House of Commons
Wednesday 15 July 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Climate Justice: ODA Allocation
Next year, the United Kingdom will proudly host COP26—a clear demonstration of the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change and our desire to secure global action. Development and diplomacy together will be integral to our work. We recognise that there are few global threats more serious than climate change, and its impact will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. It is vital that we build back better from covid-19. We are prioritising activity that delivers clean, resilient, inclusive recovery, and the Government are committed to that task.
One of the greatest achievements of our overseas development aid programme has been working towards improving the position of women, but biodiversity loss has laid extra burdens on women, who, for example, have to walk further for fresh food or water. What steps will the Minister take to mitigate biodiversity loss in developing countries and reduce the burden on women?
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important and accurate point. The fact that my noble Friend Lord Goldsmith is a Minister across the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows the integrated approach that this Government take. Our work on development, our diplomatic work and our work to protect biodiversity and the environment all work together to ensure that women and other people who are vulnerable are not hit harder by changes to our climate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Minister may talk the talk, but the hypocrisy is staggering. His Government continue to funnel billions into fossil fuel projects, including £1 billion in Mozambique. Their own impact assessment is damning, saying that it would lead to permanent loss of natural resources, food scarcity and displacement, undoing the very resilience that DFID aid is there to help build. Does he agree that this flies in the face of climate justice and undermines the very people it is his job to protect?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. This Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we build back better, protect the environment and protect the most vulnerable people in the world. Last year, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would provide £1.44 billion over the next four years to the green climate fund, doubling our commitment to the largest international fund dedicated to supporting developing countries to adopt low-carbon, climate-resilient technologies. That makes the UK the largest single contributor in the world to that fund.
Returning to Education after Covid-19
The UK is committed to ensuring a safe return to school for children all around the world. We are taking decisive action through our education programmes and will throw our diplomatic and development weight behind global efforts, including the UNICEF-led campaign to support children’s return to school. On Monday, we announced £5.3 million of new funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to enable over 5,000 teachers to provide education in 10 refugee hosting countries.
The UK is proud to be the largest bilateral donor to the Global Partnership for Education, with a commitment of up to £225 million over a three-year period. As a major education multilateral, it has a key role in tackling the global learning crisis. That is more crucial than ever given the covid pandemic, which is having a profound effect on education systems across the world. The GPE is flexing about £400 million to support education stability, and the UK is keen to play an active part in the 2021 replenishment. We are presently exploring the possibility of how we could co-host that replenishment
IMC Worldwide was commissioned by DFID to build 31,000 classrooms in Pakistan for a fee of £107 million. It renegotiated to only build a fifth but kept 58% of the initial fee. The majority of the classrooms built were substandard and presented a risk to children. By October last year, only a quarter had been retrofitted. Will the Secretary of State put the two DFID reviews into what went wrong in the public domain? Why is the same classroom design being used in other countries? Were any children hurt, and when can they go back to school?
The safety of children will always be our No. 1 priority, and I agree that it is completely unacceptable that children were being taught in tents because buildings funded by UK aid were not being built to the necessary standards. As soon as DFID knew that there was a problem, we took urgent action to ensure that all schools knew that the buildings should not be used, while we worked with the contractor to agree a plan for retrofitting the affected buildings. Covid has caused some delays to that progress, and schools are closed until 15 September, but I understand that the first of the buildings will be handed over shortly, in a state that is considered acceptable. Global education continues to be an absolutely key priority for the Government and, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, we are working hard to get children back to school.
Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar
The UK Government are committed to protecting the Rohingya. I thank Bangladesh for its kindness towards vulnerable Rohingya refugees. I recently visited—virtually—Rakhine in Myanmar, where the UK has provided more than £44 million to all communities since 2017, including more than £25 million for the Rohingya. In Bangladesh, we have provided £256 million for the Rohingya response since 2017, including support for food, health and women and girls.
In Peterborough, the excellent charity Unite 4 Humanity has been raising money for the Rohingya Crisis Appeal and working with those on the ground in Bangladesh since the start of the crisis. Many others, such as the UK Emergency Medical Team, are there too. Will the Government continue to work with charities and others to help to protect the Bangladeshi and Rohingya communities?
UK aid development work delivered through charities and other organisations will remain a priority, given Bangladesh’s vulnerability to climate and man-made disasters. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the excellent work of Peterborough-based Unite 4 Humanity, which I thank for its work, alongside other charities that have stepped up to respond to the Rohingya crisis. Members may have seen on TV adverts this morning that the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee has launched a coronavirus appeal for vulnerable communities—including the Rohingya—in seven countries. I am pleased to confirm that the UK Government will match funds raised by the UK public, up to £5 million.
The transition to sustainable agriculture is critical to achieving food-security, nutrition and climate objectives. We have ensured that the UK is taking a leadership role through its hosting of COP26 and our support for several bilateral and multilateral initiatives promoting sustainable agriculture. That support includes £176 million invested in the global agriculture and food security programme, which directly addresses climate change through the use of mitigation and adaptation technologies such as resilient seed varieties, more efficient irrigation and increased intercropping.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. As she will appreciate and understand, rain forests are the world’s lungs. Through the Partnerships for Forests programme, the UK supports sustainable agriculture in Brazil, including through support to address deforestation caused by cattle ranching in the Amazon region, as well as through measures to eliminate from the supply chain cattle produced on illegally deforested land. The UK also supports sustainable agriculture in the soya-producing region of Cerrado.
Poverty Reduction: ODA
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, the work of the UK to reduce poverty remains central to the objectives of this Government. The way we use ODA will continue to be guided by our responsibilities under the International Development Act 2002, including our commitment to poverty reduction. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will enhance our ability to be a force for good and partner to countries in need that seek support to help them climb the ladder of the sustainable development goals towards being strong, peaceful, economic states.
This Government cannot be trusted to tackle poverty here in the UK, and nor can they be trusted to tackle poverty overseas. In the middle of a global pandemic that is pushing millions into poverty, this Government have shut down the Department for International Development and dissolved a dedicated parliamentary Committee so that they can avoid scrutiny of aid spending. Will the Secretary of State please inform the House of how aid will be scrutinised from now on?
This Government remain absolutely committed to the 0.7% commitment, which is enshrined in law, and that will continue in the framework of the new Department. On scrutiny, clearly it is a question for Parliament how that scrutiny takes place and what the new framework of Committee assessment might be. However, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are absolutely clear that scrutiny should continue to be an absolute focus. It is incredibly important, and all of us as parliamentarians know just how important it is that we watch over, and can provide insight and broader reflection from all those we talk to, to make sure that Government do their best possible. The Government are continuing to support that, and the Foreign Secretary will set out where he hopes to do that in due course.
It is with great disappointment that this is the last DFID orals, and I want to pay tribute to all those officials in the Department for their work. I want to assure all those who recognise the importance of development and of supporting the world’s poorest that we in the Opposition will not follow the misguided path of the Government.
In recent weeks, we have heard the Secretary of State and hundreds of non-governmental organisations contradict the Prime Minister’s claims that there was
“massive consultation over a long period”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 678.]
of time ahead of his announcement that he would scrap the Department. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether the Prime Minister misled Parliament, whether she misled the Select Committee last week and when an apology will be forthcoming?
I concur absolutely with the hon. Member that all those who serve—now and in years past—have brought a commitment to helping the UK do as much as it can to support poverty reduction. That commitment will continue and those who are making that their life’s work will continue to be part of the FCDO.
The Prime Minister was clear, as I have been, that any announcement is always brought to Parliament first. The ongoing consultation is now working continuously, and Baroness Sugg is leading that. However, consultation with NGOs was going on before that in relation to all sorts of other issues. That relationship with our NGOs and civil society organisations is something we take very seriously, and we will continue to do so.
The decision to axe the Department was done on a whim by the Prime Minister to try to distract from his handling of the pandemic. That is why there are still no details of what the new Department will look like, how it will operate or how it will be scrutinised to guarantee value for money for UK taxpayers who are rightly proud of the work DFID has done in tackling poverty around the world. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that funds will be focused on the world’s poorest and that any cuts to the aid budget come from funds that currently go to middle and upper-income countries or have been found to have limited development impact, such as those outlined in the ONE campaign’s real aid index?
DFID it is world renowned for its focus and programme expertise, and that will continue to be the case. Poverty reduction will continue to be a critical focus on how we spend the 0.7% that the Government continue to be committed to. We enshrined it in law and it will stay: the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to that. Interestingly, I think there is a real challenge with the sustainable development goals—there are 17 of them—and the ability to help a country become self-sufficient and climb up that ladder will absolutely continue. We will continue to commit to the 0.7% target, based on GNI.
Supporting Democracies during Covid-19
The UK must never be afraid to stand up for what it believes in. We have seen this with our support for the people of Hong Kong and the introduction of our own Magnitsky-style sanctions regime. That is why our health and economic responses to covid-19 have also included further support for governance, transparency and freedom of speech. Our development work must support countries to stand strong, and that means supporting democracy.
The Minister is absolutely right to highlight the challenges for democracies from the pandemic and the opportunities for autocracies. In a year when the UK will be in the chair of the G7, the Commonwealth and COP26, does my hon. Friend agree with me that this is an opportunity for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which I have the honour of chairing, to do more work for the combined Department to promote and strengthen democracies around the world?
It is a great pleasure to answer what will be my last DFID oral question from my hon. Friend. DFID and the FCO are strong supporters of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s work. I thank him for his commitment to democracy via his work as chair of the WFD. In 2019-20, FCO funding of £3.3 million and DFID funding of £3.9 million has been allocated. There will be constraints on ODA over the next few months as we respond to covid-19. Via the integrated review, we will examine all options for enhancing UK democracy support. The merger and the establishment of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office presents an exciting opportunity to strengthen the UK’s support for democracy, governance and open societies.
Global South: Covid-19 Funding
The UK has pledged up to £769 million of UK aid to support the global health response and vulnerable countries. As the host of the record-breaking GAVI summit and the world’s top donor to CEPI, the UK is leading the way in finding a vaccine that helps the most vulnerable countries. We have also made sure that new funding goes directly to the immediate response in these countries, and reflects programmes already in place to help people straight away.
As of last week, the Government had given less than half of the money that is committed to support the world’s poorest in the face of this devastating global pandemic. It really is not good enough. Have the Government simply outsourced the responsibility to the various multilaterals? Does the Minister have any idea whatsoever of where UK taxpayers’ money has actually gone?
As I explained, the UK is playing a leading role in the international response to the pandemic, with pledges of up to £769 million of UK aid to help to address the urgent needs in vulnerable countries through research and development, through money to the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust and in supporting the global health response. We are working with the UN to ensure that our contributions are channelled to NGOs and other recipients as quickly as possible.
Both the merger and the integrated review are evidence of this Government’s commitment to a unified British foreign and development policy that will maximise our impact around the world, project our values and be a stronger force for good—they go hand in hand.
The Bond network says that it has not been consulted on this merger and the integrated review has been restarted behind closed doors. Will the Government commit to meeting Bond and other civil society organisations so that those on the frontline can inform the new Department’s aid priorities?
Last week I asked the Secretary of State what partner organisations and non-governmental organisations were consulted prior to the announcement of the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She said that the statement on the merger was first made to Parliament and that there has been ongoing consultation since then. This stands in stark contradiction to what the Prime Minister said previously when he told this House that there had been
“massive consultation over a long period.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 678.]
