House of Commons
Thursday 28 October 2021
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Untreated Sewage: Discharge into Waterways
I have been absolutely crystal clear that the amount of sewage discharged by water companies into our rivers is unacceptable. We have our Environment Bill and our strategic policy statement which, for the very first time by any Government, directs the regulator to ensure that water companies tackle sewage discharges, so we are right on it. We have strengthened the Environment Bill to get a new duty on water companies to progressively reduce discharges. Last week, we voted through six pages of measures to stop raw sewage going into our watercourses.
Despite bizarre assurances that the Government have been working on their U-turn for weeks, it was the public outcry about sewage being pumped into waterways that forced a change of mind by the Government. In Gower, the number of people enjoying the sea and swimming in Caswell bay and Langland bay has increased, as many Members know, especially during covid. What work is the Minister doing to work with devolved Governments to ensure that the whole United Kingdom is protected for people to swim and enjoy?
Yes, it is a beautiful part of the world. We have to remember that water issues are devolved, so water companies are working in their own ways, but it is absolutely right that they need to work together across our borders. We are at pains to make that clear. Indeed, there were measures in the Environment Bill to highlight the fact that partnership working is so important. All the measures in the Bill will make a significant difference to any of this pollution going into the river. I remind her that a fifth of the pollution is from sewage, but four fifths is from agricultural pollution and waste treatment works. We are also working on very strong measures on this issue, not only through the Environment Bill, but through the farming rules for water.
I am grateful to the Minister and Secretary of State for meeting me and concerned colleagues earlier this week on this issue. Only a few days ago, we had a discharge into the Walney channel. For the avoidance of doubt, can the Minister please lay out the fact that the amendment we are putting forward to the Environment Bill will drive down discharges such as this and increase penalties and liabilities on water companies that are acting irresponsibly?
I thank my hon. Friend for coming to the meeting earlier this week to explain what is a very complicated picture. It has to be tackled from so many angles, which is why I mentioned agriculture just now—it is not just one source. We have the measures in the Bill and the six pages of measures we added to improve reporting, monitoring, duties and governance to check on the actions that water companies are taking. Those are in the Bill, but this overarching new duty to direct water companies to progressively reduce sewage will make the real difference. It puts into law what we have already directed Ofwat, the regulator, to do.
Days from COP26, I must tell the Minister that the episode with raw sewage has not done Britain’s reputation going into that conference any good. The Government whipping their own MPs to vote against an amendment to end the routine discharge of raw sewage does nothing to build confidence and has rightly sparked a public outcry. Raw sewage is being routinely discharged today, right now and every single day throughout COP26. When the Minister talks about progressive reductions, can she say how much raw sewage will be progressively reduced each and every year? Importantly, when will this disgusting practice come to an end?
I want to make it clear that a lot of what we have heard in the social media storm has been whipped up, and there are a great many untruths flying around. We all spoke last week, after all the tributes to dear Sir David Amess, about a better form of government that is more respectful. Actually, I would like us to pick that up, because a lot of people have not seen it over this issue. The amendment, as it was worded by the Duke of Edinburgh—[Interruption.] Sorry, I will correct that right now. The amendment of the Duke of Wellington, with whom I have had many meetings, would have legally bound Ministers to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged from overflows, eliminating them. That would have involved the complete separation of the sewerage system. We have data, which I believe will be published today, that shows that that could cost between £300 billion and £600 billion. We had to be mindful of that. The hon. Gentleman asks when these things will start happening. They are happening already. Some £3 billion is already being spent by the water companies to stop sewage going into our rivers. The measures in the Bill will further add to that.
Order. I say to the Minister that I recognise her passion, but we are 10 minutes in and we are on question 1. We are not going to get very far. If she can speed up her answers, it will help me. We now to come to a question from Kate Osborne, who is not here, so I expect the Minister to reply on that basis, then I will go to Ian Byrne.
National Food Strategy: Government Response
The food strategy will be published early next year. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set out how we can create the food system that we want. It will identify ways to make our food healthier, more sustainable and, I hope, more accessible.
In April, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report on “Covid-19 and the issues of security in food supply” said that the Government should consult on a legal right to food and address that in their White Paper responding to the national food strategy, which was published in July. In the light of the horrific rise of food poverty in all our communities, with kids going hungry, as highlighted on Monday night in a harrowing “Dispatches” programme, will the Minister meet me to discuss the upcoming White Paper and the right to food?
I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman, as I have many times to discuss the important issue of food poverty. I take the opportunity to commend him for his work with Fans Supporting Foodbanks, which is a great initiative. I thank all those involved.
When people think of great British cheese, they think of Stilton, which was invented in my constituency. In the national food strategy, there are concerns that we will be forced to change that amazing national recipe to reduce the salt content. Will the Minister meet me to discuss that vital issue and my campaign to open a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs office in the rural capital of food, Melton Mowbray?
The national food strategy is a weighty tome, but Henry Dimbleby, who the Government commissioned to write it, is not a happy man. Last week, following the New Zealand trade deal, he told the Soil Association conference that,
“the Government has clearly rejected my advice.”
He also said:
“There is no point in creating a food and farming system here that looks after animals, sequesters carbon, and supports biodiversity, if overseas products on our shelves don’t do the same.”
I suspect that virtually everyone in the Chamber agrees with that—the Opposition certainly do. Can the Minister tell us her view and the Government’s view?
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to hear that my view and the Government’s view are entirely aligned. Henry Dimbleby’s report was a useful step in the development of the Government’s food strategy and we are grateful to him for the enormous amount of work that he put into it. As I said earlier, we will respond as a Government probably in the middle of January, which will be six months after the report was published. That is what we always said the timescale would be. There is a lot of work to do and it is a really important piece of work. It is genuinely a once-in-a-generation chance to try to put our food strategy on the right track for the future. I cannot give Members any spoilers now.
Winter Air Quality
We know that air pollution is a particular threat to vulnerable groups. We continue to drive forward the ambitious actions in the clean air strategy, such as phasing out the sale of house coal for domestic burning. The Environment Bill also makes a clear commitment to set targets for fine particulate matter, which is the pollutant of most concern for human health. We are working across Government, including with the Department of Health and Social Care, which has overall responsibility for respiratory diseases, to address actions on air pollution.
Research in 2014 and 2016 by King’s College London and Imperial College London recorded 1,000 hospital admissions a year among those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. In 2018, King’s College London found that as many as 36,000 people a year die early due to air pollution. When will the Government stop tinkering around the edges and finally introduce legally binding limits to abide by the World Health Organisation’s stricter clean air standards?
We need to get those targets right. In the Environment Bill, which should be back in this place shortly, we have committed to setting a target, but it is important that we get the evidence right to set the right targets. Those targets will be based on evidence. We are currently reviewing the air quality strategy. We will be looking at a revised strategy in 2023. The PM2 target is on a population basis. We also need the population exposure targets so that in areas such as hers, where we know that there are hotter spots, we can work directly with local authorities—we all own this challenge—to get the right targeted measure in the right areas. The overall target is important, but so are those targeted, individual approaches.
As you know, Mr Speaker, in Newcastle-under-Lyme we suffer with poor air quality from the odorous emissions of Walleys Quarry, which have had a serious impact on respiratory disease. That includes the case of the five-year-old boy, Mathew Richards, who won his judicial review against the Environment Agency. Does the Minister share my concern that the Environment Agency has frustrated attempts by investigators to access the public register? Does she agree that it must be open to having the register inspected by those trying to get to the bottom of how this scandalous situation has been allowed to develop?
My hon. Friend and I have already had several discussions on this matter. I hope to have a further meeting with him next week and to visit the site shortly. As part of permitting the regular inspection process, the Environment Agency considers the existing concentration of relevant pollutants in the area surrounding such challenges and, if air quality levels are exceeded because of those impacts, a lower limit can be set by a local authority. We should try to be transparent, but, in these complex matters, we must try to take on board the needs of constituents while driving the right conclusions to sort out this difficult problem.
City of York’s Lib Dem/Green council—Oh, the irony of it—is instituting six new car parks in our city centre. As a result, there will be a further threat to people’s lives, particularly with regard to respiratory conditions, given the already challenged air quality. What discussions is the Minister having with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that councils do not put new car parks in their planning?
There are many local initiatives going on. The nitrogen dioxide plan, which I spoke about earlier, is the key to driving down emissions, and we are working with the Department for Transport on that. People using their cars less in the city centre and the promotion of cycling and walking in a beautiful city such as York would obviously enhance the city for all its tourists. I am sure that the city of York, the tourist board and indeed everybody would be pleased to see that.
