this House being shut down before November. Following Parliament’s overwhelming message in last week’s vote, may I invite the Prime Minister, in one of her first actions as a Back-Bench MP, to sign our early-day motion and join efforts to stop the suspension of Parliament under any circumstances?
As I said in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, I accept that he and I have differences on a number of issues. We both have a passion for delivering for the people of Scotland. I want to do that with Scotland as part of the United Kingdom; he wants to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. We have a mandate from the people to form a Government of this country. That is how we run things in the parliamentary democracy that we have in this country. We also have a mandate from the people to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. If the right hon. Gentleman is so interested in delivering on mandates from the British people, he should have voted on the deal to take us out of the EU.
I recognise the importance of increasing cycling and walking. It is important for people’s health and the local environment. Schemes such as the Derwent valley cycle way provide significant benefit to the local economy as well as to health and the environment. We have doubled our spending on cycling and walking in England, and our local cycling and walking infrastructure plan enables local authorities to take a strategic approach to planning improvements and to integrate them into wider plans for transport and economic development. I am sure the issue will continue to be supported by Conservatives in government.
We have put £1 billion extra into the pension system, recognising concerns that were expressed by women about the changes to pensions. The hon. Lady references what I am going to be doing in the future, but I thought I had already made that very clear: I will be continuing in this House as the Member of Parliament for Maidenhead.
West Midlands Combined Authority
I am sure my hon. Friend will want to join me in saying how pleased I am with the economic growth that we have seen in the West Midlands Combined Authority area. Output has increased by 27% over five years; productivity increased at twice the national rate last year; and employment has increased since 2011. The record of the West Midlands Combined Authority shows precisely what a local, visible, innovative leadership can do and how it can be the key to building a strong economy and a fairer society.
With the Prime Minister’s active encouragement the Mayor of the West Midlands was elected in May 2017, and she has supported him and the region ever since. Over £2 billion has been given to the region by the Prime Minister in the form of grants and guarantees for transport and so many other worthwhile projects, so on behalf of the people of the west midlands may I thank her and may I also ask that she continues in Parliament as a strong advocate for local devolution?
I remember the conversation I had with Andy Street when I was encouraging him to stand for the mayoralty of the west midlands, and I am very pleased that he did. He has been delivering for the people of the west midlands ever since his election. I also thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the excellent work that we have done for the west midlands: Government working with that combined authority shows the benefits of the very local devolution that my hon. Friend has referred to. This is a very good example of what that innovative and visionary leadership can do at a local level in improving the lives of people.
My successor will continue to deliver the Conservative policies that have improved the lives of people up and down this country since we were elected into a coalition Government in 2010. There is a long list of improvements that have taken place in people’s lives, and I look forward, on the Back Benches, to giving my full support to the next Prime Minister as he takes us forward, delivering on Brexit and continuing to deliver on those Conservative policies.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which she has conducted herself as Prime Minister of this she country, for the dignified way in which she has approached the job and her responsibilities? May I ask her to reflect on the fact that when we both first joined the Government in 2010, for every £4 the Government were spending we were borrowing £1, yet as she leaves office today for every £34 the Government spend we are borrowing £1? She has left an economy that is in a much more stable position than when it was inherited. To do that she has had to make some very difficult choices, and choices we may not have wanted to make, but we have got the economy on a sound footing, and I thank her for that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for pointing out that fact about Government borrowing and for highlighting the work we have done for the economy, delivering that balanced approach. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the work he has done in delivering that. What does that mean? It means borrowing at its lowest level for 17 years; it means the lowest unemployment since the 1970s, wages growing at their fastest for a decade and debt falling. That is what my Government have delivered: more jobs, healthier finances and an economy fit for the future.
Obviously, I always look at Select Committee reports with care. I commissioned the Augar review of post-18 education funding, and that review has been very clear that more money needs to go into further education and into sixth forms. I want to see that happening. Indeed, I think that, just as my Government have given a priority to the national health service in looking at funding for the future, the next Government should give priority to education so that we can see that money going into further education and sixth forms and ensure that for every young person there is an avenue through education and training that suits them and their talents and gives them the best opportunities for their future.
The Prime Minister has always been a great champion of victims of domestic violence, as Prime Minister and as Home Secretary, and she has directed many millions of pounds into improving those support services during her time in office, but does she agree that there is still much more work to be done on prevention and early intervention, and on tackling the ongoing scepticism that still greets many victims when they report violence?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. I also thank her for the work for victims of domestic violence that she did in her legal practice prior to coming into this House. This is a very important issue, and I am proud of the Domestic Abuse Bill that has been introduced in this House. I look forward to the debates on the Bill as it goes through Parliament. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need to continue to focus on prevention and continue to raise awareness. We must ensure that domestic violence is seen for what it is. These are criminal acts that are being perpetrated and they should not be brushed under the carpet. People should not just say, “Oh, it’s something that happens behind closed doors” or “It’s just a domestic”. We need to take domestic violence very seriously. We need to ensure that we are taking appropriate action in relation to the perpetrators, and that victims are given support and feel confident and are able to come forward at the earliest opportunity to report what has happened to them.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an issue of great concern, and I am sure it will be of concern to Members across the House and of course to the family of his constituent. I will ensure that the Ministry of Defence provides a response to him on this issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her work in supporting and overseeing the global health programme that the United Kingdom delivers overseas, particularly in regard to vaccination and most notably the polio eradication vaccination, for which she has been internationally recognised. The programme has saved and safeguarded millions of children’s lives across the world. Does she agree that the need to combat misinformation about vaccination is now as important as it ever has been? Will she, in her memo to her successor, note the importance of this programme and the continuing need for a self-standing Department for International Development?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reference to the work on polio, which enables me to commend the work of my constituent, Judith Diment, with Rotary International in its work against polio. It is important that we combat the disinformation about vaccinations and ensure that people are willing to have those vaccinations, which will change their lives and ensure that they can lead healthy lives, rather than succumbing to diseases and conditions that can have an impact on their lives. I can also say to him that I am proud of the fact that we have a Department for International Development, and proud of the fact that we have legislated for 0.7% of gross national income to be spent on development aid overseas. That is an important element of global Britain and an important element of our standing in the world.
As I have said on several occasions, it behoves all of us as politicians—indeed, everyone in public life—to be careful about the language we use and to ensure that we give a clear a message that there is no place in our society for racism or hate crime. We should all act to ensure that we deliver on those sentiments. I thank Helene for her work at Bletchley Park and thank all those who worked there. Unsung for some considerable time, they played a crucial part in our ability to defeat fascism in the second world war. We should be very proud of their work, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving the House the opportunity to celebrate it.