Therefore, was the Prime Minister aware he had taken a decision without any evidence to support it, or did he mislead Parliament to create an illusion of legitimacy for this ideologically driven, disastrous merger?
This Government are committed to standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education, building on a strong basis of global leadership, including DFID’s education support for at least 5.8 million girls between 2015 and 2019. The new FCDO will deploy our world-class development expertise alongside the UK’s diplomatic skills, respected around the world, to get every girl into school.
As this is the last oral questions for the Department for International Development, I would like to place on record my thanks, and I know that of the whole House, to all those who serve now and who have served in the Department over the past 23 years. I know that their talent, passion and commitment to help to deliver world-class development programming, policy thinking and humanitarian support to the most vulnerable will be at the heart of the new FCDO and will be critical to its future.
May I place on record my gratitude to the Secretary of State and her team for what she has done in this important Department? I hope that the spirit of what DFID does will continue. She is aware that in Afghanistan and Iraq it is so easy to win the war but lose the peace. Will she agree to meet me, before she loses her job title, to see whether the military can be given funds to create a stabilisation force that can operate in those difficult environments where it is too dangerous for NGOs to function?
I would be very happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss that. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund exists to do just that and we need to think about how we maximise the use of all our UK efforts to help the most vulnerable, so I look forward to debating with him.
As the hon. Lady is aware, we put £150 million into the IMF emergency fund, and the Treasury continues to lead in the Paris Club discussions and with the G20 to ensure that the right solutions are found for the long-term sustainability that those most vulnerable countries will need.
Ensuring taxpayers’ money is well spent is central to DFID’s work and it is embedded in all our activity and will be at the heart of the new FCDO. Programmes are regularly appraised and monitored to ensure that they are value for money, performing effectively and delivering on manifesto commitments.
I draw the House’s attention to my former role as chair of the Trade Out of Poverty all-party parliamentary group. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the importance of fair trade as well as free trade. Now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union and we are able to define our own trade policy, we will ensure that fairness is at the heart of all the trade that we do around the world.
The United Kingdom is disappointed about the reduction in aid corridors in Syria. We are pleased that the cross-border humanitarian access will continue through Bab al-Hawa, but we are appalled that Russia exercised its veto and restricted aid through Bab al-Salam. The UK remains committed to supporting Syrians, who are the victims of the egregious politicisation of humanitarian aid, and we recently announced £300 million to the Syrian pledging conference.
The UK Government welcome Saudi Arabia’s unilateral ceasefire in Yemen, and we are disappointed that the Houthis have not engaged with that ceasefire. The United Kingdom’s arms control regime is one of the most robust in the world, and we will ensure that we continue to support the people of Yemen and NGOs working in Yemen, as we have done with our recent funding announcements.
The first call that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made when she entered post was to the Education Minister in the Palestinian Authority to register our disquiet over the points that my hon. Friend has raised. We will continue to ensure that Palestinian children are educated with our support through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—half of them are girls—but we will also ensure that that education does not encourage violence or prejudice against Jewish peoples.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Last week saw the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Britain. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, BAE Systems alone employs more than 10,000 people across Lancashire, supporting the great work of our RAF, and it is taking on more than 250 apprentices in that part of the business this year. Will the Prime Minister come to visit Warton, meet these apprentices and commit to doing all he can to secure these key jobs through support for defence exports and the Team Tempest programme?
I have no doubt that I will be coming to Warton in due course. Let me tell my hon. Friend that 1,800 highly skilled engineers and programmers are already involved in the project, going up to 2,500 next year, and that 800 of those are in his constituency. I look forward to his constituency being at the epicentre of the development of the next UK-led combat air programme.
Over the past few months, we have supported many of the economic measures announced by the Government, but the decision last week not to provide sector-specific support to those most at risk could end up costing thousands of jobs. One of the sectors, aviation, has already seen huge redundancies: BA has announced 12,000 redundancies; Virgin 3,000; and easyJet 1,900. If the Government’s priority really is to protect jobs, why did the Chancellor not bring forward sector-specific deals that could have done precisely that?
No one should underestimate the scale of the challenge that this country faces. That is why the Chancellor has brought forward a range of measures, which, by the way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported last week. They include the job retention bonus and the kick-starter programme for young people. We are also doing a huge amount to support the aviation sector. One of the companies that he mentions, Virgin, has now come out of the Birch process after extremely difficult, but in the end productive conversations. That is the work of this Government: getting on, helping companies through it and helping our people through it. If I may say so, Mr Speaker, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to work out whether he will support or oppose the Government’s programme to get people back into work. Last week, the shadow Chancellor said here in this House of Commons that she supported our programme. This week, he says that he opposes it. Which is it?
This is just such rhetorical nonsense. It is perfectly proper and right for the Opposition to set out the parts of the package that we support the Government on and to highlight where there are problems. The problem with the Prime Minister’s dismissal of this is that, since the Chancellor set this out last week, around 10,000 people have lost their jobs. The Prime Minister should focus on them, not the rhetoric. The Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday projected 3.5 million unemployed next year.
I want to press the Prime Minister further on the situation at BA, which is a huge employer and the national flag carrier. Alongside the 12,000 redundancies already announced, BA is trying to force through the rehiring of the remaining 30,000 workers on worse terms and conditions. That is totally unacceptable and it is a warning shot to millions of other working people. The Prime Minister sent an email to BA staff in which he said: “I have already made it clear that firms should not be using furlough to cynically keep people on their books and then remove them or change their terms and conditions.” That was on 2 June. It is now six weeks on. Will the Prime Minister now personally intervene and make it clear that actions such as those at BA cannot be allowed to stand without consequences for landing slots?
We have been absolutely clear that we want our great companies across the country to support their workers and keep them in employment where they possibly can. I have made that point clear on the Floor of the House just in the past couple of weeks. Let us be absolutely clear: British Airways and many other companies are in severe difficulties at the moment, and we cannot, I am afraid, simply with a magic wand ensure that every single job that was being done before the crisis is retained after the crisis. What we can do—and what we are doing—is encourage companies to keep their workers on with the job retention scheme and the job retention bonus, as well as a massive £600 billion investment programme in this country to build, build, build and create jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what we are doing.
The Prime Minister knows exactly what I am talking about: it is the rehiring of 30,000 people at BA on worse terms and conditions, and he should call it out.
Yesterday, the Government’s expert advisory group published a report on the challenges this autumn and winter. It was asked to do so by the Government Office for Science. The report assessed the reasonable worst-case scenario for this autumn and winter, including a second covid spike and seasonal flu, and it set out strong recommended actions to mitigate the risks. The report was clear: July and August must be a period of intense preparation—i.e., now. Could the Prime Minister make it clear that he intends to implement the recommended actions in the report in full and at speed?
Not only are we getting on with implementing the preparations for a potential new spike but the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the Government are engaged in record investments in the NHS of £34 billion. The House may not realise that, just in the last year that the Government have been in office, there are now 12,000 more nurses in the NHS and 6,000 more doctors. It was thanks to their hard work, and the hard work of the entire NHS, that we were able to prevent our health service from being overwhelmed this spring. We will take steps to ensure that it is not overwhelmed this winter either.
That is the whole point of this report, which sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the Government what they need to do about it, so I am surprised that the Prime Minister is not committing to fully implementing it. It is vital that the Government learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made and act now to save lives for the future. One of the key recommendations in the report, commissioned by the Government Office for Science, is that testing and tracing capacity should be significantly expanded to cope with increased demands over the winter. The reality is that trace and track is not working as promised, as it stands today, and the report makes it clear that it needs to be significantly expanded to cope with the risks of autumn and winter. What assurance can the Prime Minister give that the system will be fit for both purposes in the timeframe envisaged in the report—i.e., by this September?
Once again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman attacks the test and trace operation, which is working at absolutely unprecedented scale: 144,000 people across the country have now agreed to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus. He keeps saying that the test and trace operation is failing to contact enough people and failing to get enough people to self-isolate. Actually, it is doing fantastic work: 70% or 80% of contacts are found, and it is getting through to the vast majority of people who have the disease. I can certainly give the House the assurance that our test and trace system is as good as, or better than, any other system anywhere in the world—and yes, it will play a vital part in ensuring that we do not have a second spike this winter. Instead of knocking the confidence of the country in the test and trace system, now is the time for him to return to his previous script and build it up—that is what he needs to do.
The problem with the Prime Minister quoting the 70% of people who are contacted and asked to self-isolate is that that has gone down. It was 90% just a few weeks ago and every week it has gone down, so I would not quote the latest figure, looking at the trend. But I have to ask, in the light of the last few questions: has the Prime Minister actually read this report that sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the Government what they need to do about it in the next six weeks? Has he read it?
I am of course aware of the report and we are of course taking every reasonable step to prepare this country for a second spike. I may say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is up to him, really, to get behind what the Government are doing or not. He has previously supported our plan. He has previously come to this House and said that he supports our measures. He now says, I think, that he does not support them. I think what he needs to do is build up the confidence of the people of this country cautiously to get back to work and cautiously to restart our economy, which is what we are trying to do, instead of endlessly knocking the confidence of the people of this country: knocking their confidence in test and trace, knocking their confidence in the safety of our schools and knocking our confidence in our transport network. Now is the time for him to decide whether he backs the Government or not.
It is perfectly possible to support track and trace and to point out the problems. Standing up every week saying, “It’s a stunning success” is kidding no one. That is not giving people confidence in the system. They would like a Prime Minister who stands up and says, “There are problems and this is what I am going to do about them,” not this rhetoric about “stunning success” when it is obviously not true.
This afternoon, Prime Minister, I am meeting the families of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, a group of hundreds of families who have lost loved ones. They say this:
“We won’t let the deaths of our loved ones be in vain. And we won’t allow the Government to risk a second wave of deaths without learning from their mistakes.”
They will be listening to the Prime Minister’s answers today, so what would the Prime Minister like to say to them?
I join with, I think, every Member of the House in mourning the loss of everybody who has died in this epidemic. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and through him the victims and their families, that we will do absolutely everything in our power to prevent a second spike in this epidemic. That is why we are taking the steps that we are. That is why we have set up, as I say, an unprecedented test and trace operation. That is why we are investing massively in our NHS and our frontline staff, as I say, in the last year, recruiting 12,000 more nurses, as part of a programme to recruit 50,000 more, and preparing our NHS for winter. We will do absolutely everything we can to protect our country and to stop a second spike.
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to decide is whether he wants to back that programme or not. One day he says it is safe to go back to school. The next day he is taking the line of the unions. One day they are supporting our economic programme. The next day they are saying our stamp duty cut is an unacceptable bung. One day they are saying they accept the result of the Brexit referendum. The next day, today, they are going to tell their troops to do the exact opposite. He needs to make up his mind which brief he is going to take today. At the moment, it looks like he has got more briefs than Calvin Klein. We are getting on with delivering on our agenda for the country, getting this country through this pandemic and taking it forward.
