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Commons Chamber

Volume 671: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2020

House of Commons

Wednesday 5 February 2020

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU: Economic and Social Effect

1. What recent assessment his Department has made of the (a) economic and (b) social effect on Northern Ireland of the UK leaving the EU. (900560)

14. What recent assessment his Department has made of the (a) economic and (b) social effect on Northern Ireland of the UK leaving the EU. (900573)

We have now left the EU with a good deal. Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory and will be able to participate in our free trade deals. The Prime Minister negotiated hard to ensure that measures are in place that reflect Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. There will be no hard border with Ireland. At the same time, the agreement completely safeguards Northern Ireland’s integral place within the United Kingdom, and the arrangements on rights and consent within the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

The Prime Minister got the majority he asked for to deliver the Brexit that he wanted, but is it really possible for him to deliver on his promise that there would be no forms and no checks—no barriers of any kind—not just between Great Britain and Northern Ireland but between the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

The protocol provides important protections in that respect. Of course we will be working through the Joint Committee, and through the legislation that has been promised with the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement, to deliver on those promises.

The Government’s assessment of the economic impact of the withdrawal agreement had little by way of forecasts in terms of Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that this shows the lack of regard that the Government have shown to Northern Ireland throughout the Brexit process?

The Government have put Northern Ireland absolutely at the centre of this process. That is reflected in the nature of the protocol that is agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement and legislated for through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2020. But of course the end result will depend on the free trade agreement negotiated between the UK and the EU, and it is too early at this stage to speculate on the details of that. Northern Ireland does enjoy special protections in this process as a result of the protocol.

The Minister was very careful not to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) as to whether there will be checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The First Minister is clear that there will be. The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, is clear that there will be. Many people in industry and commerce in Northern Ireland believe that there will be. Does the Minister agree that there will be checks, or does he say that there will not be checks, on goods going from GB to Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister has been clear. Beyond our obligations under international law, there will be no changes for movements of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. When discussing the protocol with the EU, the UK will be ambitious on how flexible we can make this system. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK’s customs territory.

The Minister is of course right that the Prime Minister has been crystal clear. The very simple question for the Minister is this: is the Prime Minister right or wrong?

One of the ways of consolidating the benefits of leaving the EU would be to make Northern Ireland the most attractive part of the UK to trade. When I was Secretary of State, we had an all-party campaign that had the support of all the business community. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of my successor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), the Executive now have the power to reduce corporation tax. Some Members of the Executive are a bit gloomy about this. What steps are the Government taking to encourage Members of the Executive to take this amazing power to match corporation tax in the Republic of Ireland?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point—of course, he speaks with considerable experience in this area. It is right that we agreed, as part of previous agreements, that the Executive should have that power. If Ministers from the Executive wish to use it, we stand ready to engage with them, as long as they can show that the finances of the Northern Ireland Executive will be sustainable on the basis of any move in corporation tax.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the special status that Northern Ireland has, now that we have left the European Union, means that there is a bright new future for all the people in Northern Ireland, and that that future should be embraced, not greeted with the doom and gloom from Labour?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. What I see when I visit businesses in Northern Ireland is a determination to deliver for the economy to make sure that people in Northern Ireland enjoy the benefits both of being part of a global and outward-looking UK and of getting the best relationship with our European neighbours. That is an endeavour on which we must all now work together.

Northern Ireland Executive: Financial Package

2. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the financial package allocated to the Northern Ireland Executive. (900561)

7. How much funding the Government plan to allocate to the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement. (900566)

The UK Government are providing the restored Executive with a £2 billion financial package that delivers for the people of Northern Ireland and supports delivery of the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement. This financial commitment represents the biggest injection of new money in a Northern Ireland talks deal in well over a decade. The £2 billion of extra investment gives the Executive the means to transform the lives of people in Northern Ireland for a generation.

In January 2020, when making a statement about the “New Decade, New Approach” deal, the Secretary of State told the House that the financial package was a good start. I love a good start, but I also like good progress. Will he update the House on what progress has been made in building on the good start to ensure investment in better mental health services and dealing with the legacy of the past?

Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is right. There has been a very good start, and there have been multiple meetings here in Whitehall with joint Ministers. We have had a Joint Ministerial Committee in Cardiff, and yesterday both the First and Deputy First Ministers attended, for the first time ever, a recruitment drive by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We have seen a very positive start, and I hope that that continues.

Thank you very much. I thank my right hon. Friend for his previous answer. Will he confirm for the House and for the communities of Northern Ireland that this is the most generous package of its kind that has ever been allocated to Northern Ireland through a process like this?

Indeed, my hon. Friend is right. Voters in Northern Ireland realise that this is a good package. There is a Budget coming up in March, and I am sure that if the Executive prioritise their programme of government there will be a positive future for the whole of Northern Ireland.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that all the welcome financial assistance being made available to the new Northern Ireland Executive will be subject to the Barnett formula? Will he also say what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on this matter?

I think that the hon. Lady knows that this package is a unique package for Northern Ireland, and is not subject to the Barnett consequentials. She also knows that there is a very, very good Secretary of State for Scotland, who enjoys working positively with her and her colleagues.

There is some discussion about exactly what £2 billion extra means among the parties in Northern Ireland, and it is important that the Government maintain trust with the people of Northern Ireland to honour financial and economic commitments. In the wake of the renewable heat incentive scandal it is important that the Government ensure transparency and value for taxpayers’ money. Can the Secretary of State tell us what investment is required to fund the Bengoa review, and what assessment has been made of savings from delivering an integrated education service?

The answers are to be found with the Executive. It is up to the devolved Government to look at how best to spend the package. It is up to the parties and the Executive to work through how they deliver on their side of the agreement, which is to transform both the health service and education. It is not for me to come up with those answers, but I look forward to hearing theirs.

Security Situation

In light of the answer that the Secretary of State has given, can he advise the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure a smooth transition and continued security and peace in Northern Ireland when the withdrawal agreement transition period comes to an end on 31 December?

There are very good discussions with the EU on security matters, and there are very strong bonds with the Irish Government. I remain confident that the security situation that I have just described can be well managed with our current relationships and within the remit of the transition agreement.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the continued presence of dissident organisations in Northern Ireland, and will he say that there is no place in our society for those who peddle hate and division?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have to condemn the ongoing activities of dissident republicans. I pay tribute to the police and to our security services for all the work that they do to make sure that Northern Ireland remains safe.

What about those who have been responsible for security in years gone by? When will the Government put an end to the vexatious claims against our brave armed forces?

We have said—and the Prime Minister could not be clearer on this—that we will end vexatious claims, for both the police and the armed forces. We look forward to bringing forward legislation in that regard in due course.

I welcome that the Secretary of State just said he is going to end vexatious complaints against police officers. In the light of that, will he commit to meet Mark Lindsay, the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, and officers from the Retired Police Officers Association, so that they can put to him their grave concerns about the non-criminal charges that it has been suggested should be levelled at former serving brave police officers in Ulster?

The Secretary of State will know that the Stormont House agreement is the process agreed by all parties, after consultation with victims, on how to address the legacy of the troubles on the basis of truth, justice and reconciliation. Does he agreed that that is the settled process, and is he confident that the Government will stick to it and to the principle that everybody is equal before the law?

I am confident that we can deliver on the Government’s priority of ending vexatious claims for our armed forces and the police, but I also look forward to working with all parties in Northern Ireland to develop a consensus on how we move forward on the Stormont House agreement.

Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the support from political parties and community organisations, such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, for the new Police Service of Northern Ireland recruitment campaign? Will he encourage young nationalists to join the police and pursue a noble career and profession? Will he also join me in commending the work of PSNI officers, the Garda Síochána and, indeed, police throughout the whole of these islands?

It was such a positive event yesterday, when we saw the First Minister and Deputy First Minister attending that recruitment drive. I encourage all young women and men in Northern Ireland who are interested in the police service to join, whatever their background.

Northern Ireland Economy

Northern Ireland is a leading destination for inward investment, with employment at a record high and unemployment at a record low. However, there is more to be done to unleash Northern Ireland’s economic potential. The UK Government are providing significant funding to Northern Ireland, including through a £1 billion Barnett-based investment guarantee and £562 million for city and growth deals that cover the whole of Northern Ireland.

When the Minister discusses these matters with the Executive, will he consider discussing—along with corporation tax, which he should raise—the levels of VAT on tourism and air passenger duty? I understand that both have been reduced in the Republic of Ireland.

My hon. Friend raises some important points. Northern Ireland’s tourism potential is enormous. I can confirm that, as was previously committed, the Government are reviewing the devolution of APD, and that review is ongoing.

We welcome the success of Invest NI and others in attracting investment to Northern Ireland, but it is essential that we continue to have unfettered access to our biggest market, which is Great Britain. Economic growth is dependent on that and we need the Government to honour their commitments to ensure that we continue to have that access in both directions.