I begin by commending the Prime Minister for her stamina and courage in her term of office—whatever our views on Brexit and other issues—and also commend the support that she has received from her husband Philip. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] For many of us, our husbands, wives and partners are the unsung heroes. May I now ask her a specific question? She is going to the palace this afternoon, and we assume that she is going to recommend that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) succeed her as Prime Minister, but will she tell the House one piece of real, hard advice that she would like to give him on being Prime Minister?
Can I—[Interruption.] A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends are suggesting from a sedentary position that my advice should be to read my right hon. Friend’s summer reading list. However, he has also given me an opportunity to do something that I suspect many on my side may not thank me for, but I am taking a lead from you, Mister Speaker, in saying that I am pleased to be able to see my husband in the Gallery today.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and also for his work on modern slavery, because he and I have spoken about it on a number of occasions over the years, and he has also been a great champion. We passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which took action in relation to individuals who could find themselves on the receiving end of criminal charges effectively because they had been forced to act in a certain way because of modern slavery. We have been looking at how we deal with victims and the referral mechanism, It is important that we have had an independent review of the 2015 Act, which proposed a number of recommendations for improving how victims are treated, and we will be taking most of those recommendations on board.
Further to the mention of modern-day slavery by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), it is right to record that my right hon. Friend has long and distinguished service in this House, both in government and in opposition, and her commitment to public service has been outstanding. Her vision and her determination to bring forward legislation against modern-day slavery led the world, and I hope she will continue her fight against slavery with us from the Back Benches so that we stamp out this evil scourge together.
I look forward to joining my right hon. Friend on the Back Benches and continuing to campaign on this issue. I also pay tribute to her for the work that she has done on this issue. She is right: it is an absolute scourge. We must continue to fight it, and we must continue to raise awareness of it, because there are too many people today in this country—not trafficked into this country, but British citizens—who find themselves taken into effective slavery. We must raise awareness of this, and we must constantly work to combat it and to end it.
I recognise the concern that the hon. Gentleman is showing for his constituency, and the worry and concern that there is for those people who are employed in the business that he has referred to. Of course, whenever we see closures of factories and closures of industrial sites, the Government do act to ensure that support is available for those who find themselves losing their jobs, should that be the case.
However, the hon. Gentleman says that I talked of having a modern industrial strategy. We have a modern industrial strategy. It is a modern industrial strategy that is essentially setting the background and the framework that will enable the economy of the United Kingdom to be the economy for the 21st century.
You are in no doubt, Mr Speaker, that I think the Prime Minister is a thoroughly good egg, and it has been an absolute privilege to serve her on the Back Benches.
This Prime Minister’s commitment to mental health has been simply fantastic; it was fantastic when she was the Home Secretary, and it has been fantastic in her time as Prime Minister. We have had the Stevenson/Farmer review of workplace mental health; Sir Simon Wessely’s review into the Mental Health Act 1983; her commitment to reducing the tragedy of suicide, with her putting her office behind that; and the introduction of places of safety for people experiencing a mental health crisis. We have been filling the Prime Minister’s diary up with future commitments as she authors the next chapter of her political life, but can she find space for a few more paragraphs on mental health?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I also thank him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) for the dignified way in which they conducted the Conservative party leadership election. He has been an advocate for the Government doing more on mental health during his time in this House, and he has championed the need for us to do more on mental health. I want to continue to ensure that we do indeed take that forward. We have set the record in putting that record funding into mental health and in having those essential reviews—Stevenson/Farmer and Sir Simon Wessely’s review. We now need to ensure that we implement the proposals and that we take this forward. If we do so, we will make a significant improvement in the lives of those people with mental health problems.
I commend the individual to whom the hon. Gentleman referred for the work that he has been doing. I am not aware of the organisation that the hon. Gentleman referred to, of which the consultant that he mentioned is a member, but I do want a relationship between the United Kingdom and European Union in the future that enables our scientists and academics to continue to work with those in the EU, and around the rest of the world, to do the pioneering work that—as the hon. Gentleman said, speaking from his own experience—is changing people’s lives for the better.
The Prime Minister and I first encountered the
“bumping pitch and…blinding light”
of parliamentary life together in 1997, and since then, over many tests, have endured some defeats and enjoyed many victories. As she reflects on her innings on the Front Bench, will she count among her greatest achievements the falling number of workless households, which has succoured personal responsibility, secured family stability and nurtured communal pride? Will she continue that work and, in doing so, unite the whole House in that mission?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that, and also thank him for all the work that we did together when he was a Home Office Minister. He worked very hard to ensure that what I believe is an extremely important and pioneering piece of legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, went through this House. I am very happy to welcome the fact that we now have that low number of workless households in this country. We all know that children brought up in a household where there is work are more likely to do better at school, and more likely to succeed further in their life. Reducing the number of workless households is an important aim, and one that I would have hoped could be accepted and championed across this whole House.
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as trade envoy to Israel. He has done a lot of work on antisemitism, and should be congratulated on it. We have been ensuring that we put more money into police forces: around £1 billion extra is available to police forces this year, and many police forces around the country are recruiting more officers. On the theme with which the hon. Gentleman started his question, I imagine that to him and to others it is a matter of great sadness that the Leader of the Opposition took the Labour party through voting against extra money for the police, and against extra powers for the police.
Some 31 people were killed in Idlib yesterday, and many tens of thousands of people were displaced—again. I thank the Prime Minister for her personal commitment to Syria, and to international development more widely. I would like her to join me in reassuring the people of Syria that all of us here will continue to remember them.
First, I commend my hon. Friend’s work in setting up Singing for Syrians, which has been raising funds for people in Syria, and the commitment that she has shown to the people of Syria. We remain, and the Conservative Government will remain, committed to working for a political solution in Syria that can provide the stability and security that the people of Syria deserve.
I join others in thanking the Prime Minister for her years of public service as Home Secretary and as the Prime Minister, for the thoroughly decent, dedicated, honourable way she has carried out all her our duties, and for the very courteous and proper way she has dealt with us as a party. Working together, we have ensured that there actually is a Conservative and Unionist Government of the United Kingdom, which will please many in the House. I will also please Labour Members by saying that we have ensured that there is no early general election.