Tomorrow, this Tory Government will publish legislation for their biggest power grab since the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly for the Scottish Parliament in 1997. Westminster’s plan to impose an unelected, unaccountable body to rule on decisions made by the Scottish Parliament will not be accepted. The decisions of the Scottish Parliament must and will be decided by the Scottish people. We also reject any attempts to impose lower standards from one part of the United Kingdom on Scotland. Knowing that this Tory Government are prepared to sell out the food and agriculture industry to his pal, Donald Trump, will the Prime Minister confirm that his Tory Government are once again ignoring the wishes of the Scottish people and launching their hostile agenda against devolution?
On the contrary, what we are doing is possibly the biggest single act of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in modern memory. The right hon. Gentleman should be celebrating the 70 or more powers that are going to be transferred to the elected people in Scotland. What he wants, by contrast, is trade barriers between England and Scotland, and nobody being able to use sterling in Stirling. He talks about unelected and unaccountable people, but what he wants to do is hand the powers that we would give back to Scotland from this Parliament to Brussels, which is neither elected nor accountable.
Of course, the document that we will see tomorrow is going to talk about the benefits of the single market. It is a pity that the Prime Minister does not understand the economic value of the European single market and customs union. This Prime Minister often states the need to respect referendum results. He should respect the decision taken by the Scottish people in 1997. We know that this Government are undertaking a full-scale assault on devolution: a Brexit settlement that Scotland rejected is being imposed on Scotland; an immigration system that Scotland rejected is being imposed on Scotland; and a decade of Tory Government that Scotland rejected has been imposed on Scotland. It is no wonder that the First Minister’s approval rating is three times that of the Prime Minister. Effective leadership and respecting the will of the people, contrasted with the bumbling shambles coming from Westminster. Scotland has the right to have our decisions made by those we elect, not by bureaucrats appointed by Westminster. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that his plans will not be imposed on Scotland, and that Scotland will have the chance to choose for ourselves?
First, I must repeat my point. It is extraordinary for the right hon. Gentleman to attack unelected bureaucrats for any role they may have in Scotland when his proposal is to hand back the powers that this place is going to transfer to Scotland back to Brussels, where they are neither elected nor accountable to the people of Scotland. So I really do not know what he means. As for his point about respecting referendum results, the House will recall that there was a referendum on the issue of Scottish independence and breaking up the Union in 2014. They said at the time that it was going to be a once-in-a-generation event. I think they should keep their promises to the people of this country and to the people of Scotland.
Under this Prime Minister, we have suffered one of the worst death rates in the world and Europe’s worst death rate for health and care workers. Previously, he has refused my demand for an immediate independent inquiry, saying that it is too soon, even though, back in 2003, he voted for an independent inquiry into the Iraq war just months after that conflict had started. If he still rejects an immediate inquiry, will he instead commit in principle to a future public inquiry: yes or no?
As I have told the House several times, I do not believe that now, in the middle of combating the pandemic as we are, is the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry, but of course we will seek to learn the lessons of the pandemic in the future, and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened.
I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning on this issue, which is, of course, incredibly important, and has been particularly so during lockdown. Overall, we have massively increased our funding for mental health care to £12.5 billion, but we are also, as he knows, now publishing our national strategy for disabled people, which will cover all types of disability, including physical and mental health.
I can tell the House that we have already taken steps to support local authorities—through another £3.2 billion to support them, a £600 million contribution to fight infection—and we are incredibly proud of what our social care workers do. What this Government have done, in sharp contrast to the previous Government, is not only introduce a national living wage, but increase it by the biggest ever amount.
I have good news for my hon. Friend, because the Department for Transport has received a bid for funding Thanet Park railway station. It is going to be assessed in the third round of the new stations fund, and I hope he will hear good news in the near future.
In addition to the £160 billion of support that the Government have given to people and firms across the country, we have supported areas and cities in lockdown with considerable grants. There was £20 million to Leicester, business rates relief of £44 million and £68 million in spending on business grants. The best thing possible is for areas all to work hard, as Blackburn with Darwen have done, for instance, to get the virus down and to make sure they are able to open up again.
I will examine the idea of a scrappage scheme for old and highly polluting aircraft, but I can tell my hon. Friend that long before then, we are putting £3.9 billion into the Aerospace Technology Institute. As I am sure he knows, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has set up, with the Department for Transport, a joint taskforce to create “Jet Zero”, a zero-emissions passenger plane in which this country will lead the world.
Yes, indeed. In Bradford alone, we have allocated £30 million to help deal with the pressures of the virus. As I said to the House just now, I think we have now put in £4.2 billion in support for local councils across the country. I pay tribute to the work of local councils and their services for helping us to get through this pandemic, and we will continue to support them.
Out and about talking to the good people of South Ribble, I find that they are worried about the economic effects of covid, although they do also say, “Thank God that other lot didn’t get in, because I can’t imagine how much trouble we’d be in right now.” Can the Prime Minister confirm that while there might be tough days ahead, this Conservative Government are throwing the kitchen sink at fixing it?
It is not only the kitchen sink, but every part of the kitchen. We are going to build, build, build our way forward. We are going to be supporting the building of 300,000 new homes a year. We are going to do everything we can to ensure that we get jobs, jobs, jobs throughout this country. Whether by installing kitchen sinks or any other part of the house, we will take this country forward.
Yes, of course we are committing to sharing as much data as we have with councils so that they can get on at a local level, as they have been, dealing with the pandemic. Actually, some of them have been doing an absolutely outstanding job—Kirklees, in particular. We will continue to support councils up and down the land as they engage in local action to make sure that the whole country can start to get back to work.
It is a pleasure to be back, Mr Speaker.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, which is based in my constituency of South Derbyshire, is the leading producer of low emission hybrid cars in the UK. Its aim, like the Government’s, is to achieve zero emissions from its vehicles. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me about the importance of recognising and promoting the role that hybrids can play as we move from the vehicles that we have today to zero emission transport going forward?
Yes, indeed. I know that everybody will sympathise very much with Daniel Caplan and his family. I will do what I can to ensure that the hon. Lady is able to make representations to the Department of Health about ensuring that childhood brain stem cancers are properly understood and properly tackled by this country.
Some people are anxious to return to work and some people find that they are actually as happy and productive at home working as they would be at the office. But does the Prime Minister agree with me that the worst reason for staying at home is to follow blanket Government advice that takes no account of safety? Will he commit to revising that Government advice urgently?
As I am sure my hon. Friend will see from studying the Government advice, we say very clearly that it is important that business should be carried on and that employers should decide, in consultation with their workers, whether it is safe for those workers to come into work or whether they should continue working from home. I happen to think that employers in this country have made huge strides in getting work places safe, and that is the message that we should all be conveying.
I am sure that I speak for many Members in this House when I say that I have had direct representations as a constituency MP from women who have suffered from exactly the conditions identified by Baroness Cumberlege and her committee. I also assure the hon. Lady that the Government take that issue with extreme seriousness. I have absolutely no hesitation in acceding to her request for a meeting, either with myself or the Department of Health, to make sure that she feels that we are addressing the issues in the way she would want.
The Government want green energy. The Government want security of energy supply. The Government want to boost economic development in the regions. The Government want to encourage apprenticeships and youth employment. The Government want to increase innovation investment and to have a dynamic supply chain. That is all on offer in Cumbria. Will the Prime Minister support, with Government financial backing, the building of nuclear power generation facilities in Cumbria?
I know that everybody’s sympathies will be with the family of the victim in the hon. Lady’s constituency, as they are with the families of all victims of knife crime. I think that there are two things we have to do. First, I entirely agree with her that we need a cross-departmental medical approach focused on the needs of the families with the kids who particularly get involved in knife crime, and we need to put our arms around them and stop them being diverted into the gangs that are so often the root cause of the problem.
But we also need a tough policing solution. I have been concerned for the last few years that in London in particular, which the hon. Lady represents, we have not seen the approach that we saw under the previous Mayor, for instance, when there was a significant reduction in knife crime and a significant reduction in murder by dint of having proportionate policing that included the use of stop-and-search to stop young kids carrying knives. We need to have zero tolerance of kids going out on the street armed with a bladed weapon. That is absolutely vital. [Interruption.] An Opposition Member says, “Shocking.” In my experience, the people who are most supportive of taking the knives off kids on the streets of our city are the mothers of those kids who are most at risk of being killed. They support stop-and-search, and I hope the hon. Lady does, too.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require building developers to ensure that the streets of major new developments are lined with trees; and for connected purposes.
In my short time in this place, I have spoken repeatedly about my admiration for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and his new deal. However, in introducing my ten-minute rule Bill, I must first turn to the architect of the original new deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who remarked:
“Forests are the ‘lungs’ of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
Put simply, trees are good for us, and the presence of trees and other greenery in urban environments has a discernible effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of those who live there. The presence of trees has a particularly important role to play in that philosophy, as they are inextricably linked to cleaner air, increased physical exercise and enhanced health and wellbeing. Trees also play a central role in nature’s recovery and in addressing climate change.
This Bill is important, as it would ensure that new developments fully recognise those benefits, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Woodland Trust for its tireless work in highlighting the importance of trees in our national and environmental life.
Street trees seem particularly important in supporting this work. Indeed, a recent study into neighbourhood green space and health in large urban areas was able to map the location of 530,000 trees and compared them with the health records of 30,000 residents, concluding that people who live in areas with a higher street tree density report better health perception and fewer cardiometabolic conditions compared with their peers living in areas with lower density.
The planting of trees is also crucial in our fight against climate change, as trees store carbon and can help to make our towns and cities more resilient. The Bill could therefore make a small contribution to the Government’s aim of eradicating the UK’s net carbon contribution by 2050.
In my seat, we widely welcomed the Government’s £10 million urban tree challenge fund, which was introduced in May 2019 and which will see 130,000 trees planted across towns and cities in England by 2021, and the Bill could also support that ambition. Additionally, it would contribute to the Government’s ambitious target of planting 30,000 hectares of trees across the entire United Kingdom by 2025.
In recent years, we have certainly seen a reluctance among developers and local authorities to promote trees in streets. Frequently, issues such as expense, hassle and liability are levelled as excuses not to rise to this environmental and public health challenge. Therefore, a Bill placing a requirement on major new developments to ensure that streets are lined with trees would ensure that important environmental health and aesthetic considerations are at the heart of new developments across our country.
The people of Heywood and Middleton, like every great citizen of the four nations of our United Kingdom, love nature and frequently demonstrate a desire to protect it—whether the precious green belt around Bamford, Crimble Mill or Slattocks, or smaller green spaces in the towns of Heywood and Middleton—and their enduring objection to any new developments.
Over 100 years ago, the aims of the Planning Act 1909 were to secure
“the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant, the city dignified, and the suburb salubrious.”—[Official Report, 12 May 1908; Vol. 188, c. 949.]
That seems more relevant now than ever. In our desire to build beautiful we must strive to create an atmosphere that promotes community health and cohesion, and I believe that this Bill will go some way to supporting those values.
Question put and agreed to.
That Chris Clarkson, Michael Fabricant, Philip Dunne, David Linden, Mrs Maria Miller, Jim Shannon, Paul Holmes, Darren Jones, Sara Britcliffe and Christian Wakeford do present the Bill.
Chris Clarkson accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 October, and to be printed (Bill 164).