I absolutely recognise the importance of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises. We will honour our commitments and have committed, through the “New Decade, New Approach” deal, to specific legislation on the issue. I look forward to working with the right hon. Gentleman and the other parties on delivering that.

Will the Minister indicate the timescale within which the Government hope to bring forward legislative measures? It is essential that business has the certainty that it needs at this time to take investment decisions.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the commitment is to have the legislation in place by the end of the year, but there will of course have to be discussions through the usual channels as to the precise timing.

I thank the House for returning me to the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

A strong economy requires access to a skilled, motivated workforce. Clearly, we have to ensure that the skills base in Northern Ireland is supported and grows, but will my hon. Friend assure me that the voice and needs of the Northern Irish economy will be heard loudly in the Home Office as we finesse our immigration policies?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his re-election as Chair of the Select Committee. He makes a very important point, which I have also heard loud and clear from Northern Ireland businesses. I think they welcome some of the indications from the Migration Advisory Committee report. Of course, the Northern Ireland Office will ensure that the concerns and interests of Northern Ireland businesses are communicated across Government, including to the Home Office.

The Minister is right to say that the Northern Ireland economy has enormous potential, and there is no doubt that restoration of the Executive will unlock a great amount of that potential. Will he also explain the benefits that the Northern Ireland economy will receive from being part of the fifth largest economy in the world—that of the United Kingdom?

My right hon. Friend speaks with enormous knowledge of this area. She is absolutely right: Northern Ireland’s economy benefits enormously from its membership of the United Kingdom, and there will be new opportunities for Northern Ireland as we trade more globally and strike new free trade deals around the world.

“New Decade, New Approach” Agreement

5. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the allocation of funding to the Northern Ireland Executive for the implementation of the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement. (900564)

Following the restoration of the institutions, I have of course been in frequent contact with the Chancellor and other Government colleagues to discuss the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement. This agreement, as we heard earlier, is supported by a generous financial package of £2 billion and also comes with strings attached, with reform required in health, education and justice. The new Finance Minister has already been to London to meet the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and me.

The “New Decade, New Approach” document was created not by the five parties in Northern Ireland but by the UK and Irish Governments. It has set high expectations among the public in Northern Ireland. Will the Government commit generously to fully funding this agreement?

As the hon. Lady knows, this agreement has already delivered an end to the nurses’ strike in Northern Ireland. Having sat through hours of negotiation and discussion, I say to her that it was always clear that the parties had to prioritise what they wanted from Government. They are about to do that, and I look forward to hearing their plans in due course.

Northern Ireland Executive Restoration

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on Northern Ireland of the restoration of devolved Government. (900565)

15. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on Northern Ireland of the restoration of devolved Government. (900574)

The “New Decade, New Approach” deal has restored decision making to locally accountable representatives in Northern Ireland and guarantees the Good Friday agreement. It has ended three years of stasis at Stormont and is already having a beneficial effect on Northern Ireland’s citizens.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Conservative Government have demonstrated their commitment to strong devolved government and funding for all of our nations within this United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have delivered in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and we are delivering on our commitments to the Union.

Over the past few years, this House has made a number of important decisions on very important devolved areas of government in Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State agree that locally elected politicians in Northern Ireland are best placed to make those local decisions?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Ensuring that the Good Friday institutions are retained and enhanced was an absolute priority of the UK Government, and Northern Ireland is best served by the power-sharing agreement that is in place.

A stable Government needs confidence in the community. A Northern Ireland Minister was mentioned in a recent programme on the horrific murder of Paul Quinn. If that Minister— Mr Conor Murphy—has any information relating to that incident, he should make it known to both the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I condemn wholeheartedly that horrendous murder. As with any crime, anyone with information should come forward immediately.

Will the Secretary of State clarify his earlier answer in relation to the Stormont House agreement? He did not refer to it in detail but talked in generalities. A commitment was made recently in “New Decade, New Approach” and it was Government policy back in 2015. Is it still Government policy to fully deliver on Stormont House?

What I have said is that we are going to deliver on the commitment of ending vexatious claims against our armed forces and police officers. I have also said that I will discuss with all Northern Ireland parties how we will deliver on all aspects of the “New Decade, New Approach” document.

Following on from that answer, can the Secretary of State confirm that the specific assurances given on Armistice Day last year about the ending of repeat investigations in the absence of compelling new evidence is entirely compatible with the restoration of devolved government and all that that entails?

I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work in this area. I was reading his Defence Committee’s 2017 report again at the weekend. I confirm that we can deliver on the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s priority of ending vexatious claims against our armed forces and the police, and we can deliver for victims and survivors in Northern Ireland.

Customs Regulations: Consistency

9. What steps the Government is taking to ensure consistency in customs regulations throughout Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. (900568)

The deal makes clear that Northern Ireland is in, and remains part of, the UK customs territory. It allows the UK to ensure unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. The arrangements that we introduce will reflect this.

The Minister talks about unfettered access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, but according to a Treasury document leaked during the election campaign, firms will have to complete exit summary declarations—at a minimum—so I ask him again: will firms have to complete customs declarations for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and if I ask that again in a future questions session, will he give the same answer?

It is absolutely clear that the process of goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain is within the control of the UK Government. We have made clear commitments with regard to ensuring unfettered access to the whole of the UK internal market.

EU Withdrawal Act: Effect on the Union

10. What assessment he has made of the effect of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 on the Union. (900569)

The deal implemented in domestic law through the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 means that we have left the EU as one United Kingdom. The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland guarantees Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK. This Government will never be neutral in expressing our support for the Union and our steadfast belief that Northern Ireland’s best interests are served within a strong United Kingdom.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told us yesterday that we do not need a deal with the European Union. If he is right, what will that mean for the future of Northern Ireland in the Union?

I think the point that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was making is that we already have a deal with the European Union; we have left the European Union with a deal, and that is good news for Northern Ireland and the whole United Kingdom.

EU Customs Declarations

12. Whether EU customs declarations will be undertaken in Belfast on goods imported from mainland UK after the UK has left the EU. (900571)

As I stated earlier, the deal makes it crystal clear that Northern Ireland is in, and remains part of, the UK’s customs territory. It allows the UK to ensure unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. The arrangements we introduce will reflect this. As Great Britain and Northern Ireland are in the same customs territory, no tariffs will be due on goods coming from Great Britain and staying in Northern Ireland.

The European Commission released documents showing that EU import formalities on goods imported from the EU, such as customs declarations, would end up taking place in Belfast. [Interruption.] I see that the Minister is struggling to hear what I am saying. Does he not think that the best way of ensuring that there are no barriers to trade would be to remain in the customs union?

As the hon. Lady will recognise, there are specific arrangements in the protocol that protect Northern Ireland’s position with regard to trade with both Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is in the UK’s gift—and we will deliver on our commitments—to ensure that Northern Ireland has unfettered access to whole of the UK internal market.

Barnett Formula

13. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on ensuring that additional funding allocated to Northern Ireland is subject to the Barnett formula. (900572)

Here we go again from the SNP, but here we go again with the answer. As there has been no increase in UK Government departmental spending in England, there are no Barnett consequentials. Like previous Northern Ireland support packages, this funding addresses unique challenges, as was the case with city deals and support for farmers in Scotland and Wales.

We welcome the return of the new Executive and new moneys for Northern Ireland, but given the Prime Minister’s previously stated opposition to the Barnett formula, will the Secretary of State confirm for the record whether the Government still intend to abide by it?

I can confirm that we absolutely plan to abide by the Barnett formula. That is why, as part of this Government’s commitments, we are levelling up across the nations of the United Kingdom.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He will know that farming and fisheries are an important part of our local economy. He mentioned Barnett consequentials for farmers. Can he give specific assurances that farmers and fishermen will be looked after now that we have left the EU?

I can confirm that we will look after everybody after we leave the EU, but I am also reticent, sitting so close to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in making any commitments about the forthcoming Budget.

Order. Before we start Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that, for the first time, the House of Commons is starting a trial scheme to provide a British Sign Language interpretation of Prime Minister’s questions online. A signed version of the session is available live on parliamentlive.tv. Everyone deserves to be able to follow such a key moment in the parliamentary week, and I am committed to making our proceedings as accessible and clear as possible. I want to thank everyone who has worked hard to make this happen.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

The whole House will want to pay tribute to the police and all the emergency services for their brave response to the terrorist incident in Streatham on Sunday. That appalling incident makes plain the case for immediate action, and we will shortly introduce emergency legislation to ensure that we do everything to protect the public.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

On behalf of my constituents in Bridgend, may I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister on delivering on the promise made to the British people that we will leave the European Union? Will he reassure my constituents that, now that we are taking back control of our money, our borders and our laws, every effort will be made to bring jobs and investment to areas such as Bridgend that feel left behind?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. With better education, better infrastructure and high technology, we will unite and level up this country and deliver, as he is doing for the people of Bridgend.

We were all appalled by the terror attack in Streatham on Sunday, and I want to join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the bravery and dedication of the police, security services and all the other emergency response staff for the way in which they dealt with a terrifying and terrible situation.

