House of Commons
Thursday 5 September 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Supply of Medicines: No Deal
The Department of Health and Social Care has assessed and contacted 448 suppliers of medicine and has regular and detailed conversations with the industry.
This week, the Nuffield Trust joined 11 union leaders to warn that no deal would disrupt the supply of life-saving medicine and exacerbate the largest staffing crisis in our NHS’s history. What level of mortality rate is acceptable to the Secretary of State as the price to pay for this devastating no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman does not reflect the reality of the significant preparation that the industry has done over the last three years, and I pay tribute to it for that. For example, one of the leading insulin manufacturers, Novo Nordisk, has 18 weeks’ worth of supplies, while the Government had asked for six weeks’ worth. The industry has gone above and beyond in its preparation, and a huge amount of work has been done.
I was recently contacted by a constituent with a rare condition. She has stopped producing cortisol and needs to take a synthetic form of it to survive. If she stops taking her medication, she will be dead within 10 days. What does the Secretary of State have to say to my constituent, who is afraid that the Government are gambling with her life?
I would say that we should not be scaring people unnecessarily. The Government have put in place a framework to ensure supply. We have also put in place an express freight service, which will give even more capacity on a 24-hour basis and between two to four days for larger pallets. There is additional capacity, and a huge amount of work has been done on storage, but this is an issue of mutual interest for the UK and the Commission, and we are working on it jointly.
Anyone who is facing cancer treatment wants to know that they can get the medicine and the medical devices they need as quickly as possible and with certainty. Dr Buscombe from the British Nuclear Medicine Society says that the system for delivering radioactive isotopes in the event of a no-deal Brexit is “fragile”. What does the Secretary of State say to patients who are concerned to hear that?
I was a Health Minister, and as part of business as usual there are always issues of supply, usually with around up to 50 lines. We have had it in the last few weeks with HRT, which is totally unconnected to Brexit. These are issues that the Department is well used to preparing for. It is in the interest of both sides to get this right. Two thirds of Ireland’s medicine comes through the land bridge in Great Britain. This is something that both sides are working to deliver because it is of interest to both of us.
I welcome the Government’s preparations to prevent medicine shortages in the event of no deal and the fact that the Secretary of State highlighted the impact this will have on the Republic of Ireland. As he rightly says, two thirds of medicines to the Republic come through and over UK motorways, so it is in the EU’s interests as well to prevent no deal.
My hon. Friend is right. This is about preparing. It is not about scaring people unnecessarily. Around 220 lorries impact Ireland. This is of mutual interest, and we want to get it right with them. That is why we are working with member states on this. It is not just about stock and not just about flow; it is also about flow the other way. A significant number of UK medicines from firms like AstraZeneca go to Europe, so this is in the interests of the EU27 and the UK, which is why considerable work has been done on it.
Exports: No Deal
The Government have prioritised flow of goods at the border and put in place a range of easements to support that fluidity.
I do not get any sense from the Secretary of State that he intends to implement the decisions of this House in ruling out no deal. What would his response be to Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association, who only this week said this of his experience of Ministers in relation to what he describes as the “clear and present” threat of no deal:
“What we need is action, and we need action now. And there’s this gap between what they say they’re going to do, and what they have so far failed to deliver”?
When will we see delivery from this Government? When will the Government even meet unions representing drivers to discuss their real fears about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on drivers’ hours and safety?
Again, the hon. Gentleman is ignoring the evidence. The Government are acting. He should look at, for example, the auto-enrolment of EORI—economic operator registration and identification—numbers. Some 87,955 VAT-registered businesses that trade only with the EU have, as part of auto-enrolment, had those numbers sent out. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was in Calais meeting his counterpart and discussing these very issues. There are material issues to address, but it does not progress debate in this House if people ignore the reality of the work that the Government are doing.
My right hon. Friend said last week that the
“car industry’s ‘just in time’ supply chains rely on fluid cross-Channel trade routes”,
and that we
“need to start talks now on how we make sure this flow continues if we leave without a deal.”
Some of us have been making this point for some time. Can my right hon. Friend say: who are these proposed talks with, have they started, when does he expect them to finish and will he publish an update on how far they have got?
This is the first opportunity I have had since my right hon. Friend left the Government to pay tribute to the work that he did as a senior Minister, in particular, if I may say so, in relation to the British steel industry. I know he was an assiduous champion of its interests at the Cabinet table.
What I was highlighting in that thread was the talks the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was having that Friday in Calais. The fact is that issues about the documentation required and the flow are of mutual interest. It was pertaining to the issues touched on in the communiqué issued by the Commission yesterday. It is in the interests of both sides, including those of leaders in northern France, that we get the flow of these goods right.
About 3 million wooden pallets are used every month to transport goods, including food, between the UK and the EU. After a no-deal Brexit, those wooden pallets will no longer be able to be used unless they have been heat treated or fumigated. Can the Secretary of State give the House an assurance, because this is absolutely about the supply of food, that there are sufficient pallets available to the companies that keep our food supplies moving?
We have a ministerial meeting, chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is tasked each day with looking at specific issues. My focus—as Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of this—is on the negotiations, as opposed to every item such as pallets, so I will pick that up with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, considerable work has gone on. As I say, this issue applies to the EU—to its exports and the flow of goods through Calais—and it is these very issues that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was discussing with his counterparts in Calais last Friday.
The Secretary of State quite rightly referred to the EORI numbers, but as I understand it, businesses will also have to get a similar number from the country in the EU27 with which they trade once we are outside the EU. Are businesses aware of that, or are they just aware of getting the UK one?
My hon. Friend is right that there are a number of things businesses need to do. That is exactly the purpose behind the public information campaign that we have launched to improve readiness. Contrary to the perception often implied in this House, a huge amount of work has been done in Government over the last three years and a large amount of work has also been done in large companies, including large pharmaceutical companies. The area of more concern has been within the SME community to which he refers, and that is what the public information campaign is targeting.
Would not the best way of measuring the effect of transportation of goods on the UK leaving the EU without a deal be to publish the Operation Yellowhammer documents, rather than sanitising or shredding them, and allowing Members of Parliament to interview the civil servants responsible for writing them?
A huge amount of information has already been published, not least in the form of the technical notices that the Government have issued. However, I fear—this may be a rare area of agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and me—that there is no level of documentation we could publish that would fully satisfy him.
The European Union has confirmed that it will grant UK nationals visa-free travel for short stays, subject to reciprocity. The Government have also said that we do not intend to require visas for tourists or short-term business visitors from the European Union.
On longer-term working visas, 19% of people in the Calder Valley work in manufacturing, a sector that is now suffering from skill shortages and benefiting from very high employment. Can my right hon. Friend put the minds of businesses at rest, and explain how we can fill these skill shortfalls in the short term after Brexit that are currently filled through freedom of movement?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I can certainly reassure him. As the Home Secretary set out, as we leave the EU we will transition to a new points-based immigration system that is built around the skills and talents that people have, not where they are from. In the short term, Swiss citizens and those from the European economic area who move to the UK after a no-deal Brexit on 31 October will still be able to start to study, as now.
How will we ensure that the UK continues to attract the brightest and best when we leave the EU?
My hon. Friend makes an important point—it is essential that we attract the brightest and best, not just from the EU but from around the world. That is what the Government are doing by repositioning ourselves with real growth areas around the world, alongside the EU.
Is the ministerial team aware that my constituency of Huddersfield, where I come from, is, like that of the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), the centre and heart of manufacturing in this country? We must be mobile and be able to visit places. People in the manufacturing centre of Huddersfield, and the university, are absolutely appalled by what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit. We need access to our markets and to travel, and we believe it will be the end of the world if we crash out without a deal.
If he has studied my past, the hon. Gentleman may know that I lived in his constituency. I studied and have friends in his constituency, and I know it very well.
Last week I spoke to Universities Scotland, which is deeply concerned about the status of Erasmus students who are currently in Scotland. If they go home for Christmas, can the Minister guarantee that they will be allowed back in, in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
We are grateful.
The Government are committed to leaving the European Union on 31 October, whatever the circumstances. We would prefer to leave with a deal, but to achieve that the EU must be willing to reopen the previous withdrawal agreement.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I believe the best way to avoid no deal is to secure a deal. He will know that I voted three times for the withdrawal agreement, and I will support this Government as they seek to secure a deal. Given that the comments reported overnight from Monsieur Barnier appear to be in conflict with the aspirations of our Prime Minister, will the Secretary of State say when the Prime Minister intends to deliver his proposals for the revised deal, so that that deal can be secured before 31 October?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. Despite some misgivings and the way that he campaigned during the referendum, he has consistently voted for a deal, and he was consistently willing to compromise where many others were not. On the substance of the talks, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser was in Brussels yesterday, and the Prime Minister is due to meet the Taoiseach on Monday. I am in regular contact with my counterparts, and I have visited a number of capitals in recent weeks. A significant amount of work has gone on, but we will not fall into the trap that befell the previous Government, where the Commission has an absolutist, all-weather, all-insurance position and then asks for deals on the basis of creative flexibility, and against that test then dismiss it as magical thinking. We need to have detailed discussions, but they must be done in the right way, which is what we are doing.
The Secretary of State has said once again that the new Administration want to secure a deal, rather than leave without one, yet we know that no new concrete proposals have been presented to the EU. It has been reported that in the technical talks that took place yesterday between the UK’s chief negotiator and EU Commission officials, the UK team made it clear that the Government want to jettison the level playing field provisions contained in the withdrawal agreement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that removing those provisions is now the Government’s preference?
As the hon. Gentleman says, the Government want to leave with a deal. We also know that Labour Members do not want a deal, they are not prepared to leave with no deal, and therefore they are not prepared to leave at all. The Government’s proposals made it clear in the letter to President Tusk that, notwithstanding concerns about the wider withdrawal agreement held by many of my colleagues on the Government Benches, the issues have been narrowed down to that of the backstop. That is distinct from the Northern Ireland protocol as a whole, and that is the constructive approach that the Prime Minister has taken. He has also answered the charge that was often levelled from the Labour Benches about what sort of deal we seek in the political declaration. The charge of a blind Brexit was often levelled at me, and the Prime Minister has answered that question. He is seeking a best-in-class free trade agreement, and he has been crystal clear on that.
There was no answer there on the level playing field provisions. I am not sure why the Secretary of State is so reluctant to confirm that regulatory divergence from the EU, rather than alignment with it, is what the Government want to achieve. After all, as he mentioned, in the Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk on 19 August that was for him “the point” of our exit. We have gone from Canada plus plus plus to Canada minus minus with barely a mention and no debate in this House. Let me ask the Secretary of State this simple question: will the Government now come clean with the British public about the fact that far from maintaining workers’ rights, Ministers want the freedom to chip away at them and environmental protections and consumer standards?
No. What is staggering about the hon. Gentleman’s question is his—
If the hon. Lady will give me a moment, I was just coming on to do precisely that. The point at issue is whether the UK is, as a sovereign state, able to determine its own laws and regulations, or whether it is in dynamic alignment, taking rules and regulations from the Commission over which we would have no vote. Opposition Members may huff and puff. What it suggests is that they want this Parliament to continue to take rules from the Commission, but in future have no say over those rules. We do want a situation where we have two sovereign states, not on the basis of deregulation but of sovereignty.
Am I right in trusting that we have a cunning plan to leave on 31 October?
My right hon. Friend tempts me, with his knowledge of the relevant box sets, into dangerous territory. The Prime Minister does have clarity on what he is seeking in the negotiations. The framework was set out in the letter to President Tusk, where we narrowed down the negotiating objectives to the backstop in the withdrawal agreement and to a best-in-class free trade agreement in the political declaration. That is the plan. It is very clear.
Order. In calling the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Jane Dodds), I should like again to congratulate her warmly on her splendid maiden speech yesterday afternoon.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Diolch yn fawr iawn. What would the Secretary of State say to the National Farmers Union, which says that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for farmers? The Farmers Union of Wales says it would have disastrous consequences for farmers. What would he say sitting opposite family farmers in places like Brecon and Radnorshire and across Wales who really fear for the livelihoods and their futures?
