Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 730: debated on Wednesday 22 March 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 22 March 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

I have a short statement to make. Today marks the sixth anniversary of the death of PC Keith Palmer, who died in the line of duty protecting this Parliament from terrorist attack. His sacrifice will not be forgotten. May I express on behalf of the whole House our sympathy with his family, friends and colleagues on this sad anniversary?

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Belfast Agreement Anniversary

Mr Speaker, may I associate myself and everyone in the House with your comments about PC Keith Palmer on this anniversary? May I also remind the House that yesterday marked 30 years since the IRA’s Warrington bomb? My thoughts are with those who were affected by this atrocity, which caused the death of two young children, Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, and injured 54 others. It is a reminder of the terrible cost of the troubles and of the vital importance of maintaining peace and improving political stability in Northern Ireland, and I am grateful to all those who continue to promote peace and reconciliation in our society.

Last week, I visited the United States for the St Patrick’s day celebrations, and I am keenly aware that that the eyes of the world will be on Northern Ireland in the month ahead as we prepare to mark the Belfast/Good Friday agreement’s 25th anniversary. A host of events, big and small, civic, private and public, are being organised, many by Queen’s University Belfast, to mark this important anniversary.

The 25th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement is significant, not just in the history of Northern Ireland but for the whole of the United Kingdom. How will my right hon. Friend’s Department ensure that this historic moment is recognised appropriately in every part of the country?

I agree with my hon. Friend that this historic moment is an achievement not just for Northern Ireland but for the entire United Kingdom. We have an educational initiative that is going to offer young people across the United Kingdom an opportunity to engage with the anniversary by learning about the journey to the agreement and its crucial role in providing peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. Obviously, 25 years on, we are no less committed to achieving that aim.

The Good Friday agreement is undoubtedly one of the proudest moments of the last Labour Government, and the Labour party is proud of its part in it and of the work of Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam and many others. Strand 2, on the North South Ministerial Council, is often overlooked, so can I ask the Minister whether, as we move forward with the Windsor framework, the bodies involved will have an important role to play in improving prosperity in Northern Ireland, and how he sees that developing?

All three strands of the agreement are vital, and all need to be working, but the hon. Gentleman is completely right to say that strand 2 and the council are very important as we move forward from this point. Twenty-five years of peace and stability have flowed from the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and I would like to think, as we look forward, that we will have not just peace and stability but prosperity for the next 25 years.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I associate myself with your important words about PC Keith Palmer?

It has been reported that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has requested 330 officers from other UK forces for support during the forthcoming presidential visit by President Biden next month. Can the Secretary of State confirm that his Department will continue to work closely with the PSNI during this challenging period and anticipate any assistance that it might need?

We have a number of big visitors coming to Northern Ireland to mark this important anniversary, and I know that the PSNI is remarkably well organised in preparing for this. Of course the Government will happily support the PSNI in its endeavours.

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s words. The PSNI will also need support after Air Force One departs. Due to a funding shortfall, officer numbers will soon fall to a record low. In fact, there will be 800 fewer officers than agreed in New Decade, New Approach. Does he think this is fair for a force that faces unique challenges on a daily basis?

First, I pay tribute to all the officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland for all the work they do across communities, and to the Chief Constable. He has brought in community policing, of which most of us will be cognisant in our own areas but which is almost new in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Gentleman knows, policing is devolved to the Executive. I am well aware of the Chief Constable’s asks in this area, and I am talking to him about them.

Stormont Brake

I encourage my hon. Friend to attend today’s debate, in this Chamber, on the regulations implementing this powerful democratic mechanism. In short, 30 Members of the Legislative Assembly from two political parties may use the brake if there is anything significantly different about a new rule, whether in its content or scope, and if its application will have a significant impact on everyday life that is liable to persist in Northern Ireland.

Even if a significant number of MLAs object to a proposal from the EU, the decision to veto it will still rest with the UK Government, and there will no doubt be an institutional reluctance to use the veto, as it would be met with retaliatory action from the EU. Given the likely impact on UK-EU relations and wider trade, it is surely very unlikely that the Stormont brake will ever be used, even if MLAs want it to be triggered.

With respect, my hon. Friend underestimates the power of this mechanism. The Government will be under a legal obligation to trigger the brake where the conditions under the Windsor framework are met. Compared with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, this is a significant advancement because the remedial measures he talks about, should the EU choose to take them, would be proportionate and would have to relate to NI-to-EU trade, whereas under the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill it would have been across the piece.

Nobody wants to use this mechanism for trivial reasons but, once it is triggered, the regulations set out that the Government must not agree a rule at the Joint Committee if there is not cross-community support for it in the Assembly or if it creates regulatory borders within the United Kingdom, unless there are exceptional circumstances such as Stormont not sitting or a foot and mouth disease outbreak, or something of that nature.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, rather than an emergency brake, this is more like a handbrake? A handbrake will stop, rather than slow, a moving car. The only brake on acceleration can come from the EU, which retains complete control over Northern Ireland and, by extension, over the will of this House, which it should not. That is both a tragedy and a travesty.

Essentially, if the Assembly says no to something, the presumption is that the Government would veto it. Without this measure, Northern Ireland would continue to have full and automatic dynamic alignment with EU goods rules, with the Northern Ireland Assembly having no say and no veto on the amendment or replacement of measures. The Stormont brake is a very good thing.

Northern Ireland Businesses: Access to UK Market

3. What steps the Government is taking to ensure that businesses in Northern Ireland have full access to the UK internal market. (904194)

The Windsor framework restores the free flow of trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The agreement guarantees unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the UK market on a permanent basis, and we have secured alternative arrangements that remove any proposed requirement to provide export declarations or equivalent information for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

Rother Valley has many amazing businesses, especially butchers such as G. Lomas in South Anston, Grays of Thurcroft, Stuart Saunders in Maltby and Lawns Farm in Morthen. I want everyone to try their products. What assurances can the Minister give me that everyone, no matter where they are in the United Kingdom, can taste Rother Valley sausage?

I am delighted to confirm to my hon. Friend that residents of Northern Ireland will be able to enjoy the sausages produced by the great businesses in his constituency. The framework ends the ban on chilled meats, such as sausages and seasoned lamb joints, meaning that supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland will be able to stock the products that customers want and have bought for years.

But the reality for my constituents, and businesses such as McCartney’s delicatessen in Moira, is that although they can bring in sausages from Yorkshire or any other part of the UK that are made to British standards, the sausages they make in Northern Ireland, part of the UK, have to be made to EU standards, because EU law applies to all manufactured goods in Northern Ireland. So why is it right to bring sausages from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and sell them in Northern Ireland, but it is not right to sell British sausages made in Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland?

I understand the force and passion with which the right hon. Gentleman makes this point, but he knows that what we have done is reduce the extent of EU law in Northern Ireland to the absolute minimum consistent with keeping open an infrastructure-free border with the Republic of Ireland. I appreciate that this is a compromise that for many people will go too far, but I believe it is the right decision in these circumstances.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The reality is that Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market has not been fully restored by the Windsor framework, because EU law applies to all manufactured goods in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that of £77 billion-worth of goods manufactured in Northern Ireland £65 billion are sold in the UK. All of those goods must comply with EU law, regardless of where they are sold. Can we not get back to the proposals in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which mean that UK law applies unless a business wants to trade with the EU, in which case it must follow EU law?

On the proposal for dual regulation, that was not what constituent businesses in Northern Ireland wanted. At some point, even unrelenting figures such as myself do need to compromise and give the voters what they want. I recognise that compromise is extremely difficult. We are in a position where we have an opportunity to move forward together. The right hon. Gentleman knows, as I do, that the manufacturing of most of the kinds of goods to which he is referring is done to international standards. So given all the circumstances, this is a reasonable compromise for Northern Ireland.

Investment in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland economy has the ingredients required for economic success: exceptional talent, creativity, innovation and a healthy spirit of private sector entrepreneurship. Last week, the Secretary of State was delighted to visit the United States, and next week I will be visiting the USA and Canada to promote the excellent investment opportunities in Northern Ireland. We are, of course, also planning an investment summit.

One way to attract foreign direct investment is by creating the right regulatory climate. The Minister has been a strong advocate for post-Brexit regulatory reform to make our rules more competitive, targeted, agile and modern. So when does he think we will get to the position where we can do that in Northern Ireland, in the same way that Brexit allows us to do it in Great Britain?

My right hon. Friend and I have walked a long way in these various battles together and she knows very well what she asks me. On goods, we have to make sure that we can keep open an infrastructure-free north-south border, but the unique position of Northern Ireland is that on services regulation it will be subject to UK law and UK trade agreements. So where we have comparative advantage, particularly in Northern Ireland on issues such as fintech, we will be subject to UK law and UK regulation and have access to global markets through the kind of trade agreements and services that it is in all of our interests to strike, in order to serve the comparative advantage of the whole UK. This is the unique opportunity now facing Northern Ireland, and I want us all to seize it in every way we can.

Northern Ireland now has the highest percentage accessibility of gigabit-capable broadband in the UK, with a figure twice that of the Republic of Ireland and one of the highest in the world. Will the Minister ensure that the energy infrastructure is such to complement that, thereby offering one of the best inward investment and indigenous business opportunities anywhere in the world?

The hon. Gentleman will know that energy is devolved. I hope that he will join me in doing everything possible to ensure that the maximum investment can be made in Northern Ireland. He knows exactly what he and his colleagues need to do to help me to serve him and serve Northern Ireland: restore the devolved institutions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in restoring the balance of the Belfast agreement the best approach is to pass the Windsor framework today in this place, and that we have to be pragmatic and open our eyes to the many opportunities, courtesy of inward investment, that will then follow for the benefit of all communities in the Province?

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. The reality is that the Windsor framework is a dramatic improvement on the protocol. I do not think that anyone can reasonably argue otherwise. Of course, it includes compromises. Neither I, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister is suggesting that it does not. The question that everyone needs to answer is whether this is a step forward for Northern Ireland. I am absolutely sure that it is, and I agree with my hon. Friend.

Tourism spending is also very important. The Minister will be aware that the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance is very concerned about the application of the forthcoming electronic travel authorisation to the sector in Northern Ireland, given our unique marketing and unique offer. Will the Minister work with the Home Office to try to find a practical solution to that problem?

I am well aware of the case the hon. Gentleman makes. Of course, we are in conversation with Home Office colleagues. The Government’s position is that we are determined to make sure that tourists understand that they will need to comply with UK immigration requirements to visit the UK, and that means that they will need that travel authorisation to go to Northern Ireland. I am aware of the concerns of tourism authorities north and south, and indeed the concerns of the Irish Government. We continue to take those seriously as we talk with the Home Office.

Jonathan Haskel, an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, has estimated that Brexit has resulted in the loss of approximately £29 billion of business investment to the UK as a whole. Does the Minister believe that the Windsor framework will undo the proportion of the damage that has been done to the Northern Irish economy? If so, why does he consider the market access that that framework underpins to be good enough for one part of the United Kingdom but not good enough for the rest of us?

I am honoured that the hon. Gentleman should think that, on the fly, I would be able to do my own economic modelling on that subject. It is undoubtedly the case that the political turmoil of the last several years has been unhelpful. I say to the hon. Gentleman—and this should be a salutary lesson to everybody on his party’s Benches—that it is extremely important that when the public vote for a thing, they get the thing they voted for. The public voted for the whole UK to stay together in a once-in-a-generation referendum on Scottish independence, and then the UK as a whole voted to leave the European Union—and that is what we will deliver.

Troubles-related Crime

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which continues its passage through Parliament, will establish an independent body to conduct reviews of troubles-related deaths and serious injury, with the primary objective of providing information to families, victims and survivors. The Bill seeks to ensure that the process for dealing with the past focuses on measures that can deliver positive outcomes for as many people affected by the troubles as possible.

Legacy is an extremely complex and sensitive issue. In setting up an effective information recovery process, we must ensure that power is in the hands of victims and their families rather than the perpetrators. What consultations have the Department had with victims and their families, to ensure that the right balance is achieved?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that legacy remains a highly complex and difficult issue. The Government are absolutely determined to deliver mechanisms that deliver better outcomes for those most affected by the troubles, including victims and their families. I know that no solution we will ever find will be perfect or easy, but we are working tirelessly to find a practical way forward via the legacy Bill. As for engagement, I and my ministerial colleagues have had over 60, nearly 70, engagements with groups and individuals, and we continue to meet people on a regular basis.

The Government have made some changes to the legacy Bill during its passage through this House. If the changes are not enough and all Northern Ireland parties vote against it again on its return to the House, will the Secretary of State commit to a different approach, as reconciliation cannot be imposed on Northern Ireland?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place and hope that all is well with the shadow Minister he is replacing, the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi). The hon. Gentleman has big shoes to fill, but that is a good start. I thank him for noticing what is going on in the other place, where we have already tabled amendments that seek to address a number of key issues raised by the stakeholders we have been meeting, including compliance with the European convention on human rights, strengthening the commission’s independence, sanctions for individuals found guilty of lying to the commission, and stronger incentives for individuals to engage with the commission. We will table more such amendments on Report, when I hope we can get everybody on board, or at least to acknowledge that we are doing a decent job.

Belfast Agreement: Human Rights

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on human rights commitments in the Belfast agreement. (904197)

The UK Government are steadfastly committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the institutions and rights established by it. We recognise the importance of the right safeguards and equality of opportunity provisions within the agreement to the people of Northern Ireland, and the Secretary of State discusses the subject regularly with Cabinet colleagues.

The Good Friday agreement led to peace in Northern Ireland and enshrined human rights in Northern Irish law, yet the Tories’ Bill of Rights is nothing but a rights removal Bill. Does the Minister recognise that the proposed Bill would therefore be a breach of an international agreement, the Good Friday agreement?

No, not at all. I confess that I thought the hon. Lady was going to ask me about the Bill of Rights provisions in the agreement itself, but she ought to know that the parties have been working together towards that Bill of Rights and it will need consensus to deliver a framework in Northern Ireland. Of course the UK continues to be committed to the ECHR.

Windsor Framework: Economic Competitiveness

7. Whether he has made a comparative assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the Windsor framework on economic competitiveness in (a) Northern Ireland and (b) the rest of the UK. (904198)

10. Whether he has made a comparative assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the Windsor framework on economic competitiveness in (a) Northern Ireland and (b) the rest of the UK. (904201)

13. Whether he has made a comparative assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the Windsor framework on economic competitiveness in (a) Northern Ireland and (b) the rest of the UK. (904204)

The Windsor framework restores the free flow of trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland through a green lane, guarantees Northern Ireland businesses unfettered access to the UK market on a permanent basis, and offers a whole host of other benefits.

The Prime Minister described Northern Ireland as

“the world’s most exciting economic zone”,

being in the UK market and having access to the European market. Does the Secretary of State agree with that assessment? If he does, does that not mean that the rest of the UK’s nations are at a disadvantage, being less exciting for only being part of the UK market?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging what a good deal the Windsor framework is. As the Prime Minister has said, Northern Ireland will now be in the unique position of not only being part of the UK internal market—the fifth biggest market in the world—but enjoying the EU single market. As part of the UK, Northern Ireland’s businesses and consumers are able to benefit from the new trade agreements that we are able to negotiate and the new UK regulatory regime for trade and services that we can have outside the European Union.

By the Secretary of State’s and the Prime Minister’s own admission, Northern Ireland is in a better economic position than the rest of the UK because of its place in the European single market. The Prime Minister also said that would lead to more companies investing in Northern Ireland, but that will not be new money. If companies are investing more in Northern Ireland, that means they will be investing less in the rest of the UK. Would the Secretary of State see that as a win-win?

I think the hon. Lady has completely missed the point. There is a huge amount of inward investment that wants to flow into Northern Ireland from outside these isles—and, yes, we should be welcoming inward investment into Northern Ireland, because prosperity builds on the peace and stability that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement has brought for the last 25 years. That is why we should all welcome the Windsor framework.

Scotland, like Northern Ireland, rejected Brexit. Both were dragged out of the EU despite voting to remain. Yet Northern Ireland has retained access to the EU single market and the economic benefits it brings. Does the Minister agree that Scotland should have a similar deal in order to be as economically competitive as Northern Ireland?

With the greatest respect, the positions of Northern Ireland and the other nations of the UK are, as I have said before, not completely comparable. Northern Ireland is undoubtedly a wonderful place, but it has a complex and troubled history—we have talked about the wonders of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which is marking its 25th anniversary. It also has a land border, the only one between the UK and the EU. That has brought added complications, so the Windsor framework is in place to safeguard the achievements of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the hard-won gains of the peace process. It recognises those unique circumstances, including the all-Ireland dimensions of economic life between Northern Ireland and Ireland and the need to avoid a hard border.

I strongly support the Windsor framework and welcome the veterinary and sanitary and phytosanitary measures. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on progress towards securing the long-term supply of veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland, and smoothing the safe movement of animals between GB and Northern Ireland to include not only pets but farm animals and horses?

My hon. Friend knows a great deal about this subject. As he knows, a grace period on veterinary medicines is in place until the end of December 2025. I would like to think that the new atmosphere that has been created between the United Kingdom and the European Union as we move forward has demonstrated that we can talk and negotiate about these things. We fully expect to be in a position to address all his concerns in good time.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I point out that live subtitles and a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings are available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Tomorrow is the National Day of Reflection, a Marie Curie-led initiative bringing together communities across the UK to remember family, friends, neighbours and colleagues we have lost. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Stoke-on-Trent City Council for supporting my call for a post box to heaven in Carmountside cemetery?

On the second anniversary of the tragic death of my constituent, two-year-old Harper-Lee Fanthorpe, who swallowed a button battery, will the Prime Minister thank her courageous mother, Stacy, for leading the campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of button batteries, and will he back my call for legislation to ensure greater product safety?

Of course I join my hon. Friend in thanking Stoke-on-Trent City Council. I am very sorry to hear of Harper-Lee’s tragic case, and my thoughts are with her friends and family, particularly her mother, Stacy. We are aware of the concerns about button batteries. The law is very clear that products available in the UK must be safe. The Office for Product and Safety Standards has published guidance for manufacturers on exactly that, and it is working with the Child Accident Prevention Trust to educate parents and childcare professionals on button battery safety.

Today we remember the innocent lives lost six years ago in the terror attack on Westminster bridge. Among those tragically killed was PC Keith Palmer, who sacrificed his life to protect others. Police officers up and down the country work tirelessly every day to keep us safe, and we thank them for that. But as we saw this week, those brave officers are being let down. Dame Louise Casey found institutional homophobia, misogyny and racism in the Metropolitan police. I accept those findings in full. Does the Prime Minister?

I join the right hon. and learned Gentleman in paying tribute to PC Palmer and, indeed, to all the other police officers who have lost their lives serving and those who do so much to keep us safe.

I was appalled to read the descriptions of the abhorrent cases of officers who have betrayed the public’s trust and abused their powers. Let me be clear: that is and was unacceptable and should never have happened. We have taken a series of steps already, and the Government will also now work with the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to ensure that culture, standards and behaviour all improve. At the heart of this matter are the people whose lives have been ruined by what has happened, and I know that the whole House will agree with me that it is imperative that the Met works hard to regain the trust of the people it is privileged to serve.

I take it from that answer that the Prime Minister does accept the Casey findings in full, including the institutional failures. Nobody reading the Casey report can be left in any doubt about how serious this is, or doubt for a second that it is restricted to the Met. The report lays bare how those unfit to join the police are aided by patchwork vetting systems that leave the door open. If the Government backed Labour’s plan for proper mandatory national vetting, we could end the farce that sees different police recruitment standards in different forces. Will he back that plan so that we can make speedy progress?

There is no need to back that plan, because we are already taking action to tackle the issues raised in the Casey report. Two months ago, I met Dame Louise Casey and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and we introduced a series of measures. For example, the College of Policing is currently updating the statutory code of practice for police officer vetting that all forces legally have to follow; all police forces are in the process of checking their officers against the police national database; and in weeks His Majesty’s independent inspectorate will report back on its reinspection of all forces’ vetting procedures. These steps will of course not undo the terrible damage done previously, but we owe this action and more to the victims and survivors to ensure that such tragedies never happen again.

The problem with the Prime Minister’s answer is that what he refers to is not mandatory. How can it possibly be right to have different standards for recruitment in different police forces? No wonder the Casey report criticised what Dame Louise calls the Government’s “hands-off” attitude to policing over the last 13 years, but let us call it what it really is: sheer negligence. The report also exposes chronic failures by the police to deal with rape cases, with officers using “overstuffed…or broken fridges” to store rape kits from victims. On his watch, the rape charge rate is 1.6%, yet the Government still have not backed Labour’s plan to have proper, high-quality rape and serious sexual offences units in every police force. Why not?

What Louise Casey also says is that primary public accountability of the Met sits with the Mayor of London. She described that relationship between the Mayor and the Met as “dysfunctional”. I hope that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman next stands up, he will confirm to the House that he will also take up these matters with the Labour Mayor of London so that he plays his part.

The way rape victims were treated by the criminal justice system was not good enough. That is why the Government published an ambitious rape review action plan. It is right that we have extended Operation Soteria across all police forces in the country. We have also tripled the number of independent sexual violence advisers, improved the processes of collecting phone evidence and cross-examination, and, since 2010, quadrupled funding for victim support services. That is a Conservative Government doing everything we can to support victims and tackle predators.

People are fed up to the back teeth with a Government who never take responsibility and just try to blame everyone else—[Interruption.] If Government Members are proud of the fact that over 98% of rapists are never put before a court, let them shout about it. They should be ashamed of themselves.

The truth is simple: after 13 years of Tory Government, crime is out of control and people are paying the price. Before Christmas, the BBC reported the shocking case of a woman in Armthorpe, who had been beaten with a baseball bat by burglars three years ago. No one had been charged with that burglary, and she could not sleep at night. Under this Government’s watch, tragically, that is not an unusual case. Can the Prime Minister tell us what is the charge rate for theft and burglary across the country?

Actually, since 2019, neighbourhood crime is down by 25%. The Leader of the Opposition rightly asked about what is happening with rape cases, so let me tell him that we are on track to meet our target of doubling the number of rape cases that are reaching our courts. Since the rape review action plan was published, we have seen police referrals double and charges double, and last year there was a 65% increase in rape convictions. Importantly, we also changed the law to ensure that rapists spend more time in prison. But what did Labour’s shadow Policing Minister say? “Prison doesn’t prevent crime.” That tells you everything you need to know about the Labour party. You cannot trust them to keep Britain safe.

The Prime Minister stands there and pretends that everything is fine. He is so totally out of touch. He needs to get out of Westminster, get out of Kensington—[Interruption.]

Order. Today is a big day in the House, and a very important day. We do want to make progress. Holding us up is not advantageous to any of us.

Mr Speaker, he needs to get out of Westminster, get out of Kensington—and I do not mean to Malibu, but to the streets of Britain. He needs to go there, tell people it is all fine and see what reaction he gets. The answer that he did not want to give, although he knows it, is 4%. So 96% of theft and burglary cases are not even going before the courts. Burglars are twice as likely to get away with it now as they were a decade ago. The Government should be ashamed of that record. That cul-de-sac in Armthorpe has apparently seen 10 burglaries in 18 months, but only one of them has resulted in a prosecution. So rather than boasting and blaming others, why does the Prime Minister not tell the country when he is going to get the theft and burglary charge rate back to where it was before they wrecked policing?

First of all, let me say that North Yorkshire is a lot further away than north London. [Interruption.]

Order. I like the lines as well, but I would prefer to hear them rather than the jeering. [Interruption.] Now, we are going to make progress. Mr Shelbrooke will be buying the teas in the Tea Room if he is not careful.

And they will be Yorkshire teas, Mr Speaker.

Since the Conservatives came to power, crime is down 50%, violent crime is down 40%, and burglary—the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned burglary—is down 56%. Why? Because we have recruited 20,000 more police officers, we have given them the powers to tackle crime, and we have kept serious offenders in prison for longer. All that the Opposition have done is vote against greater protections for emergency workers, oppose tougher sentences for violent criminals, and they are failing to give the police the powers they need. It is the same old Labour: soft on crime, soft on criminals.

The only criminal investigation that the Prime Minister has ever been involved in is the one that found him guilty of breaking the law. I have prosecuted countless rapists—[Interruption.]

Order. I am determined to hear these exchanges, whether from the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Sorry? I think you might be the first customer for tea, Mr Cairns. We keep having this little problem; we will have no more. Please, let us get through this and just show some respect to both people at the Dispatch Boxes.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have prosecuted countless rapists and I support tougher sentences, but you have to catch the criminals first, and when 98% of rapists are not even being put before the court, that is a massive failure of the Government. If the Prime Minister wants to go to Armthorpe, which is in Yorkshire, why does he not go to that cul-de-sac, when he gets out and about in Yorkshire, and ask about those 10 burglaries that have not been prosecuted? The reality is that after 13 years of Tory government, they have done nothing on standards; neighbourhood policing has been shattered; and burglars and rapists walk the streets with impunity. It is the same every week from the Prime Minister: whether it is the cost of living crisis, crime running out of control or the state of the NHS, why is his answer always to tell the British people they have never had it so good?

Let me just address the issue that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised, because I said at the time that I respected the decision that the police reached, and I offered an unreserved apology. For the avoidance of doubt, at the moment that that happened, there was a full investigation by a very senior civil servant, the findings of which confirmed that I had no advance knowledge about what had been planned, having arrived early for a meeting. But he does not need me to tell him that; he has probably spoken to the report’s author much more frequently than I have. [Interruption.]

Order. Look, the Prime Minister needs to answer the question. [Interruption.] I do not think we need any more. Let us keep it that way.

We are getting on. We are halving inflation by paying 50% of people’s energy bills and freezing fuel duty. We are cutting—[Interruption.]

Order. The same goes for those on the Opposition Benches. Mr Gwynne, I do not need any more from the Back Benchers here either. Let us calm—[Interruption.] Mr Fabricant, not again. Seriously, today is a very big day. Some important decisions are going to be taken, so please, I want to get this House moving on.

We are also cutting NHS waiting lists by resolving pay disputes and by getting doctors back to work, and we are stopping the boats with a new Bill to tackle illegal migration. That is a Conservative Government delivering on the people’s priorities.

Q2. I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the efforts he has made to support the UK’s steel industry. We remain very concerned about job losses at British Steel in Scunthorpe, so will he today reassure my constituents in north Lincolnshire that we will never see the end of UK steelmaking under his watch? (904268)

The UK steel industry can have no greater champion than my hon. Friend. I know this must be a concerning time for British Steel employees, and we stand ready to work with her to support them. She is right that industrial sectors, including steel, have been able to bid into competitive Government funds worth £1 billion to help support them to cut emissions and become more energy efficient, and the Government’s recently announced British industry supercharger fund can help boost competitiveness in the UK’s key energy-intensive industries. I look forward to working with her to ensure a thriving steel industry in our United Kingdom.

I would like to begin by paying tribute to PC Palmer, who so tragically lost his life in defence of this Parliament and, indeed, what we all stand for—democracy. What worries the Prime Minister most about Brexit right now: is it the likely 4% hit to UK productivity, or is it three former Tory leaders planning to vote down his deal this afternoon?

The Windsor framework represents a good deal for the people, families and businesses of Northern Ireland. It restores the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and ensures Northern Ireland’s place in our precious Union. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that I was more intrigued to see the words of his own party’s president, who just this past week described his party as being in “a tremendous mess”.

The reality is that while Westminster is once again consumed by the damage being caused by Brexit, the public at home are facing the biggest fall in living standards ever, the highest tax burden since the end of the second world war and inflation at 10.4%. When are the Conservative party and, indeed, the Labour party going to realise that Brexit cannot work?

The actions that this Government are taking are ensuring that fully half of most families’ energy bills are being supported by this Government. We are also making sure that we are delivering for people by cutting NHS waiting lists. That is something we are happy to work with the Scottish Government to learn and share best practice with them on. But we are also delivering on the people’s No. 1 priority, which is to stop the boats and end illegal migration.

Q4. Gedling’s unemployment claimant rate has declined significantly over the last decade, but there are still vacancies to fill and specific groups to help. On Monday, the Employment Minister and I visited Arnold jobcentre, where Kelsie and her team are welcoming local employers to speak directly to jobseekers and a dedicated 50-plus work coach is getting more people from that bracket into work. Would my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the staff at Arnold and other jobcentres across the country on the proactive work that they are doing and, when time allows, would he come to visit Arnold jobcentre in person to see the great work it is doing? (904272)

I thank my hon. Friend and join him in thanking all the staff at Arnold jobcentre for their hard work. I shall keep his kind invitation to visit in mind. He mentioned the over-50s, who my right hon. Friend the Chancellor described as more experienced workers. He was right to focus on them because, together with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, we are putting in place a range of measures to help support them to return to and stay in the labour market. That will not only help us continue to bring inflation down, but support those people to have healthy, productive, fulfilling lives.

The UK Government recently confirmed that Scotland generated and sent south 35 billion kWh of energy in 2021. That number will rise to 124 billion kWh in less than eight years’ time. For this multibillion-pound bounty, Scotland will see no revenue and no manufacturing or supply chain jobs. In our land of energy plenty, why should our people be cold and hungry and businesses failing as a result of his Government’s robbery? What has the Prime Minister to say in defence of this naked exploitation of Scotland’s people and resources?

Actually, this Government are a strong supporter of Scotland’s North sea oil and gas industry. It is the economically illiterate policy of, I think, almost all Opposition parties to prohibit any new exploration of fossil fuels in the North sea, which would have us pay billions of pounds to foreign energy companies and then ship that energy here, with twice the carbon emissions. It is a completely absurd policy that is bad for our security and bad for our economy, and that is why we are better off with the Conservatives in charge.

Q7. The Island has been getting a better deal in recent years. I thank the Prime Minister for that, because before he was the Prime Minister, he worked with me in different roles when he was in government to make that happen, and I am grateful. However, the Island remains the only sizeable island in the UK without a fixed link and separated from the mainland by sea that does not receive a funding uplift to support local government services. This injustice has been ongoing now for 50 years. All the evidence shows that it costs more to provide local services on an island than on the mainland. Will the Prime Minister work with me and his Ministers to overcome this injustice this year? (904275)

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued campaigning on behalf of his constituents. It was a pleasure to spend many happy childhood holidays on the Island, and I enjoyed visiting him more recently there as well. Isle of Wight Council will benefit from a 10% increase in its funding in cash terms for the next financial year and has been awarded an additional £1 million in recognition of the unique circumstances of the Island, as my hon. Friend points out, but I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the Minister for local government—the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley)—to carry on the good work that he and I started, and to make sure that his local constituents get the support that they need.

Q3. We now know from The Daily Telegraph’s lockdown files that, during covid, at the very heart of Government science was not being followed and rational discourse had been abandoned. This had dire consequences for children’s education, mortality rates among the elderly, the economy and access to the health service. Lessons must be learned, but we cannot wait 10 years for the independent inquiry to tell us what we should do next time when the inevitable epidemic arrives. Will the Prime Minister agree to a short-term, focused inquiry that can give us recommendations, so that we do better next time? (904271)

As with any public inquiry, the process and timing of the inquiry stages are for the independent chair to decide. As Baroness Hallett has set out, she intends to gather written evidence throughout this year, with public hearings also starting this year. The inquiry held a preliminary hearing in February that covered pandemic preparedness and resilience, and it has set out dates for preliminary hearings into core political and administrative decision making across the UK throughout this month. Most importantly, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, it is an independent inquiry, and it is for the independent chair to set the terms.

Q8. More than 1.5 million people living outside London stand to be impacted by the Mayor’s new London-wide ultra low emission zone. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are all for the ULEZ charge; they do not care about the cost of living crisis. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to protect commuters and small businesses from the spread of this unfair, £12.50-a-day tax is to vote Conservative on 4 May? (904276)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He failed to mention that just this week, Labour in Wales has introduced plans for further road charging as well, increasing cost pressures for the public and businesses. I urge Opposition parties to listen and to stand up for the public and small businesses, just as the Conservatives do.

Q5. When my wee brother was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis eight years ago, it is fair to say that it turned our lives upside down. I am incredibly proud of the man he is and all that he has achieved while living with that life-limiting condition. My Livingston constituent, Steven Sharp, manages local football team the Fulshie in Stoneyburn. He has Crohn’s disease and he lives with a stoma. He is like many of our constituents up and down the UK who are living with a life-limiting condition and trying to provide for their families, while holding down a job, with a condition and disease that wreaks havoc on their body. Given that one in four people wait more than a year for diagnosis, will the Prime Minister and the House support the campaign to Cut the Crap and get people diagnosed early for Crohn’s and colitis? Will he meet me and my constituent Steven, to consider what more can be done for awareness, research and funding? (904273)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and pay tribute to her brother and to Steven for everything they are doing to raise awareness of this issue. I would be happy to meet her and Steven. This is something I am familiar with. It is a very difficult condition for people to live with, and it is right that they get the support and attention they deserve. I look forward to that discussion with her.

Q9. My constituent, Jamie Scott, spent four weeks in a coma, and remains seriously disabled as a result of a covid vaccination. He and his family continue to believe that mass vaccination is the right policy, but it must surely also be right to ensure that the tiny minority who are seriously injured as a result are properly compensated. In the absence of court cases, it is in no one’s interest to litigate. The current limit on compensation is £120,000, even for very serious and lifelong injury, and anyone who is disabled by less than 60% gets nothing at all. That cannot be right. Will my right hon. Friend look urgently at changing that? (904277)

It is important to start by recognising the importance of vaccines in protecting us all, not least the fantastic roll-out of the covid vaccines across the UK. I am very sorry to hear about the case my right hon. and learned Friend raises. In the extremely rare case of a potential injury from a vaccine covered by the scheme, a one-off payment can be awarded. That is not designed to be a compensation scheme, and it does not prevent the injured person from pursuing a legal compensation claim with the vaccine manufacturer. We are taking steps to reform vaccine damage payment schemes, by modernising the operations and providing more timely outcomes, but of course I would be happy to talk to my right hon. and learned Friend further about that.

Q6. New inflation stats this morning show that food inflation is at 18%—the highest in 45 years. Millions are living in food and fuel poverty because of this Government’s failures and political decisions to enable grotesque profiteering at the expense of our communities. How on earth can the Prime Minister claim that his plan is working, or is it, in his eyes, a success that so many people are struggling with their weekly food shop? (904274)

Figures recently published show that since 2010, there are 2 million fewer people living in poverty thanks to the actions of this and previous Conservative Governments. Of course, no one wants to see people struggling with week-to-week bills, which is why it is so imperative we stick to our economic plan. As the Office for Budget Responsibility said, we are on track to halve inflation by the end of this year. That is the most important thing we can do to ease the burden on people. In the meantime we have a range of programmes, whether free school meals or the holiday activities and food programme, to provide support to the most vulnerable families who need our help.

Q11. With £60 million to improve transport links from Wednesbury to the rest of the Black Country, £4 million for Wednesbury high street, and last week, in the most important part of the Budget, the £22.5 million to level up Tipton town centre, the Government have put a vote of confidence in my communities, one they have not had for nearly 50 years. Delivery will be absolutely key on those projects. Will my right hon. Friend ensure, using his good offices, that we deliver them on time and realise the potential of my communities in Tipton and Wednesbury? (904279)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless campaigning on behalf of his local communities. I am delighted that we are investing across the west midlands, particularly in places like Wednesbury and Tipton. We will work with him to ensure those investments are indeed delivered, working with local councils, Transport for West Midlands and the West Midlands Combined Authority. The investments will transform people’s lives and spread opportunity in his area. He deserves enormous credit for making that happen.

Q10. Households in Gateshead have seen their energy bills triple over the last two years. They have not just endured the energy unit price increase; daily electricity standing charges have gone up from an average of 22p in 2019 to 58p from next month, an increase of 155% in standing charges—over £200 a year. To many of my constituents, particularly those in low-income households, that seems like a company tax just for having the temerity to be connected to the network. These schemes will continue long after energy support schemes have ended. Will the Prime Minister commit to ending the regressive increases in standing charges and instruct Ofgem to return them to 2019 levels, or even end them completely? (904278)

Thanks to the Chancellor, the Government are providing support to a typical household of around half its energy bill over the winter. That support was extended in the Budget and will be worth £1,500 to a typical family, but we went further for the most vulnerable families. The Chancellor announced that we will end the discrepancy in unit charges for those on prepayment meters, something many in this House have called for, and provide generous cost of living payments worth £900 to the most vulnerable families.

Two of my constituents, Adrian and Carol Ellis, are my guests in the Gallery today. Sadly, in 2021, their son died by suicide. George was a member of the Yorkshire Regiment. He had become depressed following one of his comrades taking his own life. In memory of George, Adrian and Carol set up a support group, which marries up one veteran with another to enable them to talk and, hopefully, help them. The support group is called Getting Emotions Out, after George. Will the Prime Minister join me in offering condolences to Adrian and Carol, and support for the work they are now doing?

I join my hon. Friend in sending my condolences, and those of the whole House, to George’s friends and family. I thank his parents for the brave work they are doing to raise awareness of veterans’ mental health. Support is available for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts, including from the Samaritans helpline. Thanks to the excellent work of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), we are working specifically to support veterans’ mental health through Op Courage. That is a bespoke mental health and wellbeing service for veterans in the NHS, backed by considerable funding which was increased in the recent Budget. That fully integrated service will be launched next month. Again, I pay tribute to George’s parents for all the incredible work they are doing.

Q12. My constituent Maryam Amiri came to the UK from Afghanistan on a spousal visa back in 2016. The Home Office has just refused her renewal and advised that she should return to Afghanistan. Maryam is an educator who is due to start a university course in September. She is a valued community activist and a vocal opponent of the Taliban. She is married to a man who worked for British forces and her family is currently being persecuted in Afghanistan. She has been trying to get them here since Afghanistan fell. Can the Prime Minister think of any barriers or hardships Maryam might face in returning to a country where there is not even any means of applying for a visa? Will he personally intervene, as the Minister for Immigration, the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) is yet to reply, despite my raising this matter three weeks ago? (904280)

Obviously, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on an individual’s visa case, but I will ensure that the hon. Lady gets a response from the Home Office on that particular case.

Will the Prime Minister pay tribute to and congratulate my constituent Max Woosey, best known as the boy in the tent, whose three-year adventure camping outside is drawing to a close? To date, he has raised more than £750,000 for the excellent North Devon Hospice. Will my right hon. Friend wish everyone taking part in his final adventure, a camping festival at Broomhill Estate, great success?

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Max and everyone else taking part in this fantastic initiative. I congratulate them on raising such a considerable sum of money for a very worthy local cause, and I look forward to hearing how the rest of it goes. Very well done.

Q13. The Treasury receives an additional £65 billion in revenue from Scotland’s oil and gas, but it has allocated only £20 billion to carbon capture and there is nothing for Scotland. It has cut the renewable energy budget by a third. It has allocated only £10 million to Scotland’s world-leading tidal stream, and has failed to back pumped storage hydro, yet it wants us to contribute our share towards the £35 billion Sizewell C nuclear power station. Is it not the case that within the Union, Scotland is the energy but Westminster takes the powers? (904281)

We are not only supporting Scotland’s North sea oil and gas industry but providing £20 billion of funding for further carbon capture and storage. We want to work with and provide clarity for Acorn on its future path. The hon. Gentleman raised tidal power; I am pleased to tell him that it is now included in the contracts for difference allocations. There has been 40 MW of new tidal stream power from four projects across Scotland and Wales in the last year. That is this Government delivering energy security across the United Kingdom.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) raised the issue of investment at one of my excellent North Devon schools, without prior notification of me or the school. Having spoken directly to the school and local education authority this morning, it appears that the information presented was, at best, misleading. The school has an extensive works programme and plans to expand its capacity. The timing of future works is being determined around the best interests of the pupils and the staff, with professional advice, and is certainly not held up by a lack of funding. As a former teacher, I find it deeply disturbing that Liberal Democrat MPs are prepared to use schools outside their constituencies as political pawns in this place. Might you advise how best to correct the record and ensure that this situation is not repeated?

I presume that the hon. Lady let the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) know that she was going to raise her point of order.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving notice of the point of order. She assures me that she has given notice to the hon. Member for Twickenham. As she knows, the Chair is not responsible for the accuracy of Members’ contributions in the Chamber. If a Member has made a mistake, I encourage that Member to correct the record at the earliest opportunity. The hon. Member has rightly put it on the record so that we all know the situation.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for accepting my point of order. Just now, in response to a question about his pretence that living standards are getting better in this country, the Prime Minister replied that he is halving inflation—on the very day that we find out that inflation is, in fact, rising. As you said, Mr Speaker, today is an important day for this House. How can the Prime Minister correct the record?

I know the hon. Lady knows the answer to that. She has now put the situation on the record. As she knows, it is not a matter for the Chair but a matter for each individual to try to make sure they are correct.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, a substantive piece of Northern Ireland business about the Windsor framework will be debated today. The Government have indicated that it will be an indication of how this Parliament feels about the entirety of the framework, even though the debate is about just one component of the framework. Given that it will be signed over on Friday by the Foreign Secretary, why has the House been allocated only 90 minutes for a debate on this very important subject? That will not give Northern Ireland Members alone enough time to debate the issue, let alone the rest of the House. How can we fix this before Friday, Mr Speaker?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have no responsibility for the amount of time allocated. That is done by the Government, who own the Order Paper. I do not own the Order Paper. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is down to speak in the debate, so I am sure he will want to raise the point at that time.

Bill Presented

Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Jim McMahon presented a Bill to make provision about the monitoring of water quality; to set a target for the reduction of sewage discharges; to provide for financial penalties in relation to sewage discharges and breaches of monitoring requirements; to require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for the reduction of sewage discharges from storm overflows, including an economic impact assessment; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 21 April, and to be printed (Bill 278).

Employment Equality (Insurance Etc)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Order. Mr Graham, please! The Member was standing to address me. [Interruption.] It is no use holding up your hands. Take notice of what is going on. It is totally unfair to the Member. It is a ten-minute rule Bill—please wait. You are important, but not that important.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010, to prohibit age discrimination by employers in relation to the provision of insurance or a related financial service; and for connected purposes.

There are more workers working over the age of 65 than ever before. Nearly 1.5 million people, of whom around two thirds—a million workers—are employed, contributing 32 million hours of work in an average week. There has been a rapid acceleration in the shape and scale of older working. Sectors in which older workers are most likely to be employed are some of those which are particularly important to our economy and our communities. Around a quarter of such older workers are employed in healthcare, social work and education. The car industry and technical sectors also employ high numbers of older workers.

If we want people to have the option to work later in life, we have to give them the tools, support and legal protection that they need to do so. That includes protecting workers from discrimination solely on the basis of age. Age discrimination, like any other form of discrimination, is humiliating, demeaning and damaging. Right now, provisions in schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010, introduced in 2011, make it lawful to discriminate on the basis of age in relation to health and insurance employment benefits.

Let me explain why that is wrong. I have a constituent, Stephen, who is in the Public Gallery today with his wife Marsha. Stephen is a train driver with Eurotunnel and has been since the tunnel first opened 30 years ago. Stephen worked on the building of the tunnel itself. At the age of 66, his statutory pensionable age, he did not get a birthday card from his bosses; he got a letter explaining that while it was not possible to sack him on grounds of age, Eurotunnel were terminating his health insurance, death in service and his income protection policy for long-term sickness and accidents.

Stephen is doing the same job at 66 that he did at 65, but now he does not get the same money’s worth or terms and conditions in relation to his contract of employment. In simple terms, Stephen does not get equal pay and conditions to another, younger, worker, simply by reason of his age. If Stephen falls ill, he cannot get the same access to speedy private healthcare that other people working for the company can get. That includes in relation to a workplace injury. If, heaven forbid, he died, his wife Marsha would no longer have compensatory insurance through death-in-service benefits. However, he is doing exactly the same job as someone else. It is the same job he did before he reached retirement age that he is doing now.

The attitude demonstrated by Eurotunnel seems to me to communicate to Stephen and to the wider employment community in Kent that it thinks that a person who is older is worth less. Stephen has made it clear to me that he loves working at Eurotunnel and wants to carry on working at Eurotunnel, but he does of course feel let down. I have written to the chief executive of Getlink, the operator of Eurotunnel, to ask that it reconsider Stephen’s case, not least in the light of his long service and commitment to the company. As of today, it has not yet done so, although it has said that it is discussing the matter with its insurers.

We need to tackle the issue if people are to stay in the workplace longer. We should tackle it because it is simply unfair and wrong. It needs to be tackled here in this place by changing the law, because—I want to be really clear about this—Eurotunnel is perfectly within its legal rights to act as it has done. It is entirely a matter for it whether it includes all workers fairly and equally or discriminates against those who have reached retirement age.

My Bill seeks to put that situation right for every older worker in this country by changing the law on workplace benefits so that older people are treated on the same basis as in any other part of their employment relationship. There was a time when a pregnant woman had to quit her job and just leave the workplace. Then there was a time when she did not have to lose her job, and it was said that if women were given paid maternity leave, they would not get jobs if they were of childbearing age. There are those who claim that this reform to end age discrimination would be costly to business, just as they used to say the same about women who went on maternity leave. As we know, however, employers found that retaining women in the workplace benefited not just mothers, but businesses themselves, which were able to retain the vital skills and knowledge of female workers.

In the same way, older workers have skills and knowledge gained over many years in the workplace. Treating older workers fairly will encourage them to stay and will benefit the companies that they work for. I remember a time when employers used to say that a woman did not need to work, did not need to get the same bonuses as a man or did not need to be offered overtime, because it was men who had the families to feed. We have outlawed that because equal pay at work is not about who is doing the work, but about what the work is. That applies every bit as much whether it is a younger or an older worker doing the same job.

Another excuse that has been given is that covering older people becomes more expensive for everyone because the premium for the company goes up. This is, of course, an absurd excuse. Applying that logic, would it be okay to exclude from employment benefits people who have a heart condition, cancer, a bad back, a disability or a chronic condition? Of course not. We would say that that was discriminatory and wrong, because it is.

Unless we tackle age discrimination, we will continue to have a working environment that is very difficult for people who are working in older age. An example of why the law needs to change is sitting here today in the Public Gallery: Stephen Horne, a man whose blood, sweat and hard work helped to build one of the great wonders of our time, the tunnel under the English channel from the UK to France. Stephen, a working man treated badly solely by reason of his age, is my constituent, and I am promoting this Bill because I do not think that he should have been treated in this disgraceful and unacceptable way—and neither should any other older worker.

The support that I have received right across the House has given me real heart. The Bill has received incredible cross-party support; I thank my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), for Southend West (Anna Firth) and for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), as well as the Bill’s sponsors and several others.

We are at our very best in this place when we come together to address injustices and right wrongs. I very much hope that Stephen’s Eurotunnel law will be a turning point for protecting older workers in the workplace in the years to come. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Caroline Nokes, Dame Diana Johnson, David Linden, Jim Shannon, Bob Blackman, Rachael Maskell, Marion Fellows, Henry Smith, Tony Lloyd and Marco Longhi present the Bill.

Mrs Natalie Elphicke accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 277).

Northern Ireland

I beg to move,

That the draft Windsor Framework (Democratic Scrutiny) Regulations 2023, which were laid before this House on 20 March, be approved.

It is my usual practice to take as many interventions as I possibly can during a debate; however, this debate is on a statutory instrument and is therefore time-limited, so although I will take interventions, I will not take as many as I normally would. I will, with the leave of the House, try to mop up all the questions raised at the end of the debate.

The Stormont brake is at the heart of the Westminster framework. It addresses the democratic deficit, restores the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and ends the prospect of dynamic alignment. It restores practical sovereignty to the United Kingdom as a whole, and to the people of Northern Ireland in particular.

As someone who served in the Province during the troubles and saw at first hand the pain and anger endured by all communities, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that the Windsor framework not only restores the balance of the Belfast agreement but offers the Province much greater prosperity by way of inward investment—and greater prosperity helps most situations?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are just coming up to the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which has built peace and stability across Northern Ireland. I hope very much—as, I believe, does every single politician from Northern Ireland—that the next 25 years of the agreement, helped along by this Windsor framework, will bring to Northern Ireland an age of prosperity the like of which we have never seen before.

It is not often that I am called before the others, but it is always a pleasure.

The Secretary of State and I will have some differences of opinion on this, but does he understand our frustration about the Windsor framework, or, as we Unionists call it, the Windsor knot? It is not a deal that enjoys or receives Unionist support, because the United Kingdom is giving the European Union sovereignty over the courts and power over Northern Ireland. Let me say respectfully to the Secretary of State, because I am a respectful person, that it has been shoved through the House by the Government, the Conservative and Unionist party—with some dismay, I now question the word “Conservative”, and where is the “Unionist”?—in a format that does not allow for scrutiny or due processes. Members on both sides of the House should take note of that and should vote against this statutory instrument, because it introduces a gravely important constitutional issue, and we are very concerned about it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words, with which, however, I fundamentally disagree. I am a Unionist, and proud to be a Unionist. I believe that each of the four nations of our wonderful country makes it stronger, and I also believe that this is a massive step forward in terms of progress for not only Northern Ireland but the Union as a whole.

I disagree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman has said because the framework actually adds to the democratic scrutiny that is available. As one of Michel Barnier’s former advisers put it, the mechanism

“does amount to a clear veto possibility for the UK government, directive-by-directive, at the behest of a minority in the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

I think that people who know what they are talking about understand that this is a very, very good deal.

The right hon. Gentleman talks of prosperity. Seed potato growers in my constituency tell me that the framework is extremely welcome, because it means they can have access to the Northern Ireland market and in turn, via this mechanism, to the Republic of Ireland market. That is about the prosperity of my constituency, but perhaps this may lead to access to the Spanish and French markets, which could be useful in the future. I therefore believe that we should support the framework.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very, very pro-Unionist comments. He is entirely right. Through the protocol, seed potatoes and a host of other products were no longer available in Northern Ireland. The Windsor framework solves those issues and opens up market opportunities.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way to me. I thought I was going to have to do a whole lot of squats just to get in.

One of the criteria for using the Stormont brake, and for signing the Petition of Concern, is that Members of the Legislative Assembly

“must be individually and collectively seeking in good faith to fully operate the institutions, including through the nomination of Ministers and support for the normal operation of the Assembly.”

Does this mean that Jim Allister will be precluded from signing the petition?

If the Assembly is sitting and he is sitting in it, which he would be as a fully elected member of his political party, I am absolutely sure that he could do that.

I commend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend for the work they have done. Does it not show that when we build bridges, when we show pragmatism, when we work with our continental colleagues, we can provide results? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, along with AUKUS, the Paris summit and indeed the Budget, this is a return to the statecraft that we want to see in No. 10?

It is, without doubt, statecraft emanating from No. 10, and I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for everything that he does in that respect.

I will continue for a bit, if I may. I will give way in a moment.

We all believe, as democrats here, that in a democracy people should have a say over any change in the laws under which they live, but under the old protocol, that was not the case. Changes to laws were automatically imposed on Northern Ireland whether it wanted them or not, and, like many other Members, I as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland considered that to be an unacceptable state of affairs. The Stormont brake not only ends that situation, but ensures that changes made to rules and regulations have the consent of both communities, thus asserting a fundamental principle of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has made all this progress hugely possible through his hard work. Does he agree that wherever we are starting from, it is clear to everyone who compares the Northern Ireland protocol with the Windsor framework that good progress has been made, that the framework is an improvement, and that it is strongly welcomed by most of the communities in Northern Ireland, and for that reason we should support it today?

The Secretary of State is making a powerful case about democratic scrutiny. In that spirit, will he confirm that in order to support the Windsor agreement, he will use his powers as Secretary of State to retain all the existing EU law that would otherwise be deleted by the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill by the end of this year? The European Union has written to us today warning us that if he does not do that, the agreement will be in doubt. This is not to do with the Stormont brake; it is the existing legislation that will be deleted by the sunset clause. The Secretary of State has the power to retain it. Is he going to do so, in order to support this legislation?

I am afraid I have not seen that letter; I know nothing of it. I believe that the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will do a good job of work for the whole of the United Kingdom.

I fear that today we will respectfully have to agree to disagree. My right hon. Friend has described the brake on multiple occasions, including in BBC interviews, as a veto. Given that, if Stormont pulls the brake, UK Ministers may still not exercise the brake in exceptional circumstances—so it is down to ministerial fiat—and given that, even if they do, the EU can object and it will be referred to independent arbitration, where the UK could lose, that is a route to arbitration, isn’t it? That is not a veto. Will he accept that?

One, it is a veto; two, it is a route to arbitration; and three, it removes any element of the European Court of Justice being relevant in this decision. So I think we have actually delivered on some of the things that my right hon. Friend and I have campaigned on over the years.

In respect of grounds for seeking to apply the brake, in response to my written question to the Foreign Office on exports to Northern Ireland through the port of Holyhead, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) replied:

“The Green Lane is open to all UK businesses where they import or sell goods that are not ultimately destined for EU market. This includes goods travelling from Wales to Northern Ireland in transit through the Republic of Ireland, using the procedure”.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that that is indeed the case and elaborate, now or by letter, on how that procedure will work?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which I did not hear completely. The green lane will be open for goods travelling into Northern Ireland for consumption in Northern Ireland. There is a red lane for goods going into the Republic. If I misheard his question, I will write to him to clarify, if that is okay.

Why do EU laws apply under this agreement to businesses in Northern Ireland that are not trading with the EU? How many EU laws apply, and why can we not see a list of them?

It is less than 3%. This preserves access for Northern Ireland businesses to the single market, and yesterday I listed a whole host of different areas in which these EU laws are disapplied in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State is of course right to say that any political entity within a wider economic structure should have a say or some way of expressing its view on the rules and regulations of that economic structure. With that in mind, will the British Government be bringing forward a Senedd and Holyrood brake when it comes to the UK internal market?

Will my right hon. Friend reconfirm, first, that the Stormont brake stops and gives total control to the Assembly in Northern Ireland on any new EU law or regulation; and, secondly, that this deal has made huge strides on seed potatoes, VAT, state aid, customs and all the aspects of the protocol that we in this House have debated for so long?

I think I should now continue with my speech, so that I can explain all this to the House.

The brake is triggered if 30 Members of the Legislative Assembly from two parties object to an amending rule or regulation. These MLAs can be from the same community designation, so they can, in theory and in practice, come from two Unionist parties, or indeed two nationalist parties. The exercise of the brake will require no other process and no vote in the Assembly. Once the brake has been pulled, the law will automatically be disapplied in Northern Ireland after two weeks. The EU can challenge the use of the brake only through international arbitration, after the law has been suspended, where the bar to overturn it will be exceptionally high.

The Stormont brake is one of the most significant changes that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has secured. It is a robust change that gives the United Kingdom a veto over dynamic alignment with EU rules but, just as importantly, the regulations we are debating today put the democratically elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland in the driving seat when it comes to whether and when that veto will be used.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Could he answer, very clearly, this one simple question? Is it not the case that every single lorry that departs from the port of Cairnryan to Northern Ireland will have to have customs declaration papers for every product on that vehicle? Is it right that a vehicle travelling from one part of the United Kingdom to another part of the United Kingdom continues to be treated in that way?

Those vehicles will be using the trusted trader service. There will be 21 fields of information, mostly auto-populated, which will mean no certificates will be needed from vets or other third parties—

When my right hon. Friend appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee yesterday, he promised to deliver the list of the 3% of EU laws he says will remain as a consequence of this process. Can he please tell us where that list is?

I gave the majority of that list in the course of those proceedings, and I said that I would write to my right hon. Friend, which I will do.

The old protocol had some measures that were aimed at giving it democratic legitimacy. The UK had a vote over any new laws that the EU wanted to add to the protocol, but that veto did not extend to amendments of laws that were already there, and crucially, there was no role for the Northern Ireland Assembly in deciding whether and when to use that veto. Of course, it contained the democratic consent mechanism, an important means of giving the Assembly the right to end the application of articles 5 to 10 of the old protocol. Those measures were important, and the Windsor framework maintains them, but they were not, in themselves, enough to address the democratic deficit.

I wonder if my right hon. Friend could clarify something for me. He has spoken about the green channel for goods movements from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. This is a genuine question. As I understand it, the Northern Ireland economy produces around £77 billion-worth of goods, of which £65 billion-worth go to the rest of the UK. Is it not the case, though, that everything manufactured in Northern Ireland would have to meet EU standards, even if it is going to the rest of the UK?

I have made it perfectly clear that we are maintaining 3% of EU law in Northern Ireland. This is the bare minimum to maintain Northern Ireland’s access to the single market, which just about every business I have spoken to in Northern Ireland, and that has made representations on this, is delighted to be maintaining. Indeed, I have been lobbied by individual Members from Northern Ireland to maintain access to both the UK market—the fifth largest economy in the world—and the EU market for goods.

I fully support what my right hon. Friend has done here. The Prime Minister and the whole of the Northern Ireland team have done a great job. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Windsor agreement enables a huge opportunity in Northern Ireland not just to be a precious part of our United Kingdom but to be the target of enormous amounts of foreign direct investment because it will have the advantage of being an integral part of the United Kingdom as well as having open access to EU markets?

We are maintaining that 3% of EU law. My right hon. Friend has helped to answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) posed.

There will be a binding statutory obligation in domestic law on Ministers to pull the brake when a valid notification is provided by 30 MLAs. These regulations will add a new democratic scrutiny schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to codify the brake in domestic law. The UK Government must—let me repeat that: they must—notify the EU when a valid notification of the brake has been provided by MLAs. This is an important new function for Members of the Assembly, and it is vital that they exercise this new function with the right information and expertise. After consulting with Northern Ireland parties, these regulations provide for a standing committee of the Assembly to properly scrutinise the relevant rules.

I am treating today’s vote as a recognition of the wider package and voting for it, with the Government.

The democratic scrutiny committee is new to the Assembly and will require a lot of resources, as will the necessity of engaging with Brussels on the development of new law from first principles. Will the Secretary of State have a conversation with the Assembly about the potential for new resources, to make sure it can fully do this job?

I very much look forward to having that conversation with a fully functioning Assembly and Executive.

Some have described this as a consultative role for MLAs, but it is not. It is a robust power for MLAs to stop the application of amended EU rules, a power that neither the UK Government nor the European Union can override, provided that the conditions in the framework are met.

Some have claimed that the EU must have some means of blocking the brake. These regulations demonstrate that the process is entirely one for the United Kingdom. The process is firmly and unambiguously within strand 1 of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. There is no role for any institution outside the United Kingdom, whether that be the EU or anyone else, in determining whether the brake is pulled. It will be for the UK alone—for its sovereign Government, alongside elected MLAs—to choose whether the brake is pulled.

Some also claim that the Government might simply ignore the brake. These regulations make it clear that the Government have no discretion. MLAs cannot be ignored. Valid notifications of the brake must be notified to the European Union. The Government’s actions will be subject to all the normal public law principles attached to decision making. For the avoidance of doubt, the regulations are clear that the prospect of any remedial measures by the EU cannot be a relevant factor in the Government’s determination.

It is not enough simply to allow MLAs to temporarily halt the application of a rule, but then allow the United Kingdom Government simply to override them when the joint committee decides whether the rule should be permanently disapplied. So these regulations go much further and provide a clear, robust directive role to determine whether the Government should use their veto or not. Unless there is cross-community support in the Assembly, Ministers will be legally prohibited from accepting an amended or new EU law that creates a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, except in exceptional circumstances.

Let me be clear: “exceptional circumstances” means just that. The threshold for that exception is unbelievably high, and a Minister invoking exceptional circumstances must be able to defend that decision robustly and in line with normal public law principles. What is more, a Minister must account to Parliament where they have concluded that exceptional circumstances apply, or where they consider that a measure would not create a regulatory border. This represents one of the strongest statutory constraints on the exercise of ministerial functions under a treaty ever codified in our domestic law.

Would the Secretary of State just confirm to the House: if there is no Stormont, will there be a Stormont brake?

I thank the Secretary of State for setting out how the brake will operate. Will he join me in urging those considering these proposals before the House today to note that, for many years, people said it was impossible to have an application to stop the ratchet of EU law and to keep Northern Ireland in the Union?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I was also told that this would be an impossible ask. Throughout my time in the European Parliament and, indeed, as chairman of an illustrious body of MPs in this place, I never thought this would be achievable, yet the Government have managed to achieve it.

These regulations could scarcely make things clearer. The overwhelming presumption is that, unless the Assembly says yes, the Government must say no.

Finally, as with any international agreement, if the EU considers that the UK has improperly pulled the brake, it may choose to initiate a dispute, but we need to be clear that any dispute could only arise after the rules have been disapplied in Northern Ireland, and the resolution of that dispute would be for an arbitration panel. The European Court of Justice would have no role in resolving a dispute.

These regulations make the case for functioning devolved institutions in Northern Ireland even more compelling. The measures will become operable only when the institutions are restored. Denying the people of Northern Ireland will not only deny them the basic right to an effective, stable Government but will deny them full democratic input into the laws that apply to Northern Ireland, and that denial cannot be justified.

These regulations give domestic legal effect to this democratic safeguard and restore the UK’s sovereignty. We should consider carefully how we vote on this measure, without which Northern Ireland would continue to have full and automatic dynamic alignment with EU goods rules, with no say for the Northern Ireland Assembly and no veto on amending or replacing those measures. That is an intolerable situation, and I urge all hon. and right hon. Members to vote to end that full and automatic dynamic alignment. I therefore commend these regulations to the House.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the leader of my party, said in January that any protocol deal struck between the UK Government and the EU would, by definition, mean real progress in mitigating the problems caused by the original deal that they negotiated. He pledged that, in those circumstances, Labour would support such a deal. We will honour that pledge today. While the Government have once again been distracted by rebellion and infighting within their own party, thanks to the Labour party they can be sure that the national interest will be served today.

The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. For the last quarter of a century, the House has proceeded in relation to the peace process in Northern Ireland—and today is about the peace process, let us be quite clear about that—on the basis of bipartisan or non-partisan politics. For that reason, my party will be joining his and the Government in the Lobby.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for coming to a similar view to the Labour party. He is a Scottish MP, and I want to express my sympathies with those affected by the incident that is unfolding in Edinburgh, where a ship has capsized, injuring, we believe, 15 or more people. Our sympathies are with him and with the people of Scotland today.

The Government have said that today’s vote is the main vote that the House will get on the Windsor framework. My speech will focus on why Labour supports the deal overall, but I will begin with the Stormont brake, which is the subject of the regulations before us today.

The democratic deficit was always one of the hardest parts of the protocol deal to reconcile. Of course, businesses and most people in Northern Ireland want to continue accessing the European market as well as the internal market, but the cost of this access was having no say on the rules that had to be followed. The Stormont brake will give representatives a say once devolved government is restored. It is impossible to argue that this is not an improvement on the current situation.

Thirty MLAs from two parties will be able to trigger the brake, but just as important is the new Committee of the Assembly that will scrutinise new laws affecting Northern Ireland. There are understandable concerns about how the brake will work in practice, but the best way of stress-testing it is through experience, and we can get that experience only by restoring Stormont. We all want to see Northern Ireland’s devolved Government back up and running—I know that is what DUP Members want to see, too.

I will state the obvious before going further: Northern Ireland’s economy has huge potential and is doing well. The Prime Minister eloquently explained why on his last visit to Northern Ireland, but he did not need to do so, because everyone who lives in or runs a business in Northern Ireland already knows. The challenges posed by the protocol go much deeper than market access, and that is what needs the most attention during this period of tortuous renegotiation.

My hon. Friend was right to acknowledge that Unionism had legitimate concerns about the operation of the protocol. Does he agree that anyone looking at this objectively would say that those have been addressed, both by the EU and the UK Government? Further to that, the fundamental point is that businesses in St Helens—in logistics, the medical sector, manufacturing and agriculture—would give their right arm to have the opportunity that Northern Ireland has to access both markets.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention and pleased that he recognised the legitimate concerns of the Democratic Unionist party. All of us, right across the UK, want to see a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland up and running. That is what the purpose of this whole tortuous process has been, and we hope we can get this resolved soon.

So what is the point of rushing through a vote on this, given that it is the protocol and the agreement behind it that prevents Stormont from meeting, which means that the protocol would never be used?

The right hon. Gentleman makes the argument for why he should have voted against the protocol in the first place. Labour Members did oppose the protocol when it was imposed, but he voted for it. There are a lot of Members on the Government Benches whom I listen to with great interest, because they often contribute a lot of thoughtful insight into the way we debate, but let us just reflect on what he said in the run-up to the Brexit referendum and the promises he made to this country. This all came from his website, and I read it with great interest. First, he said that there would be more growth in the economy. Secondly, he said that Brexit would rebuild our fisheries. Thirdly, he said that food would be cheaper. Fourthly, he said that our power would be cheaper. Fifthly, he said that we would have fewer unhelpful regulations—if that was the case, we would not be here debating this measure today, would we? Sixthly, he said that we would get a US trade deal. Seventhly, he said that our balance of payments would improve. There are many people who should be contributing to this debate, in a thoughtful way, but I am afraid that he is not one of them.

The challenges posed by the protocol go much deeper than market access, and that is what has needed most attention during this tortuous period of renegotiation. The Unionist concerns were mostly twofold, the first of which was that there were impediments to the flow of goods traveling across the Irish sea. Some products and shipments were more affected than others, which was having a disruptive effect on supply chains and the ability of retailers to keep their stores stocked in a manner familiar to pre-protocol shoppers. That, of course, led to the second source of concern: the existential impact that those impediments have to the free flow of goods within the United Kingdom, and what that means for Unionism.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have made tremendous progress with the Windsor framework on veterinary, sanitary and phytosanitary measures? The securing of human medicines for the long term and the direction of travel on securing veterinary medicines up until the grace period ends shows what can be achieved through dialogue. It shows us all that we should be strongly supporting this framework deal.

It does show that negotiating and talking delivers more than rowing, but it also shows that people should think carefully about what they vote for in the first place.

It is a right enshrined in treaty that anyone in Northern Ireland who wants to identify themselves as British should be able to do so without impediment. I understand that, of course I do. If produce made in Sussex faced checks at the border with Hampshire, I would have something to say about it. I have also asked myself this: if the protocol checks were taking place between Ireland and Northern Ireland, instead of in the Irish sea, would nationalist communities be demanding action today? I believe that they would. So the demand for action is warranted; it is based on real concerns, not confected ones. The mystery to me has always been why the Government took so long to act. Why did they wait until the devolved authorities had collapsed before seeming to care?

By the time I was appointed to this job, the DUP had been voicing concerns about the protocol for well over six months—they were ignored. A month before I was appointed, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) had published an article calling for article 16 to be triggered—it was met with silence. Then, in February, the Executive was collapsed, followed four months later by the Assembly. In all that time, there were no visits by the Prime Minister, and no meetings with party leaders, either in Northern Ireland or in Downing Street. Not a single statement was made to this House. As a result of that neglect—believe me, it is neglect—we are now faced with two problems. The first is solving the technical issues created as a direct result of the original protocol, negotiated by the Government and voted for by every Conservative Member. That protocol, I remind the House, was created, negotiated and hailed as a “great deal for Britain” by this Government at the time. Lest we forget, it was voted for by every single Member on their Benches, including those affiliated to the European Research Group faction.

Secondly, that period of neglect created a political problem that this Government are paying the price for right here today. Put simply, when the DUP was raising concerns about the protocol from within the devolved institutions, it was ignored by the Government in Westminster. When the DUP collapsed those institutions, it was rewarded with a prime ministerial visit and, ultimately, the renegotiation of the protocol. The message from the Government could not be clearer; the learned behaviour of dealing with this Government is that if you act functionally within the devolved Administration, you are ignored, but if you act outside the Administration, you are unignorable. In this period, the other Northern Ireland parties have been denied their place within the Government as well, through no fault of their own. So if you disrupt and act outside the structures of government, you get all the attention in the world. You even get a Prime Minister travelling abroad on your behalf to renegotiate a deal we had hitherto been told was not renegotiable.

This is not only about neglect or ignorance. Does the shadow Minister recognise that Tony Blair, the former leader of the Labour party, said that we cannot move forward without Unionist participation in this process and this framework? Bertie Ahern, another former instrument in the peace process, also said that we cannot ignore Unionism. Does the shadow Minister agree that Unionism cannot be ignored, and that our point of view has to be core to the whole issue of how we find a process to go forward?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and for the opportunity to have this exchange, as it gives me the opportunity to say something. I can only speak for the Labour party, and for myself as the shadow Secretary of State, in saying that his party, as with every other party in Northern Ireland, will never be ignored by my party or a future Labour Government. As I am about to explain, it will be most rewarded, and will have most attention and agency in political life right across the UK, from a position within the devolved authorities. I understand the point he makes—Tony Blair and others were right—but these are all leaders who gave the attention to the DUP and every other party at the point at which they needed it. They did not wait until devolution had collapsed before paying those in Northern Ireland and their parties the respect they are owed and due.

To give the shadow Minister some credit, he is excellent at articulating the problem. But what is his solution?

I am grateful for that, because we will be getting to it. [Interruption.] It is interesting that Conservative Members want me to speed up but they keep intervening. I will get through the speech if they allow me to get to it. The hon. Gentleman makes the most blindingly obvious point here: my party will be voting in unanimity today, but his party is getting in the way of getting this across the line, because it is his party that is split over how to vote on the issue before us today. We are acting in the national interest; the Conservatives are riven with division.

People like me aspire to government because we want to deliver positive change, but those in the DUP now have to ask themselves, because of the way they have been treated by this Government: would a return to government mean relinquishing power? This inversion of the very principle of government, this absurdity, is a direct consequence of the manner in which Northern Ireland has been treated by this Government and the other Conservative Administrations over the past 13 years.

I want to be clear to Members who represent communities in Northern Ireland on what they can expect from a future Labour Government, to answer the point of the previous intervention. Let me reassure them that we have not forgotten the lessons of 25 years ago and the tough years following the peace deal. To me, those lessons are, first, that leadership matters. Tony Blair’s first visit outside of London as Prime Minister was to Belfast. He visited five times in his first year as premier. He did not neglect Northern Ireland, and nor will my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras.

Secondly, we need to work towards a strong, trusting relationship with the Irish Government, because when our two countries work together closely, it eases the anxiety that some people in Northern Ireland feel regarding their Irish or British identities, and creates the conditions for economic progress across the island of Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the agreement 25 years ago would not have been possible without the sacrifices and statesmanship of so many, but will he acknowledge that it was John Major and his Government who started that process and that this is not a party political matter but something of which this whole House should be proud?

First, I thank the right hon. Lady for her time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I readily acknowledge that many people made peace possible in Northern Ireland 25 years ago. We in this House will have the opportunity to debate those issues in a forthcoming general debate, and there will be plenty of opportunities to do so over in Belfast when dignitaries from across the world come to celebrate the great achievement of that time. John Major of course laid the foundations and, at the time and subsequently, all Labour leaders, including Tony Blair, paid great respect to his contribution. If I were to start listing the names of everyone, we would be here for a very long time indeed.

Thirdly, we need to have the same ambition for Northern Ireland as we do for every other part of our Union. For example, it is not good enough to roll out home heating support months after citizens in every other part of the UK have received it.

Fourthly, we should aspire to build respect among communities and be a voice for all communities here in Westminster. The last Labour Government positioned the UK as an honest broker for all of Northern Ireland, and so will the next.

Finally, Labour will never give up on Northern Ireland, however insurmountable the challenges might seem. Those involved in the negotiations 25 years ago have plenty of stories of frustration and moments of hopelessness, but perseverance is rewarded. It was then and it will be again today and into the future. It always is in Northern Ireland.

Although this deal is not perfect, it is an improvement, so in the interests of Northern Ireland and the rest of our country we will be voting for it today.

As you can see, there is a great deal of interest in this debate, so may I please ask Members to keep their contributions short so that as many as possible can get in?

I welcome today’s debate and vote. The Windsor framework has my full support. I also welcome the fact that the Labour party, the Lib Dems and almost the SNP, I think, are supporting the Government and the Conservative party today.

Those of us who have followed this issue closely probably never expected to be here debating a renegotiation of the treaty itself. It is a testament to the Prime Minister’s determination and focus, and those of the Secretary of State, the Foreign Secretary and others, that they have been able to achieve that.

As someone who has been slightly traumatised by Brexit votes over the years, I am also delighted that this is the end chapter. Notwithstanding further improvements and changes, I think this chapter is one that probably all of us are delighted to be ending.

Notwithstanding what my right hon. Friend has said, may I suggest that this remains unfinished business as regards our leaving the European Union?

Some things never change, but I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his continued monomaniacal focus on this issue.

I also want to acknowledge the work done by hon. Members in Northern Ireland. Although I believe we will be in different Division Lobbies today, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) spoke powerfully about the democratic deficit and the need for cross-community safeguards, which are now at the heart of the Stormont brake. As one of Michel Barnier’s top advisers said, and as the Secretary of State has just told us, that has actually been a big victory for the Democratic Unionist party. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) worked harder than anybody else to finally fix the issue of seed potatoes for her farming constituents, and the hon. Members for North Down (Stephen Farry), for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) have all engaged closely with businesses and Northern Ireland enterprises to find practical solutions. I believe that huge progress has been achieved, and we now need to maximise the potential for Northern Ireland to become one of the most attractive places in the UK to invest in.

I want to finish by talking about the Union. The greatest strength we have in securing Northern Ireland’s place in the Union is the majority of people in Northern Ireland who support it. We must cherish, nurture and expand that support and consent at every opportunity. Recent polling has shown that there is huge support across Northern Ireland—above 70%—for the Windsor framework and for solving this issue, and in particular cross-community support for the access it provides to both the UK and EU markets.

I believe that if we can bank the wins in this deal and secure over time stable power sharing, we can look forward to decades and decades of overwhelming support for Northern Ireland remaining an integral part of the United Kingdom.

That was a three-minute contribution from a former Secretary of State. If everyone follows that example, I am sure we will get a lot of people in.

Perhaps I should begin by addressing the remarks made just now by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who said that he thought the SNP was almost ready to support this. I can say to him that he is almost right. We support the agreement—we welcome it and will vote in favour of it.