House of Commons
Thursday 3 November 2022
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Energy Sector: Trade Opportunities
The Government’s export strategy sets out how we aim to capture up to £170 billion of export sales estimated for 2030 in low-carbon sectors. At the green trade and investment expo earlier this week, we showcased the best renewable energy technologies and innovations that the UK has to offer. Over the last year, the Department for International Trade has supported £5 billion-worth of exports across energy and infrastructure sectors.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place, and I am grateful for her reply. With 50% of the UK’s offshore wind fleet anchored off the East Anglian coast, local businesses have acquired a unique set of skills, knowledge and expertise that should be promoted abroad, so as to increase trade opportunities. A case in point is the memorandum of understanding between the New Anglia local enterprise partnership and Virginia Beach in the US. I would be most grateful if my right hon. Friend could confirm that a national framework is in place to ensure that we make the most of these great opportunities.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue and highlighting the good work that DIT is doing. He will be pleased to know that in 2020—the latest figures available—the UK exported £821 million-worth of offshore wind products, with the help of DIT overseas and sector teams. We have a plan in place to carry out promotions, and work is ongoing to continue to build the UK’s extensive export offer and maximise economic value. My hon. Friend will also be pleased to know that in and around his constituency of Waveney, DIT is supporting Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth in the build-out of Iberdrola and Vattenfall’s projects, which are developing capability to export low-carbon technology globally.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting the Foreign Minister from the Maldives. Like many small island states, it would very much benefit from UK support when it comes to renewable energy; it is just not in a position to do that itself. It would also benefit from the lifting of tariffs on tuna, which I hope the Secretary of State is aware of. What support can we give small island states such as the Maldives?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We have a developing countries trading scheme, which we use to assist small countries that are not able to take some of the opportunities that larger, more developed economies can take. I know that Foreign Office Ministers have been having conversations with Ministers from the Maldives, and I am pleased to see that the engagement is extensive. We will do all we can, and I am happy to have conversations on the best way to assist it in reducing tariffs and increasing trade between our countries.
The green industrial revolution can seed jobs across the north of England. Will my right hon. Friend say, particularly in advance of COP27, what support is available for small manufacturers in places such as Rossendale and Darwen to ensure that they can access our overseas networks, to push international trade beyond the shores of Lancashire?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. That is one of the things we are promoting during International Trade Week. We have a 12-point export plan, to do precisely what he described. Just this week, I have met export champions across the UK, who have been showing the ways that we can expand our export networks into other countries. I am happy to provide him with more information on what the manufacturing sector in and around his region can do to take advantage of that.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and wish her well in all that she does. I welcome greater trading opportunities for the energy sector. We must also be aware of the need to self-source and provide our own energy, to be self-sufficient. Has she had the opportunity yet to evaluate nuclear energy options for regions such as Northern Ireland and the ability to then increase trade with other nations?
The short answer to that is no, primarily because that would be a competency of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I would very much like to hear more about the trade opportunities that the hon. Gentleman has identified, which DIT can support in conversations with BEIS, to facilitate those sorts of plan.
On behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, I welcome the Secretary of State to her position on her first outing. The Government have committed to reaching net zero by 2050, but they continue to approve new licences for oil and gas projects. Projects approved before August 2023 could be protected from being stopped under a revised energy charter treaty. We know that other countries have been sued under the treaty when they tried to close down fossil fuel projects under their net zero commitments. How would the Government prevent that from happening in the UK under a revised energy charter treaty?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She should know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that those projects are consistent with our transition to net zero. She will know that gas is a transition fuel, so it is not possible for us to get to net zero by cutting off gas completely. We need to ensure that the explorations that are taking place are in line with our strategy; I believe that they are. Responsibility for the energy charter treaty lies with BEIS, but we lead on investment provisions and investor-state dispute settlements. We continue to see it as having an important role in these policies and the UK’s trade policy.
The last World Trade Organisation ministerial conference, attended by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), brokered an agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights in relation to covid-19 vaccines. My officials are fully engaged in ongoing discussions regarding TRIPS. The UK remains committed to engaging constructively with the WTO on that.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on her new role. A great success was achieved earlier this year when a deal was agreed at the WTO to waiver some rights on the manufacture of covid vaccines, yet the deal does not apply to treatment, so countries such as Pakistan and South Africa are urging an extension of the waiver. Can the Government commit to being a positive voice in negotiations and pledge to support a waiver on covid-19 treatments?
I cannot make a pledge at the Dispatch Box. I can say that we will do everything we can within the existing framework to support countries that need access to vaccines and treatments. If they are making specific requests about waivers that the DIT can consider, I would be happy for the hon. Lady to write to me so that I can take a look.
International Trade Week
Building on last year’s success, my Department is holding more than 120 events across the country this week to help businesses of all sizes and sectors to seize export opportunities to support jobs and growth nationwide. I was pleased to welcome more than 100 investors and UK exporters to the green trade and investment summit in Gateshead, attend an Export Academy event in Birmingham and speak at the National Farmers Union dairy export summit to promote UK trade.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place and my neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), to his. Worcester is home to some fantastic exporters, including Southco, the products of which reach markets as far afield as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa and Greece. It has been supported by the DIT to achieve exports worth more than £6 million and it is now working on major opportunities in India. As we celebrate International Trade Week, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we redouble efforts to support Worcester and west midlands exporters?
I am happy to assure my hon. Friend of that. I am grateful to him for highlighting a lot of the fantastic work that is taking place across the country. He will know, as will hon. Members on both sides of the House, that when it comes to exporting, size does not matter. We want to support as many small and medium-sized enterprises as possible to take advantage of the benefits of international trade. The export support service has boosted our international trade adviser network. He will be pleased to know that five advisers operate in his constituency; more than 180 advisers across the country offer tailored support to SMEs to take advantage of the opportunities for international trade.
My constituency makes everything from military grade parachutes to television cameras for US television networks. During International Trade Week, it would be good to do more to include the nations of the United Kingdom to ensure that every constituency in Wales, Scotland and England benefits from that much-needed trade, and that businesses in my constituency from Sony to Wepa and Rockwool are celebrated and supported by the Department.
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. We need to make sure that our policies are visible across the UK. I saw many businesses from Wales and similar regions in the west of England at the green trade and investment expo. They are pleased with the support that they are receiving from the Department. I think we have a visit to Cardiff planned with the Board of Trade soon. I hope that these are the sorts of things that he and his fellow MPs in Wales will be able to take advantage of.
After several months in which Ministers have come and gone without even facing questions at the Dispatch Box, it is good to have a chance, in this International Trade Week, to welcome the new team to the Department. I would of course like to welcome the Secretary of State and to wish her well in her new post, and I would also like to start on a note of consensus. The Secretary of State said during the leadership contest in the summer:
“Why should the public trust us? We haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory”.
I entirely agree with her assessment of her party.
We know where the Prime Minister thinks that Conservative policy on trade has failed, because he called the Australia deal “one-sided”, so can the Secretary of State set out which other aspects of trade policy have failed and how she intends to improve them?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. He makes reference to comments that I made in the summer, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to clarify them. I was actually referring to all MPs and to Parliament, rather than just to this side of the House—[Interruption.] Indeed; we all know Members of all parties who have not exactly covered themselves in glory, and nobody should pretend that this is about those on one particular set of Benches.
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about trade policy, and one of the things I am very keen to highlight is that there is more to trade than free trade agreements. What we need to do is get our exports and investments going; that is the bread and butter of what trade is about. I disagree with his assertion about the one-sided nature of any particular agreement. What I want to see is businesses selling their products outside the UK and investment coming in.
Well, trade policy certainly has not been covered in glory, because the 80% of UK trade that was to be covered by free trade deals by the end of year is not going to happen, the comprehensive deal with the US is out of sight and the deal with India by Diwali is a promise broken—but is this really any surprise? The Secretary of State’s predecessor said that her then Minister was not always available to answer the phone, the former exports Minister criticised his Department’s own trade fairs and the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) was, it seems, prioritising selfies and wine fridges over standing up for Britain. Is not the reality that this Government’s incompetence is costing growth, jobs and prosperity? Quite simply, when will the Secretary of State get a grip of the Department?
I find every single thing the right hon. Gentleman has said to be laughable. It is very easy to stand at the Dispatch Box and make political points. I am here to actually deliver for the businesses across the UK, and that is what those of us on the Conservative Benches are going to be focused on. This is International Trade Week, so he will know that by 2030 we are forecasting £1.8 trillion-worth of green trade and £170 billion of UK exports. That is not the work of a Department that is failing; that is the work of a Department that is succeeding. I am very pleased with the actions of the officials at the DIT, and I will continue to support them both in the Department and here in Parliament.
Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
Joining the CPTPP free trade area is a flagship policy of global Britain and our independent trade policy. The CPTPP covers 11 countries across four continents, and the UK joining will increase its GDP from 12% of global GDP to 15%. Some 99.9% of UK goods would enter tariff-free, and the CPTPP has groundbreaking chapters on business mobility and digital trade.
Given the potential prize of access to markets worth £9 trillion, will my right hon. Friend prioritise not only concluding the negotiations, but working with export champions—such as Captain Fawcett in King’s Lynn, which successfully sells its gentlemen’s grooming products around the world—to encourage more firms to export and to boost productivity and growth?
My hon. Friend raises two very interesting points. The first is the importance of the CPTPP, which is absolutely one of the Department’s highest priorities. The second is the importance of international trade advisers working on the ground. He mentioned his grooming products company in King’s Lynn, and I can also mention KLT Filtration, based in King’s Lynn, to which we have provided support for its Coldstream filters water-purification consumer brand business. There is a lot of DIT activity happening in his constituency in and around King’s Lynn.
It is good to be straight and frank about CPTPP—I am sure the Minister will agree—but if we are to be straight and frank, to have gains for jobs, the economy and living standards, would the Government not need 62 CPTPP deals to compensate for the Brexit economic damage? It also means being straight with small and medium-sized enterprises that they will be exporting to faraway CPTPP countries, with lots of bureaucracy and paperwork instead of tariffs. It will not be as easy as it was before Brexit. I am sure the Minister is all over the numbers, so will he confirm that CPTPP will be worth only one sixtieth of the Brexit damage?