May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming the hon. Lady and paying tribute to her maiden speech yesterday? I thought she spoke with great distinction. The specific issues pertaining to the sheep industry were addressed, at much greater length than perhaps the Chair can allow me now, in the Adjournment debate by the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), so I would first refer the hon. Lady to the comments and the issues the Minister of State—
So, no answer!
I can go into it. I watched the Adjournment debate. The Minister talked about the misunderstanding by an Opposition Member of the impact of depreciation on experts. We can talk about the measures put in place in terms of headage and the support for the industry. We can talk about the level of exports. We can get into the detail with the hon. Lady; it is just that the Chair will, I am sure, want me to be fairly succinct, and the Adjournment debate covered the issue at greater length.
Ethanol Imports: Tariff Schedule
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK would implement a temporary tariff regime. This would apply for up to 12 months while a full consultation takes place and a review of a permanent approach is undertaken.
I appreciate the Secretary of State’s response and the letter I received from the Department for International Trade this morning, but in the meetings we had with the Department we were told that biofuels would not be covered by the protection tariffs. Ensus in my constituency tells me that the fear of a no-deal Brexit is already harming business. We know that a no-deal Brexit without tariff protection will kill British biofuels, end jobs and leave us relying on imports. Will the Secretary of State commit to working with his colleagues to maintain tariff protection on ethanol before it is too late?
The hon. Lady raises a legitimate issue in a constructive way, and I am very happy to work with her because she is championing a genuine issue on behalf of her constituents. There is always a balance in setting tariffs between protecting consumers and the issues for producers. It is about how we calibrate those two sometimes competing issues. She will understand that within the market— within the industry—there is domestic pressure, regardless of Brexit, but I am very happy to work with her on that issue.
The Secretary of State will be aware from Yellowhammer that the proposed tariff regime under a no deal creates very specific risks for the UK oil-refining sector. Given that the Valero refinery in Pembroke is the largest and most important private sector employer in west Wales, will the Minister tell me what the plan is for protecting the UK refining sector if we end up leaving the EU without a deal?
My right hon. Friend will know that concerns have been raised by the industry in respect of that. Pertaining to the answer that I gave a moment ago, existing questions within that market are also a factor. I am very happy to have further discussions with him, as I am with the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), because a number of issues come into play for that industry.
There is a group of medicines that simply cannot be stockpiled and which rely on an uninterrupted supply of imports. Will the Secretary of State give a 100% guarantee that none of my constituents will suffer a shortage of that type of medicine as a result of a no-deal Brexit?
As I said, we have not only put in place an additional procurement framework in terms of capacity, but we have procured an express freight service to deliver small consignments on a 24-hour basis, and a two-to-four day pallet-delivery service. These issues are being addressed by the Department and a huge amount of work is going on exactly on that issue.
Since joining the Department on 27 July, I have personally met more than 20 business organisations. Since July 2016, Department for Exiting the European Union Ministers have collectively undertaken over 700 meetings with businesses and business organisations from every sector in the economy.
Northamptonshire is one of the most important logistics hubs in the UK, so what steps are the Department taking to make sure that those firms and businesses are up and ready to deal with a possible no-deal Brexit?
That is a very sensible question. The Department has engaged extensively with logistics companies and representative bodies from across the sector to ensure that they are prepared for 31 October. I encourage my hon. Friend and businesses to consult the public information campaign on gov.uk to get a practical, step-by-step guide on what is required for business. That is a powerful thing to do—it is the right thing to do—in preparing to leave properly on 31 October.
What information can the Minister give us about what preparation has been done—what proactive contact his Department has made—with businesses that may not trade directly with Europe but whose supply chains or customers do so, and who therefore may not have availed themselves of the Government web pages?
I would certainly encourage those businesses to avail themselves of that opportunity. The Department has sent out 1,300 bits of information and that is captured on the gov.uk website. I have engaged with businesses—I am the small and medium-sized enterprises champion for the Department—and the one thing that I have noticed is that larger businesses tend to be more prepared than smaller businesses, and particularly the type of which the hon. Lady speaks. The Government website is a rich source of information, so I encourage Members to return to their constituency and—alongside campaigning—promote the Government website.
There is a massive difference between some of the realistic concerns of businesses about no deal and some of the madcap scare stories that are going around. What is the Minister doing to ensure that there is an understanding of realistic concerns and to dismiss some of the other wild stories?
There will always be knockabout politics, but I would prefer to engage in the detail. I was in Northern Ireland last Thursday talking to businesses on the border and then in Belfast discussing alternative arrangements with a wide range of businesses, engaging them in the very real detail and not the high-level scare stories. There are concerns and they are being dealt with, but they should not be confused with the bigger scare stories.
Discussions with EU Counterparts
Over the summer recess I had extensive discussions with my European counterparts—I suspect that my right hon. Friend and I saw a little less of the summer than some—including in the past fortnight in Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki and a couple of other places. There has been extensive engagement, and that engagement continues.
I am very encouraged to hear my right hon. Friend begin to list some of his summer itinerary. I think that helps to build confidence in the fact that the Government are engaged in serious discussions with the European Commission and other counterparts. To that effect, would he be prepared to publish information on whom he has met and the discussions he has had when not in meetings, with whom and when?
Order. I would just say that I am sure that the unknown place to which the Secretary of State has referred has not forgotten that he visited it and its inhabitants.
I fear that I might get into trouble with the said unknown place, but I hope that a bit of latitude will be granted. My right hon. Friend raises a material point, because it goes to the crux of last night’s debate and the sincerity of the negotiations. The Prime Minister has also had extensive contact through the G7 and his visits to Berlin and Paris, among other places, and there has been the extensive work, to which I pay huge tribute, of the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, who was in Brussels last week, this week and who has also travelled extensively. Significant work has been going on, and I am very happy to look at what further detail we can set out.
If all that is true, why did Dominic Cummings call the negotiations a “sham”?
First, as the hon. Lady well knows, the Government do not comment on leaks. Secondly, the issue is really about looking at the substance. Look at the letter to President Tusk that narrowed down the issues. It would have been much easier for the Prime Minister to set out a long list of demands but, because of the seriousness of the negotiations, those have been narrowed down, as set out in that letter. One of the European Union’s charges against the previous Government was that they had not been specific enough about what sort of future relationship they sought in the political declaration. The letter answered that very clearly: a “best in class” FTA, and one that covers not only the economic side, but security and other aspects. There is substance there. The problem with the other side is that they do not want to leave at all, and therefore they will not take yes for an answer.
Policing and Security
I spoke this week to the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister about security matters and exiting the European Union. My Department’s Ministers and officials hold regular meetings with the Home Office, and we are working closely to prepare for business, keeping our plans under rigorous review, and I will continue to do so.
Under a no-deal Brexit, UK police would lose access to 40 enforcement tools, including the European arrest warrant and access to European information databases, which are vital for identifying international terrorists and criminals who could be targeting this country. Can the Minister explain how that is assisting us to take back control of our borders?
One thing that will certainly assist is the 20,000 extra police officers—[Interruption.] I do want to get down to the specifics, but the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for making a political point, given that we are now into an election—at least, we think that we are into an election. On the specific details, Interpol notices function very similarly to SIS alerts. The hon. Gentleman reasonably talks about the European arrest warrant. In the event that we leave without a deal, the UK will operate the Council of Europe convention on extradition with EU member states. We have worked intensively with operational partners, both here and across the EU, to ensure that there is a smooth transition between the two.
Operation Yellowhammer found that a no-deal Brexit could lead to
“a rise in public disorder and community tensions”.
Do the Government not recognise that the toxic and irresponsible use of language, such as “collaborators”, “treachery” and “surrender”, deepens the divisions in our country and puts the public at risk, including Members of this House? Have they not learnt the tragic lessons of history?
Let me gently say to the hon. Gentleman that one thing that will lead to unrest and unhappiness is the ignoring of the public and the referendum result. However, we continue to work with the police and the Army in the normal way.
Legal Services Sector
Let me start by thanking my hon. Friend, who does not seem to be in the Chamber—[Hon. Members: “He is in the Chamber.”] I apologise. That was in no way an insult to my hon. Friend’s height or presence. I congratulate him on his work in the Justice Committee.
The Government are committed to maintaining, over time, the growth in the United Kingdom’s £4.4 billion trade surplus in legal services, and that includes setting the right framework in future trade negotiations.
There is always more than one way to be overlooked.
Does the Minister accept that, at present, the United Kingdom has the second largest market in legal services in the world, and the largest in the European Union? That is because of the unparalleled access that British lawyers currently have to EU legal markets under the appropriate directives. Does the Minister recognise that if we are to avoid the 10% hit that the Law Society estimates would be taken by this country’s income from its legal services in the event of a no-deal Brexit, we must not only preserve maximum access to those markets, but develop a comprehensive strategy across all Departments to market British legal services as a world centre of excellence elsewhere?
I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Given that 6.5% of global legal services pass through the United Kingdom and three out of 15 top firms are based internationally in the UK, it is essential for us to work on a cross-departmental basis. The Legal Services are GREAT campaign is a good example of this ambitious programme. Since its launch in Singapore in October 2017, it has operated in more than 30 countries, with trade missions to Kazakhstan, China, Chile and Nigeria. Those missions are very effective, and they will continue.
Freedom of Movement
The European Union has confirmed that it will grant UK nationals visa-free travel to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, even in a no-deal scenario. In the event of no deal, however, the arrangements for UK nationals travelling to European Union countries will change, and we have published advice on gov.uk on the steps that they will need to take.
Many EU nationals in my constituency have endured incredible stress and anxiety owing to the uncertainty that they have faced since the referendum. Their rights have been used as a bargaining chip with the EU, and the new Home Secretary even proposed legislation to stop freedom of movement immediately after no deal. Will the Minister assure us that citizens’ rights will no longer be used as a negotiating tool, and will be unilaterally guaranteed?
Citizens’ rights will not be used as a negotiating tool., and they have not been used as a negotiating tool. The hon. Lady has mischaracterised the position. It is the Prime Minister who has made a big bold offer to EU citizens, and it is now for member states to reciprocate.
What assessment have the Government made of the impact on people with pre-existing health conditions who will no longer be able to use their European health insurance cards to cover their conditions if they either live in the EU or are travelling?
That will depend on decisions and arrangements with individual countries. The UK has made a big bold offer to EU nationals in this country, and I encourage those countries to reciprocate.
I welcome the Minister to his post. As he will know, over the summer recess a Home Office advertisement relating to settled status was banned for being misleading. The uncertainty created by conflicting messages is causing real fear among EU citizens in the UK and the British in Europe.
On 21 August, I wrote to the Secretary of State seeking clarity on five key issues. I have not received a reply, so I wonder whether the Minister can answer one of those questions now. I am reassured by his indication that he likes to engage in detail. EU citizens were promised that if the UK left the EU without a deal, their rights would be the same as they would be under the withdrawal agreement. Can the Minister confirm that, despite previous indications to the contrary, the Government will retain the right to appeal against settled-status decisions in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
The settled status scheme is working very well: more than 1 million of the 3 million people have applied, nobody has been rejected, and people may apply all the way up to 31 December 2020.
The Government are delivering more than 300 specific no-deal projects across a range of sectors and delivery is well advanced. There is still more work to do and we are turbo-charging our preparation under the leadership of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
We have heard so much nonsense this morning—in fact over the last three years—that it was not really a surprise to hear the Secretary of State talk about a “depreciation of experts” in the Government. Last night this House voted for legislation to block a no-deal Brexit; does he accept the vote of this House and will his Government strictly adhere to the rule of law when this Bill has Royal Assent?
It is a little dismissive for the hon. Gentleman to say that all this is nonsense. That was the first SNP question, so saying that we have already heard the nonsense seems a tad premature. The reality is that the Government are preparing extensively for no deal. We have a big information campaign that has launched, over 300 projects are under way, and we are working actively and constructively with the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government.
