House of Commons
Wednesday 7 September 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Government Estate (Modernisation)
Working collaboratively with Departments and local government, we are delivering a public sector estate that is cost-effective, supports the delivery of better-integrated public services, and exploits surplus land and property to help build homes and create jobs. In so doing, since 2010 we have raised £1.8 billion in capital receipts and reduced running costs by £750 million.
I welcome the Minister to his place and congratulate him on his well-deserved promotion. Does he agree that at a time when the country needs to build more housing on brownfield sites, it is essential that the Government lead the way in this? Have the Government done any audit that has ascertained the amount of land available and the number of houses and flats that could be built on it?
We have done some partial work, as my hon. Friend suggests. It is in the nature of the work that we are doing that there is not sufficiently good-quality understanding of public sector land, and that is why we are seeking to make it better. Despite that, we delivered 100,000 homes on public sector land in the previous Parliament, and we aspire to build 150,000 in this one. I shall provide him with further details as and when we discover them.
I welcome the Minister to his post. He will know that in 2010 a report said that the changes to the civil service—the regionalisation of the civil service—would require political leadership. We have seen a reduction in the size of the estate in London but an increase in the number of top officials and civil servants in London. Under his tenure, will we finally see that political leadership and the regions actually having a voice?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. In my previous ministerial post, it was a great pleasure for me to work with civil servants, especially in Yorkshire, including senior civil servants working there. I saw myself how it is possible to have senior civil servants around the country. I completely agree that the more we can get senior positions of all kinds around the country, the better we will be able to serve the people whom we were elected to serve.
The speed with which the new Brexit Department has been established from scratch since 24 June has been truly impressive. Is not the key to a modern Government who can respond to modern needs to have as much flexible, open-plan office space as possible?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The way in which we have been able to set up the new Department and the other Departments of State so rapidly is a tribute to the work done by my predecessors as Ministers at the Cabinet Office in reforms to the civil service and to the Government Property Unit. He will have heard the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of State for Exiting the European Union about the very significant support that he has received, in number and in quality, from the civil service so far.
Electoral Law Reform
The Government are committed to ensuring that our electoral system is as transparent, accurate and effective as possible. We are working closely with the Law Commission to consider what reforms might be brought forward in the light of its report on electoral law published earlier this year. The Government are also considering the review by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) of electoral fraud, and we will respond to his proposals in due course.
Smaller parties received almost a quarter of the votes cast in the 2015 election. While once 97% of the country voted Labour or Tory, that number is now less than 70%, and indeed falling, but none of that is reflected here. Is it not now time for a very serious and mature discussion on how we can make every vote count in UK general elections?
The Government believe that first past the post is the best system for electing a Government at the same time as ensuring that the vital constituency link between a Member of Parliament and their constituents is retained. This is clearly in line with the public mood, reflected in the overwhelming majority support for first past the post at the referendum held in 2011.
Many 16 and 17-year-olds feel disfranchised by Westminster. In 2007, Austria lowered its voting age to 16, and has found that turnout among 16 and 17-year-olds is higher than for older first-time voters. Will the Minister now commit to seriously examining the evidence for extending the franchise to our young adults?
The Government believe that it is absolutely vital to our democracy that young people should be engaged in the democratic process, and we will continue our commitment to increasing participation. The current voting age of 18, however, is widely recognised as the point at which one becomes an adult and gains full citizenship rights. I note that the question of lowering the voting age has been debated in this House on several occasions, when it has been repeatedly defeated, including three times during proceedings on the European Union Referendum Bill. The Government therefore have no plans to reduce the voting age.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box, and I thank him and his predecessor for the help that they have given in the compilation of my report. Is my hon. Friend alarmed by the fact that it is harder to take out a library card or collect a parcel from the post office than it is to vote or obtain a postal vote in our trust-based system? That places our ballot boxes at a peculiar risk. When will the Government respond?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he has undertaken in producing his report on electoral fraud, which was published in the summer. It made an excellent summer read. The Government take electoral fraud incredibly seriously. His report highlights that important issue, and as a result we are currently considering his proposals and will formally respond to his report in due course.
I join in warmly welcoming the Minister to his new position. In the EU referendum The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore voted twice, spoiling the ballot paper from his second home, to show how the system could, in theory, be cheated. As the Minister considers proposals to strengthen electoral law against voter fraud, would he therefore also consider a new legal requirement for people with more than one residence to choose one of them in advance as the only place where they wish to be legally registered to vote?
I hope you do not mind, Mr Speaker, but I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor for the work he has undertaken. He has left me with a rich inheritance.
The incident involving Charles Moore is the subject of an investigation, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. I note, however, that the Law Commission report includes recommendations on electoral residence, which the Government will respond to in due course.
I welcome the Minister to his position, and I look forward to working with him. I think there has been a frightening complacency in the answers to this question so far. The Prime Minister spoke recently on the steps of Downing Street about the disfranchised. Does the Minister not realise that the voting system itself disfranchises many of our citizens, particularly 16 and 17-year-olds and those who vote for minor parties? Will he now commit, in this new Government, to reviewing our system to make it more fair and democratic?
The Government are committed to ensuring that we have a democracy that works for everyone. Already, the introduction of individual electoral registration has made it easier to register to vote than ever before, with 20 million applications to register to vote online since 2014. The Electoral Commission’s report from July 2016 found that thanks to IER, electoral registers are not only more complete than ever before, but, critically, more accurate than ever. The Government recognise that there is always more to do, and we are committed to a programme of boosting registration among certain vulnerable groups in order to build a more engaged democracy.
The Boundary Commissions for England and Wales will be publishing their initial recommendations on Tuesday 13 September, and the Boundary Commission for Scotland will do so later this year. The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland published its recommendations yesterday. The conduct of the boundary review is a matter for the independent Boundary Commissions. The initial proposals will be the subject of extensive consultation with political parties and local communities, after which revised proposals will be published at a later date.
I thank the Minister for his response, and I warmly welcome him to his position, where I am sure he will do an excellent job. I represent a rapidly growing new town with low voter registration, where an additional 5,000 new voters have hit the electoral roll in the past six months. Does the Minister agree that if the boundary review is to achieve constituencies of equal size by the next election, those factors need to be taken into consideration?
During every previous boundary review, Parliament has accepted that there must be a defined date and a set of registers to access. That was set down as a result of the delay to the 2013 review, which was voted for by Labour Members. Not only do those who now seek to delay the boundary review even further seek to overturn the accepted will of Parliament, but to delay the boundary review again would ensure that we have constituencies that are of dramatically unequal size, and that are based on data more than two decades old.
The boundary review next week is going to be a sham. Nearly 2 million voters have not been counted. Why does the Minister not start again, so that our democracy is not undermined by next week’s partisan gerrymandering?
Without the implementation of the reforms, legislated for by a majority in the previous Parliament, Members will continue to represent constituencies that were drawn up on the basis of data collected over 20 years ago, disregarding significant changes in the population since that happened. The status quo cannot and must not be an option. In future, boundary reviews will take place every five years to ensure that constituencies remain up to date, as they should be.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We cannot continue with the historical injustice of allowing such unequal representation. That representation currently allows for the electorate of one seat to be twice the size of another’s or, to put it in other words, allows one elector’s vote to be worth twice that of another. This injustice, long recognised, must be resolved.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his well-deserved promotion to the Treasury Bench. In the past, Ministers have argued that cutting the number of MPs will save the taxpayer £12 million. That is exactly the same amount of money that the previous Prime Minister has just spent on his lavender list of resignation honours. Is it not the case that this boundary redistribution is proceeding on the basis of a register from which 2 million people are excluded, and is that not an absolute affront to democracy?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to recognise that cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will not just save £12 million, but save £66 million over the course of a Parliament. At a time when many areas of public life have found savings, it is right that we should put our own house in order. Equally, it is right that we should finally establish the democratic principle of constituencies with an equal number of voters, which was first called for by the Chartists back in 1838 and recently endorsed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Cross-Government Departmental Resourcing
All Departments are currently reviewing their own structures and resources to ensure that we get the best deal for the whole of Britain. The Cabinet Office is helping to co-ordinate that effort.
The shake-up of Whitehall comes as insiders fear that Whitehall may simply be unable to face up to the scale of the Brexit negotiations if resources stay as they are. With the negotiations looming, rather than laying off civil servants and slashing budgets, is it not now time that our civil service was properly resourced and able to fight for the best deal for Britain?
I reject the hon. Lady’s assertions. The civil service is one of the finest in the world. It has already risen to the challenge of the immediate opportunities that, with Brexit, face us as a country. That is why I am delighted that we have been able to resource the two new Departments so successfully, and their Secretaries of State are very content with the support they are receiving.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary on their appointments, and say how much we on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee look forward to working with them? As well as focusing on resourcing and machinery, our inquiry into the civil service will focus on civil service leadership. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to develop stronger leadership in the civil service to inculcate the right values, the right attitudes, and the trust and openness on which a high-functioning organisation depends?
I, too, look forward to continuing my long-standing relationship with the Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, my near constituency neighbour. I agree with him entirely on his point about senior talent. We need to get as much talent as possible into the civil service at all levels. I have recently met the senior talent team in the civil service, a very impressive outfit, who have their work cut out to make sure that we can do even better.