Now that the Prime Minister has more time on her hands with her dear husband, Philip, I urge her to come to Northern Ireland and avail herself of the many walking opportunities there. She will have seen the wonderful Open championship this weekend in Royal Portrush, which was a credit to Northern Ireland and to the United Kingdom. The warm hospitality of the people of Northern Ireland was on show, and it is open to her as well.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the discussions we have had and the support he has continued to give to the Conservative and Unionist party so that there is a Conservative and Unionist Government in this country. I thank him for the warm invitation to Northern Ireland he has given to me and Philip. I have enjoyed my visits to Northern Ireland. I congratulate all those in Northern Ireland who were involved in putting on the Open championship at Portrush. There was a slight issue with the weather, which may have favoured those who came close to the top of the championship, but it was an excellent championship, and many people will have seen the delights and benefits of Northern Ireland when they attended that event.
As somebody who has not invariably seen eye-to-eye with the Prime Minister, may I thank her for her remarkable public service, for showing that highest of virtues, a sense of duty and, on top of that, for being willing to deal with enormous courtesy with people who must on occasions have been annoying to her? On behalf of many people, I thank the Prime Minister.
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. This place is about debate, argument and discussion about the issues that we all believe in so passionately and that matter to us all. Those debates and discussions are best held when they are held with respect and courtesy. I thank my hon. Friend for the courtesy that he has shown to me in our discussions together. I look forward to probably continuing some of those discussions when I join him on the Back Benches.
When I think of girls growing up in East Dunbartonshire, I know it is inspiring for them to see women in positions of power, whether that is as First Minister of Scotland or as Prime Minister of our United Kingdom. What advice does the Prime Minister have for women throughout the country on how to deal with those men who think they could do a better job but are not prepared to do the actual work?
My advice to all women is to be true to yourself, persevere, keep going and be true to the vision that you are working for. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her election as leader of her party. I am pleased that we have a Member representing a Scottish constituency who is a leader of a United Kingdom party. That goes to show that we are one United Kingdom, and MPs from the four nations of our Union sit in this House on the basis of equality. I also congratulate the hon. Lady on becoming the first woman to lead her party. As I stand down, I am pleased to be able to hand the baton on to another female leader of a political party.
As I look around the Chamber, I have to say that we almost have a full set. My party has had two women leaders, the Liberal Democrats now have a woman leader, and the SNP has a woman leader, as does the DUP, Plaid and the Greens. Even—[Interruption.] Wait for it. Even the independent TIGger group, Change UK, or whatever they are calling themselves this week, are now on to their second woman leader. There is only one party in this House letting the side down: the Labour party.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all she has done for women in Parliament and in this country, from co-founding Women2Win to tackling domestic abuse and modern slavery and legislating to make our society more equal. Will she urge her successor to build on her work and make Britain the best place in the world to be a woman?
I am very happy to urge that commitment for the future. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am very pleased that under my Government, we have seen the gender pay gap at a record low, female employment at a record high and a record percentage of women on executive boards. With our women’s empowerment road map, we are now looking at how we can empower women in this country from school to retirement. I want women in this country to feel that there are no limits to how far they can go and what they can do with their lives.
We have disagreed on many things over the years, but the Prime Minister knows that I have long respected her resilience, commitment to public duty and seriousness, as well as her work on national security. I assure her that there is much to be done from the Back Benches. She knows that I once said to her that I believed she was not the kind of person who would take this country into a chaotic no-deal scenario, not least because of the advice she had had on the risks to our national security. I am fearful about her successor, so can she reassure me that she really thinks, in her heart, that her successor will take those national security warnings as seriously as she has? If he does not, in October, will she speak out?
First, I have every confidence that my successor will take all the issues that he needs to look at in making these decisions and others across Government as seriously as they need to be taken. I also say to her—I am sorry, but I will say this—that she is absolutely right that I have always said that I believe it is better for this country to leave with a good deal, and I believe we negotiated a good deal. I voted three times in this House for a good deal. I spoke to the right hon. Lady about this issue. If she was so concerned about the security aspect of no deal, she should have voted for the deal.
In every aspect of her public life, the Prime Minister has put her heart and soul into giving people the best chance in life. Without understanding, autistic people and their families, who number 2.8 million in the UK, are all at risk of being isolated and developing mental health problems. In thanking the Prime Minister for all the work she has done in furthering the debate surrounding mental health and removing the stigma, may I ask her whether, after she has left the Front Bench to spend more meaningful time with her husband Philip, she will join the all-party parliamentary group on autism and become a champion and advocate for autistic people throughout the country?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question and for the groundbreaking work she did on the Autism Act 2009. That legislation helped to raise people’s awareness of the issues experienced by those on the autistic spectrum and greatly increased our understanding of what we need to do to enable people with autism to lead fulfilling lives. There are many issues in which I want to take an interest when I am on the Back Benches and this, along with mental health more widely, is something that I will want to continue to look at. I have committed to taking the autism training that the all-party group has made available for Members of Parliament.
It is always a historic moment when a Prime Minister leaves office, especially when the country faces such difficult times ahead, as we do, but the right hon. Lady’s departure marks another milestone, because although we are on to our 77th Prime Minister now, she is only the second woman ever to have held that office. She made tackling human trafficking and the horrors of domestic violence a priority at the heart of her Government, and in that respect her legacy is secure, because everyone in this House backs that work and we will all be committed to taking it forward.
Even the Prime Minister’s harshest critics must recognise her integrity, her commitment to public service and her dedication to this country. Those are qualities that none of us should ever take for granted, but may I offer her a word of sisterly advice? Sometimes, you just have to be a bit more careful when a man wants to hold your hand. I thank her for her service as our Prime Minister, and I sincerely wish her all the very best for the future.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her question. She joined this House in 1982 when there was a female Prime Minister, but there were very few other women in this House. She has played a very important role—one of which she can be proud—in ensuring that more women come into this House as Labour Members of Parliament. She started something that began to change the face of this House, which has been very important. I came here in 1997 as one of only 13 Conservative women—indeed, one Labour Member of Parliament approached me to encourage me to sign a private Member’s Bill list because he assumed that, as a woman, I must have been a Labour Member of Parliament. I am also proud to have played my part in getting more women MPs in this House. I am sure that among the women in this House today there is a future Prime Minister—perhaps more than one.
Later today, as I said earlier, I will return to the Back Benches. It will be my first time on the Back Benches in 21 years, so it will be quite a change from standing here at the Dispatch Box. I am told that over the past three years I have answered more than 4,500 questions over 140 hours in this House—more than I might have expected. In future, I look forward to asking the questions. We are, as the right hon. and learned Lady says, living through extraordinary political times. This House of Commons is rightly at the centre of those events, and that is because of the vital link between every single Member of this House and the communities—the commons—that we represent. That is the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy and of our liberty, and each one of us, wherever we sit and whatever we stand for, can take pride in that. That duty to serve my constituents will remain my greatest motivation. [Applause.]