My hon. Friend is a keen observer of these matters, and he is absolutely correct: the decision on an extension is not a—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) says “So what”; I am merely stating the legal position. I am sorry that she finds the legal position somewhat distasteful, but that is the legal position. The legal position on an extension is that it requires the support of every member state including the United Kingdom, so my hon. Friend is correct. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady keeps chuntering, but my hon. Friend is correct: we would need to continue to prepare for no deal, because it is within the scope of any member state to block an extension. That is the legal position.
Not just this Government will pay attention; I am sure the people of Scotland will pay attention to a vote against democracy. It is not the first time that those on the SNP Benches have ignored the votes of the British people, whether in the referendum in 2014 that they want to overturn or in the referendum of the United Kingdom in 2016. They seem to have a problem with listening to the democratic will of the people.
In my discussions with Associated British Ports, which manages the port of Immingham and the other Humber ports, there is a clear indication that they are well prepared in their contingency plans to handle any problems that may occur. Can the Secretary of State confirm that our ports are indeed well prepared for no deal and also that they can take much heart from the advantages, such as free-port status, that will be available post-Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before the reshuffle I met the ABP and others looking at these issues, and their preparations are well advanced. He will also know that the Government have allocated additional funding for those ports, and he will be aware that, although in this place a huge amount of the debate tends to focus on Dover because of the vehicle flow through it, in terms of the containers and value of goods, the other ports are actually more significant.
The Yellowhammer report that the Government are determined to hide from us warns of delays of up to two and a half days at ports, freight target capacity being reduced by between 40% and 60% and, in terms, medical supplies being vulnerable to severe extended delays. The Government tried to pretend that that was an old report, but that was not true. It is dated August 2019. They also tried to pretend that it represented the very worst case scenario, but that is not true either. It is a reasonable worst case scenario: not the most likely, but likely enough to need to be planned for. When will the Government accept that all the trade organisations, professional bodies and people who understand the industry who are saying that no deal will be a disaster are right, and that it is this Government who are wrong?
There is an oddity within the hon. Gentleman’s question. He accuses us of hiding the Yellowhammer documentation, yet it is shared with the Scottish Government as part of our internal working to prepare for no deal. We are not hiding it; in Government we prepare documents and on that basis we put in place funding and other measures to tackle them. In fact, the Public Accounts Committee, among others, would be the first to criticise us if that detailed preparation was not taking place.
Will the Government give absolutely unreserved and unrestricted permission to the Governments of Scotland and Wales to publish that report in full today: yes or no?
It is always the case that in Government we prepare documents in order to ensure that we have preparations in place. The point is to determine what is likely to be the impact on the EU27, for example, and what we can put in place to address concerns such as those on the flow of goods. I referred earlier to the fact that two thirds of Ireland’s medicines come through Britain. I could also have mentioned the fact that 40% of Irish exports go through Dover. This is an issue that concerns the Commission and the United Kingdom. That is why we are preparing these documents, and we are working openly with the Scottish Government and others on that. That is what the Government should be doing.
EU Settlement Scheme
I spoke to the Home Secretary this week on the issues of the EU settlement scheme. The scheme is operating well: 1 million people have passed through the scheme out of the 3 million, and there have been no rejected applications. The Prime Minister has made a big, bold offer to EU citizens, who remain our friends and neighbours and who are welcome here in the United Kingdom.
The Minister says that the system is working well, but I can tell him that the reality is that it is not. My wife Cyndi is an EU citizen and, due to the Government rhetoric, she reluctantly decided to apply for settled status. I can tell the Minister that the system crashed, and that the officials operating it said that they could not handle the volume of traffic. Is it because this process is a shambles that the Government have had to do a U-turn on the threat to end freedom of movement on 31 October, or is it the threat of court action that has caused the U-turn?
We have improved the system on an ongoing basis, and we are keen to do so. The default position is that we want people to get that settled status. The hon. Gentleman makes specific points about a specific case, and I am sure that the Home Office would be happy to look at that and to understand how it can improve the system further.
Since I last updated the House, I have had the pleasure of welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) to his ministerial place. I should like to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) and for Braintree (James Cleverly), who have now both joined me in the Cabinet. We have a new Prime Minister, who is committed to leaving on 31 October, and within the ministerial portfolios I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who has taken on responsibility for domestic operational planning in the context of no deal. This enables me and my Department to focus on negotiations with the EU, in which we will seek to achieve a best-in-class free trade agreement. Throughout the summer I have visited a number of European capitals and had regular conversations with my key interlocutors, including the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland and the French Europe Minister, with whom I had recent productive meetings in Paris.
If I was still a serving police officer and I arrested a European national who, unbeknown to me, was wanted for a string of serious violent sexual offences, at the moment I would simply have to access a database on booking him into custody in order to find that out. Will the Secretary of State spell out in detail how I or my custody sergeant would do that if we were to leave without a deal on 31 October?
Under the current position, that would depend upon to which member state the situation pertained. We already have in place a bilateral arrangement with Ireland to reflect the common travel area, but the arrangements vary between member states. However, the premise of the hon. Lady’s question is right, because the UK puts more data into the European arrest warrant system than any other member state, and we think that the UK’s contribution is of value to the European Union and that it is not in its interest to put its citizens at risk by not reciprocating. We stand ready to work with member states, but it is the European Commission and my counterpart Michel Barnier who have ruled out what he calls “mini-deals” to address the hon. Lady’s concerns.
As was covered earlier in the question session, a huge amount of work has been done by the Department of Health and Social Care, including on additional procurement capacity and express delivery. That builds on extensive work by the industry, including the additional stock and additional flow capacity that it has procured.
I want to ask specifically about the important issue of Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government remain fully committed to all the existing elements of the December 2017 joint report between the UK and the EU negotiators? Yes or no?
Our commitments were set out in the letter to President Tusk. It contains our commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which includes putting no infrastructure at the border to impede north-south flow.
I asked a careful question, and I got a careful answer, which did not confirm full commitment, so let me press on. It has been reported this week that EU member states were told by the European Commission that the UK Government were proposing to reduce the ambitions of the 2017 joint report relating to Northern Ireland—not the Good Friday agreement, but the 2017 joint report. In particular, it has been reported that the UK is rowing back from the “legally operable” solutions to avoiding a hard border to what has been described as “aspirational” measures—that is quite specific. The pledge now is only to have trade across the Irish border that is “as frictionless as possible”—again, a difference. These are important issues, and I know that there has been a bit of knockabout this morning, but this is of huge importance across Ireland. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to reject those reports and make it clear that there will be no rowing back from the solemn commitments made two years ago in the 2017 joint report?
First, as I said in my previous answer, there has been no rowing back from the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which is an area of common accord between us. Secondly, the reason I pointed towards north-south co-operation is that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware, the Prime Minister drew a distinction in the letter to President Tusk between the backstop and the Northern Ireland protocol. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will also know that, while the two terms are often used interchangeably in the Chamber, there is a distinction between them, particularly on the basis that the north-south co-operation, the common travel area and the benefits of the single electricity market are distinct from the points in terms of alignment.
As for his further question around the legally operative text, I addressed that point to some extent in my remarks in the Chamber yesterday in that there is a distinction between the European Commission saying that all aspects need to be set out in a legally operative text by 31 October and looking at, for example, what role the joint committee will have during the implementation period, because the implementation period means that things need to be in place by the end of December 2020 or, if extended by mutual agreement, for one or two further years. It is therefore within that that there is a distinction to be drawn.
Yes, we need to know who, at the 17 October council, can negotiate for the British people and, in particular, who can deliver on the express will set out in the referendum. What we have from Labour Members is doublespeak that will leave us in legislative purgatory, because they are saying, on the one hand, that they will vote against every deal that is put forward—three times they voted against the deal, and their own deal was rejected by the House as well—yet they also vote against a no deal.
Well, the inevitable consequence is that they are not prepared to leave, even though their own manifesto said they are. The real question for the British public at the next election will be, how can they trust what Labour says in its manifesto on Brexit when it has gone back on every word it said at the last general election?
I think the Chair of the Select Committee would concede that, of the holders of my role—I know there has been more than one—I have probably been the most frequent in appearing before his Committee and others. Actually, that is not the case when compared with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), but it is when compared with my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), who is now Foreign Secretary.
On the substance of the question, there has been a huge amount of work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) asked about the different working groups, for example, and I chair the technical working group. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union chairs the business group, and he was in Northern Ireland with that group over the summer.
Again, it goes to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow. Work has been going on throughout the summer on alternative arrangements, but if it is simply published against an all-weather, all-insurance test, it will be dismissed, as it was under the last Government, as magical thinking. That is what the last Government experienced. We need to get into the detail, and that work is going on, but it needs to be discussed in the appropriate way.
My hon. Friend raises a specific issue and, as a former Economic Secretary to the Treasury, I know the markets take a keen interest in such discussions. If I may, I will ask the Chancellor or the Economic Secretary to come back to him on this specific issue.
I think the hon. Lady would agree that there is more than one voice in Tooting. I am sure there will be a range of voices, as indeed there is, but I do not resile from the fact that I am sure she speaks for a majority in her constituency in making that point.
My approach is that when this Parliament says it will give the British people their say, when the Government of the day write to the British people saying they will honour the result and when this House then votes by a significant margin to trigger article 50 to deliver on that result, it undermines our democracy if Members of this House, on the one hand, vote against a deal and then, on the other hand, say they will not countenance a no deal. I think that is a threat to our democracy, and I think it is a threat to our international reputation as a country that defends democracy around the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed that it will support farmers in the same cash terms as they have been supported under the current scheme. We are working with farmers to look at new markets and, across Government, we continue to work with businesses, both large and small. We are particularly encouraging small businesses to engage with the Government in their preparation for the eventuality of no deal.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his grand tour of Europe in recent weeks during the recess, notably to Finland, a nation of 5 million people and an enthusiastic member of the European Union. Given that the UK was only the seventh largest importer to Finland in 2018, how will leaving the single market and the customs union improve that dismal position?
On the one hand, colleagues question whether we are engaging and on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman appears to suggest that we are engaging too much. He needs to make up his mind.
On how we promote further trade, first, there are opportunities beyond Europe that we are keen to seize, and we have a Secretary of State for International Trade. [Interruption.] On Finland, about which the hon. Gentleman is chuntering, I chaired a breakfast meeting with business leaders when I was in Helsinki and we looked at, for example, links on key areas such as timber where there is an appetite to strengthen bilateral trade further. There was a huge appetite among the business leaders I spoke to there to do more trade with the United Kingdom, including with Scotland as part of that United Kingdom.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Government’s review of HS2.
This is my first time at the Dispatch Box as Secretary of State for Transport and I welcome the opportunity to update the House on HS2.
There is no future in obscuring the cost benefits or timetable of HS2, so on 21 August I announced an independent cross-party review, led by Douglas Oakervee, of whether and how HS2 should or should not proceed. The review will consider the project’s affordability, deliverability, benefits, scope and phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail. The chair will be supported by a deputy chair, Lord Berkeley, and a panel of experts from business, academia and transport to ensure that its assessment programme is independent, thorough and objective. Some of the individuals on the panel have been passionate advocates and others have been vocal critics of the project, but they will provide input to and be consulted on the report’s conclusions.
The review is under way and will report to me on time this autumn. I will discuss its findings with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and its recommendations will help to inform our decisions on the next step or otherwise for this project.
Colleagues will be aware that on our first day back, 3 September, I placed in the House advice that I received over the summer from the recently appointed chairman of HS2 Ltd, Allan Cook, on the cost and deliverability of the current scheme. He has said that he does not believe that the current scheme can be delivered within the budget of £55.7 billion, set at 2015 prices. He estimates that it requires a total budget, including contingency, in the range of £72 billion to £78 billion, again set at 2015 prices. The chairman does not believe that the current schedule of 2026 will be met for the initial services of phase 1. He does not think that that is realistic.
In line with lessons from other large major transport infrastructure projects, the chairman’s advice proposes a range of start dates rather than a specific one. He recommends 2028-31 for phase 1, starting with initial services between London Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street, followed by services to and from London Euston later. He expects phase 2b—the full high-speed line to Manchester and Leeds—to be open between 2035 and 2040.