I am certainly going to answer the question, which is about the opportunities from CPTPP: a free trade area of 510 million people and 11 countries across four continents, with amazingly good chapters on date and digital, mode 4, an SME chapter, liberal rules of origin—all those things are great opportunities. Frankly, it is time that SNP Members started, for the first time, to support a trade deal. They opposed the trade deal with the EU; they opposed the trade deals with Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. I am hoping for the day when the SNP will, for the first time ever, support a trade deal.
Europe remains a vital export destination for British businesses, which exported £344.6 billion-worth of goods and services in the 12 months to the end of June 2022. DIT Europe has around 300 trade experts, including a dedicated trade commissioner for the continent. We will facilitate some 500 activities and events to support UK exporters by the end of this financial year alone, including the So British event at the ambassador’s residence in Paris, Poland’s New Mobility Congress, and a significant presence at Berlin’s InnoTrans trade fair.
I welcome the Minister to his place. In light of the devastating state of the economy, with the EU trade deficit showing at 26.7% last month, there must be pragmatism in working with the trade and co-operation agreement, to boost economic yield by removing export barriers such as tariffs and border friction, rather than instigating harsh cuts to our public services, wage restraint, and a subsequent recession in the forthcoming Budget. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor, to ensure that better trade terms are negotiated between the UK and the EU, or will ideology trump the needs of our constituents and sacrifice our public services?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I am afraid this Government will take no lessons from the Labour party on trade deficits, given that it inherited a trade surplus of £4.6 billion in 1997, and left office in 2010 with a trade deficit of £35.1 billion. We have regular discussions with the European Union on how we can increase trade, and the Government are determined to drive up trade not just with the European continent, but with new partners around the world.
Free Trade Agreement: Mexico
Negotiations between the UK and Mexico are taking place right now, and the second round of talks with Mexico started on Monday virtually, with discussions continuing to be positive and productive. The UK team is focused on ensuring that the new deal works for consumers and businesses across the UK.
I am grateful to the Minister for his update. I have the privilege of chairing the all-party group on Mexico, which is one of the world’s biggest democracies and the second largest economy in Latin America. Trade deals provide an opportunity not only for economic growth, but on the connected issues of climate, environmental protection, human rights, workers’ rights, sustainable development and gender equality. How is progress going on those issues? I understand that the Government are considering appointing a trade envoy to Mexico. Will the Minister update the House on that progress?
That may have been a job application from the hon. Gentleman, who I think is taking his APPG to Mexico next week. I wish him every success in his engagement with such an important trade partner, looking forward for the UK. We are engaged in trade negotiations with Mexico at the moment, and all those topics are subject to continuous engagement with the Mexican Government, including on the environment, climate, human rights and labour rights. Whether those things are included in a trade agreement is a slightly different matter, but none the less we take up and engage with such issues regularly with the Government. I am looking forward to the hon. Gentleman seeing at first hand next week the excellent work done by our embassy in Mexico City.
I am delighted to say that UK exports were £728 billion in the 12 months to the end of August 2022—an increase of £49 billion adjusted for inflation. Through our free trade agreement programme, we are creating new opportunities for UK exporters through FTAs covering £814 billion-worth of bilateral trade in 2021. We are also supporting UK exporters through our export academy, which since October 2021 has provided tailored assistance to over 11,500 businesses.
Last year, more than 160 of the great businesses that we have in Hyndburn and Haslingden exported goods around Europe and the rest of the world. Increasing exports creates jobs, wealth and better opportunities. Does the Secretary of State agree that liberalising international trade as a function of our new post-Brexit freedoms is key to levelling up our country, as that provides more opportunities for businesses in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Opening up new markets for Great British business, whether through the FTA negotiations or our work on trade barriers, will be key to securing the economic growth that the British people want. I am also pleased to hear that the export strategy is having a positive impact in her constituency. We currently have 72 export champions based in the north-west, close to her constituency, who are sharing their export journeys and acting as role models for new and aspiring exporters. As part of International Trade Week, we have hosted more than 120 events, and four of them have been in the north-west.
A survey of small and medium-sized enterprises for the British Chambers of Commerce found that four in five had not carried out any assessment into what they may need from a trade deal with major international markets. What steps are the Government taking to engage SMEs better with free trade agreements under negotiation?
The hon. Lady raises a good point. We do have SME chapters in FTAs, but quite a lot of engagement takes place with trade bodies such as the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses. Many of those trade organisations represent their members fully, but if she thinks that a specific issue has been overlooked in any particular negotiations and she would like to highlight that, she should contact DIT in her capacity as a Member of Parliament and we will look into helping those businesses in her constituency and across the country.
Scottish Export Supply Chains
The hon. Members will be aware that His Majesty’s Treasury leads on this policy area. However, I am happy to provide them with an update on the support that my Department is providing to Scottish exporters during the cost of living crisis. The DIT Scotland team based in Edinburgh—I am sure that they are pleased to see His Majesty’s Government increasing their presence in Edinburgh—was established in 2021 with trade and investment expertise dedicated to supporting Scotland’s businesses to grow through exporting overseas. Scottish businesses can access many UK Government services, including the export support service, the UK Export Academy, UK Export Finance and DIT’s overseas specialists in over 100 markets across the world.
I welcome the Minister to his place. However, let us compare export growth in the first quarter of 2019—pre-Brexit and pre-covid—with the first quarter of 2022. In Belgium, it was plus 49%, in Switzerland, plus 42%, in Poland, plus 35%, in Australia, plus 46%, in the Netherlands, plus 23%, in Italy, plus 23%, in Spain, plus 19%, and so on—I could go on and on. The UK’s figure was zero. Does he agree with Saxo Bank’s assessment published in Le Monde that political instability, trade disruption, an energy crisis and skyrocketing inflation are rendering the UK an emerging market country? Why on earth would Scotland want to remain shackled to it?
It is a bit rich for the SNP to talk about political instability and uncertainty given that its own policy is to rip Scotland out of the United Kingdom, doing more damage to Scottish businesses and the economic foundations of our United Kingdom. The global economic situation in which we find ourselves is putting huge pressure on British businesses, but the Government, and especially the Department, are doing everything that we can to support British businesses to export to new markets and the European Union at this time.
I welcome my constituency neighbour to his Front Bench role. We are all relieved he has finally landed the job.
Fuel, feed and fertiliser costs are sky-high in Brexit Britain, compounded by the Tories’ cost of business crisis. How does the Minister suggest that my Angus farmers and his West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine farmers compete internationally? Supply-side pressures are manifest in other markets, but they are most acute in the United Kingdom. Our farmers must also now compete with the scandalous Australia trade deal, which will see Australian farmers laughing all the way to the bank while Angus farmers and other Scottish farmers face bankruptcy,
The hon. Gentleman is a champion for Angus farmers and Angus berries, which we would like to see exported to more markets around the world. Indeed, that is why we are in the middle of negotiating access to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. That will reduce 99.9% of trade barriers to that part of the world, an exciting, new and growing market for produce from Angus, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Scotland and the entire United Kingdom.
Before I came to this place, I ran a manufacturing company and did a lot of exporting, in particular to the United States of America. In relation to the second part of this question, when dealing with a big contract one buys the currency forward. However, is it not a fact that the fall in the value of the pound against the dollar has made Scottish exports much more attractive, because they are cheaper in America, and made imports more expensive? Is that not a good thing?
Free Trade Agreements: Scrutiny
The Government have put in place enhanced scrutiny arrangements for free trade agreements. We publish extensive information prior to negotiations, including our strategic objectives and an economic scoping assessment. During negotiations, we engage closely with Parliament, publishing updates and holding briefings for colleagues. I particularly look forward to working closely with the International Trade Committee, whose members bring considerable knowledge and insight. Signed deals, together with an impact assessment, are laid before Parliament at the earliest opportunity, allowing for extensive scrutiny over several months. The House will debate the Australia-New Zealand trade agreement soon.
I thank the Minister for his answer and I welcome him to his place. This week, I celebrated Back British Farming Day with Aled Jones, president of National Farmers Union Cymru. One of the best ways we can back our hard-working farmers, such as those in Ynys Môn, is by ensuring that once a trade deal is in force, there are people on the ground who know the market and can help get the most out of the agreements. Will the Minister update the House on the progress the UK Government have made in appointing agricultural counsellors and attachés?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is always a fantastic champion for her constituents and constituency, as evidenced by Anglesey Day, which was a fantastic event earlier this week here in Parliament. Also this week, my officials gathered over 20 small businesses from across north Wales and Ynys Môn to discuss how they can internationalise their businesses and take advantage of our free trade agenda. She is right: we do not just need to do the deals; we need to get the most out of them. We will get help there, too, because our eight new agri-food attachés will help unlock opportunities in growth markets. All have been recruited and will start work soon.
Business organisations, trade unions, consumer groups and the trade Committees in both Houses have all called for greater and more timely parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. In contrast to Parliaments elsewhere, such as the US Congress, which has scrutiny opportunities right from the initial negotiating mandate through to voting on ratification, this Government have done deals with no chance for this Parliament, and therefore the people we represent, to have a real say. With a new team in place, will the Minister now commit to meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations—not an afterthought—and bring back control to this Parliament?
I am afraid that I have to disagree with what the Opposition Front Bencher has laid out. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—that date is significant, because it was introduced that April under the previous Labour Government—outlines the process, which is rigorous and stacks up well with other parliamentary democracies around the world, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which have similar systems. For example, with the Australia and New Zealand agreements combined, we delivered an oral ministerial statement at the launch of each negotiation; 10 negotiating round updates; extensive information on the deals when we reached agreement in principle; 12 sessions with Select Committees, including private briefings; eight MP briefings on the FTA programme; the Trade and Agriculture Commission reports and section 42 reports well ahead of the CRaG deadline; six months of scrutiny time; and many other things. [Interruption.] I just wanted to make that point, Mr Speaker—
I welcome the Minister to his places—I think that is the right thing to say.