Last Friday, this country left the European Union. Britain’s place in the world is at a crossroads, and while there are different views across the country, we will be holding the Government to account as the negotiations begin. My hope is that we will now truly come together to shape our common future and build an internationalist, diverse and outward-looking country. Indeed, we will get an opportunity to do that when Britain hosts the UN climate change conference, COP26, later this year. Despite the fact that we are at the 11th hour to save the planet, the former Tory Minister and now ex-president of COP26 Claire O’Neill said that there has been a

“huge lack of leadership and engagement”

from this Government. What on earth did she mean?

If we look at what the Government are achieving and already have achieved on climate change, it is quite phenomenal. The right hon. Gentleman will know that last year was the first year on record that renewables produced more of this country’s energy than fossil fuels. He will know that 99% of all the solar panels that have achieved that miracle were installed since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. We are delivering for the people of this country. We are reducing greenhouse gases. All he would produce, I am afraid, is a load of hot air.

The problem is, the Government’s own figures show that they are missing the carbon budget —let alone 2050, it will be 2099 before this country meets net zero.

We discovered this morning that two former Conservative leaders have also turned down the job formerly done by Claire O’Neill. It might be third time lucky if we make a joint approach to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith)—perhaps he would like to take on that job. He is in the Chamber, ready for it.

The Prime Minister’s own former Minister said that we should have “clear actions”, “an agreed plan” and

“a roadmap for the Year of Action”,

but we do not. Why is the Prime Minister failing so spectacularly to measure up to the scale of the climate crisis that this country and this planet are facing?

This is beyond satire. This is the first country, the first major economy in the world, to have set a target of being carbon neutral by 2050. It is an absolutely fantastic thing. We are leading the world in our ambitions, and we will have a wonderful summit in Glasgow, one of the most fantastic cities in our country, at the end of the year.

This country is not meeting its target and it is not due to meet its target, and I think the Prime Minister should recognise that. Even the Paris targets are not enough. The UN says that we have just a decade to change course if we want to avert a climate catastrophe. Let us look at something else his ex-Minister said—that the Prime Minister promised to “lead from the front” and guaranteed there would be “money” and “people”, but these promises are not close to being met. What on earth could she have been talking about?

As so often, I am not entirely sure what the right hon. Gentleman is talking about, because if we look at what this Government have actually delivered—if we look at our Conservative policies of backing green tech, of backing innovation, of supporting a dynamic market economy, which is the solution to these problems—we have cut CO2 emissions in this country since 2010, on 1990 levels, by 42%. That is an astonishing achievement, and at the same time, the economy has grown by 73%, thanks to free-market, dynamic, one nation Conservativism. That is our approach. What is his?

The Prime Minister’s former Minister said: “My advice to”—[Interruption.] Well, Government Members may not like it, but I am going to read it:

“My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises—whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or…family members—is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”

Not my words—hers. The Prime Minister’s failure in government means this country will not meet its net zero target until 2099. This Government have banned offshore wind, and this Government are funding billions on fossil fuel projects abroad. Is this what his ex-Minister means by the “absence of leadership”?

I think the grotesque failure of the Leader of the Opposition to understand what is happening in this country’s economy, let alone in the fight against climate change, is quite mind-boggling. I can inform him today not just that this country is leading in producing the technology to generate offshore, but that the north-east of this country leads the world in producing and designing those fantastic turbines. It is because of that technological innovation that we are able massively to expand our renewables. I can tell him —I think he may know this—that in 1990 this country was 70% dependent on coal power. And, by the way, he would want to reopen the coalmines. Today, we are down to 3%, and by 2024 it will be zero. That is our plan. What is his?

It was the Labour party that proposed the climate change emergency motion to this House on 1 May. The Prime Minister is quoting things that happened in 1990 and afterwards. During that time, of course, he was a climate sceptic who did not say anything about this at all.

Poor leadership is nothing new to this Prime Minister. When he was Foreign Secretary, he cut the number of climate attachés across the world by 60% in our embassies, and reportedly said to his staff, “You’re not going to spill this all out to the media, are you?” Considering his monumental failure in advance of COP26, is it not really just a continuation of his climate change denial statements that he was regularly making up until 2015?

The right hon. Gentleman is talking absolute nonsense. This Government are delivering a fantastic agenda in tackling climate change; we lead the world in going for a zero-carbon approach. His own approach is utterly unclear and has indeed been condemned by the GMB as a disaster for the UK economy. He would confiscate people’s cars and prevent them from having foreign holidays. We have a plan that will allow the UK economy to continue to grow and create jobs and that will tackle climate change.

I really do admire the Prime Minister’s very vivid imagination, but unfortunately his vivid imagination seems to have taken over from his memory, because he might recall saying that climate change is a “primitive fear…without foundation”. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh said:

“Any consequence of failure to deliver a climate action plan must fall equally on every country…the cost of our inaction is devastating for every living person”,

but our Prime Minister is failing on the biggest stage on the most important issue of our time. And now his former Minister has described preparations in Whitehall as

“Whitehall knot-tying, infighting and obfuscation, petty political squabbles and black ops briefings”.

No wonder the Prime Minister is shutting newspapers out of No. 10 because he does not like the briefings. When will he face up to the climate emergency and take the action necessary to turn Glasgow into the turning point when this world will stop the levels of pollution and climate change we are having and go forward to a sustainable future? Because his Government’s policies simply do not take us there.

This Government are showing world leadership in tackling climate change, and we are going to have a fantastic summit at Glasgow and I look forward to it very much.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions the media. Labour finally conducted an inquest into what happened in the general election, and they discovered in the Labour party that it was not the leadership that was at fault, and it was not Brexit; it was the media. They blame the media for it. I do not blame them; I am a journalist—I love journalism. The people of this country do not blame the media; they can see that the media do their best to represent the reality, and the reality is that this is a Government who are getting on with delivering 40 new hospitals and 20,000 more police, tackling climate change, and £30,000 starting salaries for every teacher in the country. It is not about the presentation of the facts, it is about the reality, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot cope with the reality.

Q2. As MP for Broxtowe, I am absolutely delighted that funding is starting to flow to rebuild hospitals, such as the £5 million seed funding going to Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that this Conservative Government are committed to fulfilling their manifesto pledges and will deliver for the NHS? (900621)

I agree passionately with my hon. Friend and congratulate him on all he has done to campaign for the redevelopment of Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital, and of course I am proud that that money is now flowing through to those wonderful projects.

May I add my grateful thanks to the police and emergency services who had to react to the dreadful terrorist incident in Streatham?

In the first few days of Brexit Britain this Prime Minister has sacked an official, taken an isolationist approach to trade and banned the press from a Downing Street briefing; is he intentionally trying to impersonate Donald Trump?

I do not think anybody listening to my speech on Monday could have mistaken it for having anything but the most passionate internationalist, globalist, open, outward-looking approach. There is only one party in this country that has “nationalist” in its name; that’s them. They would break up the most successful political partnership of the last 300 years. The right hon. Gentleman and his party should concentrate on the day job and doing a better job for the people of Scotland.

The Prime Minister does not even know the name of our party. The Prime Minister is on a dangerous trajectory. Is it any wonder that poll after poll shows majority support for Scottish independence? Our former US ambassador has made clear the threat of a Tory-Trump trade deal, warning that drug prices could soar. This would see increased pressure on our frontline services. It is clearer than ever that this Government and this Prime Minister are a threat to our NHS. This afternoon the SNP will present our NHS protection Bill to remove the very real threat of Tory privatisation. Will the Prime Minister commit right now to supporting our legislation?

I think it is very odd that the right hon. Gentleman should denounce this country’s wish to have trade deals around the world when, as I understand it, their proposal is to try to re-join the European Union, and have a different currency, whose name they have yet to identify—perhaps they could elucidate that for the House—have a border at Berwick, and just after this country has taken back control of its outstanding marine wealth to hand it back to Brussels. That is their policy. I really think they should concentrate on doing a better job for the people of Scotland.

Q5. A strong society needs strong families, as our manifesto rightly said. It went on to say that we will champion family hubs to serve vulnerable families. Will the Prime Minister prioritise family hubs and ensure that they are linked to our early years strategy, the troubled families programme and children’s services reform? (900624)

Yes, indeed. That is why we have given another £165 million to extend the troubled families programme this year.

Q3. In the past 10 years, violent crime has risen 152% across the towns of Warwickshire. In the past two weeks in my constituency, two people have been killed in two separate events and others remain seriously ill or injured. The Government have promised to reinstate 20,000 police officers, but is not the simple truth that it is now our residents, through hikes in council tax of 12% last year and 6% this year, who are picking up the whole bill for the Old Bill, and that the Conservative party is no longer the party of law and order but the party of fear and disorder? (900622)

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he is making an important point about violent crime. I share his anger. That is why we are putting 20,000 more police on the streets. That is, above all, why we are now tackling the county lines drugs gangs that are behind so much of the rise in violent crime. We will get that crime down.