In the context of the recent machinery of government changes, when will we know—or can the Minister tell us now—who will have responsibility for cross-Government co-ordination in respect of the work of the British-Irish Council, which relates to all eight Administrations in these islands?
I retain responsibility for the constitution as a whole, as does the Cabinet Office. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with a detailed reply so that he can have the satisfaction of that.
Anonymous Voter Registration: Domestic Violence Victims
The Government are determined that those whose personal safety would be at risk if their details appeared on the register should be able to register anonymously. I have arranged to meet representatives from Women’s Aid to discuss concerns they may have over the process of anonymous registration and have also written to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities to set out our plans to look at regulations on this important policy.
I thank the Minister for the information he has just given me and am pleased with what he has said. He has to acknowledge that some domestic violence victims choose not to go to the police and do not have easy access to the qualifying officers or registrars at present. I am pleased that he is having meetings and look forward to his announcing the steps he is going to take—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very unfair. The hon. Lady is asking a question about help for victims of domestic violence who wish to register to vote anonymously. I really think the House should be attentive to this matter.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged some of the difficulties these women have in registering. They are victims. I look forward to hearing the steps he will announce in the future. A very real barrier to registering to vote at present is the limited number of officers. The women do not have easy access to those people, which disfranchises them.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue with me. I recognise what she says. Those who have left domestic violence to seek a new life may be seen as some of the most vulnerable in society, but I believe that they are also some of the bravest. As I said, today I can announce that the Government will look closely at representations from Women’s Aid and other domestic violence charities. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady, since we are determined that no one should be denied the opportunity to vote.
I warmly welcome the Minister to his position. He will find that his letter is a reply to one I wrote on this topic when I was Minister for Women and Equalities. I warmly welcome what he has said, but he could speed things up by adding domestic violence protection orders and domestic violence protection notices to the list of evidence needed. I urge him to do that speedily.
I appreciated receiving my right hon. Friend’s letter. It was one of the first things in my inbox that I was determined to act on straightaway. The situation is slightly more complex, because changing the regulations would require a change to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, but the Government will review all aspects of the policy.
Most victims of domestic abuse never report the abuse to the police. Will the Government commit to reviewing the regulations, so that those women are able to register anonymously?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I have just given.
The Government are investing £2.25 billion in digital services over the next four years in order to recast the relationship between the people we seek to serve and the state. There is more to come. We are doing a lot, but there is a lot more to do.
May I join in the congratulations to the Minister on his new role? How could we better use digital sharing services to reduce the number of events never and serious untoward incidents in the NHS?
My hon. Friend is entirely right that it will be a digital solution that brings the most advantage to the area of the health service that she identifies. I am glad that the close working of the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, NHS Improvement and the NHS Litigation Authority, enabled through digital, will mean that we can reduce never events and serious untoward incidents.
In ensuring that use of digital technology proceeds at a pace, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that hacking of digital technology decreases and is eliminated?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that hacking poses a serious threat to our national infrastructure. I will be able to make more announcements in the next few weeks that I hope will colour the detail that he is seeking.
The Cabinet Office is responsible for delivering a democracy that works for everyone, supporting the design and delivery of Government policy and driving efficiencies and reforms to make government work better.
At a time when the Government are reducing the number of elected Members of this elected House of Parliament by 50, is it right that we keep 100 hereditary peers in another place when they owe their place in Parliament to patronage in the middle ages?
It is not for me to revisit the arguments over the House of Lords, and as our manifesto made clear, that is not a first priority of this Government. The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that, over the past few years, we have reduced the cost of the House of Lords quite considerably. [Interruption.]
Order. If the House were as courteous to the Minister as the Minister is to the House, that would be a great advance for all of us.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must take electoral fraud very seriously. The April 2015 election court judgment in Tower Hamlets exposed worrying electoral fraud and corruption. The Government are currently considering the recent review by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), which provides a range of measures to tackle electoral fraud, and will give a full response in due course.
I welcome you back, Mr Speaker, and give a very warm welcome to the new ministerial team. I congratulate them all on their appointments. We look forward to a positive working relationship with them, holding them to account and making a difference where we can.
I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, for my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), a new member of my team. She is on her honeymoon and cannot be with us today, but I am sure we wish her well in her marriage to Ben. My colleague may be on her honeymoon, but let me reassure the ministerial team that the honeymoon period for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is well and truly over. I have asked a series of questions about his responsibilities, but they have not been answered after 56 days in office. I therefore ask any member of the team: where is he today and what does he actually do?
The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions and I will ensure that I relay them to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but I can say that he is responsible for the chancellery of the Duchy of Lancaster.
What departmental responsibilities does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have, and how is he carrying them out?
The Chancellor the Duchy of Lancaster sits on a number of very important Cabinet Committees and has a number of responsibilities, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will find out in due course.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that my job is merely to serve. I will ensure that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary, the International Trade Secretary and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have all the resources they need to do their important job of work to ensure that we make a success of Brexit.
Order. The situation is intolerable. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard and Ministers are struggling to do so. I want to hear the hon. Gentleman—he can be assured of it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
During the recess, the Government Digital Service lost its second director general within a year and the Government received the resignations of the chief digital officers of two other Departments. As services are removed from local communities, what steps is the Minister taking to get the Government’s digital provision under control and to ensure that people have access to reliable online services?
I am very proud of what the Government Digital Service has achieved in the past few years. That is why it is rated the foremost digital service in the world connected with a Government. I am pleased to welcome Kevin Cunnington as the new director general—it is the first time the office has had a director general. He has a fine pedigree in the private sector and will bring his expertise to the Government Digital Service.
I am very glad to hear my hon. Friend endorse the words, on the steps of Downing Street, of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She will be glad to know that we have already had a substantial meeting to discuss the remit of the racial disparity audit. It will uncover uncomfortable truths, but unless we do that we will not be able to face up to the burning injustices that remain in our country.
The other place has an important role, as a revising chamber, in scrutinising and improving draft legislation. The Government are clear that an unelected chamber should not seek to block the will of the Commons. The Conservative manifesto is clear that reform of the House of Lords is needed and we have seen significant reforms, including the retirement of peers. Over 150 peers have left the Lords since 2010 and the Chamber is 400 Members smaller than in 1998. The operating costs of the Lords have also fallen by 14% since 2010.
My hon. Friend is entirely right: small and medium-sized enterprises power this nation. I hope that in the negotiations we are soon to begin we will unleash them even further into the global markets that Britain will now be able to exploit. She is also right to say that we should be giving more central Government contracts to small and medium-sized enterprises. We beat our target in the previous Parliament. We have an ambitious target of a third of all projects to go to SMEs in this Parliament. I hope to work with her to make sure we achieve that target, too.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know the whole House will join me in congratulating the British Olympic team on a truly magnificent performance in Rio: the record medal haul, second in the table ahead of China and so many memorable moments. We can say they did themselves and their country proud. I know the whole House will wish to give our very best wishes to our Paralympic athletes and wish them the best of success. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
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.
May I add my warm wishes to those of the Prime Minister to all Paralympians, in particular Bristolians? I know they will do us proud.
I am sure the whole House will be delighted that this country hosts a disproportionate number of the world’s finest universities. However, some of them are saying that they are already being shut out of important collaborations with other fine universities in the European Union, in anticipation of Brexit. They are very important for scientific, medical, engineering and other research, as well as for our economic prosperity. In view of this, will the Prime Minister please tell us what her strategy is?
May I first of all say to the hon. Lady how very good it is to see her in her place in this House? Of course we agree on the importance of our universities and the work they do and the research collaboration they have with a number of other countries, both within the EU and elsewhere. That is why, earlier this summer, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an announcement giving certain guarantees to universities in relation to funding decisions that are being taken by the European Union. We are standing behind our universities because we recognise the value they bring to the country.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The announcements by the Chancellor, to which I referred in answer to the first question, provided guarantees to the farming industry about the support available to it up to 2020. We need to recognise the significant role that the food and farming industry plays in the United Kingdom, and we will of course look to working with the sector—my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will be doing this—to see how to develop those industries with a view to the trade deals that will play their part as we look to the future.
May I join the Prime Minister in congratulating the entirety of the Olympic team on their fantastic achievements at the Olympics in Rio and wish the Paralympic team all the very best? Did our Olympic success set off the visit to China in a good way, or was there a bit of tension there, when bragging rights were allowed?
The average house price in Britain is now £215,000—over eight times the average wage. The average price of a first-time buyer’s home has risen by 12% in the past year. Is not the dream of home ownership for many people just that—a dream?
In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, President Xi actually congratulated me on the United Kingdom’s success in the Olympic games.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions housing, which he has raised on a number of occasions both with my predecessor and with me before we broke for the summer recess. Let me simply say this. Of course it is important for us to look at helping people to get their first step on to the housing ladder and ensuring that people are able to have the home that they want. That is why I am pleased that house building has been up under a Conservative Government by comparison with a Labour Government. We are not complacent, however, which is why we will do more to see more houses built under this Conservative Government and continue to provide support for people to ensure that they have the financial support that helps them to own their own homes.