It is vital that, for a change, we get a chance to actually scrutinise proposed deals before they become real. India has no detailed plan, for example, to cut emissions, and 70% of its economy is powered by coal. Cabinet Office emails have shown that the former Trade Secretary and Prime Minister decided to
“drop both of the climate asks”
from the UK-Australia agreement to get it “over the line”, even though Australia has a history of coal pollution. Given that the current Prime Minister had to be shamed into attending COP27, does that mean that no legally binding demands will be made in the UK-India discussions?
Again, I disagree with that characterisation —respectfully, because I am looking forward to a constructive relationship with the Scottish National party, Opposition Members and the devolved Administrations on trade deals. Let us be very clear: we will not sign any deals that are not in the UK’s interests.
The Minister did not answer the question. The UK has rolled over 35 EU agreements and signed trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, yet they have included no realistically enforceable measure to plug the climate change gaps that we have pointed out in all of them from the start. The New Zealand text cannot be enforced and climate has been dropped altogether from the Australia deal. There are gleeful reports from India that there will be no more than warm words on climate change. Why is real action on the climate emergency ignored in every deal that this place brings forward?
The hon. Member mentions “every deal that this place brings forward”, and again, it would be nice if we actually got support from Opposition Members at some point. He will know that our friends, colleagues and trading partners in Australia, in particular, given the situation they face, are as concerned about climate challenges as we are.
Free Trade Agreements: Farmers
We are committed to ensuring that any deal we sign includes opportunities and, where necessary, protections for UK agriculture. British farming is vital to our trade policy and any deal we sign will work for UK farmers, consumers and companies, increasing opportunities and choice while not compromising our high standards. For example, the UK has secured a range of measures to safeguard our farmers in our recent Australia and New Zealand FTAs.
As many said, yesterday was Back British Farming Day and, as part of that, I met Quality Meat Scotland. Although we may not have a final say on trade deals in this Parliament, there are real concerns in the agricultural sector that, particularly around environmental and welfare standards, we are at a significant disadvantage from some of the trade deals. Will the Minister underline what the process is for engagement between agriculture and DIT to ensure that this does not happen?
Over many years, I have done very extensive engagement with the agricultural sector. I have met the brilliant NFU Scotland president, Martin Kennedy, a number of times, for example, to discuss these various issues. There are very important safeguards in the Australia and New Zealand agreements that effectively phase in product-specific safeguards for UK agriculture. Nothing in any trade agreement forces the UK to dilute or weaken our standards. The independent Trade and Agriculture Commission, which is really important in scrutinising trade deals, concluded that
“the UK is able to prohibit imports of products because it has an agreed interest in certain practices in Australia, either because they are agreed to be a common interest, or because they are agreed to result in an unfair trade advantage.”
So, actually, the independent TAC has given us an endorsement as well.
Vale of Glamorgan farmers rear some of the best lamb in the world, and Welsh lamb is recognised globally as some of the best sheepmeat. With a new market open in the United States for the first time in decades, what practical support can my right hon. Friend and his Department provide to farmers in the Vale of Glamorgan to best exploit this opportunity so we can ensure that the best Welsh lamb is on the most expensive plates in the United States?
My right hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate for his farmers and for all Welsh farmers for the past 12 years. During his time as Secretary of State for Wales, he and I had many discussions about the issue. He will be as delighted as I am that Welsh lamb is going to the US for the first time in more than 20 years, now that the US has removed the small ruminant rule. Achieving that has been a key part of our trade policy objectives for some time. The market is estimated to be worth £37 million in the first five years. We continue to engage with the US Administration—we have very good people in Washington and across the US who are making sure that our access to markets continues to be good.
Food and Farming: Trade Barriers
Over the 2021-22 financial year, we removed 192 barriers to UK agricultural produce across 79 countries. That has included opening the markets for UK poultry meat to Japan and for UK pork to Mexico and Chile. Just last month, the first export of British lamb was sent to the USA for the first time in more than 20 years; as I said, the industry estimates that market to be worth £37 million in the first five years. Millions of American consumers will now be able to enjoy top-quality British lamb.
I welcome the new team to the Front Bench.
Earlier this year, the then exports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith), visited Billy Maughan and other farmers at the fantastic Darlington Farmers Auction Mart in my constituency. He saw that farmers in our area and throughout the country are proud to produce food to some of the highest standards in the world.
There is real potential to build on existing markets and develop new ones throughout the world. Farmers are keen to see markets developing, and we have discussed how the Government can help to deliver that vision. A key ask from farmers is getting people on the ground in key markets such as the middle east and parts of Asia to promote what we have to offer in terms of quality, sustainability and traceability. What progress can I tell Billy is being made?
My hon. Friend has been tireless in his advocacy for his Sedgefield farmers, including Billy Maughan and others. We are helping our farmers and food producers to capitalise on the enormous global demand for top-quality British food and drink. We have staff in more than 100 markets around the world, including in the middle east, Asia and the United States, to ensure maximum access for our brilliant produce. That includes two specialist agricultural attachés in the Gulf region and China and three more attachés to cover the Asia-Pacific and India. Next week, I will be visiting Taiwan, which welcomed UK pork exports for the first time in 2018, following my trade talks with Taiwan in 2016.
The Department is working tirelessly to remove the trade barriers that British businesses face across the world. In the last financial year alone, we have removed 192 barriers across 79 countries. The removal of just 45 of those barriers is estimated to be worth £5 billion to businesses over five years, but we want to do more. Targeting the 100 trade barriers on our most wanted list has the potential to deliver export opportunities worth £20 billion for businesses across the UK.
I welcome the team to the Front Bench.
On Monday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the port of Blyth to see for herself the offshore blade testing facility at the Catapult. As the only deep-water port in Northumberland, the port of Blyth is at the heart of international trade, but if we are to continue to trade competitively on a global scale, we must look at the bureaucracy surrounding export licences. Will the Minister meet me to look at how we can smooth the way to a more efficient trading platform and drive exports around the world?
My hon. Friend and I have talked about this before. I know that the Secretary of State very much enjoyed her visit earlier this week. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the great expertise in renewable energy and green technology sectors in the UK. We need to do more to export those fantastic skills. The Government take our export control responsibilities incredibly seriously, because there are some sensitive areas, but I am extremely mindful of the commercial pressures that businesses face and of the need to process export licences as swiftly and reasonably as possible. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to understand in more detail the specific issues that he is facing.
Is it not the case that the Tories’ hard Brexit has actually increased trade barriers at a range of levels? Is the Minister aware of the challenges faced by touring musicians based in my constituency who are trying to take their merchandise to Europe? Although it is a massive area in which they can profit from their business, either it is not viable for them to sell, or they have to source the merchandise in the country in which they are touring, which means there is a loss to producers of such merchandise in the UK.
We do, of course, have an arrangement with the European Union now. I am familiar with the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised as a result of my time at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but I know that Ministers at that Department and, indeed, the Department for Transport are engaging with individual countries and progress is being made on those issues, most recently with Spain and Greece. As well as benefiting from the overall agreements, we are trying to unlock barriers individually, sector by sector and country by country.
I am delighted that this week the Department is hosting our second International Trade Week. Trading around the world can be transformative for UK businesses, which is why, with more than 10,000 business registrations for about 123 events delivered by the Department and external partners, International Trade Week is the Department’s biggest single showcase for the global trading opportunities that are open to our businesses. It also marks one year since the launch of our Made in the UK, Sold to the World export strategy. Throughout the week, businesses have been able to make the most of key export strategy initiatives, such as advice from the export support service and expert support from the Export Academy.
We recently heard that negotiations to conclude a trade deal with India have stalled because of the comments made by the Home Secretary about migrants from that country—just another mess to lay at her door. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether she will ensure that the Home Secretary’s hardline opposition to migration will not harm our economic relationships?
It is not true that negotiations with India have stalled, either because of the Home Secretary’s comments or for any other reason. They are ongoing. What has changed is the deadline: as a result of my becoming Secretary of State, we are focusing on the deal and not the day, and that is the most important aspect. The Home Secretary is well within her rights to discuss migration issues, and her comments were not specific to the India trade deal. She has a responsibility for migration, and she is doing her job properly.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in trade with Pakistan. When I visited the country—I was the last Trade Minister to do so—I observed the excellent co-operation that was taking place between businesses in the UK and Pakistan. Big investments by UK firms such as GSK in Karachi are key to the delivery of £3 billion-worth of trade. I am pleased to say that we will be formalising this relationship through a new ministerial-led UK-Pakistan trade dialogue, in which we will co-operate further on reducing and removing barriers to trade.
In the first half of the year, British food and drink exports to Europe were still 5% below their 2019 level, but imports from Europe were up by 22%. The last Secretary of State would not take any action to reduce the barriers to trading with Europe and, indeed, cut the funding for business groups to back British exporters. After the economic car crash that she and the rest of the Government caused last month, is it not time that this Secretary of State took a different approach?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. We are doing everything we can to support businesses. He will know that 2019 was before the pandemic, so of course we recognise that supply chain issues have had an impact on exports. I have been referring to this throughout today’s questions session. We have an export support service, and plenty of support in place to assist businesses trading across Europe and the rest of the world.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State continues to take such a complacent attitude to trade with Europe. This is not just about food and drink; recent data shows that exports of cars and car parts are still significantly down as a result of the trade barriers, and many hundreds of small businesses which were exporting to Europe, according to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, have simply stopped doing so. The Secretary of State’s own colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer)—a former exports Minister—has said that businesses which want to export are simply not getting enough support to do so.
Given the desperate need for growth following the kamikaze Budget that the Secretary of State backed last month, can she tell the House whether there will be more or less support for British exports after the Chancellor’s fiscal statement?
It amazes me that, even now, Brexit is still being blamed for everything. It is about time that the Opposition, who call other people complacent, paid attention to what is going on in the world and got off their personal hobby-horses. On car manufacturing, there is an issue with battery supply from the US, as everybody knows. We are doing everything that we can to support companies in getting the parts that they need. The export support service is doing a fantastic job, and I commend the officials who work in it.
Items moving between countries normally attract customs duty and import VAT, but my right hon. Friend will know that the trade and co-operation agreement means that there will be no customs duty on goods moving between Great Britain and the EU if the goods meet rules of origin. Delivery companies may charge their clients handling fees for moving products internationally, but the Government do not have control over those charges, which are a commercial matter.