Q9. The Prime Minister is conscious of the very widespread concern in this House about the plans to involve Huawei in 5G networks, concern that will have only been increased by the news this week that France is building a new 5G network without the involvement of Huawei, following the lead of Australia. If they can do, we could do it. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he wants to reduce Huawei’s involvement over time, and can he give a timescale as to when that involvement will hit zero? (900628)

My right hon. Friend is certainly right that we are going to be reducing the involvement of Huawei below the 35% market cap, but he is also right in his general vision, which is one I entirely share. What has happened, I am afraid, is a failure of like-minded countries to produce an alternative to the 5G network except that provided by high-risk vendors. That is why we are now doubling the science budget. We will be working with some of the countries he mentions in order to produce exactly that diversification in the market.

Q4. In November last year, the personal independence payment assessment centre in my constituency was moved to Rhyl. No notice has ever been given of that change. The next bus from Caernarfon to Rhyl takes 1 hour 44 minutes, or in a case in point in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), the bus from Barmouth to Rhyl takes 5 hours 15 minutes. This is the reality in the Prime Minister’s soaraway global Britain. Will he instruct his Minister to remedy this matter immediately? (900623)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the point he raises. We do need to improve our bus services across the whole country and that is why we are investing another £250 million immediately to improve bus services. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has many more such investments in the pipeline.

Q13. Sometimes we are the train, sometimes we are the track, and just last week we have taken control back. Does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time for us to be the track for a Metrolink between Manchester and Bolton? (900632)

Yes indeed, and that is why—thanks partly to my hon. Friend’s urgings and his campaign—we have given the combined mayoral authority in Bolton £300 million under the transforming cities deal, plus a share of the £4.2 billion local transport fund. We have given it the tools—let us hope that it follows his urgings and builds the Metrolink that he wants.

Q6. Last Friday I visited a school in my constituency, and in 2020 the state of the school buildings was Dickensian, with leaking roofs, rusty shower rooms and mouldy changing areas. When will the Government understand that the cost of education is high, but that it is a worthy investment in the future of our schools? Whether a child is a whizz kid or is needy, every child deserves to be at school in an excellent and inspiring school building. (900625)

That is exactly why this Government are investing a record £14 billion more in education, raising funding for primary schools to £4,000 per head and £5,000 per head for every secondary school in the country. We can only do that because we are running a strong and dynamic market economy, and that is what we are going to do.

Q14. To help to genuinely spread opportunity across our country, may I encourage my right hon. Friend to have a pre-Budget chat with his Chancellor about extending the Government’s welcome plans to reduce national insurance contributions for employers of ex-service personnel to other groups who find it difficult to get a good job, including care leavers, ex-offenders, those with a disability and the long-term unemployed? (900633)

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend and his family for everything that they do to encourage ex-offenders into work. I will indeed take up that suggestion with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. We cut taxes on working people. We cut national insurance. The Opposition would hike taxes and keep people in welfare.

Q7. It has been two years since the Windrush scandal exposed the wrongful detention and deportation of Commonwealth citizens. While we wait for the much delayed publication of the lessons learned review, the Government plan to deport 50 people to Jamaica by charter flight next week. Will the Prime Minister immediately suspend the flight until the lessons learned review is published and the recommendations are implemented? (900626)

I think the whole House will understand that the people of this country will think it right to send back foreign national offenders.

The terrorist incident last week reminds us that the rule of law remains a fundamental foundation of our democratic constitution, but the explosion of judicial review and judicial activism has led to a censoriousness and litigiousness in our society and has distorted questions that ought to remain exclusively political. How will my right hon. Friend ensure that Parliament remains the sovereign and legitimate source of law as we take back control?

My hon. Friend is a distinguished lawyer and she is right to stick up for the immense value of our legal system. We must protect judicial review. It is a vital part of our system, but we should also ensure that it is not abused to conduct politics by other means or to create needless delay.

Q8. For many years, Bedford has been promised a new in-patient mental health facility, especially since provision at Weller Wing was closed in 2017, yet patients are still travelling 20 miles to access services. Will the Prime Minister explain how that demonstrates the parity of esteem for mental health care that his party promised in 2012? (900627)

We are putting record investment in the NHS—£33.9 billion—and a total of £12 billion is now going into mental healthcare. That is a record sum.

Following on from the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) about Huawei, the Australian agencies analysed the involvement of any element of Huawei in their 5G system and determined that any involvement would lead to a major risk of both sabotage and espionage. Can the Prime Minister give an undertaking that this country will lead the Five Eyes and NATO to create an alternative to Huawei in the next two years?

Yes, we will of course do nothing either to endanger our critical national security infra- structure or to prejudice co-operation with Five Eyes partners, as my right hon. Friend has rightly suggested, and we will work to ensure that high-risk vendors cannot dominate our market.

Q10. The Prime Minister will know that under his Government there has been a mass shortage of consultants across the UK, leading to strain on our A&E services. How will he make sure, especially now we have left the EU, that consultants from overseas are encouraged to apply for NHS visas to work in hospitals across the UK? (900629)

We have instituted NHS visas in order to attract talent from around the world, but I remind the hon. Lady, who I think speaks for a Welsh seat, that that is a devolved matter for the Welsh Labour Government.

The Prime Minister has rightly put keeping our country safe and the NHS at the heart of the Government’s plans. Will he support my campaign for two new GP surgeries in my beautiful market towns of Oakham and Melton, and can I remind him that he is always welcome if he is in search of a pork pie, Rutland Bitter or stilton?

Q11. Last week it was revealed that my constituent Errol Graham starved to death just months after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped his benefits. His emaciated body was only discovered when bailiffs broke down his front door to evict him. The first priority of Government is to keep their citizens safe. How many more vulnerable benefit claimants will have to die before this Government start to value their lives? (900630)

This is a tragic case, and the hon. Lady is right to raise it. We have allocated £36 million to improve safeguarding and decision making in cases like this, including through the creation of a new independent serious case panel, which will enable us to scrutinise and learn lessons from such tragic cases. We are also improving guidance for staff.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in extending on behalf of the whole House our sympathy and best wishes to those injured in the Streatham attack last week? I welcome his intention to legislate as a consequence of this attack. Does he agree that Her Majesty’s Government now have no option but to legislate in order to contain the threat of ex-terrorist offenders when they still pose a threat to our country?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Most people in this country would agree that the system of automatic early release of terrorist offenders has run out of road and that it is time to find a way, as we are doing, to make sure they are properly scrutinised by a parole board or an equivalent.

Q12. Thanks to the tireless work of my predecessor, the late, great Paul Flynn, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), and the families of children with intractable epilepsy, medical cannabis is now legal in the UK, so can the Prime Minister answer calls from the families of very sick children who need medical cannabis as to when this medicine will actually be available on the NHS? Will he come to Portcullis House with me after this session to meet these families and to personally assure them that he will do all he can to help? (900631)

It was this Government and my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary who legalised medicinal cannabis, and I undertake that he will certainly be happy to meet the hon. Member’s constituents this afternoon.

Buses are a vital lifeline for residents in Rother Valley, but too often First Bus is letting down the people of South Yorkshire. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government fully back buses as an essential way not only to connect our villages, town and cities across the north, but to unlock the potential of Rother Valley and South Yorkshire?

The Government are passionate about buses. I assure my hon. Friend that we will massively improve our bus network, in the Rother Valley above all, and I thank him for his lobbying.

Q15. We know that the Prime Minister has form in ducking democratic scrutiny at every opportunity and that his party is no stranger to receiving Russian donations, but his repeated refusal to publish the report on Russian interference in UK democracy is unjustifiable and unacceptable. Will he tell us clearly, without bluff and bluster, when the report will be published, why it has been delayed for so long, and when he will reconvene the Intelligence and Security Committee? (900634)

The report will of course be published—as the hon. Gentleman knows full well—when the Intelligence and Security Committee is reconstituted, and I think that his conspiratorial frame of mind is likely to be thoroughly disappointed by the results.

Commuters in Watford are fed up with poor rail services making them late for work in the mornings and late returning home at night to see their families. Does the Prime Minister agree that even new rail franchises that do not deliver cannot assume that they will keep their contracts if they do not sort out those issues as soon as possible?

Absolutely, and that is why we are putting £48 billion into improving our railways as part of the infrastructure revolution. We should never forget that that lot over there would renationalise the railways. When railways were nationalised, a quarter of rail users deserted the network; after privatisation, rail use doubled.

Last week we lost a political giant in Seamus Mallon. He was an outstanding parliamentarian, and a seeker of justice for everyone. One injustice that burned in him until his dying day was the murder of Paul Quinn, who was beaten to death by an IRA gang in 2007. They broke every single bone in his body, to the extent that his mother could not place rosary beads in his hands when he was in his coffin. In the aftermath, the now Finance Minister Conor Murphy said that Paul was linked to criminality. That was a lie. Does the Prime Minister agree that Conor Murphy should retract that lie, publicly apologise, and give any information that he has about Paul’s murder to the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

I hear the hon. Gentleman, and I think that the whole House will have heard the passion with which he spoke about that injustice. I can tell him that we will implement the Stormont House agreement in such a way as to provide certainty for veterans, and, of course, justice for victims as well.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Home Office press team told journalists that all the people on a deportation flight to Jamaica were serious criminals. That seems not to have been true, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) said earlier, the Government have not even received the lessons learned report.

