House of Commons
Thursday 17 June 2021
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Microchipping of Cats
The Government have a manifesto commitment to introduce the compulsory microchipping of cats, which was recently reaffirmed in our action plan for animal welfare. We carried out a public consultation and are analysing 33,000 responses. We will publish a summary of them soon and the detail of our proposals later this year.
I encourage the hon. Lady to feed in her views and those of her constituents to our consultation. We are working up detailed proposals now. I know how important this issue is—I have lost a pet to a road traffic accident—and it is important that we get this right, both legally and in support terms.
The European Commission’s ban on the import of live bivalve molluscs from class B waters is wrong and unjustified. We have repeatedly told the European Commission that and we will continue to raise the issue. I am pleased to say that the Food Standards Agency has recently revised its shellfish waters classification process, ensuring that classifications are awarded in ways that are proportionate and pragmatic, and provide high levels of public health protection.
I thank the Minister for that incredibly helpful answer and for visiting my constituency yesterday to see the fishermen and shellfish industry of Brixham—it is deeply appreciated. She mentions the FSA’s report, so in the light of the Prime Minister’s answer yesterday, is there any chance that those recommendations can be brought forward ahead of September 2021?
I can confirm that my hon. Friend represents one of the most beautiful constituencies that I have visited, and it is full of positive and innovative people involved in the fishing industry. As he heard yesterday, the Prime Minister is doing everything he can to accelerate the process, as are we in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it is important that the process arrived at by the FSA is both robust and fair.
The Government have got this one wrong and instead of blaming the European Union, they should see that the responsibility sits closer to home, with Ministers. Fishing businesses—shellfish businesses—will go bust if a solution is not found soon, and reclassifying waters is a partial fix at best. Being charitable to the Minister, if she thinks she has a case that the EU has acted unlawfully or incorrectly, why has she not begun legal proceedings against it?
I do not need the hon. Gentleman’s charity; I would like his support in representing our position to the European Commission. There is a process for doing this and we intend to follow it carefully. We have made it clear that we do not agree with its analysis of the situation; our shellfish from class B waters is fantastic to eat, and they have always done so. We will continue to use the proper processes, through the new Specialised Committee on Fisheries, and if necessary, we will continue to consider when and if legal action should become appropriate. However, I know, as a lawyer, that legal action is never a quick fix and there may be a better way to do this.
First, may I correct the Minister? She did not go to the most beautiful constituency in Devon when she visited Totnes, as she had come to Axminster, in my constituency, previously. The point about the shellfish is that the European Commission has acted very badly. I have sympathy with the Ministers and huge sympathy with the shellfish industry. The FSA can still move faster to reallocate waters from B to A. We also need all the agencies working together more quickly, and I would like to see some direct support to the shellfish industry, because we are putting shellfish businesses out of business, and no politician and no Government want to do that.
I had the most lovely lunch in my hon. Friend’s constituency the day before yesterday. It was unbelievably beautiful and the weather favoured us at River Cottage. It was just magnificent in every way and it was great to see him there. He also raises some important points about shellfish and rightly says that this is a very difficult issue. It is not one we wanted or would have chosen. We want to export class B molluscs still to the EU, and we think that that should be possible. However, we are looking in a granular way at how we can best support the industry. I am very involved in that work and have spoken to colleagues across Government, including repeatedly to those in the FSA and the Department of Health and Social Care. I reassure my hon. Friend that we are dealing with the issue in a proportionate and joined-up way.
Native Species and Wildlife
To support the recovery of native species in England, we have tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill to require a new, historic, legally binding target for species abundance by 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature. This is in addition to the long-term, legally binding targets we are developing under the Bill. We expect to publish a consultation on the proposed targets in early 2022. We are looking at the action needed on the ground and will launch at least 10 landscape-recovery projects to restore wilder landscapes. In partnership with stakeholders, we will determine the specific actions that will be paid for by our new schemes to reward environmental land management. In addition, the £80 million green recovery challenge fund has kick-started a pipeline of nature-based projects, many of which relate to native species.
The Washlands in my constituency is a fantastic place to visit: an expansive piece of natural land that follows the river through the heart of Burton upon Trent. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking East Staffordshire Borough Council, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and other organisations for their efforts in transforming the Trent valley to create spaces that work for both people and wildlife?
There is hot competition this morning for the best constituency, and my hon. Friend’s area is an extremely interesting and diverse landscape. I of course thank all organisations that are working to transform the Trent valley, including East Staffordshire Borough Council and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Such partnerships and collaboration between partners and the community are absolutely key to the building of successful projects to restore and enhance natural and cultural heritage. I visited the Somerset levels yesterday, where similar partnership working is going so well, with so many partners. I am grateful to all the partners for their efforts towards goals for thriving plants and wildlife right across England.
First, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend confirmed that her Department will support the properly managed reintroduction of beavers, which can contribute so much to the environment.
Secondly, endangered species suffer because of loss of habitat more than anything else. If we rip out hedgerows and headlands and build over all our agricultural land, the habitat will be destroyed and wildlife will be destroyed, so will my hon. Friend join me in campaigning against the use of agricultural land for development?
I knew that my right hon. Friend was going to mention beavers, of which he is a great champion. As he knows, we are to consult on the reintroduction of beavers this summer. There are myriad benefits, but we must also look carefully at the management and mitigations that might be needed.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point about our precious agricultural land. I absolutely reassure him that we on the Government Benches are working hand in glove so that not only do all our new schemes deliver for nature but we can produce the sustainable food in this country that we want. This morning, I went to New Covent Garden market, where I saw a whole lot of our British produce. There were a lot of imports, but a lot of great British fruit and vegetables, and particularly flowers—it is British Flowers Week. Government Members are absolutely supportive of not only productive agriculture but recovering nature.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Government have made some grand claims about the species-abundance targets that they will add to the Environment Bill to protect our native species and wildlife. The Secretary of State has said that the Government want
“not only to stem the tide”
of the loss of nature
“but to turn it around—to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”
However, last week the Government published their amendment; will the Minister explain why the proposed legislation commits only to
“further the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species”
rather than reversing the decline?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. This is the first time that we have had questions in the Chamber together.
This is a tremendous commitment by the Government to halt the decline of nature by 2030. No other country has done anything like this, so we are totally committed to the target. All the framework that we are putting in place will build towards this nature recovery: our local nature recovery strategies; our national nature recovery strategies; our 30% of land and sea protected; our 10 new large-scale landscape recovery schemes; and the entire environmental land management system. I could go on and on. I do not think that I could reiterate more the Government’s commitment to that. We will be consulting on the exact detail of the target in 2022, along with all the other targets in the Environment Bill.
Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector: Competitiveness
As the Minister knows, the food and drinks manufacturing sector is the largest in this country, employing more than 400,000 people directly. It is a major innovator and exporter. My concern is that the sector may get too much red tape and regulation. If we look at the obesity strategy, for example, there could be a lot of regulation with very little gain. Can she reassure me that there will be proper scrutiny of any legislation, and that the minimum burdens will be put on this sector, which is vital to our economy? (901403)
Thank you, Mr Speaker; we will manage.
Our manifesto was clear that we want people at home and abroad to be lining up to buy British. We are lucky to have, as my hon. Friend referenced, a fantastic network of manufacturing businesses, most of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, so we are very alive to the needs of those businesses and the difficulty of excessive regulatory burdens. I am quite sure that we will debate the new obesity strategy fully, both in this House and outside. Some of the legislation can be made using powers in the Food Safety Act 1990, and other parts in the health and care Bill. We meet regularly with the sector and are keen to engage with it on a practical level as to how regulation will affect its businesses.
Given that the Australian trade deal is predicted to save the average household an incredible £1.23 per year in the long term, while destroying agriculture and businesses and opening us up to similarly lowered standards and bad deals with the US, Argentina, Brazil and so on, perhaps the Government are counting on that extra disposable income making up for an uncompetitive sector. What protections are intended to be put in place to make sure that our farmers are not undercut by cheap imports?
One thing that I have just said in reference to this question is that we are very keen to promote the buying of British produce. We have a plan to promote domestic products, and we are further strengthening export support. On the other part of the hon. Lady’s question, we will have a chapter in the new Australia deal to deal with the protection of animal welfare standards. I encourage her to get engaged with the details as they emerge in the course of this year.
Trade Deal with Australia: British Food Standards
I have had regular discussions with the Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade and, indeed, other Cabinet colleagues on the issue of food standards in the context of our negotiations with Australia. The UK has a prohibition on the sale of beef treated with hormones, and the agreement recognises our right to regulate in this way.
The Secretary of State will be aware that environmental, animal welfare and farming groups have all expressed their concern about both the small print in the deal and the precedent that it sets. The Minister knows that trust is in very short supply, and that deals have a habit of unravelling, as we have seen very clearly in recent months.
Can the Minister give us a date by which the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be fully operational, and the date on which the analysis of this deal will be published?
The Secretary of State for International Trade will, I think, be giving a statement later. The Government have now published the key components of the agreement in principle, and some analysis of the impacts of this agreement has already been cited. Australia is a very important partner of ours, and it is important that we get a trade agreement with it. It is, of course, a smaller economy and the opportunities are therefore not as large as they would be with a larger economy, but nevertheless, Australia is an important ally and this is a good agreement between us.
I hardly need to explain to the Secretary of State the level of disbelief and anger that there is as the betrayal of British farming unfolds this week. The level of detail is unclear, but The Daily Telegraph helpfully reports a major win for the Secretary of State for International Trade—doubtless briefed by her. The key losers in this situation are British farmers. Given that we now know that there is going to be a huge increase in the amount of beef and lamb coming in from Australia—produced to lower standards at lower cost, disadvantaging our farmers—will the Secretary of State tell the House what he is going to do to help our farmers meet that challenge?