Actually, house building under this Government is 45,000 fewer a year than it was under the last Labour Government, and many people are desperate to get their own place. Let me refer the Prime Minister to a note I received from a lady called Jenny whose partner and herself work in a supermarket earning £7.37 an hour each. They are trying to get a mortgage and have been told that they can borrow £73,000—not much hope for them, then. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) promised a one-for-one replacement for every council house sold under right to buy. Sadly, the reality is that there is only one for every five that are sold. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment and tell us when the one-for-one replacement will be a reality?
Let me first say to Jenny that I fully understand and appreciate the concerns individuals have about wanting to be able to set up and have their own home. I fully recognise the difficulties some people face in doing that. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is wrong about the figures on council houses. We have delivered on the one-for-one replacement under right to buy.
I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman had asked all his Twitter followers what questions he should ask me this week, so I thought I would look to see what sort of responses he had received. I have to say that the first one was quite good. In fact, he might want to ensure that he stays sitting down for this. Lewis writes, “Does she know that in a recent poll on who would make a better Prime Minister, ‘Don’t Know’ scored higher than Jeremy Corbyn?” What we do know is that, whoever wins the Labour party leadership, we are not going to let them anywhere near power again.
The number of first-time buyers has halved in the past 20 years, and their average age has increased a great deal. There is a housing crisis in Britain. Ten million people now live in the private rented sector, and many are forced to claim housing benefit to cover the costs of rents. Devastating figures released over the summer show that £9.3 billion of public money is paid through housing benefit directly into the pockets of private landlords. Does the Prime Minister think that that £9.3 billion going into the private rental market is really money well spent?
The right hon. Gentleman starts off talking about the importance of people being able to be in their own homes, and then challenges one of the measures that actually help people to get into their own homes, through housing benefit support in the private rented sector. It may be that he just has an ideological objection to the private rented sector, but I say to him that this Government are looking across the board to ensure that more houses are being built. We are seeking to ensure that there is a diversity of opportunity for people who want to be in their own homes.
Everything that the right hon. Gentleman says tells us all that we need to know about modern Labour: the train has left the station, the seats are all empty, and the leader is on the floor. Even on rolling stock, Labour is a laughing stock.
The Prime Minister’s predecessor, when discussing this issue, said:
“The simple point is this…every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you cannot spend on building houses.”—[Official Report, 10 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 1569.]
“If landlords rent out houses in a very bad state, such as heavy damp, wet walls, no working toilet…they need to be getting a fine. The government has to regulate”.
That is what Joyce wrote to me. The Citizens Advice Bureau says that one sixth of housing benefit goes to private sector landlords who are letting unsafe homes. Does the Prime Minister really think that that is a satisfactory state of affairs?
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that housing benefit is such a bad thing, why is it that, when we changed the rules on housing benefit, the Labour party opposed those changes? He talks about bad landlords. We are making changes. We have changed the rules on selective licensing. We think that giving councils free rein to impose burdensome bureaucracy on landlords would cause problems in the market that would actually lead to higher costs for both tenants and landlords. We are introducing new regulations in relation to houses in multiple occupation. We are looking at all those issues. I recognise, as will every Member in the House, the problems that people sometimes experience when they are living in accommodation that is not up to the standard of the accommodation in which we would all wish people to live. That is why we are changing the rules and ensuring that the regulations are there.
That is extremely interesting, because only a year ago the Prime Minister voted against a Labour amendment to the Housing Bill that said, quite simply, that all homes for rent in the private sector should be fit for human habitation. Just over a year ago, the Treasury estimated that it was losing half a billion pounds a year in tax unpaid by private sector landlords. So there we have it: £9.5 billion in housing benefit, half a billion pounds not being collected and a very large number of homes that are not really fit for human habitation. Does that not require Government intervention on the side of the tenant and those in housing need?
The right hon. Gentleman asks for the Government to intervene. The Government have, through the Housing and Planning Act 2016, introduced further tough measures such as civil penalties, banning orders for serious offences and the extension of rent repayment orders. We have provided money so that local authorities can conduct more inspections of people’s homes, and we have seen more properties being inspected. Thousands of landlords now face further action. Far from not taking action in this area, the Government have done so.
But I say this to the right hon. Gentleman: he may have a model of society where he does not want to see private landlords, and where he wants to see the Government owning everything, deliberating on everything and doing everything for everybody. That is not what we want: we want opportunities for people; we want to help them to take those opportunities. That is a big difference between him and me.
Of course we all recognise that there is a mixed housing economy, but we want to make sure that those living in the private rented sector are properly treated and not having to pay excessive levels of rent.
Women’s Aid has said that two thirds of women refuges are going to close because of the benefit cap when it comes into force and that 87% of women and children in those refuges will suffer as a result, and that most of those refuges require an income level that comes mainly from housing benefit—90% of their income comes from it. Does the Prime Minister recognise that the women in those refuges are very vulnerable and that closure of those refuges would be devastating for them—very dangerous for the most vulnerable people in our society? Will she take action to make sure that the cap does not apply to Women’s Aid refuges in any part of Britain?
The right hon. Gentleman raises the very important issue of domestic violence. We should across this House be doing all we can to stop these terrible crimes that are taking place and obviously to provide support to the victims and survivors. That is why we are working on exempting refuges from the cap in relation to what he speaks about, but I would also remind him of the very good record we have on domestic violence. It was a Conservative Government who introduced the new offence of coercive control that put into practice the domestic violence protection orders, who introduced Clare’s law, and who are putting £80 million into support for domestic violence victims in the period up to 2020. We are listening and responding to these problems, and we all take this very seriously indeed.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman as well that it is 50 days, I think, since he and I last met across this Dispatch Box—
Nice to see you.
Well, it is very good to see him sitting in his place. Let us just look at the contrast in what has been done over this summer. The Conservative Government have been working tirelessly to support everyone in this country: £250 million of loans to small businesses, the introduction of the racial disparity audit looking at public services and how they treat people, and of course setting the groundwork for new trade deals around the world. What a contrast with the Labour party, divided among themselves and incapable of uniting our country. What we do know is that there is only one party that is going to provide a country, a Government, an economy, a society that works for everyone, and that is the Conservative party.
My hon. and learned Friend raises an important point, and there has, I think, been a collective concern about the way in which mental health is dealt with. That is why we have put a record £1.4 billion into transforming the dedicated mental health support that is available to young people across the country. That includes £150 million for services to support children and young people with eating disorders. There are various other things, too: we are publishing a blueprint for school counselling services, because my hon. and learned Friend is right that the role that schools play is very important, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will be looking very closely at the “Good Childhood Report” to see what more we can do.
I join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party in praising all Olympians. This is the first day of the Paralympics, and I wish all Paralympians from all parts of these islands well. They are an inspiration to us all.
There is real concern and worry about the prospects for Brexit, especially in Scotland, where the majority of people voted to remain within the European Union. The UK Government have had all summer to come up with a plan and a strategy, but so far we have just had waffle. I want to ask the Prime Minister a simple but important question. Does she want the UK to remain fully within the European single market?
What I want for the UK is that we put into practice the vote that was taken by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, that we get the right deal for trade in goods and services with the European Union in the new relationship that we will be building with it, and that we introduce control over the movement of people from the European Union into the United Kingdom. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we can approach the vote that took place on 23 June in two ways. We could try to row back on it, have a second referendum and say that we did not really believe it, but actually we are respecting the views of the British people. More than that, we will be seizing the opportunities that leaving the European Union now gives us to forge a new role for the United Kingdom in the world.
We on these Benches respect the views of the people of Scotland, who voted to remain in the European Union. The European single market—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman must be heard, and he will be heard.
Thank you Mr Speaker. The European single market is the biggest market in the world and it really matters to our businesses and to our economy. I asked the Prime Minister a very simple question, to which there is either an in or an out answer. Let me ask it again. Does she want the United Kingdom to remain fully part of the European single market? Yes or no?
The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to quite understand what the vote on 23 June was about. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union and we will build a new relationship with the European Union. That new relationship will include control over the movement of people from the EU into the UK, and it will include the right deal for trade in goods and services. That is how to approach it. I also say to him that, in looking at the negotiations, it would not be right for me or this Government to give a running commentary on them—[Interruption.]
Order. Just as I said that the right hon. Gentleman must be heard, so must the Prime Minister’s answer be heard, and it will be.
And it would not be right to prejudge those negotiations. We will be ensuring that we seize the opportunities for growth and prosperity across the whole of the United Kingdom, including growth and prosperity in Scotland. As we saw from the figures released this summer, what really gives growth and prosperity in Scotland is being a member of the United Kingdom.
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance and also to join him in paying tribute to his council and the work that it is doing, and indeed to all those involved in that innovative scheme. High-speed broadband is an important part of 21st-century infrastructure, and we will be doing everything we can to ensure that it is available for people, because that will enable us to develop jobs and to grow prosperity in this country.
Of course, our thoughts are with all the families affected by what has happened to Penman Engineering. The administrator has a role in ensuring that any sale of the business protects the maximum number of jobs, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made it clear that that is his priority. I hope that the Scottish Government will offer their support to this long-standing business. As I said, our thoughts are with all those who have been affected, and the administrator will obviously be looking to ensure that the best possible options are found for the company.
