House of Commons
Wednesday 16 September 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—
Support for Self-employed: Covid-19
There are 205,000 self-employed in Wales, 110,000 of whom are receiving direct cash grants, totalling over £295 million, through the Government’s self-employment income support scheme. The scheme is one of a range of Government initiatives supporting the self-employed during the coronavirus outbreak.
If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I want to pass on my commiserations to everyone involved in the horrific car crash in Trebanog in the Rhondda earlier today. I thank the police and the fire brigade, who have been helping.
The Secretary of State is right that lots of people have received help, but an awful lot of people in the Rhondda have not had a single penny. There are people who set up a company just two years ago and have now lost their business, their home and their livelihood. There are people who have gone from having £3,000 a month in the bank to £300 a month. When we come to the next round of decisions by the Government and the Treasury, we have to do something for the 3 million people who have been excluded from every single scheme. They feel that this has been massively unfair, and we have hundreds of tradespeople in the Rhondda who have not had a single penny off the Government.
I know the whole House will join me in expressing our sympathy for those involved in the accident in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency this morning. I know what a blow it is for him and everybody involved, and our thoughts are with them.
In relation to the schemes, I suspect that we all, as constituency MPs, have examples of people who have fallen through the net. I can only reiterate what the Chancellor has said on numerous occasions, which is that we will always try to look at every possible way to ensure that those who qualify for help but, for some reason, are not getting it do get it. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise any individual cases, which we have all had, I am happy to look at them.
My thoughts are with those caught up in the awful crash in the Rhondda.
Many self-employed people in Wales who have already been hard hit by lockdown now fear the impact on their customer base of the looming spectre of mass unemployment that is hanging over their communities—industrial communities that still bear the scars of the damage wreaked by the Tories in the ’80s. When will this Government grasp the urgency of the situation and bring forward specific measures for sectors such as aviation that need longer to recover, in order to support the thousands of Welsh workers who depend on them?
The hon. Lady makes an unnecessary political point. The Government, along with the Welsh Government, have done everything they can to ensure that the smallest possible number of people in Wales have gone without important assistance during this pandemic. If she is hinting that the extension of furlough is the only answer, I can tell her that it is not. The Treasury has said that that is one option, but there are numerous other options that ought to help people and are already helping people make their way out of covid and back into a properly functioning economy. Of course, the best way to save jobs across the whole of Wales is to get people safely back to work.
Indeed, but there is now barely a month to go until the Government’s job protection schemes end, leaving thousands of self-employed people and others at risk of unemployment. It is not just Labour saying that. Businesses, trade unions and the Treasury Committee have all sounded the alarm. Will the Government accept that a one-size-fits-all approach to this jobs crisis is simply not working, and will they come forward with concrete proposals and a real plan to safeguard jobs for people across Wales?
A third of the workforce in Wales has been supported by the UK Government during the pandemic. We have gone further and deeper than pretty well any Government in the world, with VAT deferrals, mortgage holidays, rental support, increases in universal credit, relaxation of the minimum income floor and VAT reductions. This is not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. This is a whole package of measures that are designed to help as many people as possible to stay in work and get back to work as soon as it is safe to do so. I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not welcome that.
On the issue of the 3 million excluded, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is right. At a time when more local areas are facing lockdowns, I urge Ministers to do far more to help those who have fallen through the gaps, at the very least by addressing the five-week wait for universal credit—it should be a grant, not an advance.
I assure the hon. Lady that there will never be a moment when the Government or the Wales Office sit back and think we have done enough as far as this is concerned. We are always striving and will always strive to ensure that we improve every one of our schemes. Where there are gaps, which we have identified before—Government Members have also been helpful in that respect—we will do everything we can to ensure that they are plugged.
UK Internal Market
The Government’s response to the UK internal market consultation published last week highlighted the broad support for the proposals from businesses and job creators in Wales. The Bill gives businesses the continued certainty of seamless trade across the UK as the transition period ends.
Much of the rhetoric around the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is that it is a shared asset, yet what is missing are any shared intergovernmental structures. On Owain Glyndwr Day, why will the British Government not be honest for once and admit that they are using consequential legislation resulting from Brexit, such as this Bill, to effectively reassert direct Westminster rule over Wales?
I disagree with the fundamental premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. These proposals went to public consultation, and I will quote the response from one business in Wales that is promoting Wales, employing people in Wales and contributing to the Welsh Government. It said:
“The UK Internal Market Bill will be the making of the UK.”
It seems to me that the comments relating to UKIM are divided into politicians who are anxious to protect their cosy clique in Cardiff, and business, employers and the public in Wales, who recognise that this is an important part of the next stage of our economic recovery.
The proposals in the Bill are designed to make sure that UK businesses can continue to enjoy the ability to trade easily across our four home nations in a way that helps them to invest and create jobs, just as they have done for hundreds of years. It is extremely important, therefore, that businesses are onboard and happy with our proposals. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with businesses across Wales about these proposals and what sort of a response has he received?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. There have been numerous engagements in person with the Business Secretary and others, and online engagements, and I can safely assure the House that those who have responded have not expressed any great concerns about UKIM. In fact, they see it as a perfectly natural successor to the existing status quo. They want us to proceed with it, they consider it to be fair, and more importantly they think that jobs depend on it.
Ministers seem to be in a state of denial about what this internal market Bill actually says. It is quite clear that it will give the power to the UK Government to make spending decisions in Wales on matters that are devolved to the Welsh Parliament. Can the Secretary of State tell the House how on earth that respects the devolution settlement?
The hon. Gentleman illustrates my point. It seems that in certain nationalist quarters this is all about politics and power, whereas in fact it is all about jobs and the economy and people grafting their way into a post-covid world. The Welsh Government will not lose a single power—not one—after the Bill is passed; in fact they will have 70 new ones. The fact that the UK Government will be there as well to contribute to the economy of Wales in a way they have not been able to for 45 years should be welcomed by him and his colleagues in Wales as a major step forward.
Next spring, Milton Keynes theatre will host the Welsh National Opera—a great, historic institution in Milton Keynes hosting a great Welsh institution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just the free movement of goods, but the free movement of people, culture, ideas and values between our four nations that makes our Union so strong?
That is a wholly appropriate question, because it enables me to say that sometimes when we talk about the strength of the Union, we limit ourselves to talk simply about economy activity, but my hon. Friend is right to point out that the Union is magical for a whole lot of other reasons too. The cultural and social elements he describes sum up why the Union is important. Some of the legislation and ideas we are talking about will enhance and encourage that over the coming years.
I echo the findings of the public consultation on the internal market Bill and reinforce the reality: in mid-Wales and Montgomeryshire, economic activity, transport links and our public services look to the west midlands economy. My constituents and businesses have been watching the progress of the Bill, they welcome it and they want it. They do not want Cardiff Bay or nationalist politicians distracting people’s attention from the fact that they would welcome investment. I look forward to lobbying the Secretary of State and the Department for Transport to build things such as the Middletown bypass.
I am a former resident of my hon. Friend’s constituency and I know exactly what he is referring to. It is worth reminding ourselves that a quarter of his constituency’s workforce cross the border every day to make a living, and cross back again in the evening. The border must be porous. The worst thing for jobs and the economy of mid-Wales, or anywhere else, are artificial, political boundaries put up for the advantage of a few people, under a cosy arrangement in Cardiff. We are talking about proper jobs, proper people and proper parts of Wales that require and deserve the support of all the parties, including the nationalists, who make so much noise but never deliver.
On 8 July, the Secretary of State, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), said that ending our relationship with Europe would allow public bodies in Wales to buy more local goods, more local products and more local services, yet his own Government’s UK Internal Market Bill appears to block local measures that would prioritise local goods or services over those from other parts of the UK. How does he reconcile those two positions now?
I reconcile the position by not recognising the claim that is being made. If the public consultation on the UK Internal Market Bill is anything to go by—forget what us politicians may say—the public welcome the idea, because it secures a market that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. People see it as logical. They see it as a perfectly reasonable step forward to enshrine in UK law what has for 45 years been conducted in Brussels. They see that as good for jobs, and the right hon. Lady seems to have some objection to that.
Well, he said it, and it was in the White Paper; procurement was mentioned there. Given that that is one of the weapons in the armoury of the Welsh Government with which to support businesses, it would be fair to expect something on that in the Bill—but I will move on.
Today marks, of course, the anniversary of the proclamation of Owain Glyndŵr as Prince of Wales at the first Senedd or Parliament in Machynlleth.
There wasn’t one!
There was a Senedd in Machynlleth. The year 2020 saw the renaming of the Assembly as Senedd or Welsh Parliament. [Interruption.] Maybe the significance is lost on a certain Welsh MP; maybe the significance is lost in translation. [Interruption.]
Order. We are not having a debate across the Benches. Please have the discussion outside afterwards, and let me know the result of that discussion.
Maybe even the debate is lost entirely here or lost in translation, but how can the Secretary of State reconcile this historical serendipity with this Government’s brazen power-grab?
It seems astounding to me that the Labour Opposition consider the UKIM Bill to be a threat to the Union and the nationalists consider it to be a threat to separatism. I think they should continue their debate, so that they could inform the rest of the House of their objection. To describe a piece of legislation that would result in 70 new powers and the removal of none as a power-grab, is to use a definition of power-grab that I do not recognise.
Last year, the Tory party promised to strengthen the Union and strengthen the devolved settlements, but their Internal Market Bill does exactly the opposite, as the Secretary of State’s colleague David Melding knows. So will the Secretary of State accept that, rather than being about promising more powers to Wales—promises that we simply cannot believe—the Government’s Internal Market Bill actually rolls back the powers, undermines the devolution settlement and gives comfort to those who want to break up the Union?
The answer to that is no, no and no. The reason is that when it comes to testing the temperature and mood of the people of Wales, I rely on public consultations and my engagement with businesses—employers—north, south, east and mid, and none of them make the claims that the hon. Gentleman has made. They see this legislation as a perfectly natural transition from EU rule to UK and Welsh Government collaborative operations in Wales; that seems to them to be perfectly sensible. It seems to me to be perfectly sensible. It seems that the objection is about politics and power, rather than about jobs and livelihoods.
We all know the interest with which the Secretary of State listens to the No. 10 chief adviser, like every other member of the governing party. The Brexit Minister in the Welsh Government, Jeremy Miles, has been very clear that there are no new devolution powers; the measures are within the existing rules of devolution. Members on the Government Benches may pontificate all they like; the reality is that they are trying to roll back devolution because they do not like what the people of Wales do by electing Labour-led Governments in Welsh Government elections. This is a reversal of 20 years of the Tories’ not liking who is elected to Government in Wales.
The hon. Gentleman needs to remind himself that there was not a single seat in Wales where Labour did not lose votes at the last election. He needs to be a little careful—[Interruption.] With respect, he needs to be a little careful about making accusations, based on the political reality. The economic reality is that the people of Wales do not share his enthusiasm for defining the next stage of our post-covid and post-Brexit evolution purely in terms of political one-upmanship. They want to see jobs and investment, and that is what we intend to deliver.
Future Relationship with EU
The Secretary of State and I have had regular discussions with Welsh Ministers, including the First Minister, on a wide range of matters, including preparations for the end of the transition period. Preparations for the end of the year are well advanced, and build on the plans that we had in place for a no-deal scenario in 2019.
When he has had those discussions with the First Minister, has the Minister discussed how the so-called shared prosperity fund will be spent in Wales? I do not know whether he has seen any opinion polls recently, but far from people in Wales regarding the Welsh Government as a “cosy clique in Cardiff”, as the Secretary of State puts it, they far prefer the Welsh Government to run their affairs to a swivel-eyed bunch of incompetents in Westminster doing so. Will the Minister commit to the House, now, that every penny of that money will be allowed to be spent by the democratically elected Government in Cardiff?
There are no swivel-eyes on this side of the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman ought to restrain himself a little; I do not think anyone would want to be looking at his eyes at the moment. The reality is that far more people voted for Members of Parliament in Wales than voted for Members of the Welsh Assembly—the turnout is always high, which rather rebuts the hon. Gentleman’s point. We have already said that the shared prosperity fund will match the amount of money that came from the European Union, and that will of course be spent in Wales after discussions with Ministers in both the Senedd and Parliament.
The Minister will be aware of the news overnight that Hitachi has decided to pull out of the project to build the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on Anglesey—a project that is not only of strategic importance to the Welsh economy but will help the UK to meet its net zero target by 2050. Will my hon. Friend leave no stone unturned in the quest to see whether there is a way forward for the project? In particular, will he continue his discussions with ministerial colleagues here and in Cardiff Bay and continue to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who has worked so hard to get the project moving?
I am happy to confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already had discussions with Horizon about this matter. The announcement was deeply disappointing for us all and came on the back of Hitachi’s concerns, so I am told, about the covid situation and the Japanese economy. None the less, Wylfa is one of the best sites in the world at which to build a nuclear power station and I understand that Horizon has already been sounding out the possibility of the project going ahead with other developers.
Business Finance: Banks
High street banks have been at the forefront of lending to firms impacted by covid-19. They have provided support to Welsh firms through more than £1.1 billion-worth of loans under the Government’s bounce back loan scheme and £300 million of loans under the Government’s coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. There has also been an additional £100 million of lending through the Development Bank of Wales, which has been a useful contribution.
Let us head over to New York with Geraint Davies.
Thank you very much from over here in Wales.
The Development Bank of Wales has been found by the Welsh Affairs Committee to be much more effective in the delivery of coronavirus loans to business than high streets banks, which have been found to be unresponsive, delayed and risk-averse, and not to understand local businesses. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister impress on the Chancellor the need to provide more funding for the Development Bank of Wales and to import this excellent idea into England to help all British business?
I suppose it would not come as a great surprise to the hon. Gentleman, or to anyone who understands economics, as he does, that a high street bank is always going to be slightly more risk-averse than a bank backed by the UK Treasury. None the less, I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the figures I gave earlier, which show that around £1.4 billion has been lent to businesses in Wales via high street banks utilising Government schemes, and £100 million has come via the Development Bank of Wales. This is not some sort of competition; we welcome every single pound that has been lent to Welsh businesses, no matter where it has come from.
My hon. Friend will be aware that testing for covid in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Government and we respect their devolved responsibilities. I understand that the Welsh Government have decided to seek support from the UK Government for testing in Wales, which is a responsibility of the Welsh Government, so the Department of Health and Social Care has been working directly with them to offer the help that they need to deliver an efficient testing and analysis programme.
We have made huge progress in rapidly scaling up our testing capacity, and I have witnessed that myself in my constituency of Keighley, but there is always more that we can do. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to explore with the Welsh Government the benefits of repeat population testing, and, if that proves effective, how can it be scaled up across Wales and the rest of the UK?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, we have made enormous strides in increasing the amount of daily testing that is available, but it is not yet enough in either Wales or England, or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, to meet the huge rise in demand that we have seen over the past few weeks. The UK Government have set a target of a 500,000-a-day testing capacity for the end of October, and we are also increasing the number of testing sites to 500 by the end of October. Across Wales and the United Kingdom, Governments of all sorts of different political persuasions are working hard and working together to increase testing and to meet the demand.
Supporting People back into Work
By the end of July, more than 400,000 Welsh jobs had been supported by the coronavirus job retention scheme, while £295 million has been provided to support 110,000 self-employed people. Since the start of March, that is at least 510,000 people in Wales who have been supported directly by the UK Government.
More than 77,000 meals were enjoyed in Brecon and Radnorshire as part of the eat out to help out scheme created by the UK Treasury. This provided a very welcome boost to the hospitality and tourism sectors in my constituency, which I particularly welcome as those sectors largely employ more women than men. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Welsh Government to do their part by creating a similar scheme and getting more women back into the workplace?
My hon. Friend makes a really good point. Having visited her constituency twice, I think, in the recent past, I know just how much she has done to promote these schemes. Another value to the eat out to help out scheme is to remind everybody, whether members of the public or Members of this House, for that matter, of the importance of supporting local businesses in every possible way that we can as we climb out of these horrible few months. The work that my hon. Friend has done, and that of the Treasury, has been a pretty good start.
A key element in supporting people back into work is access to high-speed broadband, particularly in rural areas. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the first broadband USO—universal service obligation—connection in Wales, which was launched last week in Tregeiriog in the Ceiriog valley in my constituency as part of the Government’s across-the-UK USO scheme to improve broadband where it is currently running at a low level?
My hon. Friend is a solid champion of that cause. Some 3,500 premises in Clwyd South and over 200,000 in Wales have access to full fibre connection, but, as he says, this is only the start. For those businesses and individuals who really need high-quality broadband to operate, the clock is ticking in their favour. This will help jobs, families and prosperity in Wales.
Support for the Steel Industry: Covid-19
The UK Government share the steel industry’s ambitions for a sustainable future in Wales. That is why the Business Secretary, the Chancellor and I worked to reach an agreement with Celsa that saved hundreds of jobs in Wales. I have frequent discussions with Cabinet colleagues about supporting the Welsh steel industry, especially in dealing with the impact of covid-19.