The hon. and learned Lady raises the important issue of human rights, but the UK Government engage around the world in defence of human rights, as she will be well aware from all her interactions in this place. The Scottish National party has always opposed EU trade deals, and the deals that she mentions that include human rights clauses were opposed by the Scottish National party in Brussels. It is a bit rich to say that EU trade deals are great but UK ones are not when she has opposed every single EU trade deal.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and for everything that he does to support business in South West Bedfordshire. Businesses can access advice and support through the Department’s digital exporting programme, which helps UK businesses to use digital, including e-commerce, as a key route to market. To date, the programme has partnered with more than 50 global marketplaces, including Amazon, in more than 20 countries.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point about the use of trade sanctions. I agree that there are certain countries on which we need an effective trade sanctions policy. Discussions take place across Government, including with Foreign Office Ministers and at official level, and those will continue. I cannot give her the detail of those discussions, but I assure her that we are looking at the issue very closely.
This is a very important deal. Earlier this year, we launched negotiations between the United Kingdom and Israel on an upgraded, innovation-focused free trade agreement with services at its heart. The first round of negotiations with Israel were completed in September. An upgraded FTA with Israel will cement our relationship with that rapidly growing economy, and take our trading relationship to the next level.
As the Minister of State knows, the Northern Ireland protocol poses a massive trade barrier for Northern Irish farming and businesses. The farming industry in Northern Ireland is worth £1.3 billion, so what discussions have been undertaken with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on smooth and frictionless trade for Northern Ireland’s farmers?
We know the importance of the agriculture sector to Northern Ireland. We have frequent engagements with, for example, the Ulster Farmers Union, and I was delighted to attend the Irish Whiskey Association reception here in the House of Commons just last week. Obviously, we do not lead on the Northern Ireland protocol, but we make sure the interests of Northern Irish exporters are represented in all our discussions with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) in celebrating the opening up of the American market to UK lamb, not least as much of the lamb slaughtered in his constituency is brought to my constituency to be prepared for export by Randall Parker Foods.
The Minister of State will know that the UK is now the world’s third largest exporter of lamb and mutton meat but, when he talked about CPTPP earlier, he did not mention the lamb industry. He talked a lot about data and services. Will he reassure the House that, when he undertakes that particularly important negotiation, the interests of British food and farming, and most particularly of the British lamb industry, will be at the forefront of his thoughts?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s interest, and he rightly represents the key agricultural interests in his Hampshire constituency. CPTPP removes tariffs from 99.9% of British goods. We frequently say in this House that Australia and New Zealand are principally motivated by fast-growing markets in Asia when selling their agricultural produce. This country wants a piece of that action. Our ability to sell British lamb into the far east will be key for us, and DIT is engaging on that through CPTPP.
What recent assessment have Ministers made of the trends in services trade with the EU? What steps are the Government taking to increase that trade?
There are ongoing discussions about what we can do for services trade. Last month, I met my Dutch counterpart who brought over a trade delegation. We are working with countries individually on everything we can do to improve trade, not just on our services exports but on their exports, too, because they continue to want to sell to the UK.
Yesterday was Back British Farming Day, and many of us in this place joined the NFU in showing our support for the fantastic British farmers across the country, including in my Aldridge-Brownhills constituency, where we still have a small number of farmers. What more can we do to support our farmers, beyond the fantastic work on lamb in this trade deal?
I was at the NFU’s dairy export summit yesterday as part of my activities for International Trade Week and Back British Farming Day. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that this country’s dairy exports are increasing. I spoke to many businesses at the summit and they want information on exporting. There is a huge gap in knowledge on how to export, and that is one of the areas on which we want to provide additional information to support farmers.
I regularly hear from constituents in Glasgow North who are concerned that the Tories’ desperation for trade deals will lead to a race to the bottom on food standards. Can Ministers guarantee that there will be no chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef on supermarket shelves in Glasgow North as a result of Tory trade deals?
I first joined DIT six and a half years ago, and I cannot remember how many times I have had to say from this Dispatch Box that nothing in any free trade agreement alters or reduces UK food and animal welfare standards—that is absolute. The hon. Gentleman talks about our desperation for trade deals, but I would like to see the Scottish National party break the habit of a lifetime and support a trade deal, negotiated by either Brussels or the UK. It is about time he broke his duck and supported one of them.
We heard earlier about our great success in opening up new beef and lamb markets around the world. Earlier this year the Government backed a strategy launched by the NFU to increase agricultural exports by 30% through a 10-point plan. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will continue to work with the NFU to land that 10-point plan to grow British agricultural exports?
Yes, I am very happy to continue working with the NFU. We, of course, have our own 12-point export strategy plan; I am sure that there is a lot of overlap between the two, but we are all trying to get to the same place, and I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) listed the litany of issues with the Government’s approach to trade deals. I mentioned Saxo bank’s assessment of the UK as an “emerging market country”, and with a US trade official describing UK trade policy as a disaster, why does the Secretary of State think the standing of the UK has fallen so far in the eyes of the world?
It is simply untrue that the standing of the UK has fallen anywhere close to where the hon. Gentleman says it has. We are committed to doing trade deals; in fact, this Government have done a record amount of them and are continuing to negotiate, not least on the CPTPP and with others to increase British trade around the world. It would be great if he would come on board and start talking Britain up, instead of talking it down.
During this hour of International Trade questions, we have had participation from SNP Members, independent Members, Democratic Unionist party Members and Liberal Democrats, but the official Opposition, for most of the period, have had two Back Benchers here. Does the Secretary of State agree that that must mean that the official Opposition approve of what we are doing so much—
Police Service: HMI Report
Before we begin this urgent question, I remind Members that they must not refer to cases that are currently before the courts and should be cautious in referring to any cases in respect of which proceedings may be brought in the future. I now call Sarah Jones to ask her urgent question.
I thank my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), the shadow Minister, for her question on this extremely important topic. The report published yesterday by His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services makes for deeply troubling reading. The inspection was commissioned by the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), following the horrific murder of Sarah Everard by a then serving officer, as well as the emergence of wider concerns about policing culture.
The report concludes that it has been far
“too easy for the wrong people both to join and to stay in the police.”
The inspectorate found that on too many occasions vetting was not thorough enough and that in some cases it was inadequate. The Government take the view, as I am sure Members from across the House do, that that is unacceptable. It is particularly unacceptable and disappointing to hear about these vetting failures given that the Government have provided very substantial additional funding to fund the extra 20,000 police officers and additional resources for the police more widely.
The inspectorate concluded that, although the culture has improved in recent years, misogyny, sexism and predatory behaviour towards female officers and staff members “still exists” and is too high in many forces. That is shameful and must act as a wake-up call. That sort of disgraceful conduct undermines the work of the thousands—the vast majority—of decent, hard-working police officers who perform their duties with the utmost professionalism. More damagingly, it undermines public trust. This matters a great deal to all of us, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that things must change.
Since the report was published yesterday, we have been studying it carefully; this has been my first week in this position, but I have been studying it carefully. It contains 43 recommendations: three for the National Police Chiefs’ Council; nine for the College of Policing; 28 for chief constables and three for the Home Office. The Home Office will most certainly be implementing those three recommendations. The NPCC said in a statement yesterday that it expects police to act on their recommendations urgently. That is most certainly my expectation as well: all of these recommendations will be acted on as a matter of urgency.
We should keep it in mind that the vast majority of police officers are hard-working and dedicated. They put themselves at risk to keep us safe, and we should pay tribute to the work that the vast majority of officers do on our behalf. The report has uncovered obviously unacceptable behaviour and we expect the recommendations to be implemented urgently.
I welcome the Minister to his place. However, I have to say that I am disappointed that the Government are not taking more responsibility and leading from the front following such a grim report.
Yesterday’s report is 160 pages of failure—failure to bar the wrong people from joining the police; failure to get rid of them; failure to protect female staff and officers, and failure to protect the public. A lack of proper action to root out racism, misogyny and serious misconduct means that some communities do not trust the police.
This is by no means the first time that serious failings and horrific examples of unacceptable behaviour have been exposed. After the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer, the Opposition came to this place and called for change. After the horrific murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, we came to this place and called for leadership. After the shameful case of Child Q, we came to this place and called for reform. After the shocking Charing Cross station report, we came to this place and demanded action. After the Stephen Port inquiry, we came to this place and called for reform. If the Government had acted and led from the front, we could have stopped people being harmed. Leadership must come from the top.
Yesterday, we learned that Metropolitan police officers had been sentenced to prison after sharing racist, homo- phobic and misogynistic WhatsApp messages. For years, there had been warnings—for example, from the independent inspectorate—about serious problems in the police misconduct system, including long delays, lack of disciplinary action, disturbing and systematic racial disparities and lack of monitoring.
We have heard anecdotal evidence of forces expediting the vetting process to meet the Government’s recruitment targets. What does the Minister know about that? What is he doing to ensure that it does not happen? Will the Minister confirm that the roles of police staff, who do a lot of the vetting work and have been subject to cuts, will be protected so that forces can introduce the right systems? Will the Minister follow Labour’s lead and introduce mandatory safeguards and professional standards, led from the top, into every police force in the country to keep everybody safe?
I thank the hon. Lady for her initial remarks and for her questions.
The Government have taken action. Indeed, the report we are debating was commissioned by the former Home Secretary directly in response to the issues that were raised. The fact that those issues have seen the light of day is thanks to that Government response. The Angiolini inquiry is also under way for exactly the same reason. We work closely with operational policing colleagues to ensure that the issues are properly addressed. I discussed the issues with Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, a few days ago, before the report was published.
As for ensuring that there are adequate resources for vetting and related purposes, the spending review settlement that the police currently receive has meant an additional £3.5 billion since 2019 over the three years of the police uplift programme, not just to pay the salaries of extra police officers but to provide the support and resources required to ensure that they are properly trained and integrated.
The hon. Lady was right to ask about professional standards, which are extremely important. In 2017, national vetting standards were set out in statutory guidance, which the College of Policing published. The report recommends updating some elements of that. Misconduct procedures are set out in statute. We expect the recommendations about improving those areas to be implemented, and we expect police forces around the country to ensure that the report’s recommendations are fully implemented.
