House of Commons
Wednesday 2 October 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Department is investing in migrant source countries to give people better opportunities to build decent lives at home. Over the past four years, support for UK aid across all programmes has enabled 14 million children to gain a decent education, and nearly 52 million people now have access to clean water and better sanitation.
Refugee settlement is one way to allow people to secure a safe and legal route to a safe country if they are classified as refugees by the United Nations. DFID funds and supports that, but there is no commitment to long-term resettlement programmes. Will the Secretary of State consider committing himself to a minimum of 10,000 refugees per year via resettlement and for a minimum of five years?
As the hon. Lady will know, in every year since 2016, the UK has resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state, and I pay tribute to the local authorities that have already settled 16,000 refugees from Syria. The hon. Lady will also know that we intend to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees, as well as up to 3,000 vulnerable children and their carers, by 2020. Under our new compact, there are global resettlement scheme plans to resettle 5,000 of the most vulnerable every year post 2020.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to what I think is his first session of questions as Secretary of State for International Development, and I wish him—as we all do—very well in the role. May I ask him to update the House on the quality of our £75 million safety, support and solutions programme, which has been used particularly on the migration route in Africa, including north Africa? A particular feature of the programme was the ability to return those who had escaped the clutches of traffickers to their home areas, where they could warn others that the outward route was dangerous and damaging. I should be grateful for an update.
I pay tribute to the fantastic work that my right hon. Friend did in this Department. He was an absolute champion for DFID.
Phase 2 of the safety, support and solutions programme is now running. We are delivering humanitarian protection to vulnerable migrants en route, as well as informing people about living conditions and—as my right hon. Friend mentioned—the other risks that they may face if they travel through the Sahel or the horn of Africa. One of our partners, the International Organisation for Migration, has reached more than 4,000 people with awareness-raising activities.
The hon. Lady has raised an incredibly important point. We are working on nutrition with a range of multilateral agencies, and my ministerial colleagues and I continue to engage in discussions with them. At the United Nations General Assembly, it was announced that £61 million would be provided to develop crops that are better adapted to grow in higher temperatures and that can withstand drought. That is the sort of work that will make a long-term difference when it comes to food insecurity.
My right hon. Friend did an enormous amount of work in this area as Minister for Asia, and I pay tribute to him. He will know that the major humanitarian crisis is caused by Myanmar’s military. He will also know that we recently announced the provision of an extra £87 million for food, healthcare and shelter, not just for the refugees but for those who are hosting them. The Minister in the House of Lords, Baroness Sugg, is currently in Bangladesh looking into these issues.
In north-east Nigeria, almost 2 million people have been internally displaced. In a disturbing development, the Nigerian Government have closed two major international non-governmental organisations, posing a risk to thousands of lives. May I urge the Secretary of State to do all that he can to press the Nigerian Government to enable those NGOs to operate, because they are about saving lives?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are extremely concerned about this issue, and we have raised it with the Nigerian Government. We have asked them to complete their investigations as swiftly as possible. He is absolutely right: those organisations provide support to millions of vulnerable people, and we must make sure that that work continues.
A fortnight ago, I was privileged to be in Jordan to see some of the remarkable work of small organisations helping child refugees from the Syrian civil war recover from appalling injuries. What further support can DFID give to those small NGOs that make such a positive difference?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration. By 2050, it is forecast that up to 1 billion people could be on the move as a result of climate change. The Select Committee on International Development recommended that the UK use last week’s UN climate summit to address that, so will the Secretary of State tell us specifically what discussions he has had on this subject and what concrete actions his Departments will take?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. The Prime Minister made a number of key announcements at the UN General Assembly, including the doubling of our investment and commitment to the international climate finance fund. That is something that we will work on, but the hon. Gentleman is right that that is a key issue. The way to tackle poverty is also to tackle climate change.
The world is on course to have 200 million climate refugees by 2050, so will the Secretary of State tell us why his Government continue to be part of the problem by funding fossil fuel overseas, both with the Overseas Development Administration budget and with export finance? If he wants to be part of the solution, will he commit to work with Cabinet colleagues to increase the number of refugee settlements in the UK, as recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?
I say gently to the hon. Lady that we are regarded as world-leading when it comes to tackling climate change. If she had been at the UN General Assembly, she would have seen that. A whole range of announcements were made there. I am always happy to have a discussion with her, but she should acknowledge that the UK is actively leading in this area across the world. That is acknowledged by Governments across the world, too.
Venezuela: Humanitarian Support
The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is absolutely dire, with millions fleeing the Maduro regime. Last week, I announced an additional £30 million of vital humanitarian aid to deliver life-saving medicines and clean water, as well as support for vital health services for refugees in neighbouring countries.
Everyone will be glad that we are doing what we can to help. Would it be a good idea if party leaders together nominated members of the Youth Parliament to go and see what has caused this social, economic, humanitarian and political crisis in a country that should be the richest on its continent?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Inflation is running at over 1 million per cent. in Venezuela and poverty has doubled. That is the economic model and regime that the Leader of the Opposition has been defending over a long period. People will know that Venezuela serves as a grim reminder of what might happen to the economy of our country and, indeed, the aid budget should the Opposition ever get their hands near government.
I welcome the invocation of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, which, for the benefit of observers, customarily sits annually in the Chamber on a non-sitting Friday. A sitting is due to take place next month. It is a magnificent organisation that deserves the support of every one of us.
Until the Venezuelan Government were destabilised, HIV treatment was successful and deaths from AIDS were decreasing. Since destabilisation, HIV treatment is almost impossible for many people in Venezuela and the healthcare system has collapsed. What are the Government doing, particularly to ensure that antiretrovirals reach HIV-positive people in Venezuela?
The reason that the healthcare system and, indeed, public services have collapsed is the Maduro regime; that is something we have to acknowledge. As I have said, the support that we are providing includes healthcare support. There has been a big increase in disease outbreaks over recent periods, and that is why we are providing support for healthcare and vaccinations.
We have given about £2 million of support to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and to national societies. In terms of additional funds that we have made available, we do not discuss the value of programmes inside Venezuela or name partners, for security reasons. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that.
Given the extent of the problem, the millions of people fleeing Venezuela and the amount that the Minister has alluded to, what steps are we taking to ensure that that aid is offered directly to the people affected and not diverted by the regime?
Climate change and biodiversity were top priorities for the Government at the recent UN General Assembly. The UK played a leading role, with the Prime Minister announcing a doubling of our international climate finance to £11.6 billion and a major focus on backing nature-based solutions to climate change.
The International Development Committee has specifically recommended that the UK Government should adopt the concept of climate justice to guide their climate spending, but this Government seem scared to even utter the words: not a single International Development Minister has ever said the words “climate justice” in this Chamber. Why are this Government so intent on ignoring this recommendation?
Given what we know about the science in relation to climate change and what we know about what is happening to biodiversity, habitat and species loss, it is absolutely right that this Government’s focus should be on tackling and preventing climate change, both through technology and by doing everything we can to protect and restore the natural world. If we do not do that, no amount of money from this or any other aid Department will properly compensate poorer countries for the devastation that will follow.
I am afraid that the Minister failed entirely to answer my hon. Friend’s question. Will he tell the House when he will follow Scotland’s lead and the recommendation of the International Development Committee and explicitly adopt the concept of climate justice to help to guide climate mitigation spending?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I do not agree that I did not answer the previous one. We provide £5.8 billion for climate finance at the moment, and that will double to at least £11.6 billion. The whole basis of that programme is, in a sense, climate justice. It is about helping developing countries to prepare for climate change, to adapt to the inevitable changes and to fight the causes of climate change to minimise the impact.
By 2030, the destruction of the world’s important habitats and the threat of climate change could force more than 100 million people into poverty. Does my hon. Friend agree that urgent action is needed to tackle deforestation throughout the world?
I commend my hon. Friend for all her work on this issue. She is absolutely right, and that is why, when the Prime Minister spoke at the UN, he emphasised the importance of investing in nature as a means of tackling climate change. She mentions forests, and they are an obvious example. About 1 billion people depend on forests for their survival, and protecting and restoring forests alleviates poverty, tackles climate change and helps to reverse the biodiversity loss that we have seen over recent years.
First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to his well-deserved place at the Dispatch Box? The environmental world rejoices that he is there, and I know he will do an outstandingly good job. Does he agree that it is a perfectly legitimate use of aid funds to spend money on climate change reduction and climate change battling as well as on the mitigation of the worst effects of climate change? That helps in a global sense, and it also helps to mitigate the worst effects for the poorest people in the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. He is exactly right to say that we will have no hope at all of tackling poverty globally if we do not take a bigger interest in preventing climate change and the annihilation of the natural world that we have seen in recent decades. The people on the frontline in relation to nature destruction are the world’s poorest people. They are the people who depend most directly on the natural world, so he is absolutely right.