Order. Progress is very slow and there is far too much noise. The hon. Gentleman will be heard. It is as simple as that.
To that end, will the Prime Minister confirm that there is no basis in law to require the Government to seek the permission of Parliament before invoking article 50?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right and the Government’s position is clear. This is a prerogative power and one that can be exercised by the Government. As he alluded to in his question, no one should be in any doubt that those who are trying to prolong the process by their legal references in relation to Parliament are not those who want to see us successfully leave the European Union; they are those who want to try to stop us leaving.
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s lobbying for Manchester and will of course seriously consider what he says. May I also say how pleased I am that Manchester will host the parade for our Olympic athletes?
I absolutely agree with all my hon. Friend’s points. We must never forget the importance of NATO. It is the cornerstone of our defence and security, and that strength is based on the fact that all NATO partners have committed to article 5 and to operating on the basis of article 5. Anybody who rejects that is rejecting that security and that defence. They would be undermining not only our national security, but the national security of our allies. What we know from the Labour party is that far from delivering stronger defence, it would cut defence spending, undermine NATO and scrap the nuclear deterrent.
The hon. Lady is right: what happened at Loughinisland was a terrible evil. I am sure everybody across the House will want to join me in expressing our sympathies to all those affected by the appalling atrocity. As she has said, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) said, the Government accept the police ombudsman’s report and the Chief Constable’s response. It is important that where there are allegations of police misconduct, those are taken seriously and are properly looked into; if there has been wrongdoing, it must be pursued. Obviously, this is now a matter for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, although I would remind the hon. Lady that the Chief Constable has made it very clear that he is determined to ensure that where there has been wrongdoing, people will be brought to justice.
It is absolutely the point of these plans that they are locally driven. They will be considered locally and should be taking into account the concerns and interests locally, not just those of the clinical commissioning groups, but those of the local authorities and of the public. These plans must be driven from the locality, so I give my hon. Friend that assurance.
Parties from across this House supported the proposal that the Boundary Commission would follow this timetable and would bring forward these proposals, and that by 2018 those Boundary Commission proposals would be put in place. All parties supported that, and I continue to support it.
My hon. Friend has been a passionate advocate for support for his local area, given some of the pressures Dover finds itself under as a cross-channel port. This is an important issue and we are committed to providing support. The money for the lorry park was, of course, announced last November, the site was announced in July and I believe that consultation is now taking place on the potential design for that site. On the possible dualling of the A2, he is right to say that we want to support local infrastructure to be able to handle the growth in traffic, particularly given that there are expansion plans for the port. I assure him that Dover will be considered as part of the planning for the next road investment strategy.
I join the hon. Lady in wishing all those going to school, many for the first time, well in their education. We will be aiming to ensure that every child has the education that is right for them and the opportunities that are right for them. It is right that we look at the national funding formula, but that will be done carefully to see what the impact will be across all parts of the country.
Again, my hon. Friend raises an important point about the relevance and significance of our universities. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to give confidence and reassurance to universities in the summer about the funding arrangements that will continue while we are still a member of the European Union. While we are a member of the EU, we will maintain our full rights and obligations of membership, and expect others to deal with us on that same basis. Of course, looking ahead, we have a higher education Bill going through this House, which is about how we can ensure that we have the university places available in this country to provide the education that we want to provide. We have a great record on higher education in this country. We want to build on that and develop it for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman’s question tempts me to go down a number of routes in answering him. What I will say is that I recognise the importance of his local hospital trust, and I am pleased to say that, over the past six years, we have seen more doctors and more nurses in that trust able to provide more services and more facilities. Indeed, since 2010, the capital spend in the trust has been £72.7 million. We will be looking to ensure that we provide the health service that is right for everyone in this country.
At the moment, there are 80 vulnerable elderly patients in Kettering general hospital awaiting delayed transfer to social care. The national guidelines say that there should be 25. In the next few weeks, the number is likely to rise to 200—the highest in the country—with a similar number at Northampton general hospital because of proposals by Northamptonshire County Council to extend social care assessments from three days to four weeks. To prevent this crisis, will the Prime Minister authorise a joint meeting of local government and Health Ministers, county MPs, the local NHS and the county council to bang heads together to prevent this crisis from happening?
I will ensure that the Health Department is aware of the requests that my hon. Friend has put forward. I think that everybody in this House is well aware of the challenge that we face in relation to the interaction of social care with hospitals. We have already looked at this issue. We have put money into the better care fund, and we have been considering the better working together of health services and social services under local authorities, but it is one of the challenges that we face. There are some areas where this interaction has been done very well, and it is right that we look at those and try to spread that good practice. I will make sure that the Health Department is aware of his concern.
Nine months after signing the Paris climate agreement, the Government still have not ratified the treaty. According to the Committee on Climate Change, they lack half the policies they need to meet their climate targets. With the delayed carbon reduction plan and the very real risk of missing our renewable energy targets, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reassure people that the Government remain committed to climate action? Will they follow the example of the 26 states that have already ratified the treaty, including the US and China? Will they give us a firm date for ratification before the follow-up negotiations in November?
I am happy to assure the hon. Lady that we will be ratifying the Paris agreement. Indeed, it was my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary who, as Energy Secretary, played a very key role in ensuring that the Paris agreement was achieved. We have been identified as the second best country in the world for tackling climate change, and I had hoped that the hon. Lady would want to congratulate us on that.
Today is World Duchenne Awareness Day, which is designed to draw attention to a terrible muscle wasting disease that affects a small number of young men. On this day, will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the recent announcement that the drug Translarna will now be available to these young boys in NHS England, and will she congratulate my constituent Archie Hill, Muscular Dystrophy UK, and all those colleagues in this House and some former Ministers who have worked so hard to make this life-changing drug available in this country?
I am very happy to join my right hon. Friend in congratulating all those who were involved in making sure that that innovative drug is available, and I thank her for raising awareness of this very important issue. I know that, as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) met Archie, the young man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and was inspired by him. I am sure that all Members across the House will welcome the fact that this innovative drug is now available on the NHS. We are committed to ensuring that patients with rare conditions get access to the latest medicines and we are taking some bold steps to speed up that process.
Will the Prime Minister join me and, I am sure, the whole House in sending our deepest sympathy and sincere condolences to the family and friends of Rozanne Cooper and her 10-year-old nephew, Makayah McDermott, who were mown down by a stolen car in Penge last week? May we also send best wishes to the three young girls who were involved, all family members? While other inquiries, including those by the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, are being undertaken and the matter is before the courts, I shall say no more about the specific case. However, is the Prime Minister aware of the widespread public concern that the law on causing death by dangerous driving is wholly inadequate? Will she undertake a review of both its suitability and its applicability as the courts implement it?
First, I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing our sympathies to all those who were involved in that terrible accident—the terrible tragedy that took place when, as he said, a stolen car mowed down two people and affected others as well. I am aware of the concern that there is about the law on dangerous driving. The daughter of constituents of mine was killed as a result of dangerous driving, and they have raised concerns with me specifically about their case. This is a matter which, I believe, the Ministry of Justice is looking at.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the G20 summit in China.
Before I turn to the G20, however, I would like to say something about the process of Brexit. On 23 June the British people were asked to vote on whether we should stay in the EU or leave. The majority decided to leave. Our task now is to deliver the will of the British people and negotiate the best possible deal for our country. I know many people are keen to see rapid progress and to understand what post-Brexit Britain will look like. We are getting on with that vital work, but we must also think through the issues in a sober and considered way.
As I have said, this is about getting the kind of deal that is ambitious and bold for Britain. It is not about the Norway model, the Swiss model or any other country’s model—it is about developing our own British model. So we will not take decisions until we are ready, we will not reveal our hand prematurely, and we will not provide a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiation. I say that because that is not the best way to conduct a strong and mature negotiation that will deliver the best deal for the people of this country. As the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union told the House on Monday, what we will do is maximise and seize the opportunities that Brexit presents. That is the approach I took to the G20 summit.
This was the first time that the world’s leading economies have come together since the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and it demonstrated the leading role that we continue to play in the world as a bold, ambitious and outward-looking nation. Building on our strength as a great trading nation, we were clear that we had to resist a retreat to protectionism, and we had conversations about how we could explore new bilateral trading arrangements with key partners around the world. We initiated important discussions on responding to rising anti-globalisation sentiment and ensuring that the world’s economies work for everyone, and we continued to play our part in working with our allies to confront the global challenges of terrorism and migration. Let me take each in turn.
Trading with partners all around the globe has been the foundation of our prosperity in the past, and it will underpin our prosperity in the future. So under my leadership, as we leave the EU, Britain will seek to become the global leader in free trade. At this summit we secured widespread agreement across the G20 to resist a retreat to protectionism, including a specific agreement to extend the roll-back of protectionist measures until at least the end of 2018.
The G20 also committed to ratify by the end of this year the World Trade Organisation agreement to reduce the costs and burdens of moving goods across borders, and it agreed to do more to encourage firms of all sizes, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises and female-led firms, to take full advantage of global supply chains. Britain also continued to press for an ambitious EU trade agenda, including implementing the EU-Canada deal and forging agreements with Japan and America, and we will continue to make these arguments for as long as we are members of the EU.