We secured some important mitigations to help the farming industry, including the fact that a tariff rate quota will stay in place for the first 10 years on both beef and sheep, and for the subsequent five years there will be a special agricultural safeguard that means that if volumes go above a certain trigger, tariffs immediately snap back in. We have put in place mitigations through the quota for the first 10 years and through that safeguard.
The current legislation and guidance provides the right safeguards and powers in respect of horse tethering. The code of practice for the welfare of horses, ponies, donkeys and their hybrids provides information on acceptable standards of tethering. We want every owner to follow that guidance.
In my beautiful constituency of Harlow, we sadly see many horses tethered by the roadside and in dangerous locations. These horses often have no water and are left for days on end. Sometimes the tether breaks, causing danger for the horses and passing cars. Will my hon. Friend consider introducing not only tougher measures to penalise individuals who mistreat their horses and break the code of practice for the welfare of horses, ponies, donkeys and their hybrids, but a mandatory duty on local councils to implement a licensing system to ensure that horses are monitored and receive regular vet checks, and that the highest animal welfare standards are upheld?
My right hon. Friend, from his beautiful constituency, has long campaigned on this important issue. People who mistreat their horses face prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The good news is that the maximum penalty under the Act increases this month to five years’ imprisonment. Anyone who has concerns about inappropriate tethering should report the matter to their local authority. Local authorities have powers under the 2006 Act to take action where a horse is suffering.
Agricultural Sector: Labour Supply
DEFRA is working closely with industry and wider Government to ensure that UK growers get the labour they need. This year, the seasonal workers pilot has been expanded from 10,000 to 30,000 visas. Many workers are among those who now have settled or pre-settled status.
The Minister will be aware that the Government’s bizarre approach to labour from the EU is causing chaos across all manner of job roles, including in agriculture. Just this week, haulier Martyn Levitt from Stockton told me that there is a huge shortage of drivers as companies can no longer easily hire from the EU, and goods are not being delivered. That needs to be sorted. Today, the National Farmers Union and I would like to know whether the Minister will extend the seasonal workers pilot scheme to ornamentals to ensure that plants and flowers in fields and nurseries get picked and are not left rotting, bringing joy to no one and bankrupting businesses.
The Secretary of State is working actively on this issue and had a meeting with several representatives of the ornamentals sector only yesterday to discuss it. We are working hard across Government to address these worker shortages. I am working with the Department for Work and Pensions to promote picking and to support the horticultural sector, as well as to recruit more UK workers. Automation will be at least some of the solution to this issue, and we are actively promoting new technologies.
Leaving the EU: Agriculture and the Food Industry
Farm incomes are heavily influenced by exchange rates, and in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum there was an immediate boost to farm profitability and that has remained the case since. For the first time in 50 years, we are also free to create an independent agriculture policy that works for our own farmers. Our future agriculture policy will support farmers to farm sustainably, to make space for nature in the farmed landscape, and to improve their profitability.
I thank the most excellent Secretary of State for that response. Is he as fed up as I am with doom and gloom from those on the Opposition Benches when our farmers do such a good job? Coming out of the EU allows them to turbocharge their exports. Get rid of that lot and concentrate on the good stuff that we are doing.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. British agriculture in many sectors is world-beating, world-leading, competes internationally and can export internationally. We will be announcing plans to increase the support that we offer to exporters, and there are important opportunities for our goods in some of the Asian markets.
UK-Australia Trade Deal
As part of the agreement with Australia, we secured a special agricultural safeguard, which has a strict automatic volume trigger. It means that for the first 10 years, Australian beef and lamb will be subject to a tariff rate quota, and for the subsequent five years it will be subject to a special agricultural safeguard with a volume trigger.
This particular Opposition Member has no doubt about the world-class nature of our crofting and farming sector and our food production throughout the UK. However, I am aware of the concerns expressed by those sectors about the lack of consultation with the trade bodies and with Parliament before this deal was announced. What can the Secretary of State do to reassure these industries that a dangerous precedent is not being set and we are not going to see a lack of consultation repeated with trade deals, however important they might be, in future?
The Department for International Trade has a number of groups, including one covering agri-food, that discuss the approach to trade deals and help the Department to identify priorities. Necessarily, when in the final stages of a negotiation, the mandate the Government have is kept confidential, otherwise it would undermine our negotiating position, but we do share as much as we are able to with stakeholders, including the National Farmers Union.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is tariff-free access for Australian farmers from day one up to a meaningless cap 60 times current levels of imported beef, and the same applies to lamb up to a cap three times current import levels? Does that not render promises of a 15-year protection period absolutely redundant, and can we expect the same so-called protections in future trade deals?
We have to look at this in the context of the fact that at the moment Australia does not sell us any of these goods because, in the case of beef, it has a minuscule tariff rate quota of only about 1,400 tonnes. We also have to look at it in the context of the fact that we already have a TRQ with New Zealand that is over 100,000 tonnes, and New Zealand does not fill that quota.
Shark Fins: Ban on Imports
As we set out in the recently published action plan for animal welfare, we will be bringing forward legislation to ban the import and export of detached shark fins. DEFRA has been working closely with the Home Office and Border Force officials. We need enforceable legislation that will lead other nations to join us in banning this dreadful trade.
I quite agree that we do need enforceable legislation, and not just on whole shark fins but on shark fin products. I have asked the Minister about this in a written parliamentary question and in Westminster Hall, and I have not had a satisfactory response. Can she confirm today that shark fins and shark fin products will be proscribed from UK borders, which will be a great relief to my Angus constituents?
We are in the process of preparing the legislation at the moment. I would be very willing to meet the hon. Gentleman on the detailed wording of how we do this. We are making good progress. We need to make sure that our measures are as effective as possible in delivering shark conservation measures globally.
UK Fishing Industry
The seafood sector has faced significant challenges over the past 18 months, but the situation is now improving as hospitality opens up and we adapt to new export requirements. Sector support worth £32.7 million is available this year, plus an additional £100 million to help rejuvenate the industry and our coastal communities.
Seafarers UK conducted a report in 2019 that found that most small-scale fishermen often had few savings and reduced financial resilience even before covid, and many have fallen through the gaps of Government funding because they either changed vessels or because their fishing opportunities and earnings in 2019 were not enough to reach the threshold for the fisheries response fund. What steps can the Minister take to address this issue and to support the small fishing boats in my constituency in Lyme Bay?
That excellent report, which I was very pleased to provide a foreword to, highlights that small-scale fishermen face not only financial challenges but social pressures. The report’s recommendations point to where industry and the Government might tackle these challenges together, and we are currently considering these in more detail.
Today is Clean Air Day. The recent coroner’s inquest into the tragic death of Ella Kissi-Debrah highlighted the importance of making progress on delivering clean air. The Government are working on a new targets framework for air quality and a range of policies to improve air quality, and in particular to reduce particulate matter. We will also do more to raise awareness of the risks of air quality in our urban areas.
In 2007 there were major floods in Sheffield, which not only affected homes but destroyed large parts of industrial areas, including Meadowhall shopping centre, Forgemasters and other industries. A great deal of work has been done on flood defences, with the council and the private sector working together, with some Government support. However, one thing that would really help is the preservation of the peat bogs in the moorlands above Sheffield, which act as a massive sponge to stop the run-off and the cascading of water down into Sheffield. Will the Minister take action now to stop heather burning on the peat bogs and to make sure that peat does not end up in unnecessary products, such as compost for gardens?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The Government are clear that we will consult on a ban on horticultural peat, and we will shortly bring forward the legislation that will implement a new ban on the burning of heather on blanket bog. It is our intention to treble the rate of peatland restoration, for all the reasons he said.[Official Report, 21 June 2021, Vol. 697, c. 8MC.]
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government set out proposals in our recent England tree strategy. There will be a new urban tree challenge fund and a new treescapes fund for local authorities, and of course our policy of biodiversity net gain absolutely intends to make space for nature in new developments, which will including tree planting.
I hope that today is not the Secretary of State’s last Question Time, given the recent rumours from Downing Street that he is due for the chop. If those rumours are true, how will he spend his next few weeks ensuring that he is not remembered as the Secretary of State who betrayed our fishing industry and who rolled over and betrayed our farmers over an Australian trade deal?
Ministers never comment on reshuffle speculation, particularly when it is about oneself. In the context of fishing, we recently got an agreement with the EU on how to approach shared stocks for the remainder of this year. We of course got an increase in quota of around 25%, with 15% of that coming this year, and we have deployed that to almost double the fishing opportunities for our inshore fleet in this year.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Our peat habitats are vital for our biodiversity, can be a vitally important carbon store and can also help with both drought and flood risk mitigation. We will be dramatically increasing the funds available for peatland restoration. I or one of my ministerial colleagues would of course be delighted to visit his constituency in the High Peak and see some of the work being done there.
We are dramatically increasing the rate of peatland restoration to get to 35,000 hectares by the end of this Parliament. It will be a big feature of the landscape recovery component of our future agriculture policy. We have great ambitions to see the natural hydrology of our deep peat habitats restored.
I know that fly-tipping is a challenge. My hon. Friend says that £400 is too low. That is an immediate on-the-spot penalty fine, which was introduced just a couple of years ago. Prior to that, local authorities had to try to bring a prosecution, but we are doing more to try to improve the traceability of waste, to strengthen the waste carrier transfer system and to digitise the notes to improve the traceability and track down the criminals behind this fly-tipping.