In the debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) held in this House the other evening, we heard about how the Welsh steel sector has been so adversely affected by this economic crisis. The response from the Minister who replied was yet again, I am afraid, lots of warm words. When are we going to see more action, notwithstanding Celsa, to support this vital industry in Wales to save jobs and the economy?
I would like to think that warm words are better than cold words, but actions speak louder than words, at whatever temperature they come. The fact is that the UK Government absolutely recognise the importance of the sector. That is why we did the deal with Celsa and saved 800 jobs there, and that sends a message to other steel producers in Wales that we mean business. We are not just talking about the survival of the industry during covid; we are talking about having a significant steel manufacturing presence in Wales in five years, 10 years and 15 years. That is why we have continued these discussions. The Celsa deal ought to be a source of encouragement for everyone involved that actually, when it comes to it, we do mean business.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I call the Prime Minister; congratulations on the christening.
Today marks 400 years since the sailing of the Mayflower, a reminder to us of the beginning of an enduring alliance between our two nations. Around 35 million Americans today trace their ancestry to a Mayflower passenger, and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in marking this historic anniversary.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
On National Teaching Assistants Day, will the Prime Minister join me in thanking teachers, teaching assistants and all support staff for the extraordinary work they are undertaking to bring our children back to schools, colleges and nurseries in covid-secure environments throughout Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington, and will he update the House on the implementation of the national tutoring programme, as many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in my seat need this help at the earliest opportunity?
I strongly echo my hon. Friend’s congratulations and thanks to teachers, and just say that I believe passionately in the tutoring programme we are launching. We expect the first group of tutors to be supporting schools from November, with provision ramping up through the remainder of the autumn and spring term.
I call Angela Rayner, who is deputy Labour leader.
Many people in the Chamber will think that the battle of Britain is today, but actually we marked the 80th anniversary of those veterans yesterday, and I want to put on record our thanks to all those who fought for our country in the past.
I want to start by reading to the Prime Minister a message that I have received from a man called Keir. Keir was not able to go to work today and his children could not go to school because his family had to wait for their coronavirus test results, despite the Prime Minister’s promise of results within 24 hours. Keir was able to do the right thing and self-isolate and work from home, but other people are not in this position, and many of them are the very people who were getting us through this crisis, such as the care workers, who I used to work alongside before I was elected to this House. The Prime Minister once earned £2,300 an hour; can he tell us the average hourly rate of a care worker in this country?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her elevation. She speaks of the constituent Keir, and I can tell her that—allegedly, apparently—he has had a negative test, and I do not know quite why he is not here. But 89% of those who have in-person tests get them the next day, and we are working very fast to turn around all the test requests that we get. I think that most people looking at the record of this country in delivering tests across the nation will see that that compares extremely well with any other European country. We have conducted more testing than any other European country, and that is why we are able to deliver tests and results in 80% of cases where we know the contacts.
The hon. Lady asks about care homes, and I can tell the House that today we are launching the winter care home action plan. She is right to raise the issue of care homes, and we are concerned about infection rates in care homes, but we will do everything we can to ensure that care homes and their workers are protected.
On the hon. Lady’s final point, I am proud that it is this Government who have instituted the national living wage to ensure that every worker in this country, including care home workers, is paid substantially more, thanks to the care and the work of the people of this country.
Ah, he’s finished. The whole country will have seen that the Prime Minister does not know how much a care worker earns—that was my question. The shameful fact is that the average wage in social care is barely more than £8 an hour and half our social care workers earn less than the real living wage. On his first day in office, the Prime Minister said that
“we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.”
Yet still there is no sign of the plan, and the additional funding to prevent infection will run out at the end of this month. So will the Prime Minister commit today to give our social care sector the funding that it needs now to get through the looming winter crisis?
The hon. Lady is asking an important point, and we are concerned about the rates of infection in care homes. Clearly, they have come down massively since we instituted the £600 million care home action plan. Tomorrow, we will be announcing a further winter care home action plan. It will not surprise her to know that we want to see a toughening up of the rules governing the movement of workers from one care home to another. We want to make sure that we protect care homes from further infections, and that is the right thing to do. I pay tribute to all the care home workers in this country for what they have done to help us bring down the disease. We will make sure, as we have done over the past few months, that they get the personal protective equipment that they need, that they get the guidance that they need and that they get the cash that they need, and that is what this Government are committed to doing.
I do welcome the Prime Minister’s comments, but I must say to him, get some skates on it. Those care workers are still not getting the PPE they need. They are still not getting the testing they need. I urge the Prime Minister to get on top of this problem now before the winter crisis hits.
The Prime Minister has put his faith in Operation Moonshot, but, meanwhile, on planet Earth, there were no NHS tests available for several high-infection areas, including for Tameside and Oldham in my own constituency. In July, the Government promised that there would be weekly tests in care homes, and they promised this for September, so can the Prime Minister confirm—yes or no—do all care homes in this country have weekly tests?
Yes, to the best of my knowledge, care homes in this country should get weekly tests for all staff members and tests every 28 days for the residents in the care homes. Of course the hon. Lady is right to express the frustration of people across this country about the massive demand there is now for tests—it has hugely increased. Everybody can see just in the past few days a colossal spike in the number of people who want tests and who want to ascertain whether they have coronavirus. What we are trying to do now is meet that demand at record speed. Just in the past couple of weeks, we have increased the capacity of our testing systems by 10%. We have four new labs that we are building in Newport, Newcastle, Charnwood and Brants Bridge. Just so she knows the scale of the ambition, we want to get up to 500,000 tests per day by the end of October. As I have said, that is a huge, huge number. I really do pay tribute to all those who are delivering it. I know that Opposition Members like to make these international comparisons, so I will just repeat that we are testing more than any other European country.
Well, Mr Speaker, I heard what the Prime Minister had to say, but I have to say to him that, yesterday, the chief executive of Care England said,
“We were promised weekly testing for staff. That has not been delivered.” Time and again, the Prime Minister makes promises and then breaks those promises. In June, he told this House that
“I can undertake…now to get all tests turned around in 24 hours by the end of June.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2020; Vol. 676, c. 839.]
The Government have had six months to get this right and yet the Prime Minister still cannot deliver on his promises. The Health Secretary said yesterday that it would take weeks to sort the situation out. Well, we do not have weeks. The Government’s latest figures show that there was an average of 62,000 people tested per day, not 500,000. The Prime Minister has said that testing capacity is at 300,000, but the average is 62,000 a day. How does he explain this?
We have delivered on, as I say, the most thoroughgoing testing regime anywhere in Europe. We now have capacity; I think capacity has gone up from—sorry the number of tests per day conducted, not capacity, has gone up from 210,000 last week to 240,000 this week. Just to repeat the statistics, per thousand people, this country is testing 2.54, Germany 1.88, Spain 1.91 and France 1.89. In other words, we are delivering exactly what we said we would do. What is happening is that the British people, quite understandably, are responding to that system with a huge, huge surge in demand, so it is very important that everybody follows the guidance about when they should be getting a test—the guidance sent out by Public Health England, which has been sent to schools, and from NHS Test and Trace.
Once again, I see that the Prime Minister says that it is somebody else’s fault—it is the public who are using up the tests. These were the Government’s own figures and own targets that they failed on. The next time a man with covid symptoms drives from London to Durham, it will probably be for the nearest covid test.
I want to move on to another very serious issue. Alongside the tragic stories we have heard of relatives dying alone in care homes and people not being able to say goodbye to their loved ones, we have heard from mothers who have had to give birth without the support of their partners or their families. The Health Secretary yesterday said that the new guidance had been issued, but even under that new guidance, many birth partners will not be allowed to join until the moment of established labour, leaving women enduring difficult labours or, even worse, traumatic and devastating miscarriages alone without support. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet with me and my hon. Friends and work with us to ensure that no woman is forced to give birth without the support that they need?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the issue that she does, and I know that Members across the House will share her feelings entirely. I totally agree that birth partners should be able to attend the birth. That is why we changed the guidance in the way that we did. Of course, I am very happy to encourage co-operation between her and my right hon. Friends in the Health Department to take the matter forward. I perfectly understand the point that she makes, and she is entirely right.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments; I think that was a yes, but I will follow it up. Thank you for those comments.
Infections are rising. The testing system is collapsing. When you are the Prime Minister, you cannot keep trying to blame other people for your own incompetence. We have the highest death toll in Europe, and we are on course for one of the worst recessions in the developed world. This winter, we are staring down the barrel of a second wave, with no plan for the looming crisis. People cannot say goodbye to their loved ones. Grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. Frontline staff cannot get the tests that they need. And what was the top priority for the covid war Cabinet this weekend? Restoring grouse shooting.
I suppose that is good news for people like the Prime Minister’s friend who paid for a luxury Christmas getaway to a Caribbean island and funded his leadership campaign, and just so happens to own two grouse moor estates. So Prime Minister, is this really your top priority?
While the Labour Opposition have been consistently carping from the sidelines throughout this crisis and raising, frankly, issues that are tangential, if not scare stories about what is going on, we are getting on with delivering for the British public. We are not only massively ramping up. She has not contested any of my statistics today about the extent to which this country is now testing more than any other European country.
She has not disputed the massive acceleration in our programme. [Interruption.] I will answer the substance of her question, thank you very much. We are getting on with delivering on the priorities of the British people: getting us through this covid crisis; delivering on making our country safer, bringing forward measures to stop the early release of dangerous sexual and violent offenders, which I hope she will support; strengthening our Union, which in principle Opposition Front Benchers should support; and building more homes across this country and more affordable homes across this country, which she should support. That is in addition to recruiting more doctors and more nurses, and building more hospitals.
I do not think anybody is in any doubt that this Government are facing some of the most difficult dilemmas that any modern Government have had to face, but every day we are helping to solve them, thanks to the massive common sense of the British people, who are getting on with delivering our programme and our fight against coronavirus. It is with the common sense of the British people that we will succeed, and build back better and stronger than ever before.
It is precisely because we believe in my hon. Friend’s vision, which I share, of a great south-west that we are allocating considerable sums to the maintenance and improvement of school estates in his constituency; I might single out West Alvington Church of England Academy and Eden Park Primary and Nursery School, which will benefit from just some of this funding. As for his request, I will happily consult my diary.
In his previous life as a Daily Telegraph journalist, this Prime Minister wrote:
“Devolution is causing all the strains that its opponents predicted, and in allowing the Scots to make their own laws, while free-riding on English taxpayers, it is simply unjust.”
So let me ask the Prime Minister two specific questions, which need two specific answers. First, does he still think that devolution in Scotland is unjust? Secondly, where does he believe full spending and decision-making powers over our NHS, education, infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport should be held—is it with Scotland’s Parliament or with Westminster?
Obviously, there is a very considerable, and has been a massive, devolution of powers to Scotland, and the Scottish people had the opportunity to vote for more in 2014, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, in a once-in-a-generation event. They chose decisively to reject that. I think he said it was a once-in-a-generation event as well. They now have the opportunity to vote to support the further devolution of powers in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, and I hope that he will join us in the Lobby in support of that.
My goodness, what nonsense. I never once talked about “a once-in-a-generation”, and the Prime Minister should withdraw that.
As usual, the Prime Minister is all over the place. He does not remember what he has written, he does not understand his own Brexit deal and he does not even know what is in the Internal Market Bill—I will tell him. Clause 46 allows this Tory Government to bypass Scotland’s Parliament and take decisions on the NHS, education, infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport—it is a blatant power grab. We all know what the Tory Back Benchers are saying behind closed doors: that the Prime Minister is incompetent, that he cannot govern and that they want him away before the next election. Scotland’s legacy will be in a being a fair, decent, law-abiding, independent nation state. Will the Prime Minister’s legacy be leading the UK to break international law and break this failing Union?
I am not quite clear from that question whether the right hon. Gentleman is in favour of the Union or not. I take it from his hostility to me that he wants to support the Union. So do I. The best thing he can do is to support the UK Internal Market Bill, which buttresses a surge of powers transferred to the devolved Administrations in more than 70 areas. I should just remind him that in the recent coronavirus crisis £5.4 billion has been transferred to be spent in Scotland as a result of Barnett consequentials, and I am proud to say that 70% of the testing that has taken place in Scotland has been supported by the UK Government. If he is a convert to the Union, which is what I take from his question, that is just one of the reasons he should back it.
Yes indeed, we will do that, and I am delighted to say that, in addition to the £40 billion we have spent on the coronavirus job retention scheme and the £130 billion plan for jobs, Bolton will receive at least £500,000 from the towns fund to spend on its high street and community.
Research by the Disabled Children’s Partnership shows that three quarters of families with disabled children had their care support stopped during lockdown. The Coronavirus Act 2020 is partly to blame, as it relaxed the duties to assess and meet the needs of disabled people. As the father of a disabled child and a patron of the Disability Law Service, I have seen legal advice that suggests that the Prime Minister’s Government broke international law when the Coronavirus Act reduced the rights of disabled people. So before the House is asked to renew the Coronavirus Act, will he meet me to discuss how we can protect the right to care of disabled people and act lawfully?
First, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the leadership of his party. I must say that I am not aware of that particular allegation about the legal effect of the Coronavirus Act, and I would be only too happy to write to him very shortly to clarify the matter.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important question, because I believe that it illuminates a question that councils are asking themselves. I wish to affirm very strongly that they do have the power to stop such events in the interest of public health, and that the council has taken the right decision.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I think he asked substantially the same question last week. As he knows, we do not publish the Attorney General’s advice—Governments do not normally publish such advice—but what I can certainly say is what I have said to the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Scottish nationalists: that, of course, this Bill is intended to uphold the economic, political and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, and I believe it should be supported by every Member of this House.
Yes, I can. I thank my hon. Friend very much. We are rolling out full-fibre broadband to the North Moor area, investing £10 million in partnership with the local authority and gearing up to invest over £30 million across Devon and Somerset to target 70,000 premises in her constituency that do not have good enough connectivity.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. What the Government are doing is, of course, supporting local councils to the tune of £3.7 billion for the extra needs occasioned by coronavirus; £380 million has gone into supporting food, with meals for pupils or for young people who need it; and a massive programme of investment—a £9 billion investment—to lift up universal credit to support the neediest in our society. But I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will continue to apply the maximum creativity to putting our arms around the British people as we go forward through this crisis.
I could not have put it better myself.
Yes. I am acutely conscious that there are no glib, easy answers in this area of public policy, and I happily undertake that the relevant Minister should meet the hon. Lady as fast as possible to understand her concerns and the concerns of her constituents.
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for sticking up in the way that he does for Cornwall Airport Newquay—a vital airport, which I have happily used many times. We will continue to consider applications for public service obligations on routes into Newquay and elsewhere. We will certainly look at air passenger duty, although it would be wrong of me to make any fiscal commitment at this stage.
I hope the hon. Lady is not saying that she simply wants to extend the furlough scheme, because I do not believe that that is the right way—the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) is shaking her head. I do not think that is sensible. We need to get people off furlough and into work, and that is what the Government are doing. That is why we have the £2 billion kickstart fund, in particular to help young people into work, and why we have the job retention bonus to encourage employers to take people back on and continue to employ people. To answer the point of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) directly, we will continue to apply, as I said just now, the maximum creativity—as we have—in putting our arms round the workforce of the UK.
I so understand and appreciate my hon. Friend’s constituents’ concerns. Similar concerns will have been raised with other Members from across the House, not just about the weddings businesses but about many other businesses that are facing restrictions as a result of the social distancing rules that we have had to bring in. The trouble is that, with all these things, there is an increase in the risk of spread and contagion. We simply have to balance that risk against what we are seeing now with the spread of the virus. I must reluctantly say to my hon. Friend that, although we will work as fast as possible to get our whole economy open and take all these restrictions off, the way to do that is for the whole country to work together, as we have done so far, to enforce social distancing, obey the basic rules about hands, face, space; getting a test if you have symptoms; and the rule of six, indoors and outdoors. That is the way that we will beat this virus. That is the way we will control it and allow weddings and all other sectors to open up again.
Once again, the Opposition are at risk of undermining the colossal work of NHS Test and Trace. Let me give the hon. Gentleman one statistic: just in the last week, the average distance that people have had to go for a test has come down from 6 or 7 miles to 5 miles. We are continuing to improve this system the whole time, and I remind the House and those who want to run it down that we are conducting more tests than any other European country, testing more people per thousand population than any other European—[Interruption.] Those are the facts. He doesn’t like it; all he wants to do is score party political points.
Yes, and that is why we are not only recruiting another 20,000 police officers, I think about 5,000 of whom have already been recruited, but also—[Interruption.] The Opposition Front Benchers are making a noise. We are also introducing measures to stop the early release of serious sexual and violent offenders. I take it from the noises I hear from the Opposition that they approve of that and will support us in the Lobby.
I will have to study the judgment in detail. I will be happy to write to the hon. Member.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House for a few minutes.