Most serving and retired police officers will feel as aggrieved as everybody else that a small number have been allowed to get away with bad things for too long.
For seven years in this House, working directly with Ministers and the Metropolitan police, I have been pursuing the case of the injustice to Sergeant Gurpal Virdi. I do not expect the Minister to know it, but does he understand that confidence can be restored only when lessons are learned, and that this is a good case to look at?
After reading the book, “Behind the Blue Line”, may I recommend that Home Office and Justice Ministers meet me with Gurpal Virdi, Matt Foot, his solicitor, the Crime Prosecution Service and the Independent Office for Police Conduct to review what went wrong, what should be put right and how the matter will be reviewed?
I thank the Father of the House for his question. I do agree that the vast majority of police officers, who are hard-working, brave and decent people, will share this House’s shock at the contents of the report. We should keep it in mind, as I say, that the vast majority of police are hard-working, brave and decent people. In relation to the case that he raised, if he is able to write to me with particulars, I would be very happy to look further into it and meet him.
I welcome the Minister to his place. The report contains very disturbing instances of sexism and harassment perpetrated against women within the police and among the general public, and the systematic failures that contributed to that. The Select Committee has just started an inquiry into police priorities. I want to invite individuals with experience of sexism and abuse within the police and of the systems that failed them to come forward and share those experiences with the Committee. On the specific issues in this report, can the Minister just say whether it is acceptable that police forces are not required to hold face-to-face interviews with candidates or to obtain their employment and character references? How can that be correct and right when the police service has such a pivotal role to play in law and order in this country?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. I strongly welcome the work that her Committee is doing in this area; it is very good that she is doing that. The issue that she raises around misogyny is a serious one. The report finds that progress has been made, but that there is a great deal more to do. I look forward to listening carefully to the recommendations that her Committee makes after it has conducted its own investigation. I think that 35% of officers are now female, which is a record figure—it has never been higher than that—and that an even higher proportion of recent recruits are female, which will hopefully add to the need to improve the culture. The training standards in the Policing Education Qualifications Framework do now include training around bias, tackling prejudice and discrimination, protecting people and looking after people with protected characteristics, but, clearly, there is a lot more to be done.
In relation to the vetting process and some of the issues that the right hon. Lady touched on at the end of her question, there are specific recommendations about them among those 43 items in yesterday’s report, and we expect police forces to adopt all of them.
I thank the Minister and the previous and current Home Secretary for the leadership that they are showing on this issue, but, clearly, the report makes deeply worrying reading. Obviously, the vast majority of police officers are dedicated and professional, but there are some wrong’uns who are serving in our forces. For example, is it right that male officers are viewing pornography at work on suspects’ phones? Is it right that they are engaging in “booty patrol”, where they are stopping attractive young women who they see driving in cars? When will the Minister come forward with the Government’s response so that women and girls across our country can feel safe and have their trust and confidence in the police restored?
All of the things that my hon. Friend describes are clearly completely unacceptable. No female officer or female member of the public should experience the things that she has just described. We do expect urgent action to be taken on these areas. The issues that she referenced are included in the 43 recommendations, and we expect implementation of those to be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
Much has been said at the Government Dispatch Box about the need for integrity, but that has to extend not only to police recruits but to those who purport to govern them. Given that the Tory police and crime commissioner of Cleveland, Steve Turner, has admitted to handling stolen goods from his employer, it cannot be that candidates for such positions who do not disclose their criminally dishonest pasts are able to stand for office or continue in office once such matters come to light. Does the Minister agree?
With over 100,000 police officers serving in England and Wales, it is important that everyone in this House accepts that they will be as outraged as we are with the contents of the HMI report. Those police officers will be out on our streets on Saturday night, and the vile individuals identified in the report have made their job of keeping us safe harder. Because they do not have a voice and we do, I rise to say that I stand with our hard- working police officers. I stand with our police officers in Lancashire. They are doing a good job of keeping us safe, and they will be as disgusted as we are.
As many know, I was a police officer, joining Lothian and Borders police in 1999. I will not pretend that I do not recognise some of the elements of the culture described in the report, but I am concerned that policing by consent, which is the central tenet of policing in the UK, is threatened by reports such as this one. Scotland is not immune—the Minister mentioned Dame Elish Angiolini, who has carried out a similar report in Scotland. We need to sort out the vetting, but I have a real concern that there are people serving in the police force today who should not be there. What actions is the Minister taking to ensure that all forces do that? Given that the picture is quite fractured, with 43 forces, does the IOPC have a role in ensuring that that work is expedited?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her service as a police officer in Scotland. She is right to point out that this is not just about vetting on entry; it is also about conduct while in office. The recommendations touch on this matter, including in relation to the Home Office and the rule 13 processes around people who are still on probation. I have only been in post for a week, but I do think that making sure that misconduct allegations and wider performance issues are acted on quickly merits further attention, and it is something I will look into.
The significance and seriousness of the report should not be understated, but does my right hon. Friend recognise that the vast majority of police officers are honourable, hardworking and dedicated public servants? Can he assure us that he will take the strongest action to follow through and deliver on the recommendations, but that he will also show and give the greatest confidence to those honourable police officers who are public servants and who work daily to keep us safe?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Government and, I am sure, all Members on both sides of the House, stand with and behind the vast majority of police officers, who work hard to keep us safe, often putting themselves in danger to do so. We will continue to give full support to that vast majority while we take urgent action to address the findings in the report.
The report states that hundreds, if not thousands, of officers who should have failed vetting are now working in police forces across the country, including mine. What measures will he take to identify those individuals and take action?
It is vital that lessons are learned, and I thank the Minister for confirming that the recommendations in the report will be delivered in full, but does he agree that 99.9% of our police officers in this country do a brilliant job in keeping our communities safe, and that it would be a grave mistake if those who oppose the police for political reasons were to jump on the report as a way to undermine public confidence in the work the police do?
I agree that the vast majority of police are hard-working, decent and brave. I have not heard any Member attempting to exploit the report today, and I am sure that no Member of this House would do so. I am also sure that all of us will stand with our brave officers who are doing a good job while ensuring that appropriate action is taken where urgent improvement is needed.
When this urgent question was heard in the other place yesterday, the Minister in the Lords pushed responsibility for standards and reform on to individual police chiefs in individual forces. We know there is a clear postcode lottery with police standards, which is letting the public down. Does this Minister accept that that is wrong and that there must also be leadership from the top at the Home Office too?
Of course I agree that leadership is important, including setting clear standards and, for example, ensuring that those statutory guidelines were put in place in 2017. Leadership is important, and I believe this Home Secretary and the previous Home Secretary, who commissioned this report and the Angiolini review in the first place, have discharged those responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman is also right to allude to the fact that the police are rightly operationally independent; we must ensure that the institutions and structures are right, that police chiefs are supported as necessary, and that the College of Policing is setting the right standards. That is what many of the recommendations in this report seek to do.
Jonathon Cobban and Joel Borders were serving police officers in Hounslow. Yesterday, they were sentenced to 12 weeks in prison for sharing the vilest misogynistic, racist, ableist and homophobic messages in a WhatsApp group that also included Wayne Couzens and others. In court, they showed no remorse. All those officers had been transferred in from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary to fill gaps in the Met. Is the Minister aware of a wider problem of officers being transferred between forces without any real vetting or suitability checks at the time of their transfer, and what is he doing about it to ensure not only that it does not happen again, but that all officers currently serving in the Met are fully vetted and, if they are found to have issues, are sacked from serving in any police force again?
I share the hon. Lady’s horror at the case she describes, which was heard in her local area. It is a truly shocking case. On the question of transfers, one reason for the police uplift programme, hiring the extra 20,000 officers, is to ensure that there are no gaps that need to be filled. There are important recommendations among the 43 that address the question of vetting. On her point about checking the existing cadre of officers, I draw attention again to the point I made a few minutes ago about the regular rolling process of rechecking, which the report also refers to.
This is a sad saga of Government and police management failure. Understandably, there will likely be increased vetting after this important report, so by when will all the additional 20,000 police officers promised so long ago actually be in post?
Of the extra 20,000 officers, just over 15,000 were in post by 30 September this year. The information I have been provided with in the last week—my first week in this post—is that by the end of March 2023, in four or five months’ time, all 20,000 will have been recruited as planned.
This issue starts at the very top, and we have missed many opportunities to tackle it. It was also exacerbated by the incredible decision of the Conservatives to cut 21,000 police officers. Now we have a mad dash to try to backfill those gaps in the service. Can the Minister assure us that no lax vetting has been involved in filling those gaps, and what will he do to go back and re-vet those officers to ensure that they are of the highest standard?
The report made it clear that there have been problems with vetting—that is one of its key and troubling findings. There is a programme of automatic re-vetting of officers on a periodic basis, and one of the report’s recommendations is that that should be done more frequently, for the reasons the hon. Gentleman sets out. More broadly, officer numbers did go down shortly after 2010, owing to the catastrophic economic circumstances at the time, but they are now going up rapidly and by March of next year, as I said a second ago, we will have a record number of police officers—at no point in this country’s history have we had more officers on the books than we will have by March next year. In fact, my understanding is that in the force area covering his constituency and mine there are already a record number of Metropolitan police officers. Never in the Met’s history have there been more police officers on its books than there are today.
I thank the Minister for his response to the questions that have been asked. I also want to put on the record my thanks to the many police officers who are above reproach and do a wonderful and very courageous job; it is important to say that before asking questions. It is disturbing to learn in this report that petty theft or assault charges were either ignored or not found out in the vetting procedure, which tells us just how broken the system is. What has been done to fix that and to ensure that the past record of people of both genders is known, decisions are made in the best interests of the force and every action is taken to restore the general public’s confidence and trust? That is really important.
I thank the hon. Member for his question, and I agree with his comments at the beginning. We should keep in mind in this debate, both in the House and publicly, that the vast majority of police officers are decent, hard-working and brave people putting their own safety at risk to keep us safe; we should never lose sight of that fact. I share his concern about the vetting issues that we have discussed, and there are recommendations to improve those. Where applicants have served a custodial sentence or signed the sex offenders register, there is currently an absolute prohibition on them being recruited as police officers, and where they have a criminal conviction of any kind, there is a presumption against their recruitment. That is a rebuttable presumption, so they can make representations, but the presumption is that they will not be hired. Clearly, we need to ensure that that information is always known and always considered, and there are recommendations in yesterday’s report to ensure that that happens.