This issue is very much the subject of debate in the Environment Bill, which is currently going through both Houses of Parliament. We will be setting targets for clean air, and we will also be looking at a population exposure target, since it is not just about the absolute levels of particulate matter—we want to continue to reduce those—but about looking at the issue of population exposure, too.
The reason why Cumbria’s farmers feel betrayed is that the Australian trade deal gives Australian farmers an unfair advantage over British farmers, because their production costs are lower due to significantly worse animal welfare and environmental standards in Australia compared with those in our country. Given that this sets an appalling precedent for all future deals, will the Secretary of State ensure that farmers’ representatives in this House get the final say and a veto before this deal is signed off.
Under the provisions that we have to ratify treaties, of course this House will have the ability to decline to ratify any treaty, including this particular one. On the issue of animal welfare, it is the case that we have a chapter on animal welfare co-operation. Of course, we will be seeking to address some of the welfare deficiencies in Australia and, for instance, to get it to follow New Zealand’s lead on the issue of mulesing. It is also important to recognise that this agreement does not cover pork and poultry, on which its standards also have problematic approaches.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—
Voter ID: Fraudulent Votes
The commission has made no detailed assessment of the number of fraudulent votes that could be prevented as a result of the Government’s proposed policy to introduce voter ID requirements. While levels of reported electoral fraud in the UK are consistently low, they do vary and there is no reliable methodology for forecasting instances of electoral fraud. The commission has highlighted the lack of an ID requirement as a vulnerability in polling stations in Great Britain. Public research shows that this issue concerns voters.
We know, as the hon. Gentleman says, that previous work by the commission has shown that voter impersonation is a very rare occurrence in this country. We also know from the other side of the Atlantic that schemes there involving the production of identification at polling stations have suppressed turnout, especially among poorer communities and minority ethnic communities. Will that experience be taken into account by the commission in formulating further advice to the Government in respect of their proposed legislation?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that question, and he raises an interesting point. Hon. Members will have seen that, at both state and federal level, there are discussions at the moment about electoral law. We may have lessons to learn from fellow democratic countries, and I will pass that recommendation on to the commission for its consideration.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Online and In-person Communal Worship: Covid-19 Restrictions
The Church of England is strongly encouraging churches to support both in-person and online communal worship, and training has been given to thousands of clergy to enable this. It is up to local churches to decide how best to do this.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. It is welcome that the Church is encouraging this both online and in-person. For those housebound, who perhaps in the past have only received home communion, to be able to participate more is very welcome, but nothing can actually replace the fellowship of being a part of a real-life congregation. Can he give an absolute assurance that no barriers will be put in the way of achieving that?
I could not agree with my hon. Friend more, and I can give him a complete assurance that the Church of England fully recognises the importance that so many people attach to worshipping communally together in church. At the same time, we are very keen not to lose those who join us online, and we hope we will be able to get to know many of our new online attendees as soon as possible in due course.
Choral Singing in Churches and Cathedrals: Covid-19
Some people relax with yoga, others with tai chi—perhaps you do, Mr Speaker—but in the good old days when I used to have a week in Westminster and then get back to Lichfield, I unwound by going to evensong in Lichfield cathedral, which is very relaxing indeed. Whatever reason people go to evensong—perhaps even religious reasons, for worship—there is a need for it to be restored. What assurance can my hon. Friend give that, come 19 July, things will truly get back to normal in Lichfield and elsewhere?
I was praising my hon. Friend in front of all the cathedral deans on Tuesday for his diligence on behalf of Lichfield cathedral. He is absolutely right about the beauty of our choral tradition and how much it is cherished. We all want to see a return as quickly as possible.
Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body
The right hon. Member for East Hampshire, representing the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, was asked—
Restoration and Renewal: Procurement Opportunities
Restoring Parliament will benefit businesses in the UK, using UK materials wherever possible and creating jobs and apprenticeships nationwide—including, I hope, in my hon. Friend’s constituency—in fields from engineering and high-tech design to traditional crafts such as carpentry and stonemasonry.
The restoration and renewal programme will cost billions, but at the same time it will employ thousands of British people. The Sponsor Body is required to procure and manage the contractors and supply chain. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in doing so, it can help towards delivering the Government’s levelling-up agenda by ensuring that businesses, contractors and so on from our more deprived socioeconomic areas across the UK have real equality of opportunity to access the variety of employment opportunities afforded by the programme?
Absolutely; my hon. Friend is quite right. The programme is currently developing its supply chain plans to help to ensure that the benefits of the programme are felt across the country. There is also an innovative loan scheme for apprentices to be employed by the programme and then loaned to businesses working on the restoration, and dozens of young people from more disadvantaged areas will be offered paid internships and placements in a partnership with the Social Mobility Foundation.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Families and Marriages: Support from the Church
Both archbishops are very committed to strengthening families and marriages across the country, which is why they have launched their commission on families and households to see what greater support the Church can provide in this vital area of our national life.
What a welcome response. Given that the Government have recently announced the foundation of the National Centre for Family Hubs, led by the Anna Freud Centre, and given the interest in family hubs from our local Hope Church in Blackwood, what communication has the hon. Member had with the Family Hubs Network to ensure that churches are involved in this support that is being offered to vulnerable families across our local communities?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. Like her, I am a great fan of family hubs. The families and households commission will be looking carefully at how family hubs can help families to flourish and how churches could be involved in this important work.
Rewilding in New Tenancy Agreements
I commend the hon. Lady’s continued focus on this vital area. Our new farm business tenancies strongly encourage good environmental practice, such as ensuring that watercourses are kept clear, hedgerows are well maintained and topsoil is preserved. We are reviewing tenancy obligations as our new environmental strategy is developed.
I thank the hon. Member for his engagement with me on this issue—and his tolerance, in some cases. I am pleased to see that the commissioners will be carrying out a natural capital audit of their 105,000 acres of land. Can he say whether that is likely to result in recommendations on conservation and rewilding? If so, will he consider looking at the National Trust’s model tenancy agreements to see whether that is something that could be put in future tenancy agreements on the commissioners’ land?
I continue to be grateful to the hon. Lady. The Church wants to be an exemplar in this area. I can tell her that we expect the results of the natural capital audit shortly and will use it to see where we can enhance the environment of our rural land after we have listened to and collected the necessary data from our tenants.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Voter Registration: Principal Residence and Secondary Address
Following the 2017 UK general election, the commission recommended that the UK Government should consider making just such a change to the registration system. It is possible for somebody to be lawfully registered to vote in more than one place. At local elections, such people are able to vote in each place in different elections. However, it is an offence to vote twice in a single election, such as in a parliamentary general election. The commission report in 2017 highlighted that requiring such voters to choose which area they will vote in at a UK parliamentary election could reduce the risk of electors voting twice. One practical issue is that we do not have one single national register, but lots of local registers held by individual registration officers.
I am very grateful for that answer. Of course, this is a problem we have seen in Wycombe. I have seen evidence of it, which is why I raise it. On the point about a single national database, the House will remember that we had this conversation in relation to the NHS track and trace app. As a software engineer, may I, through the hon. Member, encourage the Electoral Commission to take the advice of expert software engineers on how such uniqueness could be assured on registrations without having a single national database?
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Covid-19: Ongoing Protection for Staff
The House of Commons Commission will continue to ensure that all necessary measures are in place to protect everyone in the parliamentary community from the risk of covid. The specific measures to be retained or implemented will be informed by the current Government guidance in place at the time, public health advice received and the parliamentary covid risk assessment. The covid risk assessment has been continuously updated in the past year to reflect the changing position, and will continue to be so as long as covid poses a risk to the health and wellbeing of our community. At its meeting on Monday 8 March, the House of Commons Commission agreed that the House makes all necessary arrangements to ensure the resilience of business and the safety of all passholders in relation to covid through to March 2022.
Will my hon. Friend please pass on my thanks, and I am sure those of all Members, to all staff who continue to work through the pandemic in this place? Will a review take place into the procedures used, so they can be improved to protect against the threat of disease in future?
I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend’s thanks to all staff who have worked in the House of Commons during the past difficult 15 months. I think I speak for everyone when I say they have done a simply outstanding job. Learning lessons from our response has been a key priority throughout this time. It has allowed us to refine and improve our response as time has progressed. The House service, through the business resilience group, will ensure planning is conducted to prepare for a range of public health emergencies, alongside identifying and mitigating against a number of other novel risks if they occur.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Church Estates: Rewilding, Tree-planting and Sustainable Farming
Ahead of the new environmental land management schemes, we are undertaking a natural capital audit across our rural holdings. The report, which is expected later this year, will include a review of woodland management and new tree planting, including riparian planting.
The Church is a significant UK landowner, owning 105,000 acres of land, with a property portfolio worth over £2 billion. May I ask what plans it has for rewilding, tree planting and sustainable farming on its estates, as well as for being more transparent about what land it owns and how that land is used?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that like him I want to see a lot more trees planted. The Church in 2020 planted 1.1 million trees, on top of the 2.6 million we planted in 2019. Page 24 of the 2020 annual report shows our top 20 property holdings and our top 20 equity holdings.
The Church of England is in the business of restoration. Yet over the centuries we have seen our natural habitats retreat into manufactured and managed landscapes, which are just ineffective at balancing our delicate ecosystem. As a significant landowner lagging behind the national ambition on rewilding as well as planting, what are the next steps the Church will take to build our natural cathedrals of woodlands and wildernesses ahead of COP26? How much will it invest in that project, and will it set a diocesan and local church challenge in this year of COP26 for them to play their part too?