I am always deeply obliged to the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known since we jousted at the University of Essex together, but he was not often in order then and I am sceptical as to whether he will be in order now, for the simple reason that points of order come after urgent questions. I think I speak for the House in saying that we look forward with eager anticipation, bated breath and beads of sweat upon our brow to hear with what pearls of wisdom he intends to favour the Chamber.
Meanwhile, we come to the first of our four urgent questions.
As hon. Members will recall, I made a statement to the House a few hours after British Steel entered insolvency on 22 May. This was, and still is, an uncertain time for the British Steel workforce, their families and their communities, for the customers and suppliers of the business and for everyone who believes, as I do, in the importance of excellent steelmaking and manufacturing in the UK.
In my statement, I said that, although the independent official receiver is solely responsible for the operation and sale of the British Steel business, I would, both personally and on behalf of the Government, do everything that I possibly could within my powers to help secure a good future for the whole of British Steel’s operations.
Following a visit to the Scunthorpe plant the following day and to Skinningrove and Lackenby on Teesside the day after with local MPs, including the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), we formed a British Steel support group to work together immediately and actively to pursue that aim. I chaired the group with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), which has included British Steel management; trade unions Community, Unite and the GMB; the Mayor of the Tees Valley and the leader of North Lincolnshire Council and their officers; the chairs of the Humber, Greater Lincolnshire and Tees Valley local enterprise partnerships; UK Steel; Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, on behalf of suppliers and customers; the Federation of Small Businesses; Government officials and other local MPs, including the hon. Lady, my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). The support group has now met eight times, usually in Doncaster, and sub-groups on the supply chain have met separately, as have local partners.
I wish to pay tribute to the hard work, tenacity and dedication of this group and the extraordinary commitment of the workforce who, during this time, have worked magnificently, not only to continue but to increase steel production.
Often in insolvencies, customer orders dry up, suppliers withdraw their services and the workforce drifts away, precipitating a rapid failure. In this instance, the opposite has been the case. The confidence that the support group has built, coupled with a Government indemnity to the official receiver, has allowed trading to continue, orders to be won and production to increase. This is without precedent in my experience.
Although all decisions are for the official receiver, I have been active, as Members know, in visiting prospective buyers in many parts of the world to make it clear that the UK Government will, within our legal powers, work with a good long-term owner of these important assets to see how we can help them to realise their vision for the company.
I am pleased to say that the official receiver has said that he is encouraged by the interest in purchasing British Steel and his special managers, EY, are currently in further discussions with potential buyers. The official receiver has made it clear that, given the complex nature of the operations, any potential sale will take time to deliver.
I said in May that I was determined to see the proud record of steelmaking excellence continue. The world needs steel, and British Steel is among the best in the world. To secure that will require, in my experience, the continued active participation of everyone that I mentioned earlier without interruption during the critical weeks ahead. In particular, whoever stands at this Dispatch Box will need to devote themselves unstintingly to achieve a great outcome for everyone concerned with British Steel, which I believe, although not certain, is certainly within grasp, and that is the flourishing of British Steel’s operations for many years to come.
Let me begin by putting on record my thanks to the Secretary of State—not only for his response just now, but for the way in which he has responded to this crisis. We find ourselves in a fundamentally different position from the situation in 2015, where, either by design or flat-footedness, the Government failed to respond, with devastating consequences. This is a completely different scenario, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for stepping in and helping to secure the asset, enabling the business to continue and ensuring that the workforce were paid. Through the indemnity that the Government have given to the official receiver, the Secretary of State has given us a very good chance of ensuring the future for British Steel in this country. I also thank him for his efforts in going around the world to help secure a buyer.
Of course, the situation remain precarious. In the past few weeks, we have seen the new Prime Minister running around the country waving kippers in the air; by contrast, 5,000 dedicated, highly-skilled workers in British Steel have been putting their shoulders to the wheel in Scunthorpe, Skinningrove and Lackenby, despite their livelihoods being in the balance. They have been producing at record levels and working with every effort they have to ensure that the business continues to produce the best steel in the world and to flourish. I pay tribute to all those working within British Steel. They deserve a Government who will be straining every single sinew to ensure that the business survives.
I pay tribute to the trade unions, including Community and Unite; every worker in British Steel; everybody in the customer base who has continued to ensure that requests for steel have come through, including some who have even stepped up their demands; everyone in the supply chain who has continued to work so hard to supply the business; and colleagues in the Doncaster round- table. I again pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the inclusive and positive way in which he has responded. However, I do have a number of questions for the Secretary of State—for whoever will be at the Dispatch Box in the coming days, weeks and months ahead.
First, does the incoming Secretary of State understand the implications of failure? We know what 5,000 job losses could be like in areas such as Scunthorpe, Redcar and Skinningrove where there is no alternative employment, and we know the cost of cleaning up the site: £1 billion. Does the future Secretary of State understand the loss of a major industry in Britain that any self-respecting major economy would value and recognise to be essential? Will they recognise the role of steel as a foundation industry for our defence, automotive and construction sectors and what reliance on overseas production could mean for our economy, our independence and our self-reliance?
Secondly, will the future Secretary of State endeavour to ensure that the official receiver continues to receive the indemnity for as long as it takes to find a buyer? Thirdly, will they endeavour to give wholehearted Government support to the bids that primarily keep the business together as one industry across Skinningrove, Lackenby and Scunthorpe? Will they pledge to prevent cherry-picking, to keep asset strippers at bay so that we do not suffer the same issues that we have experienced before and to ensure that the terms and conditions of the workforce are maintained? Will they ensure that any company that the Government support will invest in the assets and ensure that they are modernised for the future of our industry? Will they invest in research and development and be committed to the long-term interests of steelmaking in this country?
Finally, I hope that whoever will be at the Dispatch Box in the weeks ahead will recognise that they have the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of men and women in their hands, as well as the guardianship of a vital, modern, innovative and potentially world-leading British industry.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking the question that has given us the chance to talk about these issues. She has been dedicated and devoted to her constituents, as have other Members—starting the week with me in Doncaster with the colleagues I described to ensure that we can work together and join together to ensure that there are no gaps between any of the interested parties. That has had an appreciable effect, as has been noted by many prospective buyers. Certainly, many customers and suppliers have also observed the resolution and the unanimity of resolution behind this.
Many of the hon. Lady’s questions were addressed to whoever might be the Secretary of State under the new Prime Minister, so it would be presumptuous of me to answer on his or her behalf, but she has placed a clear set of requirements on the record and I endorse everything she said. Not only would the consequences of the loss of historical assets—hugely important in all the communities she mentions—be unconscionable; there would also be the loss of a substantial opportunity.
