House of Commons
Thursday 9 January 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Marking Exit Day
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend on his election to the seat of Warrington South. I look forward to his advocacy on issues relating to our exit from the European Union. We stand ready to work with businesses up and down the country as we mark an important moment in our national history: leaving the European Union on 31 January.
How will my right hon. Friend ensure that small businesses, which have been, and are, the engine of growth in my constituency, are able to share in the benefits of leaving the EU and in celebrating our departure on 31 January?
Before coming to the House, my hon. Friend was a champion of small businesses in Warrington, and I know he will continue to be so during his time in this place. The best way that we will support businesses in his constituency is by having control of our money, borders and laws. That is what our exit from the European Union does, and that is what he should rightly celebrate on 31 January.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that to mark our leaving the European Union, our fantastic local breweries in Burton-on-Trent should brew a celebratory Brexit beer?
From the reaction of the House, it seems my hon. Friend has struck an extremely positive note in one of her first contributions. I again welcome her to the House. I know her constituency is famed for its beer, and I am sure that many Members would welcome those breweries celebrating this occasion in such a way, just as I would welcome the fantastic Elgood’s Brewery doing so, which sits in my constituency.
Will my right hon. Friend consider the idea, as a lot of my constituents have, of commemorating this day of real constitutional importance by having an anniversary on the date every year?
I very much welcome my hon. Friend to his place, not least as a fellow Lancastrian; I am sure Mr Speaker knows of our Lancastrian pride. He brings an important suggestion. Again, it is all part of marking this significant moment in our national history.
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that 31 January is a significant day not only for us here in the United Kingdom but for hundreds of millions of Eurosceptics across the continent of Europe who share concerns about the direction of travel of the European Union, including many citizens in my country of birth, Poland? Does he agree that it is important for us to celebrate this day very publicly, as a nation, to give a guiding principle to others in Europe that there is life outside the European Union?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that this is an important day not just for our own citizens but for many elsewhere who recognise the importance of this event in terms of democracy and respecting the democratic decisions that people take, rather than overturning them, as has sometimes been the intention in the past. He has always been a champion of close ties between the UK and Poland, and I think that whatever celebrations there are will continue in that vein.
Do the Government’s plans for the end of this month still include the abolition of the right hon. Gentleman’s Department? If so, which Department and which Minister will take responsibility for the very important negotiations that are about to begin?
I pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Gentleman during his tenure as chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee. He knows from his time in Government that machinery of government changes are announced in the usual way by the Prime Minister, and No. 10 has signalled that it intends to do so. He should also be aware, because we publicly stated it, that the Department will draw to a close to mark our exit. It is the Department for Exiting the European Union, and we will have exited and done the job of the Department when we leave on 31 January.
I welcome the Secretary of State back to this House. We have always got on very well, and he is much cleverer than me, but I do have a couple of degrees in economics. When the President of the European Commission comes here and says that in any deal, if we do not have free movement of labour we will not get free movement of goods and services, is that not something that we should all be very sad about as we leave the European Union?
I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for how he champions his constituents and raises thoughtful points. He is quite right to pick up on what I thought was a constructive speech from the European Commission President at the London School of Economics yesterday and to draw the House’s attention to it. What I took away from her speech was her language about wanting a very ambitious partnership—she referred to
“old friends and new beginnings”
and drew on her own time in London and how much she enjoyed it and valued the United Kingdom. She wanted to see a close partnership, whether on climate change, security or many other issues on which we have values in common with our neighbours.
Will the Government confirm whether they are going to request the chiming of Big Ben to mark 11 pm on 31 January? This is not going to be a moment of celebration for many people across the UK; it will be a moment of considerable concern, not least for my constituents who are European Union nationals. Perhaps we should be asking the Government: if they do want to hear the bell chime, for whom will the bell toll?
I welcome this late conversion on the part of the Scottish National party to celebrating our exit and having Big Ben chime. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a decision as to whether Big Ben should bong or not is one for the House authorities and I would not dare to step in to such terrain. The wider point, as I think the mood of the House has demonstrated, is that this is an historic moment and many Members of the House wish to celebrate it.
I urge the Government to be careful about the tone that is adopted at the end of January. They will appreciate that there are many who do not see this as a moment for celebration. In particular, may I ask the Secretary of State what measures are being put in place for the large numbers of non-UK EU nationals, of whom there are many in Cambridgeshire, who will feel particularly vulnerable at that point?
The hon. Member is absolutely right, and I hope that colleagues across the House will see that I always try to take a tone that reflects that. I have often talked about the fact that in my own family, notwithstanding my personal role, my eldest brother is an official working for a European institution. I know that many families were split on this issue.
To answer the hon. Member’s question directly, one thing that we have done is establish a £9 million fund to support outreach groups and charities. We have worked with embassies in particular. Within that £9 million, £1 million is specifically for the settlement scheme, as I am sure the Minister for Security detailed in Committee on Tuesday, and there have been 2.6 million or 2.8 million or so applications, so the scheme is working very effectively free of charge. But the hon. Member is right that some people will have concerns, and one thing that the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill does is guarantee the rights of citizens and address many of the concerns that some of his constituents have shared.
In celebration of this important occasion in our nation’s history, will the Secretary of State arrange for Union flags to be flown from all public buildings across our kingdom? That would be a fitting tribute to the decision the British people made to leave the European Union. We will remain unafraid of our patriotism, unabashed about our departure and unwavering in our determination to make our future even greater.
I know that, like me, my parliamentary neighbour always takes pride in seeing our Union Jack flown, and any opportunity to do so is one that he and I would always celebrate. Given my right hon. Friend’s penchant for poetry, I cannot be alone in thinking that such an occasion might inspire him in due course to write something fitting.
Even the most ardent supporter of Brexit will, I am sure, share a concern that the UK’s departure from the European Union might be depicted as representing insularity and nationalism. It is therefore important that we dispel that sense, and one way in which we could do so is to sign up long term to the vulnerable refugees resettlement scheme and, indeed, to accept in full the Dubs amendment and do our best by the most vulnerable people on this planet, child refugees.
I absolutely agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. A big part of why I and many colleagues supported Brexit is that we want to be more outward-looking, global and international; we want to go after trade deals around the world and have autonomy.
On unaccompanied children and the Dubs amendment, we should not talk down the United Kingdom, which is currently in the top three EU countries in terms of the number of unaccompanied children it takes. It takes 15% of the entire total of unaccompanied children. We have a proud record, we have made commitments, and the Home Secretary wrote to the Commission in October on this issue. It is not necessary for it to be in the withdrawal agreement Bill itself. We have a proud record, and we should not talk it down.
The Government have been clear that the future relationship will protect the UK’s sovereign right to regulate, and have no plans to align dynamically with EU employment legislation.
Since October, the withdrawal agreement Bill has undergone major changes, including the stripping out of previous commitments to workers’ rights. Will the Secretary of State publish a revised impact assessment so that he can be honest with the public about what his Government have in store for them with their hard Brexit plan?
The reality is that we actually go beyond Europe in many areas of workers’ rights, including maternity and paternity leave, and we should be proud of that. The hon. Gentleman asks specifically about the change to the withdrawal agreement Bill, but it does not affect the rights of workers. It should be for this Parliament to set the standards. In our manifesto, we committed to having high standards. The real question that should be asked is why a number of member states do not meet the standards set here in the United Kingdom.
So far, the Prime Minister has taken workplace rights out of the withdrawal agreement in October and the withdrawal agreement Bill in December. What confidence can we have that workplace rights will be protected under this Government?
The hon. Lady says that as if she supported the Bill in October, but she did not. She did not support it when those things were in the clause, and now she is lamenting that they are out of the clause that she did not support. The reality is that the purpose of the withdrawal agreement Bill is to implement the international agreement that the Prime Minister has reached with the European Commission. Of course it is for the House, in the course of its business, to determine what standards it wants on workers’ rights, the environment and other areas. The Prime Minister was clear in the manifesto that we are committed to high standards in those areas. I think that is something that the hon. Lady and I can agree on.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, contrary to what the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) said, we need dynamic alignment like a hole in the head? The purpose of Brexit is to enable us to make our own laws and rules, set our own taxes and chart our own course.
My hon. Friend has championed Parliament’s taking control of these issues for many years, and he is absolutely right: it is for this House to determine the standards, and we should have confidence in its ability to do so.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer on dynamic alignment. As his Department winds up, I thank him personally for leading it with such professionalism, and I thank his team at DExEU.
On dynamic alignment, I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on the fact that the Brexit vote was about this House being sovereign. For me, as a Welsh Member, that is the Union of the United Kingdom, and this House being sovereign over our alignment.
I extend a particularly warm welcome to my hon. Friend on his return to the House, and I thank him for his contribution to the Department during his tenure. He is right both in having confidence in this House setting high standards on workers’ rights and the environment, and in emphasising the importance of that from a Union perspective. Of course, Wales supported leaving, just as England did.
Will the Secretary of State give an absolute guarantee that post Brexit, under a Conservative Government, there will never be a point at which workers in the EU27 enjoy stronger employment rights than they do here?
I am absolutely clear that we will deliver on our manifesto—[Interruption.] Members seem surprised that the Government want to deliver on our manifesto. The manifesto says that we are committed to having high standards. As I said earlier, the real issue is that, in a number of areas, EU standards are lower. The UK has three times the maternity entitlement: it has 52 weeks of maternity leave, 39 of which are paid, whereas the EU requires only 14 weeks of paid leave. That is the area that I urge the hon. Gentleman to focus on.
A Government genuinely committed to workers’ rights would have given a straight yes to that question, but the Secretary of State did not. If he committed to dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, there would be nothing stopping the Government going beyond it in the years ahead. Should we be surprised by their lack of commitment? The Prime Minister said that the weight of employment law was “back-breaking”. Is not the truth that the Government will not end up with stronger rights for UK workers at the end of this Parliament?
I really do not think Opposition Members should be talking about a lack of commitment when it comes to the withdrawal agreement, given that their party leader was neutral on the issue during the general election. The reality is that the hon. Gentleman, like so many Members on the Opposition Benches, having said that he would respect the result of the referendum, went back on the manifesto commitment and did not do it. It is now time to listen to the electorate and deliver that. We are absolutely clear that in doing so, as we set out in our manifesto, we will maintain high standards on workers’ rights.
I continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across Government on all aspects of exiting the European Union. The Government have been clear that we will not weaken our current environmental protections as we leave the European Union, and that we will maintain, and even enhance, our already high environmental standards.
It is vital that we not only maintain but enhance our environmental protections, and that we enhance our natural environment. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that leaving the EU will not negatively impact on the Nature4Climate fund and the essential restoration of our peat moorlands, including in my constituency of High Peak?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He is quite right to highlight the importance of those protections from a constituency perspective. I draw his attention to the £10 million that the Government have allocated for peatland restoration until March 2021, which I hope will give him comfort, alongside the environmental commitments set out in the Queen’s Speech, such as the independent monitoring of the targets that have been set, and the allocation of funding for that specific issue, which I know he has a close constituency interest in.
The United Kingdom has some of the highest food standards, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will not allow substandard agricultural or food imports after the UK leaves the EU, which it would otherwise be illegal to produce here in the UK?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place —it is nice to have so many hon. Friends to welcome today. I am sure that, like me, he listened to “Farming Today” this morning and heard, in relation to the Oxford conference, a debate on how important it is to maintain high animal welfare standards on imports in any future trade deals. One of the odd points about this debate is that the Government are constantly asked whether we will maintain high animal welfare standards, notwithstanding our manifesto commitments to do so, but there is very little scrutiny of those areas in Europe that have lower standards. I am sure that we will explore the issue during the negotiations.
The Secretary of State will know that the EU’s groundbreaking European green deal includes many policies with which UK alignment will be straightforward. Others will be more challenging. For example, the circular economy action plan will seek to change business models and set minimum standards for producers to prevent environmentally harmful products being placed on the market. He has talked about wanting to lead on environmental issues, so will the Government commit to adopting and keeping pace with the proposed minimum standards on sustainable production?
We are very happy to commit to world-leading environmental standards. One of the areas where we are doing so is through our hosting of COP 26 in Glasgow, which will be key, and through standards—[Interruption.] I will come on to climate change, but that is integrated in our aspiration—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is chuntering away, but I will move on to that. On the specific point about the green deal, he is right that the Commission President specifically referred to the green deal in her speech at the London School of Economics yesterday, and it is something that the Prime Minister and I discussed with her in our meeting. Again, it is an area where the UK has world-leading expertise. Look at our green finance, our green investment bank and the areas where the UK is in the lead. We look forward to working with the European Union on that as we move forward.
European Court of Justice
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) on her election as the first Conservative MP for Great Grimsby since 1945—fantastic!
The withdrawal agreement ensures that the current role of the European Union institutions, including the European Court of Justice, and the obligation to comply with European Union law as it is now end with the implementation period on 31 December 2020. There are limited exceptions, such as citizens’ rights, to give businesses and individuals certainty. The agreement enables a relationship between sovereign equals.
I thank the Minister for his response. Does he agree that coastal areas such as my Great Grimsby constituency voted particularly to ensure that we take back control of our fishing laws, and that it is essential, following Brexit, that laws governing fishing are decided here in the UK?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I recognise the importance of this issue as I, too, represent a coastal constituency. As we leave the EU, we will be an independent coastal state and we will introduce our own independent fisheries policy. We will be able to control access to and management of our waters. That presents opportunities for the UK fishing industry, and the Government are determined to make the most of such opportunities for the people of Grimsby and the rest of the United Kingdom.