There was a lot there, but I will do my best. I can tell the hon. Lady that, of the 184,000 acres we own in total, 92,000 acres are timber, but she is right that there is more to do. I will be attending the Groundswell conference next week, as will some members of the Church Commissioners, along with a number of Environment Ministers, and we are very conscious of the important issues that she raises.
Investment in Companies: Transparency and Low Carbon Economy
The commissioners have a long history of leveraging their position as an investor to increase transparency and to make sure that companies are Paris-aligned—most recently, with ExxonMobil. The commissioners’ work alongside other investors can often play a leading role in organisations such as Climate Action 100+, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.
This week, the Young Christian Climate Network began its relay for justice, where over 500 young people will take part in the trek from Truro Cathedral to Glasgow to call for bold action from our political and religious leaders. We all know that warm words will not stop the earth’s temperature rising, and although I very much welcome the update from the commissioner today, will he confirm that every component of the Church, including the commissioners, is on track to reach zero carbon by 2030?
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The commission has regular discussions with the Cabinet Office at both official and ministerial level, including to provide feedback on the development of the Government’s policy on voter ID. These discussions followed the commission’s independent evaluations of the Government’s voter ID pilot schemes at the local elections in 2018 and 2019. The commission recommended:
“Any ID requirement should deliver clear improvements to current security levels…ensure accessibility for all voters”,
“be realistically deliverable, taking into account the resources required to administer it”.
It is not a question of what I agree with; it is about what the Electoral Commission agrees with, and I am here to answer questions on behalf of the Electoral Commission. It believes that there is a perception of the potential for fraud and that is what it is seeking to address in the advice that it has given to Government.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Net Zero Target
We estimate that the net carbon footprint for our church buildings is 12.5% lower than in 2006. We have developed an energy footprint tool, which has been shortlisted for an award at this year’s Energy Awards, and 38% of our parishes have engaged with the footprint tool. I suggest to my hon. Friend that she encourages parishes in her constituency to do so as well.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that small rural churches, of which there are many in my North Devon constituency, have an important role to play in hitting net zero. I know many congregants who are keen to do more with their local church to help. Will he explain what the Government are doing to promote the role that individuals and small rural churches can play together in this national issue?
I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the diocese of Exeter has just received a £1 million grant from the Church for its Growing the Rural Church project. She could encourage local churches to join the Eco Church scheme and suggest that they move to a renewable electricity supplier. For those fit enough to cycle to church, she might ask them about where bikes could be left securely during services.
I have received a report from the Tellers in the Aye Lobby on the Division that took place at 6.59 pm yesterday on the question “That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps and Other Provisions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021” be made. The hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) has informed me that the number of Aye votes was erroneously reported as 461 rather than 489. I will direct the Clerk to correct the numbers in the Journal accordingly. The Ayes were 489 and the Noes were 60, so the Ayes have it. The names were correctly recorded in Hansard.
I will now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary business arrangements to be made.
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Australia
I wish to make a statement on the new UK-Australia free trade agreement secured by our Prime Ministers this Tuesday. We have agreed a truly historic deal, which is the first negotiated from scratch by the United Kingdom since leaving the European Union. This gold-standard agreement shows what the UK is capable of as a sovereign trading nation: securing huge benefits such as zero-tariff access to Australia for all British goods and world-leading provisions for digital and services, while making it easier for Brits to live and work in Australia.
The agreement also paves the way for the UK’s accession to the vast market covered by the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, coupling us with some of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies worth £9 trillion in global gross domestic product. Our Australia deal shows that global Britain is a force for free and fair trade around the world. We believe in 21st-century trade. We do not see it as a zero-sum game like our critics, who doubt we can compete and win in the global marketplace. We want to be nimble, positive and open to new ideas, talent and products, without sacrificing our sovereignty.
We have laid out the core benefits of this deal in the agreement in principle document. It means that £4.3 billion-worth of goods exports will no longer have to pay tariffs to enter the Australian market, from Scotch whisky and Stoke-on-Trent ceramics to the 10,000 cars we currently export from the north of England. Meanwhile, we will enjoy greater choice and top value in Aussie favourites such as wine, swimwear and biscuits. Young Brits under the age of 35 will be able to live and work in Australia for up to three years with no strings attached. Our work and mobility agreement goes beyond what Australia agreed with Japan or the US, making it much easier for Brits to live and work in Australia.
We have agreed strong services and digital chapters that secure the free flow of data and the right for British lawyers and other professionals to work in Australia without needing to requalify. We have secured access to billions of pounds in Government procurement, which would benefit businesses such as Leeds-based Turner and Townsend, which is contracted to expand the Sydney Metro.
This deal promotes high standards, with the first animal welfare chapter in an Australian trade deal, as well as strong provisions on climate change, gender equality and development. On agriculture, it is important that we have a proper transition period. That is why we have agreed 15 years of capped tariff-free imports from Australia, which means that Australian farmers will only have the same access to the UK market as EU farmers in 2036. We should use this time to expand our beef and lamb exports to the CPTPP markets, which are expected to account for a quarter of global meat demand by 2030. I do not buy this defeatist narrative that British agriculture cannot compete. We have a high-quality, high-value product that people want to buy, particularly in the growing middle classes of Asia.
This Australia deal is another key step to joining the trans-Pacific partnership, a market of 500 million people that has high-standards trade, 95% tariff-free access and very strong provisions in digital and services, which are of huge benefit to Britain, the second largest services exporter in the world. It covers the fastest growing parts of the world, where Britain needs to be positioned in the coming decades. While some look to the past and cling to static analysis based on what the world is like today, we are focused on the future and what the world will be like in 2030, 2040 and 2050.
Of course, Parliament will have its full opportunity to scrutinise this agreement. Our processes are in line with those of other parliamentary democracies, such as Canada and New Zealand; the Trade and Agriculture Commission will play a full role, providing expert and independent advice; and the House can rest assured that this deal upholds our world-class standards, from food safety and animal welfare to the environment.
Following the agreement in principle, we will finalise the text of the full FTA agreement, which will then undergo a legal scrub before being presented to Parliament, alongside an economic impact assessment. I look forward to further scrutiny from the Select Committee on International Trade and the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
This deal means we have now struck agreements with 68 countries plus the EU, securing trade relations worth £744 billion as of last year. The deal with our great friend and ally Australia is just the start of our new post-Brexit trade agreements. It is fundamentally about what kind of country we want Britain to be. Do we want to be a country that embraces opportunity, looks to the future, and believes its industries can compete and that its produce is just what the world wants? Or do we accept the narrative some peddle that we need to stay hiding behind the same protectionist walls that we had in the EU, because we cannot possibly compete and succeed? To my mind, the answer lies in free trade. Our country has always been at its best when it has been a free-trading nation. This deal is a glimpse into Britain’s future—a future where we are a global hub for digital and services, where our high-quality food and drink and manufactured goods are enjoyed across the world, and where we are open to the best that our friends and allies have to offer. That is what this deal represents, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement and for publishing the outline agreement at quarter to 1 last night—nothing screams confidence in the deal you have negotiated like slipping it on to your website after midnight. I will not address every element of the deal she has highlighted today. On some, we will have to reserve judgment until we have seen the full treaty text and the economic impact assessment. After all, this was the Secretary of State who agreed a brand new Japan deal that turned out, according to her own figures, to deliver lower benefits for Britain than the one we already had.
However, the one area of this deal on which we can reach a verdict now is the terms agreed on agriculture. In doing so, I am not going to hold the Secretary of State to some impossible ideal; I am simply going to hold her to the past commitments she has made to protect our standards and our farming industry. Let us start with standards. She said last October that she would not sign a trade deal that would allow British farmers to be undercut by cheap imports produced using practices that are allowed in other countries but banned in the UK. She called that an important principle, so let me give her just 10 examples of such practices in Australia: allowing slurry to pollute rivers; using growth-promoting antibiotics; housing hens in barren cages; trimming their beaks with hot blades; mulesing young lambs; keeping pregnant pigs in sow stalls; branding cattle with hot irons; dehorning and spaying them without pain relief; and routinely transporting livestock for 48 hours; and doing that without their having rest, food or water. All those practices are in common use in Australia, but banned in Britain. Yet, under the deal she has signed, the meat from farms that use those practices will come into our country tariff-free, undermining British standards, undercutting British farmers and breaking the promises made to the British people.
So much for protecting our standards, what about protecting our farming industry? The Secretary of State said last November:
“We have no intention of ever striking a deal that doesn’t benefit farmers”.
Yet the deal she has just signed will allow Australia’s farm corporations to export more than 60 times the amount of beef next year as they exported to Britain last year before they face a single penny in tariffs. It is the equivalent of immediate, unlimited tariff-free trade, which is why when the Secretary of State says that Australian farmers will be in the same position as EU farmers after 15 years, she is talking nonsense. They will be in exactly the same position from year one, but without the requirement to meet EU standards. No wonder Australia’s former negotiator at the World Trade Organisation said:
“I don’t think we’ve ever done as well as this. Getting rid of all tariffs and quotas forever is virtually an unprecedented result.”