But as we leave the EU, we will also forge our own new trade deals, and I am pleased to say that just as the UK is keen to seize the opportunities that leaving the EU presents, so too are many of our international partners, who recognise the attractiveness of doing business with the UK. The leaders from India, Mexico, South Korea and Singapore said that they would welcome talks on removing the barriers to trade between our countries. The Australian Trade Minister visited the UK yesterday to take part in exploratory discussions on the shape of a UK-Australia trade deal. And in our bilateral at the end of the summit, President Xi also made it clear that China would welcome discussions on a bilateral trade arrangement with the UK.
As we do more to advance free trade around the world, so we must also do more to ensure that working people really benefit from the opportunities it creates. Across the world today, many feel these opportunities do not seem to come to them. They feel a lack of control over their lives. They have a job but no job security; they have a home but worry about paying the mortgage. They are just about managing, but life is hard, and it is not enough for Governments to take a hands-off approach. So at this summit I argued that we need to deliver an economy that works for everyone, with bold action at home and co-operation abroad. That is why, in Britain, we are developing a proper industrial strategy to improve productivity in every part of the country, so more people can share in our national prosperity through higher real wages and greater opportunities for young people.
To restore greater fairness, we will be consulting on new measures to tackle corporate irresponsibility. These will include cracking down on excessive corporate pay, poor corporate governance, short-termism and aggressive tax avoidance, and giving employees and customers representation on company boards. At the G20, this mission of ensuring the economy works for everyone was echoed by other leaders, and this is an agenda that Britain will continue to lead in the months and years ahead.
Together, we agreed to continue efforts to fight corruption—building on the London summit—and do more to stop aggressive tax avoidance, including stopping companies avoiding tax by shifting profits from one jurisdiction to another. We also agreed to work together to address the causes of excess global production in heavy industries, including in the steel market, and we will establish a new forum to discuss issues such as subsidies that contribute to market distortions. All these steps are important if we are to retain support for free trade and the open economies which are the bedrock of global growth.
Turning to global security, Britain remains at the heart of the fight against Daesh, and at this summit we discussed the need for robust plans to manage the threat of foreign fighters dispersing from Syria, Iraq and Libya. We called for the proper enforcement of the UN sanctions regime to limit the financing of all terrorist organisations and for more action to improve standards in aviation security, including through a UN Security Council resolution which the UK has been pursuing and which we hope will be adopted later this month. We also agreed the need to confront the ideology that underpins this terrorism. That means addressing both violent and non-violent extremism and working across borders to tackle radicalisation online.
Turning to the migration crisis, Britain will continue to meet our promises to the poorest in the world, including through humanitarian efforts to support refugees, and we will make further commitments at President Obama’s summit in New York later this month. But at the G20 I also argued that we cannot shy away from dealing with illegal migration, and I will be returning to this at the UN General Assembly. We need to improve the way we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. This will enable our economies to benefit from controlled economic migration. In doing so, we will be able to get more help to refugees who need it, and retain popular support for doing so. This does not just protect our own people. By reducing the scope for the mass population movements we are seeing today, and at the same time investing to address the underlying drivers of mass migration at source, we can achieve better outcomes for the migrants themselves. As part of this new approach, we also need a much more concerted effort to address modern slavery. This sickening trade, often using the same criminal networks that facilitate illegal migration, is an affront to our humanity, and I want Britain to be leading a global effort to stamp it out.
When the British people voted to leave the European Union, they did not vote to leave Europe, to turn inwards, or to walk away from the G20 or any of our international partners around the world. That has never been the British way. We have always understood that our success as a sovereign nation is inextricably bound up in our trade and our co-operation with others. By building on existing partnerships, forging new relationships and shaping an ambitious global role, we will make a success of Brexit—for Britain and for all our partners—and we will continue to strengthen the prosperity and security of all our citizens for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement on the G20 statement and for giving me an advance copy of it.
I first went to China in 1998 to attend a United Nations conference on human rights—the same year in which the European convention on human rights was incorporated into UK law in our Human Rights Act. That legislation has protected the liberties of our people and held successive British Governments to account. That is why Labour Members share the concerns of so many at the Prime Minister’s Government’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.
On the issues of Brexit and the G20, the Prime Minister said that she was not going to reveal her hand on this subject. Nobody would blame her, because she has not revealed her hand, or indeed any of the Government’s many hands, on this particular thing; they are unclear about what they are trying to do. The G20 met in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union. We have to be clear: we accept the decision taken by the majority of our people. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the outcome has left this country divided, with increased levels of hate crimes, huge uncertainty about what comes next for our country, and an extraordinary lack of planning and preparation on how to navigate the post-referendum situation in relation to Europe.
That uncertainty and division have been made worse by Government Ministers’ political posturing and often very contradictory messages, which do not seem to add up to a considered position. Yesterday the Brexit Secretary said that staying in the single market was “improbable”; the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said that was not the case. It is one or the other; it cannot be both. So can the Prime Minister tell the House what the Government’s policy actually is?
The negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU must focus on expanding trade, jobs and investment, and on defending social, employment and environmental protections. Many colleagues raised during Prime Minister’s Question Time the uncertainty facing universities, for example. The question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) is a very important one. They need certainty about their relationship with European universities immediately—it cannot wait. Parliament and the public cannot be sidelined from this, the greatest constitutional change this country has embarked on for 20 years.
Corporate globalisation is a key issue that has to be addressed, and I am pleased that the G20 did address it—or apparently so. The G20 was formed in response to the global financial crisis of 2008: a devastating event that was triggered by reckless deregulation of the financial sector. It is a model of running the global economy that, as the Prime Minister acknowledges, has produced huge increases in inequality and failed in its own terms. I raised this issue with President Obama during his visit earlier this year. It is clear that rising levels of inequality in all our economies fuel insecurities and pit people and communities against each another.
It has been 40 years since the UK has had to engage in bilateral trade negotiations. The free trade dogma that the Prime Minister spoke of has often been pursued at the expense of the world’s most fragile economies, and has been realised with destructive consequences for our environment. We need a UK trade agenda that protects people and the environment. I urge the Prime Minister to stand with me against the use of Britain’s aid and trade policies to further the agenda of deregulation and privatisation in developing countries. We need a trade policy that values human rights and human dignity.
In particular, could the Prime Minister inform the House about her talks with the Chinese president in two crucial areas, the first of which I raised with him in my meeting last autumn? The UK steel industry continues to face deeply challenging times. A key reason for this is the scale of cheap, subsidised Chinese steel that is flooding European markets. What assurances did President Xi give that this practice will stop, and stop now, because of the damage it is doing to the steel industry in this country, and indeed in others? On the question of Hinkley, during the summer the Prime Minister announced that she was postponing the decision on the new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point. Could she take this opportunity to explain to the House why she decided to postpone the decision, and also set out which aspects of the contract she is apparently re-examining?
The Prime Minister was involved in discussions at the G20 about global challenges to security. As the complex, brutal conflicts continue across the middle east, I agree that we need a concerted global response to these challenges. The human cost of the refugee crisis, including the thousands drowning in the sea each year, must be our No. 1 concern and our No. 1 humanitarian response. That is why I remain concerned that at the heart of this Government’s security strategy is apparently increased arms exports to the very part of the world that most immediately threatens our security. The British Government continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia that are being used to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen, as has been clearly detailed by the UN and other independent agencies. Will the Prime Minister commit today to halting the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia that have been used to prosecute this war in Yemen, with the humanitarian devastation that has resulted from that?
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues. First, he referred to the question of hate crimes that have taken place in the United Kingdom. We have a proud history in the UK of welcoming people into this country, and there is no place in our society for hate crime. The Government have already published a new action plan to take action against hate crime. We are concerned about the levels of hate crime that we have seen. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary met Polish Ministers earlier this week to discuss the particular concern about some terrible attacks that have taken place on Polish people here in the UK. We are very clear, and the police are very clear, that they will act robustly in relation to hate crime. Anybody who has been a victim of this or who has allegations of hate crime taking place should take those allegations to the police.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about what we will be doing in our negotiations with the European Union. I covered this in my statement, but just to reiterate: what we will be doing as we negotiate our leaving the European Union is negotiating a new relationship with the European Union. That will include control on the movement of people from the EU into the UK—I do not think he referred to that—but it will also be about getting the right deal for trade in goods and services that we want to see. It will be a new relationship. As I indicated in my statement, and indeed in Prime Minister’s questions, I will not be giving a running commentary, and the Government will not be giving a running commentary, on our negotiations. There is a very good reason for that. We want to get the best deal. We want to get the right deal for the United Kingdom, and if we were to give a constant running commentary and give away our negotiating hand, then that is not what we would achieve.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the issue of steel. I raised the issue of over-production in the plenary session. That was important, because it was not just being raised with the Chinese Government but with all the leaders around the table. Crucially, the G20 has recognised the significant of this and recognised the steps that some Governments are taking, which are leading to some of the problems that we see. That is why the new forum has been introduced, which will be looking at these issues. The Chinese will be sitting on that forum, and they will be part of those discussions.