The hon. Lady, like me, believes that there is a strong strategic future for the British steel industry. As I said in my previous answer, the world is going to need steel. Through investing in infrastructure, this country has opportunities to make greater use of UK steel. We export much in the way of our scrap steel to other countries. That could be made better use of, both environmentally and in terms of industrial opportunities. If we invest—as we intend to and are doing through the industrial strategy—in the technologies that will make steelmaking cleaner, more efficient and suitable for new uses, there is every reason to think that the UK steel industry, including British Steel, can be a beacon showing the rest of the world how a modern manufacturing industry can flourish.
May I associate myself with the priorities outlined by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley)? This is an opportunity to say a big thank you on behalf of the people of Teesside for all the dedication that the Secretary of State—a son of Teesside—has shown to our steel industry. It has not gone unnoticed locally how much he has gone over and above what might be called the ordinary line of duty to secure a positive outcome to this sale, so I pass on a sincere and lasting thank you.
It would be helpful to get on record what the Secretary of State has been doing to leave no stone unturned in these negotiations. In particular, will he talk about the in-principle willingness potentially to invest alongside a future purchaser?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s generous words. He has been assiduous not just in being a member of the support group, but by working in Skinningrove with the customers of British Steel to convey the assurances that are necessary. Buyers will have questions about this extensive and complex set of assets, so it is important—and will continue to be important, especially during the weeks ahead in August—that everyone is available and active in providing the answers to those questions.
Through the industrial strategy, the Government have established programmes to support improvement in energy efficiency, which is very important; to decarbonise industrial clusters, of which steelmaking is a prime example; and to invest in research and development. Through the industrial strategy, we have the biggest increase in R&D in the history of this country. I am making these points to prospective purchasers so that they can see that the environment is a positive one.
It would be wrong for me to comment on the individual bids, as that is legally and strictly a matter for the official receiver, but I have made myself available in this country and overseas to answer questions. I think that I have had more than 25 meetings with bidders, and it has been encouraging—to use the words of the official receiver—that serious bids have been made, but the work must continue to land them and to secure the future.
I do hope that this is not my last exchange with the Secretary of State, but just in case it is, I want to stress my thanks for the amazing Mini Cooper toy that he presented me with last week and to say that he should not worry because there will always be a parking space in my heart for him. We might differ in our approach to many of the structural flaws that our economy faces, but we actually have more in common on most issues than many people would realise, not least on industrial strategy. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) for securing this important update on British Steel.
The Secretary of State shares my opinion that British Steel must be kept as one entity, not splintered off to different buyers who do not have the long-term success of the company at heart. However, there have been reports this week that the Chinese Jingye Group, which was interested in the company as a whole, has pulled out. It was also reported that the deadline for bids has been moved a number of times. Indeed, an email sent from the official receiver is reported to have stated that no deadline has been set to conclude a sale process. Can the Secretary of State confirm how many prospective buyers remain, how many are interested in acquiring the entire the company and what deadlines for the sale have been set? Will he also confirm, as my hon. Friend mentioned earlier, that he will only give his support to bids that support the long-term interests of the company, the workforce, the local community and the steel industry as a whole?
The Secretary of State must recognise that, as Labour has repeatedly stated, action must be taken on electricity prices, business rates, driving investment and, of course, securing a good Brexit deal, because no deal could mean no steel. Will he therefore assure the House that he will be taking steps to ensure that the new Prime Minister urgently takes action on these issues and understands the real importance of the steel industry?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for the generosity of her remarks. I have enjoyed my exchanges and meetings with her. I hope the parking space in her heart has a charging point for the electric Mini—that would be very important.
The hon. Lady invites me to comment on the bids and some of the press speculation as to who is bidding and who is not. First, this is a matter for the official receiver, and secondly, I would not want to prejudice any of the bids by commenting. The discussions, in many cases, take place under confidential terms, and it would be wrong to do anything that might disadvantage that. There is often, in situations like this, speculation in the press, and much of it is misplaced. What I can say—the official receiver has said this publicly—is that several bids have been made and he is looking for bids that consider the whole of the operation. I welcome that, as the hon. Lady does.
On long-term commitments, we do have a long-term commitment to manufacturing, and to steel in particular. I mentioned some of the funds that are available in the industrial strategy. Of course, because they would accompany substantial investments, which I hope will be in place, they require a long-term commitment from any prospective buyer.
The hon. Lady is right to raise the question of energy prices and electricity prices. This is not a new phenomenon, and it is not unique to any particular Government. In fact, the biggest increase in industrial electricity prices took place under the previous Government. In the past five years, we have contributed nearly £300 million to energy-intensive industries as a rebate towards those costs. Through the industrial energy efficiency fund that is available in the industrial strategy, we want to reduce further the costs of energy. It is very important that we should do that.
The hon. Lady asks questions about the incoming Prime Minister. I spoke to both candidates during the leadership contest to impress on them what she and I agree is the crucial role of this industry. I know that she, the Under-Secretary—my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson)—and other hon. Members have communicated not just with the current Prime Minister but with her potential successors to reinforce the resolution across all parts of the House that this is at the top of the new Prime Minister’s agenda.
A very large number of my constituents work at Scunthorpe. Can the Secretary of State assure me that whatever happens, their welfare is at the forefront of his mind? In an international market that is often manipulated by Governments, notably the Chinese, will he assure me that in this case, to quote Sir Keith Joseph, the market is not enough, and there will be an activist and extremely interventionist approach by the Government to ensure that there is a buyer? Lastly, I have always thought that my right hon. Friend was an outstanding parliamentarian ever since our days on the Public Accounts Committee together, and I wish him well in the reshuffle.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. My training under his expert tutelage on the PAC stood me in good stead for ministerial office, and I am grateful to him for that.
I am encouraged by my right hon. Friend’s encouragement to take an activist approach. That is the approach that I have been taking. In my view—and this applies to everyone who has been part of the support group—we let this slip through our fingers if we are not there to make sure that all the questions can be answered, whether through the trade unions, which have been magnificent in this, or through the local authorities, including some of his neighbours in Lincolnshire. Ursula Lidbetter, who leads the Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership, has been very active in the group. I will, in so far as I am still at this Dispatch Box, continue that approach. I am sure that my right hon. Friend’s recommendation of an activist approach will sound with some resonance down the corridors of this place and reach the ears of the new Prime Minister, who I hope will follow his sage advice.