[10th Allotted Day]
Covid-19: Future UK-EU Relationship
I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the European Union’s openness to extend the transition period for negotiations; calls on the Government to immediately accept this offer and notes the Scottish Government’s publication of 3rd June entitled, “COVID-19: The Case for Extending the Brexit Transition Period”, warning of the damage a no deal would cause to the economy in addition to the cost of the covid-19 health crisis.
The Prime Minister, like all of us here, could not have foreseen the covid-19 pandemic when his Government initiated the process of leaving the European Union. 2020 has become a year like no other, and this Government must adapt and do what is right by their citizens. Our priority must be dealing with this health emergency and the consequent economic challenge; it is definitively not business as normal. That is why my Government in Edinburgh, under the stewardship of Nicola Sturgeon, has prioritised dealing with the crisis above all else. We are demanding that the UK Government do the same—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, it has started already. This is a serious subject, and what we get is laughing and guffawing from the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). He really should show some respect and grow up.
The SNP is calling on the Government immediately to extend the Brexit transition period while we navigate the unprecedented health and economic crisis we currently face. The European Union has expressed its ongoing openness to extending the transition period for negotiations, and the UK Government now need to accept that offer. The Government will claim that this opportunity ended at the end of June, but we are dealing with realpolitik here. We know that while we are still in the transition period this House can legislate for an extension and the European Union would recognise the mutual benefit. It simply requires political will and leadership.
The Scottish Government have set out their position in “COVID-19: The Case for Extending the Brexit Transition Period”, which sets out why it is vital, if we are to ensure the most rapid recovery possible from the covid-19 crisis, that the UK must immediately seek an extension to the Brexit transition period for two years. We are in unprecedented times: a health pandemic, an economic crisis, and the real threat of a second wave of covid-19 later this year. Now is the moment for the UK Government to recognise reality and to reconsider their position.
The United Kingdom is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. The Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England have published various scenarios in which GDP falls by as much as 13% to 14% this year, which would be the largest decline in economic output in 300 years. By comparison, the most recent largest single-year fall in GDP was 4.2% on the back of the financial crisis in 2009. This overshadows anything that any of us we will ever face.
At least 1 million jobs have already gone, and many more will go when the Government end the furlough scheme, which is needed as a bridge to secure employment until recovery takes hold. Indeed, we know from the Office for Budget Responsibility that close to 2 million of those on the furlough scheme could face unemployment. Just dwell on that: the threat of unemployment in the UK could perhaps increase to as many as 4 million people. Just dwell on the human misery—the families struggling to make ends meet and pay their bills; a sharp rise in poverty, and the human cost of that for families and their children. That is why a stimulus package is required to build confidence and get folk back to work.
The right hon. Gentleman is outlining the stark realities that we currently face across the whole United Kingdom, and indeed the world. Because of that, is he grateful that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, and that the broad shoulders of this Union are supporting Scotland, with more than £10 billion going from the UK Government to Scotland just during the covid pandemic?
I must say that I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman, as I would expect more of him than that. I say to Conservative Members that we must ensure that we have the tools at our disposal in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. I spoke about the importance of the furlough scheme, and we welcomed that. We will welcome Government measures that help to deal effectively with the challenge we face. There is a harsh reality, however, for our industries in Scotland, such as the tourism industry, which is important in my constituency and that of the hon. Gentleman, as well as many others.
Effectively, we are facing three winters, and there is a truncated summer season. Our tourist industry barely exists over the winter months, and the last thing we need is to find that the UK Government are kicking the legs away from our industry by ending the furlough scheme early. The challenge for every Conservative Member of Parliament from Scotland is to ensure that if the UK Government do not provide the necessary support for our businesses and our people, those powers have to reside in the Scottish Parliament. Will Scottish Tory MPs stand with us and ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the powers it needs to do its job and protect the people of Scotland? I think we know the answer.
The Chancellor said that the UK is suffering because of covid-19, in common with many other economies around the world. However, the UK economy is likely to suffer worse damage from this crisis than any other country in the developed world. According to the OECD, a slump in the UK’s national income of 11.5% during 2020 will outstrip falls in France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the US. With the continued risk of a second wave hitting the economy and our communities in winter, the idea of the UK leaving the European Union at the same time is economic madness.
The outlook is bleak—there is no other way to look at it—and things are about to get much worse, unless the Government end their refusal to extend the Brexit transition period. Refusing to do so is the ultimate act of self-harm. With businesses fighting for survival, a bad deal or no deal will burden businesses with additional costs and red tape. Yesterday, the Financial Times told us that UK Government officials had indicated that a potential additional 215 million customer declarations will be required, at a cost of up to £7 billion. Businesses are fighting for survival, and the UK Government want to send them a bill for £7 billion. I wonder if the Prime Minister will put that on the side of a bus. That is not taking back control; that is self-induced madness.
We can stop this now. We can recognise that this is a price that we cannot pay in the middle of a health and an economic crisis. All it requires is political will. All it requires is leadership.
Is it not the case that the injudicious dropping of a crisp packet would be enough for the Scottish National party to be asking for the extension of the implementation period or the scrapping of the whole project altogether? Might I remind the SNP—I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has the figures—that more people voted for Brexit in Scotland than have ever voted for the SNP?
Really? Is that the best that Thanet can send to the House of Commons? Heaven help them. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that we were told that if we stayed in the United Kingdom in 2014, Scotland would be respected and that we were to lead the UK. The question for him and for his Government is: why did they not respect the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU, with 62% of those living in Scotland voting to do so? At every opportunity in the past few years, the Conservatives, as they have been in every year since 1955, have been thoroughly rejected by the people of Scotland, and it is no wonder. We stood on a platform in the election in December about Scotland’s right to choose. The Tories said, “Say no to devolution. Say no to independence.” How did that go down? They lost more than half their seats and we increased our representation from 35 to 48. I think he has had his answer.
It is a point of order, Mr Speaker, because the right hon. Gentleman said that Scottish Conservatives stood on a manifesto commitment against devolution. This Government have given more powers than ever to the Scottish Parliament, and we have never stood on a manifesto against devolution—
We do not both need to stand at the same time—it is easier if you sit down. As a person who is very good with red cards, you should be aware of what we need to do to keep good order. That is a point of clarification and I am sure you will want to save some of that for when you speak later.
Mr Speaker, to use football parlance, I think the hon. Gentleman is offside and the Tory party regularly gets a red card from the people of Scotland. The Tories have shown themselves hostile to devolution since time immemorial; a leopard does not change its spots.
Why are this Government intent on this hammer blow hitting the UK economy when we are already in dire straits? We need to create the circumstances for recovery, not make a bad situation even worse. Instead, this UK Government want to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on border infrastructure to prepare for Brexit. Any rational person—I know that not many of those exist on the Tory Benches—would point out the lunacy of such tomfoolery, but of course this is driven by the ideology of those who want to “take back control” whatever the cost, whatever the impact on jobs, whatever the impact on communities, and conveniently blame it on covid-19, rather than admit the reality that it has been self-induced as a result of dogma. This is economic self-harm brought on by the UK Government, cheered on by Dominic Cummings as he holds the reins of power in Downing Street—well, not in our name.
We know that the UK is not even ready for leaving the EU at the end of December. The Government’s own International Trade Secretary has warned of possible legal challenges from the World Trade Organisation; increased smuggling from the EU if not all UK ports are ready to carry out checks; concerns about the protocol if EU tariffs are applied to all goods heading for Northern Ireland by default; and the undermining of the UK’s international trade policy. The NAO said that the Tory Government’s 2019 £100 million Get Ready for Brexit campaign was ineffective and made no clear difference—another monumental waste of scarce resources. Can the Minister, when she rises to respond, tell us how much money will be wasted on the new Let’s Get Going campaign?
Then there is the issue of lost EU funding—something that has been so critical for Scotland for so many decades. “Not to worry”, we are told, “The UK will step in with a shared prosperity fund”. Where is it? Where is the shared prosperity fund? There has been no detailed information from the UK Government on how the fund will operate. Can the Minister update us?
The European Commission’s Brexit preparedness publication also makes for grim reading. Certificates of authorisations will no longer be valid for placing products in EU markets. Products certified by UK-based bodies will no longer automatically be allowed into the EU. All service firms will lose access to the single market unless equivalence arrangements are in place to ensure that standards are the same in the UK and the EU. The visa exemption for UK nationals does not provide for the right to work in the EU and is subject to the reciprocity mechanism applying to third countries. It could be suspended if EU citizens ceased to be given visa-free access to the United Kingdom for short stays: the right to work and travel freely in the EU—rights we have enjoyed for more than 47 years—ripped up, opportunities cut off, hopes shattered, dreams crushed, and for what?
Experts and industry figures have been clear: businesses will not be ready for the end of the transition period at the end of this year. More than 100 UK company chiefs, entrepreneurs and business groups have written to the Prime Minister saying that businesses simply do not have the time or capacity to prepare for big changes in trading rules by the end of the year, especially given that we are already grappling with the upheaval caused by coronavirus. They can see that, we can see that; the only people who cannot are the Government Front Bench and their cheerleaders on the Back Benches.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the CBI—hardly the biggest fan of Brexit—says that if we extend the implementation period it will create uncertainty for business and completely advises against it? What does he know that the CBI doesn’t?
I could read out statistics from all sorts of business organisations that are, quite frankly, scared stiff about what ending the transition will mean.
A survey by the Institute of Directors tells us that three out of four business leaders believe that their organisation is not ready for the end of the transition period and that one in seven says that dealing with the pandemic has taken up bandwidth that would have been devoted to preparing for Brexit. The Institute for Government says that in normal circumstances meeting
“the 31 December deadline would have been heroic: doing so in the midst of an international health crisis, with the energies of governments across Europe focused on their handling of the outbreak, seems out of reach.”
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said:
“We are within six months of Brexit and we still do not know what the future holds for us.”
That is the uncertainty that businesses are facing. For many businesses that manage to survive the coronavirus crisis, this second, Brexit shock would hit them at their weakest and could be the final straw that puts them out of business—more jobs lost, more households in desperate situations, and all because of the intransigence of the Tory Government.
It does not have to be like this. We on the SNP Benches welcome the EU’s openness to extending the transition period for negotiations. Six political parties from every nation of the United Kingdom wrote to Michel Barnier calling for the UK and the EU to agree a two-year extension. In a letter to me, representing the SNP, along with the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Green party and the Alliance party, the EU’s chief negotiator confirmed:
“an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties. The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.”
Mr Barnier said that any extension decision should have been taken by the Joint Committee “before 1 July”. We have been given an olive branch—a get-out-of-jail-free card—but the Prime Minister has failed to grasp it. The UK Government have set themselves to crash out of the EU with a devastating bad deal or a catastrophic no-deal.
All the while, EU leaders have highlighted the lack of progress in negotiations. Angela Merkel recently said:
“To put it mildly, progress in the negotiations has been very limited. I will continue to press for a good solution. But we in the EU and also in Germany must and should prepare for the event that an agreement is not reached after all.”
That should deeply worry all of us.
There is still time to change course. The Institute for Government has made it clear that there are mechanisms for an extension. It cites four legal options for extending the transition period: amend the end date of the transition period in the withdrawal agreement; create a new transition period to begin on 1 January 2021, which would mean striking a new agreement alongside future relationship negotiations; include an implementation phase as part of the future relationship treaty; or create an implementation phase to prepare for a potential no-deal exit.