The chairman is also of the view that the benefits of the current scheme are substantially undervalued. All those matters will now be considered by Douglas Oakervee within the scope of Oakervee review.
When I announced the independent review into HS2, I said that I want Doug Oakervee and his panel to assess independently the findings and other available existing evidence. The review will provide recommendations on whether and how we proceed.
I wish to make one further, wider point. Everyone in the House knows that we must invest in modern infrastructure to ensure the future prosperity of our nation. However, it is right that we subject every single project to the most rigorous scrutiny possible. If we are truly to maximise every opportunity, this must always be done with an open mind and a clean sheet of paper.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his new responsibilities and welcome the review that the Government have set up.
I have three questions for my right hon. Friend. First, in view of this week’s revelation that HS2 is overrunning both its budget and its schedule—something that many of us have been predicting for a long time but that has been systematically denied for years by HS2 Ltd and by his Department—what assurance can my right hon. Friend give about the transparency of both the review that has been commissioned and the Government’s formal response to it?
Secondly, my right hon. Friend will know that enabling works for HS2 are still being carried out along phase 1 of the route. Ancient woodlands are being felled. Productive farmland is being occupied and used by HS2 Ltd. Public money is being spent on these works even though, as my right hon. Friend says, the review may lead to a recommendation to cancel or significantly change the project altogether. Will the Secretary of State now accept that those works are prejudicial to the outcome of the review that he has established and order that they cease?
Thirdly, I have a queue of constituents whose land has been taken by HS2 Ltd for preparatory works, but who have still to receive the payments that were formally agreed with HS2 Ltd. The Government have rightly committed to crack down on late payment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that HS2 Ltd should be setting an example in this regard, not acting as a laggard? As he, as Secretary of State, is the sole shareholder in HS2 Ltd, will he now take responsibility for insisting that HS2 Ltd puts this injustice right immediately?
First, on the budget and the schedule, it is exactly as I said in my opening statement: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no future in trying to obscure costs or in being unclear. It is the case that in a massive, developing infrastructure project—Europe’s biggest—costs just are not known. They are speculated about and then start to firm up, in this case, literally as we start to dig into the ground. I can see how over a period of time things move. None the less, I take the view that as soon as I have the information, I will inform the House—as soon as I got that Cook report and the House returned, I stuck it straight into the Library. I assure my right hon. Friend that I will continue to do exactly that going forward.
Secondly, it might be helpful to colleagues to know that I have asked for Douglas Oakervee to meet Members of Parliament. He will be in Committee Room 2A on Monday 9 September, between 3.30 pm and 5 pm. That is an opportunity for any colleagues to go and see him. Colleagues can make their own arrangements with him separately, and I will inform the House of that.
Thirdly, on the enabling works, we are in a position where I have to make a go/no-go decision in December. I know that this will not a delight my right hon. Friend, but it seemed to me that if we did not continue to make preparatory works, I would not even be in the position to make a go/no-go decision. I am sorry to disappoint my right hon. Friend, but that is the current position. We can then take a decision.
I share my right hon. Friend’s concern and anxiety about compulsory purchase order payments. When people’s lives, livelihoods and homes are potentially going to be ripped apart by a project that is supposedly for the wider good, it is right that the state compensates them promptly and efficiently. I would be most grateful to see more details of the cases he mentioned. I have already had one across my desk, which I have sorted out, and I would like to see others. There is no excuse for a CPO for which people are not paid.
I too congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and welcome him to his place. He comes into post at a time of crisis for the country, but at an absolutely critical moment for HS2.
I gently remind the Secretary of State that we did ask for regular reports and recommended a peer review when phase 2a was before the House some weeks ago. I am sorry that he was not able to vote for that—or, indeed, that the Prime Minister was not able to express a view at all.
The Secretary of State mentioned that the review that is under way is a cross-party one, but I gently point out that there has been no consultation whatever with me. If it is to be genuinely cross-party, perhaps he might want to take up that invitation.
We have consistently been told by the Secretary of State’s predecessor and the then ministerial team that the 2015 figure of £55.7 billion for the entire project was the full cost of HS2 and that there was no reason to change it. It is hard to conclude anything other than that it has been plain and obvious for some considerable time that this was not accurate. Will the Transport Secretary tell us when his predecessor was told that the figure of £55.7 billion was not accurate or sustainable, and when he was first told that the timetable for delivery could not be adhered to?
Is this not yet more evidence that this Government have totally failed to exercise any control over the project—not just over costs, but with regard to redundancy payments and key appointments that transpired to be unsustainable? In addition, when the contracts for phase 1 were being granted, despite hedge fund managers making a packet out of the inevitable demise of Carillion, this Tory Government crashed on regardless, awarding the doomed organisation a valuable HS2 contract.
It is beyond doubt that the Government have been totally incompetent and reckless, but, worse than that, there hangs over this Government the unpleasant smell that Parliament may have been misled—however unwittingly—given that it is stark staringly obvious that when the Minister responsible for HS2 stood at the Dispatch Box a matter of weeks ago to tell the House that there was only one figure and one figure alone for HS2 that assertion was completely and totally inaccurate. If there is going to be delay, what assurances can the Secretary of State give to the 9,000 people currently employed by HS2?
This Government continue to be characterised by a lack of transparency. I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks that he intends to put that right, but it still remains, as does a lack of candour. Once we can be assured that there is no prospect of the Government reneging on the legislation to avoid a no-deal Brexit, Labour relishes the prospect of a general election to turf them out.
On regular reports, I will come back to the House as many times as it is prepared to hear about this matter, and I will continue to update Members in every possible way. It might be helpful if I were to make the introduction—if the hon. Gentleman has not already had it—to Doug Oakervee; perhaps I could organise for the hon. Gentleman to meet him separately. Of course, there are cross-party members on the review panel and it is genuinely full of sceptics. I think people were surprised when we launched a review of this project that had such a broad, cross-party view.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that prices have changed over time. I seem to recall that this was originally a project by the previous Labour Government, and that when it was conceived the whole thing was going to cost about £13 billion. One of the issues that we have, which is a wider issue than just HS2, is that these things start off being fixed at a price of a particular period of time—the figure of £55.7 billion was about 2015 prices—and that does not actually allow for inflation. We therefore end up quoting prices that are just out of date. On that basis, every project will always be said to have overrun on cost, although of course the benefits probably improve as well. We have to find better ways of doing all this.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the first time that I received advice on this matter was Allan Cook’s final report on 1 August, and that is the report that I published. Finally, I undertake to ensure that we return to the House with every update that we have, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to be involved in the Oakervee review.
As colleagues will be aware, there is pressure on time today, because there are several further pieces of business to follow, but equally and understandably there is intense interest in this monumental mess and I know that the Secretary of State is very keen, to his credit, to answer questions, so I shall do my best, as always, to accommodate the understandable interest of colleagues.
Mr Speaker, I was just about to say that there are Members affected by this project who do not have a voice, and I was going to include you, but clearly that is not the case. Of course, there is also my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who has always joined me in the fight against HS2.
In welcoming the Secretary of State to his position, may I also welcome my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington)? It is so good to hear his voice raised in this Chamber against this dreadful project, and I endorse everything he said. It applies to my constituency as well.
The Secretary of State also needs to look at the national rail travel survey, on which one of the raisons d’être for this project is based, but which has not been updated since 2010. In answers to me, the Department does not appear to know how much it would cost to update it. That, coupled with the fact that we are still not allowed to see the passenger forecasting documentation, means that transparency is far from the watchword of HS2. Pages right the way through the chairman’s stocktake have been redacted. Transparency is not the order of the day.
The Secretary of State should grasp with both hands this opportunity to review the project entirely and review the nationwide transport and communication policy. I urge him to take a deep breath and carry out a comprehensive assessment across car, bus, train and air, as well as new technologies such as 5G and broadband, because it is essential that we look at the technological advances before we let this project go any further.
As the carriages being built for Crossrail pile up in Worksop because we cannot get that project right, let us draw a deep breath, cancel this project, start again and get a decent comprehensive transport policy.
I know that Douglas Oakervee will have been listening to my right hon. Friend’s words with great interest and will no doubt take into account the national rail travel survey information. She will of course meet him as well. I will just reflect on her final point—because of course Douglas Oakervee is looking at all this—about all forms of travel across the country. I entirely agree with her. Having ordered it two years ago, I recently got an electric car. It finally arrived a couple of weeks ago. It is clear that transport is changing in this country and that we have to take a more holistic view of it. Rail is one part, but there is much else to consider.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. He must be so thankful to have inherited another failing Grayling legacy.
We know that the increased costs and delays have been covered up since 2016 and denied at the Dispatch Box, so, while I welcome the review, should there not be an inquiry into this hiding of key information from the House? While I welcome the review, I find it strange that about a third of the document that sets out its terms has been redacted. Can he explain why?
What changes will be made to the cost-benefit criteria, and why? While the Secretary of State said that many of the benefits of the scheme were previously underestimated, I would remind him that the business case rested on the assumption that time business people spent travelling by train should be treated as downtime, meaning that shorter train journeys were treated as increasing productive time, when clearly that is not the case now that we have wi-fi on the go. Will he confirm that that aspect of the business case will not be over-egged?
The current proposals also mean that journeys north of Crewe to Scotland will be slower than the existing Virgin service. Will the review look at that and perhaps a different type of rolling stock? If it does, what will that mean for the existing rolling stock and ongoing procurement? What further reviews and cost-benefit analyses will be done of track design that could mean slower high-speed trains but reduced costs? What is the contractual status of the recent contract awards to First Trenitalia, given that the Government might now be doing a full stock decision? What would that mean for that contract? What is the committed spend, to date, in the Barnett allocations to Scotland, and what will happen going forward? We were promised at the Dispatch Box that on day one of the high-speed trains operating they would go all the way to Scotland, and that is now not the case. Will the Secretary of State answer those questions and, if not, please put his responses in writing?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I write to him on some of that, rather than detain the House on all of it. He is absolutely right about the Allan Cook report. I should have mentioned that in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). I am unhappy about having any of that report redacted. I have read the rest of it. It is not hugely exciting. I pushed back on that with the Department, and apparently it is just that the lawyers are saying that it is commercially confidential stuff that I cannot force to be released. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be much better if we could read every single page, but that is the law. [Interruption.] I do not disagree—it is just that lawyers will not allow it to happen.
On downtime when travelling, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Lots of people work very productively when travelling. It is my favourite time to work uninterrupted. I can assure him that Doug Oakervee will look at that. Allan Cook referred to some of the build benefits where there could be new industry, homes and so on in an area where a line runs.
The last point I will comment on—I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the rest—is the implications for the west coast partnership. That is very important. Under the contract, I think in 2026—it would be in line with if HS2 went ahead—the company would become a shadow operator, so it is built into that contract if the thing goes ahead.
Order. There is a further urgent question after this and there are then three ministerial statements before we get to the Backbench business. Therefore, there is a premium upon brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike. For the avoidance of doubt, what I am looking for from colleagues is not dilation and not preamble but single-sentence questions, which will be brilliantly exemplified, I feel sure, by the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin).
Thank you for that challenge, Mr Speaker. May I first welcome my right hon. Friend to his position?
The easiest thing for the Government to do is to cancel this project. That would be easy to do, but it would be the wrong thing to do, for this reason: I would find it ironical that, as we leave the European Union, I can get a high-speed train to Paris or to Brussels but not to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds or Sheffield. My right hon. Friend talks about the overspend, but we seem to be able to accommodate at the drop of a hat the overspend on the Crossrail project, which is overrunning. That is a London project that is incredibly important for London, but we do not take a similar view of a project that has been long thought out and is absolutely essential for the major cities outside London.
I am not short of advice on what to do on HS2, but few pieces of advice come from somebody as distinguished as a former Transport Secretary. I have heard what he has had to say, as I know Doug Oakervee will have done, and I look forward to taking it into account.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place.