On 30 January, I shall be holding a public meeting to explain the terms of the withdrawal agreement. When I held my last meeting relating to the previous withdrawal agreement, concern was raised about the European Court’s ability to determine issues that arise. Will my hon. Friend confirm that, under articles 167 to 181 of the new withdrawal agreement, while the Court can have matters referred to it, it cannot actually determine, because we will now have an arbitration panel, over which the UK will have a large degree of control?
I can confirm that the withdrawal agreement establishes an arbitration panel as part of the standard mechanism for settling disputes between the UK and the EU. After 31 December, the Court of Justice of the European Union will no longer be the final arbiter of disputes under the disputes resolution mechanism. I look forward to an invite to my hon. Friend’s event.
I thank the Minister for his assurances on the ECJ. People in Heywood and Middleton voted to leave the European Union by a quite significant margin. Does he agree that the critical reason for that was a wish to take back control of our laws to this place and not to be dictated to by Brussels?
It is wonderful to see my hon. Friend in the Chamber—he is not the first Conservative MP for his constituency since 1945, but the first ever Conservative MP for Heywood and Middleton. This Government have prioritised negotiating a deal that disentangles us from the European Union’s legal order and does indeed take back control of our laws.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election. His experience as an A&E doctor will, I am sure, pay dividends here. I promised my office that I would make no jokes about his scrubbing up well as a new Member of Parliament.
Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union continue to hold regular discussions with Health and Social Care Ministers. The NHS is, of course, of the utmost importance to the Government. As was outlined in the Queen’s Speech, the national health service’s multi-year funding settlement, which was agreed earlier this year, will be enshrined in law for the first time ever.
I thank the Minister for that response. I know that my constituents in Crewe and Nantwich are delighted to see the deadlock broken and the good progress that we are making toward delivering Brexit responsibly by the end of the month. Does he agree that significant measures have rightly been taken to ensure the continued flow of medicines after Brexit, and that the NHS will continue to be a fantastic place for EU citizens to work in years to come?
The Government are moving forward on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, and we are confident that the deal will be ratified on 31 January. Under the terms of the agreement, we will enter the implementation period following 31 January, during which medical supplies will continue to flow as they do today. My hon. Friend makes a good point about EU nationals working in the health service. Since the referendum, almost 7,300 more European nationals have been working in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups, which should be welcomed.
During the election, the Prime Minister promised 50,000 extra nurses. Given a one-third increase in EU nurses leaving the UK, does the Minister accept that the Prime Minister must ditch his anti-immigrant rhetoric, and that there must be improvements to the settlement scheme so that EU citizens feel both welcome and secure in the UK?
There have been improvements in tier 2 visas and 700 more EU doctors have come on board. The hon. Lady talks about the manifesto and 50,000 more nurses. We will do more on the nurse bursary scheme, as was promised during the general election.
My German GP husband, who has been looking after patients for over 30 years, was quite offended by the Prime Minister criticising EU citizens treating this “as their own country”.
There has been a lot of concern about the possible increase in drug prices for the NHS under a US trade deal, but what estimate has been made of the increased bureaucratic customs costs for the 37 million packets of drugs that come from the EU every month?
The hon. Lady talks about bureaucracy, but one of the reasons why we want to take back control is to reduce that bureaucracy. We will be in control of our own destiny to manage the very issues that she highlights.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the NHS will receive far more than £350 million a week in additional funding as the UK leaves the EU, including in my home constituency of Bassetlaw?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House and can certainly confirm that.
The Secretary of State regularly discusses the rights of EU citizens with the Home Secretary and other Cabinet colleagues. To protect the right to reside, EU citizens who are resident at the end of the implementation period must apply for settled status by June 2021. This is a free-of-charge process, and we have already received well over 2.6 million applications to the scheme.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and obviously I am delighted by the progress that the settlement scheme is making in encouraging EU citizens who are here to remain. In common with many colleagues in the House, I spent a number of days in the last few weeks knocking on doors and talking to my constituents. One of the people I came across was an EU citizen—an Italian who was married to a British lady and had lived here for over 50 years, working all the time and paying his taxes. He wanted to become a British citizen, but is faced with an application fee of £1,700. Does my hon. Friend think that that is fair? Is there something that we can do to encourage people who have lived here for a long time to become British citizens?
I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend to talk about the specifics of that case and the EU settlement scheme. Yesterday the Minister for immigration talked about why that issue would not be covered by the withdrawal agreement Bill, but I am more than happy to chat to my right hon. Friend about that individual case.
Does the Minister have even the tiniest twinge of conscience at the sheer immorality of demanding that somebody pay an extortionate sum simply to be allowed to continue to live in their own home?
The settlement scheme is free.
To what extent is the Government’s EU settlement scheme in this country being replicated by the EU27, including with reference to fees and charges?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Prime Minister made a big, bold offer for EU citizens, and we urge member states to do the same.
Will the Minister further outline whether he intends to level the fees between European partners and Commonwealth partners such as Canada to ensure that there is a level playing field for immigration? Is he aware that that would reduce the fees paid by Commonwealth spouses?
Such issues are for the Home Office, but an advantage of taking back control is that we can look at our relationships with other parts of the world, particularly the Commonwealth, which makes up a third of the world by population.
Can my hon. Friend assure EU citizens in Beaconsfield that there is no charge for applying for settled status?
I thank the right hon.—[Interruption.] Sorry, my hon. Friend—the title does not go with the constituency. I do not know her well, but she is already a great improvement, and I agree fully.
I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on citizens’ rights. The withdrawal agreement will protect the rights of EU citizens who arrive in the UK by the end of the implementation period. As of the end of November, we were already moving towards receiving 3 million applications to the EU settlement scheme.
Will EU nationals who fail to get settled status by the end of this year become our next Windrush generation, losing their driving licences and jobs, and ultimately facing deportation?
I am glad that the hon. Lady asks that question, because it lets me say: first, we have a grace period until June 2021 to address that issue; and, secondly, the declaratory scheme that she advocates would increase the risk of exactly the issue to which she refers.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the fact that 3.5 million EU citizens see the best future for themselves and their families as to remain living and working in post-Brexit Britain is a huge endorsement of our post-Brexit prospects? I wish that that confidence was shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I urge Members on both sides of the House to support Third Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill because it safeguards the rights of the 3 million EU citizens here, as it does those of the 1 million or so UK citizens in Europe. The Bill guarantees the rights of those EU citizens because we value the contribution they make to our homes, communities and businesses.
Refusing to provide paper proof of status, rejecting Labour’s proposal to grant automatic status, granting only uncertainty inducing pre-settled status to people who have been here legally for years and the high cost of applying for citizenship—what part of all that does the Secretary of State believe makes our EU friends and neighbours living in the UK feel truly valued and welcome?
The hon. Lady appears to have missed the debate about these issues in Committee.
No, I was here.
In which case the hon. Lady should well know that the specific issue of documentation versus digital was raised with the Minister for Security, who was clear that although there will be a letter to provide a document, it would have reference to the digital number. That issue was explored at length. She will also know that citizens do not lose any rights when they get pre-settled status, and that they then move on to settled status. Those issues were debated—that is what a Committee stage is for—and addressed by a Home Office Minister at that time.
I continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues on all aspects of exiting the European Union, including agricultural policy.
Our farmers and food producers are required by domestic legislation to observe high standards for the environment, the workplace and animal welfare. Will the Secretary of State confirm that under future free trade agreements, tariff-free imports will be allowed only from producers that also observe those standards?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue, about which there has been a live discussion at the Oxford farming conference, as he will know. The UK has always been a leading advocate of open and fair competition. I assure him that we are absolutely committed to maintaining high standards through a robust domestic enforcement regime.
As this is my right hon. Friend’s last question session as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, may I congratulate him on having served with such distinction?
I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to maintaining common agricultural policy levels of funding for our farmers, but during his remaining days in office, may I urge my right hon. Friend to liaise closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make sure that we come up with an excellent deal for our hill farmers, many of whom operate at a level of subsistence yet look after some of the most beautiful uplands in our land?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s kind remarks. He is absolutely right to focus on hill farmers. As he will know, one of the aspects of the agriculture Bill is the ability to target measures—for example, on the environment—at specific areas of agriculture. Key among those are hill farmers, whom I know he has always championed.
Farmers made it clear in Oxford this week that they simply do not trust the Government’s assurances. Will the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs give assurances that they will accept the equivalent of my former new clause 1 to the agriculture Bill, when it comes back? That would ensure no lowering of standards. Will they also agree to the National Farmers Union’s request for a trading standards commission to scrutinise any future trade deals and make sure that farmers are protected?
If farmers did not trust the assurances, I am not sure whether another assurance would suddenly become trustworthy.
On the substance of the hon. Lady’s question, I refer her, for example, to the commitment to set up the office for environmental protection, which will be the single enforcement body. Above all, however, I refer her to this House: part of taking back control will be the House’s ability to scrutinise issues, such as the legitimate one that she raises, and to ensure that the Government meet the assurances that they have given.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the importance of the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland. Will he assure the House, and the agri-food sector and associated businesses in Northern Ireland, that his departmental and Cabinet colleagues are very well aware of that importance and can minimise any threats and maximise opportunities as we leave the EU?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of that issue. The former Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee referred to the Department’s disbanding, but what is not disbanding is the expertise within it, which will be shared across Whitehall, including with the Northern Ireland Office. As the hon. Gentleman will know, when it comes to the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, that sector and how it plays into discussions within the Joint Committee will be extremely important. I am sure that he will contribute fully to that debate.
As in Northern Ireland, the agricultural sector is vital to the economy of Scotland, where food and drink account for 18% of international exports. What work is my right hon. Friend’s Department and the Department for International Trade doing to ensure that, in our future relationship with the European Union, the trade in agri-goods is as free and frictionless as possible?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the food and drink sector—not least, for example, when we consider the Scottish whisky industry, which is key. From memory, the UK has 88 geographical indications, whereas Europe has over 3,000: from a negotiating point of view, the European Union obviously has more interest in that issue. From a Scottish point of view, however, the importance of the intellectual protection of Scottish whisky and salmon is huge. We are very alive to those issues.
One of the most welcome things about the debate since the general election has been its more positive tone, and one aspect of that has been moving on from the language of no-deal crash-outs. The withdrawal agreement safeguards things such as citizens’ rights. It includes the Northern Ireland protocol and settles settlement. We therefore move into a different phase, in which the risks of no deal that the hon. Gentleman and many others spoke about no longer apply. That is the benefit of the Prime Minister’s deal and it is why the hon. Gentleman should support the withdrawal agreement Bill on Third Reading.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether the Government will introduce any changes to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme after the UK leaves the EU? Farmers in my constituency need certainty that they can hire the workers they require.
I know from representing a farming area myself the importance of seasonal workers. Obviously, that debate interplays with the expansion of investment in agritech, which brings benefits not only for productivity but in reducing demand. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Home Office has increased the numbers under the seasonal agricultural workers scheme to 10,000, but as part of designing our own approach to immigration and having control of our borders, we will be able both to address the concerns of the public at large and to mitigate any specific sectoral issues that apply, for example, to agriculture.
Fifty per cent of Welsh lamb is consumed elsewhere in the UK and 45% of it goes to the European Union, so Welsh hill farmers will probably be the most exposed of all if there is a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year. Will the Secretary of State do everything in his power to ensure that the Government do not sign off on a deal unless it ensures tariff-free access for lamb into the European Union?
The whole point of the deal—I hope the hon. Gentleman supports it on Third Reading—is that it ensures that we will leave in a smooth and orderly way. The specific issues of hill farmers are matters for both the negotiation and the agriculture Bill. I am sure he, among others, will contribute to that debate.
Question 14. Karl MᶜCartney.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is good to be back—and I do like your socks.
Fishing and Marine Policy
I welcome my hon. Friend back to his place as a great champion of the constituency of Lincoln. We continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues on all aspects of exiting the European Union, including fisheries and marine policy.
Topical questions. Nigel Mills. [Interruption.] Sorry—supplementary question, Karl MᶜCartney.
And there was me saying I liked your socks.
The good city of Lincoln is not that close to the sea, but further to the Minister’s answer to Question 4, in percentage terms and considering everything we now know, how confident is my right hon. Friend not only that will we leave the common fisheries policy completely, but that we will then be in full control of our fishing areas and quotas, and therefore able to influence international total allowable catches?
I am 100% confident on those issues, because page 46 of the Conservative manifesto, which I know my hon. Friend knows in detail, makes it clear that we will leave the common fisheries policy and become an independent coastal state. For the first time in more than 40 years, we will have access to UK waters on our own terms, under our own control, and we will be responsible for setting fishing opportunities in our own waters.
Since our last departmental questions, we have contested the general election, where Brexit was the defining issue, and been given a renewed mandate by the British people to leave the European Union. As a result, we have been able to bring the withdrawal agreement back before the House. As was shown during its Committee stage this week, it is the will of this House that we now implement that decision.
That has been reflected, as referred to by the Chair of the Brexit Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), in the decision to disband the Department for Exiting the European Union, as its purpose will have been achieved. I would like to take this opportunity to place on the record my thanks to all the officials in the Department and across Whitehall who have worked so tirelessly over the last three years to achieve this result, and to thank all my colleagues who have served in ministerial roles in the Department.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister and I met the new European Commission President and the European Union chief negotiator to discuss our shared desire for what the President described as a unique partnership reflecting our shared values as friends and neighbours.