Abuse and Deaths in Secure Mental Health Units
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important question. Everyone in any mental health facility is entitled to high-quality care and treatment and should be kept safe from harm. The findings from the investigation into the deaths of Christie, Nadia and Emily make for painful reading. The death of any young person is a tragedy, and all the more so when that young person should have been receiving care and support. My thoughts and, I am sure, the thoughts of the whole House are with their families and friends, and I want to apologise for the failings of the care that they received.
As I told the House on Tuesday, these incidents are completely unacceptable. The Secretary of State and I are working closely with NHS England and the Care Quality Commission, and they have updated us on the specific situation and the steps that the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust is taking to improve the care at its services. Those include investing £5 million in reducing ligature risks across the estate; improving how it develops and implements care plans for young people; strengthening its policy on observation; and improving staff training and the culture that can exist within the trust.
I recognise that these worrying findings come in the context of broader concerns highlighted by other recent scandals. The Minister for Health and Secondary Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), was at the Dispatch Box last month responding to an urgent question on the unacceptable abuses at the Edenfield Centre. These challenges are, rightly, the subject of sharp focus in my Department, and we understand that every part of our system has a responsibility to keep patients safe. That is the driving motivation behind our new mental health safety improvement programme and the patient safety incident response framework.
I am not just the Minister for Mental Health; I am also responsible for patient safety, and I am not satisfied that the failings we have heard about today are necessarily isolated incidents at a handful of trusts. The Secretary of State and I are urgently meeting the national director of mental health to look at the system as a whole, the role of CQC inspections and the system for flagging concerns. I will also be meeting the new patient safety commissioner to seek her guidance, and based on that, we will make a decision on how we proceed in the coming days.
It pains me that we are here again after failings in patient care and I send my heartfelt condolences to all the families affected. Emily Moore, Nadia Sharif, Christie Harnett: these are the names of three young women who tragically lost their lives after systemic failings to mitigate self-harm. This cannot go on. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) for his tireless work with the families involved.
Sadly, those are not the only cases. In the last five weeks, there have been reports on the Huntercombe Group, the Essex Partnership University NHS Trust and the Edenfield Centre. Why do undercover reporters seem to have a better grip on the crisis than the Government? Patients are dying. They are being bullied, dehumanised and abused, and their medical records are being falsified—a scandalous breach of patient safety.
The Government have failed to learn from past failings. I wrote to the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), yet I never received a response. I have written to the new Secretary of State and he has not replied. Are the Secretary of State and the Government taking this seriously? It certainly does not seem so.
Will the Government be conducting a rapid review into mental health in-patient services? What are the Government doing to ensure that patients’ complaints about their care are taken seriously? These reports are becoming a weekly occurrence. I ask the Minister to put herself in the shoes of patients in these units and understand what their relatives are feeling. Will she apologise for the anguish that families are experiencing? This is a scandal and the Government should be ashamed.
I will not stand at the Dispatch Box and deny any of the instances that we have seen, their consequences or the failings that have been identified. I apologised in my opening remarks for the care that failed the most vulnerable patients in our system. I commit to right hon. and hon. Members from the Dispatch Box that we are urgently looking not just at these cases but across all mental health in-patient services, and not just at adult mental health, but at offenders and other users of mental health facilities.
We have brought in a number of measures. We introduced new legislation, which was enacted in March, on the use of force and restraint. We are identifying best practice and trying to get that rolled out across the country. We are looking at putting in place a number of measures to improve safety and to support staff in units where staff shortages have been identified as a cause of the problems.
With regard to the hon. Lady writing to the Secretary of State, I signed off a letter to her early on Tuesday, which she should receive any day now. I apologise that she did not previously get responses in a timely manner.
NHS England has commissioned a system-wide investigation into the safety and quality of services across the board, particularly around children and adolescent mental health services. I am pushing for those investigations to be as swift as possible.[Official Report, 7 November 2022, Vol. 722, c. 2MC.]
On the issue of a public inquiry, I am not necessarily saying that there will not be one, but it needs to be national, not on an individual trust basis. As we have seen in maternity services, when we repeat these inquiries, they often produce the same information and we need to learn systemically how to reduce such failings. My issue with public inquiries is that they are not timely and can take many years, and we clearly have cases that need to be urgently reviewed and to have some urgent action taken on them now. I will look at the hon. Lady’s request but, as I said, the Secretary of State and I are taking urgent advice, because we take this issue extremely seriously. One death from a failing of care is one death too many.
Lessons need to be learned and I am glad that the authorities and the Government will do that.
From the time that I served on the council of Mind, which was known as the National Association for Mental Health, I have tried to emphasise the importance of recruiting good people to work in the various categories of profession and assistance in secure units and in the whole mental health field.
I pay tribute to those who, day in, day out and at all hours of the day, cope with some of the most challenging situations and try to help some of the most desperate people. In each of our constituencies, we have tragic suicides; many more are prevented because of the work of these good workers. Let us try to support them and recruit more people to work with them.
I thank the Father of the House for his very important point, because staff shortages often contribute to some of the failings we have seen. We are aiming to recruit 27,000 more mental health workers. As of June this year, there were over 133,000 full-time equivalent people working in the mental health workforce, which is an increase of more than 5.4% compared with June 2021. We are increasing the workforce, but it is a particularly difficult area to work in both in dealing with people with mental health problems and the environments in which they are working. This is not just about recruiting more staff; it is about training, developing and retaining them.
Mental health services often feel like the poor relative of the NHS, and financial investment is just not there in the same way. Mental health nurses and support staff work long shifts and are often experiencing burnout, while wards are repeatedly short of staff. There is a high turnover of psychiatrists and many are moving to work overseas. So it stands to reason that there are repeat failures within mental health services and mental health settings. What will the Government do to bring about urgent change and the long-term change that is so desperately needed?
I want to reassure hon. and right hon. Members across the House that mental health is not seen as a poor relation by this Government. We are investing record levels of funding in mental health services—£2.3 billion annually—and we are recruiting record numbers of staff into the service as well. As I said to the shadow Minister, I fully accept the failings that have been laid bare, whether by media investigations or by internal investigations of the individual trusts. I am not shying away from those challenges, and I have set out the urgency with which I and the Secretary of State will be looking at this problem. I want to be satisfied that, across the country, safety is as good as it can be, and that where flags are being raised, they are acted on as quickly as possible, which does mean now, not in 18 months or two or three years. We are seeing young people die because of failings of care, and I understand the urgency of the situation.
I would like to acknowledge what has been said already about the difficulty for staff working in this environment. It is a very challenging space, and my respect goes to anybody and everybody there. My respect also goes to people who work in suicide prevention, whether in Mind, the Samaritans or organisations like them, because this is a very difficult place.
I would like to come back to the specifics, and I will start by expressing my sincere thanks to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) for his lead on the stuff going on up in our part of the world. It is a tremendous effort, and I applaud him and thank him for it. This week finally saw the publication of the independent investigation into the deaths of the three young ladies in the care of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. Christie Harnett, one of those young ladies, was a constituent of mine, and her stepfather is among those calling for a public inquiry. I hear what the Minister is saying, but I really would encourage her to have this looked into very closely. I very strongly support the family on this.
Christie, along with Nadia and Emily, were badly let down. In Christie’s case, the report identified 21 care delivery problems and 20 service delivery problems. It was not an isolated mistake; this is systemic and massive, and it really needs to be looked at. May I ask the Minister to support this call for a public inquiry, please, and may I also ask her to confirm that a reply is imminent to the letters delivered by Mr Harnett to Downing Street on 10 October? He cycled from Newton Aycliffe down to here, a distance of 250 miles, to hand them in. This is emotional, but Christie’s family’s description of her in their statement in the report was:
“Family was everything to Christie and we all miss her so much, nothing will ever be the same again now our sunshine has gone.”
It is imperative that we do all we can to give the families of these young ladies what little satisfaction can be delivered by a proper and full inquiry into these atrocious failings.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comprehensive question about the issues we face. He is absolutely right to say that systemic failings were identified, and as I have said, at this stage I have not said no to a public inquiry. We need urgently to address these issues, and ensure that, nationally, the same failings are not happening across the board. My concern about a public inquiry is the time that such inquiries take, and whether a rapid review would be more appropriate. I will make that decision in the coming days once advice has been taken. Nationally, some work is being done. For example, the Care Quality Commission is introducing a new approach into how it undertakes inspections. As with maternity services, one concern I have is that the CQC can do an inspection and rate a service as good, yet soon afterwards incidents are happening. I want to be satisfied that the CQC inspection process and the new approach it is taking will address issues and flag them as quickly as possible.
The National Mental Health Director wrote to every mental health and learning disability trust on 30 September, to ask them urgently to review their services in light of the findings we are seeing. The Secretary of State and I will meet her soon to follow up on that. NHS England is also reviewing everyone with a learning disability or autistic people in long-term segregation mental health in-patient units, because they are extremely vulnerable patients who may not have the ability to speak out when there are problems. I also want to look at whistleblowing, and support staff who want to flag problems but may not feel confident in doing so. We need to look at range of areas, but I very much take my hon. Friend’s points and I will look into the petition urgently today.
Mental health services are overstretched not only in hospitals but in those services that provide support before patients become so ill that they need to go into hospital. What are the Government doing to support the very overstretched early intervention services?
As I highlighted to the Father of the House, we are increasing the mental health workforce dramatically, with 27,000 extra mental health workers in the system. We have already increased those numbers this year, compared with last year. We are also providing self-referral mechanisms for patients. For psychological and talking therapies patients can now refer themselves without having to go and see a GP, and more than 1 million patients have taken up that offer. I fully agree with the hon. Lady that early intervention is a key factor, and we are supporting early intervention services so that patients can access them more easily and we have the staff to make that happen.