The wife of a constituent of mine has said that he is due to be deported in just six days’ time. He was convicted under the now unlawful joint enterprise rule, and was released after two months. His wife fears that this stress will kill him because he has a heart problem. Mr Speaker, how can I get the Home Secretary to take this seriously and to be truthful about the people who are due to be on the deportation flight, so that we can halt it until we establish the true facts of the situation?

I thank the hon. Lady for giving notice of her point of order. As she knows, it is not a point of order for me personally, but I think that the whole House has sympathy with what she has said, I am sure that Ministers have heard it, and I am sure that someone will look into it as a matter of urgency.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s Question Time On 22 January, responding to a question from the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister said:

“Universal credit has in fact succeeded in getting 200,000 people into jobs.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 294.]

Correspondence that I received yesterday from Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority—a copy of which has now been published on the authority’s website—shows that the Prime Minister’s claim was not correct. The 200,000 figure represents the Department for Work and Pensions’ estimate of the predicted impact on employment once universal credit has been rolled out, rather than the effect so far. Please will you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how the Prime Minister could set the record straight?

I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice of her intention to raise that point of order. It is not a matter for the Chair to police the accuracy of statements in the Chamber, but she has rightly raised the issue, and her opinion has now been put on record. I am sure that there are other ways of raising it if she is still not happy.

Bills Presented

Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mike Amesbury, supported by Emma Hardy, Kevin Hollinrake, Ms Marie Rimmer, Justin Madders, Stephanie Peacock, Grahame Morris, Layla Moran, Mrs Sharon Hodgson, Paula Barker, Huw Merriman and Ian Mearns, presented a Bill to make provision for guidance to schools about the costs aspects of school uniform policies.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 13 March, and to be printed (Bill 10).

Forensic Science Regulator and Biometrics Strategy Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Darren Jones presented a Bill to make provision for the appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator; to make provision about the Regulator and about the regulation of forensic science; to require the Secretary of State to publish an annual strategy on biometric technologies; to enable the Secretary of State to limit the use of such technologies when that is recommended in the strategy; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 April, and to be printed (Bill 11).

Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Anna McMorrin, supported by Jim McMahon, Preet Kaur Gill, Gareth Thomas, Alex Sobel, Rosie Duffield, James Gray, Philip Dunne, Kevin Hollinrake, Alex Chalk, Caroline Lucas and Ben Lake, presented a Bill to enable co-operative and community benefit societies to raise external share capital for the purpose of making environmentally sustainable investment; to make associated provisions about restricting conversion to company status and the distribution of capital on winding-up; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 March, and to be printed (Bill 12).

Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Laura Trott, supported by Alberto Costa, Carolyn Harris, Judith Cummins, Jackie Doyle-Price, Caroline Nokes, Sarah Champion, Mr Kevan Jones, Dr Dan Poulter and Laura Farris, presented a Bill to make provision about the administration to persons under the age of 18 of botulinum toxin and of other substances for cosmetic purposes; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May, and to be printed (Bill 13).

Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Chris Loder presented a Bill to make provision about the mode of trial and maximum penalty for certain offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 June, and to be printed (Bill 14).

National Minimum Wage Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Paula Barker, supported by Mike Amesbury, Mick Whitley, Navendu Mishra, Ian Byrne, Apsana Begum, Kate Osborne, Rachel Hopkins, Beth Winter and Grahame Morris, presented a Bill to make provision about the national minimum wage; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 June, and to be printed (Bill 15).

Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Philip Dunne, supported by Theo Clarke, Fay Jones, Caroline Lucas, Scott Mann, Mr Andrew Mitchell, Anne Marie Morris, Stephanie Peacock, Julian Sturdy, Derek Thomas, Sir Charles Walker and Bill Wiggin, presented a Bill to place a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 10 July, and to be printed (Bill 16).

Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sir Charles Walker, on behalf of Dame Cheryl Gillan, presented a Bill to make provision about substance testing in prisons and similar institutions.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May, and to be printed (Bill 17).

Control of Roadworks Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Mark Francois, supported by Sir David Amess, Craig Mackinlay and Mr Marcus Fysh, presented a Bill to set penalties for overrunning roadworks; to make requirements regarding the duration, timing and coordination of roadworks; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 June, and to be printed (Bill 18).

Mental Health Admissions (Data) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Dr Ben Spencer, supported by Jeremy Hunt, Ms Harriet Harman, Mr Gareth Bacon, Greg Smith and Stephen Timms, presented a Bill to make provision for the collection and publication of statistics on mental health hospital admissions; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 October, and to be printed (Bill 19).

British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Bim Afolami presented a Bill to provide the British Library Board with a power to borrow money.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 13 March, and to be printed (Bill 20).

Public Interest Disclosure (Protection) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Dr Philippa Whitford, supported by Peter Grant, Alison Thewliss, Mr Andrew Mitchell, Dr Julian Lewis, Kevin Hollinrake and Wera Hobhouse, presented a Bill to provide protections for whistleblowers; to create offences relating to the treatment of whistleblowers and the handling of whistleblowing cases; to establish an independent body to protect whistleblowers and whistleblowing, in accordance with the public interest; to make provision for that body to set, monitor and enforce standards for the management of whistleblowing cases, to provide disclosure and advice services, to direct whistleblowing investigations and to order redress of detriment suffered by whistleblowers; to repeal the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998; and for connected purposes

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 April, and to be printed (Bill 21).

Trade Agreements (Exclusion of National Health Services) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Peter Grant, supported by Dr Philippa Whitford, Paula Barker, Ben Lake, Claire Hanna, Caroline Lucas, Stephen Farry, Neale Hanvey and Joanna Cherry, presented a Bill to exclude requirements relating to National Health Services procurement, delivery or commissioning from international trade agreements; to require the consent of the House of Commons and the devolved legislatures to international trade agreements insofar as they relate to the National Health Services of England, Scotland and Wales and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 June, and to be printed (Bill 22).

Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) (No. 2) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Alex Cunningham, supported by Alec Shelbrooke, Chris Stephens, Wayne David, Mike Amesbury, Mike Hill, Bridget Phillipson and Mary Glindon, presented a Bill to prohibit unpaid work experience exceeding four weeks; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 March, and to be printed (Bill 23).

Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Liz Twist, on behalf of Mary Kelly Foy, supported by Liz Twist, Ian Mearns, Kate Osborne, Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Mr Virendra Sharma, Claudia Webbe, Ian Byrne, Taiwo Owatemi, Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Rachel Hopkins, presented a Bill to impose duties on certain education and training providers in relation to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 13 March, and to be printed (Bill 24).

Registers of Births and Deaths Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Andrew Mitchell, supported by Kevin Hollinrake, Amanda Solloway, Dame Margaret Hodge, Philip Dunne, Alison McGovern, Alex Chalk, Dr Philippa Whitford, Gary Sambrook, Gillian Keegan and Meg Hillier, presented a Bill to make provision about the keeping and maintenance of registers of births and deaths; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May, and to be printed (Bill 25).

Meat (Grading and Labelling) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Bill Wiggin, supported by Mrs Pauline Latham, Mr Jonathan Lord, James Gray, Ben Lake, Andrew Griffith, Kevin Hollinrake, Mark Pritchard, Andrew Bowie, Mark Menzies, Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger and Philip Dunne, presented a Bill to establish a meat grading system incorporating taste and eating quality; to define the term “grass-fed” when used in meat labelling and marketing; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 29 January 2021, and to be printed (Bill 26).

NHS 111 Service (Training and Clinical Oversight) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Kate Osamor, supported by Feryal Clark, Taiwo Owatemi, Claudia Webbe, Nadia Whittome, Preet Kaur Gill, Florence Eshalomi, Yasmin Qureshi, Navendu Mishra, Apsana Begum, Bambos Charalambous and Tulip Siddiq, presented a Bill to set training standards for NHS 111 service operators; to require NHS 111 services to be overseen by clinical advisors; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 10 July, and to be printed (Bill 27).

Third Sector Organisations (Impact and Support) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Simon Fell presented a Bill to establish a body to assess the benefits and effectiveness of third sector organisations and provide support to such organisations; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September, and to be printed (Bill 28).

Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Patrick Grady, on behalf of Carol Monaghan, supported by Martin Docherty-Hughes, Kenny MacAskill, Alyn Smith, Patricia Gibson, Anne McLaughlin, Angela Crawley, Richard Thomson, Alan Brown, Kirsten Oswald, Dr Philippa Whitford and Patrick Grady, presented a Bill to make provision for granting permission to work to asylum seekers who have waited six months for a decision on their asylum application; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 November and to be printed (Bill 29).