The Secretary of State must understand the huge disappointment in the east midlands that HS2 phase 2b —which will, as the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) said, transform connectivity between Birmingham and the economies of the midlands, Yorkshire, the north-east and Scotland—is now facing a delay of up to seven years, or even cancellation. That is particularly the case when the Chancellor failed to even mention the midlands rail hub in his spending review, and when the Secretary of State’s predecessor not only repeatedly assured us that HS2 would happen but cancelled the electrification of the midland main line. I know that the Oakervee review is due to report, but the disappointment will turn to deep anger if the Secretary of State does not ensure that the midlands receives the investment in its transport that it needs.
I thank the hon. Lady; it is a pleasure to have a question from the Chair of the Transport Committee. The one thing I can assure her of is that there will be £48 billion of other unrelated rail investment over the next few years, so both the midlands and the northern powerhouse rail side of things will certainly have huge—massive—investment.
Reiterating my plea for brevity, I hopefully call Sir William Cash.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. First, I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. Secondly, I entirely endorse the views of my right hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) and for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). The reality is that this whole project is completely out of control. The costs have gone up repeatedly. I voted against it. There is a petition in the House of Lords, which my constituents were absolutely right to pursue. This whole project is a complete white elephant and should be cancelled.
As I say, I am not short of advice on this, and Doug Oakervee will definitely have heard my hon. Friend’s words.
I will try to be brief, Mr Speaker. I have always been against this. I was reviled by Ministers when I said that the cost would end up at £100 billion. I wanted the investment in a network across the north of England in preference to this. Will the Secretary of State assure me that we will learn the lessons? This is a great sector that we do wonderful things in. We built the Olympics on time, and it was magnificent. I understand that there are 12 gagging orders for senior former employees of HS2 Ltd. Can they give evidence to this inquiry, and can we ensure that we learn the lessons? We are good in this sector, so why has this gone wrong?
Even with the Olympics, the cost changed over a period. The hon. Gentleman will know that big projects require management, and the process is designed to ensure that this is properly grasped. I agree with him—we need to deliver that transport infrastructure across the north. I am surprised that no Member has mentioned it yet, but these two questions are not entirely unrelated, so we must get it right for the north and for all our country.
I am not sure it is the entirely appropriate expression to congratulate my right hon. Friend on inheriting responsibility for HS2, but I wholeheartedly congratulate him on becoming the Secretary of State. In agreeing entirely with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) said, may I press the Secretary State on the point he made about enabling works? As he knows, there is more than one kind of enabling work currently under way. Some of the enabling work is the destruction of ancient woodland sites. There are seven of them in my constituency, along with a very old and much valued pear tree in the village of Cubbington. Given that he has announced an all-options review, including the possibility that this project will be cancelled or significantly revised, surely it is possible and sensible to categorise those types of enabling work that will do irreversible damage and postpone them until the review has concluded. He has already announced a substantial delay in this project. Surely a delay of a few weeks more would be sensible, to ensure that we do not do irreversible damage.
As I said before, to have a proper go/no-go decision, we need to continue to allow enabling works. However, I can ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who is handling these major projects, to meet my right hon. and learned Friend to discuss that specific concern.
Unlike Derbyshire Dales, HS2 goes through many villages in the Bolsover and north-east Derbyshire area. The result is that there are a lot of people in those villages—more than 100—affected by HS2. I want to know as soon as possible just exactly what is going to happen to this £100 billion project. It goes through Derbyshire on two separate lines. Not only does it go past Sheffield; it also stops at a Sheffield station, so there is a slow track and a fast track in Derbyshire. The idea that HS2 is based upon getting to London 30 minutes sooner is a joke and, for that reason, the Secretary of State should start over again.
I know that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is affected in a big way. I refer to what I said before. This project affects a lot of people’s lives, with demolitions and the rest of it in his patch. He asked me to do this as soon as possible. I have Douglas Oakervee on an unbelievable timetable, supported by a fantastic group of people, to get this done and reported back this autumn. The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait before the end of the year.
Long Eaton, Sandiacre and Stanton Gate are grossly affected by the eastern arm of HS2 but, as the Chair of the Transport Committee has already indicated, it brings advantages as well—jobs and growth as well as the pain. I will say two things. One is that any delay causes further stress and uncertainty not just for residents, but for businesses. They will be blighted for ever more, even if my right hon. Friend takes the easier way out and cancels the eastern arm. My plea to him is: do not cancel that eastern arm. I will not allow the east midlands and Erewash to be the poor relations yet again.
I think every exchange indicates that, while everyone is able to welcome a review, when we get to the announcement of that review on the other side the House will not be quite so united, but I absolutely hear my hon. Friend’s comments.
Inflation aside, this multi-billion increase in cost betrays nothing other than sheer incompetence in the management of this project. In the west midlands, 100,000 jobs are now in jeopardy; hundreds of millions of pounds of new rates are now in jeopardy; and the future prospects of the younger generation are now in jeopardy. I want to know from the Secretary of State what compensation has been sought by the Mayor of the West Midlands, because my understanding is that he has asked for precisely nothing?
We have a range of different people on the Doug Oakervee board, including Andy Street, and we are making sure that all the representations go into it. As I say, I do not want to rush to prejudge this. We do know certain things. We know from the Allan Cook report about the range of £72 billion to £78 billion. I do not have confidence in the data I have been provided with to know yet whether the benefits have outstripped or under-stripped these various different costs. I just start with a blank sheet of paper. I just want the data: give me the facts and then we will be in a much better position to decide, including for people throughout the west midlands.
I am sure I was as pleased as you were, Mr Speaker, to hear about the review undertaken by the new Secretary of State. Can he reassure me that, as part of the new cost-benefit analysis, the review will take into account that many people work very hard while on trains, as I am about to do as I return to my constituency on a high-speed train run by Chiltern Rail?
Absolutely. Travelling on a train can be a fantastic way to chomp through constituency work or anything else that people are doing on business or for pleasure. It is one of the most civilised ways to work—when we have our trains running on time, which is another related priority.
Will the Government widen this review not just to their complete lack of grip on the HS2 project, but to the continued failure of the Department to remember that there are towns as well as cities in this country? It is continually locking billions of pounds into ever-delayed, ever-escalating projects for cities, while towns such as Castleford and Pontefract have inadequate trains—overcrowded, old Pacer trains, with no disabled access to our trains—and, once again, we are just expected to accept a trickle-down of benefits many decades into the future. It is not good enough. When will we actually get a fair deal for our towns?
As the representative of two towns—one, Welwyn Garden, calls itself a city, but it is actually a town—I absolutely agree with the idea that towns have a significant part to play in the economic and social life of our country. One good piece of news: those Pacers are finally going by the end of this year.[Official Report, 9 September 2019, Vol. 664, c. 5MC.]
At what level of exorbitant expenditure will the Government finally decide to pull the plug?
As I say, it is not just a question of the expenditure. As I mentioned before, it is also what the benefits are. May I ask my right hon. Friend just to be patient enough so that the data is covered on both sides of that, and we can come to a rational and sensible decision?
Colleagues should now follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) with single- sentence questions. If they do not—let us be absolutely clear—they are stopping other colleagues taking part. It is as simple as that.
Will the Secretary of State commit to look at any new major transport infrastructure projects in line with the 2050 net zero carbon target that this House has set itself?
There is a north-south divide when it comes to transport spending. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will consider the benefits to the northern economy when he reaches his decision?
What is the status of the review if we go to the polls this autumn? My constituents see this as a pre-election bribe for the Government’s voters in the shires.
This project is too serious to be thinking in those terms, and I certainly was not when I asked Douglas Oakervee to carry out this review. As I have now said twice, this is about people’s lives and livelihoods, and the ability of this country’s economy to function. Regardless of what happens when we finally get that election call, I hope there will be cross-party consensus to continue this important work on a cross-party basis and get the job done.
Will the Secretary of State look at the cost envelope by taking into account enhancements that benefit those on the route, inflation and incompetence?
As the terms of reference, which I encourage right hon. and hon. Members to read, make clear, this review is wide ranging and takes all such matters into account.
Given the delays to the southern section of the route, will the Secretary of State ask the review to consider the possibility of starting the northern sections before the southern section is finished, so that there is a degree of working overlap?
That is one of the things that Douglas Oakervee is looking at. Interestingly, Allan Cook’s report, which is in the Library, suggests doing phases 1 and 2a together.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that spiralling costs must be challenged and held to account, but this project is vital for the northern routes, which are already overstretched. Will he assure me that this review is not just a smokescreen to cancel the project, which many of our current Executive do not like?
My hon. Friend’s question reminds me of a clip that I made on the day of announcing this full, thorough and open review. When the camera was switched off they said, “What do you really think?” What I really think is that we should have a full, thorough and open review.
Business leaders in Sheffield are deeply concerned about this review. Does the Secretary of State recognise that, whatever else he is considering, cancellation would damage the northern economy?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, whatever happens, the northern economy and northern powerhouse rail is set to steam ahead.
Will the review take into account the potential negative effects of the business case on the existing and vital west coast main line?
Yes it will, and I ask my hon. Friend to meet Douglas Oakervee to make those points, because every element of this is being taken into account.
Are there not many abandoned former railway lines across the country for which, for the first time in a long time, there is now extensive demand? Those could be reopened for a fraction of the cost of HS2.
With huge respect to him, I curse Beeching every day in this job and I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.
What will be the effect of a delay or cancellation of HS2 on the west coast main line, which is of concern to my constituents in Rugby?
I do not think there is any direct ramification. We have just re-let the west coast partnership contract, so the answer to my hon. Friend is, none.
HS2 is vital for the economy of Manchester and the north. As the chairman’s stocktake says:
“HS2 is not a standalone railway but rather an integral part of ambitious regional growth plans,”
and it is already attracting investment. Will the Secretary of State assure us that those wider benefits will fully be taken into account in this review?
I can. I have met the Mayor of Manchester and Mayors across the north, and I am due to meet them again shortly. Those things absolutely will be taken into account.
I voted against HS2 every time. Would the money be better spent on improvements to our existing conventional rail network?
The answer is that I do not know, but I like to think that £48 billion on improving and upgrading our existing networks is a good down payment.
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport assured me that the full stretch of HS2 will go up to Scotland. Is that the case, and when?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are currently struggling with stages 1, 2a and 2b, but the overall plan was always to go further.
Will the Secretary of State commit to investing in the costs of places with collateral damage, such as villages such as Woore in my constituency that will suffer grievously during the construction process? Will he also commit to look at the value of spending £100 billion, which this project is cantering towards, on full-fibre broadband for every household?
We must have full-fibre broadband in every household, and that is a commitment of this Government regardless. My right hon. Friend describes devastation to villages, and I agree that we must find a better way of doing this. We must look after people properly when great national projects drive through their homes.
Significant UK and Welsh Government money, linked to HS2 at Crewe, is going into growth deals in north Wales. What opportunities are there for the Welsh Government to formally feed into the review?
There are enormous opportunities. If not on Monday, at the time I mentioned at the Dispatch Box earlier, then separately I am very happy to hook up the right hon. Gentleman, and any of his colleagues, with Doug Oakervee.
HS2 will be the most expensive railway ever built by mankind. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a very significant opportunity cost and therefore to get bang for our buck we should be investing in significant regional infrastructure projects?
That is very effective lobbying. My hon. Friend has already secured a great achievement with regards to the railway on his own Island. He proves that we can do both things simultaneously if we need to.
The key rail investment in the north has to be a high-speed link between Liverpool in the west and Hull in the east. Is it not right that any additional resources should be put into that, rather than HS2?
I would extend that further to Sheffield, Hull, Newcastle and other cities in the north. We can do both things and we will do both things: both upgrading the national rail infrastructure and—the Prime Minister mentioned this in his first speech, which he made in Manchester, so I think it would be a bit churlish not to recognise it—linking northern cities.
The problem with HS2 is that the benefits are not shared around the country. The west, in particular, gains nothing. Will the Secretary of State look at how we could put the money into electrification and rebuilding the Severn tunnel?
I do not know in what form this will or will not take place, but I do know that the jobs, skills and supply chain affect the entire nation. There is almost not a constituency in the country that would not benefit in some way. As with any big national infrastructure project, we need to ensure that the benefits of that work and supply chain are spread across the nation.