Sentencing White Paper
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s plans to reform the system of sentencing in England and Wales. This morning, I laid before Parliament a White Paper entitled “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing” and I wanted to come to the House to outline the measures contained within it.
The first duty of any Government is to protect their people, but the complex system of sentencing in England and Wales does not always command the confidence of the public. At one end of the spectrum of offending, there are serious sexual and violent criminals who, by automatic operation of the law, leave prison halfway through their sentence. We are going to ensure that more of these serious offenders stay in custody for longer.
There are also criminals who, while serving time for their offence, may become a danger to the public but who currently would be eligible for automatic release. We are acting to prevent fewer of these offenders from leaving prison without being assessed as safe by Parole Board experts. These measures will keep offenders who pose a risk to the public off the streets for longer and help to restore public confidence that robust sentences are executed in a way that better reflects the gravity of the crimes committed.
At the other end of the spectrum, protecting the public from the effects of lower-level offending means finding new ways to break cycles of crime—to prevent a revolving door of short custodial sentences that we know offer little rehabilitative value. Criminals in that category often have chaotic lifestyles and their offending can be driven by substance misuse, poor mental health or learning difficulties. They often have limited education, few job prospects and experience generational patterns of offending.
Rather than continuing to send them back and forth to prison—doing the same thing but expecting a different result—we instead want to empower the sentencing system to use more effective community sentencing to get them off drugs and into the jobs that we know can lead them to a better life. We will do that by better identifying individual needs, providing treatment options where appropriate and utilising technology, such as sobriety tags, to drive compliance. These measures will support offenders to change their lifestyles for good and, in the process, protect the public from the ongoing effects of their crimes.
The reforms will not work unless they are underpinned by a world-class probation system that can understand and implement sentencing properly, backed up by a high-quality probation workforce. I pay tribute to the probation service and everyone who works within it to supervise offenders. We have set ourselves an ambitious target to recruit 1,000 new trainee probation officers in 2020-21, and over the next few years we are determined to invest in the skills, capability and ways of working that probation officers need to do their job to the best standard.
Within the new probation arrangements, we will unify sentence management under the National Probation Service to further grow confidence between probation and the courts, with which there is a much closer relationship than under the old model. The 12 new probation regions will have a new dynamic framework, making it easier to deliver rehabilitation services through voluntary and specialist organisations. We will legislate to give probation practitioners greater flexibility to take action where offenders’ rehabilitative needs are not being met or where they pose a risk to the public. These measures will empower probation services to be more effective at every juncture of the criminal justice system.
The White Paper also contains measures to reduce stubbornly high reoffending rates by utilising GPS technology to drive further compliance, and to make it easier for offenders to get jobs by reducing the period after which some sentences can be considered spent for the purposes of criminal records checks for non-sensitive roles. In the youth system, it puts flexibility into the hands of judges to keep violent young offenders in custody for longer, while at the same time allowing courts to pass sentences that are tailored to the rehabilitative needs of each young person.
The White Paper builds on the current sentencing framework to create a system that will be much better equipped to do its job effectively, and throughout this document there are contributions from other ministerial colleagues right across Whitehall. That is an acknowledgement of the cross-Government approach that will be required if we are going to make a success of these reforms. We have got to come together to fulfil our manifesto commitments, to bring in tougher sentences, to tackle drug-related crime, to treat addictions, to improve employment opportunities for offenders, to review the parole system and much more.
A smarter approach to sentencing will grow confidence in the criminal justice system’s ability to deal robustly with the worst offenders and reduce the risk of harm to the public. It will also be smart enough to do the things that will really bring down crime in the longer term. I look forward to bringing its various measures through Parliament. I commend the White Paper and this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We need to scrutinise the changes the Secretary of State has announced today in detail, but I will start by saying that Labour’s priority is always to keep the British public safe. The Secretary of State will remember that it was a Labour Government in 2003 which introduced compulsory life sentences and minimum sentences for over 150 offences. It was a Labour Government in 2010 which raised the minimum prison sentence for knife killers from 15 to 25 years in the wake of the death of Ben Kinsella, and it was a Labour Government which obliged judges to hand down 30-year minimum sentences for murders involving firearms and explosives. There is no doubt that Ellie Gould’s killer got too short a sentence for the horrific crime that he committed. I praise Carole Gould’s fortitude and dignity amid such a horrendous loss. Her campaigners commanded cross-party support and the Labour party stands with her today.
We are a party that welcomes strengthening sentencing when it is necessary to protect the British public. It is in that spirit that Labour accepts that there are some exceptional cases in which a whole-life sentence might be deemed appropriate for a young person over the age of 18. The murderer who helped to plan the senseless terrorist attack on Manchester Arena is one such case. We will need to carefully scrutinise exactly how the Government’s proposed changes are written into law, of course, and it is important to remember that, even without the changes the Secretary of State is announcing today, no one leaves prison for crimes as serious as these if the Parole Board is not satisfied that they are no longer a danger to society. It is also the case that the general presumption in criminal law is that when someone is younger there is more opportunity for them to reform, and removing the opportunity for parole can also remove incentives for offenders to rehabilitate and behave well in prison. We will come back to that, I am sure, when he comes forward with the legislation. I hope the Secretary of State will confirm that these changes, while appropriate for the most extreme cases, will not be applied gratuitously, and that it would be wrong to abandon the general presumption in criminal law that when people are younger there is more opportunity for redemption and to turn their life around.
There are other announcements today that we welcome. We welcome the reforming of criminal records disclosure to reduce the time in which offenders must declare offences to employers, and that is sorely needed. It is something that I called for in my review, and may I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), who is in his place and who has campaigned on these issues for many years?
I also welcome the Secretary of State’s new pilots for problem-solving courts. He will recall that problem-solving courts were introduced by a Labour Government and cut back by a Conservative Government. I am glad to see them back, but why are they just pilots? Can we not go further? We know they work for people with serious addictions and problems who come back into the system again and again. It is also very good to see the Ministry of Justice hearing our calls—again, I raised this in the Lammy review—for offenders who need greater support because they have neurodivergent conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. I am sure the whole House welcomes that we have finally arrived at that place.
We welcome the Government’s announcement that they will recruit more probation officers after their U-turn on the failed experiment with privatisation by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). It missed targets and cost taxpayers an extra £460 million. We will continue to hold the Government to account as we get back to having a fully national probation service.
Labour also welcomes the Government using this White Paper as an opportunity to increase the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving, as well as the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink and drugs.
Sentencing reform is needed, but on its own it is not enough. Ministry of Justice data show that between 9 June and 31 July this year, nearly a third of prisoners—2,400 people—were released homeless or to an unknown circumstance. How will longer sentences protect the public, if people continue to be released homeless and without the chance to turn their lives around?
The announcement around GPS tagging in the community is welcome, but what steps are the Government taking to ensure that services exist to support former offenders into work? Why is there still no cross-departmental plan to reduce reoffending and enable the reintegration of prison leavers? Does the Secretary of State plan to publish one within the next three months, as recommended by the Public Accounts Committee last week? Does he share the concerns of the Victims’ Commissioner that recent changes to the Crown Prosecution Service guidance could lead to the CPS having the freedom to drop difficult cases, leaving victims feeling cheated if the current system is overstretched?
This statement has come in a week where a Secretary of State who took an oath to uphold the rule of law has let his office and the system down. The whole country has watched him squirm in his seat as he has stood with the Prime Minister. I hope he recognises the importance of the days ahead, as he brings this White Paper back to the Chamber.
It was all going so well, and then the right hon. Gentleman had to spoil it with an ill-judged, ill-timed and wholly inappropriate intervention. May I remind him that as a practitioner, for years I had to endure a Labour Government that passed with incontinence criminal justice Act after criminal justice Act, creating the chaos with sentencing reform that I am now having to deal with? With the greatest respect to him, I will take no lectures about a Labour Government who made automatic early release at the halfway term the norm for so many sentences. That is the wrong that we are righting now as a result of the reforms that we will introduce.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for how he has sensibly engaged with the important issues about the rehabilitation of offenders. I am particularly pleased by the warm welcome for the work we will do on neurodivergent conditions and disorders. That has been a long-standing passion and commitment of mine. Autism and ADHD are real conditions that affect thousands of people in our country. I have had personal experience in the criminal justice system of representing people with those conditions, and I think we can do better. That is why we will take action on that.
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman about the cross-Government work on offender employment. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is deeply committed to increasing the number of offenders in work. We are working on plans and a cross-Government strategy. The committee is chaired by the Prime Minister, which exemplifies the Government’s deep and fundamental dedication to this bold agenda.
I welcome the other comments that the right hon. Gentleman has made, and it is in that spirit of constructive engagement that I am sure we will work together to make sense of criminal justice after years of failure, mainly by the Government of which he was a member.
I warmly congratulate the Lord Chancellor on an excellent and very well-balanced statement, which shows his own experience as a practitioner in these matters. A number of the themes that the White Paper addresses are ones that the Justice Select Committee has picked up on a number of occasions. I look forward to progress being made on those. I particularly welcome the recognition that protection of the public and rehabilitation of those who can be rehabilitated are not mutually exclusive. However, will he also use the opportunity of the White Paper to engender a wider debate across society as a whole about the purpose of sentencing, and the purposes of imprisonment and community sentences, to give both the public and sentencers greater confidence in the suite of measures available and create a broader-based, better-informed understanding of the complexities of the tasks that people in the justice system grapple with day to day?
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Justice Committee. We all know his long and deep knowledge of the system as a practitioner. He is right to remind us of the purposes of sentencing. He will see in the White Paper a lot of reference to public protection issues—protecting the public from harm, but also protecting the public from crime. The two go together, and one is served, I would submit, by effective prison sentences, while the second is served by rehabilitation through the community options that can make such a difference with the right support.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for his customary courtesy in affording me advance sight of his statement. However, it is a little difficult to stomach rhetoric about how tough this Government are on law breakers when only a week ago a Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that they intended to break international law, albeit in a limited and specific way. Even the Lord Chancellor seems to think that, when it comes to his Government colleagues, the rule of law can be watered down to allow law breaking that he finds acceptable.
I want to make it clear that in Scotland the law applies equally to everyone, whether they are a Government Minister or an ordinary member of the public. I wonder whether the Lord Chancellor agrees that it should be the same in England and Wales. That is where this sentencing White Paper applies; sentencing is devolved to Scotland. However, the position of the SNP is clear. We want to work hard with the UK Government and European friends to make sure that all communities in these islands are protected from terrorism and serious crime.
There are elements of the White Paper to be welcomed, including the offer of treatment for vulnerable prisoners with mental health and addiction problems, and the proposals to encourage courts to pass community sentences for less serious offences, following the Scottish model. However, I would express caution about giving whole-of-life sentences to teenagers. Expert evidence shows that young people are more likely to be open to rehabilitation. That is important for the public, because every time we manage to rehabilitate or deradicalise someone, it makes the public a little bit safer. Prisoners who know they will never be released have little incentive not to kill or maim not only other prisoners, but prison officers. I would like to know that the Lord Chancellor has taken cognisance of those factors. The Scottish Sentencing Council is consulting on its third draft guideline on sentencing young people. Are there any proposals to consult on this issue in England and Wales as well?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. With regard to the latter matters, the Sentencing Council here in England and Wales has done a lot of work on sentencing of young offenders. Any further guidelines are matters for that council, but perhaps she and I together can explore that with its chair.
I note the hon. and learned Lady’s point about young offenders, which echoes what the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), the shadow Justice Secretary, said. We absolutely will preserve the principle that the sentencing of young offenders is a separate legal regime from the sentencing of adults. Quite clearly there are differences, and the welfare issue must be paramount. Having said that, there will be, sadly, some egregious and particularly extreme examples of serious criminality that may merit the imposition of the most serious sentence available to the court. What I am proposing is that the courts would have a discretion in relation to those under 21, as opposed to their being mandated to impose such a severe sentence. That element of discretion is at the heart of what I am trying to achieve here: a flexible, balanced system.
In terms of balance, I assure the hon. and learned Lady that when it comes to the rule of law, both within Her Majesty’s Government and our country as a whole, I, like her, yield to no one in my belief in equality before the law. I also believe in maintaining a balance and that is what I am doing every day.
The residents of Blackpool South are fed up with the soft liberal approach to criminal justice that has failed victims, weakened communities and seen public confidence in the system eroded decade after decade. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we need a new approach to sentencing that puts the public and victims first and ensures that serious offenders are locked up for longer?
My hon. Friend is right. He represents the proud community of Blackpool, where I know that many law-abiding citizens are frankly fed up with the position they find themselves in. They want reassurance and to have confidence in the system. The proposals we are setting out today follow on from our manifesto commitments that allowed us to have my hon. Friend in this House—thanks to the good people of Blackpool South—and those commitments will be honoured.
Local voluntary sector organisations, including many in Newport West, play a vital role in providing the type of support mentioned by the Lord Chancellor around rehab, drugs and mental health. Despite that, Ministers have admitted that the involvement of the voluntary sector in probation was lost in the mix when it came to previous provision. A number of small charities have made it clear that the new system will be just as bureaucratic and costly as the old one, so they are opting out. What action will the Minister take to ensure a strong role for the voluntary sector in Newport West and across the country in delivering his plans?
I thank the hon. Lady, whose constituency, of course, I know well—I appeared as a practitioner many, many times at the Crown court at Newport, both prosecuting and defending, and I know the community that she serves. I say to her and all those smaller organisations that it is my fervent hope and intention to make sure that they are involved in what we call the dynamic framework. I have made it very clear to my officials that I expect to see the small specialist organisations at the table. She is right to say that previously, the tendering process tended to squeeze out the smaller players. That is wrong. I have seen well over 150 small organisations already apply to get involved, and both I and the Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), will be taking a very close interest in this matter. If there are any further concerns, the hon. Lady should not hesitate to write to me.
We head up to Harrow, to Flight Officer Blackman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. He will be well aware that my constituency suffered a spike in extremely violent aggravated burglaries prior to covid-19. My constituents want to know what steps he will take to ensure that the new sentences he is announcing are actually awarded by judges, and that criminals who perpetrate crimes against the person are not only brought to justice but punished and kept in prison, so that the sentences meet the crime.
My hon. Friend is right to raise an issue that I know many of his constituents in Harrow East have faced. I assure him that when it comes to dwelling house burglary, which is not just a crime against property but a crime against the person, because it robs somebody of their wellbeing, we are going to change the criteria so that only in exceptional circumstances would a court disapply the minimum three-year term that “three strikes” domestic burglars will receive. That will see a greater number of those people serving longer behind bars.
There has been a terrible rise over the last 10 years in assaults on emergency workers, with ambulance workers being sexually assaulted, punched, spat at, stabbed—everything. That is why I introduced private Member’s legislation a couple of years ago: the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. Unfortunately, magistrates are still saying to police officers, “I’m sorry, but I just think that a bit of violence is in the way of your work.” I hope the Lord Chancellor will say that that is nonsense. All prosecuting authorities have to take this far more seriously, because the sentencing guidelines still have not been changed, and the number of cases is still rising. I wholly support the sudden conversion of Ministers who violently opposed my Bill when I introduced it and said that they did not want it to be a two-year maximum sentence. I welcome their conversion on the road to Damascus, but I want to ensure that this law is actually used; otherwise, this will continue.
The hon. Member is to be applauded for his work on that important legislation. Our commitment to double the maximum term is set out in the White Paper, and that is what we will do. He is right to talk about prosecution and practice within the courts and our magistrates system. I do not know about the road to Damascus, but I have been on the road to Tonypandy in his constituency quite a few times, and I know what his constituents would say to me. They would expect prison officers, police officers and blue light workers to have that protection. Let us not forget that it is not just about the provisions in that Act; it is about the law on assault generally and the aggravated circumstances that a court can take into account in increasing sentences, but he makes a powerful point.
I hope my right hon. and learned Friend keeps his balance, but will he address eye-watering costs such as the £456,000 clocked up by Andrew Harper’s killers? That cannot be right, can it?
My right hon. Friend knows that everybody in this country is equal before the law, and fair trials have to happen. Legal costs are, of course, paid to the people who represent criminals or accused people. I take his point about ensuring that our legal aid system is efficient and that money is not wasted, but the fundamental principle of the right to a fair trial is something that I will defend and that I think he would agree with as well.
There is much in the Lord Chancellor’s statement that I strongly welcome, as a former police and crime commissioner. I want to raise an issue that I know he is well aware of. In my constituency, there are many people who were victims of evil men who sexually abused them. Those women will carry that burden for the rest of their lives. It is incomprehensible that, once the perpetrators have finished their term before probation and been released, there is nothing to stop them confronting their victims. The victims could walk round the corner and find their attacker in front of them. Can the Lord Chancellor assure me that, as part of the White Paper, we can look at how that can be prevented in future, even if it cannot be done retrospectively?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that. We have met to discuss this matter. It seems to me that existing types of order—for example, crime prevention orders and serious crime prevention orders—could potentially be used, particularly where somebody has completed their term of imprisonment and licence and therefore the probation service’s involvement has come to an end. I will welcome further engagement with him, because he not only speaks for past victims; he speaks for people whose voice has yet to be heard and whose voice must be heard if we are to effectively protect the victims of sexual abuse.