The Scottish Government have set out the evidence to back up the arguments for an extension to the transition. Their analysis has revealed that ending the transition period in 2020 could remove £3 billion from the Scottish economy in just two years—£3 billion in just two years. Are our colleagues from Scottish Tory constituencies prepared to sit back and see that self-harm take place against their constituents, or for once, are they going to stand up for us, stand up with us and stand up for Scotland?
The Scottish Government’s analysis revealed that ending the transition period will be calamitous—a £3 billion hit to Scotland made in Westminster and delivered by this Prime Minister and his Government. A no-deal Brexit scenario has greater economic implications and could see the economy 8.5% smaller by 2030 compared with the scenario of continued EU membership. That is the price that Scotland will have to pay if we stay in the Union of the United Kingdom. Those are eye-watering numbers, but behind the statistics is the human cost: unemployment, hardship, poverty—Scotland paying the price for Tory dogma.
I take no pleasure in saying that UK relations with the Scottish Government are worse than ever under this Prime Minister’s leadership. We have been increasingly concerned at the lack of any meaningful consultation with the Scottish Government and other devolved nations on the Brexit talks and at the growing threat of a Tory power grab in devolved areas, including agriculture and food standards—all for a Brexit fantasy that Scotland never gave its consent to and that is now being used as a power grab from the Scottish Parliament, and for a future that we never voted for.
It is worth reminding folk in Scotland of the promises that were made in 2014 during the independence campaign. If we stayed in the UK, we would be staying in Europe. Well, we stayed in the UK, and we have been taken out against our will. All the way through this process, the Scottish Government have sought to achieve a compromise to best protect jobs. [Interruption.] We talk about compromise, and the Tory MPs laugh at Scotland. That is the way that Scotland is treated by the Tories in this House. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Carry on, because people in Scotland will be listening.
We have said that staying in the single market and the customs union is the least worst option for jobs and our communities. At every turn, we have been shut out, shouted down and disregarded. It is little wonder that so many who voted to stay in the UK in 2014 now recognise the UK they voted to remain in no longer exists. It is little wonder that poll after poll shows a majority for independence. So many see our future as an independent country in Europe—an outward-looking Scotland, working constructively with others—and see this as a choice of a progressive future with independence, or one of staying with an increasingly inward-looking UK. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) keeps chuntering away from a sedentary position. If he wants to say something, I will allow him to get in. [Interruption.] Well, perhaps he would not continue to shout and chunter; it is most disrespectful to everybody, including his own constituents.
My right hon. Friend speaks about the polling, which shows that we are only going in one direction as support for independence has gone up. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my analysis that the UK Government are clearly carrying out polling on a regular basis—we know that the Cabinet Office is carrying out that polling—and does he, like me, want to see the UK Government publish the polling analysis that is being paid for by taxpayers, which will show that support for Scottish independence is on the rise?
Indeed, let us have transparency. Let us have some openness. The UK Government should indeed publish that information.
Where does power lie today in the United Kingdom? The Prime Minister has invested political and Executive oversight in an unelected adviser, Dominic Cummings. We know that a Green Paper is to be published tomorrow, ahead of a joint ministerial meeting with the devolved Governments, that is nothing more than a blatant power grab under the guise of the establishment of a UK internal market. When this Tory Government said they wanted to take back control, they did not mean just from Brussels; they meant from Edinburgh, they meant from Cardiff and they meant from Belfast. This Tory Government’s contempt for devolution has always been known. They fought against devolution in 1997, and they lost.
Of course, the covid crisis has seen the Scottish Government give effective leadership to the people who live in Scotland. The success of that leadership is reflected in the high standing of our First Minister not just with the public in Scotland, but elsewhere—[Interruption.] Again, I hear the laughing and the chuntering. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and his team have dithered and given out mixed messages. Rather than recognise and applaud the success of the Scottish Government, the Tories want to attack them. The Tories cannot come to terms with our Scottish Government providing effective leadership, so they want to constrain our Parliament—that is the reality—and not just our Parliament, but the Parliaments in Wales and in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful that the Welsh First Minister is standing shoulder to shoulder with us, and I am asking our colleagues in the Labour party—
Where are they?
Where are they, indeed. Members should not worry, because the SNP will provide an effective Opposition.
I am respectfully asking my friends in the Labour party who are present to stand with us. We went through the Lobby together to establish devolution, and devolution is now under attack from this Tory Government. There is a question to be asked of the Labour party: will they stand with us? [Interruption.] It would be helpful if they would turn up, but I hope when it comes to votes —and there is going to be a fight over the coming months—that we stand shoulder to shoulder against this attack on devolution in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland.
What is now taking place is nothing more than an undignified attempt to neuter the Scottish Parliament. Let me put the Tories on notice that we will stand up for the sovereign rights of our Parliament enshrined by the referendum result and by the establishment of our Parliament. Let me remind the Tories: our Parliament was established by overwhelming numbers in 1997. It belongs to the people of Scotland.
“Not the SNP!” Do I really have to take that? I know the hon. Member represents an English seat and perhaps he does not pay much attention, but if he looks at every one of the results of elections to the Scottish Parliament since 2007 and to Westminster since 2015, as well as the European results, he will see that the people of Scotland have put their trust in the SNP to defend them from the kind of attacks that we have from the Tory Benches. [Interruption.] I hear, “What about a referendum?” so let me say this. We went to the people of Scotland last December and we stood on the principle of Scotland’s right to choose. We got 45% of the vote. There is a bigger gap between us and the Tories than there is between the Tories and Labour in the United Kingdom. We won that election, by any definition. The people of Scotland elected us in 48 of the 59 constituencies. There are six Tories from Scotland. We won that election. I accept that the Conservatives won the election in the UK, but that means that it is incumbent on the Conservatives to recognise that the SNP won in Scotland.
“No, it’s not”—well, there we are: democracy Tory-style. The Tories think that they can simply ignore the people of Scotland. I say to them: carry on, because people are saying now that support for the SNP and support for independence is rising, and you will not stop the people of Scotland determining our own future. It is ours to choose and we will not be stopped by any Tory Government.
I am going to make some progress.
A Scottish Government assessment of the proposal that is coming tomorrow shows that successful pioneering policies such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol, our no tuition fees policy and the smoking ban would face the unelected body that the Conservatives now want to put in place. The proposed establishment of an unelected external body to determine whether a Bill in the Scottish Parliament has met a new test is outrageous. It is completely undemocratic and will not be accepted. Westminster, under these plans, will have the power to block the legislative process in Scotland under the guise of this new body, so that Scotland’s elected representatives could not decide what is best for Scotland. The internal market plan would also require standards in one part of the UK to be automatically accepted in others. This would be a serious threat to Scotland’s high food standards.
Any forthcoming legislation on these plans needs the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The decisions of the Scottish Parliament must be respected. Will the Minister confirm that Westminster will recognise the importance of consent from the Scottish Parliament, and accept that if consent is not granted the legislation cannot be passed? That is the historical position.
The internal market plan also suggests that the UK Government will include state aid in their power grab. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have been clear that state aid policy should be devolved under current legislation. They want to stay closely aligned with the EU state aid rules. Legal experts have noted that Westminster’s decision to legislate to make state aid policy a reserved power was an implicit recognition that the UK Government were not confident of winning the argument in court. We already know that this Tory Government will do what they want to Scotland with regard to state aid if they get their way on this. Of course, the Tories have form. In 1992, John Major’s Government diverted cash from the highlands to try to boost dwindling Conservative support in south-east England.
Let us be clear: the UK faces a constitutional crisis. Scotland continues to be completely ignored by Westminster and Westminster has proved itself to be utterly incapable of acting in Scotland’s interests. With the exception of the Scottish Tories, who have completely isolated themselves, the Scottish Parliament is united against the moves to erode Scotland’s devolved settlement. All the Opposition parties, as well as the SNP in government, recognise this threat to devolution coming from the Tories. The Scottish Tories remain tin-eared. The UK Government must recognise that Scotland has a choice: we either accept the downgrading of our Parliament or we choose to become an independent country. Let me appeal to those who live in Scotland to join the momentum. There is another way: we can stop the power grab, we can defend our interests, and we can finish our journey to independence.
People want an extension, and in Scotland people have a right to an extension. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. A new poll has put support for Scottish independence at 54%, and that is the second Panelbase poll to show such figures in recent weeks. This marks the highest level of support for the SNP and independence ever, in any poll of its kind. The recent polling on independence shows the unstoppable power of people choosing their own future.
Since the Westminster election of 2019, a majority of polls have shown support for independence in the lead. Commenting on the findings, Professor John Curtice said:
“Never before have the foundations of public support for the Union looked so weak.”
He explained that
“the past three months have exemplified how Scotland could govern itself better as an independent, small country”.
Even a casual observer could draw that conclusion, based on how the Scottish Government led by Nicola Sturgeon have dealt with the covid-19 crisis compared with this UK Government. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon scores more highly with English voters than the Prime Minister does—[Laughter.] Conservative Members think the fact that the Prime Minister is unpopular, certainly in Scotland, is funny. We do not think it is funny; we think it is something much worse than that. It is now impossible for the UK Government to deny Scotland a choice over its future .The Prime Minister may be the best recruiting tool for Scottish independence since Margaret Thatcher.
The cost of leaving the EU and managing a health crisis simultaneously is unacceptable, particularly when we could be facing a covid second wave in the winter. If the Prime Minister and the Tories fail to seek an extension, if they push ahead with their power grab, and if they continue to impose a future on Scotland that we never voted for, the choice will be clear. The only way to protect Scotland’s economy and our place at the heart of Europe is to become an independent country, and that day is coming. We can provide our road map to independence. We will have our say. Scotland will become an independent country.
It is a pleasure to respond to this Opposition day debate, not least because it affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to UK and, in particular, Scottish businesses, which have been so resilient and creative during these unprecedented times. It is not just that we want the economy to recover and that we want to beat coronavirus; it is that we can only defeat coronavirus, and whatever might follow it, if the economy recovers. Without businesses and the tax revenue that they generate, we will not have an NHS or a care system, or room for manoeuvre at the Treasury. I want to thank all those businesses for what they have endured and for all the efforts they are taking to keep going. I am sure the whole House would agree with that.
One moment, please. I should also like to genuinely and sincerely congratulate the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and his party on having a policy on the transition period, which is more than the official Opposition have managed to do to date.
In the time I have, I want to touch on some of the very understandable issues that concern hard-pressed businesses about next year and about how the Government are helping to mitigate the economic effects of coronavirus and to prepare for when we will take back control of our borders and leave the single market and the customs union. These will bring significant changes, and also opportunities, for which we all need to prepare, which is why we have already undertaken a series of measures to help businesses and individuals to get ready for the end of the transition period, whatever the circumstances are.
Before I do that, however, I want to put this debate in context. I wonder what the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber thinks the odds are of the Government extending the transition period. How likely does he think it is that we would do that, given that its end date is enshrined in law; given that the Government of the UK were elected on a mandate not to extend the transition period; given that the deadline for asking for an extension to the transition period has passed; given that doing so would simply prolong the negotiations and bring uncertainty for our businesses; given that it would hinder our economic recovery; given that an extension would see us paying more to the EU, which is not a good idea; given that we would have to back EU laws and decisions that we had no say in designing, which is an even worse idea; and given that the legislative and economic flexibility that we need to respond to coronavirus would not be possible? What are the chances of the Government doing that? What are the chances of this Opposition day debate succeeding or having any influence? I suggest none.