As we heard from the Secretary of State in his first answer, we have committed serious sums of money to enabling smallholders around the world to adapt to climate change. We have also launched an initiative at the UN called the Just Rural Transition, which is about shifting the way subsidies are spent around the world on land use, away from unsustainable use towards sustainable use, just as we are doing in this country. The OECD tells us that the 50 top food-producing nations spend €700 billion a year subsidising land use, on the whole very badly. If we can shift even a fraction of that, it will have a much bigger impact than all the world’s aid departments put together.
Supporting Women in Developing Countries
DFID’s support for the SheTrades Commonwealth programme has trained over 2,700 women-owned businesses. We recently announced £30 million for the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa programme, which will help to unlock $3 billion of additional lending to women entrepreneurs.
Some of the most inspirational, determined business leaders and entrepreneurs in Romsey and Southampton North are women. Do the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team agree that female empowerment cannot begin and end in school, but has to continue into the workplace? Will he commit to giving more support to make sure that we have women business leaders in the developing world?
My right hon. Friend is right. Economic empowerment for women is vital, and I made mention of the affirmative finance programme, which is tackling issues such as access to finance, access to mentoring support and overcoming laws that discriminate against women. It is worth pointing out that women typically reinvest up to 90% of their income into education, health and nutrition, compared to 40% for men, so investing in female-led businesses can transform societies.
Specialist organisations such as Khwendo Kor that deliver services to women are being restricted by other NGOs in consortia by exclusivity clauses so that they can only bid with one organisation for funding, so expertise is being lost. Can the Secretary of State ensure that exclusivity clauses are removed?
Menstruation stops many women participating in the business world and mostly affects the poorest, no more so than in the Rohingya camps, as Oxfam has told me. WUKA produces underwear that deals with the problem, is reusable and environmentally sustainable. Will his Department meet WUKA, Ruby Raut and others in St Albans who have developed the product to help women beat the problems of menstruation?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that she has done in Bangladesh in tackling humanitarian issues, and she raises an important point. We have a flagship programme called the Girls’ Education Challenge, which does fund support for 23 menstrual hygiene projects across 13 countries, but of course I would be happy to meet with her and the company in her constituency.
Ukraine is a country that is perhaps redeveloping rather than developing. Can the Secretary of State tell us what projects he is supporting for women in business and education in the east of Ukraine, where there is a war with Russia, particularly through the International Committee of the Red Cross?
Governments around the world collectively spend around $140 billion every year on aid. However, the United Nations estimates that an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually in developing countries to meet the sustainable development goals. That investment gap needs to be met largely by the private sector. That is why I have established an international development infrastructure commission to advise the UK Government on how we can mobilise additional private sector funds, alongside public money, to deliver on the sustainable development goals.
I welcome the Secretary of State and the new Ministers to their posts. Representing a coastal constituency, I am only too well aware of the impact of pollution and plastic waste on marine life and our beaches. It was great to join many of my constituents at the recent great British beach clean. Given that much of the plastic problem affects developing countries—especially island nations—how are the Government using the aid budget to help to clear up our oceans?
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly vital point. He may be aware that the Prime Minister announced at the United Nations General Assembly last month that we are encouraging countries to join the UK-led global ocean alliance of countries in support of protecting at least 30% of the global oceans within marine protected areas by 2030.
The Secretary of State has announced a new commission of business and finance leaders to mobilise private finance to invest in some of the world’s poorest countries. What action is he taking to guarantee that all aid-backed private investments uphold labour rights and living wages for workers in the global south?
I think that is a sort of welcome for the infrastructure commission we have set up. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that labour rights are vital. When I was Minister for Employment, I worked with the International Labour Organisation on these issues, and if he has particular suggestions to make, I would be happy to discuss those with him.
The Secretary of State is failing to take labour rights seriously. He is a career investment banker by trade, and he has—[Interruption.] I think it is relevant that he has gone from corporate wealth management to managing the UK’s aid budget. Feronia, a Canadian palm oil company based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has received tens of millions of pounds of UK aid via the CDC Group; it has been plagued by scandal for years; and, in July, Joël Imbangola Lunea, a community activist involved in a land dispute with Feronia, was allegedly murdered by a security guard employed by the company. Joël was father to eight children—
The hon. Gentleman is very welcome to write to me about the case. He wrote an article a few days back describing me as
“exploring ways to profit from human misery”.
May I just point out to him, with respect, that he could perhaps take some lessons from the Chairman of the Select Committee, who knows a lot more about development than he does?
My hon. Friend is a true champion on humanitarian and environmental matters. I made reference in a previous answer to what we are doing about plastics, but I can also inform her that the UK Government have pledged £70 million to directly tackle this issue in developing countries, through the provision of technical assistance and testing practical approaches to increase plastic recycling rates.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. She will know that the UK is the No. 1 contributor to vaccines worldwide in the development space. She will also know that the UK will be hosting the Gavi replenishment next year and that for every pound spent on vaccines £21 is recouped; this remains one of our best buys in terms of international development, and we made that clear at the UN General Assembly last week.
Humanitarian needs are rising in Zimbabwe, due to a combination of poor and erratic rains and the deteriorating economic situation. DFID has committed £49 million to a new Zimbabwe humanitarian resilience programme, but our ongoing re-engagement depends on fundamental political and economic reform in Zimbabwe.
Currently, approximately 97% of the UK’s export financial support for energy in developing countries goes to fossil fuels and only 1% to renewable energy. That is a ridiculous and untenable position, given the Government’s avowed aims. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that his work in supporting developing countries to tackle climate change is not undermined by his colleagues in the Department for International Trade?
I am pleased that the CDC has made no new investments at all in coal-fired power stations since 2012, and that increasingly UK ODA supports renewable energy. I am assured that as a result of its adoption of the recommendations of the taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures, UK Export Finance is looking very carefully at the risks, which the hon. Gentleman has just highlighted, of its support for oil and gas.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Manchester for the Conservative party conference. He is, as we speak making, the keynote speech, setting out that we will leave the EU on 31 October, so that we can get on with our dynamic domestic agenda.
Askham Bog, a world-renowned nature reserve in my constituency, has been described as “irreplaceable” by, no less, Sir David Attenborough; yet it is threatened by proposals to build more than 500 houses on adjoining land. Will my right hon. Friend put in a good word with the Prime Minister to ask him to join me in lying down in front of the bulldozers to save that important piece of natural heritage?
I thank my hon. Friend. I always put in a good word with the Prime Minister on his behalf, and I share his passion for preserving our precious natural habitats. Local community views are of course incredibly important to the local planning process; that is what our revised national planning policy framework provides. He will understand that I cannot comment on individual planning applications.
Yesterday marked the start of Black History Month, so I will begin by paying tribute to a young woman already making history this month. Dina Asher-Smith became the first British woman in 36 years to win a sprint medal when she won silver at the 100 metres in Doha. Tonight she aims to go one better in the 200 metres —and I am sure the whole House will wish her well.
If I may continue, uninterrupted!
Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) raised the very specific issue of how many of the hundreds of abusive and violent messages that she receives use the Prime Minister’s own words. The Prime Minister dismissed those concerns as simply “humbug”. Since that exchange, my hon. Friend has received four further death threats, some again quoting the Prime Minister’s words. Women across this House experience death threats and abuse. Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to apologise on behalf of the Prime Minister for his initial dismissive response?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. My eagerness to rise to the Dispatch Box was because, in Black History Month, as she becomes the first black MP to take to the Dispatch Box for PMQs, it is only fitting to say that she has blazed a trail and made it easier for others to follow in her footsteps. That is something in which I and every hon. Member in this House can take pride in paying tribute.
The right hon. Lady raises the increasing level of online and wider abuse that politicians from all parts of the House get, and we should come together to be clear that there must be zero tolerance of any abuse or any threats. May I also say that I have found the level of abuse that she herself has received online to be totally disgusting and totally unacceptable. At the same time, I am sure that, as a passionate champion of free speech, she will defend our right in this House to defend the issues of substance. The remarks that the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend, made were aimed at the suggestion that he could not describe the surrender Act in such terms. It is absolutely clear, given the substance of the legislation, that it would achieve that and undermine the ability of the Government to go and get a deal in the EU, which on all sides we want to achieve.
So, we can take it that there is no apology from the Foreign Secretary. I raised the very specific point that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury made about the abuse she gets that uses the Prime Minister’s language.
Deliberately disturbing billboards showing unborn foetuses have been put up in the London borough of Walthamstow. They are upsetting for women walking past, but particularly upsetting for my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), because these billboards are targeted at her in response to her work to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Abortion in Northern Ireland should be decriminalised on 21 October. What will the Foreign Secretary do to ensure that, from later on this month, women in Northern Ireland will have the same human rights to legal and safe abortion as women in England, Wales and Scotland?