They say that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and it is certainly a place where all people should feel safe and secure. As a result, when someone burgles a home, they do not just take possessions; they violate a person’s safety in their own home. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that his new sentencing guidelines will ensure that the people who commit these crimes are appropriately punished and appropriately rehabilitated and that the public will be protected from further occurrences?
My hon. Friend is right to echo the comments I made about burglary being a crime against the person. She will have heard my observations about strengthening the safeguards of the “three strikes and you’re out” burglary minimum term of three years, which will mean that a greater proportion of that type of offender will now serve longer in custody. We are also doing two strikes for knife possession because we want to send a clear message that this type of criminality will not be tolerated.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for his diligence and wisdom in this statement. I welcome the news that child killers are to be held longer and that the automatic release of violent and dangerous criminals is to end, but will he further confirm that intervention measures will be in place for young men who are drawn into drug deliveries and so on and who need to be kept away from hardened criminals in prison, as a method of giving them space, a fresh start and a true rehabilitation purpose?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and I am grateful to him. He makes a very interesting point about young offenders. I am keen to make sure that people who are sucked in—they might be quite young and themselves victims—do not end up becoming criminals themselves. That is why reforms to the remand system for young offenders and alternatives to immediate prosecution, in particular for victims of modern day slavery or abuse, are so important. We are seeing with the county lines operations some really good work by the police in making that distinction between the child as abused victim and the child as criminal. We will keep drawing that distinction in a sensible and sensitive way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and I are extremely grateful to our right hon. and learned Friend for picking up our Desecration of War Memorials Bill in his White Paper. Can he confirm to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke that the law will be changed as soon as practically possible to make sure that those who insult the memory of our glorious dead can be given sentences that fit their abhorrent crimes?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends for their campaign to make sure that the law properly reflects the damage that can be caused to the national consciousness and the wellbeing of communities when war graves, religious graves and important memorials are desecrated. In the White Paper, we have committed to taking up his challenge, and we will reform the law in the year ahead.
Thirteen-year-old Jack Worwood was walking along the pavement on his way to play football with his friends when he was struck by a vehicle driven by an uninsured driver at nearly three times the speed limit. The driver, Liam Wilson, fled the scene and Jack died the next day. Liam Wilson was sentenced two weeks ago and is likely to serve in prison only two years of a six-year sentence. Jack’s family members in my constituency are devastated by the lack of justice. I am glad the Government are finally acting to ensure longer sentences in these cases, but can the Lord Chancellor tell me when he expects these changes to come into force, and what reassurance can he give Jack’s family that the Government will look again at the leniency of the sentence in this case?
The hon. Lady raises a tragic and appalling case. I would need to know a little more about the index offence. It may well be a matter that the family can refer to the Attorney General under the unduly lenient sentence scheme, if the offence is within the purview of that scheme. I know that she will not hesitate to advise the family of that. On the general point she makes, it is important for us all to remember all the victims of those who cause death by dangerous driving. I think today of Violet-Grace Youens, whose parents have assiduously campaigned for a change in the law. Even if they cannot bring back their beloved daughter or turn back the clock, their campaign has achieved a change in the law that I believe will give greater justice to future families. This law will be changed with legislation that will come during this Session. I can make the commitment now that we will make the necessary change in tribute not just to Violet-Grace, but to all the families and those who have suffered so much.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for the White Paper. It reaffirms my belief that the Conservative party is the party of law and order. As he will be aware, the Ministry of Justice published a report last year that showed that the cost of reoffending was £18.1 billion per year, not to mention the emotional and psychological harm to victims of crime. Can he give us further details on how we are focusing on breaking the cycle of reoffending?
My hon. Friend is right to mention the importance of that depressing cycle of reoffending, and he will see in the White Paper ready acknowledgement of some of the drivers of that: drug addiction, alcohol addiction, the lack of stable accommodation, no work. The three things that I believe offer the way to avoid a life of crime are a home, a job and a friend, and that might be treatment or probation support. That is what we are committed to in the White Paper; that is what this Government are going to achieve.
The Lord Chancellor has already partly answered this question, but can he expand on it, as currently one of the biggest problems is overcrowding in prisons and failing to rehabilitate enough people? Can he also address how we are dealing with adverse childhood experiences and trauma that people have suffered, which lead exactly to that spiral of crime? How will his Department respond to that?
The hon. Lady makes a really interesting point about childhood trauma. In the call for evidence on neurodivergence I want to open up some of these issues in a much more novel way, because I am sure that, with proper support and proper intervention, we can divert a lot of people away from a life of crime. When they get into the system it is vital that we expand community sentence treatment requirements. I am a strong believer in the mental health treatment programme, and the NHS, which is scaling up its support for that, is to be thanked. We will expand the availability of that type of treatment order throughout the jurisdiction, so that judges have a real choice when it comes to passing sentences: it does not always have to be custody; there can be a constructive way forward, properly tailored around the offender.
I warmly welcome the White Paper and in particular its proposal for longer curfew periods alongside GPS tags. That strikes me as something approaching a smart house arrest system. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that could fill a significant gap in current sentencing options, because it would be an excellent way of punishing criminals by restricting their liberty while at the same time enabling them to be successfully rehabilitated and therefore less likely to reoffend?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to him for his long work in the criminal justice system, as a member of the Sentencing Council, for example. I warmly welcome his comments, and I am a strong believer that an element of house arrest, let us call it—the use of curfew together with electronic monitoring —alongside various other treatment orders that could be imposed could be a really intelligent, smart way of providing a tougher, more robust approach to sentencing. It will deprive the offender of liberty—causing, of course, huge changes to their life—but, frankly, that is part of the punishment and part of the solution if we are really going to move people on from a cycle of crime.
Access to justice has declined for our citizens over the decade in which the Tories have been in power, and that is particularly the case in my constituency. What are the Government doing to ensure that the comprehensive spending review places our justice sector on a secure and equal footing for all for the future and pays particular attention to community law centres?
We are of course talking about criminal justice, and I can assure the hon. Lady that she will be impressed by the progress we will make as a result of the work I have been doing on criminal legal aid—the £51 million increase that I have ordered for the remuneration of advocates—and further to review the whole system of criminal legal aid. On the general point about access to justice, the people of Liverpool will, I know, warmly welcome the measures we take to remove serious offenders from the streets of that city and other great cities of the north-west; those measures will really protect the public in a way her constituents will applaud.
The Government already accept the principle of sentence escalation. For example, under the coronavirus legislation, those in receipt of covid-related penalty notices face a doubling of the fine on each repeat offence. Will the Secretary of State extend sentence escalation to other crimes, especially serious and violent crimes, so that repeat offenders face a stiffer sentence each time they commit the same offence?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the point that as a point of principle those people who have been grimly accustomed to and far too familiar with the criminal justice system in the accumulation of sentences merit stiffer terms of imprisonment or stiffer forms of sentence. The courts should and must take that into account when assessing the overall sentence to be passed. With regard to prolific offenders, the tightening up of the minimum term provisions that we are announcing today goes quite a significant way towards the desired outcomes that he and millions of other people seek.
A stalker caught with a murder kit in his car could be charged only with a minor offence because the victim, Dr Ian Hutchinson, was unaware that he had been stalked for over four years. The offender, Thomas Baddeley, was sentenced in August but has already been released. Dr Hutchinson was not informed. Will the Secretary of State commit to a review of sentencing in stalking cases and to strengthening the rights of victims?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for taking up the baton on that issue from her predecessor in Dwyfor Meirionnydd. She is absolutely right to draw me back to a campaign that I helped to champion in order to criminalise stalking and to enhance and improve the law further. I will look at that case more carefully, if I may. I am sure that more work can be done, particularly with regard to awareness and training of police and prosecutors with regard to the true seriousness and invidious nature of stalking and what it can lead to.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on this White Paper, which reflects what he has long argued: an intelligent criminal justice policy requires provision to promote both punishment and rehabilitation. I particularly welcome what he said about sentencing code consolidation, which will not just reduce the number of mistakes made in sentencing but help victims to understand the system better. May I urge him to turn his mind urgently to the practicalities of the interesting proposal to keep offenders in custody for longer if they are radicalised in prison, particularly with a view to giving the Parole Board the tools it needs to make judgments on intelligence material that they will not be familiar with dealing with?
My right hon. and learned Friend and I toiled in the vineyard with regard to criminal sentencing procedure. He did not quite write the book, but he certainly read it. I am grateful to him for his warm support and for the excellent work of the Law Commission now being enshrined in law by this Government. That is the bedrock of what we are doing, and we are going to build on it in an intelligent way. He is absolutely right to talk about the role of the Parole Board. I have taken a particular interest in making sure that sensitive intelligence material is indeed released to it in the most proper way. I pay tribute to the former vice-chairman of the Parole Board, Sir John Saunders, who my right hon. and learned Friend will know from his days as a Birmingham practitioner, and who made those points very cogently. We have acted on them, but we are going to go further with a root-and-branch review of the Parole Board to make sure that it and other mechanisms are truly working in such a way that it makes fully informed risk assessment decisions.
There is much to commend in this announcement. Earlier the Lord Chancellor referred to the unduly lenient sentences scheme. How many criminals have had their sentences increased since he announced the expansion of that scheme last year?
The figures are released annually by the Attorney General’s office. I do not have the most up-to-date figures. I do know, from my own long experience as Solicitor General, that the rate of inquiries had increased dramatically to well over 1,000 a year. Last year, to the best of my recollection, the rate of successful appeals was somewhere in the region of 80 cases. That shows that the Law Officers are properly applying the law, and properly taking cases to the Court of Appeal and achieving a higher level of justice where it is absolutely merited. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can follow up these questions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General.
May I commend the balanced judgment that the Lord Chancellor has brought to this? My constituents will welcome the tougher sentences for the most serious and violent offenders, but I think they will also welcome the more innovative sentences that judges will be able to mete out to those with more complex cases. On that point, how is he going to assess the pilots, which were also referred to by the shadow Lord Chancellor, and judge whether they are successful? The public might need persuading that some of these innovative ways of dealing with crime will reduce offending and thereby keep all of our constituents safer.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s support, and I am grateful to him, as ever. He is right to highlight the assessment procedure. He will be glad, and he will remember from his time in office, that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), pursued problem-solving courts when he was Lord Chancellor. We already have a considerable amount of learning from that process, and I want to build on that. Although I cannot prejudge every jot and tittle of the effect of problem-solving courts—[Interruption.] The House liked “jot and tittle”. As I was saying, I am pretty clear in my mind about the direction of travel on the effectiveness of their more widespread use in our criminal justice system.
Just 206 prison places built out of 10,000 promised by 2020; massive overcrowding in our prisons; little time for rehabilitation, prisoners dumped out of prison with no housing to go to; and a probation service where, due to a failed privatisation, people are being left with a phone call every fortnight, if they are lucky, which has led to a massive rate of reoffending. That is the legacy of this Government. There are many fine words in this statement by the Lord Chancellor, but where are the resources that are going to turn around that record of failure?
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that within a month of my taking office we secured £2.5 billion for the biggest prison building project in years. I am keeping a close eye and tight rein on the project delivery unit that will be doing that. We have the model in place; the Wellingborough prison model is one we can replicate, so we do not need to keep changing the specification and make the same old mistakes on Government procurement. The commitment is absolutely clear, and the money is in place. Last year, the Department obtained a near 5% increase in its revenue budget, which was the biggest single increase in years. We have just secured one of the biggest single injections into prison maintenance budgets in years. Although I do not pretend that I can claim to be as rich as Croesus when it comes to Justice budgets, we are definitely in a better place than we were, and I look forward to the spending round negotiations ahead with relish.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on this White Paper, and the root and branch approach it takes to sentencing, probation and rehabilitation. There is a focus on neurodivergence and mental health. Is his primary objective to prevent these people from falling into the criminal justice system in the first place or to help them cope once they do so? If it is the former, how will he work with other agencies to achieve early intervention?
My hon. Friend speaks with her own knowledge and experience as a practitioner. She is right to ask me that question, because this is not just about how to make the necessary adjustments in the system once the person with that neurodiverse condition is in it. It is equally, if not more so, about prevention in the first place. We will achieve that only with the help of the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions. There is already a cross-governmental disability strategy, which I want to build on with the call for evidence that we are going to undertake. I look forward to engaging with all the agencies, and indeed all the voluntary organisations out there, which bring so much expertise to the table in dealing with these issues. I am also going to put speech, language and communication disorder into the mix, because I know it has been a long-standing issue that we need to address as well.
Our prison system is in crisis. After 10 years of funding cuts and privatisation, many of our prisons are simply not fit for purpose, while overcrowding is leading to dangerously high levels of violence and self-harm. In January, the Howard League for Penal Reform pointed to drastic improvements in the conditions at Liverpool jail as an example of what can be achieved when action is taken to reduce overcrowding, but it also highlighted the fact that overcrowding is a systemic issue across England and Wales. Does the Lord Chancellor recognise that any discussion about increasing custodial sentences has to be accompanied by a dramatic increase in funding for prisoners so that we can tackle overcrowding?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool; I pay tribute to the governor and, indeed, all the prison staff there for the incredible work they have done to help to change a challenging position to one of real progress. That has been happening in prisons up and down our country. I make no bones about it: the prison environment is a difficult one and the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight overcrowding. But I repeat that the Government have already committed £2.5 billion to a new prison-building programme and secured more funding for prison maintenance. We have also secured £100 million for new prison security, including X-rays, to protect not only prisoners but the staff who run the line and do so much incredible work in the art of jailcraft, which is truly understood by only a few of us in the House but which we should remember when we pay tribute to the tireless work of our dedicated prison officers.
The Lord Chancellor is to be congratulated on bringing forward this excellent White Paper. The measures it contains will be widely welcomed in my constituency and are long overdue. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the additional measures to end automatic early release for serious offenders will protect communities such as Telford, where we have experienced fear and a sense of injustice because of the early release of perpetrators of child sexual exploitation?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless campaigning on the issue that has affected her community and the lives of people she represents. She is right to remind us of the purpose of this White Paper: we are seeking to protect the public and to achieve a higher level of confidence. When a prison sentence is passed, yes, there is a period on licence during which the individual needs to readjust with the appropriate controls, but there has to be a clear signal that the bulk of their term will be served behind bars. That is what the public expect; that is what will increase confidence in the system; and that is what we are doing.
There are many sensible reforms in the White Paper, but all changes have to be consistent with the European convention on human rights, which is also a critical pillar of the Good Friday agreement. In the light of media reports over this past weekend, will the Lord Chancellor give a categorical and comprehensive reassurance that the Government have no plans to change either their commitment to the European convention on human rights or the Human Rights Act 1998?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that in our manifesto the Government committed to updating the Human Rights Act, which is entirely—[Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) laughs; it is entirely right that an Act that is now 20 years old is looked at carefully, and we will do that. May I absolutely, categorically—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but no Act of Parliament is immune from review or updating, and frankly it is right of us—[Interruption.] It is entirely consistent and correct—[Interruption.] I find the faux outrage of Opposition Members extremely discordant with what the public of this country think. What we are doing, after having secured a large majority, is following through on our manifesto commitment. I make no apology for that, but I will say to the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) that the commitment of this Government to membership of the European convention on—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) listens, he might learn something. The commitment of this Government to the European convention on human rights is absolute. It was British Conservatives who wrote it—my predecessor Lord Kilmuir, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, and his team wrote the convention—because we were and are believers in fundamental human rights and freedoms. We wrote it; we are the party that created the convention; and we will stick by that.
In fairness, we just need to turn it down a little. The Lord Chancellor is one of the most respected and well-mannered Members of this House, and I do not want him to spoil that in my company.
I congratulate the Lord Chancellor on this White Paper. The tougher measures within are certainly welcomed by me and will be welcomed by my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme, but I also welcome the smarter approach to sentencing. The British people expect the most serious offenders still to face the full force of the law, even if they are under 18, so will he confirm that the White Paper recognises that and will not only change the release point for young offenders committing the most serious offences, but close the gap between sentences for murder for older teenagers—15, 16 and 17-year-olds—and young adults? The gap is significant at the moment, and that needs to change.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the difficulty caused by having a generic starting point for all young offenders, irrespective of age and maturity. It is far better to have a sliding scale that allows the courts, using their discretion, to reflect the differing maturities and age ranges of the serious offenders before them. Although the welfare of young people has to be our primary concern, he is right that when it comes to the most serious offences, we cannot, I am afraid, stint from our duty to protect the public and to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
I welcome aspects of this White Paper, especially paragraphs 239 to 242, which acknowledge the role that homelessness plays in reoffending. Being released on a Friday makes it difficult for offenders to access public services, which leads to increased reoffending. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to reconsider people being released on a Friday?