It is disheartening to hear that this process continues to drag on with no idea how long it will take for a deal to conclude. This UK Government must at last stand up for the steel industry and deliver a sector deal. In today’s global world, the uncertainty caused by Brexit is providing businesses with the nudge they need to leave the UK. How many more will leave when it becomes apparent that the new Prime Minister has no plans beyond a no-deal Brexit? Our thoughts are with all those dealing with continued uncertainty—employees, management, unions, and those in the supply chain. What will the Secretary of State, who has shown real commitment to securing the continuation of the British steel plants, do—or, indeed, what will his successor do—in the face of a Brexit that is doing irreparable damage to our manufacturing sector?
I am grateful for what the hon. Lady said about me personally.
I think it would be more disheartening if this process had concluded, as was the wide expectation eight weeks ago, with what happened in Redcar, as the Redcar mentioned, which was the more or less immediate closure of the plant. The fact that the process continues, far from being disheartening, is heartening in that there are several bidders that the official receiver and his agents are working with. It is absolutely vital that those discussions should continue for as long as they prove necessary. That is one of the reasons why my first act on the warning of the insolvency was to commit a Government indemnity to allow an orderly process to take place, and I very much hope it will.
I very much agree with the hon. Lady that having a sector deal with the steel sector is highly desirable. All the sector deals—colleagues have heard me launch different sector deals from this Dispatch Box—require investment by the industry and by the Government alongside each other. That is precisely what we want to do in this case. I hope that this will be a catalyst for the investment that allows such a deal to take place.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for his work on behalf of the very large number of my constituents who work at Scunthorpe. It is because of his actions, and the actions of our Government, that they have continued to be paid throughout this process and that they continue to have the confidence to commit to the British Steel site at Scunthorpe. Moving forward, does he agree that it is really important that the incoming new Government commit once again to big infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2 and, of course, Northern Powerhouse Rail—HS3—to give the industry the certainty into the future that there is going to be investment from this Government in such vital infrastructure?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his participation in the support group in support of his constituents, which has been very valuable. As I made clear, this is for the official receiver, and I do not want to get ahead of his progress. The situation is still not resolved. He has said that it is encouraging, but we need to work very carefully to ensure that it is resolved satisfactorily. In terms of audit, one of the striking things he has found, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) and the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) will know, is how loyal customers of British Steel have been, in many cases confirming orders well into the future. Network Rail is one such customer, for two reasons—partly for steel reasons but partly because I believe that we should have big upgrades in our national infrastructure. I very much endorse what my hon. Friend said.
I very much welcome the activist approach that the Secretary of State has taken with regard to British Steel. I also welcome the fact that no deadline has been imposed, because the most important thing is that this time we find a buyer who is going to support British Steel, invest in it and see it through to the future, unlike the previous owner. Will he give an assurance that the Government will stand by British Steel until a new buyer is found? He knows full well that if a steelworks is closed, it is incredibly hard to reopen it. I urge him to look again at a sector deal for the steel sector, which is so important for the whole industry’s future. Our Select Committee, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, will be looking specifically at British Steel, but also at the wider steel industry, in our inquiry in September. We will be looking both at the actions that this Secretary of State has taken, which we welcome, and at those of his successor.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, the Chair of the Select Committee, and I welcome the prospect of that inquiry. There is a lot to examine, and she will approach it with her usual forensic attention to detail. I very much hope that the new Prime Minister will continue the commitment that the current Prime Minister was willing to give and the authority that she has given me to act in the way that I have. She and others will hold to account the new Prime Minister and his team on that.
The hon. Lady is right; there is something special about steel assets in many respects, but one is that if they are closed down, it is very hard for them to spring back into life, so continuity is of great importance. That is one of the achievements that, together, we have been able to bring about over recent weeks.
No one is keener than I am to conclude a sector deal. It requires investment. There is an opportunity for the British steel industry to be more strategic than it has been and, as some other sectors have done, align itself to some of the products that we know will be in demand in the future, backed by research and development. That is the approach that the industrial strategy takes, and it applies in spades to steel, so I hope there will be a sector deal to reflect that.
I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend acknowledge the world’s dependence on steel and the value that he places on British Steel. Does he also recognise that, without coking coal, there would be no steel industry? The privately funded, multimillion-pound Woodhouse colliery being developed by West Cumbria Mining in my constituency is of vital importance and will have economic, social and environmental benefits for our area and, indeed, the country. Will he do all he can to help move that project forward?
As my hon. Friend says, much steel production requires coking coal, so it needs to be provided. I understand that there was broad cross-party support for the operation that she describes. One of the imperatives is to move steelmaking to be cleaner and greener in its energy efficiency and use of other fuels. That feature of the industrial strategy programme applies very much to the steel industry.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) in thanking the Secretary of State for his approach to the industry in general and this issue in particular. He has reminded us today and on previous occasions that we cannot just turn on and off a steelworks like a tap. If it is allowed to go cold, it is very expensive and difficult to set up again. The indemnity has been the key thing in enabling operations to continue while a buyer is found. What assurance can he give the House that that indemnity will continue for as long as it takes to finish the process of finding a buyer?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; he knows about the manufacturing industry, and he is right in his description of it. I have to report that my request for the indemnity was granted readily; I think the lessons of the Redcar closure have been learned. I have no reason to suppose that the incoming Prime Minister will take a different view—in fact, quite the reverse. I have met him and his competitor, and during the days ahead I hope and expect that that support will continue to be available. But I should be clear with the House: British Steel is in the hands of the official receiver. Neither I nor any other Minister determines its future, so it will be important to conclude a sale to a long-term investor in it. That is not in the bag yet, but I think it is evident that everyone is doing everything they can to secure it.
I was pleased to hear from the Secretary of State that he has been working tirelessly with British Steel and the official receiver to find a new buyer for the company. Can he tell the House what further plans the Government have to support companies in the supply chain, such as those in my constituency, over the coming days and weeks?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to Stephen Phipson, the director general of Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation. He serves on the support group and has been present at the meetings, and he has convened a panel of suppliers and customers, to ensure that some of the uncertainty and challenges that they have faced during the insolvency of British Steel have been dealt with. Working with HMRC, the British Business Bank and the official receiver, the panel has had—as I think colleagues on the support group would accept—a positive role in providing help and reassurance to the supply chain across the country.
The Secretary of State has acknowledged that the closure of a major steelworks is an intergenerational blight, as we have seen with the closure of Redcar and of Ravenscraig, which is still a wasteland 30 years on. It is therefore critical that we maintain long-term planning in the sector. That is aided by patient finance. Access to patient finance in this country is very poor compared with some of our peer nations, notably Germany. What will he do to improve patient finance access for the huge capital investment needed in the steel industry, in order to improve the attractiveness of British Steel to potential investors?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Improving the access to and availability of patient capital in this country is a focus through the industrial strategy and some of the work that the Treasury is doing, but there is more work to be done. He is right—a long-term owner of British Steel needs to have the patience required in an industry that is, and always has been, subject to the ups and downs of the economic cycle and sometimes conditions in international trade. It is often not the most stable of industries, and as I think he would agree, any owner needs to be resilient to that.