Of course, he is right. When Japan and Korea negotiated their deals with Australia, they set tariff-free allowances in year one that allowed for a modest increase in the amount of beef Australia had exported to them in the previous year—7% for Korea and 10% for Japan. By comparison, the deal the Secretary of State has just signed allows Australia to increase its exports of beef by 6,000% without paying any tariffs. In the Government’s own scoping paper last July we have it in black and white. That increase in Australian exports will mean:
“A fall in output and employment”
in the UK’s agricultural sector. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady says it is wrong, but I am just quoting her Department. So British farmers are to be left worse off as a result of her deal. This is another broken promise, with more to come when New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and America demand the same deal for their exports. Let me be absolutely clear. We want good trade deals with other countries. We want trade deals that will create jobs, support our industries, and strengthen our economy and our recovery. But, to be blunt about it, we want the kind of results from our trade deals that Australia has just achieved from us.
The Secretary of State told the newspapers in April that she would sit her inexperienced Australian counterpart in an uncomfortable chair and show him how to play at this level. I am afraid that this deal has exposed the Secretary of State as the one who is not up to the job. Britain needs and deserves better.
We need someone who will keep the promises they make to the public and to Parliament; someone who will promote British standards around the world, not allow them to be undermined; someone who will protect our farming and steel industries, not throw them to the wolves; someone who will get the results for their country that the Australian Trade Minister has delivered for his. The Secretary of State has shown that she is not that person, so there is only one question that matters today: will she guarantee to give Parliament not just a debate but a binding vote on the deal that she has agreed with Australia so that we can reject the terms she has agreed on farming and send someone else back to the table to get a better deal for our country?
Well, it is not a surprise that the right hon. Lady is relentlessly negative about the opportunities of the Australia deal and the trans-Pacific partnership. I am surprised that she is known as the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade; she should be known as the shadow Secretary of State against international trade, because there is not a single trade deal that she supports.
The right hon. Lady had nothing to say about the tariff-free access for all British goods—from cars to whisky—that we are going to secure under this agreement. She had nothing to say about the benefits for the under-35s of being able to live and work in Australia for three years with no strings attached. She had nothing to say about digital and services, even though the UK is the second largest services exporter in the world. Instead, she talked about agriculture, which is a new interest for her; we have not really heard her say much about it in the past.
Let me be clear: in year one, the cap on Australian beef exports to the UK will be 35,000 tonnes. We currently import 230,000 tonnes from the EU, so the cap is 15% of what we currently import from the EU. That is not the same access that the EU has; it is only 15% of the access. In fact, Australian farmers will only have the same access as the EU in 2036.
The right hon. Lady talks about animal welfare standards. Australia has been rated five out of five in international ratings on animal welfare standards. In many cases, those animal welfare standards are higher than they are in the EU, but not once did the right hon. Lady complain about the zero-tariff, zero-quota deal from the EU. Not once has she talked about animal welfare standards in the EU, apart from claiming that she likes Danish pork. The reality is that the right hon. Lady simply wants to stay in the EU. She does not want to look at future opportunities, she is not interested in where Britain can go in the future, and she is not interested in expanding Britain’s trade and delivering more jobs in this country.
I certainly do not intend to criticise my right hon. Friend—who has clearly put a lot of work into this—without even beginning to know the details of the deal that has been struck. It is clearly the case that we need to strike agreements not only with Australia but with the trans-Pacific partnership, Canada, the United States and South America.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spent part of the G7 weekend firefighting the fall-out from a badly negotiated deal over the Northern Ireland protocol, which demonstrates why parliamentary scrutiny is necessary. I am pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary has said that this deal will be the subject of a parliamentary debate. I assume—perhaps she can confirm this—that that means that there will also be a vote. When will the Trade and Agriculture Commission be fully functioning and up and running, and when will the impact assessments in relation to this deal be published?
I can tell my right hon. Friend that we have already put out expressions of interest for serving on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. That will be in place before we need to scrutinise the agreement. The scrutiny of the agreement will take place when we have reached the final signed agreement. That will be presented to Parliament. In advance of that presentation, it will be given to the International Trade Committee and to the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for scrutiny. It will then go to Parliament and go through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process, during which MPs are able to block the deal if they do not support it. I believe the deal I have negotiated is positive for the United Kingdom and will command parliamentary support, but there is always that option open to Members of Parliament.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement.
For all the bluster, the Secretary of State knows that any deal with Australia cannot even make a dent in the shortfall created by the trading disaster of leaving the EU. The simple fact is that we are doing much less trade now than we were before 1 January. This deal will take 15 years to deliver one 200th of the benefits lost from EU membership—and that loss has already cost Scotland’s economy around £4 billion and is projected to cost every person £1,600 in red tape and barriers to trade.
The Secretary of State talks of whisky exports to Australia, while ignoring the fact that the Brexit costs of goods for distilleries have shot up by around 20%, and that is in addition to lost trade. This deal cannot come close to mitigating those costs or loss of sales. Fourteen of Scotland’s food and drink organisations have written to the Secretary of State to say that they have been ignored by this Government. They are Scotland’s farmers, crofters, producers and manufacturers. They know that they are being dragged underwater by yet another Westminster Government who simply do not care. And for what—swimwear?
In the 1970s, the Tories officially called Scottish fishing expendable, and they repeated that attitude on the way out of the EU. Even the Tories in Scottish constituencies now show the same contempt for Scottish agriculture. They have failed to back any amendments to legislation that would protect UK standards in trade negotiations or even public services.
Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the deal does not include investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms that could give corporations the right to sue Governments over actions that affect their profits, thereby potentially leading to the privatisation of public services such as the NHS or changes to workers’ rights? How will she guarantee that no cut of hormone-injected beef from Australia or food products treated with pesticides and antibiotics will appear on our supermarket shelves? She cannot, can she? Will she simply duck these questions and prove, once again, that the only way to protect Scotland’s business and consumers is through independence?
I was hoping that the SNP spokesman would welcome today’s announcement about the Airbus-Boeing dispute and the fact that we have continued to suspend the tariffs on Scotch whisky in a deal with the US.
I have much more faith than the hon. Gentleman does in Scotland’s beef and lamb industry. It is some of the best beef and lamb in the world. I am excited about the opportunities in the trans-Pacific partnership, which will be eating 25% of the world’s meat by 2030. The hon. Gentleman should be looking forward to those opportunities rather than harking back to the time when we were members of the EU. He needs to look at where the fast-growing markets of the future are; that is where Scotland’s opportunities lie.
I can absolutely confirm that ISDS is not part of our trade agreement with Australia, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that no hormone-injected beef will be allowed into the UK.
G’day, Mr Speaker.
I thank the Secretary of State for this gold-standard trade deal with our long-standing friends and allies. She will know that Teesside has a long history of exporting to Australia—including the Sydney Harbour bridge, which was moved from Dorman Long’s Teesside steel plant. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this trade deal will mean simpler trade for chemicals, cars and steel; cheaper prices for my constituents; and easier travel to and from Australia?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: Teesside is absolutely set to benefit from this deal. There will be a removal of tariffs on products such as steel and chemicals—no British product will face tariffs into Australia. The north-east is already incredibly successful in exporting 10,000 cars to Australia every year. The tariff on cars will be removed, allowing even more of our fantastic exports down under.
Tapadh leat, Mr Speaker. Some are saying that Australia has never before had such good luck in a trade negotiation and are wondering how this would have been different had the UK not been at the table. They suspect that Canberra is running out of champagne.
The reality is that in year one of the deal, UK farmers face the arrival from Australia of more quantities of beef, sugar, lamb, cheese and other dairy products than ever arrived in any year from the EU. To make up for the Brexit damage, we would need 245 such deals, which are very risky to farming. There is a feeling of unseemly haste with this deal. Incidentally, the EU would not create such risks for its farmers. With all that in mind, and given the need for scrutiny, will the International Trade Secretary appear before our Select Committee in the next week to 10 days so that we can have a good to and fro and investigate the issues before she signs the deal and Australia has her in handcuffs?
It is interesting that the Chairman of the Select Committee accuses me of haste. It is true that the EU is in the fourth year of its negotiations with Australia, just as it takes a very long time to negotiate any deal with any party. Fundamentally, the EU’s instincts are not to open up its markets. That has cost British business over the years, because we have not had access to Australian and Pacific markets on the same terms as others.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will appear in front of his Committee to answer questions prior to the signing. I am very happy to give him any kind of briefing. As he knows, he will get a copy of the signed trade agreement before anyone else—[Interruption.] I am afraid I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman’s gesticulations, because there is no sound. I think he is very happy that I will appear before the Committee—that is the message I am receiving.
As I have already said to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), in none of the 15 years of the transition period for beef and lamb access is the amount higher than that we currently import from the EU. It is extraordinary that the Labour party is happy with a zero tariff, zero quota deal with a landmass that is much closer to the UK, but afraid of a country that is 9,000 miles away. It seems to be one rule for its friends in the EU, and another rule for everybody else.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this agreement? As she will know, certain farming organisations have expressed concern about this deal. Will she repeat once again that there will be no reduction in the standards of food that will be allowed to be offered for sale on the British market? Further, will she invite those organisations to, rather than express concern, work with and her Department to secure the best possible outcome of the agreement she has achieved?
I thank my right hon. Friend. There are huge opportunities for British products overseas. There is a growing global market for these products. The vast majority of Australian beef and lamb goes to the Asian markets, where prices are higher. The opportunity for Welsh lamb and beef lies in getting better access to those markets so that we too can benefit from those higher prices. I welcome the opportunity to work with the farming industry. I have already talked to the National Farmers Union about how we can work closely together to promote British exports and get more agriculture counsellors into those markets so that we can realise the opportunities of this deal.
The Secretary of State just referred to the fact that Australia is 9,000 miles away compared with the EU markets and the trade we were doing with it. I would be grateful if she could confirm how this deal will help the UK reduce its carbon emissions in international trade. What will this deal do to help the Government achieve their net zero goals by 2030?