The right hon. Lady has referred to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and the abuse that she has received, which I and all Members of this House, I know, believe is totally unacceptable. There is a place for free speech, but we should never allow that to cross over into abuse, intimidation or harassment of hon. Members from all parts of the House going about their business. The most important thing that we can do on the specific issue that the right hon. Lady raises is get the institutions in Northern Ireland back up and running so that they can exercise their rights, their prerogatives, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.
I notice that the Foreign Secretary has not said anything about those horrific posters—they are not posters that anyone would want to see, particularly someone who is pregnant, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow.
Last week, Labour reiterated its call to end the rape clause, which forces women to fill out a four-page form to prove their child was born of rape in order to get financial help. Will the Foreign Secretary today back Labour’s pledge to remove the abhorrent rape clause from universal credit?
I would say that we have looked at this issue and we continue to look at it. On the subject of using inflammatory language, it is incumbent on Members in all parts of the House to be very careful about it. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking at this matter and will continue to take questions and scrutinise it very carefully, so that we get the balance right. I gently say to the right hon. Lady that Labour wants to abolish universal credit and engage in an open spending spree on handouts. That is the wrong thing to do—trapping people in the welfare trap. On our side, we want to help those people from the poorest backgrounds get into work, and our record speaks for itself.
How much more dismissive can the Foreign Secretary be of people and families dependent on benefits? We are not talking about a spending spree; we are talking about a system that is fair and just, and which does not subject people to undue humiliation.
Last week, the 100-year-old travel company Thomas Cook went out of business. We know that 72% of its workers are women. We also know that, although Governments around the world stepped in to save Thomas Cook subsidiary companies in their own countries, the UK Business Secretary thought that this was not her job. Can the Foreign Secretary explain to those workers, some of whom are with us today, why their Government sat idly by?
First, we did not sit idly by. The Government’s efforts, co-ordinated by the Transport Secretary, to ensure that the holidaymakers and travellers who were caught overseas could be returned to the UK, have been very effective and required a huge amount of cross-Government work, including in my own Department. On whether the Government should have stepped in to bail out Thomas Cook, it is very clear from looking at the financing that such a step would not have rendered the company more sustainable and would not have saved jobs in the long run. We are, of course, concerned to ensure that we have a sound economic base in the long term. We have created 3 million new jobs in this country since 2010, and will continue with that. What we are not going to do is routinely bail out companies that are unsustainable. That is not the right way to go about this.
Nobody is asking the Government routinely to bail out companies. We are asking the Government why they will not even meet the workers.
Whether it is women Members in this House, women claiming benefits, women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland or the failure to support women workers at Thomas Cook, is not this a Government letting women down?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Members on the Labour Front Bench are pointing to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Well, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her accomplishments in tackling human trafficking, for her accomplishments and drive to tackle violence against women and for the domestic violence Bill that we will be introducing in the House today for further debate.
The Foreign Secretary has not mentioned the fact that there are over 600,000 more women and girls in poverty now than in 2010. I gently say to him that I was a Member of this House when Tory MPs defenestrated the first female Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, and I was a Member of this House when the Tory MPs worked their will against the second female Prime Minister. It seems to me that Tory Members of Parliament may on occasion make women their leaders, but they need to learn—[Interruption.] They need to learn how to treat them less cruelly.
The right hon. Lady mentions Margaret Thatcher. I gently say to her that if she wants to talk about treating women better, she might have a word with the shadow Chancellor, who talked about going back in time to “assassinate” Margaret Thatcher. That is not appropriate language from the Opposition.
The right hon. Lady talked about Labour’s record. Let me remind her that female unemployment rose by over a quarter because of Labour’s economic mismanagement, and now Labour wants more debt, more borrowing and higher taxes. On our side, we are proud: female unemployment at record lows, a higher percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards and a record low gender pay gap—lower than under the last Labour Government.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online for our children, but also for all members of our society. Our online harms White Paper set out our plans to make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children, and also sets out measures to reinforce powers to issue fines against those who put them at risk.
It is a disgrace that the Prime Minister is not here. Since he was elected in July, he has been to only one Prime Minister’s questions. Quite simply, he is running scared from this Chamber.
Right now the Prime Minister is setting out his Brexit fantasy at the Tory party conference—a deal that he knows is unacceptable and doomed to failure. When this deal fails, as Tory Members know it will, Downing Street sources have insisted that the Government will not seek an extension. They will not obey their legal obligations. Yet again, this Prime Minister is prepared to act unlawfully. Has the Prime Minister not learnt his lesson? He is not above the law. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether those sources are correct that the Prime Minister will not obey the law? Are this Government seriously planning to take on Parliament in the courts to force through a catastrophic no-deal Brexit, or will the Foreign Secretary now rule that out?
Of course this Government will always adhere to the law. The Prime Minister has written to Jean-Claude Juncker setting out our proposals. We want to take forward the negotiations. We want to avoid a no-deal scenario, and I would urge the SNP, rather than undermining the negotiations in Brussels, to try and support the Government in securing a deal that is good for this country. The right hon. Gentleman talks about respecting judgments. We will always respect legal judgments. I call on the SNP to respect the judgment of the people of Scotland when it comes to staying in the United Kingdom and the judgment of the people of the United Kingdom to give effect to the referendum on the EU.
“We will always respect legal judgments.” The fact is that this Prime Minister cannot be trusted, and his Foreign Secretary cannot even commit the Prime Minister to the letter of the law. This Government must be stopped. I am looking now to colleagues on the Opposition Benches, and I urge them: we must unite. We must stop this Prime Minister by removing him from office. The Scottish National party stands ready to bring this Government down. Other parties need to step up at this moment of national crisis—prepare a vote of no confidence, ensure a Brexit extension, prevent a no deal and call a general election. Doing nothing is not an option. We must act. So I ask the Foreign Secretary: will he give the Prime Minister a message from the Scottish National party? It is not a case of if but when: we will bring this dangerous Government down.
The right hon. Gentleman is at risk of sounding like he is all mouth and no trousers, because he had the chance to vote for a general election and he turned it down; he had the chance to avoid no deal; and the best chance now is to back this Government in securing a good deal—good for the United Kingdom and good for all quarters of the United Kingdom, including the people of Scotland.
My hon. Friend gets straight to the crux of the matter. We must leave by the end of October, come what may. We are committed to doing that. The most effective way of doing it that will unite this House and bring the country back together is to get behind the Prime Minister’s efforts to secure a good deal. I think it is incumbent on all Members on both sides of the House to support the United Kingdom rather than try to undermine the negotiating position in Brussels.
I will certainly pass on the hon. Lady’s specific request to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. She is right to raise the quality of housing. When I was Housing Minister, we developed proposals for a social housing Green Paper. We want social housing tenants to feel they are treated with respect. I remember meeting an individual who said that he ran his own business, and when he went to work he was treated with respect but when he came back home he was treated disrespectfully by his housing association. That is not right.
I would gently say to the hon. Lady that we have delivered over 222,000 additional homes in the past year—the highest level in all but one of the past 31 years —and we have built more council housing than in the previous 13 years of the last Labour Government.
Sir John Major rang me about half an hour ago simply to give vent to his indignation, which I already fully shared, that a major policy announcement of historic significance—our last offer, apparently, to the EU of a withdrawal agreement—was being made not to this House of Commons, which is not even to have a statement, and not after discussion in the Cabinet, most of whose members know nothing about it, but in a speech to the Conservative party conference in which the Prime Minister—who, I remind you, was one of those who voted to stop us leaving the European Union at the end of March—began with an attack on Parliament. If a deal is obtained, I will be delighted and I will apologise to the Prime Minister. I will vote for any deal that is agreed among the 28 member states of the European Union. But can the Foreign Secretary reassure me—it seems to me obvious, otherwise—that this is not just a party political campaigning ploy to blame the European Union for the lack of an agreement and to arouse fury between people and Parliament so as to escape from the responsibility that seems to me to lie with the Spartans on the far right of the party, with whom he and the Prime Minister used to be close allies?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. On the specific point, the proposals we are setting out to Brussels—David Frost, the Prime Minister’s special adviser, is in Brussels doing that—will be set out first in the House of Commons. They will be published—[Interruption.] No. The shadow Foreign Secretary is chuntering from a sedentary position, but the proposals have not been set out in Manchester; they will be set out in written proposals to Jean-Claude Juncker and published in the House later on. I gently say to my right hon. and learned Friend: I know—[Interruption.] Later today—[Interruption.] The shadow Foreign Secretary is continuing to talk from a sedentary position. My right hon. and learned Friend and I have always had slightly nuanced but differing views on the EU, but I think the one thing we all want to do is to get a deal right now—that is why the attempts by Parliament to frustrate that have been deeply counterproductive—and to give effect to the promises that, on all sides of the House, we made to give effect to the referendum and to keep trust with the electorate of this country.