I thank colleagues across the House for their kind remarks. We must also pay tribute to the parents, who have so resolutely stuck at this campaign for two and a half years, and we now have these reports. I recognise what the Father of the House said: we admire the work that people do in this sector. It is so difficult. But in these particular instances, we had three young women whose needs were known. It was not as if they came by surprise —those families camped outside the hospital saying, “This hospital is killing my child”. Michael, Christie’s dad, cycled down to London. These issues were known by the families and by the parents. I welcome the Minister’s consideration of a public inquiry and a wider inquiry, but I ask that she meet me, the families and colleagues to discuss these matters. The purpose of this is to secure truth, justice and change. We need change in this environment hook line and sinker. A fundamental review is needed, and I trust the Minister will meet us to discuss these matters further.
May I put on record my thanks to the hon. Gentleman for all he has done in raising these issues and supporting families? He is right. One area of concern with mental health care—we have also seen inquiries into maternity services—is that often patients and families have flagged issues and raised concerns to regulators and the individual trust, but they go unheard.
That is why I want to look at things such as making the whistleblowing process easier. The CQC recognises that and is changing its inspection process to ensure that families, staff, friends and patients have input into inspections. That is also why we introduced the patient safety commissioner, who took up her role in September, so that patients, staff and families have another avenue for raising concerns. If they feel that they are not being listened to at a local level, they have someone to go to who will raise concerns on their behalf.
It is absolutely devastating that the families recognised the problems and their voices were not heard. I would be very happy to meet him and the families to discuss that further.
I join in the tributes to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald). As he and others have said, the report into the tragedy that saw three young women die in the north-east points to multiple failures by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which still struggles to deliver the services that our community needs.
The Minister will agree that the trust must learn from the tragedy, but it needs much more support to drive up standards and avoid more deaths. The trust, like many others, struggles to recruit the professional staff that it needs, because they are simply not available. I also question whether it has the capacity to drive the rapid improvement that we need. What plans does she have to intervene at the trust? What will she do to ensure that it and others can recruit the people they desperately need?
As I said in my opening remarks, the trust is taking a number of steps urgently to improve its services, from investing £5 million on reducing ligature risks right through to looking at how it develops and implements care plans. However, the response must be wider than the individual trust. We must ensure that when inspections take place, they pick up the red flags that will alert someone to the problems happening in a unit. The CQC is also changing its inspection processes. It is vital that patients, staff and families can raise concerns if they have them and that they are properly inspected. We need to address this issue at a national level. The trust is not an isolated example—there have been a number of incidences—and both I and the Secretary of State want to be satisfied about exactly where the problems are occurring and that we have a national response, not just individual trusts having to deal with problems themselves.
With young people’s mental health, we often talk about access to preventive services. That is hugely important, but here we have a tragedy of three young people who were in a mental health facility and sadly lost their lives. One can only send out our thoughts to their families and friends. As we review the mental health strategy and the suicide prevention strategy, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that the lessons learned are incorporated?
I take the hon. Lady’s points. Indeed, legislation on the use of restraint has recently come in, which would have influenced some of the actions that perhaps happened previously. We also have the draft Mental Health Bill undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny in the other place, which may provide an opportunity to reconsider some of these issues. This place can inform that legislation going forward. I will obviously update the House on its progress.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Too many families are concerned about their loved ones as they wait ever longer for treatment, particularly in children’s mental health services. The Minister said that she wants to look at the system as a whole, so what conversations is she having with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up regarding local government, and local government finances in particular, ahead of the fiscal statement in a couple of weeks? Overstretched and underfunded children’s services in local councils up and down our country are often on the frontline of the crisis in children’s mental health.
The Secretary of State will be having discussions around the autumn statement with colleagues not just in local government but across Departments. The failings that we have seen are of in-patient facilities—these young women had accessed treatment—so the issues are interlinked, but my main concern is about the safety of in-patient facilities. That is where my focus will be over the coming days.
The challenges are not confined to the Tees, Esk and Wear valleys, because the trust also extends to York. The extent of the trust and the size of the organisation perhaps explain some of the challenges. The reality is that the challenges are systemic and widespread. The trust has had 10 years of failed CQC reports, which should have easily raised a flag with the Department way before these tragedies occurred. As well as the steps that the Minister has proposed today, there should be a judge-led public inquiry into what is happening across mental health facilities. Nothing less will do.
I thank the hon. Lady for making those points. As she knows, one of the facilities was closed in 2019 because of failing inspections and it has since reopened under another organisation, so action is taken where failings are found. My concern is that failings are often missed. That is why the director of mental health at NHS England wrote to every single trust on 13 September asking them urgently to review their services. As I said, I am taking advice and will report to the House in the coming days about what action we will be taking.
I thank the Minister very much for her answers. It feels like new cases of abuse of our vulnerable are coming to light weekly and it shakes our society to its very core. Every one of us is annoyed at what has happened. Humanity is judged by how we treat our most vulnerable and it appears that failures just continue to happen over and over again. How can the thousands of facilities that are doing right by their patients have trust in a system that sees them judged by the gross actions of others? Can the Minister confirm the additional support to ensure every facility has adequate staff and that controls are in place?
The hon. Member is right and that is why I want to review at a national level. We are seeing a number of cases coming forward of unacceptable care in in-patient facilities. As more cases come forward, that gives confidence for others to speak out about the care that they or their loved ones received. That is why I want to take a national approach. Whether looking at staffing levels, practice, the ability to whistleblow when there are concerns, or the inspection process itself, we need to make sure that wherever someone is receiving mental health provision they are safe while they are receiving that care.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 7 November will include:
Monday 7 November—Second Reading of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 8 November—Opposition day (7th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Wednesday 9 November—Debate on a motion on the UK response to the human rights and economic situation in Sri Lanka, followed by a general debate on levelling up rural Britain. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
The House will rise for the November recess at close of business on Wednesday 9 November and return on Monday 14 November.
The provisional business for the week commencing 14 November includes:
Monday 14 November—General debate on the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, followed by a general debate on Ukraine.
Tuesday 15 November—Opposition day (8th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Wednesday 16 November—Remaining stages of the National Security Bill.
Thursday 17 November—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make his autumn statement, followed by business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 18 November—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 21 November includes:
Monday 21 November—Second Reading of the Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords].
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, who is on a Bill Committee, reminded me that it is the 183rd anniversary of the Chartist uprising in her city of Newport. Working people marching against an ineffective Government, high prices and low wages, and demanding more frequent elections—does that sound familiar? The Chartists knew how precious democracy was. Sadly, we have not had an election yet this year, but we have had three Prime Ministers, and I wonder what the Chartists would have made of that.
I am glad to see the Leader of the House in her place and not joining the former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) down under for any bushtucker trials. We know that she enjoys business questions far too much for that, but we also know that she is a bit partial to reality TV, so perhaps I can suggest something a little closer to home. I hear that Channel 4 might be commissioning another season of “Make Me Prime Minister”. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) fancies his chances on “A Place in the Sun”. The whole Government really ought to get themselves on to something that they are actually good at; I understand that applications for “Pointless” have now opened.
Last week, I asked the Leader of the House to wake up the Environment Secretary and warn her that she had just three days left to set the targets on air quality, water, biodiversity and resource efficiency. Unfortunately, when the Leader of the House did not manage to wake her up and she hit the snooze button, she missed the deadline. Is it too much to ask that Cabinet Ministers actually do the job that they are paid to do? When will the Leader of the House get the Secretary of State to meet those legally required targets?
The measures in the Energy Bill are essential for reaching net zero. I understand that much of that Bill has been consulted on and agreed, so why is there more delay? Last week, the COP26 President lost his place at the Cabinet table, and the Prime Minister has finally given in on the hokey-cokey COP27 saga and is grudgingly popping over briefly. Labour is serious about green economic growth, energy security, bringing down people’s bills and winning the race to net zero. We have a plan for all that, but the Tories clearly do not. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether they are planning to drop the Energy Bill—yes or no?
I have raised concerns about the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip ripping off taxpayers by making them pick up the bill for his legal advice in relation to the Privileges Committee’s investigation into him. The Cabinet Office said that it is okay because he was acting as Prime Minister. No—he is being investigated as an ordinary Member of Parliament by a parliamentary Committee for possibly misleading Parliament. Does the Leader of the House think that the former Prime Minister should pay back the £129,700 of taxpayers’ money?
I was surprised to see Scottish National party Members claiming that yesterday’s 38-nil vote on their motion gave them a mandate for a referendum on independence. Even the Prime Minister got more votes than that—just. The recent instalment of the Scottish Government independence papers has been slammed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies as even worse than the Tories’ mini-Budget. Perhaps the SNP ought to focus on sorting out its spiralling A&E waiting times and its struggling-to-function transport network, instead of pursuing its obsession with a referendum. That word did not even appear in the motion.
This morning, we expect the biggest interest rate rise in decades. Under the Tories, we have rising mortgages, rising rents, supermarket prices up by 17% and the price of a basic bowl of pasta up by a fifth, yet the Government still refuse to bring in Labour’s windfall tax on oil and gas giants, despite energy profits doubling. No one voted for this Prime Minister; he has no mandate. Tories are on the side of the richest 1%; Labour is on the side of working people, pensioners and communities. So it is not just the former Health Secretary who ought to be screaming, “I’m a Tory...Get Me Out of Here!” It is time that the public had the chance to vote the rest of them out. When will the Government give the country the choice between their failing trickle-down economics of the past and a fresh start and a bright future with a Labour Government?
The Chartists were right: democracy is very important, which is why this Government will implement the manifesto on which we stood in 2019, for which we received an overwhelming mandate from the British people.
I send my good wishes and, I hope, those of everyone in this House to our sportsmen and women for their upcoming matches: the men’s cricket team, the rugby league team—I know you are interested in rugby league, Mr Speaker—and especially the England women’s rugby team, who have a semi-final coming up.
The hon. Lady mentions the latest adventures of the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock). When I heard that a colleague was volunteering to be squeezed into small spaces with slippery creatures, that they would have to swallow unpalatable things to achieve their goals, and that their credibility and dignity were in jeopardy, I assumed that people were talking about a Member on the Opposition Front Bench, not the right hon. Member for West Suffolk.