During the three years that the Department has been in place, it has had three Secretaries of State and three permanent secretaries but, since the first departmental questions, just one shadow Brexit Secretary. Throughout my interactions with the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), he has always been both professional and courteous while probing and challenging. Without wishing in any way to jinx his next steps, may I place on the record his contribution to the scrutiny of the Government, which I am sure will continue in whatever role he plays in the House moving forward?
Does the Secretary of State agree that close working between UK authorities and their equivalents on the continent is key to making our future relationship work? Now that we have nearly agreed an orderly exit, will he confirm that discussions between tax authorities in the UK and France on ensuring that customs processes are streamlined can start, and will not continue to be blocked by the European Commission?
It is not so much a question of whether those discussions need to start; they have started. In our contingency planning for an exit without a withdrawal agreement, there was a lot of discussion on how we would manage frictions at our borders, and much of that can be taken forward, such as the Treasury’s commitment to driving productivity and improving connectivity and flow through our ports. There is work on this already; my hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to it, and we intend to build on it.
I thank the Secretary of State for his kind words. I appreciate the relationship that we have had, and, in particular, his kindness when my father died at the tail end of 2018, which touched me personally. I welcome the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) and all Members, but I strongly dissociate myself from the words of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State about the former right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, who gave distinguished service in this House, including as Attorney General for the Government. I hope that there might be an opportunity to correct the record on that.
Yesterday, the Government voted down the Opposition’s amendment on unaccompanied child refugees. Our amendment would have preserved the victory that Lord Alf Dubs had campaigned for. I have always had a good personal relationship with the Secretary of State, but whatever he says about the wider issues, he must know that the Government have got this wrong. This could be his last Brexit oral questions; is he prepared to reconsider? I urge him to do so.
To understand the context, it is important to look at the commitment the Government gave to commencing negotiations on this issue, as reflected in the letter of 22 October from the Home Secretary to the European Commission. As was touched on in earlier questions, the Government have a strong record on this. They take 15% of unaccompanied child refugees; we are one of the top three EU countries in that regard. That commitment on granting asylum and supporting refugees remains; it is actually embedded in our manifesto, on page 23. In the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, we return to the traditional approach, in which the Government undertake the negotiation and Parliament scrutinises that, rather than Parliament setting the terms, as happened in the last Parliament.
I am disappointed by the Secretary of State’s reply. Labour will continue to fight to protect the most vulnerable. We may not win many votes in Parliament just now, but we can win the moral argument. I urge everyone who cares about the issue to put pressure on the Government, and urge Ministers to rethink this disgraceful decision. A legal obligation on the Government has been converted into reliance on the Prime Minister’s word. Surely the Secretary of State can see why that gives rise to anxiety among Labour Members.
The shadow Brexit Secretary is right: there clearly has been anxiety among Labour Members, but I hope that he takes assurance from the explanation I gave that the commitment is unchanged. That is reflected in the letter of 22 October to the Commission from the Home Secretary, and in the manifesto. The policy is unchanged. It is right that the Bill should, as is traditional, implement the international agreement; that is what it will do.
May I take the opportunity to say that I have the utmost respect for the previous Member for Beaconsfield? I was simply trying to say that as a Government Minister, I found the particular line of questioning raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) much more helpful to respond to. I hope that the House will take that as an apology to the previous Member for Beaconsfield.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) on her question, and on her election to the House. I can confirm that we will pay special attention to the 10-metre fleet; it is an issue that I am aware of, as a coastal MP; in Southend, we have some under-10 metre boats. I also confirm that as we leave the EU and become an independent coastal state, the Government will develop a domestic fisheries policy that promotes that fleet, which is profitable and diverse, and uses traditional practices to protect stocks and our precious marine environment.
I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has drawn the House’s attention to a sector that is extremely important to the potential of the UK. I have discussed the issue with my ministerial colleagues. As for his characterisation, part of the reason for the withdrawal agreement Bill, which I hope he will support on Third Reading, is to secure the rights of the 3 million EU citizens, many of whom contribute to the creative arts. Future policy, however, is for the immigration Bill, where we will design something that is targeted at talents, including the talents of those in the creative industries.
It must be a happy day, and one to celebrate, when there are so many Lancastrians in the House. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the achievements of officials within the Department who have worked so hard to support the Government in getting this deal. It is an important moment, and in part, the closure of the Department will enable us to take the expertise built up by officials over the past three years into those Departments that will be front and centre in the trade negotiations.
I am happy to guarantee to all those EU citizens living in the UK ahead of our exit that the withdrawal agreement Bill guarantees their rights, among which are their rights to healthcare. That is why I urge the hon. Gentleman to support the Bill on Third Reading.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Government are clear that they wish to continue to attract students from the EU and the rest of the world to study here in the UK. The UK’s higher education institutions have long-established traditions of attracting the brightest minds at all stages of their education and research careers, as we saw yesterday with the alumna of the London School of Economics. This being our last oral questions, I thank civil servants for their support. I particularly thank my private office and Cara Phillips. They have been wonderful.
The Secretary of State knows that Airbus contributes billions of pounds in taxation, employs tens of thousands of people and wants business continuity after a short transition period. Will he give an undertaking today that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency will continue as is—rather than us inventing new, bespoke regulatory systems for the sake of divergence—so that Airbus can plan ahead, invest and continue to make its contribution to our economy?
The hon. Gentleman correctly draws the House’s attention to an important issue, and one for the future negotiations. As he knows, however, in the political declaration there is scope for such participation. What was constructive and positive about the remarks of the President of the European Commission yesterday, which were reflected in the meeting with the Prime Minister, was the desire to build on that close partnership. The sort of areas where there will be detailed discussion will be on aircraft and other such sectors.
My hon. Friend is right to seize the opportunities that Brexit offers, and that is particularly the case in agriculture. He well knows that the bureaucracy of the common agricultural policy was an area of deep frustration, with things such as the three-crop rule dictating to farmers who farm more than 30 hectares what they can and cannot grow. We should be setting farmers free and giving them those opportunities. Through the agriculture Bill, we will have the chance to seize those opportunities, and I know that my hon. Friend will be at the forefront of that for his constituents in West Dorset.
Football Association and Bet365
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on the deal between the Football Association and Bet365.
I will respond on behalf of the Secretary of State to this urgent question.
Recent reports on the streaming of FA cup matches by online bookmakers have rightly caused concern across the House. They relate to a media rights deal agreed by the FA with IMG in early 2017, within which IMG could sell on live footage or clips of certain FA cup matches to commercial partners. Bet365 and six other betting operators acquired those rights from IMG to use from the start of 2018-19 season.
It is right that sporting organisations have the freedom to benefit commercially from their products and negotiate their own broadcasting deals, but football authorities also have an important responsibility to ensure that fans are protected from the risks of problem gambling. Since the deal was agreed, the FA has rightly reviewed its position on commercial relationships with gambling firms. It has ended a commercial partnership with Ladbrokes and announced that it will be reviewing its processes for tendering rights from the 2024-25 season onwards, and it is absolutely correct that it does so.
The Secretary of State and I made our views quite clear yesterday and have done so previously on the wider responsibilities of sport and gambling sectors to their fans, their customers and our wider communities. We therefore welcome the fact that the industry has responded to public concern by introducing a whistle-to-whistle ban on TV advertising during daytime sport, and that the FA introduced a rule last year that prevents players, managers and members of staff in any capacity from deliberately taking part in audio or audio-visual advertising to actively encourage betting.
While many people enjoy gambling as a leisure pursuit, we cannot forget that it carries a high risk of harm and can have a serious impact individuals, families and communities. All of us—Governments, gambling companies and sporting authorities—need to keep the momentum going so that we can protect vulnerable people from the risk of gambling-related harm.
Problem gambling in the UK is now so endemic that it should be treated as a public health crisis. It causes untold misery to those affected and their families. Too many times, I have sat with men and women who are cursed with an addiction and who are battling mental health issues. Too many times, I have listened to the heart-wrenching grief of a partner, sibling or parent whose loved one has taken their life because the demon became too big to fight. Again and again, I have stood in this Chamber and vocalised my shock, my anger and my utter disgust at the greed and immoral behaviour of the gambling companies. It saddens me that I am having to do it yet again, yet here we are—the first urgent question of the new year.
Three years ago, it appeared that the FA had turned a corner when it ended a £4 million-a-year sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes, distancing itself from the gambling industry—or so we assumed. However, what has come to light in recent days paints a very different picture.
In 2017, the Football Association agreed a streaming deal through sporting rights agency IMG, which will run until 2024. That deal, thought to be worth in the region of £750 million, allows IMG to sell on live footage from cup matches to bookmakers and betting firms around the globe. Gambling companies can then stream matches on their websites and mobile apps, forcing fans to “bet to view” if they want to watch their team.
We already know of some of the UK-based gambling companies who took part in the deal, but there are likely to be many more, both at home and across the world. I dread to think how many people will take the bait and place their first bet as a result of this deal, and how many could spiral into a dark addiction off the back of it. Just last weekend, Bet365 broadcast 32 FA cup matches online, in comparison with only two on terrestrial free-to-air television. To watch the matches on Bet365’s site, fans had to either place a bet before kick-off or open an account with a £5 deposit. Bet365 heavily promoted the matches on social media beforehand, offering tips to lure potential gamblers. Betting odds then accompanied the live footage, tempting viewers to gamble more.
Everything about the deal is shameful, everything about it needs to be dealt with and everything about the Gambling Act 2005 needs reform. The Gambling Commission certainly needs reform. I thank the Prime Minister for his comments, but I urge the Government to do more to protect vulnerable people.
I congratulate the hon. Member, who I know is passionate about this issue and has campaigned very effectively in the House. The Government are also very angry about this arrangement, especially after a weekend when the FA worthily highlighted its Heads Together mental health campaign.
I have spoken at some length to the FA since this broke. The arrangement has been in place for some time; the 2017 contract was a rollover of a deal. The Government have asked the Football Association to look at all avenues to review this element of its broadcasting agreement. This element of the broadcast arrangement is for matches that are not chosen for the FA cup online broadcast or do not kick off at 3 pm on a Saturday, and it does open up the opportunity for plenty of other games to be watched, but we have asked the FA in no uncertain terms to look at the deal and to see what opportunities there are to rescind this particular element. I will be meeting face to face with the FA next week.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing this urgent question. I welcome the Minister’s comments following the Prime Minister’s earlier call for this unacceptable deal to be scrapped. It is unacceptable because it goes in completely the wrong direction; it is the gamblification of sport. It seriously damages the reputation of both the Football Association and IMG. Does the Minister agree that the FA should return, as soon as possible, to working to reduce the links between football and gambling, and that it should do away with this deal and avoid the proven risks of relentless online marketing, particularly on young men?
My hon. Friend is right. I have spoken with him about his constituency concerns about this issue. It is absolutely right that the Football Association and all sporting bodies who, rightly, have links with sponsors across all sectors need to be very mindful of the impacts that such deals have on vulnerable people. We have made that very clear to the FA. As I said earlier to the hon. Member for Swansea East, the FA is looking into how it can alter the arrangements under that deal in the shortest order.
Thank you for granting this important urgent question, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for asking it. Many people are outraged that gambling firm Bet365 has won the rights to broadcast FA cup matches exclusively through its website and applications, because we are all too aware of the devastating impact that gambling can have on lives. At the heart of this issue is the cynical way Bet365 hook people into placing bets and gambling during matches, almost grooming people into becoming gamblers.
We know the link between gambling, mental health and suicide is real. My constituent Kay Wadsworth’s only daughter Kimberly took her own life when she was in the grip of gambling addiction. Her death destroyed her family and brought unimaginable heartache. Think of the hundreds like Kimberly out there who might enjoy football, but find their lives ruined by addiction.
Yesterday the Secretary of State made strong statements, and even Gary Lineker and the Prime Minister agreed that the FA should reconsider. Has the Prime Minister spoken to the FA in the last 24 hours? Will the FA listen to the wishes of the Prime Minister?
Bet365 has stated that those who wished to watch matches did not need to gamble, but they did need to deposit money into an account, which meant that viewers were bombarded with live odds throughout the match. What protections have been put in place for gambling addicts? Is the Minister aware of any assessment that the FA made on the potential impact the deal could have on vulnerable people and the health of viewers? When was the Department first made aware of the deal by the FA, and what was the Department’s response? Was it deemed acceptable or not? Will the Minister commit to write to all our sporting governing bodies and those who sell the rights to sport so that we do not end up in this situation with another sport?
It feels as though most of the House is united on this issue. The Queen’s Speech made a commitment to review the Gambling Act 2005. Will the Minister update us on when that review will begin?
I welcome the shadow Secretary of State to her place. The arrangement through IMG is not solely with Bet365, as six other gambling companies have rights to the broadcasts. I have spoken to the Football Association and the Prime Minister has made his views clear. The hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that I have received several commitments from the Football Association: it will not renew the deal when it comes up and it is also looking at all options to see if the current deal can be restricted.
I urge all other sporting bodies to look at their broadcast agreements. My understanding is that similar agreements are in place across all sports, not just football in this country. It is a global arrangement. The Olympics, FIFA and the Premier League do not have such broadcasting arrangements, but just about every other sporting body does. I urge all those bodies to ensure that they review their broadcast deals urgently.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing the urgent question, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) tabled a similar urgent question, showing the cross-party concern on the issue.