Opposition Day

[2nd Allotted Day]

Local Government Finance

I beg to move,

That this House notes that the Government’s proposed changes to local authority funding will dramatically downgrade the importance of deprivation in deciding the distribution of funding to local authorities and will have a devastating effect on local adult social care funding; further notes that proposed changes will cause even greater reductions in foundation funding and children’s social care; and calls on the Government to scrap its Review of Local Authorities’ Relative Needs and Resources and to ensure that local authorities are properly funded through a fairer system that properly takes account of deprivation, need and differing council tax bases.

The state of local government finance is desperate. Our councils are not just at breaking point; many of them are broken. The Government’s so-called fair funding review could be about to make matters worse for some of them.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent start to his speech. How many councils does he think will fall like Northamptonshire County Council, in the next five years?

Of course that is the worry, because several councils are edging ever closer to the cliff edge, and the number that will drop over that cliff edge is very much dependent on the actions of this Government. If they honour their word and put resources into the local communities that need them most, hopefully we can avoid more Northamptonshires. However, if they continue along the lines that I fear they will, removing resources from the areas with the greatest need but the least ability to raise their own finances, I fear for the future of the local government sector.

I am sure my hon. Friend has had a chance to read the Local Governance Research Unit’s excellent annual survey of local government finances, which shows that 10% of councils are worried that their resources will be insufficient to meet their statutory duties. We could reach that clear tipping point unless the Government act.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will touch on that report later in my speech, but it highlights the impact of 10 years of cuts to our local councils and public services at a time of rising demand, particularly for adult social care and children’s services—the expensive people-based services. Given that the councils with greatest social need and the worst health inequalities have a limited tax base to make up for any financial losses, the problem is that the so-called fair funding formula could be what tips them over the edge.

I know that the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth, the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), will stand up and pronounce that the finance settlement that we are set to agree next Wednesday shows that he is investing in local services, but he is a lone voice in saying so. That shows just how detached the Government are from the sector that they are here supposedly to represent, because the truth is that since 2015—just five years—local government funding across England has fallen by 32%.

Does my hon. Friend agree that local government is also fearful of last week’s rumours that the Chancellor will ask Departments to cut another 5% from their budgets?

That is very worrying, and I hope the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will stand up against it. Those of us who have been a Member of this House for some time will remember that the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Lord Pickles, was only too keen to offer up the maximum cuts from his Department, meaning that local government in England was the part of the public sector that was clobbered the hardest.

It is even worse than the 32% fall over five years because, since the Conservative party entered government in 2010, funding for local councils has been slashed by more than half. We have all seen the consequences of that neglect: the unrepaired roads, the uncollected bins, the cuts to adult learning and the closed children’s centres. Under Conservative leadership, almost a fifth of our libraries have been forced to close because of cuts to funding. One of the previous Labour Government’s greatest achievements, the Sure Start programme, has had its funding slashed in half, forcing as many as 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres to close since 2010.

The hon. Gentleman is worried about the impact on the local authorities he mentioned because they cannot raise as much money through council tax. Does he accept that the shire districts get much less local government funding, so their council tax has to be much higher? It is only right that we consider a fairer funding formula, so that everybody pays a fair amount and receives a fair amount.

I will come on to the specific point of funding adult social care.

I will happily provide the statistics, but Liverpool, Knowsley, Blackpool, Kingston upon Hull and Middlesbrough are the five most deprived local authorities in England. Since 2010, Blackpool has lost 21% of its funding; Knowsley 25%; Liverpool 23%; Kingston upon Hull 22%; and Middlesbrough 21%. A 5% maximum increase in council tax in each of those local authorities will raise nothing like their loss of grant funding. That is not fair. If the fair funding review is carried out in the way that the Local Government Association suggests it might be, those most deprived communities will see even greater reductions in funding, and we know they will never be able to plug the gap through council tax alone.

I thank my hon. Friend for speaking about the cuts to children’s centres. Does he agree that when we hear about rising knife crime, we have to attribute much of that increase to the year-on-year cuts to local government finances, youth services and youth justice? We should focus on investing in children’s provision, and especially in education and work opportunities.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have been a Member long enough to remember the last Labour Government introducing Total Place, under which all the responsible agencies—the police, the housing associations, the local authorities and the central Government Departments—worked together to tackle many of these issues in the round. One of the devastating impacts of austerity over the past decade has been the breaking away from that collaboration, that partnership approach, to a situation where each agency tends to cost-shunt. Those agencies are making cuts, so it becomes somebody else’s problem—they push it on to another part of the public sector.

The hon. Gentleman is making some important points about the situation in England. He may be aware of the fiscal analysis by the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, which shows that there has been about a £1 billion cut to local government finance in Wales over the past 10 years. I know this is a block grant situation, and that the block grant has been reduced in real terms, but Labour Ministers in Wales have decided to swing the axe at local government.

As the hon. Gentleman states, the block grant is set by this place, so the Welsh Assembly Government have had to ensure that their spending meets the money granted by Westminster. I have been sent a budget briefing from the Welsh Government about their intentions not only to increase the adult social care budget in the year ahead, but to give a real-terms increase in local government spending. I welcome that overwhelmingly, because Welsh councils, like English councils, need good public services.

Durham County Council has lost £224 million in core spending since 2010, and the Government’s direction of travel has been to move the expenditure on to the council tax precept. The problem for County Durham is that more than 50% of its properties are in band A so, irrespective of how much the council tax is put up, it will do nothing to plug the gap left by the reduction in core spending.

My right hon. Friend is right on that. Councils cannot change their council tax base overnight. If their properties are predominantly in bands A and B, that is the council tax base for that local area. Governments of all political persuasions over the years have always recognised that not every council has the same baseline and the same ability to bring in enough money for basic, decent statutory public services, which is why we had the rate support grant in the 1980s and the revenue support grant from the 1990s onwards. Those things were in recognition of the need for a redistribution of funding to areas that cannot generate enough funding from council tax and business rates alone.

May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that not all deprivation is found in urban areas, and that places such as Cornwall, which have had a raw deal on central Government funding because of the formula put in place by the Labour party, have for decades received lower levels of funding, despite being some of the poorest parts of England? It is this Government, with the fair funding review, who are going to put that right.

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the fair funding review. I have never said that deprivation exists only in urban areas. Deprivation is a fundamental part of the formula that exists now, so if there is deprivation in his constituency—and it is more likely that there is—his council will get an element of formula attributed to that deprivation. But to take money from some of the poorest communities in the country in order to give it to the richest communities in the country, which have the ability to raise sufficient locally, is not one nation—it is reverse redistribution, and it is penalising the poorest councils and the poorest communities. He should reflect on what he has said.

I will give way a little later on, because I have been generous so far.

The Tory-led Local Government Association estimates that if we continue on this current course, the funding gap will grow to £8 billion by 2025. That is an £8 billion gap not to rebuild our services after 10 years of cuts, but just to stay still: just to prevent already heavily stretched services from falling apart under the weight of growing demand, rising costs and wage inflation. I reiterate: it is £8 billion more needed just to stay as we are today. So, even if this £8 billion funding was provided, in full, by 2025, it would barely keep the sector’s head above water, allowing councils to continue delivering services at current levels, with no capacity to meet the growing need for services. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister considers that a sustainable way to finance the sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chair of the Select Committee, has mentioned in an intervention, research published today by the Local Government Information Unit shows that 73% of councils would not agree with Ministers. The Chief Executive of the LGIU has warned:

“Our social care system is no longer on the edge, it’s fallen off the cliff. Our children’s services aren’t at breaking point, they’re broken.”

That has real-life consequences: Age UK estimates that in the past two years alone, 74,000 older people died waiting for care. An average of 81 people a day, equivalent to three every hour, died before they received the care that they needed. This is not a political point; it should shame each and every one of us, on whichever side of this House we sit. Age UK states that 1.4 million older people are not getting the help that they need to carry out essential tasks such as washing themselves, dressing and going to the toilet. That is not just unacceptable; it is appalling. It is a stain on this House—on all of us—and on our country.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Birmingham City Council and the great city of Birmingham have been hit hard by the biggest cuts in local government history—cuts of £700 million—with children’s centres and youth clubs closing, and social care and special needs provision being cut. Does he agree that it is fundamentally wrong, not only that the vulnerable have been hit as hard as they have, but that Birmingham reels from those cuts while the leafy shires of Surrey get yet more?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who has been a champion for not only local government across the country, but that great city of Birmingham, fighting the devastation that has befallen that great city. On the LGA’s own statistics, a further £48 million in adult social care funding could be removed from Birmingham to add to the devastation that has already hit his city. That is why the fair funding review is so unfair and wrong.