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on this deal. She has now signed nearly 68 trade deals. Given the shadow Secretary of State’s comments, I would love to know how she thinks that that is not up to the job. While the doubters are still stuck in the past, can my right hon. Friend reconfirm not only that this free trade agreement paves the way to CPTPP membership for the UK, but that membership of the CPTPP would provide untold opportunities for our businesses by opening up access to 11 Pacific markets worth £9 trillion. As a believer in free markets, that is something that we cannot overlook.
We are expecting trade with those 11 countries to grow by 65% by 2030. The deal is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom. The country has very high standards in areas such as digital and services where we are the second largest exporter in the world. What we have agreed with Australia also covers the market access negotiations for CPTPP, so this is very important stepping stone for those broader opportunities that are in the trans-Pacific partnership .
Investor-state dispute settlement clauses allow multinational corporations to take sovereign Governments to court simply for acting in the best interests of their citizens. They have been used to sue Governments for taking parts of their health services back into public control, and by fossil fuel companies to undermine vital environmental regulations. They make a mockery of the idea that we are taking back control. Will the Minister reassure the House that investor-state dispute settlement clauses will be excluded from the UK-Australia negotiations, and will she guarantee the House that there will be a full debate and meaningful vote for MPs on this and all future agreements?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of ISDS. The fact is that those clauses are in trade agreements, and we already have more than 60 ISDS clauses in various investment agreements to protect British businesses from unfair actions by overseas countries, such as the appropriation of property. Furthermore, the UK has never ever lost an ISDS case, because we are a country that follows the rules and implements our laws and regulations in a fair way. In any case, there is not an ISDS clause in the Australia trade deal.
The Snowdonia Cheese Company, which is based in Rhyl but also has footprints in Deeside and Wrexham, is expanding 20% to 30% per annum and is a north Walian success story, combining milk from local farmers with brand Britain to rapidly expand its sales overseas. Australia is a key market for Snowdonia cheese, and, with tariffs lifted, the company stands to do even better. Will my right hon. Friend visit Rhyl to celebrate with the company its enthusiasm for a UK-Australia trade deal?
This deal is great for UK cheese companies. There is currently an 11% tariff on products such as Snowdonia cheese, which will be removed as part of this deal. I would be delighted to visit the company and celebrate its success. This is what we want to see. Currently, only one in five of our food and drink companies exports. There are huge opportunities overseas and we need to see more and follow the lead of the Snowdonia Cheese Company.
There is grave concern across the farming industry not just about this deal, but about the potential precedent that it sets for our future deals with New Zealand, the United States, Brazil and Canada. Will the Secretary of State agree as a matter of urgency to publish an assessment of the amassed impact on our farming communities if deals with all those other countries are agreed on the same basis as that with Australia?
I am very clear that this deal does not set a precedent for other agreements. The reason that we have agreed to this liberalisation is that Australia is liberalising all of its trade with us, including on goods, services, digital and mobility. This is an agreement between two very like-minded partners that share the same high standards and that believe in free trade. Of course, we will be striking different sorts of agreements depending on how much other partners are prepared to open up their markets.
While some in this place hark back to a delightfully rose-tinted past, I am pleased that Government Members are really looking to the future. This is the first major trade deal we have signed since we left the European Union. On that, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this is a fantastic example of how we can use the opportunities available to us as a sovereign trading nation to deliver for Bishop Auckland residents and for people right across our nation?
This is our first from-scratch negotiated trade deal, and I think we have shown here what we want to do as the United Kingdom. We have gone further than the US or Japan did with Australia in getting the ability for British workers to go to work and live in Australia. We have achieved huge amounts on youth mobility, with under-35s being able to go to Australia for three years with no strings attached, and complete tariff-free access for British goods, with gold standards in areas such as digital services and technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence. I think that benefits my hon. Friend’s constituency, but also the entire United Kingdom.
Antimicrobial resistance is a major global health threat, which led the EU and the UK to ban regular antibiotic use to promote growth in farm animals in 2006. Australia continues to allow antibiotics to be used as growth promoters, without any requirement for farmers even to report multi-resistant bacterial infections. How will the Trade Secretary prevent the import of such antibiotic-fed meat to protect Scotland’s high food standards, our farmers and our future health?
Let me be absolutely clear that we are not lowering our food import standards as a result of this deal. We are absolutely maintaining that, so no hormone-injected beef will be allowed into the United Kingdom. Let me just be clear: all of the questions coming from the Opposition side of the House seem to imply that we need regulatory harmonisation with everybody we trade with. That is the EU model; we have left the EU. We believe that other countries should be in charge of their own rules and regulations, and we should have the sovereignty to set our own rules and regulations. What Opposition Members seem to be arguing for is global regulatory harmonisation.
My constituency of Devizes is home to some of the best farmers in the world, including the current Farmers Weekly beef farmer of the year, James Waight of Enford farm, so I am very positive about the opportunities for more exports of Wiltshire produce, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on concluding this deal. However, I am even more positive about the opportunity for our farmers to have a bigger share of the UK market. We already import three quarters of the food we eat in this country, and to my mind that is too much, so can she reassure me that this deal will not under-cut farmers in Wiltshire with cheap, low-quality imports?
I know my hon. Friend believes in both beef and liberty, and I can assure him that that is exactly what this deal delivers. There are huge opportunities overseas for our beef farmers, and that is what we are seeking to open up, of course. We opened up the US market last year, and we now have beef going from England, Wales and Northern Ireland into the United States. I agree with him: I think there are huge opportunities for our farmers, freed from the common agricultural policy, which has held them back, and with a new pro-animal welfare, pro-environment policy here in the United Kingdom.
Australia, like Canada, is one of our oldest and closest allies, and many of us have family and friends there, so does the Secretary of State share my concern that the anti-trade lobby does not want us to do a trade deal with either of them, nor indeed with the United States and Singapore for that matter? Has she had any indication from the anti-trade lobby about which countries it thinks we can and should do trade deals with?
What a welcome voice from the Opposition Benches! If only the right hon. Gentleman could be promoted to a position on the Front Bench—[Hon. Members: “Make him leader!”] Or even leader; that is a good idea. If that happened, we might see a more sensible, pro-growth, pro-trade policy on the Opposition Benches. It seems to me that the only group the Opposition want us to do a deal with is the EU. In fact, they want us to rejoin the EU. That is the strong message I am getting from the Opposition.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and congratulate her and her team on this achievement. The point about free trade, as she said in her statement, is that it is not a zero-sum game; it can be a win-win for us and for Australia, and for exporters such as the ceramics firms in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent and for consumers such as my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Can she confirm that, through this deal, Aussie favourites such as wine—including Jacob’s Creek and Hardy’s—swimwear and confectionery will be a much cheaper and that there will be more choice for British consumers, saving more than £34 million in year one?
My hon. Friend is right. The idea that a free trade deal is simply about who wins and who loses is completely wrong. The whole point is that Australia is an old friend of the United Kingdom and we want to trade more with each other. We want to give opportunities for our young people in both countries. We want to give opportunities for our exporters and thus, all of us can become more successful, have more jobs and more growth in every local area, from ceramics to all the other industries, as well as being able to get their hands on those fantastic Australian goods such as swimwear and Tim Tams and, of course, Australian wine, which I have been drinking quite a lot of this week.
The Secretary of State has mentioned climate change in earlier answers, but she has not said what assessment has been made of increased greenhouse gas emissions because of shipping the volumes of Australian beef and lamb that their acting Prime Minister is salivating over. Has that assessment been done, or is it anticipated that the price will be paid and offsetting will come from a reduction in ferry and freight traffic in rural parts, particularly in Scotland, which will pay the price as a consequence of this?
I absolutely refute the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that Scottish farmers are not going to benefit from this deal. This is a key stepping stone to CPTPP. By 2030, CPTPP countries will be eating 25% of the world’s meat, and I want to make sure they are eating Scottish beef and Scottish lamb. Of course we are absolutely committed to our net zero target. The Australians are committed to a net zero target, and we will make sure those targets are achieved.
I thank my right hon. Friend for engaging with the International Trade Committee, and I look forward to scrutinising the legal text. Welsh beef, Welsh lamb, Welsh dairy, Welsh cheese and Welsh agriproducts are wanted around the world, and my farmers and I are confident that this trade deal and access to CPTPP will benefit them. There are scaremongers bleating on the other side, in an echo of the former Brexit debates, so will my right hon. Friend reassure me and my farmers that they are at the heart of our trade policy, not an afterthought?
Farming is absolutely at the heart of our trade policy. That is why we have worked to get the US market open to British beef. Yesterday we announced that British poultry will now be going into Japan for the first time. There are huge opportunities in these markets, which generally have higher prices than here in the United Kingdom, and that is where the future of global Britain lies. This is about supporting our farmers with their fantastic products, getting them out into world markets and learning from others with ideas and innovation, not closing ourselves off to the future, which is what the Opposition seem to be advocating.
The Secretary of State makes much of the so-called transition period secured for farmers, but information on the Australian Government website suggests that the tariff-rate quota for Australian beef will increase nearly tenfold immediately, and that the deal will see the quota for Australian lamb nearly doubled in the first year. If she is serious about wanting farmers to compete and succeed, why, at the very first attempt, has she conceded to such a drastic and immediate increase in tariff-rate quotas that imperils the future of Welsh agriculture before domestic post-EU agricultural policies are even in place?