The deal with Bet365 is distasteful, naive and a long way short of what good governance of sport, especially football, should look like. But it also contradicts previous FA decisions dissociating itself, as the sport’s regulator, from betting companies. Those decisions recognised public concern about gambling in football and dovetailed nicely with the FA’s mental health work. I encourage the Minister not to listen too closely to the FA’s defence on the issue and claims that any renegotiation of the deal will have an impact on grassroots sport. That is something that the FA has regularly claimed in the past, but it is important that it reviews the deal now, to protect people involved in football. Does the Minister agree that that needs to be done urgently if the FA is to regain respect for its previous moral position on the issue of gambling?
As the House knows, my hon. Friend has done an incredible amount over the years and she is passionate about this subject. It is fair to say that the arrangements for cutting the stakes on fixed odds betting terminals and tightening the requirements on age and identity verification to protect customers have a lot to do with her work in the House.
It is absolutely right that the FA act urgently on the matter. From our conversation this morning, it is fair to say that the FA is more than embarrassed by the situation. We will make it very clear when we have a face-to-face meeting early next week what steps we expect it to take next.
The deal between the English FA and IMG/Bet365 —and, indeed, six other bookmakers—is, as the Minister has outlined, to be regretted. It shows the danger of selling media rights to third parties without correct oversight of the process. Gambling addiction is on the rise in the UK, so every gateway to gambling and the problems it creates needs to be scrutinised intensely. Online gambling in particular has experienced a huge increase in activity, with more than one third of the EU’s online betting taking place in the UK. There has been progress through measures to address fixed odds betting terminals in the past year—with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who asked the previous question, at the heart of that move. Do the Government intend to pursue similar proactive measures before the FA’s next media rights review?
A tiny percentage of live football is now available on terrestrial TV. Does the Minister agree that ensuring that more football, and more sport generally, is broadcast on free-to-access television would remove potentially dangerous gambling gateways such as this one?
Yes, I do. The hon. Gentleman is correct: we would like to see far more live sport on terrestrial television. However, it is worth pointing out that the games we are discussing are one of three tranches of games. They are not FA cup games that kick off at 3 o’clock on a Saturday. They are not games that are chosen by the broadcasters for live broadcast. As the competition goes on, there will be fewer games. However, that is largely irrelevant. Let me deal with the issue at hand. It is worth pointing out that, as I have mentioned previously, it is an issue across all sports. We want to do all we can to ensure that there is more sport on terrestrial TV, but we have to be mindful of the fact that the rights holders can conduct their commercial deals themselves. However, they have to be responsible. The hon. Gentleman will know that our manifesto said that we would review the Gambling Act 2005. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), who is responsible for gambling, is in her place and I am sure that we will come to the House in future to clarify when that review will take place.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on obtaining the urgent question. In a sense, it does not really matter what the FA says to explain. The evidence is clear. The all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm conducted a series of inquiries with the chief executives of several gambling companies. The biggest area of risk is their drive to get more and more people into VIP rooms, where they give them incentives, such as tickets for football matches. What we are discussing is all part of that. The biggest abuse takes place in that process, whereby companies drive people who gamble a lot into higher levels of gambling because that is where their profits lie. It is not good enough for the FA to say, “Well, we didn’t really mean this and we’ll review it.” The Government give the FA financial assistance. I urge my hon. Friend, as Minister for Sport, to tell the FA that unless it moves on the matter pretty damn quickly, we will review its financial support.
My right hon. Friend has a long history of campaigning on this issue, and he is absolutely correct. On his first point, the Gambling Commission is looking into the matter. As for the financial assistance the Government give the Football Association, I understand the Football Foundation receives about £18 million, and my right hon. Friend will be aware of our manifesto commitment to £500 million for grassroots football. I assure him that that will be on my agenda when I meet the FA next week.
The betting companies know there is a problem already, because they have undertaken not to advertise during live football matches, but of course that has not yet been implemented. Does the Minister share my concern that if this development is not nipped in the bud we might reach a position where people can watch sport only if they have placed a bet?
I am confident that that will not happen. The hon. Gentleman is correct about the commitment to the ban on in-game advertising, and it is important that we look at the data on that. It has only just kicked in, but we should welcome the fact that the industry has stepped up and introduced that measure. I assure him that we will monitor it extremely carefully.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should work with banks as well as betting companies to ensure that the sort of behaviour that suggests that someone is developing a gambling addition is spotted? I raise that because Bet365 is a major, well respected and responsible employer in my constituency, employing several thousand people. We need to get the balance right in how we tackle this issue and who we talk to, and recognise that there are other issues at stake.
My hon. Friend and new colleague is correct. Bet365 is a significant employer in her area and it is right that it takes its responsibilities very seriously. I urge her to seek a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), who is responsible for gambling and who I know will be interested in furthering that discussion.
This is not about sport any more—we have gone way beyond that. This is entirely about gambling. It is not about the love of the game; it is about the unrestricted greed of Bet365. Right now, it is streaming 21 live events, covering eight different sports. Its design is to get people who have self-excluded from gambling to race to a gambling company and lay themselves open to lobbying once again. People who have identified themselves as suffering from gambling-related harm are being asked to put themselves back in a vulnerable position simply to watch their chosen sports. The Government should stop asking the gambling industry to act; they have to tell the industry what to do. We have to legislate; we cannot kowtow to the industry and let it have authority in this. This place makes the law. The gambling industry has to be brought into line with a completely new gambling Act, and during that process we should consult people who have suffered from gambling-related harm.
The hon. Gentleman is spot-on. That is another reason why we are going to review the Gambling Act—and the sooner we do so the better as far as I am concerned.
I believe the deal cheapens the FA cup, and I do not believe we should wait four years for a review. If the FA will not change its mind and act soon, will the Minister consider amending the Gambling Act to ban the type of sponsorship deal that requires sports fans to set up gambling accounts simply to watch sports?
My hon. Friend is right. Nothing is off the table in the review. I can tell the House that this morning the FA confirmed that from next year, 2021, it will show those particular games on its website, so that they are not available exclusively via gambling sites. That is progress, but we have asked the FA to consider all the options for restricting the deal sooner.
The Minister has several times mentioned the review he is going to undertake, which was in the Queen’s Speech. Will he tell us when that is going to happen, as he did not answer the question from my Front-Bench colleague?
Work has started on the review, but I am not in a position to give the hon. Lady a date. This will be done in due course and Ministers will make the announcement when that is ready.
I sense the frustration of the Minister and the whole House that he has had to come to the Dispatch Box again to explain the actions of these clowns at the Football Association. Does he agree that this is more than goes on in other sports, because the national game permeates right through our society and we must therefore take it absolutely seriously? Will he widen his discussions to look at areas of poor governance in the national game, such as bullying, safeguarding and the poor deal for football fans? There is a canker at the heart of our national game and we need to sort it out.
My hon. Friend is correct; we are regularly in conversation with the FA on these issues. I know he is an active member of the Select Committee—at least he was, and he may very well continue to be—and we will ensure that he is updated on the conversations that we have.
Does the Minister accept that this is just another example, but a serious one, of the FA’s dumbing down of the wonderful competition that is the FA cup? I do not know whether the Minister is old enough to remember, but I am sure you are, Mr Speaker, when most games kicked off at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in the third round of the FA cup—to suit fans, not to suit the media companies and the betting companies. When he has that conversation with the FA, will he raise that general issue and say that this competition must be about the fans? It is their competition, and the interests of the media and betting companies should not be taken as the first priority.
I agree 100% with the hon. Gentleman. I do have fond memories of racing home from playing football to watch the FA cup final and various other matches. There could be an argument for saying that the competition has been watered down in some regards, as we see when we look at what players the teams put out on the pitch. He is absolutely right with his remarks.
I have met far too many families who have been bereaved by suicide as a result of a gambling addiction. I am extremely disappointed that the FA has made lots of nods about looking after mental health and mental wellbeing but embarked on such a partnership. We should give a clear message from both sides of the House that we find this abhorrent.
We have done a lot to make the physical gambling environment safer for users, but the online environment remains like the wild west. I encourage him to use not only his relationships with sporting organisations but digital regulation and those powers to take action to make it safer.
My hon. Friend is correct to raise this issue. The history of the broadcasting of these games goes back to the 1980s, when they were shown in betting shops; they were games that people would not see broadcast, so they would go in to get updated on the score, and the pictures would be fairly low resolution. That market has now changed and the pictures—the streams—are now online. That is exactly why we are going to have the review we have announced.
This has undoubtedly damaged the FA’s reputation. Is the Minister going to meet Bet365. I do not believe that a renegotiation is enough; we need redress. The new accounts set up in the past week were not just about people making bets this week; the company will have harvested the data of those vulnerable users so that it can keep advertising to them for the future. Will it shut down those accounts and give that data back, too?
It is worth pointing out again that seven gambling companies are involved in this arrangement with IMG. I know that the FA is in constant contact with IMG, and they have been put in no doubt about our views on the current arrangement.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing this urgent question, and I thank the Minister for what he has said. He is right to highlight the progress that the FA has made on football and betting, but does he agree that bad decisions such as this one are in danger of making that perception of progress disappear in a puff of smoke? Given that there will be an increase in gambling as a result of this deal—after all, that is why Bet365 has engaged in it—there will also be an increase in problem gambling. That needs to be properly monitored, that monitoring will have a cost and that cost should be paid by Bet365 and the FA. If it can be demonstrated that there has been an increase in problem gambling, that should bring forward the review of the deal.
The former Secretary of State makes an incredibly good point. As I said to the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), nothing is off the table in respect of the conversations that we will have with the FA.
Child gambling addiction has doubled since 2017 and, shockingly, around 70,000 children are said to be at risk. Is the Minister concerned that this deal will make the situation worse?
The hon. Member is correct to raise that point. Gambling sponsorship and advertising must be responsible and must not be targeted at children, so we expect all sports bodies to consider the effect on their fans when they engage in any commercial relationship. I thank the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who was present a second ago but is no longer in his place, because yesterday the NHS and GambleAware opened a clinic in Sunderland to assist those who have gambling issues. I understand that another dozen or so gambling clinics are to be opened throughout the country, which is good progress and will give people the right advice.
The football community has done some excellent work on mental health, including the Take A Minute campaign. Everyone in this place cares passionately about the mental health of all those we seek to serve in our constituencies. Does my hon. Friend agree that this deal puts that work at risk, and will he join me in calling on the FA to reconsider?
While he is on his feet, will he remember the fans in Scunthorpe and wish Scunthorpe United the best of luck on Saturday?
May I welcome my hon. Friend to her place? I certainly will wish Scunthorpe United the best of luck—
Who are they playing?
The hon. Member asks who they are playing; I can tell him that as a youngster I used to be dragged along to Scunthorpe to watch Scunthorpe United. That was some years ago. I was a very lucky child.
The irony of this story having blown up this weekend is that the FA was launching its Heads Together mental health campaign. It could not have been any more badly timed. As I have said, we have given clear instructions to the FA to look into every avenue possible to have this deal changed.
Let us be honest: betting companies disproportionately target low-income demographics and working-class communities. I see that in my own constituency, with three betting shops lined up next to each other in Baillieston Main Street. The Minister continually says that all sports are involved; can he really put his hand on his heart and say that cricket, for example, would have the same disproportionate targeting and investment as we see with football?
I understand that similar arrangements have been made in cricket. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman, hand on heart, whether those arrangements have the same extent and the same number of matches. It may be that more FA cup matches than cricket games are covered under these broadcasting deals.
What is important are measures that actually tackle problem gambling, rather than virtue signalling in this House. People do not have to place a bet to watch these matches. Is it not typical of the metropolitan, privileged outlook of people in this House that there is no urgent question on people having to pay £100 a month for a Sky subscription to watch football matches? There is no urgent question on people paying £35 a month to BT to watch football matches, but there is one on something that allows working-class people to watch these matches free of charge, because some people in this House do not like gambling. Will the Minister look at all this in the round?
I think everybody in this House can agree that problem gambling causes mental health problems. Indeed, this House has heard about—and I have spoken to colleagues about—situations when some of these cases have led to suicide. There is a clear link; mental health problems can lead to problem gambling, and can also be triggered by or made worse by it. The Government and the Gambling Commission have tightened protections, and we have committed to a further review of the Gambling Act, as I said in my response to the urgent question.
This issue is perhaps the most egregious example of how money is ruining football. It is clear that, with one or two exceptions, there is very little support in this place for this arrangement.
I want to follow up on the wider issue of football broadcasting. Last month, three different subscription channels were showing premier league football. How many times do we expect people to pay to watch football? Are we in danger of pricing people out of the game?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. We do want to see more live football on television, which makes it more accessible, but it is worth pointing out that the broader FA cup rights are worth around $169 million to the Football Association, much of which—if not most—is ploughed back into grassroots football.
Does my hon. Friend agree that all our legislation needs to be fit for purpose for the digital age, especially when it relates to online activities and their impact on health and mental health? Does he also agree that the review of the Gambling Act is not only needed, but urgently needed?
I could not agree more.
Can I pull the Minister up on the point that he just made, when he said that a large proportion of the money from broadcasting rights is going into grassroots football? If only! It is a tiny amount of money. In other countries in Europe, much more significant amounts of money go into paying for local coaches, local facilities and ensuring that there is homegrown talent. Should not we be ensuring—notwithstanding today’s urgent question—that far more of this money goes directly to the small local clubs that are sustained by families, with mums, dads, grandpas and grandmas turning up every weekend?
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, but I was referring to the broadcasting rights and the amount of money secured under the FA cup broadcasting deal, not the premier league broadcasting deal, which is an enormous amount of money.