The hon. Lady’s concerns are shared right across the House, so it is something that will be of interest and importance to everyone here today. The national planning policy framework is very clear: the green belt must be protected and brownfield sites must be brought forward. In order to provide a greater boost to the supply of new housing, we have introduced measures to boost the density of and the ability to raise homes in more urban or suburban areas while protecting the green belt. A huge amount of money has gone into infrastructure development right across the country to ensure that we can build the right homes in the right places and to answer the significant concerns of local communities, who ask where all the schools, housing and roads will come from. We are making sure that we give councils the support they need to build the right homes in the right places.
The Government are backing a new hospital to serve Basingstoke with money to develop our business case. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a bid that could include new jobs, new state-of-the-art facilities and new homes is one that everyone in north Hampshire should get behind?
It sounds like a tantalising proposal. I am sure that the Health Secretary will look at it very carefully indeed. We have made it clear that we back the NHS with the biggest cash boost in history, an extra £34 billion a year by 2023-24. We can do that only with a strong economy, which is precisely what the Labour party will put at risk.
I feel for anyone in the Thomas Cook scenario—people stranded abroad or people who lost their jobs. I have set out why the Government do not systematically bail out or step in to prop up firms that are unsustainable. I am afraid that if the hon. Lady looks at the figures, she will see that that was not a sustainable route to follow. Of course, if she wants to write to me, we will look at any details she raises, but the bottom line is that the way we create a healthy economy and jobs is by making sure that we have the tax measures in place—by not raising taxes on businesses and by supporting the workers of this country. That is what we are doing.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on being at the Dispatch Box as Deputy Prime Minister.
How is it that the Government are allowing special advisers at No. 10 Downing Street, speaking on behalf of the Government, to tell outright lies? My right hon. Friend should be familiar with the fact that on Saturday such a special adviser—whom I believe to be Mr Dominic Cummings—told The Mail on Sunday that a number of hon. Members were in receipt of foreign funding to draft what is known as the Benn Act, something which in itself is totally untrue. Moreover, he went on to say that that was going to be the subject of a Government investigation, which is also completely untrue because, mercifully, this country is not yet run as a police state by Mr Cummings.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. I was not quite sure what the question there was, but the position of the Government is that advisers advise and Ministers decide. It is right that the legislation that we have rightly dubbed the surrender Act gets the kind of scrutiny that a Government would get—whether it is from the Executive, parliamentary Select Committees in this House or, indeed, the declarations of interest that should come forward in the normal way.
The Government have been very clear: we will respect the law—[Interruption.] We will respect the law, but we are not going to extend beyond 31 October. I would ask all hon. Members who signed up to that shoddy legislation to reflect on whether—with the fact of the multiple conditions, the £1 billion a month that it would cost the UK taxpayer and undermining the position of the UK Government to get a deal in Brussels—they are actually courting the no-deal scenario they pretend they want to avoid.
May I join in the tributes paid earlier to the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) for her historic achievement today?
Today marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that Gandhi’s message of non-violence, religious tolerance and greater rights for women is as applicable today as it was in his lifetime?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would go one further and tout the words of Martin Luther King, who said that we—I think on all sides of the House—should believe in a society where you are judged on the content of your character, not the colour of your skin, let alone your gender. That is why we on this side of the House are proud of our record of record levels of BAME communities in employment and children from BAME communities taking more rigorous GCSEs. We have the first Asian Chancellor, the first female Asian Home Secretary and I am proud to be in the most diverse Cabinet in history.
Of course we share the concerns of anyone in the position of the hon. Lady’s constituent. That is why the head of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, and the Health Secretary have said that they have put in place all the necessary arrangements to make sure that, in a no-deal scenario, medicines will continue to flow across the border, as is required. But if the hon. Lady really wants to avoid a no-deal scenario, she should get behind this Government getting a good deal in Brussels, and that is the best thing for all concerned.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his role today. I remember when my right hon. Friend resigned from the Cabinet because of his disagreements with Brexit policy—a route I subsequently became familiar with—but does his experience not remind him that there are honourable, different opinions across this House about how we leave the European Union and about how we interpret the will of the people, and the essential thing is that every Member here representing their constituency has a role to play in that? May I urge him, when working with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to make sure that any decisions—any progress—are taken through this House?
I can give my right hon. Friend that reassurance. I do understand, and we have always managed to stay on civil, cordial, even amiable terms throughout all the challenges of Brexit, which we on both sides of the House should seek to do. Parliament of course has a crucial role to play. I do not think anyone can legitimately say that Parliament, with the stalwart support of the Speaker, has not scrutinised Brexit at every stage. But we also have to remember on all sides, and particularly on this side, the promises we made to the voters to give effect to Brexit—to get Brexit done—and that is the way we can move on, unite the country and take Britain forward.
I say to the hon. Gentleman, the Chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, that we are absolutely committed to boosting bus services in his constituency and indeed infrastructure right across the country. That includes transport, that includes broadband, and that means making sure that we have a more balanced economy that can boost jobs, reduce deprivation and ensure we can fund the precious public services we need. On the specific point he raised, I will ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to write to him personally.
Within the last 24 hours, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has launched a ballistic missile, possibly from a submarine; if so, that would be the first submarine-based missile it has launched in three years. It is its ninth launch, I believe, since June. Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to talk to other leaders in the region? Given that this comes a few days before the resumption of talks with the United States, what assessment has he made of the continuing threat of the DPRK to the region and the wider world?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his time at the Foreign Office; he was a very effective Minister, and he continues to make the case from the Back Benches. We are concerned about the situation in North Korea and we regularly raise it with our international partners. There has been a series of missile tests by Pyongyang, which are deeply troubling. We continue to make it clear that it must show restraint and adhere to its legal commitments. Of course, there is some bluff and bluster in the lead-up to the talks with the US. We would like to see a de-escalation of tensions and a route to denuclearising North Korea.
I feel for any family and any children in the situation that the hon. Lady highlights. We are frustrated, as is everyone, that agreement has not yet been reached that would provide access to Orkambi. We have a system, with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and NHS England, where it is for clinicians, not politicians, to determine the fair price for medicines. I say gently that I think the proposals put forward by the Labour party would put that at risk, because they would repel investment and innovation. That is not the right way to get medicines to the people who need them.
May I ask the First Secretary of State to turn his attention to Hong Kong? Yesterday’s events were truly awful. Obviously, the people suffering most are the victims of violence on both sides, but now a number of UK companies with interests in Hong Kong are being adversely affected. As we are one of the guarantors of the Sino-British joint declaration supporting one country, two systems, is there now an argument for him to discuss Hong Kong with China in the UN Security Council? Perhaps the next six-monthly report on the declaration would be an opportunity to do that.
We are concerned about what we are seeing on the streets of Hong Kong. We of course condemn any violence by protesters, but the vast majority are seeking to exercise their right to peaceful protest. Any response by the Hong Kong authorities needs to be proportionate, but what we need above all is a political process and a dialogue between the Administration and the people of Hong Kong that can lead to the kind of political reform that is envisaged in the Basic Law and reflected in the joint declaration my hon. Friend cites.
We are absolutely determined to correct the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation. We have apologised for the mistakes that were made and, to date, over 7,200 individuals have been given documentation confirming their status. The hon. Gentleman talks about Brexit, which has been a divisive issue for all parties and people right across this country. The best way of resolving that and bringing the country together is to get a deal, get Brexit done, and move on. It is incumbent on those in all parts of the Labour party to think about the promises that they have made, and to get behind this Government as we strive for a good deal that works for the country.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the £13.8 million of funding for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust that has been earmarked for upgrading Eastbourne District General Hospital, which many of my constituents use? A few years ago, the hospital was earmarked for closure; under the Conservatives, it is earmarked for investment.
I am delighted about the new investment going into my hon. Friend’s constituency. We have backed the NHS, which will have almost £34 billion a year by 2023-24. There is an extra £1.8 billion going into 20 hospital upgrades, and we are providing £250 million to boost artificial intelligence, so that we can have earlier cancer detection, new dementia treatments and more personalised care. All that would be put at risk by a Labour Government, who would tank the economy.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman. Members on all sides of the House want to stand up to, and have absolutely zero tolerance for, any domestic abuse. The best way forward is for us to work together in a collaborative way, which, frankly, we have not seen in recent months and years because of Brexit. That opportunity will come today, when we debate the Domestic Abuse Bill on Second Reading.