The hon. Lady kindly reminisces about my time on “Splash!”. Hon. Members may find it hard to believe, given that the elegance of my performance was compared at the time to that of a paving slab being pushed off a scaffold, but I did actually have training. None of my time was spent away from this House. I have helped to save the Hilsea lido, which is currently being restored to its 1930s glory with help from the levelling-up fund.
The hon. Lady refers to policies and delay—high praise indeed from an Opposition who have no plan and no clue about any topic we might care to name. This is controversial stuff: Secretaries of State are going to be allowed to express their views on their departmental policy area. I know; it is radical stuff. Major investment decisions will be reflected on and discussed across Whitehall. In these volatile economic times, people will be thinking about how they can get the most for taxpayers for their money, but we are conscious that decisions on investment will need to be made and that decisions are needed to reassure people on fixed incomes in particular. Those decisions need to be the right ones: that is grown-up, joined-up, stepped-up government. I remind the Opposition that it took a mere two years for the Leader of the Opposition to ditch all his pledges—not so much a bonfire of the policies, more a puff of smoke.
The hon. Lady mentions the conference of the parties. I thank her for that, because it affords me and all Members of this House the opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the COP26 President, who has done a tremendous job. The UK should be proud of our record in the area: we are the first major economy to commit to a legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2030.
On the matter of legal advice, it is standard practice that Ministers would have legal advice under those circumstances.
I agree with what the hon. Lady says about our friends in the Scottish National party. One of the great joys of my job and hers is explaining our procedures and practices to people outside this place. SNP Members chose not to use their Opposition day debate to talk about health, education, care, opportunity, social mobility, business, farming or anything else related to the Scottish people. There were no surprises in the topic that they chose or in how they squandered their precious time on the Floor of the House. Their motion is not a mandate; it was not even a binding motion. What was surprising was that not all the SNP voted for it, but there we go.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not mention cost of living issues or the fact that this week we are celebrating the welcome £150 core council tax rebate, the second instalment of the £400 energy bills support scheme and the launch of the energy price guarantee in Northern Ireland. Nor did she have any word of sympathy for the travelling public, who will face further strike action on the railways. We will always speak up for working people and the travelling public. I still live in hope that the Opposition might support our legislation.
Further business will be announced in the usual way.
Earlier this year, I launched a work experience campaign for local young people, as placements had dried up as a result of covid. I am very grateful to companies such as Rebellion, Hachette and Astroscale for taking part. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking them? Does she agree that whatever arrangements employers make for their staff to work at home, they must not forget to provide work experience placements in the workplace, because they are a key way for young people to learn the skills that they need?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work to ensure that all young people in his constituency have access to good work experience, which is part of the journey in establishing norms that are sometimes not established at home or at school. We should be grateful that we have record low youth unemployment, but we want to do everything to ensure that such opportunities are available to everyone in our communities.
Last week the Leader of the House asked me a question, Mr Speaker—and I will answer it, now that I have the opportunity.
The Leader of the House quoted those anonymous but, of course, completely legit—I will pause for a knowing wink here—sources from the EU who apparently told eager journalists something that we have actually all known for a very long time: that countries applying to join the EU, as Scotland can once it regains its independence, must commit themselves to joining the euro at some point in the future. Now, the Leader of the House may not know this, but there are in fact seven countries that have been in the EU for between nine and 27 years and still use their own choice of currency—Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Romania —so that is not quite the gotcha that Unionists thought it was.
Given the slide in the value of the pound, from $1.64 in 2014 to just $1.13 today, and after the mad ride of the last few weeks, I am not sure that this Government think all that much of the pound anyway. For the purpose of further useful insights for both the Leader of the House and the Labour Front Benchers, enabling them to acquire some grown-up, stepped-up facts on the issues, I suggest that they look out the series of papers that the Scottish Government are producing on all things Scottish independence. A debate on those would, I think, be very useful to the House.
COP27 will take place next week. I was pleased to learn that the Prime Minister has relented and will now be joining our First Minister at Sharm El-Sheikh, but once the dust has settled on that world event, there really should be a Government debate on the outcomes of COP, examining the role that the UK Government played in negotiations and, crucially, how they intend to step up to their responsibilities in tackling the climate crisis. We cannot allow the terrible economic crisis that we face, or even Russia’s dreadful war in Ukraine, to deflect us from our climate obligations. UN reports have warned that the world is close to irreversible breakdown, with no credible path to even the 1.5° C global warming target.
According to a Public Accounts Committee report released on Wednesday, the UK Government’s commitment that the public sector should “lead by example” in meeting net zero is not being fulfilled. The report criticised the poor quality of emissions measuring and reporting, among other things. Just this week, we learned that parts of this place are apparently producing and leaking heat at an alarming rate. I hope the Leader of the House will be taking up those findings with the House services, and I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will be taking an interest in them as well. The Prime Minister and his Ministers need to front up and reassure the House and the public that they are taking their climate responsibilities seriously. A debate on this in Government time is essential.
I thank the hon. Lady for doing the homework that I set her last week. I take it all back: she has had a really productive week, figuring out how to square the establishment of the Scottish pound with joining the euro. We appreciate that very much. However, I say to the SNP again that these are not the issues on the Scottish people’s list of priorities. They are worried about health, about poor education standards, and about their bins being collected. We had an amazing situation last night, when Madam Deputy Speaker had to include herself and the Tellers in the count to make the House quorate. The debate is so far removed from the reality of what is happening in Scotland that Members on both sides of the House are not even prepared to show up to disagree with the Scottish nationalists. I would just ask them to drag themselves back to the real world.
I am pleased to hear about the paper that is being produced. I look forward to its including the almost £1.5 billion that the UK Government have committed for 12 city and growth deals covering every part of Scotland, the £42 million for Scottish fisheries, the £1.9 billion for farmers and land managers over the next three years, the £52 million to support the establishment of two Scottish green freeports, the £179 million levelling-up funding for eight Scottish projects, and, of course, the support given for 1,700 jobs through the fantastic £3.7 billion type 26 shipbuilding programme at BAE Systems’ Govan yard, of which I particularly approve. I look forward to the inclusion of all those things in the paper.
A recent Home Office decision to house 400 asylum seekers in two hotels just 50 metres apart in Erewash is a prime example of Members routinely being cut out of decision making by Government Departments. Had I been asked about the accommodation centres, I would have opposed them, due to the unacceptable pressure they will place on services in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate an urgent meeting for me, the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister, so that I can put the case for the immediate closure of those centres? Will she also consider adding local Members to the list of statutory consultees when such decision are made, so that we have a formal say in key decisions affecting our constituents?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Sadly, she is not alone; I think there are colleagues who have had similar experiences. She will understand that this is an incredibly difficult and complex issue that the Home Office is trying to manage. We want to bring forward legislation swiftly that will help us to tackle the issue, and I hope that all Members will support us in that aim. Clearly, it is unhelpful when Members are not made aware of what is happening, particularly as the local authority will need to prepare, and so will need as much notice as possible. Home Office questions are on 14 November, and I will also write on my hon. Friend’s behalf to the Home Office, and ask it to address the issue swiftly.
I thank the Leader of the House for the statement, and for announcing the Backbench Business debates that will be held next Wednesday. I am sure that we will also have the tasty morsel of a debate in the afternoon after the autumn statement. May I ask Members from across the House who have live applications for a debate registered with the Backbench Business Committee, and who are on the waiting list for a slot for debate, to please respond as quickly as possible when contacted by Committee staff about slots that become available at relatively short notice? It would really help oil the wheels of the machine if responses were more timely.
I have a special entreaty to the Leader of the House on behalf of two constituents, Mr David Shanley and Chelsie Scott. They have systematically and repeatedly been let down by the almost totally unresponsive Home Office visa application and appeal system. My office and I have received the same non-responsive treatment, despite making repeated requests on my constituents’ behalf over the past three years. Six months after their appeal, these people are still waiting for the paperwork confirming the outcome of the appeal. The outcome was in their favour, but they cannot tell anyone about it, because they do not have official recognition of the outcome.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful guidance on Backbench Business Committee admin, which I am sure all Members will have heard. May I say how sorry I am to hear about the case that he raised? He will know that I recently met the permanent secretary at the Home Office, in addition to having raised Members’ concerns with the Home Secretary, and if he gives us the details of the case, we will, immediately after the business question, facilitate a surgery for him with the Home Office to ensure that the case is brought to a good conclusion.
The Home Affairs Committee was hoping to visit Manston today, but the man from the Home Office, he say no. Hopefully we can go next week. As the Leader of the House has heard, most of the questions she has been asked so far have been about the migration system. The Home Secretary herself referred to it as dysfunctional. We have had occasional chances to ask questions of the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister, but is it not time for a full debate in Government time on the shambles that is the immigration system, which needs to take a holistic approach? We need a proper discussion on how we will tackle this urgent situation, which is filling up our email boxes and is the headline in all the media virtually every day at the moment.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue, various aspects of which are obviously of concern to all Members of this House. The Government have a good track record of trying to get ahead of these issues. I refer him to the work done swiftly after 2010, under the Cameron Administration, on conflict states, and the use made of expert advice from Professor Paul Collier. Clearly, we will also face challenges two years hence as a result of what is happening on global food security at the moment. These issues need to be debated. I will certainly raise the matter with the Cabinet Office, as well as the Home Office, and I encourage my hon. Friend to use the routes available to him to secure a debate on this very important topic.
Twenty-six per cent. of children in York are living in poverty. Ahead of the Chancellor’s statement, which we are expecting in two weeks’ time, York had a summit this week on the cost of living, where I launched my cost of living handbook to explain where people can both receive help and get help. We need the Chancellor to come forward with that help, because there is not enough money in the system to help the very poorest. Will the Leader of the House make representations to the Chancellor that he needs to increase benefits in line with inflation and to ensure that our civil society has the support it needs to help our communities?
I point to the Prime Minister’s record on this as Chancellor. He has been very clear that he wants to protect people as we face what will be a very difficult winter and beyond. I have just announced that the Chancellor will make a statement very shortly. There is a huge number of support schemes—we are doing a lot to support people—but they are quite complicated, so I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing them all together in her booklet.