Environmental sustainability is fundamental to our new approach. Our new schemes will pay for regenerative farming practices, improvements to animal health and welfare, reductions in carbon emissions, cleaner water, and habitat renewal.
I recently visited Henry Hunt and other young Bedfordshire farmers who are already doing amazing work to significantly improve their soils. What more can we do to encourage other farmers to follow their example as brilliantly shown in the documentary “Kiss the Ground” and ensure that, when environmental land management payments start, there is not a gap with the basic payments scheme ending?
My hon. Friend has already told me about his great meeting with Henry Hunt—one of his farmers—recently. I accept that the change from area-based payments to public money for public goods is challenging for farmers. The new system is being brought in gradually over seven years, but I reassure him that there is much in the new system for soil health, including one of the first eight standards, which has already been published. The soil health action plan and the Environment Bill will help, too.
Many of my constituency farmers have already diversified and have been successful in that. Has consideration been given to funding diversification projects such as milk and eggs vending machines to enable farmers to boost their incomes so that they can farm the land and pay the bills?
The tethering of horses is a serious issue about which I have spoken to my right hon. Friend many times in the past. I suggest we meet to discuss if there is more we can do to end unnecessary horse tethering. Occasionally this can be an appropriate practice.
I just say to Members that if they are bobbing to their feet then they should keep bobbing as otherwise I will think they have changed their mind about wishing to speak. Knowing who is standing and who is not helps me all the way through.
We now come to a more interesting matter: I call Neale Hanvey to ask Question 6. He is not here. If Members are not going to be present, they must let the Chair know. May I suggest once again that the Minister answers the question even though the Member is not here, although he was due to be?
UK Environmental Protections: COP26
Our vanguard Environment Bill demonstrates how much we are doing on that—more than any other country. This will be groundbreaking legislation and as we build back greener from the pandemic it will transform how we protect our environment and will better protect our resources—our air, our water and, of course, our soil.
The Minister will be aware of the policy on biodiversity net gain, which is due to come in in the next couple of years. I and many other Members have been pressing to accelerate the introduction of this wonderful policy. Can the Minister give any update on the Department’s thoughts on whether we can bring forward implementation of biodiversity net gain?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his work on this, because it is going to be a very important part of how we increase our protections and protect more nature. We have the target to protect and halt the decline of species abundance by 2030. Local authorities will play a key part in delivering that through their planning services and it is important that we work with them to give them the time to get this under way.
The UK is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world and the decline is not slowing. The Government have made a deliberate decision not to announce any concrete targets to reverse it until October next year, long after COP26, and are instead focusing on cutting the costs of internal flights rather than cutting rail fares. Does the Minister think this undermines the Government’s credibility at the conference this weekend?
Freight Traffic: Navigable Waterways
Of course I want it, especially when it is from that particular Member; he is always at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions and I thank him for that.
The Government are providing £20 million through the Department for Transport’s mode shift freight grant schemes in 2021-22 to support rail and water freight services on routes where they deliver environment benefits over road haulage but are more expensive to operate. Responsibility for the operational matters and management of the inland waterways rests with the relevant navigation authority and Ministers have no role in that.
I thank the Minister very much for her reply, and for her kind comments about me, which I thought were rather nice.
The all-party group on waterways, which I have the honour of chairing, has identified that about 1,500 miles of our 5,000 miles of navigable waterways are suitable for freight. In addition to the measures the Minister has just outlined, has her Department given any thought to reintroducing the freight facility grants for wharfs and handling facilities?
I am genuinely interested in my hon. Friend’s work. This area comes under Department for Transport responsibilities; it does not have any plans as such to reinstate the freight facilities grant in England, but the Government are of course very interested in the shift to getting freight transported in other ways. The fund I mentioned earlier has mostly gone to rail because the case has to be made for whether it is better to do it by water, so I recommend that my hon. Friend gets in there and makes that case, remembering of course the other great benefits of waterways, especially through cities, for health and wellbeing.
Agricultural Exports to the United States
Recent discussions with the US have led to several positive outcomes for the UK. We have resolved the Airbus-Boeing dispute, leading to the suspension of the 25% tariff on Scotch whisky; for the first time in two decades, British beef is on US plates; and most recently, my officials spoke to their US counterparts, who confirmed their intention to enable the import of British lamb following the Prime Minister’s discussions on that with President Biden.
That is an incredibly important point. Of course, when the Prime Minister left the White House, he declared to Scottish and UK businesses that they would indeed once again be able to export their lamb to the United States of America, but we have seen from leaked memos from the Secretary of State’s own Department that that was not necessarily the case. Perhaps he can shine a little more detail on that. When will Scottish producers be able to export their lamb to the United States?
I cannot put a timescale on precisely when that will happen, but as I said, the Prime Minister had very positive discussions on this very issue with President Biden, and my officials have been continuing that discussion with US officials, who have confirmed their intention to enable the import of British lamb to the United States.
I and my constituents in the beautiful island constituency of Ynys Môn are rightly passionate about the environment and keeping our waters free from sewage and agricultural pollution. Can Ministers reassure my Ynys Môn constituents that they will work with the Welsh Government to ensure that the waters of Anglesey will be enjoyed by generations to come?
Order. Unfortunately, that is not relevant. Let me explain: supplementary questions have to be linked to the substantive question that is asked. If you had put in something about the wonderful lamb that comes out of Ynys Môn, I could have allowed it. You have to make sure that there is a link to the question that is asked—I think the Whips have got some jobs on their hands.
Food and Drink Sector: Labour Supply
I regularly speak to Cabinet colleagues about the current state of the labour market in the food and drink sector. Working across Government, we have extended the seasonal workers pilot this year to 30,000 visas and introduced additional temporary visa routes for poultry workers, pig butchers and heavy goods vehicle drivers in the food sector.
Delays and shortages, whether of lorry drivers or butchers, are causing huge concern and anxiety to business owners and consumers alike. Dayle Evans, a landlord and business owner in my constituency, was unable to reopen his pub’s kitchen for eight weeks due to difficulties sourcing produce. As we approach the Christmas season, which is the busiest for hospitality, and given the issues of last Christmas, what further action can the Government take to ensure that the shortages are resolved before that busy period is upon us?
My Department has regular dialogue with all the supermarkets and the major food manufacturers. They had some anxiety around their ability to deliver for Christmas about a month ago. That is why we acted expeditiously to introduce those temporary visa schemes. I can say that confidence in the industry is now higher, and it is gearing its logistics chains to make sure that we have food on the shelves. It is an improving situation.
The powerful new measures in our world-leading Environment Bill, alongside substantial funding and incentives to protect and restore nature, represent a step change in our ambition. Our commitment to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 while setting a historic legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance underlines our intent on all this. Internationally, we are playing a leading role in developing an ambitious new global biodiversity framework under the convention on biological diversity, making nature a top priority for our COP26 presidency.
Today is the memorial for Peter Ainsworth, my predecessor in East Surrey, who was Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee and on the board of the Environment Agency. I am sure that the Minister, like me, would like to pay tribute to all his work in this area.
Ahead of the Surrey-wide virtual COP summit tonight, will the Minister update the House on the work that has been conducted on the possibility of a new “wild belt” designation, which would protect biodiversity across the country?
We, too, obviously pay tribute to all the great work that Peter Ainsworth did, particularly in this area.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and wish her every success with her virtual Surrey-wide COP26 climate summit. Many other colleagues are doing similar, really great events. DEFRA is working very closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on how future planning reforms could make a really big difference to our environmental outcomes. Protections, including those in particular areas—urban areas and such—will all come under that microscope. The Government will publish their response to the planning White Paper in due course.
The marine environment can play a huge role in climate mitigation, with blue carbon held in native oyster reefs, kelp forests, seagrass, salt marshes and so on. What are the Government doing to scale up the rewilding of our seas for biodiversity and blue carbon, an issue on which we could show global leadership at COP26 and at the convention next year?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that really important point. Everything we are doing on protections relates to both land and sea, with the protection of 30% of the land and 30% of the sea. We are gathering more data on blue carbon. We do not have quite enough data yet to factor it into all our calculations, but we mean to do so. She is absolutely right that our kelp beds and salt marshes can make a great contribution, and a great deal of work is being done on that. Indeed, many of our flood resilience squads are linking in with such restoration projects.
Next week, the UK will host COP26 in Glasgow. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our planet. Both the COP President-designate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), and the Prime Minister have set out the areas where we hope to make progress. My noble Friend Lord Goldsmith and I have held many meetings with countries on the agenda the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been leading on, specifically in relation to forests and nature-based solutions to climate change. We will be seeking progress on that agenda in the weeks ahead.
The current focus in addressing the sanitary and phytosanitary issues in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol now seems to be on a bespoke, specific arrangement for Northern Ireland. I and many others believe that, overall, a UK-EU veterinary agreement would be the best way forward for not only Northern Ireland but the entire UK. Is that objective still the position of the UK Government?
The position of the UK Government was set out very clearly and comprehensively in the Command Paper we published earlier this summer. We also have specialised committees working with EU and UK officials to resolve some of the technical and veterinary issues. We are clear, however, that we want goods to be able to travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without unnecessary barriers in the way.
My hon. Friend is such a great champion for the Isle of Wight. He never ceases to collar me in the corridor to talk about it. He is right that it is an amazing biosphere. He will know that Natural England has started to develop an England-wide assessment to identify further landscape conservation enhancement needs, looking at potential areas of outstanding natural beauty and so on. I urge him to keep that dialogue open.
The fishing dispute with France is very troubling, and the facts need to be established. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the Marine Management Organisation has issued an external waters licence to the Scottish scalloper currently detained in Le Havre, as its name does not appear on the MMO website? Is that an oversight?
My officials are investigating the circumstances around the vessel that has been detained in France. It is too early to be able to identify precisely what happened, but I have seen reports that it was on a list originally and then appeared not to be on a list. I have asked our officials to investigate urgently.
We are providing £15 million for peatland restoration through our nature for climate fund. A lot of that money has already started to be dispensed to projects. We announced £16 million for projects between Cornwall and Northumberland. It is competitive and one has to put a good case, but if my right hon. Friend wants to consider making applications for Lindow Moss it would be well worth looking at.
I will return to the fishing dispute in my urgent question that you have kindly granted, Mr Speaker.
There are significant concerns that any introduction of gene editing to the Scottish food chain could be a huge nail in the coffin for sales to the EU, with the divergence of standards leading to further loss of the European market and the risk of Scotland’s reputation for high-quality food and drink production being tainted by association. What recent impact assessment has been conducted on changing trading standards in Scotland and the ability to trade with the EU in future?
The approach that we take is that decisions on whether to cultivate gene-edited crops or, indeed, genetically modified crops would be for the devolved Administrations, but in line with the provisions of the internal market, there would be access for goods. That mirrors what exists at the moment in the European Union. As the hon. Lady will know, the vast majority of animal feed sold in the EU is genetically modified.
Increased exports are the path to prosperity for our food and drink sector and the route back to profitability for many of our farmers. With that in mind, what is the Minister’s assessment of the bounce back package for agriculture, food and drink that was announced last year?
The bounce back package provided effective and targeted support to exporters. We will continue to strengthen our export capability by launching the “Open Doors” campaign, creating an export council and increasing the number of superb agrifood counsellors.
The truth is that the impacts of covid have had an impact on fish prices over the last 18 months. They have gone from a historic high down to quite low levels; they have now recovered. It is also the case that some North sea stocks, notably cod, have been in a difficult place over the last couple of years, so fisheries administrations have taken the right and necessary decision to reduce some of those quotas.
One of the Secretary of State’s responsibilities is the provision of an adequate supply of domestically produced fruit and vegetables. Much of this year’s harvest has been lost as a result of a lack of labour. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a queue of domestic labour waiting to harvest apples and tomatoes. Having lost this year’s harvest, what will my right hon. Friend do to ensure that there is adequate labour supply for next year?
I visited the Kent agricultural showground last week for the very impressive national fruit show, and I was able to talk to many growers about the very tight labour market that we are suffering from at the moment. As my right hon. Friend knows, we have a seasonal workers pilot with 30,000 visas. Growers can also continue to recruit workers under the EU settlement scheme. For the longer term, we are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to encourage the recruitment of more UK workers and undertaking a review of how automation will help with this issue.
Every weekend, people are out fishing, rowing, kayaking and paddleboarding, enjoying the rivers and canals in Nottingham. They are horrified to learn that there have been hundreds of thousands of sewage discharges into England’s waterways and that, under this Government, the Environment Agency has suffered huge cuts to funding for monitoring water quality and prosecuting polluters. What resources will the Secretary of State’s Department commit to addressing the dirty water crisis?
With adverse weather and flooding again affecting Cumbria and other areas in the north, will the Secretary of State join me in thanking everyone on the ground from the Environment Agency, local government, emergency services and volunteers? Can he reassure my constituents in Penrith and The Border that the Environment Agency will continue to have the funding and support that it needs to help, protect and support communities vulnerable to flooding?
My hon. Friend is right. There has been an amber warning in his area and we are keeping a very close eye on it. All the systems are in place through the Environment Agency; I hope he will agree that it gives a really professional service. We thank all its staff, and all the people in the area, for what they are doing. Please will he ensure that his constituents are all involved in the alert systems and have all the warnings available? It is really important to bring communities on board with us.
Recently, the children of Stocksfield Avenue Primary School wrote to me to express their dismay at the plastic pollution in the rivers, the seas and their environment. That follows similar appeals from the children of Mountfield Primary School, Hilton school—
I, too, am regularly contacted by schools in my constituency raising concerns around plastics. We have banned certain single-use plastics, we have introduced levies on carrier bags, and our extended producer responsibility scheme will reduce plastics further.
I am so pleased to hear about the project; I absolutely support it and would love to visit. Wetlands are so important, on so many grounds. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust does superb work: carbon capture, flood storage, biodiversity, nature—it does it all.
Order. Before we come to the next group of questions, I point out that in the absence of the spokesperson for the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) will answer on the Committee’s behalf. I am grateful to her for doing so. I emphasise to the House that she will be answering on behalf of the Speaker’s Committee, rather than undertaking her Front-Bench responsibilities.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Refugees from Afghanistan
Churches up and down the country have been co-ordinating gifts of cash, clothing, toys, prams and other items to Afghan refugees. Church members have taken Afghan families to buy shoes and other items and have offered them houses and flats.
I thank the hon. Member for his answer. However, the biggest issue that we need to address is the provision of housing. Clearly the Church of England has a significant estate; I am grateful for the discussions that we are having in York about how we can use excess estate to support Afghan refugees. Will he ensure that across the Church of England, the estate is maximised so that we can home as many Afghan refugees as possible?
I can tell the hon. Lady that lowest income communities funding from the Church Commissioners helps dioceses to support parishes such as St Mary’s, Scarborough, that have been at the forefront of our effort to help Afghan refugees. I can also tell her that in the diocese of Chelmsford, five vacant vicarages have been allocated to refugee households, including to Afghan refugees.
Number of Ordinands
In 2020, despite the pandemic, 591 people were recommended for training for ordained ministry—the highest figure for 13 years. Ordinations to stipendiary ministry have increased by 43% since 2013, reflecting our commitment to the long-term resourcing of the Church of England.
I am delighted to learn of the good work of Holy Cross and other churches in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I can reassure him, because the Archbishop of York said in July that
“the means whereby we will serve and reach our nation…is a parish system revitalised for mission.”
Over the past year and a half, we have seen the very best of the parish system, finding creative ways to proclaim the unchanging love of Jesus in meeting the needs of those suffering in the pandemic, in quite extraordinary ways.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that response. Has consideration been given to offering bursaries to cover not simply the cost of fees but the cost of living for older ordinands with families who want to go into the ministry but have family obligations that need funding?
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Voter ID: Electoral Participation
The commission’s independent evaluation of the Government’s pilots, held in 2018 and 2019, found no evidence that turnout was significantly affected by the trialled introduction of an ID requirement at polling stations. However, it was not able to draw definitive conclusions, particularly on the likely impact at a national poll with higher levels of turnout. The commission has recommended that any ID requirement should be secure, accessible and realistically deliverable. The detail of the Government’s proposals for a free, locally issued voter ID card will be key to ensuring accessibility.
The proportion of people without ID is higher among certain demographic groups, including those with disabilities. Research published by the Cabinet Office in May 2021 found that 96% of the public held some form of photo ID that respondents thought was recognisable, including ID that had expired. The commission has provided independent advice to parliamentarians on how the measures in the Elections Bill would affect the accessibility of the electoral process, and it will continue to highlight changes in the electoral system that could support increased participation—for example, better use of existing public data to modernise the electoral registration system.
Given the scant evidence of electoral fraud by members of the public trying to cast votes to which they are not entitled, do the commissioners share my concern that attempting to introduce voter ID is an attempt to solve a problem which, in reality, simply does not exist?
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 a voter ID requirement. 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 across Great Britain, and public opinion research shows that this is an issue that concerns voters.
The Elections Bill not only requires Scottish voters to show ID at UK general elections, but gives the Westminster Government powers to set the Electoral Commission’s strategy and policy statement. Given that the Scottish Parliament also pays towards the commission, is this not another case of a grubby Westminster power grab and an attack on our devolution settlement?
The Elections Bill covers the whole of the UK, but some provisions would apply differently to elections in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The commission’s view is that as drafted, the proposals for a strategy and policy statement are not consistent with its role as an independent regulator. The scope and power is significantly broader than is the case with similar mechanisms in place for other regulators, such as Ofcom, Ofgem and Ofwat, which do not include giving guidance about specific matters.
The existence of an independent regulator is fundamental to maintaining confidence in our electoral system. It is vital that there is no actual or perceived Government involvement in the commission’s operational functions or decision making.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
England’s Historic Cathedrals: Cost of Maintenance
I should like to start by commending my hon. Friend for the consistent way in which he sticks up for his cathedral in Lichfield. Other Members could follow his example, if I may say so. In 2019, England’s 42 Anglican cathedrals estimated that they required £140 million for repairs and maintenance over the next five years. The Church Commissioners are providing from the cathedral sustainability fund £20 million between 2020 and 2022, which is double the original planned figure.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments and for his answer. Lichfield cathedral costs around £2 million a year to run. In good years, it is able to set aside a few hundred thousand pounds each year to try to repair the damage being done to an 800-year-old building by the usual environmental impacts. It is not making the £2 million, because we are still recovering from covid, so is there any chance of the recovery fund continuing?
The Church is very grateful to the Government for the culture recovery fund allocation for cathedrals of £29.4 million, of which £264,000 has been allocated to Lichfield cathedral. I would like to commend Gloucester cathedral’s Beacon of Hope appeal, which has raised more than £1 million. There has been a £3.1 million investment in craft training between the Cathedrals Workshop Fellowship and the Hamish Ogston Foundation, and cathedral gins have been launched at Blackburn, Portsmouth, Ripon and Bristol cathedrals in order to raise further funds. These are all examples that other cathedrals could follow.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
We have recently appointed a dedicated apprenticeships and early career manager in our in-house resourcing team to focus on building, developing and improving the current apprenticeships scheme. An example of work already under way is the development of our apprenticeships strategy. We are looking at various potential streams of apprentices, including school leavers, targeted external new starters and the upskilling or reskilling of existing staff. We have set a target of 100 apprentices across a variety of disciplines, and we are working to build awareness among existing staff of the career development opportunities available to them.
It is very welcome news that 100 apprentices are being employed across the House of Commons. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that we employ apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, so that they have a chance to climb the House of Commons ladder of opportunity?
My right hon. Friend is respected across the House for the work he has done on behalf of apprenticeships, so I shall say to him that he is going to join me in a meeting with the apprenticeship and early careers manager at the earliest opportunity, so that we can drive forward this House’s shared agenda to get more people from disadvantaged backgrounds working in this place and enjoying this place.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), because I have made a mistake. Having called the hon. Member for Lichfield to ask his question, I did not then give the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire the opportunity to answer it. I do apologise. Perhaps the hon. Member for Lichfield could remind us of the gist of his question.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
The Archbishop of Canterbury will be attending COP26 with Anglican Communion colleagues. Last month, he joined Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to pray that world leaders, individuals and businesses will take the right
Churches are signing up to be eco-churches in increasing numbers, and 38 of our 42 dioceses have signed up to be eco-dioceses. In addition, the Church of England started the transition pathway initiative, whose membership now comprises funds of $40 trillion. The transition pathway initiative has partnered with the Grantham research institute at the London School of Economics to track 10,000 companies to make sure they are on a timely path to net zero.
Level of Financial Donations to the Church: Covid-19
In 2020 the amount of parish share received by dioceses was 7% below 2019 levels, and in the year to date it is running at 10% less than in the same period of 2019. Parish income has also been badly affected by the loss of hall letting and other events income.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure he agrees that churches across the land have done an amazing job throughout the pandemic in terms of pastoral care, community support and delivering services virtually and now physically again. It is important that they have a secure financial future. Can he give the House an assessment of the progress and impact of the electronic giving system being piloted in Cumbria by the diocese of Carlisle?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. St Patrick’s church in Patterdale and Lanercost priory are among the 110 churches in the Carlisle diocese that have been given contactless units, not all of which require connectivity to take donations. Since June this year, £30,000 has been given through these units, which is 30% more than we budgeted for. The average contactless donation is almost three times more than the average cash donation, and the average online donation is 10 times more. Where Cumbria leads, the Church of England should follow.
I note that at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions Mr Speaker allowed Ministers to answer questions from Members who were not here. As the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) may be of interest to other colleagues, who may wish to come in on the subject, would you be gracious enough to allow me to answer it briefly, Madam Deputy Speaker?
Church of England Payroll Budget Allocations
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is an important question, and I am grateful to get the answer on the record.
The Church of England is not a single institution, so it does not have a single payroll budget. In 2019, £255 million was spent on stipends and pension contributions for ordained ministers in parishes and a further £124 million was spent on clergy housing and working costs, £65 million was spent on staff in dioceses and £30 million was spent on staff in the National Church Institutions.
I have now allowed the hon. Gentleman to answer an unanswered question and to give two answers to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). This is extraordinary and it will not happen again. I do not want to set a precedent, but I am grateful to the Second Church Estates Commissioner for all his thorough answers, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), too.
UK-French Trading Dispute
(Urgent Question): Brexit-induced exporting changes have resulted in an escalating trading dispute with France that, if not resolved, may result in British boats being banned from French ports and Scottish salmon removed from French menus. France may go further and cut—
Ask the question.
The UK’s and the Crown dependencies’ approach throughout this year has been to implement the new access requirements of the trade and co-operation agreement in good faith and in a reasonable and evidence-based way, recognising some of the sensitivities and the importance of the arrangements for both parties. Since 31 December last year, the UK has issued licences to fish in our exclusive economic zone to 1,673 EU vessels, including 736 French vessels. One hundred and twenty-one vessels have been licensed to fish in the UK six-to-12-nautical-mile zone, of which 103 are French, and 18 of those vessels are under 12 metres. The UK has licensed 98% of the EU vessels that applied for access.
Constructive discussions continue with the Commission on a methodology for allowing vessels to be replaced; once that is finalised, more vessels will be licensed. Over the past two weeks, the Government have issued four further licences, after the Commission was able to provide new and additional evidence. We remain committed and willing to consider new information. Following the receipt of more information over the past couple of weeks, we have been able to issue more licences. As I have said repeatedly to the French and to the European Commission, our door remains ever open.
In that context, it was disappointing to see the comments from France yesterday. We believe they are disappointing, disproportionate and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner. The measures that are being threatened do not appear to be compatible with the trade and co-operation agreement or wider international law and, if they are carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response.
Yesterday, I spoke to Commissioner Sinkevičius regarding the comments that French officials had made. The UK stands by its commitments in the trade and co-operation agreement and, as I have said, has already granted 98% of licence applications from EU vessels to fish in our waters. All our decisions have been fully in line with that commitment. We support Jersey and Guernsey’s handling of the fisheries licensing decisions and have remained in close contact with them throughout. Their approach has also been entirely in line with the provisions of the trade and co-operation agreement.
Finally, I am aware of reports of enforcement activity being undertaken by the French authorities in respect of two vessels and we are looking into those matters urgently.
I apologise again, Madam Deputy Speaker, for my over-enthusiastic start.
Brexit-induced exporting changes have, as we have heard, resulted in an escalating trading dispute with France that, if not resolved, may result in British boats being banned from French ports and Scottish salmon being removed from French menus. France may go further and cut electricity supplies to the Channel Islands and delay French customs checks on goods arriving from the UK, thereby further disrupting our economy.
I have to say that there is a considerable difference between the number of licences that the Secretary of State just mentioned and the number that the French claim have been issued. French officials claim that the process for obtaining a licence to fish in UK waters is too slow and laborious, while Lord Frost has said that these are only teething issues. France says that, under the Brexit agreement, 175 French fishing vessels have the right to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast, but that the UK has delivered only 100 licences. Paris also says that only 105 licences to fish off Jersey have been delivered, when French trawlermen have a right to 216.
Today, as we have heard, French authorities are to announce a sanction regime that will come into effect on 2 November. This follows news this morning of a Scottish trawler detained for fishing without a licence in French waters, according to France’s Sea Minister, Annick Girardin, who announced this overnight. Can the Secretary of State confirm what consular assistance the Government have been offering to the British fishing vessel crew currently arrested and detained by the French authorities? What support is his Department giving to the vessel and its owners?
In response to a topical question from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), the Minister mentioned that the UK Government could not confirm whether an external waters licence was issued by the Marine Management Organisation. Why does it not appear on the list? It is too early to know what has happened. It appears that it may have been on the list. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has had 12 hours to get to the bottom of this. We have a skipper of a Scottish scalloping vessel due in court in Le Havre this morning. It is simply not good enough that the Secretary of State does not have answers to those questions.
What assurances can the Secretary of State give the House that appropriate documents were in place for the vessel that has now been seized, such as whether the vessel was issued with a licence to fish in French waters by the MMO? If so, when? If other UK vessels encounter French authorities, what is his advice? What is the permitted time that French authorities are allowed to take to inspect seafood goods arriving from the UK via HGV? What advice would he offer to seafood exporters who are concerned about more stringent and additional checks the French are permitted to make? They have stated that they will, from 2 November, take longer to clear HGVs, while still keeping to permitted inspection rules, which could create significant delays.
It is important to note that, although the hon. Lady refers to this being a trade dispute over trading arrangements, what is actually happening is that the French are threatening to take a particular approach to trade, but linked to, as they see it, issues that they have over the issuing of fishing licences. I am afraid that we completely reject that caricature. The hon. Lady says that France has claimed that this has been too slow. That is not true. Indeed, the vast majority of those 1,700 or so vessels that we have already licensed received their licence on 31 December. The only vessels that did not have a licence immediately were those that struggled to marshal the data to support their application, but as soon as data has been provided, those vessels have been granted their access. As I said earlier, many of those vessels are indeed French vessels.
The hon. Lady mentioned the issue of the two vessels that have been initially detained. We understand that one of them may still be detained. She raised the issue about whether a licence had been issued. What I have been able to establish so far is that, in respect of that vessel, it was on the list that was provided by the MMO initially to the European Union. The European Union therefore did grant a licence. We are seeing some reports that, for some reason, it was subsequently withdrawn from the list. It is unclear at the moment why that might have been.
The hon. Lady asked why I have not been able to establish this morning in the course of events why that has not been the case. I can say that the relevant data for this is held by Marine Scotland. I have been asking my officials to get to the bottom of this issue. We have been told that Marine Scotland hopes to get back to us within the next hour or so. My officials will work very constructively with the Scottish Government and with their agencies, such as Marine Scotland, to understand what happened in the case of this particular vessel.
Given the escalation and “more forceful” language—I think that those are the words used—coming not from the French fishing industry, which we are kind of used to by now, but from the French Government, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the licensing process currently under dispute is entirely in line not just with the UK Fisheries Act 2020, but with the trade and co-operation agreement itself, which was signed by all sides? Can he also commit that this Government will not grant any further concession beyond that which is already granted to the French and other EU countries through the trade and co-operation agreement?
First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new role as our fisheries envoy in the Government? I can think of no one better to be a champion for the interests of fishing. He raises a very important point, which is that everything we have done is entirely consistent with what was agreed in the trade and co-operation agreement. The reason that some vessels inevitably will not receive the licence that they might have had previously is that the trade and co-operation agreement is different from both the Granville Bay agreement that we had in respect of Jersey, and, of course, the previous provisions of the common fisheries policy, in that access is now determined by a reference period. There will be some vessels that might have had the right to access but that nevertheless never used that access during the reference period, and which will therefore—under the terms of the agreement, which all sides understood—no longer be entitled to access.
The threats and actions from France are completely wrong and unacceptable. There is a real need to ensure that everyone involved uses language to de-escalate the situation in order not to risk the lives of either British or French fishers in any clashes at sea, and to ensure that there is uninterrupted trade between the United Kingdom and France. It is really important to set that out.
It seems to me that the situation is a result of the Government, at some point along the way, losing control of some of the negotiations and positions that keep our fishers safe. Will the Secretary of State set out whether the crew are okay and what support is being given to them? Will he also set out clearly that we expect our British fishing boats to be able to fish legally, sustainably and uninterruptedly in French waters, as French boats can expect to fish legally, uninterruptedly and sustainably in British waters, as per the agreement that has been set out?
There is a real concern that the botched Brexit deal will lead to more clashes between UK and European fishers. Will the Secretary of State set out what steps he is taking to ensure that there are no further clashes and there is no risk of escalation? What steps is he taking to support our industry to ensure that this important trading period, in which UK seafood exports provide a huge part of the annual income for fishing businesses, is uninterrupted, because there is a risk that the situation could erode the confidence of European suppliers in buying from British companies?
May I further ask the Secretary of State whether—after having investigated whether the licence for this boat, having been granted by UK authorities, was subsequently removed from an MMO or Marine Scotland register—he will come back to the House to report on what has happened and what lessons can be learned to ensure that this does not happen again? I ask him sincerely to use his offices in Government to ensure that there are no voices that seek to escalate and churn up distrust between ourselves and our colleagues in Europe, because in the risk of escalation is the risk of lives being put at risk at sea, and we must ensure that everyone who goes to sea to catch fish is safe.
I welcome the tone with which the hon. Gentleman has approached the issue. He is absolutely right that it is important that we remain calm and try to de-escalate the situation. The UK Government, and the authorities in Jersey and Guernsey, have implemented the provisions of the trade and co-operation agreement. We have licensed many vessels. In the case of Jersey, for instance, although it has 65 of its own vessels in its waters, it will have granted access to its waters to well over 100 EU vessels; it has not been unreasonable.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the crew. This morning, I asked my officials to check on that point. We do not think that there are any issues with the crew. The vessel was asked to go into port in the usual way, as part of a routine inspection, so we do not think that there are any issues of that sort to be concerned about. He is also right that UK vessels, with their licence to fish in EU waters, should be allowed to do so uninterrupted. The UK will continue to implement and enforce things in good faith in our exclusive economic zone as well. We are not going to get into any sort of retaliatory tit for tat on this kind of thing. It is important that everybody remains calm.
On what the French have said they will do regarding borders, obviously France, as an EU member state, is bound by the official control regime. There will be a role for the European Commission to ensure that France does not break EU law in any approach that it takes. That is why our principal port of call is talking to the European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of France on these matters. We will also, of course, speak to French Ministers and officials.
Finally, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s caricature—that is, that the situation has happened because we have lost control of a negotiation. The reason that we have these tensions is that what we secured in the trade and co-operation agreement means that there will be some EU vessels that previously had access that will not enjoy access in future. That is obviously causing a bit of tension; we do understand. Even though those vessels probably never accessed our waters and never took up the right that they had, it is an option that they would like to retain, but, put simply, that is not what the trade and co-operation agreement provided for. So it is by adhering, calmly but resolutely, to the terms that were agreed in the trade and co-operation agreement that we have some of these tensions.
I do find it extraordinary that the SNP seems to be racing to take the side of the French rather than standing up for British interests. The boat that has been detained is a Scottish-owned boat that operates out of Shoreham—the largest port for scallops, which is what this boat was involved with, in the country. It is a very important trade through the port of Shoreham that has always been done within the rules. My fishermen are more concerned about the infringement into our waters of French fishing boats that appeared not to be following the rules. Can the Secretary of State assure us that he will do everything he can to make sure that the fishing boat from Shoreham is properly looked after, and to make sure that there is proper enforcement action against infringements by French fishermen and women that are happening in our waters?
If fishermen in my hon. Friend’s constituency have some specific points around specific vessels that they would like to feed into me, I would be more than happy to refer that on to the MMO, which leads for enforcement of vessels in our waters. We have significantly increased our enforcement capacity with additional vessels and some aerial surveillance in order to be able to enforce activities in our waters properly. As I said, if there are particular instances that he is aware of, I would be happy to follow them up.
As the shadow Secretary of State said, the next few weeks will be absolutely critical for fish exporters in this country. If the French do what they are threatening—which is only, as I understand it, what is allowed by the trade and co-operation agreement—then they risk damaging the confidence and the reliability of supply from this country. The Secretary of State has given the number of licences that he has issued. He should also be aware that a number of those are for super-trawlers over 100 metres and fly-shooters, that he has given away access to non-quota species without limit, and that this is on top of a TCA that allowed access to the six to 12-mile limits, which is not what was promised. When he has given away so much already, why is he risking this over such a small number of small boats that we must always have known would struggle to get the data to justify the creation of track records?
I think what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, in a nutshell, is, “Shouldn’t we just roll over and accept these vessels even though they don’t qualify?” The position of the Government is that there were very clearly agreed terms in the trade and co-operation agreement. Any vessel that qualified has been granted access, and that includes many vessels—close to 1,700—in our exclusive economic zone. I do not agree that we should take an approach that says, “We should just let in these people for an easy life.” The reality is that these vessels did not have a track record in our waters. This is not just about data. We have been open to considering data. We have looked at the VALPENA chart data that has come from the European Commission. Because the French were struggling at one point to provide the data, the UK Government went into the commercial market and bought AIS—automatic identification system—data for some of the French vessels so that we could understand their applications better. The data is available, in many cases. We have sought to be as helpful as we can to assist the EU in providing that data, but if it is unable to do so, there comes a point when we must assume that it probably did not have access during the reference period.
I thank the Secretary of State for his actions. I urge him to hold fast and ensure that we and the French obey the rule of law. If the French Government—they are clearly doing this under Monsieur Macron’s need to get re-elected and to attack us as part of that—keep threatening us and, frankly, abusing their power, I do not understand why we cannot be gently encouraging our exporters to use non-French ports and to move our supply lines potentially to people who will not play politics with the economies of the European Union and the United Kingdom.
Obviously if the French did carry through that threat, individual businesses would make decisions about how best to get their goods to market. The important thing is that we very much hope they will not. We do not think it is consistent with the trade and co-operation agreement. It probably is not consistent with the official control regime under EU law. The official control regime exists to manage risks—it is a risk-based regime—and it is not there to be used for retaliation, as it is being described.
Is it not really time to get rid of Lord Frost? [Interruption.] He obviously has a lot of friends. Presumably that is why he is there. He continues to damage the relationship with Ireland, our nearest neighbours. The Falkland Islanders have still not had agreement about their tariffs, because of a lack of agreement with the Spanish. Now, this long-running and long-brewing dispute with the French continues. The Secretary of State talks about constructive discussions, but clearly with Lord Frost at the helm continuing to destroy these relationships, that is not possible.
What the hon. Lady says is an absolute nonsense. I work closely with Lord Frost, who is a very able negotiator and stands up for the interests of our country in these discussions. I can assure her that he has very good relations with the negotiators that he deals with from the European Union.
May I commend to the House an excellent history book called “1000 Years of Annoying the French”? This is nothing new; this has been going on for hundreds of years, if not 1,000 years. My right hon. Friend has mentioned the role of the European Union, which always claims that it is an organisation based on rules. What conversations has he had with the Commission or Commissioners regarding this dispute?
I spoke to Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius yesterday to discuss this issue and the general licensing issue. I asked him whether what was being suggested was consistent with EU law under the official control regime and the trade and co-operation agreement. I expressed our view that we felt it was not consistent with either. At that point, obviously, he had not had the chance to discuss the matter with the French, but he undertook to do so.
I hope that in your recent visit to Lancashire for the G7 Speakers’ conference, Madam Deputy Speaker, you got to enjoy our Morecambe Bay potted shrimps and Fleetwood fish. Indeed, much of the UK fishing industry is made up of small-scale fishers and fish processors. Can I ask the Secretary of State whether the mechanisms proposed in the EU trade and co-operation agreement to resolve these kinds of disputes are being used to resolve this dispute?
The answer at the moment is that we are applying what was agreed, so there do not need to be further technical groups. We have very close relations with the European Commission. At official level, we are sharing all our methodology with them. For the vessels that we have not so far been able to grant a licence to, we have shown precisely the data that we have—or do not have—that means that is the case. We continue to work closely with the European Commission to identify vessels that might qualify.
One of the threats that we have heard from the French this week has been about the electricity supply to the people of Jersey. I am glad that the Secretary of State is speaking to the European Union. Will he confirm that he will make clear that threatening the electricity supply in this kind of dispute is wholly outside the terms of the TCA and wholly unacceptable from a close and trusted ally?
The UK Government will stand squarely behind Jersey on this matter. As I said, we have worked closely with it on the methodology for issuing licences. We believe that Jersey has been entirely consistent with the trade and co-operation agreement, and it has been reasonable throughout. As I said earlier, the threats that France has made are disappointing, disproportionate and not what we would expect from an ally, and we also believe that they are not compatible with the trade and co-operation agreement.
I commend the Secretary of State for his fortitude and his strong, firm stance. What steps will he take to ensure that British fleets can fish in British waters without being concerned that they may stray marginally into French waters and be detained, while watching copious numbers of the French fleet fish at will in British waters with no similar harsh justice?
Under the terms of the trade and co-operation agreement, I think that is unlikely. Vessels can enter one another’s exclusive economic zone and licences have been issued for that. Most of the remaining issues pertain to the six to 12-mile zone in English waters only, not Scottish waters. In my experience, vessels mostly know where they are, as they have pretty accurate chartplotter data.
I wish the Secretary of State and his officials well as they grapple with a fast-evolving and complicated situation. Does he agree that the mask slipped for the Scottish national party today? When it comes to a choice between working with us to stand up for the interests and rights of Scottish fishermen and scoring cheap political points, they choose cheap political points and pointing the finger every time.
It is clearly an extremely worrying time for the UK fishing fleet, especially small fishers who cannot afford a disruption in trade. What are the Government doing to encourage people to buy home-grown seafood and to support fishers trying to sell directly to consumers?
During the pandemic, there was a fall in the price of many fish species as restaurants and the catering trade closed. With things reopening again, the price of fish has bounded back and is in a strong position. During the pandemic, we ran a number of schemes in conjunction with Seafish to promote the greater consumption of fish at home.
The non-enforcement of total allowable catches for non-quota species in UK waters this year has not only undermined our inshore fleet but may have sent a signal that the UK will not enforce rules designed to promote sustainable fishing and our domestic industry. That might have played a contributory role in the lead-up to these incidents. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that those TACs will be enforced in the coming year?
I do not think that there is a connection between the approach taken on non-quota stocks, for which there was specific provision in the trade and co-operation agreement, and the specific issue about certain vessels that do not qualify for access to our waters. On my hon. Friend’s other point, we will be discussing that again with the European Commission at the next annual UK-EU bilateral negotiations. It remains our position that some limits must be set on non-quota stock species. We will seek to progress that next year.
The chairman of the Regional Maritime Fisheries Committee in northern France has indicated that his members could block UK products being exported through the Calais port and channel tunnel. We have seen how strained our supply chains are already, so what discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Cabinet colleagues about the potential impact of that move? What steps will be taken to mitigate that?
That situation arose yesterday but has been brewing probably for the last fortnight. I have had regular discussions with some of my Cabinet colleagues on the matter, notably Lord Frost because of his position in the wider negotiations. I point out, however, as I said earlier, that 736 French vessels have been licensed to fish in our waters. We have behaved very reasonably on the issue throughout.
May I reassure the Secretary of State that Conservative Members have absolute confidence in Lord Frost? I welcome his reassurance that we have acted at all times within the TCA. Having met the Jersey Government and seen at first hand the GPS data, I echo their pleas for the French Government and the Commission to publish publicly anything that they disagree with. Given that France gave up sovereignty in this policy area to the European Commission, will the Secretary of State reassure us that the Commission will not support any breaking of the law or the TCA from France unilaterally?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As France is an EU member state, it is for the European Commission to speak for France on such matters. That is why our first port of call in the discussions is the European Commission, which has the legal vires to represent France on fisheries matters. As we all know, the European Union takes its laws very seriously, so I hope that it will ensure that its member states abide by them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the predictably disproportionate and unreasonable behaviour of the French authorities is inexorably linked to President Macron facing difficult elections next year, that we should expect matters to get worse before they get better, and that history shows us that this House and our great nation’s interests are best served by standing up to the threats of little Napoleons clinging on to power?
It may be fair or unfair, but for the last 50 years—probably more—fishing communities around the UK have lacked confidence that successive Governments would be robust enough in defending their interests. While I understand that my right hon. Friend does not want to escalate the present situation, will he give an assurance that we will be extremely robust in defending the interests of fishing communities around the UK?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. However, it is also important to point out that, over the last 50 years, no UK Government have had the legal right to defend their interests in fisheries properly, since the common fisheries policy meant that the policy area was ceded to the European Union. The UK Government believe passionately in our fishing industry, which is one of the great opportunities that we have from leaving the European Union, and that is why we will support our fishermen during this difficult time.
As the Secretary of State said, the situation is extremely disappointing, but if I were to describe my constituents’ response when I talk to them about it with an emoji, it would be the rolling eyes one because, sadly, we expect nothing else from French politicians. It is extremely concerning in Grimsby not only for the trawlers but for our fish processors who export. We must ensure that we are balanced in what we do and, as colleagues have said, robust. Will he assure me that he will say to the EU and France that we will not be bullied and that it is about time that they started working with us as allies, not enemies?
Further to my right hon. Friend’s comments on the threat to cut electricity to Jersey, will he reassure people throughout the Channel Islands, who are understandably somewhat concerned, that the UK will stand solidly with the Crown dependencies in the face of any intimidation from France, whether on fishing or any other topic?
The British people do not take kindly to provocation and intensely dislike threats from other nations. If the French are so keen on impounding boats, perhaps they could focus on the real issue: the hundreds of migrants illegally crossing the channel day in, day out on small dinghies. Does my right hon. Friend agree that France’s threats are disproportionate and not at all what we would expect from a close ally and partner?
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 1 November will include:
Monday 1 November—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 2 November—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 3 November—Motion relating to the third report of Session 2021-22 from the Committee on Standards, followed by Second Reading of the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, followed by a motion relating to the membership of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Thursday 4 November—General debate on a proposal for an inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the NATO-led mission to Afghanistan, followed by a general debate on the use of medical cannabis for the alleviation of health conditions. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 5 November—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 8 November will include:
Monday 8 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Environment Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, followed by an Opposition day (7th allotted day—second part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Tuesday 9 November—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
At the conclusion of business on Tuesday 9 November, the House will rise for the November recess and return on Monday 15 November.
If I may, I would like to take this opportunity to correct a figure I gave last week that was out of date, for which I apologise. I said to the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who is in her place, that 650,000 fewer children were living in workless households than in 2010; the latest figure, from 29 September, which I apologise for having missed, is 580,000. I am glad the hon. Lady is in her place and I have therefore had the opportunity to correct the information I gave her.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving the forthcoming business. On behalf of the many staff as well as colleagues who have asked to be able to plan for next year, will the Leader of the House please next week give the recess dates for 2022?
I am relieved that the motion on the report from the Standards Committee that was published this week into the conduct of a Member is in the business statement. If any Members have not yet read it, I urge them to keep an open mind and to read it before the motion is debated.
It was good to see that yesterday almost all the Cabinet took the Health Secretary’s advice to wear masks, but I note that the Leader of the House did not; he still appears to think that a “convivial, fraternal spirit” will protect him from covid. Meanwhile, in the real world covid rates are still high, and apparently largely unhindered by the £37 billion that the Government spent on their Test and Trace programme. According to the Public Accounts Committee report published yesterday, this was “muddled” and “overstated” and the expense “eye watering”. It failed on its main objective to prevent lockdowns and get normality back, and just 14% of 691 million tests have been registered. So much for world-beating. Will the Leader of the House ask the Health Secretary, not a junior Minister, to come here and explain why the Government are wasting our constituents’ money with crony contracts filling mates’ pockets?
Yesterday, we had what I can only describe as the remainder of the Budget, given that we had had five days of Treasury announcements—we cannot really call them leaks—in the press. The Chancellor seems to have forgotten that the Government’s own ministerial code says:
“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament.”
I know the Leader of the House has a very strong commitment to the primacy of Parliament, so will he—once again, I am afraid—please remind his colleagues that Parliament, not the press, is the place for policy announcements?
While I am on the subject of the ministerial code, Lord Geidt was appointed in April as the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, but six months later we still do not have an updated code, which we were expecting. Will the Leader of the House please confirm when that will be published?
We are days—hours now, really—away from what should and could be the most important environmental summit in history. As host nation in Glasgow, we have an incredible, one-time chance to change the course of history. To make the summit a success, the Government need to lead by example. They should be demonstrating ambition for a more hopeful future, a clean environment, warm homes, good jobs and protection for nature. Politicians from around the world are watching this Government’s deeds and words and calibrating their ambitions accordingly, but unfortunately it seems that the Government are treating COP26 as nothing more than a photo opportunity.
Just last week, politicians from around the world will have seen the uninspiring sight of this Government voting for feeble legal limits on air pollution and less regulation for bee-killing pesticides, and just yesterday the Chancellor announced that he was slashing air passenger duty to incentivise short-haul domestic flights. That is embarrassing as we go into COP26. We should be projecting an open, optimistic, global vision to the world, yet the Government—working with the SNP Scottish Government, I am afraid to say—seem to be supporting new oilfields in the North sea. Will the Leader of the House ask the Business Secretary to come to the House and explain why the Government are saying that we must move beyond fossil fuels but meanwhile opening the new Cambo oilfield?
Finally, on COP26, I make this urgent plea, via the Leader of the House, to the Prime Minister and other world leaders in Glasgow: please, get this right. We cannot waste this opportunity to save our climate and save our planet.
The recess dates will be announced in the normal way, subject to the progress of Government business, but I am well aware that it is convenient for Members and staff to know as soon as possible.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s approval of the standards debate. I, too, encourage Members to read the report; I think that is always essential. It is quite a long report, but the weekend is looming and that will be an opportunity to read it.
As regards masks, I remind the hon. Lady about the Daily Mirror party at the socialists’ conference, which I have heard more about since last week. Not only was it a maskless-fest, where alcoholic beverages, which will probably be cheaper in the future thanks to the marvellous Budget yesterday, were imbibed, but Mr Speaker, I hear there was dancing—maskless dancing. Now, can you think? We are not doing that in here, are we, Mr Speaker? No dancing, I am glad to say, on the Floor of the House of Commons.
However, I would say that the Government guidance is absolutely clear: masks are not compulsory in workplaces, and masks are not compulsory when we are with people whom we regularly meet. It is a matter of personal choice. I would also, if I may, give a reassurance to the hon. Lady that there is the lateral flow test, which she was rather disobliging about. Having taken one—having taken more than one over the weeks and months that have gone past—I can assure her that I am negative and therefore I am not going to be spewing covid around the Chamber, because I have taken a negative lateral flow test. I do have a concern, obviously, as all of us do, to limit the spread of this disease. I think that that is just as safe a procedure to take.
As regards the contracts, it was of the utmost importance that things were rolled out swiftly. They were not given to mates; indeed, even Labour supporters, or companies associated with Labour supporters, got contracts. It had to be done quickly. Every criticism that is made of Test and Trace should be applied equally to the vaccine process; we see that the success of the vaccine process was dependent upon exactly the same processes, to do things quickly—to make decisions fast, to award contracts urgently—to ensure that we had a response to the crisis. That is what the Government did, it is what any wise Government would have done, and it is fortunate that the do-nothing socialists—the Captain Hindsights of socialism—were not in charge during the course of the pandemic.
The hon. Lady raises an important point, as you have Mr Speaker and as has the Chairman of Ways and Means, about information not being given to this House first. The “Ministerial Code” is absolutely clear that important announcements must be made to the House first. We have a right to expect that, as representatives of our constituents, and that is why we here: to hold the Government to account. There is sometimes a debate about what is important and occasionally, Mr Speaker, you and I have not taken the same view on importance. However, I can assure the House that after every business questions I write to every Secretary of State and other Cabinet Members on the issues that have been raised, so the point the hon. Lady makes will be raised with the Chancellor, as, I believe, Mr Speaker, it has been raised by you. It is a fundamental constitutional right that this House should be told things first, although I would note that there was lots in the Budget yesterday, including the most important announcement of the cut in the withdrawal rate from 63p in the pound to 55p in the pound, which had not been whispered abroad before it was announced here.
The hon. Lady finished on the question of COP26. I set out once again what the Government’s targets are, which I think the hon. Lady will find agreement with: to secure global net zero by the middle of the century and keep 1.5°C, or 2.7°F, within reach; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilise finance, whereby developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020; work together to finalise the Paris rulebook; and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between Governments, businesses and civil society.
The Government’s vision is one based on improving people’s standards of living. That is what the Budget was about yesterday and it is what the green policy is about. It is not about cave dwelling. It is not hairshirt greenery. We are not becoming Adullamites. What we are in favour of is having higher standards of living based on the new technologies. All sorts of exciting things are happening, including with hydrogen, which will make that possible. There is not, I think, a market for going back to the stone age—some hon. Members may think I have never really emerged from the stone age—but we want to ensure that the standard of living of our constituents improves.
The hon. Lady rightly mentions air pollution. One of the great scandals of recent decades is that we promoted diesel in this country. The Labour Government, then in charge, promoted diesel, which led to tens of thousands of early deaths because of particulates. That was done on the encouragement of the European Union in support of German car manufacturers. It is one of the great scandals that has been put right by this Government. We have seen air quality improve since 2010.
As regards air passenger duty, it has gone up on the longest, greatest emitting flights, but of course we should be free to travel around our own United Kingdom, our own country. That is a perfectly right thing to do. We have to remember that the target for net zero is by 2050. We are going to need to use fossil fuels in the interim and it is fanciful to think otherwise. If we are going to use them, we want them to be economic. We need to ensure our constituents have a rising standard of living.
Yesterday, the Chancellor announced £300 million of support for children in the first 1,001 days of their lives. May we have a debate on the meaning of that phrase, bearing in mind that the excellent report by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), which informed the Chancellor’s decision, refers to the first 1,001 days as being from conception to aged two?