The Government have been very clear multiple times that we will not extend the transition period. Some might argue that it is not only undesirable to do so but now impossible, so why are we having an Opposition day debate on this issue, on this particular topic, and not on, say, rewards for health and care staff, not on investment in Scottish infrastructure, and not on food standards or Scottish farmers, which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) debated recently? Why are we having this debate in a week when key negotiations are ramping up and David Frost is going into bat for Scotland’s interests—[Laughter.] I am sure that Scottish fishermen do not appreciate Members laughing. Why not have a debate on issues that might strengthen his hand in negotiation? Why not hold a debate on fishing or, indeed, on any practical or tangible issues that Scottish MPs on these Benches have been talking about at every single opportunity they have been given to stand up for their constituents. Why pick this issue? Why pick the issue of the transition period? Sadly, it is because the purpose of this debate is not to influence or secure change, or even to suggest any further practical measures that could help business. There was no mention in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech of the phased approach, the Goods Vehicle Movement Service, or Treasury schemes. No, this Opposition day debate is designed to do what Scottish nationalists always try to do, which is, sadly, to further divide, to sow seeds of doubt, to undermine confidence and to highlight differences right at the moment when everyone should be pulling and working together. Stirring up division is clearly something that SNP Members enjoy, and I have never understood those motivations in politics. Even if that is what floats your boat, to do it now, when we should be maximising the benefits and focusing on those benefits for the whole of the United Kingdom and for the sake of all our citizens, is truly amazing. It shows, sadly, that SNP Members, and anyone else supporting them today, will have learned nothing from the past few years.
The sizeable majority that this Government enjoy is, in very great part, down to the fact that the people of this country want to move forward. They want to look to the future, not unpick the past, and they respect democracy. This Opposition day debate is simply an attempt to undermine and prevent an instruction given to this Government by the people of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues wish to return to division, to chaos, to paralysis, which is what pushing out the deadline for negotiations would do. The motion does not focus on anything practical in the report. That is not surprising really as that report was written prior to the announcement on the phased border and the border operating model. None the less, it is the SNP’s debate today, so, despite the fact that events and people have moved on, I will focus on the issues that those Members have raised.
I thank the Minister for giving way and ending her lecture, telling us what we should be thinking about. If we are talking about division, a lot is predicated on what she said about control of our borders, ending free movement and controlling immigration. Earlier she talked about business resilience. Can she tell me how ending free movement will help businesses, how it will help the fruit and vegetable growers who already cannot get people to do their work? Can she explain what good that will do for the economy and what it will do for food exports, when we have a reliance on EU vets?
I have been through the detail of the report mentioned in the motion and looked at each sector that it focuses on and mentions. We have not just brought through schemes that help to support business and to mitigate the changes that are going to have to be brought in. The Treasury has also introduced schemes in the wake of coronavirus, and I will come on to that. However, I want to address—
Bear with me.
I want to address the issues the report raises, because the reasons why we are having this debate are illuminating. The report proposes a two-year delay to our timetable and claims that not having one would reduce Scotland’s GDP. The version of the report I have seen says that that will be by £1.8 billion, but the hon. Gentleman refers to £3 billion—a figure that many dispute. However, some say that the cost to UK GDP of a delay would be around 2%.
There are a number of interesting graphs to support the right hon. Gentleman’s points, but I would ask any SNP Member present to add an additional line—one illustrating the hit to Scottish GDP from the break-up of the United Kingdom. Pre Brexit, the Scottish Economic Association put the cost of Scottish independence at 5.5% of Scottish GDP, stating that that would be even greater after Brexit. So why does £1.8 billion or £3 billion matter, when £5.5 billion does not?
The right hon. Gentleman cannot wring his hands about the 144,000 jobs contingent on exports from Scotland—jobs that we are determined to protect—while discounting the 545,000 jobs reliant on trade with the United Kingdom. He cannot claim to mourn the end of EU funding mechanisms that bring benefits to Scottish citizens—and that will be replaced, I might add—and at the same time discount the very real United Kingdom dividend to the taxpayers of Scotland of about £2,000 per household. He cannot complain about the results of negotiations, on the grounds that he thinks he has not been consulted, and at the same time advocate extending a transition period that would make us subject to EU laws, schemes and decisions over which he has had no say whatever. He cannot claim to use economic forecasts to make one argument, but disregard them for another. And he cannot claim to be a democrat, while ignoring the results of votes.
This debate is simply about creating conflict and division, just as the right hon. Gentleman’s press release today is. He has not seen the details of the proposal he alluded to at Prime Minister’s questions earlier, but he does not need to, because the facts are irrelevant to his case, as were many of the things he said in his speech about these proposals.
I want to turn to the substance of what we are doing to support business, because, after all, that is what matters. There will be significant changes and opportunities ahead, and we will help businesses and citizens to manage the necessary adjustments in a very practical and flexible way in order to minimise the challenges and maximise the opportunities. None of those schemes did the right hon. Gentleman mention.
In the withdrawal agreement struck by the Prime Minister, we removed several significant uncertainties that were a feature of our contingency planning ahead of 31 October. We are now taking the necessary steps to ensure that the UK is ready to take advantage of the opportunities. That includes the £705 million of investment announced to make sure we have the right infrastructure, tech and border personnel in place. That is in addition to the £84 million to boost the capacity of the customs intermediary sector. The border operating model and the phased approach we announced earlier have been put in place after extensive consultation with the sector and provide further clarity and certainty for the border industry and businesses.
While we have already made good progress in getting ready for the end of the year, there is still more to do. There are actions that we would strongly encourage businesses and citizens to take now to ensure we are ready to hit the ground running as a fully independent United Kingdom. That is why, earlier this week, we launched a new, major campaign to communicate the steps that we must all take to prepare for the end of the transition period.
I thank the Minister for eventually giving way. She asked many times why we have brought this debate today. Let me just pick out one sector and give her another 1.8. Scotland’s quality food sector exports £1.8 billion of food per year, 70% of which goes to the EU. My question to the Minister is, how many businesses in Scotland has she spoken to about the effects on them, because that, in just one sector, is why we are bringing this debate?
When I came into office I spent a considerable amount of time working with the central office of information and all Government Departments to improve our communications with business. An enormous number of meetings and forums take place not just with me and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but with every single Department across Whitehall. Our officials continue to have those discussions and consultations, as do Ministers.
I would say to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, who mentioned one or two sectors: you have not spoken about any of the Government schemes. You have not spoken about the phased approach. You have not spoken about free services that are available from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and how they can be improved. You have not called for any of that.
The right hon. Gentleman began the debate calling for leadership and for the Government to adapt. Indeed, the past few months have been an inflection point for nations and individuals. I call on the SNP to adapt: try co-operation; try finding some common ground for the sake of all our businesses and citizens. I would say that to you at any time but now more than ever, against the backdrop of this unprecedented time that we face.
The Minister talks about the need for the SNP and the Scottish Government to compromise. She is in the Cabinet Office and will be aware of the document, “Scotland’s place in Europe”. Can she name any part of that document, which contains a raft of proposals and compromises from the SNP on the single market and the customs union? On which of those would the United Kingdom Government compromise?
There are many things that I could talk about, but one of the first meetings I held was to put together our negotiating position: we listened carefully to all the devolved Administrations on some of their concerns, particularly on programmes, and we changed our negotiating mandate accordingly. We do listen, and I have taken great pains. I gently point out—I am not going to repeat the vast number of meetings I have had, as I have done that frequently at the Dispatch Box—that as someone who has, in quite difficult circumstances, made sure that I could attend every single meeting that I had planned with the devolved Administrations and the Scottish Government, as I am happy to do, I was stood up by the Scottish Minister. I have shown up for every meeting—the Scottish Minister has not shown up for every meeting.
To conclude, I call on the SNP to adapt—to find common ground—for the sake of all our citizens and businesses, because that is what leadership looks like, and it is what Scotland deserves.
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the official Opposition, many people in the Chamber are making the serious mistake of calling other people “you”—even the Minister, whom I have never heard make such a mistake before today. I am anxious that people who are new to the House and have not really seen the Chamber operating properly should not be led astray by those who should know better. Throughout Prime Minister’s questions today, people called the Prime Minister “you”. In the Chamber, “you” means the Chair. One addresses other Members as “the hon. Gentleman”, “the hon. Lady” or something else, but not “you”. [Interruption.] Quite. I call Paul Blomfield.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am just reflecting on “something else”.
I am pleased to be able to respond to the debate and remind the House that when we debated the withdrawal agreement Bill in January, the Opposition warned of the foolishness of the Government tying their hands by committing the date for the end of transition to law. We argued that unforeseen events might result in the Government needing some flexibility, although clearly no one expected a crisis on the scale that we face with covid-19. However, our amendment was rejected and the departure date was locked in law. Clearly, the Government could have changed that before 1 July, but they did not and they must live with the consequences.
We are now past the date when an extension could have been agreed. The Government did not seek one and nor did the EU propose one. That ship has sailed and, frankly, it is the wrong focus for a debate on the negotiations that we need today. The issue is not the time available to the Government, but their approach to the talks. If, instead of the motion, the SNP had tabled something seeking to protect Scottish whisky or Welsh lamb, or to avoid non-tariff barriers in manufacturing, we could have worked together on it, because the country needs the best possible agreement—now more than ever—and we hope the Government will secure that, but it is now five months since we left the European Union. We have had four rounds of formal negotiations. We have had a high-level summit between the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. We are into our third week of intensified talks. But judging by the Government’s own statements, we have seen very little progress.
It was not supposed to be like this. Remember the election campaign? Time and again, the nation was told by the Prime Minister that he had an “oven-ready deal”. That is what the people voted for: a deal negotiated by the Prime Minister himself and signed off last October —the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. The withdrawal agreement delivered our departure from the European Union and the political declaration set out the principles for our future relationship. The two went together: a single package. As the Prime Minister said:
“The ambition for our future friendship is contained in the revised political declaration”.—[Official Report, 19 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 572.]
That was the deal promised to the British people. I quote from it:
“an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership”
“no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”.
It was a deal that would safeguard
“workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection”
and keep people safe with a
“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership”.
There was a promise that the Good Friday agreement would be protected through the proper implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Those are the promises against which the Government’s deal will be measured, but it is not going well. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster chilled British business when he warned that the UK may accept tariffs on some goods if that is the price we have to pay to avoid the level playing field provisions. And let us not forget what exactly the level playing field is about: food standards, workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer protection.
The Government’s proposals in this area have been described as “a giant step away” from the political declaration. The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, has said there is “fundamental disagreement” in most of the important areas. He went on to say:
“there is a big gap”.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), warned her successor that he will not be able to keep our people safe without access to the quantity and quality of data that is currently available through Prüm, passenger name records, the European Criminal Records Information System and SIS II, but her successor will not commit to that. Just yesterday, the Met police Brexit lead said that UK police forces’ ability to detain criminal suspects from the EU will become slower and less effective if the Government fail to secure a Brexit security deal. At the same time, Northern Ireland businesses are saying:
“we are really in a quandary as to what way to turn…We need a bit of clarity because we haven’t a clue where we’re heading—It’s like walking out into the fog.”