The hon. Gentleman, who speaks with experience as a practitioner, is right to highlight that issue. I have considered whether we should just ban release on a Friday, but that is probably the wrong answer because, frankly, services need to be there every day of the week. There should be no distinction between what happens on a Friday and what happens on a Wednesday. That is why proper cross-government work has been done to ensure that accommodation and potential jobs are identified when an offender is released and to ensure the benefits system is working if no job is available. That is at the heart of what I am trying to do.
I welcome this statement and thank the Lord Chancellor for meeting me to discuss the tragic case of my constituent, Sean Morley, who was killed in a horrific hit-and-run accident. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that the punishment really must fit the crime for those who cause death or injury by dangerous driving? As Sean’s mum said, in the wrong hands, a car is as deadly a weapon as a gun or a knife.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his assiduous work on the behalf of his constituents. As Solicitor General, I dealt with a number of egregious cases of causing death by dangerous driving in which the 14-year maximum just simply was not enough to deal with the true justice of the case. I have seen far too many judges struggle with the maximum, and I have seen the Court of Appeal’s struggle with it as well. We can end that struggle now by allowing far greater discretion when it comes to the most appalling crimes.
The Lord Chancellor knows that I will welcome the work being done on neurodivergent people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. May I encourage him not only to keep working with Autism Injustice, which was founded by some of my constituents, but to ensure that the Home Office is on board with this?
On death by dangerous driving, I remind the House that it was on 17 October 2017 that the now Foreign Secretary made a commitment to me to introduce the change that has now been announced in the White Paper, and I have been chasing him for the past three years to get on with it. I am glad that it is in the White Paper, but can we have that legislation as soon as possible? Grave injustice is still being suffered, including by the parents of my constituent Sophie Taylor, who was killed in a terrible case.
The hon. Gentleman knows that his constituency is very familiar to me having been part of the criminal justice community in Cardiff for many years. I assure him that matters relating to causing death by dangerous driving will be introduced in a Bill in this Session, which means that we can get on with this important job.
On neurodivergence, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents for their tireless work. It is vital that their experience, and those of others like them, is not repeated time and again and that we actually learn from that experience and incorporate it into our mechanisms and make that change.
I welcome the White Paper, particularly the proposals to extend the minimum term for sexual and violent offenders and the power to end automatic early release. However, will the Secretary of State consider ending the standard determinate sentences for rape so that the Parole Board is always involved before a perpetrator is released into the public?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has taken a long and deep interest in this, both as a Member of Parliament and in her previous work as an adviser. She, like me, took interest in criminal justice issues. Sometimes in the world of politics, criminal justice issues are somewhat unfashionable; they are seen as too hard to deal with—too difficult. Well, we should be doing difficult in this place, and she is right to offer me that challenge. What I would say to her at the moment is that these reforms offer a higher degree of justice to victims of rape, who can be assured that perpetrators will now serve longer behind bars. The question of risk and dangerousness needs to be fully understood and examined, and of course I will undertake to do that with her assistance.
I want to try to get through the list, so could we speed up a little?
Two years ago, my constituent Jackie Wileman was killed by four known criminals who stole a heavy goods vehicle. Those men had 100 convictions between them. The Lord Chancellor met me and Johnny Wood, Jackie’s brother, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him and to welcome the decision to increase the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life imprisonment. May I also take this opportunity to press him on what progress his Department has made on the reintegration of the probation system?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I well remember the meeting with Mr Wood. It left an impression on me, and the cumulative impression of the meetings I have had with her constituents and others has led to this important announcement. I promise and pledge that we will get on with the legislation. On probation reform, she can be assured that my officials are working to a deadline of next summer—June 2021—to roll out the regional model with a dynamic framework. In Wales, that work is complete already; the unified service started its operations at the beginning of the year. Despite the covid challenge, we are getting on with the job, and I am confident that we will have that unified model in place, certainly by this time next year and before that.
I welcome the White Paper. Will the Lord Chancellor provide an update on what it will do to increase the capacity of probation services and to improve them in Wolverhampton?
Again, Wolverhampton is a community and a court I know well, having sat there in the past. My hon. Friend’s constituents will be glad to know that, with the changes to probation—the investment that we are making in increased staff by ramping up the number of probation officers, improving training and making the necessary changes—we will have a system that is better equipped to help end the cycle of offending. It will be better equipped not just to manage offenders—I do not like the word “management”; I prefer “supervision”, because that that implies much more direct action.
During the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, the director of the Prison Reform Trust told the Bill Committee that if we do not seek to rehabilitate young people, who are more prone to rehabilitation, public protection is undermined rather than enhanced. That advice is well recognised by other experts in the sentencing field. To what extent does the White Paper take that into account?
I thank the hon. Lady for her work on that important Committee on a Bill that of course has United Kingdom application as well as England and Wales application. I can assure her that in no way do we lose sight of the welfare issue when it comes to young offenders, but at the same time we have to be frank and honest at times where the descent to very serious offending—particularly extremist ideation—has occurred. Then, a mixed approach has to be taken, and public protection does have to be foremost in our minds. That is why we are taking the balanced approach that I advocate in the Command Paper.
The good folk of Brigg and Goole and the Isle of Axholme will welcome the changes when it comes to burglary, as do I, as somebody who has been burgled three times—I have nothing worth kifing, though. However, on the important issue of autism, one of the big problems we have in this country is people’s ability to access an assessment and a formal diagnosis of autism. Will the Lord Chancellor ensure that proper training is put in place across the Prison Service and the probation service to identify that?
I was sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s experiences. I am glad that he has shared with us that he has nothing of value—perhaps nothing left of any value. As a victim of crime, he is right to point to both ends of the spectrum. When it comes to autism, we have some excellent therapeutic services in places such Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institution Aylesbury, but it seems to me that they are islands of excellence in a sea of a lack of response. That is what I want the call for evidence to identify. Through that body of information, we can then take the action that he and I have wanted for so long.
The Lord Chancellor will be aware of the serious violence related to drugs in my constituency and the number of terrorism offences that have taken place. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), I will look constructively at these proposals, because I want to see tough action on serious criminals.
The Lord Chancellor was on television this morning talking about fudging the law, after a week in which he has been defending a specific and limited breaking of the law. Could he ever have imagined making such comments when he was a recorder in south Wales, or among his legal colleagues at Apex Chambers in Cardiff? Many of them will welcome the sentencing reform, but they certainly do not welcome comments that undermine the rule of law in this country.
Well, that was a question of two halves. I absolutely welcome the point that the hon. Gentleman makes on behalf of the people of Cardiff South and Penarth. I have to say to him that to make that sort of analogy with the position regarding an international negotiation and the interpretation of a treaty is to stretch the point too far.
Fewer than one in 10 crimes now lead to a suspect being charged. That is the lowest charging rate for reported crimes since records began. Nearly half of all crimes close with no suspect being identified at all. What steps are the Government taking to fix that?
The hon. Lady quite rightly refers to what is often termed the justice gap: the difference between crimes that are reported and the bringing of those offences to full prosecution. The sad truth is that not all offences have the requisite evidence for the threshold to be met, and that is why we have an independent prosecutorial service in this country. She is right to talk about the need for us to bear down most heavily on investigation. Increasing the numbers of police officers—we are already 4,000 up on where we were, and we will hit the 20,000 target and, I believe, move beyond it—will help to turbocharge the investigation and prosecution of offences so that we can, in large measure, help to close that gap.
The final question is from Dr Kieran Mullan.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
“Where an offender commits the premeditated murder of a child, we will legislate to ensure that the expectation is that a Whole Life Order…will be given, meaning they will spend the rest of their life in prison”.
Those words, taken straight from this White Paper, mean that finally the parents of a murdered child will at least be able to get justice, although the hurt and pain will never be undone. I have spoken previously about the case of Elsie Urry, who had to endure the pain of seeing the man who brutally murdered her three young children—Paul Ralph, four, Dawn, two, and nine-month-old Samantha—being released from prison last year. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that and other changes demonstrate to people that this Conservative Government understand how British people feel about these issues, and that, where we can, we will go further to get justice for the victims of serious crime?
I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend for championing the cause of that family, who suffered an unbelievable tragedy, and trying to make something positive of it. I am profoundly grateful for his support on these measures. I value the conversations that he and I have. He is a member of the Justice Committee, and I am extremely obliged to him for his warm support.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June.)
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that occurred in this House. Yesterday during Treasury questions, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the soaring numbers of first-time food bank users, and highlighted the correlation between that and the 3 million people who have not received significant financial support during the coronavirus pandemic. I asked whether any Government support was forthcoming to those millions of people.
The Chancellor is well aware of that group, who are commonly known as the excluded, yet in his answer he said that he felt that I had become “confused”. He suggested that I was asking about self-employed people who earn more than £50,000 a year in profit. People in these circumstances make up a small proportion of the excluded group. There are many others, such as the newly self-employed, pay-as-you-earn freelancers, those who earn less than 50% of their income through freelance work and new starters.
I have no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have intentionally dismissed the concerns of the millions of people I have sought clarity for, because I know that the issues of food and financial poverty are of the utmost importance to him, as they are to all Members. What advice can you give me, Mr Speaker, on how I can ensure that the Chancellor has the opportunity to put it on record that it was actually he who may have been confused during yesterday’s Question Time and, more importantly, to answer my question in full, for the sake of the millions who are locked out of support?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. As she is well aware, it is not a point of order for the Chair, but we have quite rightly ensured—this is the advice, which is simple—that she has got it on the record. It is there for everybody to see that it is corrected, and I am sure that the sound of her voice will be whirling around, on its way to remind the Chancellor of what has been said.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on correcting an injustice. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) was wrongly accused of fabricating a shortage of personal protective equipment at the care home in which she used to work as a carer and to which she had returned to work to assist during the pandemic. Unfortunately, as well as my hon. Friend being accused of lying in the media and on social media, her account of the serious PPE shortage was called into question by the hon. Members for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) and for North West Durham (Mr Holden), the right hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) and the noble Lord, Baron Goldsmith of Richmond Park. I notified them in advance that I would be raising this matter.
Today the care home in question has confirmed to the Daily Mirror that there were shortages of PPE, that my hon. Friend had been telling the truth and that she was asked to record a video appeal for PPE donations, an issue that has been a source of national concern. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how I might bring these facts to the attention of the House, and the hon. and right hon. Members concerned? In the short time that she has been here, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East has shown herself to be a principled, caring and compassionate Member of this House. The Government must listen to frontline workers and stop trying to distract from their own catastrophic failure to support care homes and their staff during this crisis.
Very much on the same lines, I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the point of order. It is very important that it is placed on the record. I hope Members will reflect on what has been said, and I am sure that when they read it, they may quite rightly wish to speak with the hon. Member in question. I say to hon. Members in all parts of the House that we ought to be a little more careful before we point the finger at each other. If we think before we act, in the end, with a little more care and caution, we will not have to hear these points of order. However, I say to the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) that it is not a point of order for me, but it is certainly on the record, and I am sure that other Members will reflect on it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I have not been given notice of this point of order, but I call the hon. Lady.
You should have had notice of it, Mr Speaker, so my apologies if it has not reached you. I, too, seek your guidance. I am frequently getting tardy and irrelevant responses from Ministers in relation to constituency casework. I am afraid that the worst culprits are the Department of Health and Social Care, the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In one case, I had to send two reminders to the Department of Health and Social Care concerning a constituent who had secondary—that is, terminal—breast cancer. This morning I received a standard reply from Treasury about a constituent’s business that was three months late and had no relevance. This is incredibly disrespectful to my constituents. I appreciate that everybody is busy, but it is not good enough, so I wonder if I could ask your good self, Mr Speaker, how I might remind Ministers that they have an obligation and a duty to respond to constituents’ inquiries.
I do take this on board, and we are all concerned. Ministers have a duty of care to reply to Members. We are acting on behalf of the people who elect us. I have taken this up on numerous occasions with the Leader of the House, and he has also taken it up with Ministers and their offices. I think he might be behind the Chair, but I am sure that he will be listening very carefully, taking notes and already sending out the message: Ministers should answer the questions put to them fully and in time, otherwise it is not good enough, as I am sure we would all agree. I do not care what side of the House it is, Ministers have a duty of care to every Member of this House. They should be put first, so I will take the point on board.
For the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the sitting for the three minutes.
Overseas Development Assistance Committee Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Wendy Chamberlain, supported by Sarah Champion, Harriett Baldwin, Chris Law, Layla Moran, Kate Osamor, Caroline Lucas, Claire Hanna, Mr Virendra Sharma, and Mrs Pauline Latham, presented a Bill to require a Minister to move a motion in the House of Commons seeking to establish a Select Committee to monitor overseas development assistance expenditure by Government Departments.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 13 November and to be printed (Bill 182).
Remote Participation in House of Commons Proceedings (Motion)
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 the Leader of the House of Commons to move a Motion asserting the equal right of all Members of the House of Commons to participate in proceedings and establishing mechanisms for MPs unable to attend Westminster to vote remotely and to participate remotely in proceedings, including debates and general committees.
I rise to present this Bill, which was originally tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). He would have presented it today but, ironically, he is self-isolating, and his right to speak in this Chamber remotely was removed by the Government in June. I am pleased to adopt the Bill and to present our combined speech.
This Bill is about the fundamental constitutional and democratic right of all voters to be represented by their elected MP in this Parliament. It aims to restore democratic participation for all MPs in debates and Committees that shape and decide the laws of our country. Only then will the voices of millions of voters across hundreds of constituencies be heard once again. That is desperately needed at this crucial time when decisions are being made that will shape not only our lives but almost every aspect of the lives of future generations. This country needs our democracy to be fully functioning in order to make the best decisions as we face a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already sadly killed more than 45,000 people; an abrupt end to furlough, which will throw millions of people into unemployment and poverty; and a no-deal Brexit, which this House previously agreed was a bad idea.
At this time like no other, all voters and constituents must have their voices heard equally in this place, the mother of all Parliaments. Debate, dialogue and scrutiny are paramount to help us chart the best possible route through these unprecedented and turbulent times. That was happening in April and May, with MPs from all corners of the United Kingdom successfully participating as equals in debates using video conferencing technology. It is the 21st century; we should be getting with the programme. However, in June, the Government disenfranchised millions of voters by abolishing online participation in parliamentary debates. The Government knew that that was an anti-democratic decision, done in an anti-democratic manner. It is probably illegal for Parliament to vote to undermine its own legitimate democratic mandate in a vote that excluded those constituencies most affected, as the vote itself was not conducted online, so shielding MPs were excluded.
The Government have abused the purpose of parliamentary privilege to prevent the courts from protecting the right of voters to be represented in this place. Parliamentary privilege is meant to protect the right of MPs to represent their voters in Parliament free from fear of threat of court action, but the Government have used it for their own protection, to prevent the courts from intervening and ruling that removing the right of voters to be represented is illegal. How can that be right? How can that be democratic? How can that be the parliamentary sovereignty that some profess to hold so dear?
The right to participate is crucial as the Government embark on a reversal of our devolution settlement, breaching the Good Friday agreement and potentially breaking international law. At home, the Government are creating a divided kingdom. Abroad, they are destroying trust in Britain and our reputation on the international stage. At such an important time, all our constituencies must have an equal voice in these debates.
The taxpayer has already invested heavily in the technology for remote democracy. We know that it works, and it works really well. It is working in the Welsh Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, so why not in the Westminster Parliament? It is even being used in the House of Lords, so the most obvious question is, why is remote voting not being used in the House of Commons? Why are so many constituents not being represented and millions of voters left voiceless? Why is that happening?
This Bill would resume the equal right of all constituents to be represented by their MP, by establishing mechanisms for those MPs unable to attend and participate remotely in debates. Just yesterday, it would have allowed the self-isolating Leader of the Opposition to remotely oppose the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. Instead, his democratic rights were denied. Last week, the Leader of the House—I see that he is in his place—who abolished remote democracy in the guise of getting us back to work was unable to do his job because he was self-isolating. That will happen more and more as the spread of covid rises.
This attack on our country’s democracy and parliamentary representation is of critical importance, as the weakening of UK democracy is part of a pattern that threatens our fundamental British values. Our Parliament is sovereign. The Government’s action to stifle parliamentary democracy is worrying and must be considered alongside these things: the proroguing of Parliament, overturned by the Supreme Court last year; the brutal hounding out of heads of our civil service; the attacks on the public broadcaster, the BBC; giving Ministers Henry VIII powers to make laws without the consent of Parliament; the attempt to break international law; trade deals without parliamentary scrutiny; procurement contracts without parliamentary oversight; the creation of a no-deal economic catastrophe; the planned weakening of our judicial and justice system; and the withdrawal from the European convention on human rights. We cannot and we must not allow the Prime Minister’s—and his adviser’s—insatiable lust for power to threaten our fundamental British values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Parliamentary accountability is crucial at any time, but more crucial than ever when Ministers have taken unprecedented emergency measures that limit our liberties, the way we live our lives and our freedoms.
Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the Government, has said that no inside queues should be taking place as it is not covid safe. The solution is easy: Mr Speaker and the House of Commons Commission have developed a world-beating remote voting app, which is something that they, the House and the country should be proud of, celebrate and utilise. This is about taking our democracy back, so I am privileged to move the Bill in my name and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West, to re-establish full democracy in this House of Commons for all of our voters, all of our nations and all of our futures.
Question put and agreed to.
That Dawn Butler, Geraint Davies, Layla Moran, Liz Saville Roberts, Dame Margaret Hodge, Ian Byrne, Caroline Lucas, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Rosie Duffield, Munira Wilson, Paula Barker and Peter Dowd present the Bill.
Dawn Butler accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 September, and to be printed (Bill 183).
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Unfettered Access: Customs Arrangements In Northern Ireland After Brexit, HC 161, and the Government Response, HC 783.]
[2nd Allocated Day]
Further considered in Committee
[Dame Eleanor Laing in the Chair]
I should explain that, in these exceptional circumstances, although the Chair of the Committee would normally sit in the Clerk’s chair during Committee stage, in order to comply with social distancing requirements, I will remain in the Speaker’s Chair, although I will be carrying out the role not of Deputy Speaker but of Chairman of the Committee. We should be addressed as Chairs of the Committee, rather than as Deputy Speakers.
Power to provide financial assistance for economic development etc
I beg to move amendment 33, page 36, line 34, after “Crown” insert
“, after obtaining the agreement of the relevant devolved Minister,”.
This amendment is intended to ensure that Ministers of the Crown obtain the agreement of the relevant devolved minister before operating within devolved competencies..
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 11, page 36, line 34, after “Parliament” insert
“upon the approval of the relevant devolved authorities”.
Amendment 19, page 37, line 3, at end insert—
“(1A) If provision to be made by a Minister of the Crown under subsection (1) would relate to any matter for which a relevant body has legislative competence, the provision may only be made after that body has approved a motion consenting to that provision.
(1B) In this section, a “relevant body” is—
(a) the Scottish Parliament,
(b) Senedd Cymru, or
(c) the Northern Ireland Assembly.
(1C) A matter is within the devolved competence of a relevant body if it would be within the legislative competence of that body if it were contained in an Act of that body.”
Amendment 20, page 37, line 4, at end insert—
‘(1A) Any financial assistance provided under this section must be consistent with the achievement of any climate and environmental goals and targets applicable in the relevant part or parts of the United Kingdom.”
The intention of this amendment is to ensure that financial assistance for economic development, etc under this Act is consistent with the achievement of applicable climate and environmental goals and targets.
Clause 46 stand part.
Amendment 23, in clause 47, page 37, line 23, leave out “take the form” and insert “be provided by way”.
This amendment, together with Amendment 24, would allow financial assistance under Clause 46 to take any form.
Amendment 24, page 37, line 23, after “indemnities” insert “or in any other form”.
This amendment, together with Amendment 23, would allow financial assistance under Clause 46 to take any form.
Amendment 25, page 37, line 25, after “interest” insert “or other return”.
This amendment would ensure that the Minister could provide financial assistance in a way that generates a return other than interest - which might be the case for investment in investment funds.
Amendment 26, page 37, line 26, at end insert—
“(d) may be provided to an investment fund for onward investment or administrative costs relating to onward investment.”
This amendment would enable the Minister to provide financial assistance to investment funds for onward investment.
Amendment 12, page 37, line 26, at end insert—
“(1A) In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, powers over the administration and management of financial assistance under section 46 shall be fully devolved to Senedd Cymru, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly respectively.
(1B) The total amounts made available for financial assistance under section 46 must be pre-allocated based on each nation’s relative wealth expressed as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.
(1C) The total amounts made available for financial assistance under section 46 must take the form of a multi-annual funding programme to allow long-term planning and funding security.”
This amendment is intended to ensure that the administration and management of funding for financial assistance shall be entirely devolved to the devolved legislatures, that funding levels shall be pre-allocated according to need, and that there shall be a multi-annual funding programme for funding financial assistance under this Act.
Amendment 14, page 37, line 29, at end, insert—
“(3A) Financial assistance under section 46 must be the subject of a framework agreement to be agreed by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
The intention of this amendment is to provide a policy framework for the allocation of financial assistance.
Amendment 15, page 37, line 29, at end, insert—
“(3B) The Treasury must include in the Estimates presented to the House of Commons proposals for funding each of the devolved administrations to provide financial assistance for the purposes set out in section 46 in relation to the areas of the United Kingdom covered by that devolved administration.”
The intention of this amendment is to ensure that devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are funded to provide financial assistance under this Act.
Amendment 16, page 37, line 29, at end, insert—
“(3C) Any financial assistance provided under section 46 in relation to areas of the United Kingdom covered by a devolved administration must be subject to allocation by the relevant devolved administration.”
The intention of this amendment is to ensure that devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland retain current powers over devolved matters.
Amendment 22, page 37, line 29, at end insert—
“(3) No enactment or rule of law prior to the passing of this Act prevents financial assistance being provided under section 46 to any person in Northern Ireland.”
This amendment is intended to ensure that Part 6 of the Act will apply to Northern Ireland in the same way as to the other parts of the United Kingdom.
Clause 47 stand part.
I am delighted to move amendment 33 in my name and that of my colleagues. Before anybody asks why we would even bother to try to amend the Bill, which is quite clearly not fit for purpose and absolutely beyond the pale, I would say that the amendment is a probing amendment. I am seeking to draw out the Minister on some of the issues in clauses 46 and 47.
I have huge sympathy with the amendments tabled by my colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the SDLP, and with the climate change amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), because climate change is something the Scottish Government have tried very hard to push on and have made much progress on—ahead of the UK Government.
Amendments 14 and 15, in the name of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and his colleagues, reflect the issues set out yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). These frameworks exist, but the UK Government wish to ride roughshod over those mechanisms—to tear them up and to impose their will upon Scotland. These amendments from the official Opposition do nothing to address this truth.
If we were to take them at their word, we might think that the UK Government were doing Scotland some kind of kindness. Who would object to something called financial assistance after all? However, we on these Benches know what that assistance is apt to look like and the strings that come with it. We already know that they are prepared to lie to the Queen and break international law, so what is this Government’s word really worth?
The Prime Minister has made clear his intention to stamp a Union flag on projects in Scotland, out of some kind of petulant jealousy of how well EU-flagged projects in Scotland are regarded, but there is a fundamental difference with those projects. They were done in collaboration and co-operation with the Scottish Government and they are projects that would never have happened if it were up to the UK Government.
A quick look through the Scotland-EU funding programme highlights projects large and small—infrastructure, research, inclusive growth and employability, low-carbon initiatives—but there is still no plan and still no budget from the UK Government to replace these. Their shared prosperity fund is still, astonishingly, after all these years, yet to be unveiled. In contrast, the EU is a trusted partner with a track record to be proud of. We also stand to lose the valuable international aspects of the links this funding can bring with cross-European collaboration, which stands with the founding principles of the EU and takes Scotland out into that wider world.
In the vein of building bridges rather than walls, I would like to mention a few bridges to illustrate my point. The stunning Queensferry crossing—toll free and built by the Scottish Government in response to the corrosion of the Forth road bridge—is a project that was mooted in the 1990s, prior to devolution, before being shut down by the UK Government of the time, a Labour Government I should say. This bridge was delivered by the Scottish National party—not a penny piece from the UK Government towards its construction.
The Kessock bridge, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is rightly proud, was built with European funds. Money in the region of £90 million for projects in the Outer Hebrides over the past 25 years has transformed transportation through ferry terminals, bridges and causeways, the bulk of which came from European Union funds.
What bridges does the current Prime Minister have to speak of? The £53 million he chucked at the Garden bridge in London, which does not even exist, or the bridge that might also be a euphemism for a tunnel, as described by the Secretary of State for Scotland—that £20 billion bridge over the second world war munitions dump at Beaufort’s dyke in the Irish sea? These last two fantasy projects tell us something of what we need to know about the UK Government’s approach to infrastructure projects.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the huge flaws in the propositions of clause 46 to give the UK Government power to spend money on issues that are not the priority in Scotland, and she is right to draw a contrast with EU funding. The road I cycled on to get to school, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), was built with EU funding, and if it had been up to Thatcher’s Government, that road would still be a dirt track. There are examples of that all over Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament and the European Union work together, in contrast to the attitude of this UK Government.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. It is also a point to note that the Major Government were known to divert EU funding from projects in Scotland to pet projects trying to shore up marginal seats in England, so they have form on this issue.
I will give way in some time. I would make some progress because I know lots of people wish to speak.
This also tells us that the Prime Minister was absolutely wrong when he said:
“A pound spent in Croydon is of far more value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde”
because the opposite is true. A pound spent in the south-east of England is barely noticeable, but think again of that £90 million investment in the Western Isles—noticed by all, transformational in its impact and of real value to the people who live and work there. Subsidiarity, EU style.
The power to provide financial assistance for economic development and so on is as wide-ranging as it is dangerous. Much of the power rests entirely with a Minister of the Crown, a kind of benevolent dictator doling out riches. But these are not a Minister’s riches; they are the money of the people of these islands, and these choices are not the choices of a Minister of the Crown. They are decisions best made by a Parliament over 300 miles from here, democratically elected by the people of Scotland.
If the hon. Gentleman would like to tell me why the Scottish Government should not be overseeing these projects, I would be glad to hear.
The hon. Lady is giving a typically bitter speech around the role of the UK Government into Scotland. Does she not accept that the UK Government and the Scottish Government have worked very closely together on the growth deals and city deals in Scotland? They are very good examples of what can be achieved in Scotland with both Governments working together, rather than the attitude that she takes of opposing everything that this place does.
I am very interested that the hon. Gentleman raises growth deals, because every single growth deal in Scotland has been short-changed by the UK Government. The Scottish Government have put in more than the UK Government to those growth deals and we are still waiting for the money for some of those growth deals to be realised.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a disgrace that hon. Members are raising that point when in Inverness, the UK Government spent £83 million less than the Scottish Government? When will the UK Government make up that shortfall?
This UK Government appear to have no intention of making up the shortfalls on any of those growth deals. The growth deal in Aberdeen was huge and ambitious in setting out to change and challenge the economy in Aberdeen, the end of oil and moving towards that just transition—
If the hon. Member for Aberdeen has some more money from the UK Government for the growth deal, I would be happy to take his intervention.
Aberdeenshire—but I will forgive the hon. Lady for that mistake. I want to take her back to her point about bridges. On investment in bridges, will she join my campaign to get the Scottish Government to release much-needed funds to replace Park bridge, Abbeyton bridge and Oatyhill bridge, which cannot be reopened or replaced because the Scottish Government are starving Scottish local authorities and their ability to maintain vital infrastructure? We might be able to give money to that if the Bill is passed next week.
I would like to find out how much money the UK Government would like to put to that, because they have not put money to anything very much so far. I am sure the Scottish Government will hear his plea on that issue, and I hope to hear more about that.
Does not the previous intervention show the risks that are associated with clause 46, in that it allows Tory MPs to lobby for wee pet projects to get funded from Westminster, bypassing the Scottish Parliament, which is democratically elected by the electorate of Scotland? While bypassing Scotland, they are also at liberty to cut Scotland’s budget.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, because none of this is in Scotland’s hands. The budget purse strings are still controlled from Westminster, so if the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) would like more money for those projects, perhaps he should speak to his colleague the Chancellor. [Interruption.] Absolutely; the budget continues to be cut and put under pressure by the actions of the UK Government.
To return to the Bill, clause 46(1) states:
“A Minister of the Crown may, out of money provided by Parliament, provide financial assistance to any person for, or in connection with, any of the following purposes”.
Let me stop there. It states “to any person”. I very much hope that that person is not the former Transport Minister, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), or we may be in deeper bother than we think. After all, just shy of 20 major UK Government failings can be traced to him, including handing £40 million to a ferry firm with no ferries. But back to my list.
“(a) promoting economic development in the United Kingdom or any area of the United Kingdom”.
That is a clear responsibility of the Scottish Government, in co-operation with local government or enterprise agencies, business and the third sector. They know best the landscape of Scotland and what would work best for her people and her communities, and we have a quite different idea of economic development from the UK Government’s race to the bottom. Who are the UK Government to say that, all of a sudden, factory X must drop from the sky? We may be lured in by a sweetheart deal, but would prefer sustainability for the long term. We have seen too much of that in Scotland in the past. We seek quality, sustainable jobs for our people, now and in the future.
Clearly, we cannot trust the Tories to be strategic or impartial, because they have recent form in their towns fund, which funnelled money to Tory marginal seats. As the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee said,
“Ministers relied on flimsy, cherry-picked evidence to choose the lucky towns”.
To add insult to injury, we have still not got to the bottom of the Barnett consequentials for the towns fund.
Paragraph (b) states:
“providing infrastructure at places in the United Kingdom (including infrastructure in connection with any of the other purposes mentioned in this section)”.
Let us take a quick look at the UK Government’s woeful record on infrastructure. HS2 is beset by delays, cost increases and a lack of strategic vision. Originally supposed to make it to Scotland, it has not even got to Birmingham yet. Crossrail is late and receiving a further half-billion pound bail-out. So-called smart motorways put the lives of motorists at risk. In energy, Hinkley has become a byword for UK Government incompetence and profligacy to the detriment of renewables.
I am not sure if my hon. Friend is aware of this, but just today it was announced by Horizon that it is pulling out of the Wylfa nuclear power station and Oldbury, so half the proposed nuclear power stations the UK Government are trying to progress are now dead and buried in the water. Is it not time that they accept their failure and move back to renewables?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that. I was about to mention the proposed power station on Anglesey, which has apparently been scrapped because the company could not get the assurances it needed from the UK Government.
We might also mention the Scottish Government having to use planning permission to stop the UK Government bringing in fracking in our country by issuing licences that we did not want to have. We are having to use planning permission to block fracking—this is something that is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of our country. Some £186 million has been spent on two carbon capture and storage competitions, and we still have exactly zero carbon capture and storage facilities, despite David Cameron promising £1 billion to the north-east at the “indyref”. Renewable projects that the Scottish Government would love to see promoted further are hampered by lack of interest and by constantly switching energy Ministers. Those are just the physical projects; UK Government IT projects are notorious for their capacity to waste money and fail to deliver.
Paragraph (c) states:
“supporting cultural activities, projects and events that the Minister considers directly or indirectly benefit the United Kingdom or particular areas of the United Kingdom”.
I wonder if this will bring us more joys such as the millennium dome or the festival of Brexit, which is still limping on despite coronavirus: £120 million to tell us all how lucky we are to be stuck in this island and thumbing our nose to the world. Haud me back! Is it perhaps a sign of panic, as Ewan McGregor has joined the chorus of creatives backing independence?
Paragraph (d) states:
“supporting activities, projects and events relating to sport that the Minister considers directly or indirectly benefit the United Kingdom or particular areas of the United Kingdom”.
That is the vaguest of the vague, again with Ministers deciding they know what best would benefit particular areas. I say this from a point where Glasgow has a very strong track record in bidding for, paying for and hosting international sporting events—the best Commonwealth games ever in 2014, European championships in 2018 and the UEFA Euro 2020—now Euro 2021—which is sadly not taking place this year due to covid.
Paragraph (e) states:
“supporting international educational and training activities and exchanges”.
This one, I must say, is a real kick in the teeth. The UK Government cannot yet say what will happen with our membership of Erasmus+, a project that we do not even need to be members of the EU to participate in. Children from Pollokshields Primary, students at colleges and universities, and people in community youth groups have all felt the benefit of Erasmus+ over the years, and they do not need this all-powerful Minister of State to reinvent the wheel and put a Union flag on these activities. They need to have continuing membership of Erasmus+ confirmed to allow for seamless participation in this horizon-widening programme.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely important point about Erasmus. In the highlands, we have benefited from the University of the Highlands and Islands, which has only been able to grow and develop over the years and to provide quality education across the highlands because of Erasmus. This is being whipped away from us.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to point this out. Erasmus is a fantastic programme, and it opens the eyes of young people who would not otherwise be able to participate. It is very cruel for the UK Government not yet to have given any certainty to that programme. I know that there are people who work in international education in Glasgow who are still waiting for answers from this Government about whether their programme will be able to go ahead and whether they will have a job in the future.
Paragraph (f) states:
“supporting educational and training activities and exchanges within the United Kingdom.”
This is a clear area where the UK Government are stepping into devolved areas, because Scottish education is protected not only by the Scotland Act 1998, but by the Act of Union itself, along with the judiciary and the Church. The UK Government must be clear what exactly they intend by this particular provision.
I was quite taken aback by the statement on Monday by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stating that there is no risk to water or the NHS. I believe he may be referring to clause 17 on mutual recognition and clauses 18 and 19 on non-discrimination, and to the related schedules, but the difficulty is that these clauses are not set in stone and can be changed further down the line. Subsection (2) tells a further story, because the definition of “infrastructure”—what that autocratic Minister of the Crown can directly fund on a whim—includes
“water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage or other services (for example, the provision of heat)…railway facilities (including rolling stock), roads or other transport facilities…health, educational, cultural or sports facilities…court or prison facilities, and…housing”.