On Hinkley, I have said it before and I will say it again: the way I work is that I do not just take a decision without looking at the analysis. I am looking at the details and looking at the analysis, and a decision will be taken later this month.
On Saudi Arabia, I met the deputy crown prince at the G20, and I raised with him the concerns about the reports of what has happened in Yemen. I insisted that these should be properly investigated. The Leader of the Opposition referred to our relations with Saudi Arabia, and I think he implied that what happened in Saudi Arabia was a threat to the safety of people here in the UK. Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.
Finally, I hold the very clear view, as does the Conservative party, that if we are to see prosperity and growth in the economies around the world, the way to get there is through free trade. Free trade has underpinned the prosperity of this country. I will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on action to help developing countries and those who are in poverty elsewhere in the world, because this Government have a fine record of humanitarian support, educating girls and others around the world and helping to give people access to the medical care, water and resources that they need. It is free trade that underpins our growth, and we will be the global leader in free trade. Free trade can also be the best anti-poverty policy for those countries. I will unashamedly go out there and give the message that we want a free trade country, and I am only sorry that the Labour party is turning its back on something that has led to the prosperity of the United Kingdom.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her emphatic support for free trade? In the European Union, according to the Office for National Statistics, we run a deficit with the other 27 member states of £62 billion a year. However, we run a surplus of more than £30 billion on the same goods and services with the rest of the world, and that surplus went up about £10 billion last year alone. Will my right hon. Friend therefore continue her crusade for free trade to develop our world opportunities through Brexit and to make sure that the European Commission and the European Union no longer continue to run our trade policy? We will do it ourselves, and we will do it really well.
My hon. Friend is right. We have an opportunity, and I want to ensure that we are ambitious in seizing that opportunity to develop trade deals around the world. We will be developing the new relationship that I have referred to with the European Union, part of which will obviously be about how we trade with the EU in relation to goods and services, but we have the opportunity to develop trading relationships around the rest of the world. Of course, we cannot formally have those deals in place and operating until we leave the European Union, but we can do the preparation to make sure that they are there when we need them.
May I begin by thanking the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement? In one area, I agree with her. The G20 summit was very much cast with the Brexit vote and her Brexit brainstorming from the previous week. I read one report about it, which said that what Brexit appeared to mean at the G20 was the Prime Minister getting shunted to the back of the row of the leaders’ group photo, being briefed against by the Americans and the Japanese and being left to big up the fact that Mexico, Australia and Singapore have expressed a vague interest in doing trade deals. [Interruption.] The Conservatives do not like it, but that is how other people view the United Kingdom internationally at present.
G20 leaders are as keen as we all are to learn what on earth the UK Government’s plans are for leaving the European Union. I asked the Prime Minister twice during Prime Minister’s questions a really simple question. Since then, she has said that she will
“not be giving a running commentary”—
it seems more like she is giving no commentary whatsoever—and that she is not going to comment on “every twist and turn”. Being a full member of the European single market is not a twist or a turn. It is absolutely fundamental to business across the United Kingdom. Does she seriously expect to be able to hold out for years in not confirming whether she wants the UK to remain a full member of the single market? Please can she tell us now: does she want the UK to remain fully within the single market—yes or no? It is not that difficult.
On trade, we know that the United States and pretty much every other country want a trade deal with the European Union ahead of the United Kingdom, and that they want a trade deal with the UK only after the UK leaves the European Union. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many trade negotiators the UK Government have hired since the referendum?
On immigration, we learned that the promise of a points-based immigration system is being ditched. At the same time, the UK Government apparently plan to trail-blaze a policy first mooted by Donald Trump and build a wall. Is the Prime Minister not totally ashamed? Surely she can come up with something better than that.
May I ask the Prime Minister two specific funding questions? Voters were promised that if they voted to leave the European Union, the national health service would receive an extra £350 million a week. Will the Prime Minister confirm that that promise, like the immigration promise made by the leave campaign, is being broken? An important question that really matters to a lot of people in coastal communities in Scotland is about the funding of more than €100 million that they were due to receive from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund between now and 2023. There has been no commitment whatsoever from the UK Government to honour that funding round. Will she give it now?
It has been very problematic in recent weeks to have to deal with a situation in which the Prime Minister’s party has suggested that EU citizens should not participate fully in Scottish public life. We in the Scottish National party totally repudiate that narrow-minded, racist and xenophobic position.
The Prime Minister is shaking her head, but she should be aware of this. Will she take the opportunity to dissociate her party from this, apologise for it and confirm that we value the contribution of European Union citizens living in this country, and that we are grateful for it? [Interruption.]
As the right hon. Gentleman has taken twice as much time as he was allocated—punctuated by some interruptions, it is true—I trust that his last sentence will be a pithy one.
The Prime Minister has not yet had time to make an oral statement to the House on the important matter of the estates review of the Ministry of Defence. Will she confirm the commitment that the Government have given to communities that there will be consultation with them before final decisions and announcements are made?
That is an extremely important matter, but it is not obvious to me how it appertains to the G20.
I will try to limit my response to the key issues in my statement that the right hon. Gentleman picked up. First, on the issue of immigration, he says that a points-based system has been rejected. What the people of the United Kingdom voted for on 23 June, as part of the vote to leave the European Union, was to have control over people who move from the European Union into the United Kingdom. A points- based system does not give us that control. A points-based system means that anybody who meets a certain set of criteria is automatically allowed to enter the country. It does not give the Government the opportunity to control and make the decisions about who can enter the country. It is that issue of control that we will be looking for as we decide the relationship that we will have with the European Union in future.
The right hon. Gentleman said a lot about trade deals with other countries, about the EU, about opportunities and so forth. What I saw at the G20, in my discussions with a number of other world leaders, was a great willingness to seize the opportunities that come from the UK leaving the European Union and to do exactly the sort of trade deals that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has just referred to. I think we should, as a United Kingdom, be willing to seize those opportunities. We should be ambitious in the deals that we wish to do around the world. As I have said, we should be the global leader in free trade. We should be taking those opportunities and ensuring that, as we leave the European Union, we are able to have the relationships that will ensure growth and prosperity for the whole of the United Kingdom, including growth and prosperity for Scotland.
At the G20, with the Saudi deputy crown prince, the Prime Minister met the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, who is now in London. Is she as delighted as I am that he made it clear to parliamentarians this morning that we can now add the Gulf Co-operation Council to the list of those parts of the world seeking an early free trade deal with the United Kingdom?
Yes, I echo my hon. Friend’s comments. I am pleased that that has been reiterated. In fact, I discussed the issue with the deputy crown prince, and I am pleased that the GCC is in that position, too.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for early sight of it. Now that Australia has today joined America at the G20 last week in slapping down her Government—telling us that we are in fact at the back of the queue for a trade deal—the plain fact is that this Government are not concealing their hand because they have not got a hand or, it would appear, a clue. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reassure business and confirm that we will remain a member of the European single market? Does she agree with me that we trusted the British people with the question of our departure, so we should trust them with the question of our destination and put whatever deal she negotiates to the British people in a referendum?
The hon. Gentleman refers to the remarks that have been made by the Australian Trade Minister. What the Australian Trade Minister has done is, very simply, to set out the legal position. I mentioned it in response to an earlier point. The legal position is that we are not able finally to sign or put into practice trade deals with other countries while we remain a member of the European Union. That is just the situation. It does not mean we cannot prepare for that. It does not mean we cannot negotiate about and discuss that.
I am also very clear that as long as we are full members of the European Union—until the point at which we leave—we will be advocates for free trade. We will be advocates for the trade deals that the European Union is negotiating with other countries. I have given that commitment to Prime Minister Trudeau in relation to the EU-Canada trade deal. I have given that commitment to President Obama in relation to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the negotiation on it. We will play our full part, but at the same time, we will be looking to have the discussions that will enable us, when we leave the European Union, to have the trade deals that will give us the growth and prosperity we want.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the way in which she, quite rightly, puts forward the huge benefits of free trade. I know that she will be aware and share the concerns of, notably, the financial and automotive sectors about any consequences of our abandoning our membership of the single market, which of course ensures that we can trade free of customs duties and with all the benefits that the single market confers. Although she is right to say that we do not want a running commentary on what now faces us, may I urge her to consider the fact that we do need some principles? What assurances can she give us about customs duties and tariffs, and about our membership of the single market?
I absolutely recognise the important role that our automotive industry plays in the United Kingdom. I was very pleased to visit Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull a few days ago to see the huge success that has been made of that company, with the extra employment it has brought and, as I say, the growth that it continues to make.
On the issue of the sort of language used about membership of the single market, access to the single market and so forth, I would say this to my right hon. Friend. As I said earlier—I repeat it again—we want the right deal for trade in goods and services for the United Kingdom. This is about saying, when we are outside the European Union, what the right relationship will be with the European Union on trade. That is why it is important for us not simply to think of this as trying to replicate something here or something there, but actually to say, “What is the deal that we want for the future?” That is the work the Department for Exiting the European Union is doing at the moment, looking at and, in particular, talking to different sectors—the automotive industry will be one of those sectors—to ask what they are looking for and what they want to see, so that we can forge the deal and then go out there, be ambitious and get it.