Given that the entire review will be completed in a matter of weeks, can the Secretary of State really have confidence that it will have thoroughly considered the impacts that scrapping or changing phases 2a and 2b would have on Crewe and Nantwich, as a significant centre of economic activity for the wider region?
Yes, I think I can reassure the hon. Lady that, although the review is reporting very quickly—within weeks, as she says—the experience on the panel adds up to years. I have not added it up, but it is possibly hundreds of years of rail experience. I think they will really take that into account. Again, I invite and welcome her to speak to Douglas Oakervee to make sure 2a and 2b are fully represented in her terms.
Can the Secretary of State give us a date for when we can expect HS2 to be extended to Scotland? If not, are the people of Scotland expected to sit and watch £100 billion being spent on this project when it literally pulls up short?
I do not want to disappoint the hon. Lady, but I cannot give her a date on the initial phases, let alone on that extension. I do think there is a very good point here about linking up our Union. I am pleased to see the nationalist side so onside with that project.
The Secretary of State mentions the extension to Scotland. However, journey times between Glasgow and Manchester will increase as a result of HS2. Will he ask the review to consider expediting an extension north to Glasgow from Manchester as a matter of urgency?
Again, I think this comes into the wider picture. The £48 billion of rail investment over five years means that we should be able to do lots of different things at the same time—and indeed, we are. I think that is part of the wider infrastructure project for improvements on rail throughout the country.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will respond to the urgent question of which I have given prior notice?
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive work over the summer on a range of issues, including those relating to Harland and Wolff. Secondly, may I remind Members that I have been held captive in the Whips Office for over three years and that this is therefore my first Dispatch Box appearance? I have to be honest and say that I am very grateful not to be the Government’s current Chief Whip.
As is my duty under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019, I will publish a report on or before 9 October to update on progress. Throughout the period ahead, I will be doing everything I can to support and encourage talks to succeed. Democratically elected politicians in Northern Ireland are best placed to take the decisions needed to support hospitals, schools and the police. I have seen the excellent work of civil servants in Northern Ireland over the last few weeks, but of course they cannot take the proactive decisions that are needed on public services or the economy in the run-up to 31 October. If we cannot secure the restoration of an Executive, we will pursue the decision-making powers that are needed at the earliest opportunity.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his role and his appearance at the Dispatch Box. He will know that Northern Ireland is in a unique position in the United Kingdom: it has no devolved Government, nor does the Secretary of State or any member of the UK Government have powers to deliver the kind of transformation that is needed. I know from my conversations with senior members of the Northern Ireland civil service that they are frustrated by their inability to make the decisions—whether on health, education or the issues that we now face—that Northern Ireland so desperately needs.
In that context, we face the Prorogation of Parliament and the possibility—I accept it is a possibility—of a no-deal Brexit and a general election coming fast down the track. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 will expire some time in October, and I have a number of specific questions that I need to put to the Secretary of State about the good governance of Northern Ireland.
The first examines the question of Prorogation. We know that we face the possibility of Prorogation next week and that that provides enormous challenges in terms of governance. Yes, if we can see Stormont back in operation, that will achieve what we need, but does the Secretary of State accept that there are real dangers during a period of Prorogation, in terms of the governance of Northern Ireland? Will he tell the House precisely when he was consulted about Prorogation? What advice did he give to the Prime Minister and other members of the Government?
Turning to a no-deal Brexit, the now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), told the House before the summer that in the circumstances that it “voted for no deal”, or in any case, if there were no deal, “we”—the Government—
“would have to start formal engagement with the Irish Government about…providing strengthened decision making in the event of that outcome. That would include the real possibility of imposing a form of direct rule.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 391.]
The Foreign Secretary told the “Today” programme that direct rule would require legislation and made it quite clear that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would need to follow that up. Does the Secretary of State accept that some form of direct governance—of direct accountability—would be necessary in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Can he tell us what steps he is taking?
Finally, in any part of the United Kingdom we expect the security of our people to be paramount. There will be some real questions about making sure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources that it needs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how he intends to make sure that the allocation of those resources ensures that the PSNI has the resource base and numbers that it needs? If this were your constituency, Mr Speaker, or Rochdale, Skipton and Ripon, Wales or Scotland, this situation would not be allowed to happen. I hope that the Secretary of State shares my view that this cannot be allowed to frustrate and put Northern Ireland in a position of discomfort, or worse.
The hon. Gentleman asks about dangers. I think I have been very honest with the House that powers are needed to ensure, not only in the current situation, where civil servants across Northern Ireland are making difficult decisions without political direction, but obviously in the run-up either to a deal or no deal, that the very tricky decisions can be made, and I am sure that those will have to be made at pace.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the legal advice on Prorogation. It was not something that I or my Department was involved in. That was a matter for the Attorney General. As Parliament is aware, the Cabinet was updated shortly before the decision was announced.
On what happens if the talks do not succeed in time, again, I have been clear that we need to have powers at the earliest opportunity because some of the challenges that will emerge will do so fairly soon, but we have to operate in the environment governed by the Good Friday agreement. On that point, certainly in the discussions that I am having with the Irish Foreign Secretary on the talks, the relationship is very positive.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the PSNI. As he will be aware, the PSNI has gained about £20 million of additional funding. However, when we look at how we direct funding and make those decisions, we see that, in order to ensure that a large and important part of our country is not left ungoverned at a difficult time, we do need powers to be in place.
Order. In the name of expediting business, I appeal for extreme brevity.
I echo entirely the concerns of the shadow Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend’s commitment to Northern Ireland is not in question, but the impression coming out of some sections of Government is that Northern Ireland could easily now be collateral damage, so may I ask him a specific question? He referred to the Attorney General’s legal advice on Prorogation, which he will have seen. Did it make specific reference to the unique and pressing needs of Northern Ireland, and how they might be attenuated as the Prime Minister set out his strategy, and if not, why not?
It would obviously be inappropriate for me to discuss the details of that legal advice in the House, but suffice it to say that I have indicated that, in order to preserve the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland, we need to get Stormont up and running again or, failing that, ensure that powers are in place to protect those rights, jobs and the economy and the commitments made by the Irish and UK Governments on the Good Friday agreement.
The impact of no deal on the devolved nations has been well documented, with Northern Ireland at particular risk owing to the border. Reports that the Government are trying to row back from their 2017 joint report commitments are deeply concerning. Do the UK Government not see that this particular game of brinkmanship that the Prime Minister is playing could have catastrophic consequences for the people on Northern Ireland, and will the Secretary of State now commit to ensuring that no deal is taken off the table? Such moments press home more clearly than ever the need for Northern Ireland to have a functioning legislature, so what progress has been made over the summer to ensure that Stormont is reconvened at the earliest opportunity?
Finally, the Prime Minister said that he had not decided to prorogue Parliament, but we have now learned from evidence in Scotland’s Court of Session that, in reality, he had already signed off on Prorogation in his red box. Can the Secretary of State tell us why there is such a disconnect between the Prime Minister’s words and his actions?
On the question of deal versus no deal, my job is to lead the efforts for Northern Ireland to prepare for no deal, but I could not be clearer in my mind that a deal is in the best interests of Northern Ireland. As for the talks, we have issued the report outlining what occurred over the summer. These have been at a differing pace throughout the summer. There have been good talks. The issues are important, but not insolvable. I again pay tribute to Simon Coveney and officials for the work that has been done over the summer to get us to a point where we are not far from the finishing line, if the parties want to push forward.
I join the shadow Secretary of State in expressing concern about the impact that Prorogation may have on the people of Northern Ireland. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I welcome him to his new post and wish him every success—ensure that during Prorogation the Government will not stop working for those who need redress, and by that I mean the victims of historical institutional sexual abuse and those who were severely physically or psychologically disabled during the troubles through no fault of their own? They need redress and they need it urgently. Can he assure me that he will deliver that?
May I first pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who did an exceptional job as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She will know of the trauma that victims have suffered. It is now three years since the Hart report was published, and the work that she did means that the Bill could now be presented at the earliest opportunity. I hope that we will get that into the Queen’s Speech and ensure that we solve the issue once and for all.
In the absence of a Stormont Government, and in view of the potential difficulties arising from no deal, will the Secretary of State clarify who will make decisions during that period, and tell us what discussions he has had both with the political parties and the Irish Government about the implications of direct rule?
I strongly believe that getting the talks up and running, and getting Stormont up and running, is in the best interests of Northern Ireland, and is the best route for decision making. Obviously, along with Cabinet colleagues, I am considering alternatives should that fail, but we have to try to get Stormont up and running.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his responsibilities. Does he agree that it would be frankly unconscionable for any Government to lead us into a no-deal Brexit in which the Northern Ireland civil service lacked the legal powers and authority to cope with those circumstances? Does this not point to the need for legislation to be introduced and enacted before the end of October?
I think it is vital that, first and foremost, we get the talks up and running. If that does not work, we must establish powers to ensure that we are making all the decisions in the best possible way for the citizens of Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to their posts. We look forward to working with them in the days and weeks ahead.
Let me reiterate our commitment to getting Stormont up and running as quickly as possible, although I welcome the concentration on the need for direct decision-making powers to be taken in the event that that is not possible. As the shadow Secretary of State said, it is extremely important that Northern Ireland is not left, uniquely, in the terrible position of having no one in charge during these critical days.
Does the Secretary of State welcome the publication of remarks made by the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic yesterday, in which he indicated that in the event of no deal there would no checks or infrastructure on the border? We should build on that, because there is room for progress towards securing a deal, which we all want.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Thankfully, the EU negotiations are not my responsibility, but I do think that a deal is in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
A single sentence, I think. Owen Paterson.
Everyone in the House supports the Belfast agreement, and everyone in the House would like to see the institutions up and running again, but we cannot bludgeon one party into co-operating, and in the meantime outcomes are deteriorating for our fellow citizens. The Bengoa report was published in October 2016. While he is looking at this, will the Secretary of State also consider what powers he could take to benefit every citizen in Northern Ireland?
I know from visiting hospitals and schools that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. For too long, public servants have been having to make decisions that should have been made by politicians. I must be frank with the House. The powers that I have—the powers that are available for decision making—are extremely limited, and that is why it is a priority for us to get Stormont up and running.
Lady Hermon: a single sentence, I think.
Of course, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “That’s it!”]
The Secretary of State—whom I warmly congratulate on his appointment, while also thanking his predecessor—will know from the very angry and concerned representations that I have already made to his office that I am extremely worried and annoyed that a statutory instrument which governs key appointments to a range of bodies in Northern Ireland—including appointments of QCs—has been put in jeopardy by Prorogation. I need a commitment, a guarantee, from the Secretary of State today that that statutory instrument will be debated in the House on Monday, or on Tuesday, but certainly before the prorogation. It affects people’s lives in Northern Ireland, and the Secretary of State has a responsibility to protect those lives.
I hope to table a motion for the statutory instrument early next week.
It is clear from what my right hon. Friend is saying that if we have a no-deal Brexit and Stormont is not up and running, in order to protect the rights of Northern Ireland we need to take powers; in order to take powers we need to legislate; and in order to legislate the House needs to be sitting. Is it not also clear that if the House does not pass that legislation by the end of October because it has been prorogued or dissolved, the rights of the people of Northern Ireland will be detrimentally affected?
Again, the priority has to be getting Stormont up and running. I have been honest and open to the House about the need for powers, and clearly my right hon. Friend is right that at the very heart of the need for those powers are the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland.
Is the Secretary of State sickened already by people talking up the dangers—almost cheerleading and willing on the problems instead of helping to find solutions? When will the Secretary of State be able to bring forward a report or a Bill on institutional historical abuse cases, which was promised before the recess?
I hope we will be introducing that in the coming weeks.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that there are no circumstances, including a no-deal Brexit, under which the British Government would erect a hard border on the island of Ireland?
We are fully committed to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
In the Sunday papers at the weekend there were indications that dissident republicans are contacting experienced bomb makers in the IRA to make a spectacular big bomb. What is being done to prevent dissident republicans from making contact with the bomb makers, to ensure that those bombs never happen in Northern Ireland or anywhere in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The PSNI and the security services have done an exceptional job over the summer. I pay tribute to them and their families, because people are trying to kill them—that is on the increase and certainly was over the summer. I have decided to convene a weekly security meeting that includes the PSNI to make sure that in the coming weeks and months I am apprised on a regular basis and meeting those people who are leading these teams putting their lives on the line.