In areas that are devolved, no UK Government Minister of the Crown has any business acquiring, designing, constructing, converting, improving, operating or repairing our infrastructure. Under this measure, the UK Government could propose to build in Scotland a court or a prison where they have no oversight of the justice system, a school where they have no remit over education, a road where they have no remit over transport, and, yes, a water treatment works where we already have the most successful, publicly owned water company in these islands.
The hon. Lady is making an interesting speech about the appropriate level of government for making decisions about projects and what projects constitute value for money, but at the heart of her argument is a serious proposition, which I think every Unionist in this House should find objectionable, which is that this elected UK Government should never have the ability to spend money in all corners of the United Kingdom for the benefit of their citizens.
It is called devolution, which this Parliament voted for and which the Scottish people, the Welsh people and the Northern Irish people have voted for. It is the settled will of our people and it is democracy.
The hon. Lady knows I do not support independence—I support the Union—but I agree with what she says about devolution. We have a devolution settlement that was voted for by the peoples of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and we need to respect that. Perhaps that is why, in the past few minutes, the Advocate General for Scotland has resigned, stating that he cannot take the Bill further. He is the former chair of the Scottish Conservatives, and perhaps that reflects that he is not willing to front these arguments any longer either.
I agree 100% with the hon. Gentleman’s point. I was going to mention the Advocate General later on, because it turns out he is Lord not-so-Keen in terms of the Government’s proposals, and neither are we.
What the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) fails to realise is that at the heart of the Bill is an attack on devolution. It is not about who spends what where; it is an attack on the Scotland Act 1998, an attack on the will of the Scottish people and an attack on the sovereignty of the Scottish people.
My hon. Friend is correct. These matters are clearly for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to decide, and the Bill is overreach at a ridiculous level. Either this legislation is very poorly drafted, which from the Government amendments it would certainly appear to be, or they do not understand devolution, which seems perfectly clear from the interventions we have had. Are they intent on dismantling 20 years of devolved decision-making on these islands, just so they can stick a flag on something? It is pathetic.
Then we get to clause 47, titled “Financial assistance: supplementary”. Subsection (1) states:
“Financial assistance under section 46…may take the form of grants, loans, guarantees or indemnities…may be provided subject to conditions (which may include conditions about repayment with or without interest)…may be provided under a contract.”
This nefarious Minister of the Crown not only has the power under the Bill to build some infrastructure in our country that the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland has not voted for, but it also gives them the power to stick Scotland with the bill and charge us interest. Gee, thanks guys. What can I say? So generous. It is the Skye bridge all over again. That was the first PFI project in the UK. It opened in 1995 and was notorious for its tolls. The then Scottish Executive had to buy the bridge back a decade later in order to abolish the tolls, which raised more money than the bridge cost in the first place. Do we really want to return to that level of generous investment in Scotland?
Six years ago today, I was pounding the streets of Glasgow with hundreds of other activists, knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and having animated discussions about what a new country could look like. We are a couple of days out from the anniversary of the 2014 independence referendum, which was a watershed moment for so many of us in Scotland. I cannot begin to describe the feelings of hope and excitement there were in the city of Glasgow, where my own constituency voted for Scotland to be an independent country.
I could not have imagined that six years later, I would be standing here, a Member of this Parliament. I could not have imagined that I would have had to fight three elections in five years, and I could not have imagined that Scotland would have been dragged out of the EU against our will. In my worst dreams, I could not have imagined that I would be standing here today, defending the very fabric of devolution from a full-scale attack.
If the hon. Member wants to tell me why he supports this attack, I will bring him in.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I wanted more to go back to a point about Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will. It is obviously still the SNP’s position to rejoin the EU, and she speaks eloquently and powerfully about this autocratic Minister taking decisions over spending and restricting the powers of Scotland’s devolved Parliament. She is aware of the restrictions and powers of the unelected and autocratic European Commission regarding spending and powers in Scotland. All the powers that are coming back from Brussels to Edinburgh would then be given straight back with all the restrictions that applied before, and then some.
Those powers are not being given straight back. If we look at the provisions of the Bill, it is perfectly clear that, as the explanatory notes state:
“This creates a means for the UK Government to provide funding across a range of largely devolved areas that would sit alongside any funding provided by the devolved administrations.”
It is perfectly clear that this as an attack and an undermining of devolution. That is not just my opinion, but an opinion shared by legal experts around the world. The hon. Member is ignoring the truth of the situation. He must know that that is the case. When even senior figures in his party are saying that this is an attack on devolution and are resigning, he should see that that is the case. He knows that it is true.
Clauses 46 and 47 grant sweeping authority to Ministers to spend money in areas that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, allowing discretionary funding of any activities that UK Ministers judge directly or indirectly to benefit the United Kingdom. There is a big assumption that what benefits the UK benefits Scotland, but there is precious little evidence for saying that that is true. The Bill allows Ministers of the UK Government to bypass the democratically elected devolved Parliaments of our country without the consent or support of the Scottish people.
The people of Scotland are not daft. They see what is going on. The Bill short-changes us and rides roughshod over hard-fought devolution powers. We were promised near-federalism. We were promised the strongest devolved legislature in the world. What we have got is Dominic Cummings and co. stomping all over the devolution settlement in their great big tackety boots.
It is established that we on the SNP Benches would not trust the UK Government with a bag of old pennies, but it has now become increasingly clear that a majority of Scots agree. The UK Government’s ultimate failed infrastructure project is the Union itself. It cannot exist without consent. Poll after poll now shows a majority of support for independent Scotland, and who can be surprised, when it is fast looking like the only option to preserve the gains of devolution? This tawdry Bill disrespects the Scottish Parliament and the people who elect it, and it will serve only to ensure that when we have our chance to vote again, Scotland will be an independent country.
I rise to support clauses 46 and 47 and to disagree with the Opposition amendments. It is a great pity that the SNP wishes to turn every debate in this House into a debate on independence when they lost the referendum, because, as a great democrat, I have only ever wanted willing volunteers in our Union. I was delighted to support a referendum to leave it to the Scottish people, and I trust their judgment—it is a pity others do not as well.
Clauses 46 and 47 take important powers to honour one of the pledges made by the Vote Leave campaign, and believed by many voters in that important referendum, that the United Kingdom Government should replace the moneys for projects and investments that would otherwise have been supplied through the European Union. Taking this power illustrates that there is serious intent, that the Government will honour that promise of the referendum campaign, and that the United Kingdom will not lose—indeed, it will gain—as a result of changes in the arrangements for funding large projects and suitable investments.
I always thought that there were three problems with relying on the European Union to fund some of these projects. The first and biggest was that we had to send far more money to Brussels than we got back. One of the great advantages of this power is that every penny that taxpayers pay in the United Kingdom for these purposes will come straight back. There will not be a huge levy on top.
Taking away the semantics about money and all the rest of it, I am sure that the right hon. Member understands that when it comes to structural funds, the EU disburses it to managing authorities—so in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament gets the money from the EU to administer and carry out projects. Clause 46 allows the UK Government to bypass the Scottish Government completely. The EU has not forced one single infrastructure project on England, Wales or Scotland against the wishes of the sovereign Parliaments, but this measure allows the UK Government to bypass the Scottish Parliament and not to recognise the sovereign will of the Scottish people. Surely that is the problem.
I do not see any problem at all. I cannot for one moment believe that the United Kingdom Government would want to force on Scotland a project that Scottish people did not wish. Nor do I recognise this idea of the sovereign Scottish Parliament; it is completely under the power of the European Union until we have properly left. The hon. Gentleman never seems to recognise the ultimate power of the European Court of Justice and of the money-awarding procedures that we had to go through to extract back some of the United Kingdom money that we had to send in very large quantities to the union.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman has never supported devolution. I think he described it in his own words as “appeasement” and said that we had had too much of it. I know he would love to go back to those days when he was Secretary of State for Wales and was treating Wales like a branch office. Is it not the truth that he has never supported devolution, that he does not support it now, and that he wants to ride roughshod over it?
No, most certainly that is not the point, and that is not my position. I am a democrat, and I have accepted completely the results of the referendums on devolution. It is quite true that I and my party were on the other side in the referendum on devolution. I believed that it would to lead to a big insurgence in unsuccessful Scottish nationalism, which is exactly what it did, and I do not think that that has enriched our public life any. However, I am a democrat and I fully accept the devolution settlement. I am very happy for the devolved authorities and Parliaments to exercise their powers. I also believe that we should co-operate fully with them, and I urge my Friends on the Front Bench to do so. Of course it is as much in our interests as it is in the interests of the Scottish Parliament to define the projects that Scotland most wants and that are most necessary to promote its prosperity.
The right hon. Gentleman says he is a democrat. In view of that, does he acknowledge that the Sewel convention says that this Parliament will not normally legislate on areas or matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament? We also know that what is not reserved is automatically devolved, so does he think it appropriate to override the Sewel convention and threaten the powers and sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, which is sovereign?
I do not accept that it does any of those things. I think we are legislating in a perfectly legal and sensible manner.
I shall go back to the remarks I wish to make as to why it is better that we pay for our own projects rather than doing so with the big discounts on our money through the European Union. The second reason for that is that some of the European schemes required the project to be a marginal one. Part of the terms of giving the money was that it was not a project we would finance for ourselves or not a core, essential project. That did not make a lot of sense. Once that is under United Kingdom control, we will obviously jointly wish to finance the best projects, and of course that will be in full consultation with the devolved Governments around the country.
The third reason that I think we will do better without European Union intrusion is the flagging of these projects. There has been deep resentment in the United Kingdom that whenever a small amount of money came from Europe into a project, it had to show the EU flag but we were not allowed to put a British flag on it to say that all the so-called EU money had actually come from United Kingdom taxpayers. Even worse, we were not even allowed to put a British flag on it to show that a larger proportion of the funding for the scheme had often come directly from the United Kingdom Government. It will be much better when we do not have to false-flag projects in the interest of misleading people about who is actually paying for something.
In this debate on the Bill generally, I know that the Opposition are still very exercised in thinking that these and other powers are illegal because they in some way violate the rules of international law set out in the EU withdrawal agreement. State aid is part of that argument, and these are the two central clauses on state aid. I would like to say that I disagree strongly with my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary. I do not think there is any way in which this legislation violates international law. It clearly asserts and upholds United Kingdom law, most notably the sovereignty clause in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That Act was a compromise agreement and a halfway house. It was attached to a political agreement to complete a proper negotiation in due course over our future relationship, so it was always rather problematic; because it was like that, it was ambiguous and contradictory. There are perfectly strong clauses in the EU withdrawal agreement and the EU (Withdrawal) Act stating that it is a duty that the single market and customs union of the whole United Kingdom, which expressly includes Northern Ireland, is upheld. That is exactly what this Bill is seeking to do.
The Government and many others hope that there will be a last-minute agreement, because it is quite easy to deal with all the outstanding legal issues in a comprehensive agreement. I am a bit sceptical that that is going to happen, because I see no evidence of good faith in negotiations by the European Union, and I think that, were there to be a breakdown, there would be a second legal argument that there had not been good faith. That is another reason why there is no sense in which we are seeking to break an international agreement, let alone the law.
I am very pleased that the Government are taking crystal clear powers to provide state aid and investment in projects. I hope the Government will also, ere long, issue a very strong statement of the United Kingdom’s state aid policy that should cover this and other matters. We owe it to the international community to have a strong, clear and independent state aid policy that is perfectly compliant with the World Trade Organisation rules on this matter, because we wish to be a global trader with more free trade agreements outside the European Union space. In that respect, we can probably do better than the European Union, because there have been a number of important cases where the European Union has been found to be in violation of state aid rules by the World Trade Organisation, and perhaps an independent Britain can do a bit better.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the comments emerging from Speaker Pelosi and others in the United States stressing that if there is any breach of the protocol in the withdrawal agreement—a threat to the Good Friday agreement—there will be no prospect of a trade deal with the United States? Is that not the fundamental flaw in the analysis of those pursuing a hard Brexit?
I am not pursuing a hard Brexit; I am pursuing the independence of our country which was voted on all too many years ago and which this Parliament, in a previous guise, deliberately blocked, delayed and diluted. I am very proud to belong to a Parliament that is now clearly charged, yet again, by the electorate of the United Kingdom to get on with it and deliver Brexit. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that Mrs Pelosi is not the President of the United States of America. It is the President who leads the negotiating teams for trade deals, and, as I understand it, President Trump and his International Trade Administration are very keen on a trade agreement with the United Kingdom and still negotiating on it. I suspect that the Democrats in the House of Representatives, who will have their own political reasons for what they are doing at the moment, have not quite understood just how important this Bill is for the future of the United Kingdom single market and customs union—because who would want to do a trade deal with the United Kingdom if we did not have this Bill and could not guarantee that we were pledging the whole of our market in the market opening that such a free trade agreement would require? This Bill is fundamental to any success in negotiations that we have with Japan, the United States, maybe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in due course, and so forth.
This is a vital piece of legislation to implement the independence of our country in a true Brexit. It is an entirely legal piece of legislation that reflects important statements in the withdrawal agreement and, above all, reflects a sovereignty clause in the EU (Withdrawal) Act that some of us supported and put in with the express purpose in mind that if there was no good faith from the EU we would need to make unilateral arrangements for our future trading. It is crucial for a country that wishes to have much more positive trade relations than the EU has had with a wide range of countries outside the European Union space.
I look forward to the state aid regime and investment regime being used in the interests of the whole country, with the United Kingdom being able to spend more of its own money on its own priorities, with good guidance and advice from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as we go along, but not forgetting the importance of England and the need for us to have good English projects as well. I hope that it will be twinned with an exemplar state aid policy for world trade purposes that may indeed be different from that of the European Union.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and, in particular, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), whose assessment of the Bill’s deficiencies was exemplary—I very much agree with it. I am conscious that a great many Members wish to contribute to this debate, so I shall keep remarks brief, confining them to clause 46, which extends the powers of UK Ministers to act in policy areas that have been devolved to Wales.
In recent days, it has been argued that it is necessary to add to the powers of UK Ministers in that way because devolution has, allegedly, hindered their ability to support Welsh businesses and communities. There is no dispute that there are policy areas in Wales in which the UK Government and Ministers cannot act, but the suggestion that they have been prevented from supporting Welsh businesses and communities by the devolution settlement is a laughable excuse for the UK Government’s lacklustre record of investment in Wales.
I should not have to remind this House that UK Ministers still enjoy significant powers over key policy areas, despite devolution, and can initiate large infrastructure projects in Wales that could boost its economy. If Conservative Members doubt that fact, let me point them to their party’s manifestos since 2010, which have all reflected the reality that in key areas of infrastructure and economic investment, the UK Government already have significant powers to support Welsh businesses and communities.
This Government are keen on investing in rail infrastructure, as we see from HS2 and Crossrail, and they also have the responsibility over the railways in Wales. Wales was promised boldly in 2010 that a Conservative Government would electrify the great western main line to Swansea and in 2015 that the valleys lines and the north Wales main line would also be electrified. Despite those lofty promises, the north Wales main line and the valleys line are still not electrified, and after 10 years the promise to electrify the line all the way to Swansea has materialised as a partial electrification to Cardiff Central only. In that key area of infrastructure, there are no limitations on the power of UK Ministers to invest in Wales, and although Wales has about 11% of the railway track, it has received only 1.5% of the money that UK Ministers have spent on rail improvements in recent years. Why, therefore, should UK Ministers be afforded additional powers to act in devolved competences, given that they have failed to make the most of the powers they already have?
Members might also recall the exciting promise to build the tidal lagoon project in Swansea and the commitment to the Wylfa Newydd power plant in Ynys Môn. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of those projects, UK Ministers could have initiated them, unhindered by the supposed shackles of a devolution settlement. However, those projects have amounted to yet more unfulfilled promises.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman followed the debate surrounding the valleys and the Vale of Glamorgan line. A settlement had been reached between the Department for Transport, the Wales Office and the Welsh Government, where an additional sum over and above the Barnett block grant was presented to the Welsh Government to deliver that purpose. No progress has been made, so I think his argument makes a point that is very helpful to the clauses in place.
Unsurprisingly, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. These are competences and responsibilities of the UK Government and the Department for Transport, and they have not fulfilled them. We might also think of the powers that UK Ministers have over Welsh agricultural exports and question whether they are being exercised effectively. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently failed to submit an application to the World Organisation for Animal Health for Welsh beef—and English beef, I should add—to be listed as a negligible bovine spongiform encephalopathy risk, so that status will now not be possible for our exports before May 2022 at the earliest, along with all the benefits that that status would bring.
In conclusion, in opposing clause 46, I simply say to UK Ministers who bemoan devolution and Wales’s Parliament: stop scrambling for pitiful excuses for your own failures, take your responsibilities to Wales seriously and start using the powers that you already have.