The Government have not even managed to negotiate the continuation of the pet passport.
The weeks ahead are crucial. The Government need to double their efforts to deliver the deal that they promised to the British people. They need to listen to business, whose voice, the CBI, said recently:
“A good deal with the EU will be just one strand of a national recovery plan as the UK responds to the coronavirus pandemic, but it will be one of the most important for the future of our economy, jobs and livelihoods.”
They need to listen to those reeling from the Government’s announcement on the border arrangements, which left the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association saying that he was
“completely at a loss to understand how this framework can be achieved by 1 January 2021.”
They should listen to the TUC, which has called on the Government to
“prioritise negotiating a deal with the EU that guarantees good jobs, rights and other protections rather than a deal with the US that stands to undermine these standards.”
I have elaborated our position clearly: we expect the Government to deliver on the deal that they promised the British people. I understand the anxiety among those on the Conservative Benches when they see how the talks are going and see that they—those who were elected on that pledge—may not be able to turn to their constituents and say that they have done that job.
That really is not good enough from the hon. Gentleman. Not one Labour Back Bencher is down to speak in this important debate. They may not care about these issues, but our constituents do. As part of the official Opposition, surely he should be doing better than this?
There is great concern and great appetite to have a serious discussion about the negotiations on the future relationship with the European Union. We have brought the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to the House twice through urgent questions when he had refused to report to Parliament. Some of my colleagues may have anticipated that this debate would not be the one we needed to have, but instead would be framed by the leader of the SNP at Westminster as being about independence, as he did in his final words. We want a serious discussion about the negotiations.
The Government should also listen to voices in every part of our country, and they need to engage effectively with the devolved Administrations—
The nature of these interventions indicates why it does not seem that the SNP is serious about having a debate about the actual negotiations on which the future of our country is going to be so dependent. It is all about point scoring, not protecting jobs and protecting the economy.
The Government should listen more effectively to those voices of the devolved Administrations and recognise that the Joint Ministerial Committee is not working. It needs to be put on a formal footing, with its decisions properly recorded and respected. The agreement reached with the European Union will affect the nations and regions of the UK differently, and the devolved Administrations will be on the frontline of delivering it. They must be properly consulted and proper regard must be given to their views. It is not a question of vetoes, but of respect for the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the Government negotiate with and repatriate powers from the European Union. We need—I make this point both to the Government and to the leader of the SNP at Westminster —a spirit of constructive partnership between the four Governments of the United Kingdom, rather than division.
My hon. Friend is making some important points. To expand on that last point, the concern for the devolved Administrations must be not simply with the UK-EU deal, but with how they are involved in all free trade agreements and in organisations such as the Trade Remedies Authority, with how those deals are put together, and with how the Administrations are engaged and consulted? My real fear is that that will not happen.
My hon. Friend is right to have that fear because the experience over the past months demonstrates that there is not the real consultation that there needs to be. The Government are playing with the future of our country if they do not respect, engage effectively and have regard to the views of all the devolved Administrations.
There are just five months left until we leave the transitional period—months in which we are already facing the biggest hit on jobs and livelihoods in our lifetime as a result of covid-19. The people of this country expect the Government to do everything possible to mitigate that damage, not to add to it. The Government will not be forgiven if we reach the end of the transition without a deal, or with a deal that falls short of the ambition that they signed up to in the political declaration. That was their promise to the British people, and it is that on which they will be judged.
It is an absolute honour and a privilege to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this SNP Opposition day debate. The SNP motion calls for an extension to the transition period for negotiations with the European Union. It is important that we are absolutely clear what the motives are for the SNP calling for that extension to the transition period. It is not about protecting Scotland’s economy. It is not about assisting the economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic. It is all about creating further uncertainty and constitutional chaos to assist in the nationalist dream of breaking up the United Kingdom. That is the SNP’s top priority. That is its only priority. That, in fact, is the only reason that many SNP Members got involved in politics in the first place—[Interruption.] I am pleased that they are nodding in agreement. I am pleased that they are agreeing with me—we agree on something at last. Any proposal from the separatists should be considered in that context. The SNP is aggravating on Brexit simply to push its independence obsession.
There is no doubt that the impact of the coronavirus will be significant on Scotland’s and the UK’s economy, but the answer is not to add further uncertainty to Scotland’s businesses with further dither and delay on Brexit. Businesses want certainty so that they can plan for Scotland’s and the UK’s future outside the European Union. Businesses are already preparing for life outside the EU at the end of 2020. The last thing they need or want is the further uncertainty that has been advocated by the SNP today, so I fully support the UK Government’s commitment not to extend the transition period at the end of 2020, because that would simply risk further economic damage to Scotland’s economy.
I also fully endorse the massive support of more than £13 billion that this UK Government have pumped into Scotland so far during the covid-19 outbreak. This includes nearly £5 billion in furlough payments, £1 billion for the job retention scheme, the kick-start scheme, the VAT cuts, the eat out to help out scheme, nearly £1 billion in the self-employed income support scheme, hundreds of millions of pounds in business loans and increases to benefits, plus £4.6 billion in Barnett consequentials. That is a £4.6 billion boost to the Scottish Government’s budget during this covid-19 outbreak. I know that some in the SNP, including the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, Kate Forbes, like to pretend that this support does not exist unless the Scottish Government logo is branded all over it, but if Scotland was no longer in the United Kingdom, the safety net of support that the UK can provide during this pandemic and other crises would not have been there for other parts of these islands or, indeed, for Scotland anymore.
The hon. Member and I have disagreed numerous times about the UK’s place in the European Union and what we should do about that, but does he share my confusion about why a party that is so intent on dragging Scotland from one valuable union—indeed, the most successful economic union in history—is so intent on using another to do it?
I completely agree. The points that the SNP’s Westminster leader made earlier could have been made by anybody during the campaign about whether we should leave or remain in the EU; Nigel Farage would be proud of the arguments that he articulated. I am pleased that the hon. Lady is nodding wholeheartedly; it was a very good Farage argument that was put forward by Mr Blackford.
Let me move on to reiterate the support that has been made available by the UK Government and what that means from a practical perspective for Scots. These are not abstract sums of money that have no bearing on everyday lives in Scotland; these are people’s jobs and livelihoods, and the economic wellbeing of our families. Some 800,000 jobs in Scotland have been saved so far during the pandemic, highlighting the strength of our Union. The coronavirus job retention scheme has furloughed 628,000 Scottish jobs, and the UK Government have spent £425 million on supporting 146,000 self-employed people in Scotland through the self-employment income support scheme.
Of course, when talking about jobs, it is worth remembering that nearly four times as many jobs in Scotland are linked to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom as with the European Union. The Fraser of Allander Institute estimates that around 545,000 jobs in Scotland are supported by demand for our goods and services from the rest of the UK. That is why it is so important that we do everything we can to protect the strength of the UK single market, ensuring that businesses across the UK can continue to trade easily. Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are worth £51.2 billion, against £16.6 billion in EU exports. Whether they are in my constituency in the Scottish borders or in Eastleigh, West Bromwich, Brecon or Dudley, our businesses should be able to trade freely in every part of Britain.
The importance of the UK internal market is why the suggestion from Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, that she may close the Scotland-England border or impose quarantine restrictions on people from England is so damaging to Scotland and to our economy. After the First Minister’s announcement, I had tourism businesses, B&Bs and hotels contact me to report that their customers from the rest of the UK had started to cancel their bookings because they were so worried about the border being closed and quarantine restrictions being imposed. That should concern us all, because overnight trips from the rest of the UK were worth nearly £3 billion to Scotland in 2018.
To compound matters, we had the horrific scenes on the Scottish-English border in my constituency, on the A1 north of Berwick, of nationalist protesters shouting—and I quote—“Stay the F out” at English people travelling into Scotland. These racist protesters have admitted taking inspiration from the division stoked by the SNP politicians. They were inspired by comments by SNP politicians. One of the protesters has been pictured with Nicola Sturgeon and other senior SNP figures—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely it cannot be allowed to stand that the hon. Gentleman effectively accuses SNP Members of stoking racism. The SNP condemns unreservedly any kind of anti-Englishness or any kind of racism directed at people from south of the border.
The hon. Gentleman knows—[Interruption.] Please do not talk so loudly while I am talking. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) can heckle other people, but he cannot heckle me. Well, he can try. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) knows that his point of order is not a point for the Chair, but a point of debate. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) will give way when he is ready to give way, and I look forward to hearing the retort from the hon. Member for Glasgow North.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am going to take an intervention—don’t you worry—but I want to conclude this important point about the completely unacceptable behaviour towards our neighbours, friends and family members trying to cross the border between Scotland and England, coming into my constituency to work, to see family members and to visit friends. Nationalist protesters with “Yes” banners were shouting abuse at them. That is totally unacceptable.
I would like to say to the hon. Member, who has made a number of allegations, that the SNP, as he knows, does not have any truck with racism in any of its forms. He seems to suggest that the SNP is an anti-English party; if it makes a country racist to seek self-government, then the other 190 members of the United Nations are all racist countries. The First Minister’s granny is English, so what possible motivation could the hon. Gentleman have for these hysterical comments? If he is condemning any analysis that suggests that borders may perhaps be temporarily closed to control this virus, perhaps he would like to comment on the practice that has been adopted by Australia, which is doing the same thing between states.
The fact that the hon. Lady refused to condemn that behaviour on the border speaks for itself. Similarly, the delay from the First Minister of Scotland to condemn that behaviour also caused great concern, not just in my constituency but across Scotland. That is not the Scotland I represent, and it is not what we are about. That behaviour on the border is unacceptable, and we should condemn it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am listening carefully to what he is saying about the situation on the border between England and Scotland. As a border MP representing an English seat that has a border with Wales, I can say that we in Shropshire have also seen real difficulties and problems in our community as a result of Cardiff pulling further and further away from London, which causes confusion for border communities such as mine.
I am grateful for that point. As the Minister described so well, in these times of crisis, as a nation—every part of the nation, whether it be Wales or Scotland or England—we should be coming together to tackle those challenges, not having foul-mouthed nationalist protesters standing at the borders shouting abuse at our English friends and neighbours.
I want to develop the economic point. We can see the economic damage that can be caused to Scotland by statements made by nationalist politicians when they deter people from travelling to Scotland. Even before the current crisis, the SNP’s record of managing Scotland’s economy has been extremely poor. The SNP is holding Scotland’s economy back. Scotland’s deficit is six times that of the UK. The rate of unemployment in Scotland is higher than anywhere else in the UK.
Even before coronavirus, the SNP had cost Scotland more than a quarter of a million jobs, and then we have its failures in other policy areas, too. Under the SNP, Scottish schools have slipped to their lowest international scores in science and maths. There are 3,600 fewer teachers since the SNP came to power. On the NHS, Nicola Sturgeon’s waiting time guarantee has never been met. Crime is on the rise, with most areas of Scotland now having fewer police officers on the frontline. The Scottish Government have missed their own legal emissions targets and the SNP has broken its promise to extend Scotland’s broadband fibre network. That is a catalogue of failure by the SNP, yet SNP Members come here today arguing for more uncertainty, more delay, more constitutional upheaval and yet another independence referendum.