British-manufactured steel is vital for exporting companies in my constituency, such as General Electric, and across the country and therefore makes a huge contribution to our balance of payments. What is being done to support the export of British steel both directly and through other manufactured goods? Will my right hon. Friend comment on what my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) said about the possibility of the UK Government being a co-investor, alongside others, to ensure that British Steel continues to serve this nation so well?
On the first point, there are great opportunities for exports. The support group has been working with the Construction Products Association, for example, to improve the marketing of British Steel products in this country and to overseas markets. Support is available through UK Export Finance for British exporters in all sectors. When it comes to the requirements of any bidder, strict rules pertain to British Steel, which is one reason why it requires an understanding of the investment plans of prospective bidders. That is something I have been doing, and I hope it will continue in the new Government.
As the son of a steelworker, may I join the Secretary of State in praising the workforce and the trade unions at British Steel? I want to press him: will the Government ensure that the terms and conditions of the workforce are kept high through this difficult time, until a new buyer emerges?
The terms and conditions have continued. The special managers, on behalf of the official receiver, have worked closely with the trade unions. Through the support group, we have no complaints and no reason to think that anything in those terms and conditions has been impaired during the insolvency. Of course, when a company is in insolvency, it is in the hands of the official receiver, but the special managers have shown themselves to be understanding and accommodating of the requirements of the workforce. It is a reflection of the workforce that they have committed themselves to the company and increased production at a time of uncertainty. That is a real tribute to their professionalism and the faith they have in the quality of their product.
I know from friends and colleagues in the trade unions, particularly Community, that they are thankful for the positive approach the Secretary of State has taken to his dealings with this. I am glad that Doncaster is providing the venue for talks, and everybody who is a party to them is welcome to come to my house for beer and sandwiches—or whatever they fancy—if it helps the talks in any way.
The Secretary of State has mentioned securing a steel sector deal a couple of times, and he alluded to one of the issues that the industry should think about. Does he still believe that getting those talks under way again at the earliest possible opportunity is crucial, and what other main headline issues need to be sorted, discussed or broached to get those talks up and running at the earliest opportunity?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, and it has been good to meet in Doncaster. It may seem a surprising place to meet, but it is quite convenient for both Scunthorpe and Teesside, as well as London, so that is where we start our week. The invitation to go to the right hon. Lady’s house is a very inviting one, which I am sure the support group will want to take up.
On the sector deal, we have made good progress, but all sector deals are about investment. It has been a feature of the steel industry in recent years that the investment in the future has not been at the level of some other industries where we have concluded deals—life sciences, automotive, aerospace and others. It is not in any sense that the talks have broken down; it requires investments to be made. I hope that, if there is to be a successful resolution for British Steel, that might provide the ability to do precisely that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that what the steel industry, including in the Black Country, needs above all else is a long-term strategy, with a pipeline of projects that can create good opportunities for those who work in the sector?
My hon. Friend is right, and he is right, as his neighbour the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) did, to call attention to the role of the Black Country. They have a phrase in the Black Country, “Made in the Black Country, sold around the world”, and that is a proud and accurate boast. However, there are opportunities in the UK for those products, and the Government have published a forward pipeline of infrastructure investments that require steel so that companies can gear themselves up to participate in procurement.
That is very important, and I would like to pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who has responsibility for industry. He has signed the steel charter and is promoting it across all public bodies. Again, it requires and encourages the use of British steel to be taken into account in all procurement decisions.
Following on from the Secretary of State’s answer, he may recall the Defence Secretary saying that
“we can and must buy British.”
Does he agree that one way to do this would be to back a British bid to build the Navy’s new support ships, which could create 16,000 jobs throughout the supply chain in Barnsley and across the country?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. We have published figures for each Department on their use of British steel. It is the case, and the House should be aware of this, that not all types of steel used are actually made in the UK. At least at the moment, it is not possible to supply all of our steel needs from domestic supplies; that is the reality. She mentioned the MOD, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is working closely with the Ministry of Defence so that its support for the steel charter results in increasing levels of procurement of British steel.
We can be incredibly proud of our steel industry. It is of course a primary example of where industrial activism generally, on the part of the Government, is absolutely vital. If we see any form of Brexit, which the Secretary of State knows I oppose, it will of course be even more important that we have industrial activism. I am in no way agitating for his removal, but will he assure this House that if he is replaced in post in the next 24 hours, he will urge any successor not to turn their back on implementing a proper industrial strategy? Now is certainly not the time for a return to the Thatcherite economics that, frankly, saw the destruction of so many great industries in this country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. He and other hon. Members will know that the approach we took to developing the industrial strategy was to seek, I think successfully, to engage all parts of the country, all parts of the economy, and different firms, business leaders, local leaders and trade unions, to have something that reflects, as far as possible, a shared view of what our priorities should be in the future—whether that is investing in infrastructure, investing in skills, increasing the research and development investments that we make in this country, and identifying opportunities, such as in the future of mobility or the analysis of data, that are great sources of global opportunity for Britain. We did it in that way because I think it is right for an industrial strategy to endure—a short-term strategy is a contradiction in terms. I hope the consensual way in which it has been put together and the content of it will commend the industrial strategy to the incoming Government. It is obvious from what the hon. Gentleman has said that he will play a role from his seat in ensuring that those in government do that.
As chair of the all-party manufacturing group of MPs, may I remind the Secretary of State, whom I have a lot of time for, that it is essential we have steel in this country? I represent Huddersfield, which is a major engineering community, and the community is at the heart of this. Manufacturing, steel and engineering all hang closely together. Will he take a long-term view, but will he also make sure that we do not sell at the weakest time in the market? If the steel industry needed a period of public ownership, what would be wrong with that? This pragmatic Government have done it with London North Eastern Railway, so why not with steel? May I urge him to be totally pragmatic, not ideological, and to make sure that we have a steel industry that is successful in the future?
The hon. Gentleman and I share a view about the importance of steel and manufacturing. At the University of Huddersfield, the national rail testing facility is a very important part of our contribution to increasing standards of technological development, so he is absolutely right. When it comes to the steel industry, the key thing is having an owner that, in my view, is willing and has an ambition to invest for the future. Since the official receiver is encouraged by the level of interest, what we in the support group—I would observe that it is a pragmatic group of people—want to do is to support those bidders to make sure that we have the long-term future we all want.