The fact is that there is very little Australian beef imported at the moment. What makes much more sense is to compare the amount in year one, 35,000 tonnes, with the amount that we currently import from the EU, which is 230,000 tonnes of beef. I do not remember the hon. Gentleman complaining when we agreed a tariff-free, quota-free deal with the EU, which is exporting far more beef and lamb than under our agreement with Australia. In fact, the likelihood is that, over time, some of those Australian exports will simply replace exports from the EU.
I welcome the prospect of a productive trade agreement with our closest friends in Australia, but it must be right for both partners. As a vet who has worked on farms in the UK and Australia, I very much welcomed confirmation from the Prime Minister yesterday in the House that this deal will be the first ever to incorporate high animal welfare standards. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the farmers and food producers in Cumbria and across the UK that tariff rate quotas and animal welfare clauses will be used in the agreement to safeguard it, and that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be constituted in time to allow for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of this deal, so that we get it right for farmers, producers and not least animals in both our countries?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that there will be an animal welfare chapter in the agreement. We have published the outcomes of that in the AIP document that we have put online today. I can also confirm that there will be a transition period of 15 years, which will give our farmers significant time to work on this and to expand exports into the important CPTPP markets. I recognise my hon. Friend’s expertise in this area and would very much welcome his engagement as we approach the signing process.
It always amazes me how a legion of Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and pretend they are great independent-minded Eurosceptics and always have been. The reality is that most of them toed the line, voted for remain and then did a bit of quick backpedalling afterwards, like the Minister at the Dispatch Box today. While we are on the subject, she said that the deal would be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. Does that means it will be subject to primary legislation or not?
I thank this outstanding Secretary of State for coming to the House to update us on the free trade agreement. Does she agree that all free trade agreements result in lower consumer prices and great opportunities for exporters, make industry more efficient and allow developing countries to develop? In a way, I agree with the previous questioner: let us have a debate on the Australian free trade agreement, and let those of us on the Government Benches vote in favour of it, and let Opposition Members decide whether they believe in Britain or not.
I fear we already know the answer to whether they believe in Britain or not. This deal will go through the proper parliamentary scrutiny process, through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process, as all international treaties do. I concur with my hon. Friend that the idea that Britain’s future should be in closing ourselves off to the rest of the world—in putting up high-tariff barriers, not innovating, not learning and not sharing ideas—is the recipe for penury, not the recipe for success.
My constituency overwhelmingly rejected Brexit, because we knew what it would do to our farming and fishing industry. Is the Secretary of State concerned that the Australian farmers are hailing this as a huge victory, while Scottish farmers see it as a complete betrayal? Will she therefore explain to the hill farming communities in my constituency how flooding the UK market with cheap, factory-farmed, inferior produced meat is the golden opportunity that the Prime Minister promised that this deal would be?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and all her officials on this excellent deal. Is not the quality of this deal and the speed with which it has been agreed a testament to what can be achieved by high-standards nations when they come together properly as partners and negotiate in good faith? Does she agree that this augurs very well for our accession to CPTPP?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The fact is that the UK is now open to doing liberalising trade deals around the world. We believe that our farmers, our manufacturers and our services companies are able to compete successfully. We also believe that we are better when we are able to share ideas and trade with our friends right across the globe. I can assure him that this is only the start of our free trade agreement programme. We are working on CPTPP accession. We are working on deals with other countries around the world. We are going to make global Britain a success and make the UK a hub for trade in all areas, from food and drink to manufacturing, services and digital.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that her proposed deal will reduce tariffs on meat produced using growth-promoting antibiotics, which UK farmers are banned from using? If so, how is that consistent with the repeated promises that she and other Ministers have made that our farmers will not be undermined by food produced to lower standards than they are required to meet?
I reject the argument that standards in Australia are low. The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that we should trade only with countries that have exactly the same regulations and rules as the United Kingdom. That is frankly a ludicrous proposition that would lead to us trading with virtually no one. Let me be clear: we are not reducing our import standards and we are not allowing hormone-injected beef into the United Kingdom.
I join other Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend on this great deal. I also thank her for making the first scratch-built deal with a Commonwealth country, Australia being a key member of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has historically been neglected by this country over the past few decades. Does she agree that now we can do our own free trade deals outside the European Union, we should focus our efforts on the Commonwealth and keep maintaining our great ties with the Commonwealth nations? We have a great deal of history and cultural issues together, and trade will bring us all together even better.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These are like-minded countries that we have long historical links with. They are our friends and family. I am pleased to say that immediately after this statement I will be meeting the New Zealand Trade Minister to hopefully make further progress on that deal.
Post Brexit, the EU remains our biggest export market by far. I believe that the overarching trade priority must be to address the remaining non-tariff barriers with the EU beyond the trade and co-operation agreement, including around sanitary and phytosanitary rules. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the SPS chapter of this Australia deal, based around equivalence rather than alignment, will not compromise the UK’s options regarding any future EU veterinary agreements? I believe that it will.
The New Zealanders have a veterinary agreement with the EU, but they also have their own independent SPS policy. Let me be clear: we are not dynamically aligning with the EU’s SPS policies. In fact, our agreement in principle makes it very clear that both Australia and the United Kingdom have their own independent SPS regimes.
There cannot be British citizens in the Australian Parliament but there are Australians in this Parliament.
I, for one, commend my right hon. Friend for securing this deal. She will understand that one of its strategic benefits is to set the basis for a global arrangement on standards in services. What progress did she make towards that strategic objective?
My hon. Friend is right. In this deal, we have agreement on the free flow of data, advanced provisions on the mobility of professionals, recognition of qualifications and a whole host of positive arrangements in areas such as investment and procurement. By Australia and the United Kingdom working together to set standards alongside other allies, we can help challenge unfair trade practices across the world and make sure that we stand up for good, rules-based trade in areas where the UK leads.
While I welcome the deal as a signal of things to come when we are unfettered from Europe as an entire nation, not just three out of four regions, I still have grave concerns for our quality lamb and beef sectors, particularly those in Northern Ireland, which are so renowned for quality and high standards and which depend on exports across the world. Last week the Secretary of State, in reply to another question, referred to the contract secured by Foyle Food Group. While it is good news that one person has done that, there has to be more. Will the Secretary of State give assurances over standards, such as the use of antibiotics, which may be notably higher in meat from other countries? Our standards in Northern Ireland are some of the best in the world. We need to retain them.
Northern Ireland is a very successful exporter of agricultural products, and we want to make sure that there are more opportunities not only in the US market, which is now exported to by Foyle Food Group, but right across the world, including through the CPTPP.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on this significant achievement. She has also set an important precedent: as this deal was done from scratch, it potentially sets the basis for all our future trade agreements. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must include in this agreement something missing from other international free trade agreements around the world—we must establish and maintain a fair and level playing field for UK businesses employing UK people, particularly in the food and farming sector?
I am pleased that our agreement with Australia will contain a strong labour chapter, and also a small and medium-sized enterprise chapter that will cut red tape on our fantastic SMEs that want to export around the world, cutting their paperwork so that they can get more of their fantastic goods, including, of course, food and drink companies.
Before I call the Leader of the House, I want to pay tribute to Sir Roy Stone, the principal private secretary to the Government Chief Whip, who is leaving the civil service this week. Sir Roy is only the fourth person to have held this role in a century, and he has done so with distinction for more than 20 years.
In helping facilitate the smooth running of parliamentary business, he has served this House, as well as successive Governments. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing him well for the future. I have to say that personally I have always felt he gave great advice and worked very well behind the scenes, in charge of the usual channels. He will be missed by all sides of the House, and I wish him well.
I now call the Leader of the House to make the business statement.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 21 June will include:
Monday 21 June —Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion relating to planning, followed by a debate on a motion relating to steel. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Tuesday 22 June—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill.
Wednesday 23 June—Consideration in Committee of the Armed Forces Bill.
Thursday 24 June—General debate on the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, followed by a general debate on UK defence spending. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 25 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 28 June will include:
Monday 28 June—Second Reading of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill.
Tuesday 29 June—Estimates day (1st allotted day). Subjects to be confirmed.
Wednesday 30 June—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). Subjects to be confirmed. At 7.00 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Thursday 1 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by a general debate on Windrush day, followed by a general debate on Pride month. The subjects for these debates were recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 2 July—The House will not be sitting.
I am pleased to announce the remaining recess dates for the rest of this year. Subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the conference recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 23 September and will return on Monday 18 October. The House will rise at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 9 November and return on Monday 15 November. Finally, for the Christmas recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Thursday 16 December and return on Tuesday 4 January.
We often talk of parliamentary democracy in sweeping and even grandiloquent terms, but its day-to-day success rests on the hard work of unseen officials. Yesterday the Prime Minister paid tribute, as you have, Mr Speaker, to Sir Roy Stone, the departing principal private secretary to the Chief Whip, who came to his current post at the start of the millennium, after serving Margaret Thatcher, Sir John Major and Tony Blair in Downing Street. While Sir Roy did not waste any time on my appointment in making it clear to me that the term “usual channels” was best kept away from the Floor of the House—in fact, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to use it—I intend to break the rule today, to make it clear that, when people mentioned the usual channels actually they meant Sir Roy. He was and has been the usual channels for the past 20 years. He is, as you pointed out, Mr Speaker, only the fourth person to have held this particular set of responsibilities since Sir Charles Harris’ appointment a century ago.
Over the last 21 years, Sir Roy has kept the parliamentary show on the road—not least in helping to smooth occasionally troubled waters in recent years, working phantasmagorical wonders behind the scenes and accomplishing feats of which Houdini would be proud, to ensure that the show went on. A predecessor of mine, Richard Crossman, described the job as
“a little round ball-bearing which makes the huge joint work that links the Opposition and Government Whips’ Offices.”