In thinking of certainties in this debate, I trust that the hon. Member shares with me a great gratitude to the armed forces. Regardless of whether they are Welsh, Scottish, English or Irish, they cross borders into Wales and Scotland to come and help to defeat the virus. I think we can all be proud of the armed forces of the United Kingdom.
I am grateful for that important point, which is a useful reminder of the important role that our armed forces have played in tackling this pandemic. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of that.
I am not entirely sure why SNP Members claim to support independence for Scotland, because if they had their way, they would be rushing to give that independence straight back to the European Union by joining it again. They would be handing newly acquired powers back from Scotland to the European Commission; handing back control of our fishing waters to the European Commission; and dragging Scotland back into the hated common fisheries policy.
The SNP lacks ambition for our great nation of Scotland. I am sad to see the division and uncertainty in Scotland that the SNP is stoking up in an attempt to score political points. The SNP will use any means to push for its independence obsession. It will not come as any surprise to the House that I will not support the SNP’s motion. The SNP is desperately trying to undermine the UK and the UK internal market, putting Scottish jobs and the livelihoods of my constituents and other Scots at risk.
It is the UK Government who are putting the protection of Scottish businesses and jobs at the heart of their approach, both in their EU negotiations and in tackling this pandemic. I support them in everything they are doing to achieve that.
It is an experience to follow the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), with his typical hysterical and emotion-filled contribution. I will resist the temptation to follow a lot of where he attempted to lead this debate.
I will give way in a moment, but first I will thank my right hon. Friend for the thoughtful way in which he opened the debate. He laid out clearly why we believe that it is the best interests of everyone across these islands that the UK Government, even at this late stage, seek an extension to the transition period. He is absolutely correct that at a time of economic crisis, in the middle of a global pandemic for which there is currently no vaccine and when no one knows where or when the next wave will come or how severe it will be, it is beyond madness for this Government to believe that it will be possible to conduct and conclude all the necessary negotiations and implement the results within the next five months. The reality is that the Government know it—they know that cannot happen.
Without an extension to the transition period, the UK will almost certainly crash out of the European Union at the end of the year, with all the economic chaos that will inevitably follow, and those who in 2016 were regarded as the not to be taken seriously, wide-eyed extremists on the fringes of the Conservative party will have won. They will have achieved their goal.
My right hon. Friend was also absolutely right when he reminded the House that this is being done to Scotland by a Government we did not elect who are pursuing a policy that we overwhelmingly rejected. In the 2016 EU referendum, the people of Scotland said unequivocally that we wished to remain part of the European Union. That message has been reinforced time and again since 2016, in both general elections and in last year’s European elections.
I respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that democracy is a constantly evolving process—it is not a one-off event. I know that this will be a problem for many Government Members, but people have the right to change their minds. Politicians have the right to bring back ideas for themselves and for the public to decide upon. In fact, the Tories’ deputy leader in Holyrood has been beaten more times than my granny’s old carpet, but he comes back time and again, as is perfectly his right so to do. It ill behoves the hon. Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) to stand there like some kind of imperial overlord telling Scotland that it can only go so far and no further. This Tory Government will not decide Scotland’s future. The people of Scotland will decide Scotland’s future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the thoughtful way he is dealing with these issues. I just want to respond on the issue of Scotland being open and make it crystal clear that Scotland is open. We are an open country; we are an open democracy; and we want people to come to Scotland irrespective of where they come from. We find that there are issues to do with public health that the First Minister is taking responsibility for. That is what responsible Governments do. Let me make it crystal clear that, with Scotland now being open for business, people from England are welcome to come to Scotland, and I know that my hon. Friend will agree with that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I absolutely agree.
Numerous opinion polls since the referendum of 2016 have shown that the desire of Scots to remain in the European Union is strengthening and hardening as time goes by, because not only are they being dragged out the European Union against their will, but it is being done by a Government who are seemingly hellbent on doing it in the most damaging and reckless fashion possible, including refusing even to consider extending the transition period. That is why I firmly believe that Scotland is moving towards becoming an independent nation.
The debate in Scotland is not now framed in terms of “should” and “could”. More and more, that debate is framed in terms of how and when Scotland becomes an independent nation. As my right hon. Friend said, the polls bear this out. The highly respected pollster Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University said just last week:
“Never before have the foundations of public support for the Union looked so weak.”
That is because, increasingly, those Scots with no particular emotional attachment to the United Kingdom who in 2014, after careful consideration, decided against independence for whatever reason are changing their minds. Those Scots who, maybe with a heavy heart but in good faith, decided in 2014 that independence was a step too far and who were perhaps seduced by the idea of being in a partnership of equals or liked the idea of Scotland staying and leading the United Kingdom, who believed the promises that their Parliament in Edinburgh would become the world’s strongest devolved Parliament, or who truly believed that only by sticking with the United Kingdom could their citizenship of the European Union be guaranteed are changing their minds. Opinion poll after opinion poll tells us that they are changing their minds in droves.
That crucial, pragmatic group of people who will look at an issue, weigh up the pros and cons and come to a considered decision based on what is best for them, their families, their communities and the country are increasingly saying that an independent Scotland is the only viable option, particularly when set against the madness they see unfolding here. They are doing it quietly. They will not shout about it. Mercifully, they will not go on Twitter and have a fight about it. They will do it, as they have done in the past, by looking at the available options and doing what they honestly believe is the right thing.
Let us be clear: the United Kingdom, by its actions since 2014, has brought about its own demise. The United Kingdom is the architect of its own downfall. Every bit as much as the SNP, under the exceptional leadership of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has been pulling Scotland towards independence, so this Government have been actively pushing Scotland towards the exit door. I am sure that in decades to come, scholars and academics will produce theses on the end days of the United Kingdom. They will debate whether this UK Government were utterly incompetent and arrogant to the point of stupidity or whether this was in fact all part of a great Tory plan.
For what it is worth to students of history reading Hansard decades and centuries in the future, I reckon at the moment that it is probably the former. But I can see how someone could come to conclude that it was the latter. If the United Kingdom Government were serious about preserving the Union in 2014, following the narrow no vote in the referendum, they could have decided to make good on their promises to Scotland. If they were serious about preserving the Union in 2015, they could, following the election of 56 SNP MPs to this place, have decided to ensure that in any future EU referendum Scotland’s voice would be heard and Scotland’s decision respected.
If the Government were serious about preserving the Union in 2016, after every single part of Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, they could have decided that the hard, no-deal Brexit was off the table. If they were serious about preserving the Union in 2019, after they lost more than half their Scottish MPs and saw their vote share in Scotland collapse, they could have decided not to indulge in a shameless power grab, trying to seek back the powers of the Scottish Parliament. If they were serious about preserving the Union in 2020, having seen Scottish public opinion swing towards independence, they could have rowed back from the brink of Brexit calamity, agreed to an extension period and sought to salvage something from the wreckage that is Brexit.
But no, the Government did not. Such is their arrogance and misplaced self-assuredness, and so blind and disdainful are they about what is happening across a border that only last week they told us did not actually exist, that they, like zealots, are ploughing on with the project regardless of the inevitable consequences. It would even appear that their oft-vaunted precious Union is expendable for the project. If someone is a Scottish farmer terrified at being put out of business when the UK is flooded with cheap, low-grade meat and poultry from America, or a Scottish hotelier tearing their hair out wondering where next season’s workers are to come from, or a Scottish health board worker trying to work out how to recruit in subsequent years EU nationals to work in our health and social care sector, or a young Scot seeking to live and work in other European nations and take advantage of the opportunities that every single person in this room today has taken advantage of, then that is just too bad. The bottom line is that their voices do not get to be heard. Their opinions do not get to be counted; their fears and concerns are just not important enough to matter. The only thing that matters to this Government is the project.
No, thank you.
The Government’s insane, narrow British nationalism may well involve driving the UK off a cliff and seeing what emerges from the wreckage. I suppose that in that respect they have just the man at the wheel of the bus, skulking around between Downing Street and Barnard Castle, but let me tell the House that Scotland is not coming with them.
This week, I and probably millions of others were left slightly bewildered as the UK Government displayed once again their love of a totally meaningless, utterly vacuous three-word slogan. This week’s classic was “Let’s get going.” But perhaps, on reflection, as three-word slogans go it is not that bad, because that is exactly what Scotland is planning to do—we are going to get going, we are going to get out of this deeply damaging Union, into a future as an independent member state in a Union of equals with the European Union.
I honestly believe that Scottish independence is an idea whose time has come, and thankfully there is precious little that Government Members are going to do about it.
I intend to be brief, so I hope the House will forgive me if I do not take interventions.
I wish to speak today on behalf of places that many Members will never have heard of, and whose voices have too rarely been heard. In the referendum, almost two-thirds of my constituency of Leigh voted to leave the EU, but in many of its local communities the vote to leave was more than 70%—in some cases, more than 75%. Communities such as Siddow Common, Hope Carr, Higher Folds, West Leigh, Shakerley, Mosley Common, Derby Road, and Kings Avenue in the Oaklands and Meadows estate, voted most overwhelmingly to leave the EU. In fact, every single polling district in my constituency voted to leave the EU, from those who live in the bungalows and semi-detached houses of Pennington to those in the red-brick terraced streets of southern Atherton and those who live in the new-build houses of Astley.
Not too long ago, in many of those places, we would have been more likely to find the Loch Ness monster than a Conservative voter. I am stood here today because huge numbers of my constituents broke with the political habits of a lifetime to send me here to end the political chaos that had been crippling the country since the EU referendum; and that referendum seems, does it not, like a lifetime ago?
I will not betray the trust of my constituents by supporting the SNP’s motion tonight; it would be wrong to do so. Extending the transition period with the EU will only prolong the political turmoil that this country has faced and damage businesses that have tried repeatedly to prepare for Brexit over the past few years, only to face endless frustrating delay. They have been given the certainty of a final deadline to work towards after four years, and now here we are, with some people trying to disrupt the Brexit process yet again.
I have nothing more to say on this matter. This subject has been done to death. My constituents are sick of it. The public are sick of it. Let us get on with it: let us put this matter to bed once and for all.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leigh (James Grundy), who at least tried to make his point, even if I did not agree with a word of it. He at least tried to make a point that was worth making—by contrast with the bitter and twisted rant by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont)—and even managed to get the Loch Ness monster in, so he gets an extra point.
The Minister asked why we brought this debate to the Chamber. We did so because it is the right thing to do for people and communities and businesses across Scotland, who are facing a treble whammy of hits in terms of the economy, their lifestyle, their jobs and their family status. There are people living across Scotland, including in my constituency in the highlands and islands, who will be dealt a serious blow come January if there is no extension to the transition. The UK Government are not sleepwalking into this; they are running towards a cluster crisis.
My constituents—and Scotland—never voted for this and they do not want it. It is bad enough that the combined loss of economic activity in leaving the EU is estimated to be up to £3 billion. But on the covid emergency, the UK Government’s language—unlike that of the Scottish Government, whose aim is elimination of the virus—shows that they are planning for a second wave, with the forethought that we shall be going into a second wave while we are faced with a no-deal-Brexit exit—
I seek clarity on the point the hon. Gentleman makes. He seems to be criticising the Government for planning for all eventualities in a pandemic. Is he honestly saying that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Scottish Government are not planning for all eventualities on covid-19?