Three months ago, the International Syria Support Group agreed, as a last resort, to back airdrops to deliver much needed humanitarian supplies to besieged areas of Syria, including Aleppo. However, since then, the only things that have arrived from the sky have been Russian missiles and Syrian barrel bombs, including, as was alleged yesterday, those with chlorine, a banned chemical weapon. Will the Prime Minister tell the House, based on her discussions at the G20 about the situation in Syria, whether that commitment still holds, and if so, when she expects humanitarian relief finally to get through by whatever means to the people who have suffered for so long?
I think I can give the right hon. Gentleman the reassurance that there is still that commitment. The situation on the ground has, as he said, made it incredibly difficult for the delivery of that commitment. The issue of humanitarian aid getting into Aleppo was one that I raised directly with President Putin in my discussions with him.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to concern about the sort of weaponry that is being used, potentially, by the Syrian regime. We have been very clear, as he will know, about our opposition to what is happening in relation to that. We are very concerned about the reports that have come forward. Obviously, it is important that those reports be properly looked at. In the longer term, we remain committed to a political transition in Syria, and that will be a political transition to a Syria without President Assad.
I am very pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s full support for free trade as underpinning our prosperity in Britain and across the world. I had thought, until I listened to the Leader of the Opposition, that that was widely shared on both sides of the House. Given that it is not, and given the worrying noises we are hearing from both candidates in the US presidential election—they both sound not terribly enthusiastic about free trade—will she make it a policy of her Government to campaign for free trade in the United Kingdom and to argue for its merits on the global stage?
My right hon. Friend expresses his surprise—I think there was surprise on this side of the House—when the Leader of the Opposition showed his hand in saying that he was not in favour of free trade. Indeed, I suspect many right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches were surprised to hear that that was the policy of the Labour party. We will be advocates—strong advocates—of free trade, as my right hon. Friend suggested, and we will ensure that we send out that message. As he says, free trade underpins our prosperity.
Like the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), we all understand that this is an early stage of the negotiations, but it would be helpful to know more about what the Prime Minister values in the negotiations and about her aims. She talked a lot about free trade, but she is still resisting saying what she actually thinks about the ultimate expression of free trade in Europe, which is the single market. Please will she tell us and clear up the confusion from yesterday? Does she value membership of the single market? Does she think it should be an aim or an objective of the negotiations, and that we should be trying to stay in it if we can?
I have to say to the right hon. Lady that I have answered this question on a number of occasions already today. She will find that if people ask me a question, I will give an answer, and if they ask me the same question, they will get the same answer. I think that that is perfectly reasonable and perfectly normal.
Our aim is to get the right deal for trade in goods and services with the EU, but this will be a new relationship. We will be looking to develop a new model of the relationship between the UK and the European Union. As I said earlier, we will not be setting out every bit of our negotiating hand in advance of entering those negotiations, because that would be the best way to come out with the worst deal.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, not least what she said on the international concern about some of those on the edges of the market economy: it must be made to work for everyone. On global security, will she firmly back and support the attempts being made today in London by the Syrian coalition to bring forward its own proposals to settle the matter? Will she urge the respective powers that have interests—competing interests—in Syria to accept that the longer they go on fighting over the bodies of the people of Syria, the longer the risk to global security will continue, and that this opportunity being presented in London should certainly be taken?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Today is an important point, with the Syrian opposition coming together and the meeting taking place here. I also agree that the best thing for global security is to see an end to the conflict taking place in Syria. I continue to believe that that conflict and the actions of the Syrian regime, under President Assad, are what we have seen encouraging people to join terrorist organisations and go out there to fight, and then perhaps to return to other countries and conduct terrorist attacks. We must ensure that we are playing our part—as I believe the UK is today in hosting the Syrian opposition for these talks—in ensuring that we bring an end to the conflict.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. I commend her for the common-sense realism of her approach to negotiating our exit from the European Union. Is it not very clear that a lot of criticism and commentary now coming from those who advocated for the remain side—a perfectly legitimate point of view—demonstrates a lack of respect for the decision that the British people as a whole have now made? It is time to get on with making the best of that in the way that she proposes. I offer the support of Democratic Unionist Members and of the First Minister of Northern Ireland to the Prime Minister as she tries to achieve the best possible deal for all of the United Kingdom and for Northern Ireland in particular.
On terrorism, I ask the Prime Minister simply this: will she ensure that more action is taken to put in place greater deterrents for those who go around preaching hatred and the radicalisation of young people in the United Kingdom? More needs to be done to send out a strong message by ensuring that strong sentences are passed to act as a deterrent.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the Government’s approach. As he says, that is the sensible way to go forward in the negotiations. I want to ensure that the interests of Northern Ireland are fully taken into account in our work, and that was the message I gave when I visited Northern Ireland shortly after I became Prime Minister. In fact, the message I have given to all the devolved Administrations is that we want that full engagement so that we can ensure that the interests of the whole United Kingdom are taken into account.
On terrorism, it is important that we deal with those who preach hatred. We saw the sentences that were given yesterday to Anjem Choudary and another individual. The whole question of the radicalisation of young people in particular, but also generally, whether online or in other ways, is important and needs to be addressed. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we want sentences that give the clear message that that is not acceptable activity for people to be involved in, but we also need to do the sort of work that is happening through, for example, the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit and within Europe, as well as what we are doing to promote mainstream voices against preachers of hate.
After her discussions with other world leaders at the G20, will my right hon. Friend ensure that small and medium-sized businesses are at the heart of future trade negotiations, including the many successful local businesses that will be attending my jobs fair in Louth on Friday?
I commend my hon. Friend for holding her jobs fair. I am sure that many opportunities will be offered by local businesses and that many people will be able to take up those opportunities and benefit from the jobs fair.
Small and medium-sized enterprises will play an important role. Earlier in the summer I had a meeting at No. 10 Downing Street with a number of small and medium-sized businesses and representatives of SMEs. What struck me was their optimism about the opportunities now available to the United Kingdom and their willingness to play their part in taking up those opportunities and encouraging the prosperity we want for everyone in our country.
Does the Prime Minister accept that, like all developed economies with ageing populations, Britain needs to import labour to thrive? Would it therefore not be an act of extreme self-harm for us to give up our full and unfettered access to the single market out of a dogmatic and arbitrary desire to reduce immigration?
It is not an arbitrary and dogmatic desire. We recognise the impact that uncontrolled immigration can have on people, particularly those at the lower end of the income scale. The right hon. Gentleman needs to consider carefully the message that the British people gave in the vote on 23 June. I think that vote told us that they want to see the Government able to take control of the movement of people from the European Union into the United Kingdom, and that is what we will do.
People coming to my constituency and driving along the A45 will see the Rushden Lakes retail development going up with huge steel constructions—the Leader of the Opposition will be pleased to know that 100% British steel is being used there. Does coming out of the EU not give us an opportunity, if necessary, to deal with Chinese dumping of steel? Will the Prime Minister find time next year to come and see Rushden Lakes, as it has some very good shoe shops?
My hon. Friend may just have sealed the deal. I commend and welcome the fact that the Rushden Lakes development is using 100% UK steel—that is very good. We need to look at the issue of overcapacity and over-production, not simply as an individual country, or indeed as the EU, but globally. That was why it was so important that that was on the agenda for the G20 and that the new forum has been set up, with Chinese representation on it.
I believe in enterprise and wealth creation, but I also believe in fair taxes. The International Monetary Fund and the OECD have both said that if the amount of tax that is owed to developing countries was actually paid, that would greatly dwarf the amount of support they get through international aid. Given the Prime Minister’s statements on tax avoidance, and as we now have public country-by-country reporting enshrined in law, how will she make this issue a priority for the G20?
In my interventions at the G20 I was able to refer to the important issue of tax avoidance and the work that needs to be undertaken. The G20 has been playing a leading role in addressing the issue and galvanising action on it. A number of initiatives have taken place, including on the whole question of those who, as I have said, try to use different jurisdictions to resist the payment of tax due. Action is being taken and I was able to refer to the need to push that particular initiative forward. There are other initiatives, too, such as providing support to developing countries for collecting tax within their countries—that tax is needed and should be collected. Initiatives such as the Addis tax initiative are also important. We have played a leading role in the G20 on this, and the G20 is now playing an important global role.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking the opportunity at the G20 summit to raise the issue of modern slavery. Will she outline what further steps can be taken to engage with countries around the world to eradicate this evil practice?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the hugely important issue of modern slavery, which is a heinous crime that we need to do more about. I have been encouraging people in other countries to look at the initiative we have taken through legislation—our Modern Slavery Act 2015 is the first of its kind. There is more we can do through law enforcement and other Government agencies working together to ensure that we stamp out the organised crime groups that are behind this terrible crime. In doing that, however, we must never forget that modern slavery takes place here in the UK and that UK individuals are taken into slavery as well. We must not simply think of this as a global issue. We need to act globally, but we need to act locally as well.
Why did the Prime Minister authorise a very public dressing down of the Brexit Secretary merely for telling the House that membership of the single market and free movement of people tend to go together? Is it not possible that the Brexit Secretary, who has believed in this stuff for years, has thought more deeply about it than the Prime Minister, who has been a Brexiteer for a matter of weeks? Can we revert to the traditional practice whereby Ministers are disciplined for misleading the House, as opposed to for the odd occasion when they are caught telling the truth?