I rise to speak to amendment 19, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for North Down (Stephen Farry). Before I get into the meat of it, I wish to pick up on something the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) addressed, as I think that he is confused about how the American political system works. As much as he would like to be, Donald Trump is not a dictator; he does not get to make all the decisions. If there is to be a proposed trade deal between the US and the UK, Congress will have to approve it. I can tell Members, as I did the other day, that we have lots of very good friends on Capitol hill—I have been speaking to them this week—and I am shocked at how angry they are about what this British Government are proposing to do to the protocol and the withdrawal agreement. They will not have any violence done to the Good Friday agreement or this protocol.
The hon. Gentleman is making a crucial point. Of course, it is not just Speaker Pelosi making these points. Legislators on both sides of the US Congress—Republican and Democrat—are making clear what will happen.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The consensus across Congress is behind the Good Friday agreement. They have been our friends for many a decade. They have supported us through all the difficult times, and they are supporting us today. They are saying that there will not be a trade deal between the United States and this country if we do any damage to the protocol or the Good Friday agreement. That is what they have said, and people should listen.
I am amazed at the hon. Gentleman’s comments. He will know that our biggest trading partner outside GB is the United States of America, so any trade deal with America is bound to have a beneficial impact on the people of Northern Ireland and the economy of Northern Ireland. Is he telling us that his party will actively campaign against a trade deal with America that would benefit his constituents, my constituents and the Northern Ireland economy?
We want a trade deal. We want to be able to trade right around the world, but the warning is clear: if people mess about with the Good Friday agreement and all our political progress, there will be no trade deal. The people who proposed and campaigned for Brexit and who do not understand that we cannot square all these circles need to wake up. There will not be a trade deal if they continue on the track that they are on. There is still time to go backwards and realise that our peace process, our political progress and having no border in Ireland are paramount and will not be messed with—that will not be accepted by anybody at the height of political power in the United States.
The Bill is an affront to international law, as has been said many times this week. It rips up an agreement that was made between this Government and the European Commission. It threatens a hard border in Ireland, and in clauses 46 and 47, it rides a coach and horses through the devolutionary settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If that was done on its own, there would be an outcry. Our amendment 19 is there to give consent—the much-used word—to those legislative Assemblies and Parliaments. No Whitehall Minister should be allowed to override, deny or undermine the interests and opinions of elected representatives in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. If Members agree with that, they should support amendment 19.
Where I come from, we value democracy, because people had to actually march for democracy there. In 1968, my own grandfather and hundreds of other people were beaten off the streets by a corrupt and unjust police force sent there by a corrupt, sectarian and unjust Government. The civil rights movement got rid of that Government, but it took 30 years of democratic struggle against the men of violence, against the state and against intransigence, sectarianism and division to bring about an end to that and make sure that our own people could be represented by local politicians, making local decisions on their behalf. That was not easy; it was very difficult. They created a delicate agreement called the Good Friday agreement.
The Good Friday agreement has been bandied about this House and on the airwaves over the past couple of weeks. I can tell Members that it is fragile and delicate. Even the Members from Northern Ireland who disagree with me will be able to agree with me on this point. We are in a very delicate and fragile place. Please do not mess with it. Please do not ride a coach and horses through it. There is no way, in my view, that we can hand power to Whitehall Ministers to make decisions over the heads of locally elected people in Northern Ireland and not upset that delicate, painstakingly negotiated balance. Nationalists, Unionists and others are working together in the common interest. Is it difficult? It is very difficult. Is it delicate? Yes, it absolutely is. Is it fragile? Well, we have had three years of no Government, so that should tell us all about the fragility of those institutions. We are not prepared to wreck or hinder that progress.
I am amazed at the hon. Gentleman’s defence—[Interruption.] Yes, I am amazed at everything he is saying. First, he is quite happy not to have a trade deal with America—that will damage the economy of Northern Ireland—and now he is defending the Northern Ireland Assembly’s ability to make decisions about the economy of Northern Ireland, when this withdrawal agreement leaves 60% of the laws in Northern Ireland in the hands of Brussels. The Bill seeks at least to free us from Brussels’s ability to take what support we can give to our industry.
This withdrawal agreement took a long time to negotiate. The British Government and this Prime Minister signed up to it, and it was called a fantastic deal. It was to protect us from a hard border in Ireland. We spent 30 years trying to get rid of hard borders and division and trying to bring people together to allow local people to work together to make decisions on behalf of local communities.
I cannot understand how anybody who is supposed to be a devolutionist and whose party is in government—even though the right hon. Gentleman is sometimes at odds with the leadership of his party—would want any Minister based in Whitehall to make decisions over the heads of the Democratic Unionist party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Alliance party or the Ulster Unionist party. This Bill would allow a Whitehall Minister to override the wishes and very strong views of people in Northern Ireland on issues such as fracking and water charges. Who wants to see that happen in our devolved areas?
More than any policy risk, the Bill creates even more instability in our system, and we cannot afford that. Just look at what has happened over the past number of years. Alongside the attack on the protocol and the risk of a hard border in Ireland, the Bill rides a coach and horses through the Good Friday agreement in so many ways. If this Government, as they profess, support the Good Friday agreement and devolution and want local people to work together, spilling their sweat and not their blood, to bring about economic progress and change how society works, they will take away the risk of the Bill, because causes 46 and 47 would override, undercut and undermine all that progress.
At the heart of the purpose of politics is a marriage between the common good and the national interest, and trade is at the heart of both. This Bill—in particular, clauses 46 and 47—makes that principle real, yet the supporters of these amendments seem either unaware or unwilling to accept that trade is a national policy and has to be determined in the interests of the whole kingdom. Of course, as the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said, co-operation and collaboration are necessary with the constituent parts of that kingdom, but in the end trade deals are negotiated by the Government as a whole.
The idea vested in the amendments in this group—notably, amendment 33—that Ministers should act only with the permission of people in those constituent parts is preposterous, as anyone on either side of the House who has served as a Minister knows. Of course, collaboration requires a relationship between those in the devolved Assemblies and Ministers here, but that relationship is one in which the devolved Minister knows that the buck starts and stops with the national Government.
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman has read clause 46 or the amendment correctly. Clause 46 says:
“A Minister of the Crown may…provide financial assistance”
in respect of matters of devolved interest. It is not about trade; it is about the UK Government being able to take decisions on behalf of the devolved nations on matters that are otherwise devolved. Why is it so objectionable to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations on matters that should be devolved anyway?
The problem at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s proposition—this was reflected in the opening speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central—is that the Scottish National party, the Scottish separatists, believe that the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the people of Scotland should be devised and delivered only through the prism of them and their friends. The truth of the matter is that the United Kingdom Government have a relationship with Scotland irrespective of the SNP and its friends.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not give way again.
No. I say to the hon. Gentleman that I am conscious of your strictures, Dame Eleanor, that we should not stray into the realms of loquaciousness. Many other Members on both sides of the Chamber wish to contribute, so I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have shared many arguments and, indeed, many agreements over a considerable period of time. I suspect that we are not going to agree about this.
I am not going to give way. I have made that clear.
Although it is true that the vast majority of the people of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland may not be gripped every waking moment by the minutiae of British politics, millions of patriotic Britons across all parts of our kingdom, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—small business owners, farmers, fishermen, employers, workers; everyone from trade unionists to tree surgeons—expect this Government to get Brexit done and to strike trade deals in the national interest and for the common good. It is as straightforward as that. Anything that provides an impediment to that desire is not only unacceptable but directly contradicts the will of the people. This sovereign Parliament’s mission—its duty—is to embody the will of the people, to respect it and to deliver on it. I am afraid the amendments before us would impede that process, whether that is their intent or not. I will be generous and make it clear that I am not alleging that that is their intent, but it would certainly be their effect.
Perhaps saddest of all are the amendments in the group tabled in the name of the official Opposition. I see sat at the Dispatch Box the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), an old friend, looking as sorrowful as I am when I have to make that charge. The official Opposition is a Unionist party, yet it is clear from the amendments in their name that they have gone along with the idea that Ministers of the Crown should be required—yes, required—to seek and gain the consent of devolved Ministers before proceeding with what they believe is in the national interest. I have to say, I am disappointed about that, and it is another reason why we should vote against the amendments in the entire group and support the Bill unamended.
The shared interest of the people of Britain—the common good, as I described it—has been endangered; indeed, it has been diluted, year after year, through our relationship with the European Union, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) set out earlier in his excellent speech. Taking back control is in the people’s interest, because it will allow us to develop policies that are pertinent to that interest in every part of the United Kingdom.
The debate we are having about the Bill is to some degree rather recherché. It reminds me of the debates we have had in recent times between those who wanted to honour the people’s will, expressed in the referendum, and those who were unreconstructed remainers. Many who campaigned to stay in the European Union have accepted the result and gone along with it, because they believe it was a once-and-for-all decision that should be honoured, but there are those—we have seen them persistently in recent times—who did not accept it. Perhaps, tied to their kind of bourgeois, liberal, doubt-filled, guilt-ridden perspective on world affairs, they were unwilling to recognise that that is a world apart from the view of working-class Britons, as the referendum and the general election showed. That is, in large part, an explanation for why my party seized power in constituencies across the country, particularly in the midlands and north, that it had never represented before. Those people in those places have woken up to the fact that that elite had no understanding and no care for their sentiments or their interests and could not really grasp why they believed that it was right that our trade policies, our policies on migration and other matters should be determined by this sovereign Parliament speaking for those very people.
I will give way one more time. As I have given way to a Scottish separatist already, I will give way to the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) as a matter of courtesy.
Can I ask the right hon. Gentleman a simple question? How many seats did his party win in Northern Ireland?
I am sorry, but I did not catch what the hon. Gentleman said—forgive me.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke a lot about the last election and about how many seats the Conservative party won. Can I just ask him how many seats the Conservative party won in Northern Ireland?
The Northern Irish political dynamic is a subject that I will not stray into, Dame Eleanor, because you would not permit me to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct: I will not permit it. This is Committee stage of the Bill and not a general debate, and we will stick to the point, which he was doing admirably.
I am very grateful, Dame Eleanor. Any time the hon. Gentleman wants to debate Northern Irish psephology with me over a glass of Irish whiskey, I would be happy to do so.
The essence of the debate this evening—I mean this afternoon, but I am anticipating a long debate, as you can tell—is really not about whether the devolution settlement is as the SNP would want it to be or as it actually is, which is a productive relationship, I think, between those in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers with the United Kingdom Government. Certainly, that was how it was when I was a Minister—I had a very positive relationship with my friends in Scotland and Wales and throughout our kingdom. It is not really about that. It is about whether we believe that the Government’s hands should be tied in the negotiations as they go forward and try to strike the best possible deal with the European Union. No responsible Member of this Parliament should want to dilute the strength of our position in those negotiations in what is, inevitably, a challenging process with a very wily European Union. Whatever one thinks about the faults and frailties of the EU, and I could speak at great length about them, no one would deny that it is experienced, determined and wily in its attempts to defend the EU’s interests. We must be as united and strong as we can be in backing those who are fighting for Britain, as our Prime Minister is, has and will continue to do.
In drawing my remarks to a conclusion, Dame Eleanor —I know that you will be pleased that I am about to, although disappointed simultaneously—let me say this. It is absolutely true that, in gauging both trade policy and infrastructural investment, we need to be mindful of the particularities of the needs and wants of people across the kingdom, and of course different circumstances prevail in different parts of the UK. Good Governments and good Ministers have always done so, but, in the end, it is for the national Government—it is for the Queen’s Ministers—to make decisions on these matters, and however much that may trouble those who have moved the bulk of these amendments, I have to tell them that it is how it is and how it is going to be. We will back Britain. We will back Boris and in doing so we will get the best possible deal.
I stand here after three of the most bizarre years of constitutional contortions, when parliamentary conventions were stretched to their very limits. However, on Monday we topped them all when Government Members voted to breach the very same withdrawal agreement they voted for just months ago. We have to wonder what the point is of making law and entering international agreement when just months later the Government seek to overturn it. The same Members who voted to breach the withdrawal agreement had hailed the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of it as a masterstroke and then campaigned for it and voted to enact it.
I cannot compete with my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in making the Prime Minister look like a petulant child, so I will not try, but I will try to make Members opposite think about the damage they are doing to our international standing, to their individual reputations and to the fabric of our Union, and to a Bill which could render the Good Friday agreement asunder.
I have some interest in constitutional law; I know the power it has to create new opportunities, to spread power to the people, and to have decisions made closer to where people live, but this Bill is about putting the foot down on the accelerator and driving the constitutional settlement off a cliff with the Union as its trailer. Clause 46 breaks the settled will of the devolved nations, so allow me to outline some of the problems with this Bill.
First, there is the Executive power grab: the Bill has enabling clauses that enable a Minister to make unilateral regulations. Secondly, there is the breach of existing law: the enabling clauses allow a Minister to create regulations regardless of whether those regulations are in breach of domestic and international law. Let that sink in for a second before I carry on: we are giving Ministers the power to break the law.
Clause 46 allows pork barrelling, a US practice allowing for Government spending for local projects to help a politician in their constituency. It allows pork barrelling by ministerial diktat and over the heads of devolved bodies. The Bill not only creates a situation where the Government are in breach of the UK’s obligations under the withdrawal agreement, but it would provide the statutory basis for new regulations to be made by Ministers that are also in breach of UK and international law.
This does have recent precedent. The Coronavirus Act 2020 gave the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care similar powers, which we saw implemented this week when the new health regulations were published allegedly 28 minutes before they came into force. So 29 minutes later, a family of three meeting a family of four could have been in breach of the law, after a flick of the Secretary of State’s pen, with no warning. So, soon we will have two laws, covering coronavirus and Brexit, where Ministers can create law by diktat, and in the case of Brexit break already agreed international law. We must therefore ask whether Parliament’s only purpose will be to provide a body of personnel to fill the Executive and oversee some functions as a law-making body. This means that when it comes to devolved bodies having to make spending and funding decisions, clause 46 will take it over their heads, and they will be denuded of their powers.
Far from bringing sovereignty to our shores, this Government are stripping our sovereign Parliament of its powers piece by piece, and doing the same to the devolved bodies. The Government’s real purpose is a power grab: they are using a difficult situation as a subterfuge to hoodwink the public. The checks and balances are being eroded—[Interruption.] Yes, they are; Government Members are shaking their heads. Those who are meant to safeguard are brought into the pretence and belittle their own office: the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and the Lord Chancellor. The Advocate General for Scotland has at least shown proper respect for the law by resigning—or at least attempting to resign by tendering his resignation—and the Northern Ireland Secretary himself admitted this Bill breaks the law
“in a very specific and limited way.”—[Official Report, 8 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 509.]
However, a breach of the law is a breach the law, so any breaking of the law in a very specific and limited way is no defence in court: the law does not discriminate on specificity.
Even the need for this Bill has been ridiculed by more constitutional experts than I could possibly name. The Government argue that the powers are needed in case they need to rapidly implement safeguards under article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, but Professor Mark Elliott, chair of the Faculty of Law at Cambridge University, argues that clauses 42 and 43—I know that we are not debating those today; I will come to the point about those later—
“bear little relation to the matters with which Article 16 is concerned”.
The Government argue that the powers are needed in case they rapidly need to do what article 62 of the Vienna convention allows, but article 62 requires a “fundamental change of circumstances” and permits only withdrawal or termination, not repudiation, of individual obligations. That means that the clauses we are discussing today are not necessary, because those circumstances have not been met and will not be met, even in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
The Government further argue that the withdrawal agreement is a special form of treaty because it presupposes a future relationship agreement—the agreement that they are currently negotiating—so it is okay to breach the withdrawal agreement if no free trade agreement materialises. Not only is that news to the European Union, but Professor Elliott says categorically that no special form of treaty exists.
Then there is the Lord Chancellor’s argument that the Bill would amount to an acceptable, rather than unacceptable, breach of the law. Again, Professor Elliott argues that no such distinction in law exists. He concludes that there is no justification for the power grab in this Bill. I could quote 100 different constitutional experts on different clauses of the Bill, making the Government’s arguments look so much like chopped salami, but I need to make progress and allow colleagues to speak—much good that will do us after this power grab.
The hon. Gentleman is making a passionate speech and I am grateful to him for giving way. Could he please tell me which powers are being taken away from the Welsh Parliament?
There is a list of areas in clause 46 where the Government are taking powers for direct funding into the devolved nations.
The upshot is that passing the Bill intact would not provide a safety valve or insurance if the Government’s oven-ready deal threatened to burn down the house; if the house burned down, the tenants—our home nations—would rebuild it several feet apart, ending our historic Union. The Government never were honest that leaving the European Union would create an existential threat to our United Kingdom. They have never addressed the inherent tensions that they themselves created and that the Bill deepens rather than resolves.
Upending our international reputation as a nation that upholds the law, and creating the barriers to trade that no deal would create, will have severe consequences and threatens creating an unstoppable force that will cause our nation’s fabric to be permanently rent asunder. I cannot support that, and neither should Government Members. That is why I support the Labour Front-Bench amendments in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer).