House of Commons
Wednesday 26 October 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I wish to inform the House that I have received a letter from the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) informing me of his resignation as Chair of the Treasury Committee, following his appointment to the Government. Arrangements for the election of his successor will be as follows: nominations will close at 12 noon on Tuesday 8 November, and nomination forms will be available from the Vote Office, Table Office and Public Bill Office. Following the House’s decision of 16 January 2020, only Members from the Conservative party may be candidates. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place on Wednesday 9 November, from 11 am to 2.30 pm.
Oral Answers to Questions
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
I greatly welcome the fact that people feel more willing to report hate crime. We have seen an increase of 26% in recorded incidents and believe that the biggest driver of it is the welcome improvement in police recording. Let me be clear: hate crime is a scourge on communities and will not be tolerated, which is why we are committed to reducing all crime, including hate incidents, and are on track to recruit 20,000 extra police officers.
According to the Office for National Statistics, nationally we have seen a sixfold increase in hate crime over the past decade. Locally, in the recent efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy inspections of Warwickshire police, criticism was made of the way in which the force supports victims in the aftermath of such crimes. This was felt by a constituent who was physically and racially assaulted; his assailant was charged with physical damage of a phone after Warwickshire police failed to complete a case action plan sent to them by the Crown Prosecution Service. Can the Minister advise us of how frequently she meets her colleagues in the Home Office? What is being done to arrest this rise in violent crime?
As I hope the hon. Gentleman will see, I am personally committed to ensuring the best possible response to these terrible crimes and, indeed, to all crimes. There is an online hate crime hub, True Vision, which police can now directly work with; he mentions a constituent’s case, and victims of online hate can submit reports and get the right support, which is equally important. That is there on both sides—it is for the police also.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee on Women and Equalities, Caroline Nokes.
In his question, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) did not include hate crimes committed against women, yet we know that the Nottinghamshire police force is doing some great pilot work on recording misogyny as a hate crime in the incidents it encounters. Will the Minister update us on how that pilot is going and whether there are plans to roll it out further? What progress is the Home Office making on its work and consultation on tackling public sexual harassment, which is one of those significant crimes that impacts women every day?
My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am very interested in both those issues. The consultation on public sexual harassment has been completed and I am currently looking at it. On misogyny as a hate crime, I am aware of the Nottinghamshire police work. It is absolutely right that a number of police forces are choosing of their own volition to record those particular crimes. I will update her further in writing, because there is more to say.
I call the shadow Secretary of State, Anneliese Dodds.
I welcome the new Minister for Women and Equalities to her place.
With reference to the previous question, I should of course say that making misogyny a hate crime is something the Government have stood against until now, when they have been pushed by a Labour police and crime commissioner in Nottinghamshire, but we hope the tide may be turning.
A moment ago, the Minister referred to some statistics on hate crime, but not the most concerning ones. One was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) when he talked about violent hate crime, which is six times higher today than it was 10 years ago. Hate crimes that are reported are up by 269% in England and Wales since 2010. We have also seen the highest number of religiously motivated hate crimes ever recorded this year. What are the Government going to do about this?
The hon. Lady knows that we have some of the strongest legislation to tackle everything that she has mentioned, including religious hate crime. Over the past six years, the Home Office’s places of worship protective security funding scheme has awarded 323 grants of around £8 million with regard to religious hate crime. I will be clear: I am personally committed to the best possible response to hate crime by every force.
Cost of Living: Women in the Workplace
The Department for Work and Pensions new progression offer will help claimants on universal credit to identify opportunities in their current role or a new role. We have also increased the national living wage, reduced the universal credit taper rate and increased the work allowance to ensure that work pays.
The current Prime Minister famously insulted millions of mums across the UK during the pandemic when he showed a total lack of understanding of the pressure they were under and the discrimination they faced in the workplace. It is probably lost on a billionaire PM, but his Tory Government have overseen the second most expensive childcare in the developed world. According to Pregnant Then Screwed, 62% of parents pay the same or more for childcare as their rent or mortgage. The cost of living crisis will only worsen that. What real actions will the Minister and the new Prime Minister take? Will she and he be in post long enough to actually do anything?
Childcare is an important issue. Since 2010, we have doubled childcare to 30 hours for working parents, with a universal offer of 15 hours, and covering 85% of childcare costs under universal credit. We have also had much discussion in recent weeks about childcare ratios. I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to the hon. Lady with more detail.
One workplace where women need support is the other place, where an eighth of the seats are reserved for men only. Will the Minister support my Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill and get that anomaly changed?
I thank my hon. Friend for her impressive campaigning on this issue. I was privileged to be in the Chamber when she made some of her speeches about it this year. I will look into the matter and ensure that I write to her about it.
Last month, the new Minister for Women and Equalities told investors in New York that the Government were going for growth in a big way. She said of that economic strategy:
“We know it is bold. We know it comes with risk. But in these volatile times, every option, even the status quo is risky.”
One month on from the catastrophic mini-Budget, will the Minister explain what impact going for growth had on women’s finances?
We have provided lots of cost of living support for families and particularly for women. We will write to the hon. Lady further about the issue.
I am disappointed by that brief response, because today we have found from the latest statistics that women need more than 12 times the average annual salary to buy a home. Our average real-terms wages have plummeted by almost £600 a year since 2010. The Government have simply removed the possibility of home ownership for millions of women. In her speech last month, the Minister for Women and Equalities described the UK as “Europe’s unicorn factory”. Are not her Government Britain’s chaos factory, with working women paying the price through lower wages and lost mortgages?
I completely dispute that characterisation of the Government. We have not only taken comprehensive steps to support people financially this year, targeting support at vulnerable households and families and putting in place an energy price cap, but increased the national living wage and changed the universal credit taper rate. We have taken a number of steps to help people with their finances and we will continue to do so.
I call the SNP spokesperson, Kirsten Oswald.
This Tory Government have committed to introducing an employment Bill at least 20 times, but it is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, labour market inequalities become all the more acute, especially in the cost of living crisis. The Minister could tell us that she will fix the sick pay system, introduce the day one right to flexible working, improve parental leave and pay and strengthen protections against pregnancy and maternity discrimination, but her Government are making a choice not to do those things. That is a real contrast with the Scottish Government’s recent “Building a New Scotland” paper, which sets out how an independent Scotland would deliver fair working practices. Why do this Tory Government support inequality in the workplace?
The changes in flexible working that we saw during the pandemic have been helpful to women. The Government have taken action in consulting on flexible working. It is a matter for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to her about that issue.
Women in British Motorsport
This Government and I are absolutely committed to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity, pushing for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunities and visibility in the media. We want to continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that all aspects of women’s sport continue to flourish. I welcome the W Series, as it provides equal opportunities for women to compete competitively in motorsport. I also recognise what organisations such as Motorsport UK and the British Women Racing Drivers Club are taking forward to increase women and girls’ participation within the sport.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. As she said, the all-female W Series championship is another jewel in the crown for British motorsport, won for the third time this year by British driver Jamie Chadwick, but it has sadly had to curtail the season by three races, with the sad reality being that women’s sports such as the W Series have much lower funding available than their male counterparts. Will my hon. Friend commit to working with the W Series to help it continue to support women drivers, engineers and mechanics into motorsports?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for motorsport, and, as he knows, I am more than a little bit of a petrolhead myself. I approach motorsport with an enormous amount of enthusiasm and almost no talent, which is probably the problem. I also add my congratulations to Jamie Chadwick. I did watch the championships and she did a phenomenal drive. It is disappointing that the season was cut short, and we want women’s sports to thrive. The Government are unable to intervene directly, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working with the wider support sector on the commerciality of women’s sport and how it can be promoted.
One way to encourage more women into motorsport and, indeed, into every job and every industry is to make workplaces endometriosis-friendly. One in 10 women have endometriosis, and it has a huge impact on the workplace. What encouragement can the Minister give to companies to adopt the Endometriosis UK strategy to make all workplaces endometriosis-friendly?
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. Women’s health issues are coming to the fore in the workplace. Although I do not have the level of detail to commit exact policy, I will get the Department of Health and Social Care to write to her about the matter.
Disabled People: Building Adjustments
We are committed to the commencement of this provision of the Equality Act 2010. Our consultation on the detail of implementation closed on 18 August 2022, and we are analysing responses before taking further steps. We expect to introduce regulations and prepare comprehensive guidance prior to commencement in England and Wales in due course.
I welcome the Minister to her place. Access to public buildings is one of issues that my constituents most often bring to me: those who have a problem with accessibility feel that they are excluded in many ways. I know that, in England and Wales, there are almost half a million wheelchair users who are awaiting the results of the consultation for their own homes as much as for public buildings. I welcome the Minister’s statement, but can she assure us that this matter will not be put aside in the recent chaos?
That is something that we have committed to. Obviously, it is important to properly address the cost implications of implementation given everything that is happening, and we will do everything that we can to further this piece of work.
Higher Education: White State-Educated Children
Ensuring that everyone can access world-class education remains a priority. In 2021, we saw record higher education progression rates for disadvantaged white students who had free school meals. The Government are investing £3.8 billion more in high-quality education, skills and training provision, leading to good outcomes for young people and getting them the skills needed for economic growth, whichever good-quality route they choose.
On the Government’s own figures, the percentage of state school pupils getting a higher education place by ethnicity is Chinese 72%, Asian 55%, black 49%, mixed heritage 41% and white 33%. Are the Government concerned about those widening disparities, and if so, what are they going to do to level up university entry?
As a meritocrat, I believe not in positive discrimination, but in a society where people are judged on their character and ability. Access to HE should be based on a student’s attainment and their ability to succeed, rather than their background. As I said, 2021 saw a record high number of white students who receive free school meals progressing on to higher education, but since the publication of the report, “The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it”, we have tasked the Office for Students with refreshing its entire access and participation work and with looking into that.
Cost of Living: Children with SEND
For pupils with complex needs, high-needs education funding is increasing by £1 billion in the 2022-23 financial year, bringing the total funding to £9.1 billion. The Department also provides £27.3 million per annum to deliver grants to support low-income families raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people.
I welcome that support, but constituents who are parents of disabled children often tell me that they feel it is like an obstacle race and there are many hurdles put in their way to get the support they need for their children, both at home and at school. Can the Government make it easier to access essential special educational needs and disabilities support?
My right hon. Friend raises an important question. The SEND and alternative provision Green Paper proposals aim to improve experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND within a fairer and more sustainable system. We are investing £301.75 million jointly with the Department of Health and Social Care to transform start for life and family support services in 75 local authorities across England.
As we face the worst cost of living crisis in memory, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to provide important life experiences for their children. Springfield House in Birmingham is a wonderful SEND school, which many students across Coventry North West attend. For many years it has provided away nights for pupils, giving children the chance to spend time away from home, with their peers, in a safe environment. Because of Government cuts, those away nights are being axed. Will the Minister speak to her counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure that families in Coventry do not lose that much-needed service?
The Government are doing some amazing work, and I point the hon. Lady’s constituents and those of MPs across the House to a fantastic website, governmentsupport.co.uk, which demonstrates the great services open to people who are having difficulties.
I am delighted to have been appointed as Minister for Women and Equalities. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, this Government will bring
“compassion to the challenges we face”,
put people’s needs above politics and reach out to communities across the country. My priority will be to deliver our groundbreaking Inclusive Britain strategy, our cross-Government work to improve the lives of disabled people, and to break down barriers to opportunity for people from all backgrounds up and down the UK.
I recently met the chair of the Chesham mosque committee, who had been told that medical examiners in our area will be available only five days a week and not at the weekend. That will cause significant problems for our Muslim and other religious communities who bury their loved ones as soon as possible following a death. Will the Minister meet me and my constituent to find a way forward to ensure that the new system does not infringe the rights of religious communities?
I did not fully hear the question, but if the hon. Lady writes to me in more detail about what she requires, I will be able to follow up in better detail.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can tell him that under Lord Etherton as chair, this important independent review has launched a call for evidence on the experiences of LGBT veterans who served between 1967 and 2000, when LGBT people were barred from openly serving in the armed forces.
This continues to be an important ministerial post in Government. The Secretary of State will have strategic oversight, but let me leave the hon. Lady in no doubt about how important the issue is to this Government. With 1.3 million more people in work, billions more in funding for children with SEND, a new BSL Act, Down’s syndrome Act and special rules for end of life, this continues to be a very important area for this Government.
With family on the island running businesses, including my own—businesses based in Llangefni and Aberffraw, a wonderful part of the island—I absolutely support the work that the Savvitas MP HERoes have done to celebrate female-led enterprises across all areas of the UK. I particularly want to take this opportunity to thank Helene Martin Gee for her excellent work in this area. I am also delighted to announce that to date, 40% of start-up loans issued by this Government have gone to female entrepreneurs.
The hon. Lady will know that we do not make fiscal policy in Equalities questions. She will have to wait for the Chancellor to give a statement to get an answer to her question.
My hon. Friend is a role model to all the female entrepreneurs in her constituency. Whether through investment or expressions of interest by different areas, or making sure they take account of equality of opportunity in their conduct, the Government recognise that a diverse and inclusive business ecosystem is good for investors, entrepreneurs, businesses and my hon. Friend’s society.
We will undertake all due assessments on fiscal statements, as we regularly do over the course of things.
My hon. Friend has always been a passionate advocate for compassionate conservatism. We are looking at the issue very carefully. We are going to accept all the recommendations of the Holmes review of public appointments and I point my hon. Friend in the direction of the DWP progression work that we are doing.
Next week, we come together to recognise National Fertility Week, and yesterday I had the great opportunity to meet Fertility First, a fantastic charity that provides information to everyone who requires fertility treatment. What more can the Minister do to ensure fair and equal access to fertility treatment for everyone in the UK who needs it?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that subject, which I would be happy to meet with her to discuss in due course. As she knows, I returned to this role only a few hours ago, so I do not have a full answer for her now, but I am happy to work with her on this issue.
What is the Secretary of State’s response to the allegations made yesterday, following her appointment, by Ben Cohen of Pink News?
I know everyone wants to start Prime Minister’s questions quickly, but please forgive me, Mr Speaker, if my answer to this question is a tad longer than it ordinarily would be.
I am afraid that this particular individual is one who uses Twitter as a tool for defamation. He has even been sued by people in this House, such as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). As we begin a new era of equalities, I would like to say that the Equality Act is a shield, not a sword. It is there to protect people of all characteristics, whether they are young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight. We are running a compassionate equality strategy and we should not be distracted by people who use Twitter as a way to insult or accuse Members of Parliament.
Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv. I welcome the Prime Minister and call Dr Alan Whitehead to ask the first question.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Order. I just say to hon. Members, cheer the Prime Minister by all means, but do not damage the furniture!
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his new post and as the first Prime Minister of a south Asian heritage, which I think will be a cause of great pride among many of my constituents. I also take some pride in welcoming a fellow Southampton, or Saints, supporter into No. 10.
During the last campaign that the right hon. Gentleman ran to become Prime Minister, he pledged to prohibit any development of onshore wind, which is now the cheapest form of power available to us in this country. Now that he is Prime Minister, will he change his mind?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and look forward to seeing him at St Mary’s—although my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may have something to say about our love of the Saints.
When it comes to energy policy, I stick by what we said in our manifesto. The important thing is to focus on our long-term energy security. That means more renewables, more offshore wind and indeed more nuclear, and that is what this Government will deliver.
Let me tell you, I didn’t hold my breath. [Laughter.]
Go figure, as Joe Biden might say.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on becoming Prime Minister. He is absolutely the right person for the job and I wish him every success. He knows he has my full support. His two immediate predecessors made levelling up a key part of their agenda. Will he reaffirm his commitment to levelling up and start as he means to go on by approving the levelling-up fund bid for Bingley in my constituency?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his warm remarks. I can confirm that he must be the only person who texted me in the last 24 hours to say that he did not want a job. I can give him my cast-iron commitment to levelling up, particularly in Yorkshire, which he and I share. Obviously, he will know that I cannot comment on individual bids, but by the end of the year, an announcement is expected on the successful ones, and I wish him every luck with that.
Let us come to the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer.
May I welcome the Prime Minister? The first British Asian Prime Minister is a significant moment in our national story. It is a reminder that, for all the challenges we face as a country, Britain is a place where people of all races and all beliefs can fulfil their dreams. That is not true in every country, and many did not think that they would live to see the day when it would be true here. It is part of what makes us all so proud to be British.
Was the Prime Minister’s Home Secretary right to resign last week for a breach of security?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind and, indeed, generous welcome to the Dispatch Box. I look forward to Prime Minister’s Question Time with him. I know that we will have no doubt robust exchanges, but I hope that they can also be serious and grown up.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the Home Secretary. She made an error of judgment, but she recognised that, she raised the matter and she accepted her mistake. That is why I was delighted to welcome her back into a united Cabinet that brings experience and stability to the heart of Government. Let me tell you, Mr Speaker, what the Home Secretary will be focused on. She will be focused on cracking down on criminals and on defending our borders, while the Opposition remain soft on crime and in favour of unlimited immigration.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, but then, with his first act, he appointed a Home Secretary who was sacked by his predecessor a week ago for deliberately pinging around sensitive Home Office documents from her personal account. Far from soft on crime, I ran the Crown Prosecution Service for five years. I worked with Home Secretaries to take on terrorists and serious organised crime, and I know at first hand how important it is that we have a Home Secretary whose integrity and professionalism are beyond question. Have officials raised concerns about his decision to appoint her?
I just addressed the issue of the Home Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about fighting crime. I would hope that, as we look forward, he would welcome the news today that there are over 15,000 new police officers on our streets. The Home Secretary will be supporting them to tackle burglaries, while the Opposition will be backing the lunatic protesting fringe that is stopping working people going about their lives.
I listened carefully; that was clearly not a “no”. We can all see what has happened here: the Prime Minister is so weak that he has done a grubby deal, trading national security because he was scared to lose another leadership election. There is a new Tory at the top but, as always with the Tories, it is party first, country second.
Yesterday, on the steps of Downing Street, he also admitted what the whole country knows: the Tories have crashed the economy and now somebody has to pay for their mess. I say it should not be working people, who have been hammered time and again by this lot, and those with the broadest shoulders must step up. Does he agree?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about party first and country second. Perhaps he can explain to us why it was that, a few years ago, he was supporting the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). My record is clear. When times are difficult in this country, I will always protect the most vulnerable; that is a value of our compassionate party. We did it in covid and we will do that again.
The Prime Minister says he will protect the most vulnerable. Let us test that. The Government currently allow very rich people to live here, but register abroad for tax purposes. I do not need to explain to the Prime Minister how non-dom status works; he already knows all about that. It costs the Treasury £3.2 billion every year. Why does he not put his money where his mouth is, and get rid of it?
I have been honest: we will have to take difficult decisions to restore economic stability and confidence, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set that out in an autumn statement in just a few weeks. But what I can say is that, as we did during covid, we will always protect the most vulnerable and we will do this in a fair way. What I can say is that I am glad that the Labour party and the right hon. and learned Gentleman have finally realised that spending does need to be paid for. It is a novel concept for the party opposite. This Government are going to restore economic stability, and we will do it in a fair and compassionate way.
I know the right hon. Gentleman has been away for a few weeks, but he should have listened to what has been going on for the last two months. Anyway, I have to say I am surprised that he is still defending non-dom status. He pretends he is on the side of working people, but in private he says something very different. Over the summer, he was secretly recorded at a garden party in Tunbridge Wells, boasting to a group of Tory members that he personally moved money away from deprived areas to wealthy places instead. Rather than apologise or pretend that he meant something else, why does he not now do the right thing, and undo the changes that he made to those funding formulas?
I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman rarely leaves north London, but if he does, he will know that there are deprived areas in our rural communities, in our coastal communities and across the south, and this Government will relentlessly support them because we are a Government who will deliver for people across the United Kingdom. He mentioned the last few weeks, and I am the first to admit that mistakes were made, and that is the reason I am standing here, but that is the difference between him and me. This summer I was talking and was being honest about the difficulties that we were facing, but when he ran for leader he promised his party he would borrow billions and billions of pounds. I told the truth for the good of the country; he told his party what it wanted to hear. Leadership is not selling fairy tales. It is confronting challenges, and that is the leadership the British people will get from this Government.
I think everyone should watch the video and make up their own minds. In public, the Prime Minister
“claims he wants to level up the North, but…he boasts about trying to funnel vital investment away from deprived areas... He says one thing and does another”—
[Interruption.] Conservative Members are shouting, but those are not my words; they are the words of the former chair of the Tory party, sacked yesterday for telling the truth about the Prime Minister. Even his own side knows he is not on the side of working people. That is why the only time he ran in a competitive election, he got trounced by the former Prime Minister, who herself got beaten by a lettuce. So why does he not put it to the test, let working people have their say and call a general election?
Order. It will take a long time to get through the Order Paper if we carry on like this.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about mandates, about votes and about elections, and it is bit rich coming from the person who tried to overturn the biggest democratic vote in our country’s history. Our mandate is based on a manifesto that we were elected on—to remind him, an election that we won, and they lost—which says we want a stronger NHS, better schools, safer streets, control of our borders and levelling up. That is the mandate that I and this Government will deliver for the British people.
I call Heather Wheeler. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Order. Heather has not even asked her question and you want more? Come on, Heather.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right. I am pleased that there are 3,500 more doctors and over 9,000 more nurses working this year than last. We are working in particular to simplify registration for dentists who have not trained here so that they can practise here. That is how we will help deliver a long-term workforce plan for the NHS and ensure that everyone can get the care that they need.
We come to the leader of the SNP.
I congratulate the new Prime Minister on becoming the first British Asian to hold the office. The significance and symbolism of the achievement is to be warmly welcomed by everyone.
Yesterday, on the steps of Downing Street, the new Prime Minister promised to bring
“compassion to the challenges we face today.”
On his first full day in the job, let us put that to the test. A winter of uncertainty is coming, and next April will see a cliff-edge moment, with millions facing a double whammy when the energy price guarantee is cut off while households are hit by austerity 2.0 and real-terms cuts to the social security benefits that many rely on to survive. If people are to trust the new Prime Minister’s words about compassion, will he reassure people today and guarantee that benefits will rise in line with inflation in his upcoming Budget?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. What I can tell him is that my record is clear. Through the difficult times that we faced in this country during covid, I always acted in a way to protect the most vulnerable. That is because that was the right thing to do, and those are the values of our compassionate party. I absolutely reassure him and give him a commitment that we will continue to act like that in the weeks ahead.
Well, let us test that. As Chancellor, the Prime Minister slashed universal credit and presided over the worst levels—[Interruption.] For the hard of hearing on the Tory side, I remind them that universal credit was cut by £20 a week, and he presided over the worst levels of poverty in north-west Europe. I hope that he has learned from his mistakes and will guarantee that benefits will rise in line with inflation.
Speaking of mistakes, yesterday the Prime Minister appointed a Home Secretary who was forced to resign only last week for breaching the ministerial code and who boasted that she dreamed of sending vulnerable asylum seekers to Rwanda. We all know why he appointed her: a sleazy backroom deal to shore up his own position. Far from being a fresh start, it is a return to the sleaze, scandal and ghosts of Cabinets past. The Prime Minister promised to govern with integrity and humility. If he has an ounce of either, will he admit his mistake and sack the Home Secretary without delay?
I was pleased to have a call last night with the First Minister of Scotland. It was important that I spoke to her on my first day in office, because I wanted to express my desire to work constructively with the Scottish Government so that together we can deliver for the people of Scotland. That is what I plan to do. Indeed, I hope that crime is one thing that we can collaborate on. The right hon. Gentleman will know that violent crime is rising in Scotland and police numbers are falling, whereas we are increasing police numbers here. I look forward to working with the Scottish Government on our shared challenges, because I believe in a strong United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend is a vociferous campaigner on that issue, as I learnt over the summer. He will know that local authorities determine these issues, but I reassure him that all large incinerators in England must comply with strict emission limits and receive permits only if plants do not cause any damage to human health. Hopefully, that is reassuring for him.
The Prime Minister’s reckless predecessor, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), took a wrecking ball to nature, prompting millions of members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts to rise up in opposition. Yesterday, he promised to fix her mistakes, as well as to uphold his party’s 2019 manifesto. If he is a man of his word, will he start by reversing the green light she gave to fracking, since it has been categorically shown not to be safe, and instead maintain the moratorium that was pledged in that very manifesto he promised to uphold?
I have already said that I stand by the manifesto on that. What I would say is that I am proud that this Government passed the landmark Environment Act 2021, putting in more protection for the natural environment than we have ever had, with a clear plan to deliver it. I can give the hon. Lady my commitment that we will deliver on all those ambitions, and that we will deliver on what we said at COP, because we care deeply about passing on to our children an environment that is in a better state than we found it ourselves.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on that fantastic achievement. I can tell him that that market is worth, I think, something like almost £40 million over the first few years—an enormous boost for our land farmers. I would just encourage the 300 million US consumers to give Yorkshire Swaledale lamb a look-in as well, but if my hon. Friend and I disagree on that, I know that we are united on the fact that we will unequivocally back British farming and British farmers.
We have already addressed that, but as I said in the summer, inflation is indeed the enemy. It makes everyone poorer and erodes savings. That is why it will be a priority of our Government to grip and reduce inflation, and provide support to those who need it as we do so.
I thank my hon. Friend. I know this is a matter of great importance to him and his constituents. He is right to highlight the benefit that natural parks and AONBs can bring to our lives and wellbeing. I understand that Natural England is considering an extension of the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, and I know my hon. Friend will be vigorously taking up his campaign with it.
We will always support our hard-working nurses. That is why, when I was Chancellor, we reintroduced the nurses’ bursary, provided more training and introduced very strong pay increases. As I committed to previously, as we approach the difficult decisions that confront us, we will do so in a way that is fair and compassionate, because those are our values and that is what we will deliver.
My hon. Friend knows this subject very well from her own experience, and I thank her for the work that she did in the Health and Social Care Department. She is absolutely right about the challenge that confronts us. That is why we have put billions of pounds into busting the backlogs and the elective recovery fund and are delivering funding and staffing to do that. I look forward to working with her to deliver what we said in our manifesto: a far stronger NHS.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He talked about respect, and I gently urge him to respect the result of the referendum that we had on this topic. While we will disagree on that issue, I remain committed to working constructively in partnership with the Scottish Government to deliver for the people of Scotland.
It is fantastic that my hon. Friend is engaging with his younger constituents at Boothroyd Academy on such an important issue, and I know that they will welcome his commitment to supporting them. I agree that there are various things that we can do. There is an updated highway code that strengthens pedestrian access; local authorities can introduce lower speed limits; and we are increasing the number of school streets, which restrict motorised traffic at busy times. I look forward to hearing from him about progress on that issue.
The hon. Member is talking about events that happened four years ago. He is right to raise the topic of national security, because four years ago Opposition Members were busy supporting the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who wanted to abolish the nuclear deterrent, leave NATO and scrap our armed forces. We will not take any lectures on national security.
I sincerely congratulate my right hon. Friend and wish him every success. More than three years ago, my constituent Harry Dunn was killed in a tragic road accident. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Harry Dunn’s family on the incredible campaign they have run for more than three years, with huge support from all colleagues across the House, and on finally achieving justice for Harry?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her role and to the former Foreign Secretary and colleagues across the House for the part that they have played in bringing about that outcome. My thoughts are with the family, and I join my right hon. Friend in her sentiment that it is very welcome.
The Chancellor will set out our plans in the autumn statement shortly, but this is the Government who put in place plans that will significantly increase capital expenditure. Even though difficult decisions need to be made, I think the country can rest assured that we will continue to invest in our future productivity and, indeed, invest in our public services like the NHS.
In Aldridge-Brownhills, we are at risk of 8,000 new homes being dumped in the constituency. Will my right hon. Friend use this Prime Minister’s question as an opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to protecting the green belt and adopting a really rigorous “brownfield first” policy?
I can indeed give my right hon. Friend that assurance. She is absolutely right: we must protect our green belt and we are adopting a “brownfield first” strategy. I am pleased that we had a record number of new homes built in the last year, but it is important that we build those homes in the right places.
Of course, and I addressed these matters earlier this year.
Mr Speaker, you will know that I fought hard to bring back Boris. In ’97, I campaigned for Kenneth Clarke and then for Michael Portillo, so I cannot always get it right—but I do know about the west midlands. I know that the West Midlands Mayor very much welcomes the reappointment of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and looks forward to working with our new Prime Minister. May I ask the Prime Minister what his vision is for levelling up?
What I can say is that our desire is to ensure that wherever people live in our fantastic country, they have enormous pride in the place they call home and have every opportunity to succeed—and you know what? It is the fantastic Mayor Andy Street who is delivering that for his constituents in the west midlands.
Home Secretary: Resignation and Reappointment
To ask a question of the Home Secretary about her resignation and reappointment.
I was disappointed, on leaving my previous Department last night, that I would no longer be seeing the right hon. Lady across the Dispatch Box, and I am so glad that she has put that right for me today. She has a good memory, and I know she will recall that last week the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office—my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith)—said, in responding to a question that she had tabled, that questions relating to
“breaches of the ministerial code”
or related issues
“are a matter for the Cabinet Office, not the Home Office”.—[Official Report, 22 October 2022; Vol. 720, c. 834.]
That is why I, not the Home Secretary, am here answering the question today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw set out the circumstances regarding the departure of the Home Secretary last week. The Home Secretary made an error of judgment. She recognised her mistake, and she took responsibility for her actions. The ministerial code allows for a range of sanctions when mistakes have been made. The Home Secretary recognised her mistake, raised the matter and stepped down. Her resignation was accepted by the then Prime Minister.
The right hon. Lady will be aware that ministerial appointments are a matter solely for the Prime Minister, as the sovereign’s principal adviser on the appointment, dismissal and acceptance of resignations of Ministers. The Prime Minister was very clear in his speech to the nation yesterday when he said:
“This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”
He has said that he will work “day in, day out” to earn the trust of the country and live up to the demands and expectations that the public rightly have of their Prime Minister. The Prime Minister expects all Ministers to uphold the values and standards set by the ministerial code, as the public would rightly expect.
As I have said, the Home Secretary made an error of judgment. She recognised her mistake, and she took accountability for her actions in stepping down. After consideration, the Prime Minister has decided, given the apology issued by the Home Secretary, to reappoint her to the Government. They are now focused, together, on working to make our streets safer and to control our borders. However, while we should learn from mistakes, we should also look to the future, and the Prime Minister has appointed a team of Ministers to lead the country through the issues that it faces.
All Ministers are bound by the ministerial code, and the Prime Minister expects his Ministers to uphold the code and hold the highest standards. As I have noted, the code allows for a range of sanctions for breaches, and on the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the code was updated in May to make that clear. On an ongoing basis, we will need—every Minister—through our actions and in how we conduct ourselves, to demonstrate that we can continue to command this Prime Minister’s confidence as we tackle the huge challenges that are to come for the country.
My questions are about security breaches and the protection of our national security. They are questions to the Home Secretary, who was here just five minutes ago and who then left.
Yesterday the Prime Minister promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, yet the Government have discarded the ministerial code and reappointed someone who breached core professional standards and has now run away from basic accountability to this House. It is the same old Tory chaos, and it is letting the country down.
I have questions for the Home Secretary that the Government need to answer. The Home Secretary accepted that she had sent an official document via her personal email to someone who was not authorised to see it. Is that the only time she has done that? Has she shared other documents, or other sensitive information? The Home Secretary is responsible for national security, so has the Home Office, the Cabinet Office or the Security Service now undertaken an investigation of her security breaches to establish how many others there have been? If not, may I urge the Minister to ensure that that happens as a matter of urgency?
What security clearance has the Home Secretary been given? Does she still have access to the most sensitive documents and information, and did the Cabinet Secretary warn against her reappointment? She has been Attorney General, she has been a Minister on and off for four years, so she knows the rules about Government documents, yet she sent one to her own private email, to someone outside the Government, and also copied it by accident to someone else entirely. How is anyone supposed to believe that she is such a novice that she did not know exactly what she was doing, and if she really is that much of a novice, why on earth are the rest of us supposed to trust her with our national security? It has been reported that she sent this as an error of judgment because she was tired after going on an early-morning raid. Is the Home Office just supposed to block her phone and email if she has been up half the night because she might do stupid things while she is tired? There are suggestions that the Home Secretary while she was Attorney General was investigated for a leak of information relating to the Security Service; is that true?
The Minister is a former policing Minister; does he think that if police officers breached their code of ethics and were sacked or forced to resign, they should then be reappointed to their jobs six days later because they said sorry, or is it just one rule for the Cabinet and another for everyone else? Everyone knows this was a grubby deal to get a coronation, to put party before country, but national security is too important for this.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that this Government will act with professionalism, integrity and accountability; that is exactly what this Government will be doing. As the right hon. Lady will be aware, I cannot comment on what the Cabinet Secretary may or may not do; that is a matter for the Cabinet Secretary. On the speculation the right hon. Lady raised—I am not going to comment on speculation either; the right hon. Lady would not expect me to do so.
At the end of the day, it is very simple: the Home Secretary made a mistake, and has acknowledged that she made a mistake, but she offered her resignation and stood down. The Prime Minister has looked again, and has decided, as is his right, that she can return to Government. I believe in redemption; I hope the right hon. Lady can as well. The Home Secretary is busy today, doing the job of the Home Secretary: keeping our borders secure and helping the police do their job—and I am sure that the right hon. Lady welcomes, as I do, the fact that we now have over 15,000 additional police officers, delivering day in, day out for the country. That is what this Government can be relied upon to do.
May I remind my hon. Friend that I recall that Tony Blair had to remove one of his very senior and most trusted Ministers for a breach of the ministerial code and later reappointed him to the Government? The public will respect the fact that we have a system that holds Ministers accountable for breaches of the code, but there is learning from mistakes and not just blame. I can vouch for the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has the highest integrity. I do not blame the Opposition for one minute for doing their job and probing this matter, because matters of national security are extremely important, but the Government have my confidence in that they have acted proportionately in this matter.
I thank my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that there were circumstances in other Administrations—in which the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) played a prominent part—of members of the Government making mistakes and then being brought back into the same Administration. If people have made a mistake, have accepted that they made a mistake and have stepped down as a result of that mistake, that enables them at a future point to be re-employed if they have a good job to do—and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has an important job to do.
I call the Scottish National party spokesperson, Stuart C. McDonald.
New Prime Minister, same old Tories—a Government just like their predecessors who clearly do not think the ministerial code is worth the paper it is written on. This appointment is an absolute disgrace. So many questions simply have not been answered. How many so-called errors of judgment have there been? Do Ministers behave like this all the time, as one source close to the Home Secretary apparently said? Did the Cabinet Office raise concerns prior to this particular breach? Who first alerted officials to the breach? Who is undertaking an inquiry? Will there finally be an independent ethics adviser? Is it not shocking that there is not one just now?
However, as the Minister has acknowledged, the real question here is for the Prime Minister, because there are a million other reasons why the Home Secretary is unfit for office, from her trashing the Office of the Attorney General to her refugee-bashing policies; from her trash talk of “Benefits Street” to her advocating our withdrawal from the European convention on human rights; and from her anti-migration, anti-growth policies to her being the last defender of tax cuts for the rich. And then there is her Rwanda “dream”. How can the Prime Minister ever talk again about integrity and compassion in politics after blatantly making an appointment in his own interest that is completely against everybody else’s interests? Actions speak louder than words.
I reiterate that my right hon. and learned Friend made a mistake, she acknowledged that and she stepped down. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the independent adviser, and I am glad that he has done so. He will be reassured that it is the absolutely the Prime Minister’s intention to appoint an independent adviser. That is the right thing to do, and I know that it is absolutely his intention.
Last week, the Home Secretary’s sharing of a draft parliamentary answer barely got a mention. They were all over it because this was a damaging policy row with the Prime Minister’s subordinate. She lost her Home Secretary. Why does my hon. Friend think that has changed?
The former Prime Minister lost her Home Secretary because the Home Secretary recognised that she had made a mistake. She accepted that mistake, she offered to resign and that resignation was accepted. I do not think that means that a mistake should hang over someone for the rest of their career. There is an opportunity for redemption and the Prime Minister has decided that this would be an appropriate appointment. I know that he is working hard with the Home Secretary on the immense challenges we face.
It is notable how much support the Home Secretary has on the Government Benches. She did immense damage, in her previous brief tenure in the job, to our relations with India through her comments about Indian visitors overstaying their visas. The consequence is that the British people are now the only people in Europe who do not have access to e-visas to visit India. That is doing great damage to our tourism sector and jeopardising the travel plans of thousands of British families. Will the hon. Gentleman please use his good offices in the Cabinet Office to bang heads together in the Government, get this sorted out and try to repair the damage that the Home Secretary did when she was in the job last time?
Our relationship with India is clearly important. I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into detail about that. I note from the Annunciator ticker that we have an urgent question on India following this one, and I am sure he will use that opportunity to make his point.
Given the reappointment of the Home Secretary, and given what the Prime Minister has said about 50,000 more police officers, will my hon. Friend work with the Home Secretary to ensure that we get more of those police officers on the beat in Harlow, which is what our residents want?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that I am not the policing Minister. Had I been the policing Minister, I am sure that I would have talked about the operational independence of the police, but I am proud to say on behalf of the Government that there are well over 15,000 new police officers—additional police officers—and that is a tremendous step forward. With those extra resources, the police can make use of them operationally as they wish, and I am sure they will have heard my right hon. Friend.
It seems to me that the ministerial code has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance in this last period of multiple Governments and the clown show that we have seen operating on the Government Benches. The Minister says that the new Prime Minister is going to appoint an independent adviser on the ministerial code. Can he give this House an assurance that when that appointment is made—we expect it to be soon—there will be a proper investigation into the behaviour of the Home Secretary in her last iteration, before she had her six days off?
I reaffirm the point I made that the Prime Minister is keen to appoint an independent adviser, but I have to say that events in the last Administration would not be properly part of the remit of the new independent adviser. That matter was dealt with under the previous Administration. We have a new Administration and the Home Secretary has been appointed to her post.
The appointment by this Prime Minister of a Home Secretary is not something relating to the previous Administration. If the Minister is correct in his assertion that there is nothing improper or inappropriate about this appointment, surely it will be in the interests of this Prime Minister and his Government to have the independent adviser on the ministerial code run the rule over it once he or she is appointed.
I do not think there is any mystery here. The fact is that a mistake was made. The Home Secretary accepted that she made a mistake, she informed the relevant parties and her resignation was accepted. I do not see the grounds under which there would be any utility in the independent adviser going over past ground.
Does the Home Secretary have full security clearance, including access to the most classified information?
I am unable to comment on any security matters. The right hon. Gentleman knows me well, and he knows that I would not say anything publicly in this House that I did not know. I do not know the security clearance of the Home Secretary, but I know she is in the Home Office doing her job, acting as Home Secretary, and doing the right things to keep our borders secure. That includes all aspects of counter-terrorism and the full remit of her role as Home Secretary.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on her appointment and wish her well in a very difficult job. The fact that she made a mistake, confessed to having made it, said she was sorry and then took the honourable decision to step down before being reappointed is not unique. There is not a party in this House that has not reappointed somebody to ministerial office in such circumstances, or even worse. The real judgment we will make of the Home Secretary is whether she tackles crime on our streets, deals with the protesters who are defacing artworks and disrupting our streets, and takes on the criminal gangs that are ruthlessly exploiting the desperate immigrants who are trying to get into our country.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his characteristically fresh approach. Members will remember that many people appointed by their respective parties have made mistakes, have accepted those mistakes and then made a fresh start. I thank him for his openness in saying that and for reminding us that this is the case across the House. I agree that the real challenges are those facing this country in the years ahead, and the Home Secretary is hard at work getting on with it.
The Minister has talked a lot about accountability today, and the Home Affairs Committee has an important role in scrutinising and questioning the Home Secretary on her policies. We have not been able to do that since 2 February. When it comes to accountability and making this place work properly, we need Home Secretaries and Ministers to come before the Home Affairs Committee. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Secretary, as she now is again, will appear before the Home Affairs Committee, as will all her Ministers? This morning we heard some very disturbing evidence about the current chaos within this country’s immigration system.
Clearly, I cannot make commitments on behalf of my fellow Ministers, but it is a long-established practice of this House that Ministers make themselves available. I have no doubt that my ministerial colleagues are very aware of that.
The Minister’s defence of the Home Secretary reminds me of the old saying:
“The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”
The Prime Minister said a few moments ago that the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) had been reappointed to the Cabinet, despite his leaking confidential data. Of course, that was four years ago, and now we are talking about something that happened six days ago, so what is the minimum period of punishment or rehabilitation for breaching the ministerial code?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands that where a person has made a mistake, and accepted that they have made a mistake, the Prime Minister is entitled to re-evaluate the circumstances and decide whether it is appropriate for them to serve in office. That may be the case after a few days, a few months or a few years. The answer depends on the circumstances of the case, and in the Home Secretary’s case the Prime Minister has chosen to invite her back into Government.
Is there a published tariff for offending Cabinet Ministers—possibly with a period of restorative justice, remission for good behaviour and perhaps even probation options—or is it just a matter of political convenience?
It depends on the circumstances. If someone says that they have made a mistake, it is important that their mistake is looked at in the context of the ministerial code, which has a range of sanctions. We all serve and do our utmost, and admitting a mistake, having it recognised and being sanctioned is in itself a serious matter, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree.
We all know that mistakes happen, but the Minister talks as if it were a junior member of staff who had made an inadvertent clerical error. This is a Home Secretary who released secret information through a personal email address. This suggests a pattern of behaviour, and that she thinks it is okay to snap on her phone at 4 o’clock in the morning and make this atrocious mistake. This is much more serious than the Minister is trying to paint it. I had the privilege of serving in the Home Office, and it would never have happened under previous Governments. Will the Minister not demean himself any further and honestly recognise to the House that this is of a different scale than he is trying to present it?
I am not trying to present it in any way other than the known facts, as contained in the Home Secretary’s resignation letter, which set out that she had made a mistake and she apologised for it. The Prime Minister has clearly taken a view and the Home Secretary has returned to Government, and she has a task ahead of her.
Will the Minister confirm that under this Prime Minister—who knows how long he will be in office?—the ministerial code will be updated to say, “As long as you acknowledge and recognise your mistake, you can be reappointed immediately”?
The ministerial code was last updated in May, so I very much doubt that a further update is likely. The ministerial code makes it clear, after a recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, that it is not the case that every single breach should result in resignation or dismissal, but that appropriate measures need to be put in place, depending on the circumstances of each case.
A risk assessment is carried out in other workplaces when somebody returns to work following a data breach, inadvertent or otherwise. What risk assessment is the Home Office carrying out to ensure these things do not happen again? Indeed, what assurances has the Home Secretary given that she will not engage in this behaviour again?
The Home Secretary is clearly very aware that she has made a mistake and very aware that it can never be repeated. It is a salutary lesson not only for her but for everyone else who is privileged to serve in Government that we need to be extraordinarily careful on these matters. I think we should leave it there. The Home Secretary knows what she needs to do in future, and she knows that she has to ensure there is no repetition. She will focus on her proper role, which is to ensure the safety of this country and the future of the police.
The role of Home Secretary has major security implications for our country. Does the Minister accept that a Home Secretary who does not have full security clearance cannot do the job?
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has got the concept of people not having full security clearance—I do not understand where that would come from. As I have said, the Home Secretary is doing the job of the Home Secretary, with all that that entails. I hope that that reassures him.
Is anyone in Government, including the members of the Cabinet, using personal email accounts to conduct Government business?
By and large, we use Government communications to conduct Government business, but, as I understand it, there is not a total ban on this; there may be certain circumstances, when things are nugatory, where other forms of communication are used. We all live in a digital age, where we need to have rapid communications. As the hon. Lady will be aware, a range of communications are legitimately entered into by Ministers, including in relation to their constituency or to political issues, that cannot and should not be conducted on Government mechanisms.
Last week, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), who is in his place, said clearly to me, in response to a question, and to other Members that there had been a significant security breach by the Home Secretary and that this had led to her resignation. Yet the Home Secretary had implied that the real reason for her dismissal was a blazing row between her and the then Prime Minister. That was clearly not the case and not the reason for her departing Government. What does this say about the Home Secretary and the new Prime Minister?
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I look, as to the rationale for my right hon. and learned Friend’s departure, at the text of her resignation letter, where she made it absolutely clear that she had made a mistake, she was sorry she had made a mistake and she felt it was appropriate in those circumstances to tender her resignation.
May I ask again: is a simple apology now enough for anybody who breaches the ministerial code and gets reinstated after six days without any inquiry?
It really does depend on the circumstances, what has happened and what other methods can be used to sanction the member of the Government concerned. There may well be circumstances, as is stated in the ministerial code, where some sanction other than resignation or dismissal is appropriate.
I have listened to the Minister this morning outline that the Home Secretary has apologised and been reappointed. We have a situation where six police authorities are in special measures and where in some parts of the country trust and confidence in the police is at an all-time low, yet we want these same officers to go out and arrest criminals and uphold the law. Does the Minister not recognise that a Home Secretary who has broken the law—something so serious—might not command trust and confidence among those same police officers?
I think the hon. Lady will accept that there is no suggestion here of a breach of the law. There was a mistake made by the Home Secretary, which she has accepted and apologised for. I am sorry that there is very little to add to that. She is determined, as we all are, to give the police the powers and resources they need to go after the criminals, which the hon. Lady referred to. I think she will welcome, as I do, the fact that we have now got 15,000 additional police officers.
I thank the Minister very much for his responses to the questions. Rather than focusing on political point scoring, can we instead focus on political solutions? Will he give an indication of when the Government will outline fresh plans as to how they will address the issue of illegal channel crossings, which put lives in danger each day and week—our services are at breaking point—to help those migrants who seek a better future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of the real issues that underpin this Administration and are affecting our country. I am not going to set out a timetable for him, as that is for others to do, but I absolutely recognise the pith of his comments. There are really important challenges that we need to get after and the one he mentions is right there among them, and I have absolute confidence that the Home Secretary and the immigration Minister are working on that night and day to get us the results we need.
I thank the Minister for answering the urgent question.
UK-India Trade Deal
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade if she will make a statement on progress made on the UK-India free trade deal.
First, let me say that it is good to be back at the Department for International Trade.
India is, of course, an economic superpower, projected to be the world’s third largest economy by 2050. Improving access to this dynamic market will provide huge opportunities for UK business, building on a trading relationship worth more than £24 billion in 2021. That is why we are negotiating an ambitious free trade agreement that works for both countries. We have already closed the majority of chapters and look forward to the next round of talks shortly.
A strong free trade agreement can strengthen the economic links between the UK and India, boosting the UK economy by more than £3 billion by 2035, helping families and communities. An FTA can cut red tape, making it cheaper for UK companies to sell into India’s dynamic market, helping drive growth and support jobs across every nation and region of the UK. Greater access could help UK businesses reach more than a billion more consumers, including India’s growing middle class, which is estimated to reach a quarter of a billion by 2050, and give them a competitive edge over other countries that do not have a deal with India. An FTA with India supports the Government’s growth strategy, by taking advantage of the UK’s status as an independent trading nation championing free trade that benefits the whole of the UK. We remain clear that we are working towards the best deal for both sides and will not sign until we have a deal that is fair, reciprocal and, ultimately, in the best interests of the British people and the UK economy.
I welcome the Minister back to the Department once again, wish him well and thank him for his response. I am also grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this urgent question.
Not only is Diwali this year an important celebration, but it marks another milestone. In January, negotiations on the UK-India trade deal began, with the Government promising to conclude those talks by Diwali—this week. Under this Government, economic growth has been almost non-existent and promised progress on new free trade deals has not materialised. The Government are all talk and no delivery.
Not only would an agreement with India be potentially worth billions of pounds to the UK economy and would provide new markets for exporters, but it would offer the opportunity to advance key areas of shared interests. Labour Members have also been clear that it should also be an opportunity to raise issues such as workers’ rights, and environmental and climate standards.
However, it appears that progress on trade talks has stalled—this is yet another product of Conservative infighting. Members across this House are well aware of the comments on overstaying visas made by the Home Secretary, which have caused such offence. Does the Minister agree that the Home Secretary has completely undermined the UK Government’s negotiating position? Will he confirm whether she will be withdrawing those comments? Has a future target date for completion of the deal been agreed? Or is this destined to be kicked into the long grass, along with the promised United States deal? Does he acknowledge that the delay in this deal, and the US deal, means there is no prospect of the Conservative party meeting its manifesto aim of 80% of trade being covered by FTA agreements by the end of this year? Does he not accept the simple truth: on trade, the Conservatives have quite simply broken their promises?
I am delighted to have the opportunity to answer this urgent question and some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman raised. [Interruption.] I will answer all of them. First, on his question about the end of the deal, we have been clear that we have concluded, as we said we would, the majority of the chapters of the deal. Sixteen chapters, across 26 policy areas, have been agreed so far. The right hon. Gentleman will know that, after each round of negotiations, a written ministerial statement, which he can study, has been tabled in this place.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about visas. Perhaps he is trying to have a second go about the Home Secretary, about whom we have just heard an urgent question. I am not sure whether members of the shadow Cabinet are properly co-ordinating their urgent questions, but the right hon. Gentleman should know that we are talking about mode 4 arrangements. They are not immigration visas. They relate to business visas, not permanent settlement. The terms of the mode 4 arrangements remain an area of active negotiation.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government were all talk and no delivery on trade. That amazed me the most. He is obscuring the bigger issue for the Opposition. Let us assume that we get a good deal with India for Britain and that we get a good deal elsewhere, as we have done with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. I have been away from the Department for a year, and in that time Labour has not supported a single trade deal that the Government have undertaken. The Opposition did not support the Japan deal, they were against the Singapore deal and they split three ways on Canada. Only last month, they abstained on the Australia and New Zealand deals.
The Government are delivering on trade and the Opposition are in chaos and confusion. They have been unable to support a single trade deal to date and it sounds as though they will not support this one.
I commend my right hon. Friend for taking the urgent question. It is a pleasure to have a moment to pop down and add my voice to the important point that the deal was commenced earlier this year—I had the privilege of launching it—and that we and the Indian Prime Minister set ourselves the task of providing clarity about what a deal between our two nations could look like by Diwali. I am pleased that progress has been made.
It is important to understand the value that the deal brings not only because the Indian diaspora are such an important part of our economy—they have been incredibly important in driving what we are trying to achieve—but because so many British businesses are excited at the prospect of some of the trade barriers coming down. I would be pleased to hear from my right hon. Friend what the key areas, particularly innovation, will bring for British businesses as the deal crystalises in the weeks ahead.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her incredible service as Secretary of State for International Trade in the past year. She moved things forward in so many areas—crucially the area we are discussing. When I left the Department, an India trade deal was just a concept rather than something material. Five rounds of negotiations later, she is right that we are in a good place.
We expect the deal to do a lot on tariffs. Many of our exporters face considerable tariffs on services—professional, financial and legal. I cannot promise that we will get everything in the deal. On intellectual property, it will be easier for companies to work through innovation and so on. There is a huge number of areas of potential gain for India, including investment and life sciences. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support. Perhaps the Opposition will take it as a lesson and support a trade deal in future.
I call SNP spokesperson Drew Hendry.
Welcoming a Minister back to his place is now a standard response, but I welcome the Minister back.
Increased trade, ties and co-operation between India and the UK are welcome, especially in Scotland. However, that should not be at the expense of human and workers’ rights. Will the Minister belatedly guarantee that issues about human rights, the environment and health and safety, along with climate and equality concerns are fully resolved before any deal is signed?
Does the Minister really believe that there is no anger and no problem about the Home Secretary’s comments in India that might cause difficulties for the deal?
Scotch whisky exports to India are already subject to 150% tariffs. New Delhi has threatened even higher tariffs on whisky and gin in retaliation for domestic steel protections. Whisky and gin producers need to know that the UK Government are doing something to reduce those tariffs drastically. What is going on? What will be done to ensure that barriers are not just replaced at Indian state level?
Jagtar Singh Johal remains in an Indian prison without trial. He has been detained since 2017. The UK has had four Prime Ministers and five Foreign Secretaries since his illegal detention. What is the Minister doing during negotiations to right that wrong?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that list of questions. As ever, the UK’s commitment to workers’ rights in our trade deals and negotiations and in all our international talks remains undiminished. That is fundamental for this country.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned whisky tariffs. He did not support the Australia free trade deal, which means a reduction in whisky tariffs. Tariffs on Scotch whisky going to India are currently 150%. I will therefore watch closely his approach to the deal. Our successful removal of the Airbus-Boeing tariffs has hugely benefited the Scotch whisky industry. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman fully supported that.
The hon. Gentleman raised human rights. At all times, the Foreign Office engages vigorously on the case mentioned and on other cases.
Let me end with the SNP. On trade deals, it is even worse than Labour. SNP Members have never supported a trade deal concluded by either the European Union or the UK. They did not even support the trade deal between the EU and the UK. They voted for no deal two years ago. They were against the deals with Canada, Korea and South Africa. They did not even support the trade deal between the EU and Ukraine. They also abstained on the Japan and Singapore deals. The SNP is fundamentally against trade and the interests of Scotland as a trading nation.
I welcome my right hon. Friend back to his place.
I am a member of the Scotch whisky all-party parliamentary group and have had the opportunity to work closely with Scotch Whisky Association. Notwith-standing the Minister’s previous answer, will he confirm that the deal is a great opportunity for businesses up and down our great country to increase their order book and, more importantly, work with countries with shared values?
Pretty much the first visit our new Secretary of State for International Trade made was to a distillery just a few weeks ago, showing our commitment to our brilliant UK food and drink exporting sectors. My hon. Friend is right to mention the exceptionally high levels of tariffs on whisky and other alcoholic products exported to India. I cannot guarantee that we will eliminate those tariffs, but if we are not at the table conducting those negotiations—the Opposition parties do not seem to think we should be there—we will not achieve anything.
The trade deal is being discussed against a background of India not protecting human rights and civil liberties for the Christian community, the Hindu community, the Sikh community, the Muslim community and the Kashmiri community. If we are to go ahead with a trade deal, does the Minister understand that it must be based on the Indian Government’s actions on human rights and civil liberties? Otherwise, we should not proceed with it.
As I said earlier, the UK Government have an exceptionally proud record of promoting human rights around the world. In my 12 years as a Minister and a Back Bencher, I have always been impressed by the Government’s vigour in supporting global human rights.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Kashmir. He has plenty of opportunities to raise the issue at Foreign Office questions, but the Government’s position is unchanged. It is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the Kashmir dispute. India and Pakistan are long-standing, important friends of the UK. We encourage both to engage in dialogue and find lasting diplomatic solutions to maintaining regional stability.
There is absolutely no pleasing the Opposition. They criticise us when we sign our deals too quickly and they criticise us when we take too long. The point is that we have to get this absolutely right. This Government have signed deals with Australia and with New Zealand, and negotiations are under way on the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. We are exploring the Gulf Co-operation Council and we are looking at India. We have concluded a digital partnership with Singapore. We have done a trade deal with Japan and we are improving the roll-over deals that we took from the European Union. That is what we are doing and what we are delivering on. Frankly, we have had this conversation before with the Opposition. Does the Minister agree that they do not recognise the very many benefits that these deals bring?
My hon. Friend is an experienced, dedicated and committed member of the International Trade Committee. He is right in what he says. I was in opposition myself some, gosh, 17 years ago to 12 years ago. If the Opposition are serious about going into Government they need to be clear not just about what they are against—they are against trade talks, against trade deals, and against the India trade talks—but about what they are in favour of. What are the Opposition for, Madam Deputy Speaker? The shadow Cabinet might have had a better session this afternoon deciding that rather than tabling more urgent questions.
The House of Lords International Agreements Committee published its report on the Government’s negotiating objectives in July. It criticised them as being very general and high-level, and said that they provided no clue as to the Government’s negotiating priorities. Can the Minister confirm whether high animal welfare standards are a negotiating priority?
What happens with a set of trade negotiations is that, when we set out the negotiating objectives and the scoping assessment, they are by necessity rather general, because the teams have not started negotiating, so they do not know what the other side will want to achieve in those talks. They have not actually started on any of those issues, so those things are by necessity rather general.
The hon. Lady asked about animal rights and she was quite right to raise that, as it is very important part of the Government’s agenda. None the less, the Government’s position remains unchanged: we have very high standards of animal welfare and we will make sure that they are not undermined by any trade agreement. In any case, we as a country set our animal welfare standards; they are not set through any trade deal.
Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise at the Opposition’s foot dragging on this given that one of the great prizes with India is on legal services? The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) is himself a lawyer. Does this deal not present a great opportunity, given that English law governs so many contracts, for us to progress this vital industry to secure more jobs for lawyers in this country?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Legal services are a really important part of this agenda. One of the first meetings that I had in the Department was with the chair of the Bar Council, Chantal-Aimée Doerries, who told me in some detail about some of the gains that could be achieved in legal services by getting a good deal with India to make sure that our global, high-quality legal services are appreciated right the way across the world.
It would be easier to do trade and commerce with India if it were easy to travel there. As I am sure the Minister is aware, the British are the only nationality in Europe who are currently barred from India’s e-tourist visa system. We always used to be able to get e-visas for India, but, following the Home Secretary’s remarks, we no longer can. This is doing great damage, as we have heard on the Transport Committee, to our travel industry, to the Indian tourism industry and to the thousands of British families whose plans to travel to India are now in jeopardy. Will he use his good offices across Government to get this issue resolved in advance of any trade deal? This is real damage that is being done now.
We take an ongoing interest in the ability of our citizens to travel abroad and to access other countries. However, I stress again that a trade negotiation covers what is called mode 4, which relates to the movement of people—in other words, business visas. I am confident that we can get a good deal with India when it comes to mode 4.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an exciting opportunity to help unlock the economic potential of the living bridge that Prime Minister Modi has recently described? As for the notional timeline of Diwali, does he also agree that getting the right deal is much more important than getting any deal?
My hon. Friend is right. We have a brilliant diaspora community in this country. I was delighted to celebrate Diwali—a little bit early—last week with the India Global Forum. That was a really telling example of the strength of the diaspora deal. He is also right that the content, the depth and breadth of the deal are more important than the data that it delivers. That is the case for all trade negotiations. It is a matter not of getting a quick deal, but of getting the best deal for Britain, which is exactly what we have done with Japan, exactly what we have done with Australia and exactly what we have done with New Zealand.
My colleague on the International Trade Committee, the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), mentioned the trade deals that we have already signed and the progress that has been made on others. As a Committee, we have had some concerns about when trade deals are presented to the Committee. They need to be presented in a timely fashion so that the detail can be scrutinised. I do not wish to hold up a deal being made, but we understand that it can be important to get things done in a timely fashion. Can we have an indication as to when a deal will be put together and presented to the Committee?
I will not set a deadline today for this ongoing negotiation. May I commend the hon. Gentleman for one thing—apart from his work on the Committee? I think it was the Democratic Unionist party that voted with the Government on the Australia and New Zealand trade deals. It is nice to see an Opposition party that is willing to take a constructive approach to what the Government are proposing, if it is in the interests of the UK and Northern Ireland. I commend him for that.
When it comes to interaction with MPs, I did an MPs briefing last week on the India trade deal. I mentioned that we have had written ministerial statements after each round of negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be appearing before the ITC, I believe, on 30 November at an introductory hearing, and I am sure that this will crop up there as well.
I welcome the Government’s efforts to secure a free trade deal with India and the growth, jobs and investment that this will help to create. However, the Minister will be aware of our manifesto commitment to reduce net migration and the perception among many of my constituents that we are not succeeding in that aim. Will the Minister reassure the House that throughout these negotiations, in seeking to boost economic growth, he will also balance this against abiding by our manifesto commitments?
The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear about the importance of our manifesto commitments. I remind my hon. Friend, as I reminded the whole House, that this deal is not about immigration; it is about mode 4 business visas, which will be really important for both countries to continue to do trade, particularly services trade, such as the legal services that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) mentioned. We need to make sure that our professionals can get into the Indian market to deliver their fantastic, world-leading services.
Will the Minister please confirm that, during negotiations on this and any other trade deal, vital issues such as human rights, workers’ rights, especially women’s rights, and environmental standards have not only been discussed but that guarantees have been secured, and is he able to share what those guarantees are?
The hon. Lady is right to raise those issues. I repeat what I said earlier: the UK is very proud of our standards and of the work that we do around the world on these really important questions. These are questions and issues that are raised with India and with all of our partners at all times.
The Minister will not be oblivious to the human rights record of Indian Prime Minister Modi and his Government given the atrocities being carried out against ethnic communities across India, namely the Christians and the Sikh community, and also their revocation of articles 370 and 35A in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Will the Minister categorically give us the assurance that no trade agreement will go ahead until India meets its obligations under international law and fulfils many of its outstanding UN commitments?
I have already talked about Kashmir and the Government’s commitment to finding a resolution of that issue, working peacefully and with the two Governments together.
May I just return to the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, raised by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), and add a little bit of detail on that important human rights case? The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Government have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case directly with the Government of India. I believe that our then Prime Minister raised it with Prime Minister Modi earlier this year as well.
I strongly welcome the Government’s progress on this incredibly important deal. We have a thriving Indian community in Harlow, and I hope my right hon. Friend will wish them a happy Diwali. I ask him, when we sign these deals, to ensure that it is not just the big multinationals in the UK that benefit, but that he goes directly with information to smaller companies, like the many in my constituency, so they can benefit from these wonderful trade deals too?
I certainly join my right hon. Friend in wishing all his Harlow constituents a happy Diwali; it is a fantastic and particularly appropriate moment for that festival to come to this country and to India. He mentions ensuring that the trade deals work not only for multinationals, but for small and medium-sized enterprises, and he is right. The UK has an SME-led economy and it would be strongly in our interest to ensure that all trade deals work for SMEs. That is why it is typically our practice to negotiate an SME chapter in our trade deals to ensure that SMEs, which do not always have the resources to wade through a 1,000-page-plus free trade agreement document, are given headers and pointers on how that deal will help to benefit them.