That does not quite do it justice. Sir Roy himself would say that he is an honest broker. This is nearer the mark, but underplays his significance. Instead, Sir Roy’s occasional declaration that this or that politician is offside is nearer the mark, because it invites comparison to a popular game known as association football, where referees may instinctively understand what is appropriate and what is not.
My own view is that Sir Roy has been a guardian of our constitution and its proprieties, the keeper of the democratic clocks, devoted to maintaining the position of and the balance between our constitution’s weights and counterweights: Executive and legislature; Front Bench and Back Bench; Opposition and Government. I cannot think of a more important or solemn duty, but Sir Roy has proved himself the sort of man who performs near miracles with considerable regularity. He has been an inspiration and a teacher who we will all miss enormously; and, to his great credit, he still has much more to give. I wish him and his family every possible blessing.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. I know that the staff of the House who have been asking me about the recess dates will be very pleased to hear them, given the hard year that so many of them have been through.
Every day, we sit here under the protective shield of our loved friend, Jo Cox. We can hear her voice. We are inspired by her. She mattered then; she matters still. Her life made a difference to millions and we miss her very much. This week especially, we send our love to her family.
Mr Speaker, the Opposition—particularly the Whips Office—join you and the Leader of the House in saying a big thank you to Sir Roy Stone, who is retiring this week after 44 years of service. We want him to know how much we appreciate him.
In this Cervical Screening Awareness Week, I encourage all women to take up the screening when offered, and to encourage other women to do likewise.
The British people deserve to have a competent Government, but this Government, unfortunately, are anything but competent—hopeless, in fact. This is costing the country dearly. Four years on from the Grenfell tragedy, where on the business is the plan to make all homes safe from fire and the law reforms to give tenants true voice—something that the survivors and bereaved people were promised?
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced yesterday what he called an economic support package, but it consisted of just one single measure, which does not a package make. Failure to help businesses who have lost thousands of pounds because of the covid measures extension—itself needed only because of other Government incompetence—will cost many people’s jobs. Hopeless.
Similarly, the Prime Minister came back from a weekend with a few mates in Cornwall, describing something as a global vaccination programme that is anything but: 870 million doses of vaccine is a fraction of the 11 billion that the world actually needs, and his level of leadership at the G7 a fraction of what the country needs. The Government are not preparing the UK for the impacts of climate change, according to the Climate Change Committee; the Ministry of Justice is having to remove children from Rainsbrook secure training centre because it cannot keep them safe; there is little hope for young people who have lost months of education; social care is failing vulnerable children; trade deals are undermining farmers and fishers; and exports are down. Hopeless.
Will the Leader of the House please explain to people who own homes with fire defects, to the world’s poorest people, to businesses losing money, to care workers and people who need care, and to our children and young people why the Government could not get around to arranging the business to sort out problems that are predictable, predicted and fixable?
There is now a steady stream of Government announcements on major matters that Members have to find out about from journalists, instead of here in this Chamber: covid regulations, parliamentary rules on English votes for English laws, the publication of the review on rape prosecutions—and that’s just this week. Does the Leader of the House agree that this is, at best, not in the spirit of the ministerial code, and, at worst, treating our constituents with contempt?
The British steel industry supports tens of thousands of jobs, but the Trade Remedies Authority’s decision to withdraw steel safeguards plunges steelworkers, their families, and communities that rely on the industry into a deeply precarious situation. Will the Government bring forward emergency legislation so that Ministers can reject the Trade Remedies Authority’s recommendation, temporarily extend current safeguards and protect British jobs in steel?
When will the Leader of the House bring in the rule changes that he and I both know are urgently needed to allow constituents to petition to recall their MP when the independent complaints process finds them to be a bully or sexual harasser?
Finally, I did not need leaked texts from one hopeless person, about another hopeless person, moaning about a third one; I only needed to listen to the care workers in Bristol West to know that there is not, and never was, a ring of protection around them and the people they care for. Why did the Prime Minister keep on as Health Secretary someone he thought was hopeless in a global health crisis? Why?
The British people recognise incompetence and waste when they see it, they know what is right and what is not, and they know when a Minister is hopeless. The Leader of the House is always welcome to listen to the people of Bristol West, as I have been listening to the people of North East Somerset. My constituents and his share a strikingly similar view of his hopeless Government, and a shared belief that we all deserve better.
The hon. Lady has very kindly promoted me. Of course, the Government are not mine but Her Majesty’s, and that is not a role to which, I confess, I aspire.
As regards text messages, there is a great line from Dr Johnson:
“In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.”
I think the same applies to text messages, which are essentially the trivia, the flotsam and jetsam, the ephemera of life, and fundamentally unimportant. The fact that the hon. Lady finds them so exciting shows how little she has to go on.
As regards bringing in rules relating to recall, the hon. Lady is a member of the Commission. May I remind her that, as shadow Leader of the House, she has that role that goes with the job? The Commission will be meeting on Monday. It is up to the Commission to deal with Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme-related matters; it is not the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government. Obviously, the Government have a view on this, but this House is not run by the Government, and it is really important that people understand that; it is run by the Commission, on behalf of all Members.
That ties in with the hon. Lady’s point about EVEL. There may always be discussions in Government about how the procedures of this House operate, but the procedures of this House are a matter for this House. In that, many Members may notice that EVEL has been suspended over the last year, without any great consequence or complaint—nobody seems to have minded very much—and it is therefore worth considering how it will operate in the future. We should always bear in mind the fundamental constitutional equality of every Member of this House, regardless of the size of their constituency, the location of their constituency or, indeed, whether they are a Minister or shadow Minister, Front-Bench or Back-Bench.
There is a fundamental equality of Members of this House, and that is an important constitutional principle—as is the one that announcements are made to this House. I would point out that over the course of the pandemic, I think we have had 40 announcements made at the Dispatch Box by the Department of Health and Social Care, many of them by the Secretary of State himself. There has been one most sitting weeks during the course of the pandemic. I think the record of the Government in keeping the House informed is actually extremely good.
The hon. Lady then makes a broad list of socialist complaints about how the Government are operating, but what would we expect? The left like to say these things, but they are an awful lot of nonsense. First of all, trade deals. Free trade makes every country in the world that adopts it better off. Our deal with Australia is fantastic. For those who like Australian wine, Australian wine will be cheaper. The deal is good for consumers, but it is good for farmers too, because we want farmers who can be competitive and can succeed. I know that there are not many farmers in Bristol—poor old Bristol—but farmers in North East Somerset are competitive. They are able to succeed. I know that the SNP is worried that the farmers it represents are not efficient enough. I do not believe that; I think Scottish farmers are very efficient too.
I am as proud of Scottish farmers as I am of Somerset farmers, and they can be world leaders, as the Prime Minister was a world leader at the G7, with an amazing list of successes to his name, including a billion doses of the vaccine next year for developing countries. The vaccine that will go out will mainly, of course, be the Oxford vaccine. Why? Because the Oxford vaccine is being done at cost price because of a deal so successfully done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—the brilliant, the one and only, successful genius who has been running Health over the last 15 months. He has done so much to make not only the country but the world safer.
There is going to be $2.75 billion for funding the Global Partnership for Education to help ensure that all children go to school around the world, and G7 leaders signed up to the UK’s target of getting 40 million more girls into school. That is just the beginning of the success that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister achieved at the G7.
Then we get carping about the support being given for people during the pandemic—some £407 billion of taxpayers’ money. A socialist thinks that money grows on trees, but the truth is that eventually they run out of spending other people’s money, and that is something that has to be remembered. The furlough scheme is going on until September. The cut in VAT continues. The reduction in rates continues. The support is there, and it is very considerable, but we believe on this side of the House in faintly living within one’s means. One day, this money will have to be paid back. There is not a bottomless pit. There is not a magic money tree.
The hon. Lady mentions the building safety Bill, but we have been getting on with it. An amazing amount has been done already. Some 95% of high-risk residential buildings have either been completed or have work under way—that is, the buildings over 59 feet high. Some £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ money—money that, as I said, is not growing on trees and has to be earned by people going out to work—will be found to fund the cost of remediating unsafe cladding for leaseholders, but as the Prime Minister said yesterday, not all high-rise buildings are dangerous. It is not axiomatic that a high-rise building is dangerous. It is important to bear that in mind.
May I finish on a much more consensual note? The hon. Lady is so right to remember Jo Cox, whose shield, as she pointed out, is behind her, and which we see from the Front Bench every day when we are in the Chamber. Eternal rest grant unto her, and all the faithful departed.
I am sorry to say that it came as no surprise to me when Labour voted against tougher sentences for rapists and child rapists this week. My constituency of Dudley North has been waiting for a new police station in the centre of Dudley for many years, as was promised by the Labour police and crime commissioner. Will my right hon. Friend agree to explore this issue with me, and perhaps with the Home Secretary, and agree to a debate on the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners more generally?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The socialists, as always, are weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime, and they have shown their true colours in the recent refusal to support tougher sentences for violent criminals. Unfortunately, socialist police and crime commissioners have been failing their constituents. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to hold his local PCC to account and at the highest level, because the Government are continuing to back the police and to support the public in fighting to bring down crime.
I am glad to see the Minister for Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), just behind the Speaker’s Chair. We are taking the landmark Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill through Parliament at the moment, which will tackle serious violence throughout the country. We have hired nearly 9,000 additional police officers and are well on track to meet our target of 20,000 new officers this Parliament. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) for the important issue that he raises.