Last year, I attempted to introduce legislation requiring banks to maintain or deliver a cashpoint, on a free-to-use, 24-hour basis, to every high street that supports 5,000 residents or more. I was inspired to do that when the tourist town of Battle lost its last cashpoint of that type. I am grateful that LINK has now seen the case for Battle’s cashpoint, but I am conscious that other high streets across the UK are not so fortunate. Will the Deputy Prime Minister help to set up a meeting with me and Ministers to help to deliver a boost to all our high streets?
I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend’s point directly to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other Ministers, and will see what more can be done in the neighbourhood that he talks about. The reality is that some businesses and high streets are suffering, partly because of online competition, and partly because of consumer trends. We need to make sure that we boost high streets and businesses, and in particular the small businesses in this country that have created over 80% of new jobs. All that will be put at risk, frankly, by the damaging and counter-productive policies that the shadow Chancellor has come up with this week.
I have to say to the hon. Lady that of course we will adhere to the law, but the Prime Minister has been clear that we must leave by the end of October in order to maintain public trust in our democracy and avoid the public feeling that parliamentarians and politicians do not listen to what they have said. If she wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit, get behind the Government in securing a deal that all sides can support.
Yesterday, I was honoured to speak at the official opening of CAE’s new flight simulator and aviation training centre at Gatwick airport. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming this significant aviation inward investment into global Britain?
It is absolutely crucial that we make this country the best place to invest for technology and innovation, and that is part of the vision of global Britain. So I pay tribute to the project in my hon. Friend’s constituency. That is what we can deliver if we can get Brexit done and dusted and move on, and allow the people of this country to move on.
The right hon. Gentleman and the Government talk about the will of the people and the need to restore trust in democracy when it comes to Brexit, while completely forgetting that over 16 million people voted for us to remain in the EU, 13 million people chose to abstain in the referendum, and 1.5 million youngsters were not eligible to vote and now want a say about their future. On that basis, surely the way to protect democracy is to put any Brexit deal to a confirmatory referendum because, if we do not have that people’s vote, we will leave the EU without the consent of the majority of people of this country.
I know that the right hon. Lady and I have different views on Brexit, but we have always got on professionally and civilly in the past, and I understand the passion with which she holds her views. But I think a second referendum will be the last thing this country wants. It would solve nothing and put the Union at risk, because it would be a political gift to the SNP. If she wants to avoid no deal, she should back the Government, not undermine them, as they strive for a good deal in Brussels.
With the shape of a potential deal becoming clearer, will the First Secretary of State repeat and confirm his absolute commitment to leaving on 31 October, which is in contrast to the Lib Dems—I do not think we have a single Lib Dem in the Chamber this afternoon—[Interruption.] Oh, we do—we have one. Forgive me, Mr Speaker, I got that wrong. We have one Lib Dem in the Chamber. That commitment is in contrast to the Lib Dems, who want to overturn the democratic result, and to the Labour party, which does not quite yet know what it wants.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to get Brexit done. The country wants us to move on and to keep faith with the voters. As for the position of the Liberal Democrats, of all the different views in the House of Commons, I find this the most difficult to understand. How could we have 16 Liberal Democrat MEPs actually writing to Jean-Claude Juncker telling him not to negotiate or do a deal with the UK? That is deeply irresponsible and is courting the very outcome of a no-deal Brexit they say they wish to avoid.
Did the Prime Minister, as The Times reports today, receive a request from President Trump for help in trying to discredit the Mueller report and the role of British and American intelligence in uncovering the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections? Will he assure the House that no British Prime Minister would ever collude with any foreign leader to undermine or smear our security and intelligence services or damage their vital co-operation with their American colleagues?
I should first be clear that the Prime Minister is not going to comment on the discussions with President Trump that were held in private, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that of course neither the Prime Minister, then the Foreign Secretary, nor any other member of the Government would collude in the way he describes. That is of course entirely unacceptable, would never have happened and did not happen.
Clean Air (No.3) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Geraint Davies, supported by Kerry McCarthy, Wera Hobhouse, Neil Parish, Janet Daby, John Mc Nally, Chris Evans, Jonathan Edwards, Rosie Duffield, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Ruth Jones and Neil Coyle, presented a Bill to establish a right to breathe clean air; to make provision about reducing air pollution; to require the Secretary of State to set, measure, and report on air quality targets; to establish the National Clean Air Agency to enforce air quality targets; to make provision for the development of sustainable public, private and commercial transport by road, rail, air and sea; to restrict the use of polluting vehicles in urban areas; to prohibit the sale of new petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles from no later than 2030; to make it an offence to remove permanently devices that reduce vehicle emissions; to make requirements regarding indoor air quality; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 438).
Points of Order
I would have thought it the normal course of events to proceed with the ten-minute rule motion, but if colleagues particularly want to raise their points of order now, a simple nod of the head in acquiescence in such an arrangement and empathy with it will suffice. Not surprisingly, the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), who is invariably of an amiable disposition, seems content that we proceed in that way. We will come to the hon. Gentleman erelong, but first of all I believe there is a very important point of order from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. If I may, I should like to seek your advice. For the last six days, an organisation calling itself the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK has been waging a campaign of intimidation and harassment against me and, by extension, my constituents in Walthamstow—from turning up in our town centre with a 20-foot banner of my head next to an image of a dead baby of about the age of the baby I am currently carrying myself, proclaiming that I am working hard to achieve such an outcome; to buying from Clear Channel billboards advertising in my constituency, displaying near schools graphic and scientifically incorrect pictures of foetuses; to libelling me on national radio as someone who wishes to see abortion up to birth; to its Stop Stella campaign, which explicitly encourages people to target me as a hypocrite for being pregnant and advocating the right of all women to choose when to be.
Walthamstow residents have made clear their distress at this behaviour, and so have I. The organisation has made its point. It disagrees with me; I understand that and have asked it not to continue. Despite that, it has already stated that it will keep returning and targeting me until I stop campaigning. Already, I have received numerous threats and abusive messages that directly quote its material.
As you would expect, Mr Speaker, I have sought police assistance against this harassment. I am sad to report that, as yet, none has been given, including from the parliamentary authorities, although Sadiq Khan and Clare Coghill, the leader of my council, have been fantastic allies. I also have proposals for the Domestic Abuse Bill, which I hope Ministers will look on kindly, to recognise this form of abuse. As I have always said to bullies, “It’s not my time you’re going to waste.”
One of the troubling things about importing this kind of campaigning into our politics—the organisation has said that it will extend its protest to other MPs, and it is clearly influencing debate in this place, as some even in this Chamber have said that I wish to kill babies—is how it is funded. This organisation claims, in its constitution and accounts and in a statement it made to the BBC last October, to be a charity, yet the Charity Commission has refused to register it. Nor is it clear whether it has repaid the gift aid it has previously claimed under the auspices of this charity status. If not, given that it knew that it was not registered with the Charity Commission, this group has facilitated tax evasion, which of course is a criminal offence. Nor is it clear whether it is complying with the rules for third-party campaigners in the run-up to an election, or whether it is accepting illegal foreign donations, given that it is part of a network of such organisations across the world.
Sadly, I understand that the organisation has also threatened to sue journalists who ask about these matters, so we cannot have clarity about who is funding this sustained campaign of intimidation from an organisation whose counterparts in other countries have picketed maternity hospitals with baby coffins and incited such hatred and radicalisation that it has resulted in violence, including a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
Given the calls for a general election, the Charity Commission, the Electoral Commission and, indeed, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs must prioritise investigating such organisations and tackling the potential consequences for our public debates. I am sure we would all want to know whether all taxes are paid, all donations declared and all donors legal.
I am not sure, however, where we as parliamentarians can start in holding such a company to account for its toxic culture and approach, and in the absence of police action. We cannot uphold free speech on any issue if we do not also hold to account those who seek to abuse it and the laws on campaigning. Perhaps, Mr Speaker, you will have some suggestions for me so that we can ensure that no MP and, indeed, no other woman has to go through what I have been going through in the past few days.
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. At the outset, I know she will understand if I say that in respect of some of the other matters to do with tax treatment and funding that she mentioned, I cannot comment. It is perfectly reasonable for the hon. Lady to set out those matters, but they do not require a response from me and it would not in any way be authoritative.
However, as far as what I regard as her major point is concerned, I will be absolutely explicit in my response. I believe that campaigning of that kind, with the intensity involved and the explicit public threat, to its apparently endless continuation, is vile, unconscionable and despicable. There is a major difference—it is important that we should be clear about this—between putting a point of view with considerable force and insistence on the matter of abortion or any other matter of public dispute and putting it in extreme and provocative terms, and in doing so saying, “We will go on doing so until you stop exercising your right as a Member of Parliament to campaign for what you want. Give in to our intimidation, our threats and our bullying, or it will be the worse for you.” That to me, colleagues—I hope that I carry the support of the majority of the House in saying this—is rank, unacceptable and displays, if I may say so, and I will, an absence of any moral compass. Anybody who thinks seriously about these matters cannot seriously think that that is right. It would be wrong in any case, but for the hon. Lady to be subject to that treatment when she herself is pregnant, and those intimidating and harassing her, ultimately unsuccessfully, know that to be so, is double appalling.
With reference to what the hon. Lady said—and it is a challenge, which I take in good part—about thus far an absence of support from the House authorities, I am very disappointed to learn of that. I cannot comment on the particulars. What I do undertake to do is to meet the hon. Lady within 24 hours, if she wishes to meet me, and I will, as appropriate, be accompanied by people in this House who are best placed to advise. I am delighted that the Mayor of London and his team are supporting her, but she is entitled to proper and unstinting support from the House authorities. If she feels that that is not the case and there is more that we can do, or there are things that we have not done at all that we should be doing, I am determined that she should get that help.
The hon. Lady is respected across this House as an extremely dedicated, articulate and principled campaigner for her causes. Nothing on earth can be allowed to prevent her from continuing in that vein. Although it is not a matter of order within the Chamber, it is right that she should seek the support of Parliament’s spokesperson, as she wants to reinforce her right to go about her business in a legitimate way. She has that right, and I stand absolutely with her in insisting on the continued exercise of that right.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Having discussed this matter just this morning with the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), may I say that the Government are similarly concerned about the nature of the campaign against her? Indeed, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has already communicated her concerns to his Department, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already offered to meet the hon. Lady. We take these allegations very seriously, and we will see what can be done.
Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), Mr Speaker. As someone who sits on the opposite side of the abortion debate, may I express my solidarity with the hon. Lady? The abuse and the billboards do nothing to further the debate. Abortion is a very personal issue. We should use this place as a forum for debate, but should do so in a constructive, collaborative manner. Let me echo the point that those people do not speak for all of us who may have a different view.
I hope that colleagues will agree that that was a very welcome point of order from the hon. Lady, and I think that I speak on the House’s behalf when I thank her for saying what she has said.
I think there was another point of order from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), on a wholly unrelated subject.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you; it is unrelated.
Following his statement to the House last week, the Prime Minister, in response to a question that I asked about an instruction that had apparently been given by his adviser, Dominic Cummings, that parts of Government data that are of significance and concern to many people should be brought together, told me that I had
“mentioned something about which I am afraid I was hitherto unaware”.—[Official Report, 25 September 2019; Vol. 664, c. 817-8.]
That was a very polite response, but it seems to many of us somewhat surprising in view of the publicity given to the issue and the fact that other Members have raised complaints with the Information Commissioner. I wonder whether you could give me guidance, Mr Speaker, on how the Prime Minister could perhaps be persuaded to return to the House to clarify the matter.
I do not treat what the hon. Gentleman has said with any levity when I say that conflicting accounts of a Government’s position on a given subject are not a novel phenomenon. There have been many precedents, under successive Governments and in relation to a plethora of different Departments, sometimes including No. 10 Downing Street itself. I do not sniff or cavil at what the hon. Gentleman has said about the apparent inconsistency that perturbs him, and I am grateful to him for giving me notice that he would raise the matter. However, I do not think that this is a point of order. The hon. Gentleman is seeking procedural advice.
By the way, when I say that this is not a point of order, I say it for the purpose of the intelligibility of our proceedings to people observing them. The great majority of points of order are not points of order. They are ruses by which to raise matters that are of particular concern to Members at the time—in the most recent instance, the point of order from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), quite the most compelling and pressing case to raise.
As far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned, I think that he should work on this basis. If he wishes to pursue what he sees as a potentially or actually inaccurate parliamentary answer, he should take the short journey from here to the Table Office and seek advice on how to pursue it. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that, in doing so, he should adopt my—I think—now established motto in these matters by way of advice: persist, persist, persist. I say this to the hon. Gentleman. Table further questions. Do not take no for an answer. Write letters. In a legitimate, as opposed to an illegitimate, way, make a nuisance of yourself, man.
If there are no further points of order, we come now to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr has been so patiently and good-naturedly waiting.
Public Expenditure and Taxation (Advisory Body)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish an independent advisory body to make recommendations on the equitable distribution of public expenditure across the United Kingdom, the calculation of block grants to devolved administrations, the implications of the devolution of tax-raising powers for the United Kingdom fiscal framework, and the resolution of fiscal disputes arising between governments in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.
For decades, British Governments—red and blue alike—have tinkered around the edges of our broken economic system without challenging its structural flaws. Nine of the 10 poorest regions in northern Europe are located within the British state, as well as the richest by a country mile. These disgraceful geographical wealth inequalities are a record of shame. Successive British Governments, even after the 2008 financial crash, have been too timid to challenge the economic status quo, which prizes consumer debt addiction and the financialisation of the economy. In response to the crash, the former Chancellor George Osborne used to talk a lot about geographical and sectoral economic rebalancing, but in reality there has been little action to match the rhetoric.
Of the 12 NUTS—nomenclature of territorial units for statistics—nations and regions of the British state, only three, London, south-east England and east England, are not in deficit. Recent international data showed that the largest difference in economic prosperity in Europe was between inner London—the UK’s richest region, with a regional GDP average of 614% of the EU average—and west Wales and the valleys, the UK’s poorest, with a regional GDP of 68% of the EU average. London acts as a black hole, sucking in talent and investment from the rest of the UK and beyond. Perversely, this inequality further incentivises investment in London from the public and private sectors alike, so the cycle continues unabated.
That is why I am introducing a Bill to establish an independent advisory body to make recommendations on the equitable distribution of public expenditure across the British state: a new office for fair funding, with delivering geographic wealth convergence as its statutory aim. It would advise on the calculation of block grants to devolved Administrations, make recommendations on the implications of the devolution of tax-raising powers for the United Kingdom fiscal framework and act as an independent arbitrator in dealing with the resolution of fiscal disputes arising between the Governments in the UK.
There are constant misunderstandings and mis-statements about the relative funding and public spending levels in Wales compared with those in other parts of the UK. Forty years after the introduction of the infamous Barnett formula, it is still very poorly understood. On a number of occasions, the British Government have erroneously claimed that for every £100 of public spending in England, £120 is spent in Wales. While that may be the case for devolved spending, it is certainly not the case for total expenditure, which is a very different measure. Identifiable public expenditure per capita in Wales in 2015-16 was 113% of the England level. Total expenditure per capita in Wales—identifiable plus non-identifiable—was 110%, well below the 120% claimed by the Secretary of State.
For the British state, it pays to keep the system as impenetrable as possible. Relative need, as used in consideration of funding for the devolved Administrations, makes no allowance for the concept of pump-priming, in which additional funding is allocated for long-term capital investment to realise the latent economic potential of poorer-performing geographical areas. The issue is well described in the first report of the UK2070 Commission, which claims that the Treasury Green Book is biased in favour of capital investment in the most successful regions. It is also important to mitigate the self-reinforcing tendencies of the Treasury Green Book and cost-benefit analysis whereby fast-growing places automatically move to the front of the queue for more public investment. One of the main reasons the British state currently has anaemic economic growth is low productivity. The best way to boost productivity would be to invest in poorer-performing areas, but what we are likely to get from the Brexit “Britannia Unchained” gang is even more money spent in London.
In July 2019, the Public Accounts Committee published a report outlining several problems with the way in which funding is currently allocated to the devolved Governments. It identified unnecessary complexity involving funding arrangements, recommending that the Treasury become more transparent in the way that it allocates funding. It concluded that the allocation of funding outside the Barnett formula without consequentials was unsatisfactory. For example, the dodgy deal with the DUP that resulted in £1 billion extra funding clearly undermined the little credibility that the Barnett formula still retained. A lack of clarity on whether the block grant reflects need was reported, and the Committee expressed concern at the impact of slower population growth on funding per head. The report also reiterated Plaid Cymru’s concerns about delays in the sharing of information by the Treasury with the devolved Administrations on the comparability factors included in the statement of funding policy.
The statement of funding policy, usually published alongside the comprehensive spending review, sets out the comparability factors that are used in the calculation of the Barnett formula. The last set of comparability factors in relation to spending programmes was published in 2015, and a departmental breakdown, with no material difference, was published as an addendum to the spending round last month. The comparability factors are decided unilaterally by the Treasury, and that needs to be changed as a matter of priority.
HS2 is a case in point. It currently swallows up a third of the UK Government’s support for rail: £2.1 billion out of a total of £6.4 billion in the year 2017-18. It is clear from published and leaked reports that HS2 will cost far more than the planned £56 billion—up to £100 billion. The Treasury categorised HS2 as a national project with a comparability factor of 0% for Wales, while Scotland and Northern Ireland had a 100% score. As a result, full Barnett consequentials are payable to Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not to Wales. These are huge sums of money. If HS2 ends up costing £100 billion, full Barnett consequentials for Wales will amount to £5 billion.
Transport expert Professor Stuart Cole has also demonstrated that HS2 will have negative consequences for Wales, particularly in the south of my country, as journey times to cities in the midlands and north of England are reduced and new technology encourages companies to areas with HS2 stations. Professor Cole’s analysis was supported by a report from Greengauge 21, which drew on analysis by KPMG, which found that HS2 could reduce employment growth in Wales by 21,000 jobs between 2007 and 2040, as well as costing the economy of the south of my country £200 million per annum. My Bill aims to put a stop to the unfair way in which those comparability factors are set by setting up an independent advisory body.
With growing fiscal divergence and an evolving constitutional landscape, the need for such an independent body has never been greater. The Wales Act 2014 devolved certain tax and borrowing powers to Wales. It enables the Welsh Government to legislate in respect of stamp duty land tax and landfill tax, and for the partial devolution of income tax to Wales. A fiscal framework was negotiated between the British and Welsh Governments to establish rules for determining matters resulting from fiscal devolution. At the moment, the three Welsh rates are set at 10p, maintaining parity with England, but with the possibility of further devolution and greater fiscal divergence, the current mechanism for developing and negotiating the fiscal framework is unsustainable.
Significant concerns remain with regard to the dispute resolution mechanism in the framework. If no agreement is reached, the status quo remains. How can the devolved Administrations secure a fair hearing if the UK Government, with whom they are raising the dispute, are playing judge, jury and executioner? If we established an office for fair funding under my Bill, we would have a system of independent arbitration.
There is international precedent for an independent office for fair funding. In South Africa, the Financial and Fiscal Commission is an independent body that does not determine expenditure allocation formulae directly but advises the South African Government on those formulae. The South African Government have to consult the FFC regarding the division of revenue between different tiers of government. In Australia, allocations of federal funding to the six states and two territories are overseen by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which is a statutory, independent, non-partisan body. The CGC was discussed in the 2009 report from the Lords Select Committee on the Barnett Formula, which recommended that a similar body be set up in the UK.
While an office of fair funding would not solve the fundamental imbalance at the heart of the British state, it could at least give Wales and other neglected areas the tools to begin improving our infrastructure and to diversify our economies. Brexit is not an excuse to reassert Westminster control over Wales. The Bill would help to create a level playing field between the nations of the British state.
Question put and agreed to.
That Jonathan Edwards, Liz Saville Roberts, Guto Bebb, Anna McMorrin, Jane Dodds, Caroline Lucas, Ben Lake and Hywel Williams present the Bill.
Jonathan Edwards accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 3 October 2019 and to be printed (Bill 437).
Domestic Abuse Bill
[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, HC 2075, and the Government Response, CP 137; ninth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Domestic Abuse, HC 1015, and the Government Response, HC 2172; and written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, reported to the House on 3 April, 10 April and 21 May 2019, HC 570.]
I will call the Secretary of State for Justice in a moment to move the motion, but before I do so, and in recognition of the fact that there are no time limits on Front-Bench speeches, I will tell the House that more than 40 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. I know that colleagues will want sensitively to take account of that in framing their contributions.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am mindful of the information with which you have kindly furnished the House, Mr Speaker. You will know that historically I have been generous in accepting interventions. I will tailor my generosity today, because I want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to take part in this landmark debate. I look around the Chamber, and in all parts I see colleagues who have made a huge contribution to getting where we are today. We still have a long way to go, but I am pleased, encouraged and proud to see parliamentarians of all colours who have put their shoulder to the wheel to tackle the challenge that we face. It is a challenge that has been too big for too long, and the Government have consistently made clear our continued determination to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse. Legislation, including the Bill, whatever its landmark status, is only one aspect of the work that needs to be done and that we are undertaking across Government to diminish the prevalence and impact of domestic abuse, and to make it clear to the public that we have zero tolerance of abusers.
This is not just a matter for the Ministry of Justice—it is for the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care. I am glad to be supported by Ministers from all those Departments and, indeed, all of Government, as we need to put our metaphorical shoulder to the wheel. The Bill puts the needs of victims front and centre, by providing additional protections, strengthening the agencies’ response, and amplifying the voice of victims. We are determined to ensure that victims feel safe and supported, both in seeking help and in rebuilding their lives.
As the daughter of a social worker who spent her entire career working alongside children and families, supporting victims of domestic abuse, may I ask the Secretary of State to join me in thanking the hard-working social workers and, indeed, police officers who are often the first line of response, as well as charities across the country who support victims of domestic abuse?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to remind us at the get-go of the importance of a co-ordinated approach. All of us, including Members of Parliament, need to be domestic abuse-aware. We need to understand that it presents in myriad ways and myriad circumstances.
Domestic abuse is a leading cause of homelessness, and some of the most harrowing cases I have dealt with as a constituency MP have involved the difficulty faced by survivors of abuse in accessing safe, secure housing. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure in the Bill that survivors of domestic abuse automatically have priority need status for housing and, most importantly, that local authorities are fully and sustainably funded to deliver that obligation?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue, and the Bill provides an opportunity to delve into it. It is important that we outline those principles on Second Reading. In Committee, we will have an opportunity to debate the detail. I am particularly interested in the points that she made. I want to make the Bill as good as possible, and I need the help not just of colleagues in government but of all hon. Members to do that.
May I make a little progress? As I have said, I will be as generous as I can.
Can I take the House back 25 years to a case in the Crown court at Carmarthen that involved a young couple? The man was charged with assault against his wife. A young barrister had been given that case. That was me, and I remember seeing photographs of the victim’s injuries. I was 24, and not very worldly-wise. I looked at the photographs of that woman’s eyes, which were bloodshot and bruised. The police had got there in time to take photographs of the injuries—something of a rarity in those days—and I immediately thought that she had been a victim of a direct assault by punching, but I was wrong about that. She had been strangled—strangulation causes those types of injury.
The victim came to court. Frankly, I could not see what the defence was for the case, but my instructions were to plough on none the less. I saw a frightened and terrified woman having to come to this grand and rather old-fashioned court. Luckily, the judge was humane, sensible and sensitive, but there was a problem: the woman did not want to follow through and give evidence. The judge called her into court and called her to the stand because he was concerned about what was happening. He asked her to explain why she did not want to give evidence. She said that she still loved her partner, that she wanted to be with him and that she did not want to put him through the stress of a Crown court trial. With that, the case was over. He was acquitted, they went on their way, and I was left thinking, “Is that really the end?” Was it in fact just the beginning of the domestic abuse that we all recognise?
That story has haunted me all my professional life. The evidence shows that victims of domestic abuse will often have been a victim on dozens of occasions before they call the police or the authorities. Victims are suffering in silence, often for years, and we are unable to reach them.
I will give way in a moment. I have not yet finished this part of my speech.
I believe that the days of the courts approaching abuse as “just a domestic” have, happily, gone, but my goodness me, we still have a heck of a way to go. I want to give the House one statistic before I give way. In the year ending March 2018, some 2 million adults between the ages of 16 and 59 experienced domestic abuse. That is 2 million people, like the woman I was talking about, whose everyday lives are blighted by abuse and who live with the effects, be they physical or emotional. So we have a high degree of duty to them to pass this legislation.
Another aspect highlighted by the Secretary of State’s incredibly moving story is just how long the survivors of domestic abuse have been waiting for this kind of legislation. They have been waiting for 25 years, and indeed for much longer, but for the past three years the Government have been promising to outlaw cross-examination by perpetrators of domestic violence. People have waited for so long, so will he now give a commitment that this Bill will be seen through before the House is prorogued once more? If it was not, that would be the final straw for many very vulnerable people.
I pay warm tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been an assiduous campaigner on this issue. Domestic abuse is predominantly experienced by women, but we also know that there are many relationships in our society in which men suffer in silence. We are speaking for everybody, whatever their gender, orientation or classification. This is for everybody. On the question of the carry-over, that motion is on the Order Paper and I know that hon. Members will want to support it. This Bill will be carried over. That is an important sign of our deep commitment to this issue.
I only wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s very moving story was an exception, but sadly, as he and I and many others who have practised at the criminal Bar or as solicitors will know, it is still all too common a story today. I have two quick questions that I hope he can answer. First, will this Act ensure that our police change their attitude? He is right to talk about the courts and the judiciary, but what about our police, who I fear still think of these instances as “domestics”? Secondly, will he meet me to discuss what is happening in our courts? There is now far too long a delay between complaint and trial—there is often a delay of between two and three years, and that is not fair on the victims.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. On her second point, I will meet her. On her first point, the important thing is what we do to embed the legislation, and that has to be by way of further training and seeing the operational effect of the strategy we set out and the direction that the primary legislation takes.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I, too, have seen examples like the one that he quoted, and I particularly welcome the provisions in clause 75 relating to the prohibition of cross-examination by the abusive party. As the Bill goes forward, will he and his colleagues particularly bear in mind the legitimate improvements proposed by the Law Society and others in this field? They include a proposal for the proper remuneration of, and a proper system for instructing, the representatives instructed to carry out the cross-examination, in the interests of justice. Will he also consider whether examination in chief could be included in certain circumstances—for example, when the alleged abusive party seeks to call the child of the relationship in support of their case? That, too, can cause real distress.
I will give way again in a moment, but I would like to make some progress.
Abuse has not only a direct impact but an impact on the wider family and, most appallingly and sadly, on children and young people, who suffer the short and long-term emotional and behavioural effects of abuse. We know that children who witness domestic abuse in the home are far more likely to experience abuse by a partner as an adult. It is therefore our role as a Government and a Parliament to do all we can to protect our children from having to suffer as a consequence of abuse, and to ensure that national and local agencies recognise and respond to their needs.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful speech and giving some amazing examples. I am sure that most of us have come across stories, perhaps sometimes in our own families, where victims do not believe that the perpetrator is at fault and instead believe that they themselves are at fault. He has mentioned physical, emotional and economic abuse. That is the crux of the problem, and the definition has been widened out. I absolutely welcome the Bill. How does he expect it to provide protection for victims and help to expose the vile perpetrators and bring them to justice?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her continuing commitment to reform and improvement in this area. The widening of the definition from “financial” to “economic” abuse captures the manipulation that can happen, not only in relation to money but in relation to other benefits and through coercive control. I am proud to have played my part as a junior Minister in ensuring that coercive control went on to the statute book as a criminal offence some years ago. We must continue to reinforce the message that abuse is not just about violence, important though that is, and that its collective impacts can change the lives of far too many victims.
I commend the Secretary of State and, in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for the work they have been doing on this issue. On a number of occasions we have stated that we want to embed legislation that provides the best protection, and the Secretary of State will know that this Bill contains particular definitions that are unique to Northern Ireland. However, one thing we are devoid of in Northern Ireland is legislative protection from stalking. I hope that he will give thoughtful consideration during the passage of the Bill to incorporating measures to include that, whether there be a domestic connection to the stalking or not. We need that legislation for the individual victims and their families. Will he also give thoughtful consideration to the inclusion of Northern Ireland Members of this House on the Bill Committee?
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, the business managers will have heard him loud and clear. I am keen to ensure that the Bill maintains its focus on domestic abuse. I do not pretend that we can somehow hermetically seal the issue off from other aspects of criminal behaviour and abuse, such as stalking, but I think that the best place for stalking legislation would be in a discrete piece of work. I draw his attention to the work that we did in England and Wales. I was part of the all-party parliamentary group on stalking and harassment, which campaigned and worked at pace to get stalking criminalised in England and Wales. I will give him encouragement, but I really want to ensure that this Bill is focused.
I have just returned from the Council of Europe, where members across parties, especially in the Socialist Group, expressed horror that it has taken seven years and counting for the UK to ratify the Istanbul convention. One of the critical points in ratifying the convention is the treatment of women in Northern Ireland and the fact that they do not have the protections that the Secretary of State has just suggested should not be in the Bill. The Government gave a pledge and told the Council of Europe that the Bill was about ratifying the Istanbul convention, and there is a motion of recommendation about the convention in the UK right now at the Council of Europe. Can he give an assurance that he will not leave the women of Northern Ireland out of the Istanbul convention, let alone the migrant women in this country who also need us to put the legislation together?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the Istanbul convention, and of course we passed domestic legislation about that. I want to make sure that every aspect of the convention is underpinned in domestic law throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I am simply saying, as a legislator and someone who wants to make sure that we get the Bill in the best possible position, that we need to make sure we get the issues in the right vehicle. If it is the will of the House that the Bill is the right vehicle, that will of course be respected, but I think I am entitled to make that point about what I regard as the real focus of the Bill. I speak as someone who has actively and enthusiastically supported the criminalisation of stalking— as has she—for many years.
I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider this point. We have a Bill before us and the opportunity to address the issue of stalking. There is considerable overlap: many cases that may begin as domestic abuse become terrible cases of stalking when the relationship splits up. There are serial perpetrators of violence and abuse who in some cases are involved in domestic abuse and in others in stalking.
Of course, and the right hon. Lady makes an important point. She will know that my decision to extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme to cover stalking offences reinforces my personal commitment and my deep understanding of the link between stalking and obsessional behaviour and the commission of sexual offences, offences of violence or homicide. I absolutely get that, but it is right that we tease out those issues in Committee and look at them again on Report. If it is the will of the House, we will of course do it.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work on this important issue and on getting that legislation through Parliament. I will make sure that that information is furnished to her in the course of the debate. Of course, we are brilliantly served by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and she will respond to the debate.
We have talked about the moral case for pursuing this issue, but there is also an economic case—a case of financial responsibility. Research has established that the cost of domestic abuse was approximately £66 billion for victims in England and Wales in the year ending March 2017. The biggest component of that cost is the physical and emotional harm incurred by them, but the cost to our economy and our health service is also considerable. Domestic abuse makes up one third of all violent crime reported to the police. The case for removal is clear, but the challenge is not easy. The dynamics are complex and mean that much domestic abuse is hidden. Victims face significant barriers in seeking help and difficulties in escaping from an abusive relationship. That is why we need a cross-Government, multi-pronged approach to tackling it. The Bill is not only part of that approach but demonstrates the breadth of our ambition in showing strong leadership and taking decisive action to help to end the suffering and harm.
May I say how much I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to taking a zero-tolerance approach to domestic violence and to sticking up for the victims? Following his welcome speech at the Conservative party conference this week in which he pledged to end automatic early release of certain prisoners, can he confirm that people who commit violence as part of domestic abuse will be included, and they will no longer be eligible for release halfway through their prison sentence?
Yes, I can. People convicted of offences with a domestic element will often be convicted of the most serious violent and indeed sexual offences. Under my proposals, automatic release will therefore apply at two thirds, rather than one half of the sentence. I have furnished the House with a written ministerial statement on that.
Sexual exploitation is one of the most heinous forms of abuse that can be perpetrated in domestic situations. That is when the victim is coerced and forced to perform sex acts in return for money, accommodation, employment, services or goods. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that the Bill explicitly recognises sexual exploitation as a form of domestic abuse?
The Secretary of State will recognise that there is an interesting situation as between England and Wales. This legislation will apply to England and Wales, but Wales has its own legislature and legislated in this area in 2015. Will he make a commitment to me that Wales will be properly represented on all the scrutiny and advisory boards affected by the Bill, including the answerability of the commissioner for domestic abuse?
The right hon. Lady was of course part of the Joint Committee and has an impressive track record on this issue. I have very much appreciated the work that we have done together on these issues. I can give her that assurance. It is clear that all parts of the joint jurisdiction need to be adequately represented.
The Joint Committee was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who did a wonderful and important job. I want to put on record my thanks to her and all the other members for what they have done. The Government have taken on board many of the Committee’s helpful recommendations, and the Bill is better as a result of its work. I am conscious that we have yet to respond to a small number of recommendations, but we will provide an update during consideration of the Bill in Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend has been characteristically generous in giving way. I welcome the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner. There is no doubt that the Bill is important and vital, and will sail through the House, but I am concerned that people will abuse our well-meaning intentions, and I do not want to see people being able to get different answers in different parts of the country. Does he agree that the commissioner will make that less possible?
My hon. Friend is right to hail the appointment of the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner. We thought we should not wait for the Bill to go through both Houses, because we thought that the job was too urgent and too important. We have appointed a designate commissioner, but it is very much our hope that the House will support the appointment by passing the necessary legislation.
I am sure all hon. Members welcome the Government’s commitment to end economic abuse and to enable partners who are victimised to leave the relationship. I note that the Secretary of State did not include the Department for Work and Pensions in his list of Departments to work with. Does he share the concern of the Work and Pensions Committee at all the evidence we have received from charities that shows people are simply not able to leave violent relationships because of the benefits system? Will he commit to addressing that?
The hon. Lady rightly upbraids me, and I apologise. It is important and good that we now have domestic abuse advisers in every jobcentre, who can really help signpost and give support to people who are in abusive relationships. It is right to say that about 60% of claims are made by the primary carer, which will often be a woman, but in a number of cases individuals are trapped in a position of dependence. I hope that the Bill will be an opportunity for us to do more work on that.