There is an obvious link between gambling and health, so what are the Minister’s Department and the Department of Health doing to improve medical treatment for those affected by gambling?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He makes a very good point. As I said previously, I am encouraged that the national health service and the Health Secretary have begun to open clinics to provide advice and assistance to those who are affected, in particular targeting younger people who might be having issues with loot boxes or other types of behaviour that could prove addictive.
This issue raises fundamental public policy questions about ethics, fair rules and controls, and the responsibility of the Government to protect the most vulnerable from exploitation. It also fundamentally calls into question the judgment of the FA. The chief executive officer of Bet365, Denise Coates, was paid £277 million in basic salary in the last financial year. Does that not suggest that something is fundamentally wrong with our gambling system and industry, and again highlight the need for fundamental root-and-branch reform?
The hon. Lady will not have missed the point that I have made on several occasions: we are going to be reviewing the Act. Bet365 does an awful lot of good work in the region that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) mentioned. It is a private company. The salaries of its executives are a matter for that business. My understanding is that the chief executive is resident in the UK and so pays her full share of tax on those moneys. But it is absolutely right that we hold the sporting bodies’ feet to the fire with regard to these broadcasting rights and make sure that they are dealt with responsibly. In this case, that has not happened.
There is a mental health crisis for young men in our country, and it is clear that gambling addiction is a major factor in that. Time and again we hear that the gambling companies are investing more funds in tackling problem gambling, but will the Minister update the House on whether this investment has actually had any impact in tackling this issue?
I do not have the figures that my hon. Friend refers to, but this is an absolutely crucial issue in the sector of society that he mentions, which appears to be the target for this type of advertising. There is indeed a huge crisis in gambling addiction within that age group, and it can lead to some pretty horrific stories that we have heard in this House.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
May I begin by wishing everybody a very happy new year and welcoming them all back after the Christmas break?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 13 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on Britain in the world.
Tuesday 14 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on education and local government.
Wednesday 15 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on a green industrial revolution.
Thursday 16 January—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on health and social care.
Friday 17 January—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 20 January—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on the economy and jobs.
I am pleased to announce that subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the constituency recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 13 February and return on Monday 24 February. For Easter, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 31 March and return on Tuesday 21 April. For the early May bank holiday, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 6 May and return on Monday 11 May. The House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 21 May and return on Tuesday 2 June. For the summer recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 21 July and return on Tuesday 8 September. Finally, the conference recess will commence at the close of business on Thursday 17 September with the House returning on Tuesday 13 October—which hon. and right hon. Members will know is the anniversary of the birth of the late Baroness Thatcher.
I start by wishing everyone a happy new year—and you, Mr Speaker. I am very pleased that you now have your full cohort of deputies in place. I thank the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for his sterling work in the House at business questions and welcome the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who has taken over his post.
I thank the Leader of the House for next week’s business; in fact, we have a week and a day. Will the Prime Minister be making a statement following his discussions with the EU President, as the previous Prime Minister always did? She always updated the House.
The Leader of the House has very helpfully set out the recess dates and sitting days right up until 13 October. It feels a bit mean to ask him for the Christmas dates as well, but it would be very helpful if he could say how long the Session will be and also give the dates of the sitting Fridays.
There are rumours about proposed machinery of government changes. They are just rumours at the minute, but I know that the business managers have been working hard to try to allocate Chairs of Committees. Will the Leader of the House make a commitment that if any changes affect the Opposition allocation, he will honour the commitment to renegotiate that? Please do not be the Leader of the House who does not commit to fairness and the convention.
One Committee that has not been set up yet is the Backbench Business Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) did a grand job as Chair, and I hope he will continue in that post. He and others are keen to get the Committee set up. In the meantime, he has helpfully given the Clerks some subjects for debate that can be rolled over. Could the Leader of the House have a discussion with him? I am sure that my hon. Friend will raise that later.
It is interesting that the Leader of the House has not announced the date of the Budget to the House, but it has been announced outside this place. That is quite concerning. He could have made a statement. He made lots of statements before the House rose, coming to the House practically twice or three times a day.
Another thing that the Government have announced outside the House but not to it is a review, to be concluded by mid-February, of the roll-out of the IR35 tax plan for the self-employed, which is due to take effect in April. May we have a statement on the exact terms of that review and the measures that will be put in place to support the self-employed? The Opposition called for a review during the general election. This is more chaos, and it is disgraceful—and so is the announcement on 23 December by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the takeover of Cobham.
“This is a deeply disappointing announcement and one cynically timed to avoid scrutiny on the weekend before Christmas. In one of its first major economic decisions, the Government is not taking back control so much as handing it away.”
They are not my words but those of Lady Nadine Cobham, the daughter-in-law of the founder of that brilliant British company. She said it would never have been done by the US, French or Japanese Governments. All Advent has to do is promise to call the Ministry of Defence if it plans to sell up. The takeover does not include a right to veto the disposal of these sensitive defence assets. This is Government asset-stripping Britain instead of protecting British interests. We need an urgent statement from the Business Secretary.
I want to mention our colleague Andrew Miller, who has sadly died. Being a new Member is quite disconcerting. Andrew was here when I was a new Member, and he was an assiduous Chair of the Science and Technology Committee. We must also mention the three British nationals who died in the Ukrainian plane crash. I am pleased that the Government have scheduled a statement on the Australian bushfires. Many people here have friends and family living there who are affected.
On a happier note, I want to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) on the birth of their babies during the election. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Wales is now a grandmother, and we welcome Jesse Thomas Francis Kearney. We wish them well for the future.
The Leader of the House will know, because he tweets, that Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now at school here—#pleasebringmymummyback. I hope the Leader of the House will do everything he can to do that.
Finally, I want to thank the staff of the House for staffing the super-hub. It was very effective for new Members and for old Members like me. I used it yesterday, and Members have one day left.
May I add to the right hon. Lady’s words about the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who will be very much missed from these sessions? It always amazed me how a man of such gentleness, courtesy and kindliness in private always managed to be so fiendishly angry in the Chamber. I look forward to seeing whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who I know is also a model of kindliness, will be similarly angry when he gets up to speak in a moment, but I look forward to our exchanges.
The right hon. Lady asked 11 individual questions, and I will do my best to answer them all. The House will always be updated by the Government on really important issues. The Prime Minister, in the last Session of Parliament, averaged 36 minutes a day at the Dispatch Box during the time he was Prime Minister, so I think he has been ahead of almost any other previous Prime Minister in his assiduousness.
As regards the Christmas recess—absolutely. We want to ensure that there is reasonable notice for all recesses, which I think is of general help not just to Members but to the staff of the House for planning their lives. This is important for all of us, so we will try to give the longest notice we can, though I cannot yet give the length of the Session—
Rhondda always wants to chip in. We might have thought that, after a little peace and quiet over Christmas, Rhondda would have calmed down, but no such luck. Because there is so much business to be brought forward, and that will depend on the progress of business. That is a completely normal approach.
As for sitting Fridays, we have only just had the ballot, but of course we will bring those forward, and the motion, as soon as is practicable. On the machinery of Government changes, I got a little bit worried by a memo that said, “MOG changes”. I am not necessarily so keen on such changes; I am rather used to being the Mogg that I am. However, I can absolutely assure the right hon. Lady that any changes that are made will lead to consultation with the Opposition about any changes to Committees. It is hoped that the motion in relation to the sharing out of the Committees will be put on the Order Paper by the end of business today. That is not an absolute promise, but I understand that good progress has been made on coming to an agreement.
I am indeed grateful to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) for passing on a list of overhanging proposals from the Backbench Business Committee for debates. Whether there will be a lot of time for non-legislative business in the next few weeks, I am not absolutely certain, but it is useful to have that and to be aware of it.
The Budget date—giving people plenty of notice—is perfectly reasonable. I make announcements about the business for a week or possibly for two weeks; I do not intend to announce the business for March, so I think it would be unusual for me to be announcing that. I do hope that in this Session of Parliament my appearances at the Dispatch Box will be once a week to set out the business, rather than once or twice a day, which I think was beginning to pall on everybody in the House.
The IR35 review is extraordinarily important. It is a matter of concern to many of our constituents, and something that came up in the election on a number of occasions. It is important that it is done in such a way that people know what their tax affairs will be in April.
On the takeover of Cobham, the Government have to act within the legal parameters and the approach that we generally take to takeovers, and announcements must be made punctually. Sometimes when the House is in recess announcements still have to be made. Saying it was done just before Christmas is not a reasonable criticism, because business goes on.
May I share in the right hon. Lady’s condolences to Andrew Miller’s family? It is always sad when we lose a distinguished former Member of this House who has invariably been influential and important in the careers of existing Members.
There is indeed a statement coming on the Australian bushfires. I think all of us feel the deepest sympathy for the people of Australia, who for so many of us are kith and kin, and there is therefore always a particular concern with what is happening in Australia.
The Ukrainian plane crash is something that needs to be investigated thoroughly so that we find out what the cause was. Our concern is for the British citizens, but also for all the lives that were lost.
As always, I am so glad that once again the right hon. Lady reminds us about Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and of course all the other dual nationals who are held improperly, unlawfully by the Iranian regime. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Iranian Government on 6 January. The Government are doing everything that we can to secure her release and that of others, but the Government’s power, regrettably, is not unlimited in this area.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the support in all parts of the House and in the country—with campaigners such as Battersea Dogs and Cats pressing hard—for the reintroduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which was in the Queen’s Speech and was of course lost because of the general election. Can he pledge to introduce the Bill in the next two weeks, and if not, can he tell us what the timetable is for it?
I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that the animal welfare Bill is a priority of this Government. It has not ceased to be a priority of this Government; there is a busy programme of legislation, but this Bill will remain within it.
There is always a degree of excitement in starting any new job, and I feel I will have to have an ongoing challenge of curbing my enthusiasm for this one, but let me begin by paying tribute and a word of thanks to my friend and colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who preceded me in this role and who for a long shift—four and a half years—stood here every Thursday to represent my party in his own inimitable style. I intend to pick up where he left off, and while the style may be different I assure Members that the message will be the same.
Let me also say that I very much look forward to a weekly verbal joust with the Leader of the House, and I only hope that we do not have a spoilsport Prime Minister who will dash my expectations by an imminent reshuffle and changing that position.
Turning to the business statement itself, I have to observe that, given the times we are in, it does seem a little self-indulgent to be spending six days debating what is essentially a mission statement by the Government rather than any specific legislative proposals. I understand that the Queen’s Speech debate is important, but is it not time to get on to matters of substance? Even for a Government bathing in the afterglow of an election victory that does seem a little excessive.
There are many things we ought to be discussing that are not in this business statement, and let me offer three this morning. The first is the Government’s proposed departmental reorganisation. If this House is to have the role of scrutiny of the Executive, it is clearly important that we understand what the shape and structure of the Executive actually is. This House ought to be kept up to date on the proposals being made for changes in Government Departments so that we can consider what changes we might need to make to our agenda and procedures in order to adequately hold them to account. Will the Leader of the House therefore please update us on what the obstacles to the current reorganisation are, when they might be resolved and when we can expect an announcement?
Secondly, given the events of the last seven days, we can see that there is a very precarious military and political situation in the middle east. Not only that, but we can see how compromised this country is in trying to influence those events. Should not the Government be bringing forward an urgent debate on these matters so that this House can consider how better we can influence these events?
Thirdly, and finally, when are the Government going to hold a debate recognising the consequences of the 12 December general election, which for the first time has created a situation within this island where the two principal countries have a different political mandate? Are the Government going to bring forward proposals in order to acknowledge Scottish public opinion and to accommodate Scottish political representation? If they do not, and if they do not recognise that their mandate ends at the Scottish border then—
Order. Sorry, but one of us is going to have to give way. I am being very generous as it is the hon. Gentleman’s first outing, but please come to a conclusion; you are meant to take two minutes, but you are on three.
Apologies, Mr Speaker; this is my first time, but I was a sentence away from my conclusion, which is simply to say that I caution the Government: if they do not do this and do not recognise that different mandate, they are going to become a recruiting sergeant for those on these Benches who wish Scotland to have an independent, alternative future.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his first outing in holding this Government to account and bringing on the fast bowling to start with.
The Brexit Bill started us off, so even before the Queen’s Speech we passed a major piece of legislation, but that does not keep the hon. Gentleman happy; what more can we do?
As I have said, we hope to announce the reorganisation of government today: the share-out of Select Committees begins the process, the Chairmen will then be elected and Committees will be established, and they will be adjusted if there are any changes. This is all perfectly normal. There will be regular statements and oral questions continue. That is all in place; it is there, and it is for the hon. Gentleman to use it.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first go, I do not want to be unkind and point out that, as I said in my statement, we will be debating foreign affairs on Monday. That will be an opportunity to discuss all matters relating to Iran, so I am granting his wish almost immediately after standing up. We also had a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence earlier in the week.
On the consequences of the election, the hon. Gentleman says that we may become a recruiting sergeant for the SNP, which makes me wonder what he is complaining about. If that is what he thinks we are doing, I would have thought he would be quite pleased. What I would say is that he and other SNP Members must not forget that there was a rather important election in 2014, and it was won by people who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom. There is not the division that he talks of. The United Kingdom is united, and that was what the people of Scotland voted for in their wisdom and good sense.
People opening their new year calendars, and now those who heard the Leader of the House announce the recess dates, will have noticed that the early May bank holiday has moved from Monday 4 May to Friday 8th so that we can, quite rightly, mark the 75th anniversary of VE-day. However, events such as weddings, sporting fixtures and civic events will have been scheduled for Monday 4th and perhaps Sunday 3rd, and they will be adversely affected by the change. What are the Government’s plans to make sure that there is full awareness of the situation? Perhaps the Leader of the House will consider whether it would be in the spirit of a new, forward-looking global Britain that we might have another bank holiday in May and reinstate the Monday, as well as having the Friday.
Order. Can I just advise Members that business questions will finish at 12.15 pm? If we can get through questions quickly, that would be excellent.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I think that bank holidays are one of the things that come under the Lord President of the Council, so this is the first question I have ever been asked while wearing my Lord President of the Council hat. However, there is a great cost to bank holidays and I think the chances of having another one, although we all like to have a day off, is relatively slim, so I would not like to build up my right hon. Friend’s hopes.
May I join the tributes that have been paid to my predecessor Andrew Miller, who served the constituency of Ellesmere Port and Neston with distinction for 23 years? He was greatly admired and respected by his constituents. As I found when I entered this place, he was also greatly admired and respected across the House for his work during his time in Parliament. He will be greatly missed. He was a friend to many of us here and a real mentor, and my thoughts are with his family at this time. His work in the field of science and technology is well known, but he was also a patron for the charity RoadPeace. In that regard, will the Leader of the House update us on when the consultation that took place several years ago on increasing sentences for death by dangerous driving will actually result in legislation?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. The Government take the matter extraordinarily seriously. There were plans in the previous Parliament for dealing with it, and I would be very surprised if they were not revisited soon.
The Leader of the House, like other hon. Members, will be aware of the daily work pressures on members of our ambulance services, not least in the east of England, where there were three staff suicides over 11 days in December. May we find time for a debate to highlight the extent of the problem of pressure on ambulance workers and perhaps to try to find some solutions?
May I begin by welcoming back my hon. Friend? It is a huge pleasure to see a friend back in the House and I congratulate him on his victory.
My hon. Friend raises a point of great seriousness. It would be possible to consider it during the Queen’s Speech debate next Thursday, which covers matters of health, but this is something the Government must be aware of more broadly. Issues relating to suicide have such a devastating effect on families. They tie in with the Government’s efforts on mental health and increased spending on mental health to try to help people in, or heading towards, that situation.
We have just heard that Liberty Steel is restructuring, which will inevitably lead to job losses in Rotherham and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). While we will, of course, hold Liberty Steel to account for the long-term future, we also need the Leader of the House to find time in which we can hold the Government to account, because the underlying structural issues, for which they are responsible, have not been dealt with. Please will he find time for an hour and a half debate on this very important topic?
Obviously there are time slots available for Westminster Hall debates and Adjournment debates—they are in Mr Speaker’s hands—and I recommend that the hon. Lady applies for one of those. I also remind her that Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are on Tuesday 21 January. This is such an important issue and it is well worth raising. If there is anything I can do to help to facilitate a debate—not, I am afraid, in Government time, but before the Backbench Business Committee is set up—I will look very sympathetically on it.
I welcome the announcement of the recess dates, which is very helpful for families and everybody else. Can we find time for a debate or a statement on why we are still allowing children aged 16 to get married in this country?
I think that it is not easy for children aged 16 to get married. As I understand it, they need the permission of either their parents or a magistrate, and the numbers are not enormous. However, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask for an Adjournment debate on the subject. I do not see an obvious opportunity to raise the matter in the Queen’s Speech debate, but the issue—the age of majority in this country—needs to be considered, as many things flow from that.
The Leader of the House was kind enough to recognise that, as the former Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, I wrote to him, but he will also have noted that a number of the main sponsors of the awaited debates are no longer with us. The debates with sponsors who are still Members of the House are on: the impact of diagnosis and treatment of parental mental illness on outcomes for children; the collapse of Thomas Cook and the future of the travel industry; and the value of the arts and creative industries, which are very close to my heart, given that the Sage Gateshead and BALTIC are in my constituency. I look forward to the re-establishment of House business Committees, including the Backbench Business Committee.
Will the Leader of the House also organise a Government statement on the failing—if not failed—Northern Rail franchise? The matter is of great importance to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our constituents across the north of England, who are being badly let down by this failed franchise?
In response to the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I was careful to say that while I was grateful for the list being sent, I was not committing to it, because the Backbench Business Committee of one Parliament ought not to bind a future Parliament for exactly the reason that he mentions: some Members who wanted a debate are no longer Members of the House. It would be wrong to have debates reflecting former Members’ interests, but when Members are still here, that is a relevant factor if any time is available.
I thought that the Prime Minister gave a very clear statement of the Government’s position on Northern Rail at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday: rail franchise companies will have to improve and deliver good services, otherwise the Government will take action.
The Government’s ambition is to improve rail services all over the country, and there is a great need for improvement on the Cotswold line in West Oxfordshire, where we require further redoubling. May we have a debate in Government time to ensure that we can make the case all over the country for where we need investment so that we can all get the services that our constituents deserve and require?
Rail is a real issue for many Members of Parliament, given the effect on people of extremely difficult journeys to work. The Government are spending £500 million on a Beeching reversal to restore some rail lines. We are willing to act to ensure that the rail services provided are those that people can have a reasonable expectation of receiving, so what my hon. Friend says is very much in line with the action that the Government plan to take.
Will the Leader of the House say when we might expect to see the return of the domestic abuse Bill, on which such great progress was made during the last Parliament, so that we can put that in our diaries?
I cannot give the hon. Lady a date for her diary, but the Government are prioritising that Bill. It is on the stocks and ready to be brought back soon—it will certainly be introduced before Easter.
Can we have a debate on rail connectivity with the north of England? My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I have been campaigning for years for a through train from Grimsby via Market Rasen to London. This is a catchment area of up to a quarter of a million people with no through train. The Government want to introduce projects to help the north of England and they own London North Eastern Railway. Can we get the train done?
First, may I add to my answer to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns)? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has just issued a written ministerial statement on Northern Rail, which I hope will be helpful to the House.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) for his appeal for a through train and for his noting that the Government are trying to improve infrastructure in the north of England. His appeal will be heard, and I shall make sure it is passed on to the Secretary of State. What he is calling for fits in with the thrust of what the Government are trying to do, but that is not a promise.
The statement on Northern Rail should be being made to the House right now—it is that important to that many Members.
Lydiate Primary School in my constituency is in desperate need of a new building. The governors are doing all that they can to make do and mend, but it is simply not economically viable to continue. Despite what the Prime Minister said yesterday, education spending in this country has fallen since 2010, not increased, so may we have a statement on the importance of investment in new school buildings across the country, and can the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Education to arrange a meeting with me about the urgent need for a new building at Lydiate Primary School?
Education questions are a week on Monday, but an extra £14 billion is to be spent on schools over the next three years, which is an extra £150 million a week. Extra money for the physical infrastructure of our schools will be available as part of that. Money is becoming available and expenditure is increasing, which was a commitment prior to the general election and reconfirmed at the general election. I would suggest in the first instance that the hon. Gentleman raises the matter at Education questions and writes to a Minister to ask for a meeting. If he has no success with that, he can come back at business questions and I will see if I can help.
Last summer, dozens of homes and businesses in my constituency were flooded, but they could not meet the criteria for receiving Flood Re insurance or any of the funding available for flood resilience measures, despite some of them having been flooded for the second or third time. In addition, as a further blow, Stockport Council, despite some initial relief, is now charging people council tax on not only their temporary accommodation, but their main accommodation, which is still uninhabitable. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can offer more support, both nationally and locally, to flood victims?
This is a really important issue. One would hope that local authorities would have the good sense and wisdom to treat people whose homes have become uninhabitable through flooding with generosity, rather than insisting on full payment of council tax. There will be an opportunity in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech debate to discuss local government issues, and I hope my hon. Friend will raise this matter then.
Yesterday, the two lorry drivers who sadly died in a road traffic collision near Luton on Saturday morning were named as Surjit Singh and Gheorge Mihai. This followed two other accidents on Christmas eve along the same stretch of smart motorway on the M1. May we please have a debate on and a review of the roll-out of smart motorways across this country, especially in the light of these recent and tragic deaths?
I know that the way in which smart motorways have been operating is a matter of considerable concern to the House. I understand that the Secretary of State has ordered a review of them, which was meant to be taking place relatively rapidly, and that he will report back to the House. To consider and debate that in due course, after the report has happened, would be only suitable.
May we also have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport, as well as an urgent debate, on London Northwestern Railway, whose recent performance has been abysmal, as it is severely affecting the mental wellbeing of many of those who travel on it?
There is a great commonality of feeling across the House about rail services. Rail companies need to deliver, and to ensure that people have the service that they need and that trains run broadly on time.
The franchising system is being changed and the railway will be improved with an investment of £48 billion, the largest since the Victorian era, which I know many Members think is relatively recent but which was actually well over 100 years ago. There is also a £4.2 billion local public transport fund to enable city regions to upgrade their buses, trains and trams so that they are as good as those in London. This will help every part of the country, and it involves a very, very large amount of money, but I absolutely recognise the problems that are currently affecting constituents across the country.
We know that the most vulnerable people rely on prepayment energy meters, but I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware that on 1 January British Gas changed its top-up outlets from PayPoint to Payzone, which has 15,000 fewer outlets in the United Kingdom. I have an elderly constituent who, instead of having to walk around the corner to top up her meter, is now faced with a 2-mile walk. May we have a statement outlining what discussions the Government had with Ofgem and British Gas, and what impact assessments were made?
I was aware of that issue, and I know that Members throughout the House are concerned about the effect that it will have on their most vulnerable and least well-off constituents. I think that it is up to all of us to lobby British Gas to reconsider its decision. I will happily take up the matter with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments, because I know that it has attracted cross-party concern and is a matter of considerable seriousness. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we need to look after the least well-off the most.
My constituency has one of the worst broadband networks in the country in terms of both coverage and speed—particularly the likes of Audlem, Tattenham and Bunbury, which are in the bottom 10%. May we have a debate on broadband infrastructure so that I can question a Minister on how Eddisbury residents will secure their fair share of the £5 billion manifesto commitment to roll out full fibre across the country?
I welcome back my hon. Friend, who made such a contribution to the former Government. It was a great pleasure for me to campaign for him when he stood in a by-election some years ago, and he was a great hero for winning it.
Broadband roll-out will involve a major effort by the Government and the £5 billion investment that my hon. Friend mentioned. I fear that I am slightly teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, because he knows all this perfectly well, but questions to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will take place next Thursday, and I think that they will present him with a good initial opportunity to put in his plea for Eddisbury.
Every hour someone in England has a partial foot amputation, and every two hours someone loses an entire leg. Please may we have a debate in Government time on the growing crisis of vascular disease and the urgent steps that the Government need to take to address it?
I must confess that I was unaware of those figures, which are absolutely shocking. There will be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to raise the issue during the Queen’s Speech debate on health matters, and I hope that she will do so.
Is the Leader of the House aware that 150,000 people worldwide, mainly children, died of measles last year, and that many children in this country are not protected by the MMR vaccine when they start school? May we have an urgent debate on the measles epidemic that is spreading across Europe, and also New York state, and a discussion about whether it should be mandatory for children attending pre-school and early school to have that MMR protection?
The Government are doing what they can to increase the take-up of measles vaccines to ensure that as many children as possible are covered. That is tremendously important, and parents have a great responsibility to ensure that their children are vaccinated. Let me add, without going into too much detail, that I, as a parent, have certainly taken steps to ensure that I have fulfilled my responsibility. The Government will be pushing for this, and there is next week’s Queen’s Speech debate in which to raise it, but public health depends on people’s use of the vaccines that are available to them, and that should be encouraged.
May we have a debate on championing apprenticeships and skills? Although we have over 900,000 apprentices, the highest number in our nation’s history, we need to look at how we can get more young people doing apprenticeships and more people doing degree apprenticeships. Will the Leader of the House also look to work with the Speaker on introducing an apprentice scheme in Parliament to help parliamentarians to employ apprentices?
As I understand it, apprentices have a chance at the age of 28 of earning significantly more than graduates do. I think it is 25% more. It is a really remarkable success for apprenticeships. They ought to be encouraged, and my right hon. Friend is absolutely brilliant at doing this. He was one of the most successful Ministers in advancing the cause of apprenticeships. His idea about apprenticeships within the Palace of Westminster is very well timed and, Mr Speaker, if you think it is agreeable, perhaps that is something we could discuss at the Commission on Monday.
Would the Leader of the House consider making time available to highlight the plight of residents and small businesses in Arundel and South Downs who were impacted by the recent floods just before Christmas and, in particular, to discuss what steps the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) will take to ensure that the risk of flooding is reflected when future development is contemplated?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. It is a great pleasure to see him in his place after all that he has done for the Conservative party in his distinguished career. The Government naturally sympathise with those people who have been affected by the recent flooding and the terrible impact that has on their lives. As we were hearing earlier, we have put in place a wide range of recovery schemes for affected homes, businesses, farmers and communities, and £2.6 billion is being spent in over 1,000 flood schemes across the country, which will protect a further 300,000 homes by 2021. I think that in this case prevention is better than cure. There will be relevant questions to the Local Government Secretary on Monday.
May we have a debate about standards in public life and the consequences when Members of either this place or the other place abuse staff or each other? Following the incident that I raised on the Floor of the House this week, I have had a number of members of staff raise concerns with me about the way they are treated. Further to that, I am sorry to say that the Member from the other place who I have complained about has now launched a homophobic attack on me in the press. This will be reported to the police, and I know that I and others consider this to be a hate crime.
I know that the Leader of the House and the Speaker take this matter very seriously. I have a position of great privilege and I am able to raise this, but we must set the best possible standards from this place for other LGBT people and, indeed, our staff, to ensure that we send a message to say that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable here or anywhere else.
I hope that I will not breach the normal order of this House if I say that the attack on the hon. Lady was utterly disgraceful and that she is clearly owed an apology by the noble Lord for what he said about her. I think that everybody who heard about that was shocked by the comments that he is reported to have made and has not denied. I think they are really appalling. I know that we are not allowed to criticise Members of the other place except on a specific motion, but I think that under these circumstances we are allowed to stretch the rules.
As regards the initial complaint, everybody should treat our members of staff politely and with normal good manners. The staff have a duty to look after us and protect us, and we must respond to them in kind. The purpose of this place is to facilitate legislation. We are here as legislators, and it is incumbent upon us to lead by example. That is why the behavioural code has been set up as it has. Everyone should be respected and valued. We should recognise that, by virtue of our office and by virtue of the 70,000 people who have sent us here, we have a status that we must not abuse through ill manners. Indeed, the greater one’s status—you are a model of this, Mr Speaker—the more important it is to show good manners to those who are working on one’s behalf. There is a helpline that people can call, and for any members of staff listening to this—I hope hon. Members will pass this on to their staff—it is 0800 028 2439. I hope that the security staff who were abused will ring the helpline so that the House of Lords authorities can look into the matter.
While I am paying tribute to the staff, I want to add one thing on a happier note. Two members of our security staff—this shows us how lucky we are—Ron Dowson and Habibi Syaaf rescued a man who had fallen into the Thames earlier this week. That is a reminder of how well we are served and, therefore, of our even greater duty of good manners.
The Government have many important priorities, but nothing can be more pressing than the safety of our children. There is clear data that children as young as eight are regularly viewing pornography online—often extreme pornography —with no legal consequences for website operators. When will the Government turn their extremely good “Online Harms” White Paper into a Bill to address the issue that can be debated in this House?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her campaigning on this matter. Any parent with children getting to the age when they start going online worries about what content may appear and how effective or ineffective filters may be to protect their children or, indeed, how clever one’s children may be at getting through the filters that one tries to put on.
The Government are committed to ensuring that children are protected from accessing harmful content online. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport outlined in her written statement to Parliament on 16 October that we want to achieve the most comprehensive and coherent approach to protecting children online. We have decided to deliver these protections through our wider online harms regulatory proposals. The Secretary of State’s statement outlined that the age verification provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2017 will not be commenced and, as a result, the British Board of Film Classification has been de-designated as the age verification regulator for online pornography, but there will be a wider strategy to protect children.
Fire service men and women take risks to save lives on a daily basis, yet there is increasing concern about their own wellbeing and the links to cancer that arise from exposure to chemicals through their uniforms. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time to discuss the matter?
That is an important point and should be a matter of concern to us all. The people who risk their lives for us ought to have equipment that protects them, rather than increases the risk to them. Housing, Communities and Local Government questions are on Monday, which would be good initial opportunity to raise the matter. It would also be sensible to ask Mr Speaker for an Adjournment debate, which is often a good way of starting the discussion on such important matters.
The great services available at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby are rightly cherished by local residents, but Rugby is growing fast. We are delivering houses at three times the national rate, and many people are concerned that additional services will be needed to support that growing population. Can we have a debate on how the Government health infrastructure plan will support smaller hospitals in growing towns such as Rugby?
On 29 September, the Government announced our new health infrastructure plan to ensure that our health infrastructure works for decades to come. At the centre of the plan is a new hospital building programme, and the Government announced six new hospital schemes that are receiving funding to go ahead now and to be delivered by 2025 and a further 21 schemes across 34 hospitals that will start the next stage of developing their plans between 2025 and 2030. There is a clear NHS capital funding plan to ensure that the health infrastructure is there, and I commend my hon. Friend for standing up for his hospital in Rugby. Local hospitals are cherished by residents up and down the country.
As I am the fifth Member to ask about rail, the Leader of the House can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on both sides about transport infrastructure. Can we have a Transport Minister before us so that we can question them on details of the recent announcements on the reopening of lines closed under Beeching? I am particularly keen to raise the reopening of the line to Fleetwood.
Congratulations, Dame Rosie, on your unanimous re-election yesterday as Deputy Speaker, having been elected by acclaim.
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) raises an important point, as have other hon. and right hon. Members. There is a £500 million pot to reopen lines that were closed under Beeching, and there will potentially be an opportunity to discuss it on Monday 20 January in the debate on the economy and jobs. Rail is an important part of the economy, and that debate will be the first occasion to raise it.
I reassure the House that I am not the deaf adder. I have heard very clearly the widespread concern about rail, and it will have been heard by the Government and the responsible Ministers, too.
May I add my congratulations on your welcome return to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker?
The Leader of the House will be aware that Monday is the statutory deadline for getting the Stormont Executive back up and running. The talks are under way, and we all hope they are successful over the coming days. They will reach a conclusion, one way or the other, this weekend, so can he confirm that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be making a statement to this House on Monday, either to announce that the Executive is back in operation so that Northern Ireland is properly governed or else to set out what steps the Government will take to ensure that the very serious issues for the operation of Northern Ireland’s public services can be properly dealt with?
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is working extremely hard, and worked hard over the Christmas break, with all the parties in Northern Ireland to try to ensure that the Assembly is up and running on 13 January. Progress has been made, but it is not possible for me to say where that will conclude or what statements there will be on Monday. It is important that this work proceeds and that the Assembly is reassembled. [Interruption.] I see nods from Northern Ireland Members, and I think there is a widespread feeling that the lack of an Assembly has gone on for much too long.
Congratulations, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) mentioned, today Liberty Steel announced job losses in Newport, Rotherham and elsewhere. Our thoughts are with those who are affected. The Orb steelworks in Newport was mothballed before Christmas, and there were worrying signs from Tata in the press over the weekend. I reiterate the call for an urgent debate in Government time on steel so that we can ensure the Government are proactive at this time.
This is obviously a very important issue, and very important for the people whose jobs are involved, for whom it must be a very troubling time. I reiterate that there are Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on Tuesday 21 January, and an application for an Adjournment debate may see something discussed even sooner.
The recent treatment of the 19-year-old British national in Ayia Napa and the failures of the judicial process follow on from the failure of the judicial system in Cyprus to bring to justice the killers of my constituent George Low, who was murdered in the same town in 2016. Can we please have a debate on the safety of British subjects visiting Cyprus on holiday and whether any further precautions or advice are needed?
Both cases are matters of considerable concern, and they have been of concern to the Government. I note that the lady returning from Cyprus is being helped by the police and viewed as a victim of a sexual assault. That tells us something important about how the British authorities view the case. We have to bear it in mind that standards of justice across the world are not necessarily as high as they are in the United Kingdom. It is one of the primary duties of any Government to ensure the wellbeing of their citizens when they are abroad, or that justice can be done if anything goes wrong when they are abroad. The Government take that duty extraordinarily seriously. Hon. Members of all parties may rest assured that, if they have constituents who needs assistance, the Foreign Office is there to help them.
It is very nice to see you back in your place today, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Leader of the House has been asked a number of questions about rail today. I am sure that he knows that TransPennine Express has had to offer a rebate of 3% on its fares because of its latest timetabling fiasco. That goes alongside its failure to run Hull station properly: we have a leaky roof and appalling toilets. May we have a debate about whether we should introduce management productivity clauses into the franchise so that, for example, TransPennine’s managing director, Leo Goodwin, could refund perhaps more than 3% of the £331,000 salary he receives after a recent 44% pay increase?
On my own behalf and that of the Government, I congratulate the hon. Lady on becoming a Dame and on all she has contributed to Parliament, for which it is a due and proper reward. She comes up with a novel solution—it may be rather a good one—that people should have performance-related pay and that if the performance is bad, perhaps the pay should go down. That is not something, as a capitalist, I am averse to.
I am sure that there is cross-party consensus in the House that the most beautiful constituency in the United Kingdom is West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. That beauty was enhanced last year by the flowering of rare aspen trees on the Muir of Dinnet nature reserve. Would my right hon. Friend consider a debate in Government time on the importance of nature reserves, as a way of thanking all those who volunteer and work to protect our great flora and fauna across the United Kingdom?
If my hon. Friend wants to get a debate out of me, he will have to say that Somerset is the most beautiful county; he will not get it by saying that his own constituency is. However, he raises an important point. The work that people do to ensure that the natural beauty of our country is enhanced is important. I am not sure that I can promise him a debate, but his point is extremely well made and I thank him for all his work to ensure that our country remains the most beautiful in the world—something I think we can all agree on.
The UK Government already had a woeful record on shamefully backsliding on commitments to child refugees, but to vote to prevent unaccompanied child refugees from being reunited with their families is a new low. Will the Leader of the House make an urgent statement on exactly what assessment the Government made of the impact of their shameful decision on those most vulnerable children?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is under a misapprehension. There is no change to Government policy. The decision to take the provision out of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was made because it is not right to put negotiating mandates in an Act of Parliament in that way. The Government remain committed to supporting and aiding child refugees.
The Leader of the House will know that our manifesto says that we will review the Gambling Act 2005, and he will have heard, from standing at the Bar of the House during the urgent question earlier, that it is an analogue Act in a digital age. Given that the work will require a laborious Whitehall process, we in Parliament can help it along. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House give the House the opportunity to start the discussion by granting a debate in Government time on what we would like to see in the review of the legislation?
I thank my hon. Friend for her brilliant work in bringing problem gambling to the attention of the House and the country at large. Without her work, the problem would have been less noticed and more swept under the carpet. As the urgent question showed, it worries hon. Members across the Chamber, and many of us have seen in our constituencies the problems that arise from addictive gambling. The Government did indeed say in our manifesto that we will have a review, and that will be delivered.
I do not think I can promise a debate because there was such a full discussion of the subject shortly before I got to my feet that I think it has in some sense been covered, but the knowledge that the House and the Government are concerned, and the strength of the position taken by my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport in his answers, will, I think, be noticed by the gambling world. I hope the industry will put its own house in order; otherwise, it might find that its house is put in order for it.
Last month, the Prime Minister said,
"We should bring electrification of Midland Mainline back and do the whole line through to Sheffield”,
but given that the two previous Tory Prime Ministers made precisely the same promise, only to backtrack just a few weeks after the election, may we have an urgent debate so that those very busy Transport Ministers can be challenged on precisely when and how they will deliver that vital investment?
I have a certain sympathy because the great western line was also meant to be electrified, but then it was found to be too difficult to do around Bath, which is the station I use—
Because you use it.
I am always getting heckled from Rhondda! Everyone else is so well behaved in this new Parliament. We have this new image and row upon row of people who sit there politely listening, other than the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) raises an important point. There will be oral questions to Department for Transport Ministers in due course, and I think that is the right time to raise the subject initially as it may not constitute a full debate on its own, but it will also be possible to raise the matter at various points in the debate on the Queen’s Speech.
I add my congratulations on your re-election, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Government have announced that there are to be further town deals. My constituency already benefits from the Greater Grimsby town deal. May we have in Government time a debate in which the Government set out more details of their proposals and I am able to outline the benefits that have come to Cleethorpes?
I am glad to say that Midsomer Norton and Keynsham in North East Somerset are also benefiting from a deal. Previous town deals are benefiting many of us, up and down the country. I can answer my hon. Friend’s wish because I can give slightly more detail, which may save the House the time that would be taken by a full debate.
On 27 July, the Prime Minister announced that a £3.6 billion towns fund would support an initial 100 town deals. The Government have announced 100 places that will be invited to develop proposals for deals, including some that have been the birthplaces of industry, centres of commerce for centuries, or bastions of the maritime economy along our coastline. The Government will work with local people from the 100 communities to agree proposals to spend up to £25 million in each place. The Government are committed to decentralising funding and decisions away from Whitehall. We have invested in the growth of local economies, developing powers through green, ambitious city growth deals, devolving more than £9 billion of funding to local enterprise partnerships, and introducing eight metro Mayors in England. This is all part of a general programme, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) is pleased with the success of the Greater Grimsby deal.
For a start, the name of my constituency is pronounced Rhon-tha, not Rhon-da. I hope the Leader of the House will practise in front of a mirror later today.
I am not an unreasonable man, so I am not asking when the next Prorogation of Parliament will be, but I am asking how long the Government intend to run the Session in the broadest sense. It would be perfectly legitimate to run it to next November and return to the old system of having State Opening in that month. May is a daft time to have a State Opening, because the Government are caught in purdah thanks to local elections, making it much more difficult to do it properly. Will the Leader of the House give us a clearer idea of the Government’s broad intention, not least because we would like to make sure that we get 20 Opposition days a year, and not just 20 a Session?
The hon. Member for—
Patience! The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), when I was newly elected, very generously took me to the Smoking Room and gave me a couple of glasses of Scotland’s finest produce to help me to learn how to pronounce his constituency, whereas the hon. Member for Rhondda merely bellows at me across the Chamber. For that reason, I may try harder with Na h-Eileanan an Iar than I do with Rhondda.
Regarding the length of the Session, if the hon. Gentleman were to divide the number of Bills listed following the Queen’s Speech by the average number of Bills passed during the course of a year, he might get a rough idea of how long the Session is likely to last, other things being equal, but that is not a promise.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a pleasure to see you returned as first Deputy Chair of Ways and Means. With your permission, I will update the House on the bushfires in Australia.
In the past four months, bushfires in Australia have killed at least 25 people and displaced thousands more, with over 1,900 homes destroyed. Millions more people have been affected by poor air quality as a result of fire smoke, with 10 million acres of land burnt. Meteorologists predict that the fires will get worse before they get better, as peak summer temperatures are yet to come. This crisis has been devastating and our hearts go out to the Australian people.
The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Commonwealth, the UN and South Asia, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, have been in contact with their Australian counterparts to offer our condolences and stress our readiness to help in whatever way they need. Furthermore, our high commission and consulates general are in close contact with Australian authorities at federal and state level, exploring how the UK can support them and what assistance they would find most useful.
The Australian Government have agreed an offer by the Foreign Secretary to deploy an expert support and assessment team of specialists from defence, health and fire. We have deployed this team to meet Australian officials, and they will be on site in the coming days. The team will include a senior member of the UK fire and rescue service, a medical specialist in trauma and mental health, and a military liaison officer. The team will work with Australian colleagues to establish the types, extent and duration of support that will be of most use to Australian emergency responders, and ensure that such contributions are fully integrated with Australian efforts. The specialists will liaise with regional co-ordinators as well as with the central Australian Government. The important point is that the help we are giving is the help we have been asked for.
Such is the nature of our close relationship that co-operation between the UK and Australia is taking place all the time. Across the globe, UK forces are deployed alongside Australian counterparts. The recent radio interview with Lieutenant Grimmer, a Royal Navy pilot on exchange to the Royal Australian Navy who has been working on evacuation operations, demonstrates how we are already helping through our established relationships. The close ties between the UK and Australia are of course mirrored across families and friends in both countries, which makes this a very personal tragedy.
As ever, our greatest and most immediate concern is the security of British citizens. We are grateful to the Australian authorities for the timely and professional advice they are providing to help keep British visitors to Australia safe. We also pay tribute to the heroism and professionalism of Australia’s emergency services, many of whom are volunteers, and some of whom have lost their lives as they tackle an unprecedented level of bushfire destruction. I am sure that the whole House will join me in extending our sympathies to the people of Australia, given what they are going through. The stories of valour that are coming out of Australia, which we have seen in the media and on an individual level, have been deeply moving.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) has pointed out on social media, fighting sustained crises is exhausting and we should support one of closest allies at this time. She has also rightly drawn attention to the impact on Australia’s unique wildlife, including koalas. The Government recognise that the environmental and agricultural impact of the bushfires is staggering. Almost half a billion animals are thought to have perished, and there are concerns that some species found only in certain areas of Australia may have been wiped out altogether. We stand ready to support Australian authorities to address the ecological damage in due course, and this is something that our support and assessment team will cover.
Australia is one of our most valued allies, partners and friends. As the Foreign Secretary has said, we stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the people of Australia and are ready to help in whatever way they need. The UK deployment this week reflects our measured approach, which will ensure that any assistance is appropriate and meets Australia’s specific needs, but the UK support is ongoing and long-term, reflecting the deep ties between our countries. The Australian authorities, from the Foreign Minister to Emergency Management Australia, have expressed how welcome our enduring assistance remains. I commend this statement to the House.
Like all colleagues, let me welcome you to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker, following your unopposed election as Deputy Speaker. I also thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. I am grateful for her assurance that support is being given to any British nationals and tourists who have been affected, and that support has also been offered to the Australian authorities. However, like her, my thoughts are with our Australian cousins who have lost their homes, jobs, communities and, in some tragic cases, their lives as a result of the fires. Like her, I applaud the astonishing efforts of the Australian firefighters and other emergency services who have been trying to tackle this crisis, and I applaud too all those ordinary Australians who have so movingly and selflessly risked their own lives to save koala bears and other creatures whose populations have suffered such devastation as their natural habitat has been devoured by the flames. I understand that to date up to 1 billion animals may have perished.
What we have seen in recent weeks has been nothing short of a catastrophe, for not just Australia but the whole world, and I wholeheartedly share the Minister’s words of sympathy and solidarity with our close friends for what they are going through at the moment. But when the fires are finally extinguished, it would be remiss of us if we did not discuss the underlying causes of these unprecedented events; 2019 was the second hottest year on record, and the past five years fill the top five positions as the hottest years on record. Any group of individuals who can look at those figures and continue to deny that global warming and climate change are real issues are equivalent to those people who still insist that the world is flat. Yet, sadly, such individuals include the current President of the United States, Donald Trump; the current President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro; and— I say this with great regret, given what his country is currently experiencing—the current Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison. There is something bitterly sad about the fact that those three leaders have all seen raging wildfires in their countries over the past year—in California, in the Amazon and now on the eastern coast of Australia.
So the question we all face is how we address the challenge of climate change, how we keep the Paris agreement on track and how we stop our world reaching the point of no return on global warming, where events such as those we are currently seeing in Australia become the new normal. Facing a challenge of that scale, we have to recognise one thing—that what we do alone in the UK will make not a jot of difference to the global problems we all face.
What we need instead is what my right friend the shadow Foreign Secretary called for a year ago:
“the globalisation of the green new deal”.
The proposition is that we help every country in the world, and indeed use our weight at the UN to oblige every country to use the natural resources at their disposal, whether it be wind power, tidal power or solar power, to move rapidly towards a zero-carbon economy, in the process creating millions of new jobs. Britain led the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. We are in a very good position to lead this green revolution, and I urge the Government to take that lead.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much indeed for that. We are grateful to him for laying out his thoughts. I do not think he actually asked me a specific question, and I am grateful to him for that as well.
Of course, the hon. Member asked about climate change. On that, the most important thing is that we are going to be chairing COP26, so we have ambitious climate change targets for all countries going forward. When I go on trips to other countries, I am looking forward to asking all of them how ambitious they are going to be. On money, specifically, we are increasing our international climate finance offer from £8.5 billion between 2016 and 2020 to £11.6 billion over the period 2021 to 2025, in order to help developing countries take action.
It is a great pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. I welcome the Minister’s statement and I am very grateful that the Prime Minister has made the offer to his opposite number Scott Morrison. I also welcome the partnership the Minister has spoken of, but is there more we could do? I ask that because the Foreign Office has such excellent links with the Australian Administration—indeed, we were one and the same until about the 1960s. We have several members of the Commonwealth of Australia sitting on these Benches, and it is a pleasure to have them here. Can we look at co-operating with regional partners, bringing together an alliance of others not just to engage in Australia but to deal with the forest fires we are seeing around the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is perhaps soon again to be the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. [Interruption.] I said “perhaps”. One thing that was really helpful when Lord Ahmad was out in Australia was the fact that we hold the Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth at the moment. One thing we are doing as part of the Commonwealth is getting member states to work together on this matter, through initiatives such as the Blue Charter and the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. So we are there as a group promoting environmental protection across the world.
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has been very hard watching Australia burn in the past few weeks. I am fortunate, in that most of my friends and family are concentrated in the west and so are suffering less, but my thoughts, my love and my heart go out to all of those who are in harm’s way across the continent. It is difficult for most people here to appreciate the size of the fires and to appreciate the size of Australia to begin with. These fires have covered an area twice the size of Wales. The fire front in one state, New South Wales, is thousands of miles long. There is always a bushfire season, but not like this. As has been pointed out by others today, Australia is not alone; 4 million hectares of Siberian forest burned a few months ago, and there were fires in Greenland, Alaska and Canada too. Again, fires in the Arctic are normal, but not on this scale, and now the ground itself is starting to burn. In both hemispheres, climate change is driving this. Philip Higuera from the University of Montana describes it is a switch: reach the tipping point and Arctic tundra burns. So although kind words and support for those battling the fires are very moving and of course greatly appreciated, they are just one thing—action to address this climate emergency is another.
There will not be any slowdown in burn rates unless we reverse the causes, so I must ask: when will we see real action from this Government on the climate emergency? The Environment Bill that flickered briefly in the last Parliament missed and hit the wall. Will we see something of substance in this Parliament? The science is 250 years old, the term “greenhouse effect” was coined nearly a century ago, even Thatcher called for climate action and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns us of the dangers repeatedly, yet the UK stands virtually still on this issue. That must change. There must be no more woolly words and no more waffle—it is time for real climate action. When will we see a ban on fracking, incentives for renewable energy production and a roll-out of electric vehicle charging stations? Where is the support for electric aviation and VAT exemptions for home insulation—not a reduced rate but exemptions? Why are we not seeing urgent action? In short, if the Government want to do something about the fires in Australia, in the Arctic and on England’s moors in years to come, they must do something now about the climate emergency.
I thank the hon. Lady: our hearts go out to her friends and family in Australia. Sometimes in the Chamber, speeches and questions are quite difficult to make and ask, but it is great that she is here to give that extra oomph.
We have the chair of COP 26 with Italy, so we are absolutely taking climate change as the No. 1 priority. In every embassy around the world, every ambassador and every high commissioner has it as their No.1 priority to talk to other Governments and encourage greater and more ambitious targets for those countries. In particular, we will continue with the Paris agreement and make sure that those commitments are guaranteed going forward. President Claire O’Neill, late of this parish as the Member for Devizes, recently met other energy Ministers at COP25 in Madrid to bang the drum and make clear that this is our No.1 priority.
In respect of any changes to financial matters, I am afraid the hon. Lady will have to wait for the Chancellor’s Budget, but that is not very far away in March.
On the roll-out of electric charging points, I am proud to have two charging points in Swadlincote in South Derbyshire, and £4 million has been put to one side for councils to bid for so that they can have charging points.
Would the Minister like to say how many Britons have been killed or otherwise caught up in this emergency?
I am really pleased to say that no UK nationals have been killed and we are not aware of any who have been injured. In fact, only one British national has been in touch to ask for advice and support. We ask everybody—visitors and people living there—to pay close attention to the updated advice from local authorities.
When the fires are extinguished, there is going to have to be a moment for learning lessons and drawing the links between these incidents and climate change. Our Government should take a leading role, but we would be better able to do so if we had not ourselves just announced that a review of the net zero carbon target had been put off until autumn. Will the Minister speak to her colleagues in the Treasury about bringing that review forward?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I will of course do that.
It is a pleasure to see you back in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker.
What has been obvious from constituents in Romsey and Southampton North is the outpouring of affection and support that they are expressing for our friends and allies in Australia. I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend’s comments about the practical support that the Government are giving, but my constituents’ question is about what they can do as individuals. I would be delighted to hear what advice my hon. Friend can give them.
I thank my right hon. Friend—who is a very good friend—for that question. Interestingly, sometimes in times of adversity really nasty people come out of the woodwork. I do not want any help that the British people give via charities in Australia or whatever other method to be affected by scammers, so if British citizens want to give or help in any way, will they please double-check that any charity they give money to is registered with the Australian Charity Commission? It would be a tragedy if the good will of people in this country was abused.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I was really quite shocked that in her statement the Minister did not mention climate change once; it is surely the context in which all this is happening. When my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) did raise the issue very eloquently, the Minister had to rummage in her folder to find something to say. The fact is that Australia is the largest emitter per capita of any major nation, yet its Government are still not committed to decarbonisation. The COP25 talks were a complete failure, and we have not even had a written ministerial statement on them. When are the Government going to step up to the plate, show leadership, talk to Australia and say that it has to get with the agenda?
Please forgive me for suggesting that talk is cheap. Australia is a signatory to the Paris agreement and is committed to a 26% to 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 2005 levels by 2030. In addition—because there are intelligent people in this room—a number of Australian states have already committed to net zero by 2050. Ahead of COP 26, we will look forward to working with all Paris agreement signatories to increase global climate ambition in line with that agreement.
I welcome you back to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Does the Minister agree that this is the time not to be criticising Australia but to be helping them? Does she agree that we need to see close allies such as ourselves, the Americans, the Canadians and the New Zealanders coming together to give Australia the package of help that it desperately needs? Does she also agree that individual citizens who want to help can look at the appeals by the Salvation Army in Australia and by the Australian rural fire service, and make donations to them rather than the sort of dubious organisations that may emerge?
I could not agree more with my right hon. and learned Friend. My constituent Helen Jackson is raising funds for koala care, and I have made it clear to her that she must send the money she raises to the appropriate people, exactly as my right hon. and learned Friend has outlined.
I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and direct my remarks to you in the Chair, because with these difficult long-term issues there is a real role for Parliaments. Greta Thunberg came to our Parliament and it is this gathering that has taken up the mission and is leading it on; it is not just about the Executive Government. The all-party group on Australia, of which my friend the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and I are members, along with the chairs, the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), has come together to encourage all Parliaments around the world —the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is clearly a key friend—to take some responsibility for keeping this on the agenda, because in the end Executive Governments change, but we remain. I hope we can keep that in our thoughts. May I also thank the Speaker’s Office for contacting the Australian Parliament? I know from parliamentarians there just how much that meant to them.
It is great to hear of how much work is going on behind the scenes in Parliament, but I stress again that is a No.1 Government priority and all our embassies are on it. It is a great honour to host COP 26 with our Italian friends, and it will be the success that it needs to be.
I welcome you back to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We should remember that on new year’s day National Grid announced that this country just had the first ever year in which the energy from zero-carbon sources exceeded fossil fuels—it is the first time in our history—so we are doing our bit. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not be lecturing Australia when it is in the middle of a national emergency if it is not yet doing the same? As she rightly says, we should be giving it all the support we can. Will she confirm that if the fires worsen, we stand ready to provide whatever help is needed, should the Australians request it?