It is important strategically and for regional employment to maintain a steel industry in the United Kingdom, and I do welcome the efforts that the Secretary of State has made to date. However, does he not realise that high-cost renewable energy plans and costly decarbonisation policies—pursued by this Government and previous Administrations, who, quite frankly, have pandered to a Luddite green lobby in this country—have resulted in energy-intensive industries moving out of Britain, with the aluminium industry being an example? These issues will have to be addressed if we are to maintain a viable steel industry in the United Kingdom in the future.
My experience from conversations with the bidders for British Steel is that there is a recognition in the steel industry—not just in this country, but around the world—that the move to cleaner and greener production is happening globally. Actually, there is an opportunity to get ahead of that, as investing in improved energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions will have to be done everywhere. Again, one of the purposes of the industrial strategy is to advance ourselves as a place where this has been done well and reliably and has been well supported. That, it seems to me, is best for the long-term future of steel making and other manufacturing, rather than attaching ourselves to a model that will be increasingly costly around the world. The future depends on being more energy efficient and greener.
The UK exports 2.6 million tonnes of steel to the European Union every year. It is estimated that a no-deal Brexit would add £70 million of additional administration costs and costs relating to border checks. Does the Secretary of State therefore agree that a no-deal Brexit represents an existential threat to the British steel industry, and will he be conveying that message loud and clear to his successor and to the incoming Prime Minister?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that that message should be conveyed to all Members of the House who did not vote for a deal that would have provided, as British steel advised, the ability to trade in that way. My views on the desirability—in fact, the imperative—of having a good deal that allows us to trade without introducing barriers and frictions are well known to the House, and indeed beyond. What I will say is that at this time, when potential purchasers are considering British steel, actually it is not the case that the steel industry would not have a future in the event of different forms of Brexit. It is very important to convey to prospective buyers the fact that the industry that exists, with its opportunities domestically and internationally, and with the quality of its workforce and of its steel production, is attractive in itself and will not be trumped by the Brexit settlement. It is important that those prospective buyers have confidence, as some of them have having done their due diligence, that this is a good investment in all circumstances.
May I first thank my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) for her advocacy in the Chamber and—those of us who also know her as a friend know this—for her tireless activism on behalf of the steel sector, which has no better advocate? I also thank the Secretary of State; in a time of upheaval on the Government Front Bench, I hope that one point of consistency will be his position there. He has explained in the past, and in many appearances here in the Chamber, that the steel sector does not quite fit the criteria for a sector deal. Does that mean that we need to look at how the sector deals themselves are operating, to see whether they could be tailored to support such a vital industry?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. It is not that the sector deals do not fit at all; it is that that would require investment on behalf of the industry, the players in the sector, and in recent years that investment in the future has not been as readily available or forthcoming as it has been in other industries. I hope that will change. I have a big appetite to invest alongside the sector, as we do in others, so there is absolutely no question but that it is available, and I hope that we will be able to conclude one very quickly.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s work and lament the likelihood that he will not be there to see the deal through and a foundation industry saved, alongside many jobs, many of which are in my constituency. When he leaves a little note for his successor, will he show his true Teesside-born credentials and just tell them that they must do all they can to get the deal across the line, and that they must not fail?
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Madam Deputy Speaker. In February this year the EU put in place a definitive safeguard strategy on steel imports, covering 26 steel product categories. It put in place a 25% tariff once the quota has been surpassed. What analysis have the British Government undertaken of the impact on the UK steel sector of leaving the EU customs union, in terms of exports to our biggest market and imports to the UK?
We have been very clear in the discussions that have been taken prospectively. Obviously, the arrangements are not settled until the Brexit conclusions are settled, but we have been very clear in a number of product areas that safeguards should be available and should be used for precisely the purpose they have been so far and will be needed in future.
Draft Historical Abuse Bill (Northern Ireland)
The historical institutional abuse inquiry looked into the abuse of children under 18 who lived in institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995. The Hart report was published in January 2017 and recommended a commissioner for victims of abuse and a redress scheme for victims.
This is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and, as such, is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. However, in the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers, the Northern Ireland civil service launched a public consultation on draft legislation, which closed in March this year. The results of the consultation were provided to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in May. Those results were different from the Hart report in some, but not all, areas, so the Secretary of State asked the Northern Ireland political parties to help resolve them. They did that, and I would like to put on the record our thanks on behalf of not just the Government, but victims, their families and all those who responded to the consultation.
The head of the civil service in Northern Ireland provided the Secretary of State with a redrafted Bill late last week. I am happy to confirm that it would establish a commissioner for survivors of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland and a redress scheme, which reflects a cross-party political consensus on the changes recommended following the consultation. That said, I hope that everyone here will understand that, given that the draft arrived only a few days ago, we will not be able to introduce it by tomorrow, but I am sure that everyone here is extremely keen to move forward on this—there is widespread support for action right across the community in Northern Ireland. I am also happy to reconfirm the commitment, made last week in the House of Lords, that in the absence of a sitting Assembly in Stormont, the Government will introduce primary legislation before the end of the year to set up a scheme.
None of us can undo what was done in the past, but I hope that, by getting a scheme under way, as I have laid out here today, we can at least provide some level of support, and perhaps a little closure, for the victims and their families.
I thank the Minister of State for that answer. I also pay tribute to Judge Hart, whom he mentioned, who recently passed away.
Last night I took a heartbreaking call from Marty Adams of the Survivors Together group. On Friday I took a call from Gerard McCann, another survivor of abuse. Last month the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I met a group of survivors in Belfast and their legal representatives. In the past couple of weeks the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has collectively met a delegation of survivors and victims. These campaign teams are run on a shoestring. The entitlement of these victims is well established, as the Minister of State has now made clear. Indeed, the head of the Northern Ireland civil service has removed every impediment to allow these compensation payments to be made.
Last week, in a day and a half, this Parliament was able to rush through major changes to laws in Northern Ireland that are extremely controversial, and they were waved and cheered on by a packed House, and many of those Members on the Opposition Benches are notable today by their absence. This issue unites political parties—I pay tribute to the shadow Secretary of State, who personally telephoned me and did all he could to ensure that this matter would be raised today—yet still there appears to be this delay.
I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister of State, the Secretary of State or indeed the team working on this in the Northern Ireland Office, but there can be no further delay. There is nothing to prevent the legislation being introduced this evening and voted on tomorrow and the matter being resolved before we go into recess. If the will is there, it can be done. Will the Minister affirm that there is not one comma outstanding and not jot or tittle out of place in the legislation—that it is ready to go and will be expedited?