According to the King’s Fund—so this is not coming just from the LGIU—by the end of the next decade the number of older people who need adult social care support is predicted to increase to 4.1 million. That is piling even more cost pressures on our local councils, which is why the LGIU also highlights the increase in financial pressures on children’s services, as adult social care is only one part of the very costly equation that is people-based services—the services that councils, by law and by right, have to provide. Mrs Smith, on any street of any town in any shire, thinks that her council tax increases are going towards ever-reducing bin services, and she sees parks not being maintained and libraries closing. That is because she never sees the impact on adult social care and children’s services.

On children’s services, the LGIU argues that councils are no longer able to shield vulnerable children from the worst of the budgetary pressures that councils are facing. More than one in three councils said their inability to protect vulnerable children was their biggest concern. We know that there are unprecedented demand pressures on children’s services. The number of children in care has hit a 10-year high, but without the funding to support that increase in demand.

From 2009 to 2019, the number of section 47 inquiries—that is, where a local authority believes that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm—has increased by 139%. The Local Government Association warns that children’s services alone are facing a £3.5 billion funding gap by 2025. It is these pressures on people-based services that are pushing many councils towards the cliff edge, and sticking plasters will no longer suffice. The Minister will no doubt say that he gave £1 billion to be shared by adult social care, children’s services and provision for NHS winter pressures. That is not enough.

We have discussed this before, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should have cross-party talks on adult social care? One of the Select Committee’s key recommendations was that adult social care funding should be removed entirely from local authority pressures and we should adopt a German-style social insurance system. Does he agree that we should have cross-party discussions and that that should be one of the options on the table?

As I have said in previous debates, it is incumbent on the Government to come forward with proposals. We are still waiting for the Green Paper promised in the last Parliament and the Parliament before that. The fact of the general election is that the hon. Gentleman’s party is in power and it is incumbent on Ministers to come to this House to explain how they are going to try to resolve this crisis in adult social care.

We will sit down with Ministers. We have our own ideas. We will share ideas with the Government. We will come to some kind of consensus if we can. But of course the history on this is not great; I remember the former Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, having cross-party talks in the dying days of the Labour Government, and it looked as though we were getting agreement with the shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson—until the general election came, and then there were posters everywhere saying, “Labour’s death tax” and “Andy Burnham’s death tax”. We have to move away from that and tackle this issue seriously.

Further to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), a few weeks ago I intervened on the shadow Health spokesman, the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), to ask whether he would support social insurance. He flatly ruled it out. All we are asking is that if we are going to have cross-party talks, surely all credible options should be on the table.

I reiterate what I just said: it is for the Conservatives to come forward with their proposals. We will view those in the round with other ideas and see whether we can reach a consensus. I know that there are different views on both sides of the House about a system of insurance, but I am not personally in favour of that. I think that actually the easiest and quickest way to resolve the social care crisis in local government is to make sure that we fund social care through local government.

I want to come on to the issue that could make the situation that I have set out even worse for many of the same local authorities that are already at breaking point. The research from the Local Government Association has exposed the so-called fair funding review for what it really is: a cynical plan that risks leaving more sick and vulnerable people without the care they need. If implemented in the way that the LGA has calculated—and MHCLG apparently told the LGA that its assumptions were along the lines that the Ministry is going—then funding for social care for older people is due to drop in London, the west midlands, the north-east and the north-west, while the south-east and the south-west will see an increase in many areas. For young adults, the largest decreases will be seen in the north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire, the east midlands and west midlands, while the south-east and east of England will see some of the largest increases.

This research from the Tory-led LGA has shown that many of the areas that voted for, and put their trust in, the Conservatives for the first time in 2019—the so-called red wall seats—will see some of the largest cuts to social care funding if the plans go ahead in the way that has been outlined. Indeed, three quarters of those red wall constituencies—the seats that gave the Prime Minister his majority—will see millions of pounds of funding diverted from their hard-pressed councils to another part of the country. The LGA Labour group estimates that that is £300 million of funding that will be funnelled from less affluent councils to the more affluent communities.

But even worse than both those factors is the effect that there will be on the most deprived communities. The 10 most deprived local authorities in England will see, on average, a 13% cut, while the wealthiest communities in England will see their budgets grow by 13%. This model was devised back in 2014 at the height of coalition austerity; perhaps it was then politically expedient for the Conservatives to divert funds to leafy Tory shires at the expense of more deprived metropolitan and urban communities. But given that the Prime Minister’s claim that austerity is over, divvying up an ever-shrinking pot differently is so last Parliament—in fact, it is so the last two Parliaments before the last Parliament—and it is certainly no longer politically expedient.

Last week, I wrote a letter, with council leaders, to the red wall Members on the Government Benches, urging them to speak out against a plan that will see cuts to adult social care—one of the largest cost pressures facing all local councils, particularly those in deprived areas. I know from some of the responses that Government Members have given to the press that the calculations from the LGA have been dismissed as speculation. I say to those Members that this analysis was produced by the cross-party LGA and was released officially to support councils as they plan their budgets in the coming years. The analysis that the LGA produced was also informally shared with MHCLG, whose officials privately confirmed that the assumptions in the analysis are sound.

This new research is also consistent with what we already knew. Last year, researchers in Liverpool warned that removing deprivation from the funding formula would see the 20% most deprived areas lose £390 million a year. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that removing deprivation from the formula would likely hit councils in inner London and most other urban areas, like Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol and Kingston upon Hull, where deprivation tends to be not just concentrated but over-concentrated. The IFS states that

“proposals by the government to base assessments of councils’ needs for spending on services like homelessness prevention, public transport, waste collection, libraries, and planning on population only would shift funding from councils serving deprived areas to those serving more affluent areas.”

It has also warned that the evidence base to justify this decision is weak.

It is not just about social care. County Durham, under the formula that is proposed, is likely to lose £39 million in public health funding, whereas Surrey County Council will actually increase its budget by £14 million. I look forward to my new Conservative colleagues in County Durham arguing how that can be fair to County Durham.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just about social care, but the LGA has published the fair funding review calculations based on social care. It has also done the calculations for children’s services, for the foundation formula and for the public health grant. I would hazard a guess that they show exactly the same trends. He is absolutely right about County Durham, because the LGA’s analysis shows that the change in funding there since 2015 alone is already 29% down. The change in funding from the fair funding formula would equate to another 6.71% reduction—a £10,327,679 cut—for his constituency. Contrast that with Beaconsfield, for example, where there would be a 17.5% increase—nearly an extra £15 million of funding. That is not fair by any stretch of the imagination.

The issue is really straightforward for the Government. If they do not agree with the analysis, the response is simple: follow up on the promise made by the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), at the LGA conference in January and publish the exemplifications of the funding formula so that we can see exactly what the impact is. It really is that simple. If the LGA assumptions are now wrong, show us. Let councils, councillors and Members of this House see the exemplifications; we will then know how fair the fair funding review is to the different parts of England.

My worry is that what we know is just the thin end of the wedge. We know that the five least-deprived local authorities have, on average, seen their budgets grow—the least deprived local authority, Wokingham, saw its budget grow by 18%—but that has been gained at the expense of the most deprived. The top 5% most deprived local authorities face cuts of 22% on average. That is not fair. As I said at the start of my contribution, we know that those same local authorities do not have the same ability to raise income from council tax.

This is a scandal for those who claim to be one nation Conservatives. I genuinely believe that across all political parties not one of us stood for election to come to this place and introduce measures that will make life more difficult not just for the people we represent but for the poorest communities in this country. I like to give the benefit of the doubt even to Members from the Conservative party, so I hope that today Members from all parties will support our motion, or at the very least intensively and strenuously lobby Ministers and take a stand against what could cause misery for their constituents. This will be a major test of Conservative Members’ commitment to their constituents. I am sure that local people will not forgive or forget if they fail to stand up for those who put their trust in them at the election, knowing what we already know.

Finally, I say this to Ministers: be open, be transparent and publish the exemplifications. If they are anything like what the LGA, the LGIU and other local government experts fear, scrap the scheme and go back to the drawing board. A fair funding review that is genuinely fair will have our support.

I hope you will bear with me a moment, Mr Speaker, because this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to speak in a debate with you in the Chair as Speaker. As the MP for an adjoining constituency and a fellow Lancastrian, I congratulate you on the amazing start you have made as Speaker. You have restored gravitas to the office of Speaker and you are doing an excellent job.

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

“welcomes the Government’s provisional local government finance settlement, which will deliver the biggest year-on-year real terms increase in councils’ spending power for a decade; recognises the pressures on adult and children’s social care as well as critical local government services, and welcomes the additional £1.5 billion available for social care in 2020-21; notes that the Government has listened to calls for a simpler, up-to-date, evidence based funding formula and has committed to consult on all aspects of the formula review in spring 2020; further welcomes the Government’s ambition to empower communities and level up local powers through a future Devolution White Paper; and welcomes the Government’s progress on this agenda already with the £3.6bn Towns Fund and eight Devolution Deals now agreed.”.