In congratulating the new Secretary of State, may I ask him what he plans to do about stopping the relentless hounding of Army and police veterans in respect of alleged historical crimes when most of the evidence has disappeared? What is he going to do about it?
As my hon. Friend will have seen from the report we laid yesterday and from the comments the Prime Minister has made, there has been a new cross-Government effort to ensure that we look at this issue. I know that he has raised this issue many times in this House, and I hope he welcomes the fact that the Government accept that the current situation is not working and that we need to relook at and revisit this area. I and a number of my right hon. Friends in the Cabinet are doing so and look forward to reporting to the House in due course.
I remind colleagues that a single-sentence question is imperative.
Given the unique challenges that Prorogation or Dissolution present to the Northern Ireland Office, why was the Secretary of State not consulted by the Prime Minister or Dominic Cummings before the Prorogation plan was agreed?
The Cabinet was updated immediately before the decision; the hon. Gentleman will have to ask others about the first part of his question.
The Northern Ireland civil service was clear that a decision to extend the welfare mitigation package was needed this autumn or else it would have to start taking alternative measures to advise Northern Ireland recipients of them on what action they should take. Has the Secretary of State got a plan to extend the welfare mitigations in the near future?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was in Northern Ireland last week. I continue to work with her and she is actively involved in looking at the issue of welfare not only in Great Britain but across Northern Ireland.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the actions of the Labour party yesterday in forcing through the pro-EU anti-democratic surrender Bill will make it more difficult for the Government to reach an agreement with the EU and therefore produce a situation in which direct rule is likely? Will he give an assurance that he will not shy away from the decision that should, quite frankly, have been made a long time ago?
We have to focus on getting a deal for Northern Ireland. That is my priority in supporting the Prime Minister, and that is his priority. Let us get Stormont up and running. That will solve many of the issues that we are concerned about today.
My apologies to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). If I had seen him earlier, I would have called him earlier, but it is a pleasure to call him now.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. It is a privilege to serve in office and I wish him all success with his role. He highlighted in his written statement yesterday the need to intensify negotiations with the parties. That is the way to avoid legislation being needed. Perhaps he could set out what form he expects that to take.
As I mentioned earlier, we have been having good discussions over the summer. I met the Irish Foreign Minister last Friday and we will be meeting again this Friday. I hope to push forward, with him, on working with the parties to get into a position where we have the best possible opportunity to get Stormont up and running.
We heard from the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) yesterday about the Prime Minister’s failure, to date, to meet the Taoiseach, so what engagement on Prorogation has there been with the Irish Government in their capacity as co-guarantors under the Good Friday agreement?
I meet the Irish Foreign Minister regularly, but I have not discussed the issue of Prorogation.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place. I am pleased to see that he is committed to legislation for victims of institutional abuse being in the Queen’s Speech. Can he commit to that legislation coming to this place before the end of year?
Yes, I can.
If we prorogue and then move to Dissolution and Stormont is still not sitting, what will happen to the provisions of the Northern Irish Bill that repeal sections 58 and59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 after 22 October?
Those provisions remain.
Just this week, Northern Ireland has received over £400 million extra in the spending review. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Northern Ireland will get far better value for that money in all areas of spending by having the Assembly up and running?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the £400 million, but we need a political decision making body, the Executive, to ensure that it is directed in the best interests of Northern Ireland citizens.
The Secretary of State’s former boss instigated a review into the Home Office forcing British identity on those who identify as Irish, such as Emma de Souza back in February. Can the Secretary of State advise the House whether his new boss has binned that review? If not, why not, and when will he publish it?
It is vital that this House continues to respect the dual citizenship components that the hon. Gentleman talks about and ensures that they are preserved. The review is taking place, and I have made strong representations. The Government are fully committed to the Good Friday agreement obligations.
The Prime Minister says that a hard border can be avoided by the use of existing technology, so can the Secretary of State explain what technology can check passports, visas and customs arrangements for goods without so much as a camera at the border?
The Government are fully committed, as are the Irish Government, to the common travel area in all deal and no-deal scenarios.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker—
As the hon. Gentleman’s point of order appertains to the matters of which we have just treated, I will take it if it is brief.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State was very candid in his admission that he was not consulted about Prorogation. Important decisions have to be made about Northern Ireland’s governance over this period. Can we have a clear statement, perhaps from the Prime Minister, that there will be time, either before Prorogation or at a convenient time for this House, to give the Secretary of State the power to do the things that Northern Ireland needs?
Does the Secretary of State wish to respond?
He does not wish to respond. Okay. The point of order has been heard. It is not a matter for adjudication by the Chair, but I want to say to the Secretary of State that the concern that has been expressed on this matter on both sides of the House, including by a number of former Northern Ireland Secretaries, will have registered very firmly with the right hon. Gentleman, and more must be heard about this matter ere long. We need to be absolutely crystal clear on that point. Nothing can get in the way of the provision of proper information to the House on this matter, as the Chair of the Select Committee and many others have emphasised. No one should think that that can be averted. It cannot be, and it will not be.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Several Members have taken to naming a senior public official of civil service rank from time to time—not only during this urgent question, but in debates. Perhaps you can correct me, but I was under the impression that to name a public servant in that way is out of order, wrong and should be avoided. Is that the case? What are the rules regarding naming and trying to shame public officials in this way?
Courteous reference is the guiding principle. The notion that no public servant can be referred to is not correct. It is an interesting concept on the part of the hon. Gentleman, but there is no track record on that matter.
We come now to the statement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in respect of which there is, again, a premium upon brevity.
With permission, I wish to take this early opportunity as Secretary of State to update the House on the Government’s progress on building safety and to set out this Administration’s approach. Two years on from the Grenfell tragedy, it remains our priority to ensure that we have a building safety system that people can trust. In taking on this role, I have been mindful of my responsibility to the bereaved and the survivors of that tragedy. We must support them to recover and rebuild their lives. I am pleased that we will have the continued support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) as Minister for Grenfell victims. I am determined to play my part in their pursuit of answers and justice and to ensure that all residents of high-rise blocks of flats are safe, and feel safe, now and in the future. My predecessors have tackled that work with commitment and integrity but, having reviewed such matters since my appointment, it is clear to me that we must go further and at pace if we are to secure the system of building safety that we all want, so I will update the House on the immediate action that I intend to take.
First, I am consulting on changes to fire safety regulations for new-build blocks of flats. We will seek to commit to requiring sprinkler systems as standard in a wider range of new flats. I am minded to reduce the height at which sprinklers are required down to 18 metres, but I am open to hearing evidence for other relevant thresholds and will be led by that evidence, wherever it takes us. We will also consult on requiring better signs and evacuation alert systems to support effective firefighting. I am grateful to the National Fire Chiefs Council and the London Fire Brigade for their valuable and continuing contributions. I have also published a summary of responses to our call for evidence on a full review of the technical requirements in approved document B. There will likely be additional changes in due course. When taking such decisions, we will always be led by the evidence and residents’ safety. I will keep the industry and Parliament informed.
Secondly, with respect to the “Building a Safer Future” consultation, I intend to respond by the end of the year and to legislate at the earliest opportunity. I believe that we should establish a new building safety regulator to oversee the new regulatory regime for buildings. However, it is clear that we need to act now, so we are working with the Health and Safety Executive to use its experience to set up the regulator in shadow form prior to new legislation, and I want to see that happen as soon as practicable. We will take decisions on the regulator’s long-term functions and structure during autumn. Again, I will update the House accordingly.
Thirdly, although the answer to the concerns of residents is the establishment through legislation of the new safety case regime, with the individual assessment of buildings envisaged by Dame Judith Hackitt, it is clear that we should not wait until then to act.
The Home Secretary and I have worked with the National Fire Chiefs Council and intend to establish a new protection board, which will provide expert and consistent inspections across the country to ensure we are identifying, managing and properly recording risks. This will significantly increase the pace of inspection activity across high-rise residential and other high-risk buildings to make sure building owners are acting on the very latest safety advice.
I expect all high-rise buildings to have been inspected or assured by the time the new building safety regime is in place, or no later than 2021. Residents of these buildings should be swiftly informed of the results of those assessments and inspections, with any changes acted upon as soon as possible.
Improved inspection activity for non-ACM high-rise buildings will be informed by local authorities’ current data collection work. Today, to support that work, I am pleased to confirm that we are providing them with £4 million of additional funding. I can also confirm that my Department will provide £10 million a year of additional funding to help local authorities improve their inspection capabilities and to support the work of the protection board, which we are now launching.
Should the protection board consider it necessary, I will, of course, consider providing additional resources during the remainder of this financial year to increase the pace of inspection and assurance work. I hope this systematic inspection programme will provide reassurance to residents across the country, many of whom I understand have legitimate concerns.
Finally, on our ongoing work to support the remediation of dangerous ACM cladding on buildings, where it poses a clear risk, the Government made funding available in May for its removal from eligible buildings in the private residential sector, in addition to funds already available for the social sector, bringing the total to £600 million.
As of 12 September, eligible private sector building owners will now be able formally to submit their applications for funding for ACM removal and replacement. They have until the end of December to apply. There is no excuse for building owners to delay. My Department has been encouraging swift applications, and we now have a direct relationship with a named individual in the United Kingdom for each relevant building. Where we receive applications, we will do everything we can to turn them around rapidly, prioritising and considering responses on a rolling basis.
Let me be clear: inaction will have consequences. I will name and shame individuals and businesses if I see inaction during the autumn. If we reach the end of autumn and building owners have not responded, and do not have exceptional reasons for it, I will take whatever steps and sanctions are necessary. I will support local authorities to take robust enforcement action against reluctant building owners, and I have asked the joint inspection team to provide them with all necessary advice.
Failure to act, particularly now that the funding is provided by the taxpayer, would be frankly disgraceful, and I know colleagues in this House will share that determination. Where Members have ACM-clad buildings in their constituency, we will provide guidance on how they can encourage building owners to apply. My Department stands ready to advise on the contact we have had already.
With regard to non-ACM cladding, the research programme began in April 2019 and scheduled testing has now concluded. Findings will be published in the autumn. Following the full report, the expert panel will consider whether further testing should be commissioned or existing advice supplemented. The panel anticipates that it will publish any such additional advice by the end of this year. In the interim, building owners should continue to follow the very clear steps set out in advice note 14 to ensure the safety of their buildings and residents.
The safety of people in their home must be paramount. I hope the House will welcome the measures I have laid out today to ensure that no one should feel unsafe in their home and to build a safety system that people across this country can trust.
I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. I have to say that I admire his air of calm. This is a Government of chaos—even the Prime Minister’s brother has walked out of office this morning—so his presence is welcome. I recognise his good intent to make good on the failings of his predecessors over the past few years.
Why, two years and three months after the terrible Grenfell tragedy, are 324 high-rise blocks still cloaked in the same dangerous, Grenfell-style cladding? Why have 72 private block owners not even got a plan in place to fix the problem? Will the Secretary of State do what his predecessors did not and bring in Labour’s five-point plan to force the pace of the recladding? It would mean: naming and shaming those private block owners now, not some time in the future; setting a hard deadline for block owners to get the work done; updating the sanctions available to councils under the Housing Act 2004; making Government funding available for cladding remediation on private blocks where they have to do the work, and widening now the Government-sponsored testing regime to test comprehensively all suspect non-ACM cladding.
One year and four months after the final Hackitt report was published, why is there no comprehensive implementation plan? Why is there no legislation? Today, the Secretary of State confirmed his intention to respond by the end of the year. Can he do better? Will he guarantee that legislation to implement the much-needed legal changes is part of the Queen’s Speech that is promised for next month?
Ten months after the Government’s contract for the wider testing was due to be completed, the report has not been completed and published. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to publish in full and without delay—not sometime in the autumn—those results in full?