May I begin by thanking my hon. Friend for the tremendous work she has done since her election in 2010 to support the family and all life from the point of conception through to the point of natural death? She is heroic in what she has done. The first 1,001 days is a very important staging post. The work of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire has brought that to people’s attention. She has campaigned for and succeeded in making the funding available. In terms of a debate, I am going to slightly cop out and point to the Budget debate that is carrying on later today, which will be a great opportunity to raise the issue further.
The Leader of the House should be thoroughly embarrassed about his ridiculous comments from business questions last week, when he suggested that Tory MPs are protected from covid because they have
“a more convivial, fraternal spirit”.——[Official Report, 21 October 2021; Vol. 701, c. 945.]
It is so convivial that several of them are now off having caught covid, along with the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Whip of the Scottish National party.
Tory MPs are not immune. Staff and visitors are now obliged to wear face masks but MPs are not in a “Do as we say” edict. But progress has been made and my campaign to get them to mask up is beginning to bear fruit. More of them are actually starting to care about colleagues and members of staff by wearing a face mask, and I welcome that, but I note that the Leader of the House’s fizzog remains unadorned from this modest, disease-stopping piece of cloth. He has a perfectly good Union Jack face covering; for goodness’ sake, man, put it on! Be the Leader of the House, not the libertarian of the House.
I want to support you, Mr Speaker, in your campaign to make sure that important announcements are made in this House first. The pre-announcing of the Budget was an absolute disgrace, designed to soften up the press and the public. I like the idea of Ministers being forced to resign if they break the trust of Parliament. I suggested bringing them to the Bar of the House last week, but let us maybe have a debate and see what we could do. We could have a prize for the most creative and inventive sanction that could be applied to Ministers that break the trust of the House.
Lastly, COP comes to Scotland next week and our beautiful country will be on show to the world. Scotland leads the UK in renewables and climate change legislation and we will be a good host of the summit. The world will also see a nation ready to take its own place in the world. The Leader of the House knows that debate is coming soon. He knows it is coming. Let us get on with it.
One does like to think sometimes of what dinner must be like in the household of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), because everything is “a disgrace”, it is “an outrage”, it is “shocking”. The sound and fury that enthuses him whenever he gets to the Chamber allows no time for nuance, for things being degrees of acceptableness or not being favourable. It is always this absolute outrage, which fortunately, I answered entirely in my answer to the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the shadow Leader of the House.
Following the recent conviction of the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) and the strong possibility of a by-election in the seat, the rumours are swirling in the fair county of Leicestershire that the previous incumbent may seek a return to this place. Given that he received a six-month ban from the House of Commons in 2019 following the cocaine and rent boys scandal, which he avoided by standing down, will the Leader of the House give a statement to the House where, hopefully, he will confirm that if Mr Vaz were to return to this place, he would have to serve his punishment outstanding in full?
I will confirm the precise opposite. The House agreed to a six-month suspension for Mr Vaz on 31 October 2019, but Parliament was then dissolved on 6 November for a general election. A suspension cannot carry across into a new Parliament, so that ended Mr Vaz’s suspension. The recall petition process was also terminated by the election, as provided for under section 13 of the Recall of MPs Act 2015. But this is right, because we are here by virtue of our electorate, and the electorate is free to send here whomsoever they choose. I know my hon. Friend will not be happy with that answer, but I remind him about John Wilkes and the Middlesex election. It has not always been the case that this House has acted wisely in whom it has sought to expel, but the electors have had a right to send that person back. Although this may be a difficult case and although this may be disagreeable to my hon. Friend, these constitutional principles are fundamentally important and should not be changed for individual cases.
I thank the Leader of the House for the reference to a debate on 4 November about Afghanistan, but is he aware of reports that journalists in Afghanistan who have previously worked for the BBC are now subject to grave risks? A number of examples have been highlighted by the National Union of Journalists. One such example, Abdul Malik Asem, survived an attack after armed men opened fire on him at his sister’s home just a few days ago, injuring his 20-year-old nephew, who is seriously ill in hospital. Can we therefore have a debate in Government time to discuss what actions can be taken urgently to ensure that such journalists can be safely evacuated?
The Government are doing what we can to help refugees from Afghanistan. I recently visited the RAF base at Brize Norton, whose staff have worked incredibly hard around the clock to evacuate people. People who are now able to get out of Afghanistan into other countries do have a route through. In the first year, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme will welcome to the UK up to 5,000 vulnerable Afghans who have been forced to flee their country, with up to a total of 20,000 over a five-year period. The scheme will provide protection for vulnerable people and those identified as at risk, including women and girls and members of minority groups. The Government are doing what we can; there is a programme, and there is funding behind it.
Ystradgynlais Community Welfare Ground Association is working hard to raise £100,000 to secure a 50-year lease on the playing fields in Ystradgynlais, so that the rugby club and other community groups can continue to use the facility and grassroots Welsh rugby can continue to thrive. I will be submitting a bid to the UK Government’s community ownership fund and will urge Powys County Council to step in as well.
With Wales set to start its Autumn Internationals campaign on Saturday, will the Leader of the House, who I know has Welsh connections, wish Wales good luck against New Zealand? Will he consider granting time for a debate on how we can secure the future of Ystradgynlais Community Welfare Ground Association’s playing fields?
I am delighted to wish Wales luck against New Zealand. I am looking forward to an heroic victory of our fellow countrymen that will inspire many across the country.
I also wish my hon. Friend every success in her campaign for funding for her rugby club, which I know is an important community facility. There are opportunities to apply for money, and she is very good at working out which ones to pursue. I cannot commit Her Majesty’s Treasury, but I encourage my hon. Friend to keep on pushing. Perhaps, Mr Speaker, in your benignity, you might grant an Adjournment debate so that the issue may be discussed further.
In recent weeks, Bath and North East Somerset have had some of the highest covid rates in England, as the Leader of the House, my constituency neighbour, will know. Despite No. 10’s claims to the contrary, experts have linked the rise in cases to the month-long error at the Immensa lab in Wolverhampton, which caused false negative test results. It has now been reported that the lab is still processing and profiting from travel PCR tests.
This is nothing short of a scandal. We need a statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to explain why the Government are using these private companies to profit from testing our communities, when they operate with virtually no oversight and their failures could mean an increase in deaths.
There was obviously a failure in a testing centre; that is a serious matter, and it is something that the Department of Health and Social Care acted on. Buying in services is a perfectly normal and sensible thing for the health service to do, and has allowed the enormous amount of testing that has taken place. Right hon. and hon. Members may remember my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), the then Health Secretary, saying that we needed to get to 100,000 tests a day. We can now do far more than that—the availability is enormous. It is important, of course, that they be right, but where something went wrong, the Department of Health and Social Care has intervened.
Last week, I raised the plight of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh. I thank my right hon. Friend for raising the matter with the Foreign Secretary.
This week, I refer to the notorious hate preacher Mizanur Rahman Azhari. Unbelievably, having been banned in Bangladesh and having fled for his safety, he has been invited to address the London Islamic conference this Sunday at the Royal Regency. I understand that he is in Qatar right now, attempting to gain entry to the UK. Alternatively, he may be invited to stream online to people in this country his message of hatred against Jews and Hindus. Will the Leader of the House take action with the Home Secretary to make sure that that is not allowed to happen? Can we have a debate in Government time on what we can do to prevent these hate preachers from misinforming the vast majority of Muslims in this country, who are actually peaceful people?
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. It is crucial that the law is enforced. Stirring up hatred is, in certain circumstances, an offence for which people can be prosecuted, and it is right that that should happen. We do not want to allow into this country people who will stir up hatred. I will not comment on the individual case, because it is not for me to do so, but as a general rule we want to ensure that there is a sensible tone of debate and discussion, and that those who stir up hatred are fully deterred. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Last night many young women in Nottingham were having a “girls’ night in” as part of the national protest against the epidemic of male violence that they face in bars and nightclubs. In particular, there are extremely worrying reports of spiking by injection. The issue was raised with the Leader of the House last week, and with the Prime Minister yesterday. Is it not time that we had a statement from the Home Secretary about what she is now doing to ensure that young women can live their lives without fear?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this, because it is an issue of the greatest concern. Everyone should be able to go out and go about their lawful business feeling safe, and the fact that young women do not feel safe is a blot on the safety that we expect in this nation.
I assure the hon. Lady that these matters are taken extremely seriously by the Home Office and by the Home Secretary, who has asked the police for an update. The police are now conducting inquiries. Criminal offences must be investigated, and offenders must be charged and prosecuted. People who spike women’s drinks should find themselves facing the full force of the law, women going out for drinks should feel safe, and bars have a strong responsibility to ensure the safety of their own premises.