As we entered a new decade, this country voted emphatically for a new Government and a new approach. People discarded the politics of division and deadlock that had beset the previous Parliament for so many years. It was the people who gave a new mandate to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to drive forward his vision for our nation—a vision that will see communities levelled up and opportunity spread equally throughout the country, just as talent is already spread. We will level up every single nation of the United Kingdom and drive forward our Government’s agenda.

What have we heard today from the Labour party and the Opposition spokesman? They have learned nothing from their December drubbing—nothing from the people of Redcar in the north-east, nothing from the people of Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester and nothing from the people of the Don Valley in Yorkshire. Each of those areas, which had been Labour—[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not want to talk about the general election, which was the worst Labour performance for a generation, but we have a mandate and I intend to set out what that mandate means, in line with our amendment. Each of those areas, which had been Labour for a generation, rejected the politics that we heard from the Opposition today.

Let us not forget—although I bet he wishes we would—that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) was the general election campaign co-ordinator for the Labour party. Like a Japanese soldier emerging out of the jungle decades after they have lost the battle, he has chosen to return to Labour’s failed policies of division and deadlock. We heard him pit urban areas against rural areas, towns against cities and local government against national Government. It is absolutely clear that only the Conservative party—

I will give way in a moment.

It is absolutely clear that only the Conservative party has a mandate to unite our nation as we move forward from a decade of recovery to a decade of renewal.

I am really grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he let me know where the Secretary of State is while we are discussing local government finance? I am grateful to see the right hon. Gentleman in his place, giving us a speech, but I would quite like to hear from the organ grinder what is going to happen with local government finance.

Well, I am not the organ grinder, as she has pointed out, so I must be the monkey. We have a broad team, and given that a lot of the claims made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish relate directly to the north of England, I think that as the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse I am the most appropriate Minister to respond to this debate.

My right hon. Friend’s mandate extends to God’s own county of Hampshire, where we are very much looking forward to the fair funding review on the grounds that we get to spend £1,650 per person, but we look north to the local authorities that have been enumerated today that have an additional £500 per person. We spend—

Order. Sir Desmond, you are usually very good and ask the shortest of questions and make the briefest of interventions. I do not know what has gone wrong but I am sure the Minister will have a grasp of what you were saying.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the fair funding review is under development, so we are unable to say today whether Hampshire will benefit more than any other area of the country, but his point about having a fair funding review that makes sure that we accurately reflect need throughout the country is absolutely right.

I am confused on that exact point. The new funding formula has not been published, yet the Labour Front-Bench team claim to know exactly what it is going to be. They also claim that the shires are going to benefit, yet Leicestershire and Rutland are the worst funded in the country, so the idea that the shires will do best out of this is most inaccurate. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

I do agree. I wonder how much attention the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish pays to his horoscope, because that prediction that has as much accuracy as the figures he has gone through today. Of course, the LGA itself said—in what was an extraordinary intervention from its chairman—that the figures were based on an old formula. It acknowledged that a new formula was being worked on and that therefore no further predictions could be made from those figures.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; the Opposition spokesman refused seven times.

Gloucester City Council provisionally gets 1.4%, compared with 6.3% for the country as a whole and 3.4% for all second-tier councils. While my right hon. Friend is doing the consultation, will he look closely at whether second-tier councils, particularly city councils with small amounts of space with which to benefit from the new homes bonus, could be given special consideration? Also, could he raise the council tax referendum limit from 2% to 3%? That would help us to raise funds locally.

I will get on shortly to the issue of council tax referendum limits. We continue to engage with colleagues across our local government family, on both sides of the political divide. If we have not engaged directly with Gloucester yet, I will ensure that we do so as part of our discussions.

Building on the mandate given in December to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I want to set out how we will unite and level up our nation. We will devolve more power, money and influence back to communities across England. We will restore opportunity to our towns through our £3.6 billion towns fund, and we will work with every single local authority to make sure that they are the engines for economic growth in their community. This will be supported by the most generous financial settlement for a decade, while always ensuring that they have the resources to support the most vulnerable in society.

This Government are proudly the father and mother of English devolution to our regions. In the past three years, we have seen the creation of powerful metro Mayors in Liverpool, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle North of Tyne, the West of England, the West Midlands and Tees Valley. Together, those mayoral combined authorities have access to £6.35 billion of investment funding, more than £1 billion of the transforming cities fund, and £1.5 billion of the adult education budget.

We understand, however, that it is not possible to measure how well devolution is working simply by looking at how much money is being received. The real power of devolution comes through putting power back in the hands of local people, and that is why devolution works.

I am fully supportive—as we were during the coalition—of the Government’s plans to devolve power to the regions of England and to local authorities. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, though, that if this is about local people making local decisions, they should not be forced to accept a Mayor or, if they are a rural community, a particular urban-type structure in order to get those powers?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the recent discussions that have taken place with local authority leaders across Cumbria. I know that he has influence over his own local authorities, and I am heartened by the open-hearted and open-handed way in which they have approached those discussions. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been clear that we should seek mayoral combined authorities across the entirety of the north of England. It is my view that if we want to truly empower communities, a powerful, locally elected, singularly accountable individual is the best way of doing it. I hope that we will shortly be able to progress further devolution deals and discussions across Cumbria.

As I have said, devolution does work. It is already paying dividends, with funding and metro Mayors delivering programmes that local people want. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish might want to listen to this. I am sure that the completion of the A6 relief road to Manchester airport in Greater Manchester has assisted him and his constituents to get around the north-west of England. I know it helps me. It was done by the Labour Mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.

In Liverpool, we are supporting new rolling stock on Merseyrail. That is important to me—I went to school on those trains and did not know that 35 years later people would be going to school on the same trains. There is a new train maintenance and technology training academy and the largest rolling stock modernisation facility in the country, creating hundreds of new high-quality, high-skilled jobs, in co-operation and collaboration with Steve Rotheram, the Labour Mayor of Liverpool. In the west midlands, the extraordinary Andy Street is investing £207 million to extend the West Midlands Metro system, re-opening railway lines and stations. That is all being done by metro Mayors.

Of course, those decisions could have been made in Whitehall but, I think as everyone knows, the process would have been slower, they would not necessarily have reflected local priorities, and crucially, picking up on the hon. Gentleman’s recent comments, they would have lacked the local democratic legitimacy of decisions made by single accountable elected individuals. It is precisely because devolution works that we intend to go further and faster. We will unleash the potential of all of our regions, delivering on the priorities of this people’s Government to level up everywhere.

May I begin by thanking the Minister for his continued support for devolution to the Sheffield city region and south Yorkshire? I think we have just about got there. That is very welcome.

The Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government has in the past commented on the fact that, so far, devolution has been about powers being transferred to mayoral combined authorities in certain areas. Initially, the Government were going to allow 100% business rate retention, which would have meant more money and more powers to local government across the country. Will the Government have another look at that proposal, to see whether all councils should now benefit from devolved powers?

I am very pleased that we are making such good progress in south Yorkshire. The hon. Gentleman and I, along with many colleagues across the House, welcome that. He is correct to say that mayoral combined authorities have retained their 100% business rate retention for next year. Following the successful pilots, including in areas such as Lancashire—the hon. Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern) and I have benefited from that—any further business rate retention will be part of the spending review process.

Devolution is particularly pertinent to areas such as south Yorkshire. Every deal so far has been bespoke, but as part of our ambition to level up powers we have written to every existing regional Mayor and asked them to take on new powers so that they can truly drive the ambition for the region. I am delighted to tell the House that one of the first to respond was Ben Houchen, the Mayor for Tees Valley. Not only has he made the Tees fly again, by saving Tees Valley airport; he is also making his economy fly again, by working with the Government on a suite of new powers to unleash the full potential of Teesside and everyone who lives there. In addition, the Government are talking to Cumbria, West Yorkshire, East Riding, Hull, County Durham and Lancashire about their ambitions for change in their areas.

Already, 50% of communities in the north have, to coin a phrase, taken back control through devolution. More areas want to be part of our devolution revolution, and we will ensure that they get that opportunity. Later this year, the Government will publish their devolution White Paper, setting out the Government’s ambition for full devolution across England. Through this White Paper, we will work with everyone in our local government family to ensure that they are truly empowered to be partners in growth.

As this Government unite and level up cities, towns and coastal and rural areas across our country, we acknowledge that our town centres are absolutely at the heart of a growing economy. They are the ground on which local jobs are created and small businesses are nurtured, and they inject billions of pounds into the local economy. That is why, through our £3.6 billion town deal fund, we are directly intervening in local communities. We are working with local areas and councils on more than 200 investment plans that have the potential to transform their economies.

The local Member of Parliament is able to sit on the town deal board in each and every one of our town deal areas. That ensures that Members of Parliament from across this House, whichever party they represent, have the opportunity to be an active part of the conversation in driving local growth in their communities. This is a new approach that I cannot recall previous Governments taking. It is about drawing on the talents of every single Member of this House with a town deal.

I now want to briefly mention the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn)—this will probably ruin his career. He attended his first town board meeting on 23 January. He then approached me just outside the Division Lobby, fizzing with enthusiasm.