We welcome the consultation on extending the requirement for sprinklers in new build flats. That builds on the provisions that the Labour Government introduced for high-rise blocks. However, will the Secretary of State go a step further, do what we planned and pledged, and set up a fund so that we can retrofit all high-rise social housing blocks so that the people who live in them can be assured that they will be safe in future?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s plans for a new inspection system, but why on earth does he say that all high-risk buildings may not be inspected until 2021? That is two years in the future; four years after Grenfell. What is he doing to speed that up?
Grenfell was a national tragedy. People look to the Government in such times for a national response. At every stage, the Government have been too slow to grasp the scale of the problems. Their actions have been too little, too late, and I regret to say that there is too little in today’s statement to give us confidence that the Secretary of State and the Government can rectify their failure to act as they should to make everyone safe after the terrible Grenfell tragedy more than two years ago.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. He and I have worked well together on other issues and I hope that we can do so on this issue, which should be beyond party politics.
We have taken many steps. My predecessors have worked with commitment on the issue. We have given clear advice to building owners, who must take personal responsibility. We have introduced a ban on combustible cladding. We have had the independent review, which has now concluded, by Dame Judith Hackitt, and we have had the consultation, to which we will respond by the end of this year. We now have 150 individuals in my Department working on building safety, many with decades of experience. Again, they are working with great commitment and at pace.
We have put £600 million of public money behind remediation of dangerous ACM cladding in the social sector, of which £200 million is now available in the private sector. We have of course launched a full public inquiry into the Grenfell tragedy and the first phase is expected to report back shortly. Of course, the timing is up to the judge.
We have issued clarified building regulations guidance and we are increasing support for local authorities. Today, I announced £10 million for the protection board and £4 million directly for local authorities. We have already removed a range of substandard products from the market. Is there more to do? Of course there is, and I hope that hon. Members of all parties will see from my statement the number of steps that I intend to take and the pace at which I want my Department to work in the months to come.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about funding; we have made the funding available, and I share his determination to hold private sector building owners to account. As I said in my statement, I will be naming and shaming the individuals and the companies that own the buildings if they do not take action very quickly this autumn. If we come to the end of the fund in December—the right hon. Gentleman asked for a hard deadline; that is a hard deadline—and there are buildings that have not been remediated, or at least applications to the fund have not been put in and there are not exceptional reasons for that, we will take whatever enforcement steps are required at that point. We will work with local authorities to make sure that they robustly use their powers. There are instances of their doing so, and we are working with them already.
The Hackitt review was an important step forward. This is a complex policy area and we all want to ensure that we get this right, so we need to work through the responses to the consultation carefully, and my Department is doing that. As I said, we will bring forward the legislation at the very earliest opportunity. The right hon. Gentleman has my assurance that I will be working within Government to ensure that happens and to impress upon the Prime Minister and others that legislation needs to come forward at the earliest opportunity. I do not think it should be rushed, which is why I have worked with the Home Secretary to bring in the interim measure to establish the protection board. The individual assessments of buildings will begin as soon as possible once the board has been established. That will provide reassurance to residents. I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern that time is passing; I hope he sees that I intend to work at considerable pace to get this done.
On sprinklers, we are currently consulting on the building regulations guidance so that the regulations can come into force for whatever is deemed to be the appropriate threshold. As I said, our preference is 18 metres, but we are open to evidence in other respects. On the retrofitting of sprinklers in existing high-rise buildings, Dame Judith Hackitt and other expert advisers have made it clear that that is not always the right option for a building. It may well be, but other measures could be taken instead that might be more appropriate for an individual building. Dame Judith Hackitt made it clear that it was wise to proceed on an individual basis, so the safety regime that we will be introducing in legislation will ensure that there are individual assessments of buildings. Those assessments may conclude that there is a requirement to retrofit sprinklers, but they might recommend alternative arrangements instead. Obviously, we will ensure that whatever is proposed in those assessments happens in a timely fashion.
Order. Again, I appeal for extreme brevity on the part of colleagues; if they do not provide it, they will have to be cut off, I am afraid.
I wrote to the Secretary of State on Monday about the position of my constituents in Northpoint in Bromley. I welcome his announcement. Will he confirm that the establishment of the protection board ought to and must be used so that people such as my constituents—who have had to do this—may avoid the rigmarole of commissioning a building survey to prove eligibility for the fund and then applying for funding from the pre-application fund, the portal for which was not live at the beginning of the week? We need to cut through that immediately.
My hon. Friend and I have corresponded and spoken about the issue in his constituency. As I said in my correspondence to him, I encourage the building owners in his constituency to apply to the fund. It will be open on 12 September and we will be handling the applications on a rolling basis. In fact, it will also be possible to get a refund retrospectively, so they could get on with the work immediately and seek the funding at a later date.
My hon. Friend asked me previously about buildings that may have a mix of ACM cladding and other forms of cladding. Public money will obviously be spent for the remediation of the dangerous ACM cladding, but if it is proven that it is impossible to remediate the ACM cladding without taking off the other forms of cladding, it may well be possible to use public money to fund that as well. I hope my hon. Friend’s constituents will put in an application as soon as possible and that we can move forward at pace in his constituency.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place, but I agree that he is not quite moving fast enough. We owe it to all those who lost their lives and survived at Grenfell to do more, and to do more quickly. The Scottish ministerial working group is already way ahead of where the UK Government are on this and is moving forward with recommendations. In Scotland, we are looking at 11 metres rather than the 18 metres that the Secretary of State suggests. Has he spoken to his counterpart in the Scottish Government? Will he look at the evidence that Scotland took on making the threshold for mandatory sprinklers in high rises 11 metres rather than 18 metres?
We are looking at regulations around new builds, including having two forms of escape stairs and sound alerts in new builds. Will the Secretary of State look at those ideas? We are also looking at compliance plans for high-risk buildings and at strengthening enforcement.
May I ask—because the Secretary of State has not mentioned this—what the advice has been regarding ThermoWood and similar cladding on low-rise buildings following the fire in Barking? It is clear that there needs to be some advice and regulation in that regard.
I welcome what the Secretary of State said about bringing in a regulator, as we already have a Scottish Housing Regulator in Scotland. Such provision would allow residents to take up any issues they have with the regulator and to prevent something such as Grenfell from happening, because there would be a process through which complaints could be resolved. Has he met with the Scottish Housing Regulator to discuss their work? If not, will he do so? Will he also speak to the Chancellor about the potential VAT reduction to incentivise sprinklers and other remediation works in buildings, as that could make such works easier and cheaper for building owners. Is the Secretary of State convinced that the money he has allocated will be sufficient, because £10 million does not really sound like enough to me?
Finally, the Chancellor has talked about this period of time as being the end of austerity. Fire and rescue services in England have seen a 38% cut since 2005; will the Government restore that money and ensure that fire services are able to respond adequately to emergencies?
With respect to the threshold for sprinklers, we have made it clear that our preference is 18 metres, on the basis of the expert advice that we have received so far, but we are open to reviewing the evidence for an alternative threshold, including a lower one. There are obviously precedents elsewhere for thresholds of 11 metres. As I understand it, 18 metres has historically been the traditional marker above which higher fire safety systems are put in place—that has been the case with cladding and in other regards—but we will be led by the evidence and will pay careful attention to what is happening elsewhere, including in Scotland.
The consultation does ask questions about better signage in high-rise buildings and alert systems that would enable the fire officers attending the scene to communicate to all residents in the building and give them proper messages about staying in their flats or evacuating, and so on.
The incident in Barking was clearly very concerning. We have published advice about wooden cladding on balconies, so that is in the public domain; I am happy to send the hon. Lady a copy of that advice. As I understand it, the building in Barking, along with another on the same development, were unusual designs with excessive amounts of wood on their balconies. It was an extremely distressing incident, which I do not want to see repeated, but I advise anyone who is concerned to see the advice that we have published.
I will consider the hon. Lady’s request as a Budget representation to the Chancellor. In the recent spending review, we secured the funding that we announced today for local authorities and to fund the protection board, and we believe that that funding is sufficient. We think that £10 million a year is enough to carry out individual urgent inspections of high-risk and high-rise buildings across the country within the timeframe that I have set out.
I remind the House that I am looking for single-sentence questions without preamble.
May I support what my right hon. Friend has said in his statement about driving forward cultural change and ensuring that people are safe in their homes? I also encourage him to follow through on the social housing Green Paper to see that tenants have that voice to challenge their landlords and to drive change.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s work. A number of the initiatives that I announced today commenced during his tenure and he was the driving force behind them. I will, of course, take forward the social housing Green Paper. We are considering the very large number of representations that we received, and I will update the House in due course.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. With regard to ACM cladding, will he give a date when he is going to require—not expect, but require—this cladding to be removed, and what steps and sanctions does he intend to take? In terms of the testing of non-ACM cladding, if that material is found to be as dangerous as ACM cladding, will he give a commitment to provide exactly the same funding for the removal of that cladding so that people in those homes are safe as well?
The announcement that I made today sets out a timetable. The fund is now open. Every private sector building should apply, and we believe that they will. If, over the course of the autumn, some are procrastinating and not complying, I will name and shame them. The hard deadline is the closure of the fund in December. I will consider all options available to us at that point to ensure compliance. With respect to non-ACM cladding, the advice that we have had to date is now in the public domain. Building owners should be acting upon that. The testing process will conclude this autumn. If further updates are required, of course we will put that in the public domain.
Does the Secretary of State agree that building regulations can allow us a triple opportunity to build zero-energy bill homes—the homes of the future—quickly and affordably, reduce poverty and reduce greenhouse gases?
My hon. Friend and I share a passion for doing that. We announced in the spring statement a new future homes standard that will ensure that no new home will be built in this country after 2025 without low or zero-carbon heating and the highest levels of energy efficiency. That is good for the environment and good for people on lower incomes.
Can the Secretary of State say a bit more about his protection board? What kind of people will be on it, how many of them will there be, will they have staff or will they be carrying out inspections themselves, and will they monitor how local authorities spend this £10 million?
I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more details of the board, but it will be a partnership between fire and rescue services and other appropriate experts. They in turn will commission probably regional teams of experts to ensure the consistent and competent inspections of buildings across the country.
Fire safety matters, but so does the health and safety of workers, so will the Secretary of State keep a focus on the current review of building regulations to make sure that that prohibition on low-level letterboxes is delivered?
Yes, I think we may all welcome that in the coming months.
There is confusion about the “stay put” policy and tall buildings being approved with single staircases. What has happened to the review of means of escape?
I will write to the hon. Gentleman with an answer.
Will the Secretary of State use the campaigning charity the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership as a way of letting leaseholders in privately owned blocks know what should be happening and of making sure that their interests are taken into account just as much as those in the private sector?
I am very happy to take my hon. Friend up on that. He knows that I share his determination to take forward wider reforms in the leasehold sector, and I will be introducing measures in that respect in due course.
What can be done to identify developers such as Mr Jason Alexander in Greater Manchester who have a track record of repeatedly flouting regulations for buildings they own and to make sure they cannot continue to do so and will face sanctions?
Local authorities have robust enforcement powers available to them, and we are working closely with them to guide and support them. If the hon. Lady would like to come to me with examples, I would be very happy to support her.
First, tenants at Edwin Court in my constituency are having to move out of their homes while vital fire safety work is carried out. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that all housing associations look after their tenants in the process of such work? Secondly, will his review look closely at inadequate fire doors? Inside Housing’s review of this issue is very concerning, as have been answers I have received to parliamentary questions.
I am very happy to work with my hon. Friend on that issue. We have already published updated advice notes on fire doors. It is an important issue that we want to take forward.
Two years after Grenfell, buildings in Newcastle remain with this dangerous cladding, so will the Secretary of State admit that the privatisation of building safety, in effect, with building owners able to pick and choose who inspects them, has failed? Will he review the system generally and give local authorities more control, oversight and resource, as Newcastle City Council has requested?
The hon. Lady can see that we are doing a root-and-branch reform of the building safety system, both in the interim and in the long term with the building safety Bill that will come forward as soon as possible. I am working very closely with local authorities, and today of course I have announced £14 million of additional funding that will help to support them to use their existing powers robustly.