First of all, I do not recognise the picture the right hon. Gentleman sets out. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union very clearly set out that this is not a zero-sum game. As I have said in response to other questions, the Government are absolutely clear that we will go out there and get the right deal for the United Kingdom and that we are negotiating a new relationship with the EU.
Is it not vital during this Brexit period that we maintain confidence? Is it not the case that with the opportunity to forge new global trade deals, with record low interest rates, and with the opportunity to free ourselves from burdensome regulation, now is a golden time to invest in the United Kingdom? Will the Prime Minister use forums such as the G20 to continue to make that case?
I am very happy to do so—I was doing so in Hangzhou at the G20 summit—but we must also welcome the vote of confidence that has been given in the United Kingdom since the vote to leave the EU. The single biggest vote of confidence came from the Japanese company SoftBank, with the £24 billion investment in ARM, but we have also seen investment from companies such as GlaxoSmithKline. This is a time to be confident about the British economy—the fundamentals of the British economy are strong—and we want to encourage that investment in the UK, which is exactly what the Government and I will be doing.
In July, on the “ConservativeHome” website, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union wrote:
“I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners.”
Will the Prime Minister confirm that she will be able trigger those deals in two days’ time on Friday, as predicted by her Secretary of State, and which countries will be involved?
I was involved in discussions with countries on free trade deals that we can develop at the weekend at the G20 summit; I listed some of those countries in my statement, but there are others. I am pleased about the opportunities we now have and at the willingness of other countries to sit down around the table and talk to us about trade deals.
Does the Prime Minister agree that for trade to be truly free and to work for everyone, it needs to be free of corruption? Will she update the House on discussions at the summit on tackling corruption and taking forward the actions agreed at the London summit earlier this year? Perhaps she can explain how some of the countries at the summit are a little less keen on taking action and responding to that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we deal with corruption if we are to have free trade deals and people trading freely around the world but, in addition, corruption sadly gets in the way of the ability of some countries to develop their economies, and of people in them taking the benefits that economic development can bring. The G20 collectively was clear that it wanted to continue that anti-corruption work. I made specific reference to the international anti-corruption co-ordination centre, which we are setting up here in London—a number of countries are joining us in that. That is one part of the action that we need to take, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the G20 was very clear that we needed to continue to press on the outcomes of the London anti-corruption summit.
Many people are not getting a share of globalisation, especially in this country. What specific measures did the Prime Minister and other leaders agree at the G20 to deal with that problem and to ensure that the benefits of globalisation are given out more equally?
The hon. Gentleman is right. As I said in my statement, there was a collective agreement echoing the comments that I made for the United Kingdom that we need to ensure that the benefits of globalisation and economic development are truly shared among people. We need to take a number of steps in order to ensure that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) indicated, in some countries, that means dealing with corruption, but there are a number of other areas. I referred earlier to the work we will be doing on corporate irresponsibility, which was picked up and echoed by a number of leaders around the G20 table. Our commitment remains absolutely strong.
I very much welcome the Government’s announcement this week that they plan to ban plastic microbeads in many cosmetic products, including face scrubs and toothpastes. As well as the moral stance that the Government take in forums such as the G20 on anti-slavery and free markets, my request is that we continue to be world leaders in taking forward environmental policies so that we can protect our marine wildlife and the rest of the planet.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about our decision on microbeads. They have an impact on marine life and it is clearly right that we ban them in certain products. We are seen to be leading on issues such as climate change, and we can lead on the wider area of environmental concerns.
Public services are exempt from all EU-negotiated trade deals to which the UK is party. Will the Prime Minister commit today to a public services exemption clause in all post-Brexit UK trade deals, which her International Trade Secretary failed to do in answer to written question from me?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous references to our approach. We are not setting out at this stage the details of any particular negotiation in which we will take part on trade deals. We will go out there and get the right deals for the United Kingdom.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s positive statement. The UK, the north-west, Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool can rightly be proud of our clear strengths in science, with world-leading projects such as the square kilometre array at Jodrell Bank and, more widely, with life sciences. Will she confirm that those sectors will continue to be central to what the Government do with the northern powerhouse and their new industrial strategy, and central to the new trade deals, which are so vital to the future of our economy?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which enables me to recall that I did not respond to a point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) when he talked about the northern powerhouse. The Government remain absolutely committed to the northern powerhouse. The developments in new industries and new scientific projects such as those to which my hon. Friend refers have been and remain an important part of that. I assure him that, as we look towards those new trade deals, we will also look at the developments that can take place and what innovative decisions we can take. We want to ensure that we are not only looking at trade in traditional goods and services, as it were, but asking what more we can do and what we can develop for the future.
I thank the Prime Minister for clarifying that her Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was wrong to rule out membership of the European single market, that her Foreign Secretary was wrong to campaign for a points-based immigration system and that her International Trade Secretary was wrong to say that we are leaving the customs union, but is it not the case that, if we want to strike trade deals with non-EU countries—I am someone who appreciates the value of free trade deals—we will have to leave the customs union, which will bring disadvantages for UK businesses and foreign direct investment?
I will not repeat what I said earlier about our stance on the negotiations but, given what the Labour leader said in the Chamber today, I encourage the hon. Lady to take him to one side and point out to him the benefits of free trade.
I am delighted to hear the Prime Minister’s obvious commitment to free trade, but in many respects free trade is on the retreat in the world today. Global trade and investment are on the decline, we have seen a lack of support for it in the United States Congress and from presidential candidates, and, even here, misinformation and scaremongering from some quarters in recent years has led to an erosion of faith in the benefits of free trade among our constituents. Does the Prime Minister agree that, given the centrality of free trade and of signing agreements to the future of our economy, now is the time to put aside that scaremongering, particularly from some parts of the left of British politics, and to believe in free trade and its ability to work for everyone?
It was significant that the G20 was very clear that we wanted to take action on protectionism and we did not want a retreat to it. My hon. Friend makes an important and valid point that was discussed at the G20 about the need for all who support free trade to go out there, make the case for it and show the benefits that it can bring. As I said earlier—this has been universally echoed on the Government Benches—free trade underpins our economic growth and prosperity.
Given, as we understand it, that comments made from the Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on Monday are to be regarded as personal opinion as opposed to Government policy, and that the remarks made by the Secretary of State for International Trade on the customs union need to be changed and if it is the case that the Prime Minister is to continually amend statements and comments made by her newly appointed Ministers, why did she make the appointments in the first place?
The hon. Lady refers to matters that have been referred to in previous questions. I answered those previous questions and I suggest she takes the answer I gave to them.
The Prime Minister has already referred to the very substantial recent investment by the Japanese firm SoftBank. Will she give the House a little more on the reassurances she is able to give to overseas companies to enable them to continue to invest in the UK, as a centre of excellence in manufacturing?
I am very pleased to say that we encourage companies to invest in the United Kingdom. There are some real opportunities here in the UK. We are a centre of excellence in certain areas of manufacturing. I referred earlier to the visit I made to Jaguar Land Rover. To see the investment coming into the United Kingdom to reinvigorate that company, to create jobs and growth, is a very good example of what can be done. I want to see that happening across a wide range of industries and across the whole country.
May I follow the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) on imported labour and people who come to work here? Some 10% of doctors in the NHS are EU nationals and their position is now very uncertain. We know that since 23 June doctors who are EU nationals have been put off applying to work here. Since then, of course, we have had the vicious attacks and the increase in hate crime to which the Prime Minister referred. We need more doctors in the NHS. We have many unfilled training places. What is she going to say to reassure EU nationals working in the NHS, and to the people who should be looking at coming to work here, that we value them?
I am pleased to say to the hon. Lady that under this Government we have more doctors working in the NHS. The number of doctors in the NHS has increased since we came into government. On the position of EU citizens, I fully expect to be able to guarantee the status of EU citizens. While we are members of the EU their status does not change. I fully expect, intend and want to be able to guarantee the status of those EU citizens. The circumstances in which that would not be possible would be if the status of British citizens living in other EU member states was not guaranteed.
During my right hon. Friend’s bilateral talks with President Putin, did she gently but firmly disabuse him of the notion, put around recently by among others the Leader of the Opposition, that this country is less committed than hitherto to its NATO treaty obligations, in particular article 5, and that on the contrary we remain wholly committed to the autonomy and sovereignty of our partners, particularly the Baltic states and Poland?
The Government and I are absolutely clear about our commitment to NATO and to article 5. As I indicated earlier, that is a central underpinning of NATO and of the joint security we provide for each other as members of NATO. I think many people will have been shocked and deeply concerned by the Leader of the Opposition’s statement, when he suggested that we would not be signing up to article 5. It is an underpinning of NATO that ensures not only our national security but the national security of our allies.
Were there any discussions with the Chinese about the acquisition of the Global Switch data company by the Chinese DailyTech group? If Hinkley Point poses some security questions, would this acquisition not also have some security issues?
I answered earlier, in response to the Leader of the Opposition, on how I am addressing the question of Hinkley Point. We have seen Chinese investment coming into the United Kingdom and we will continue to see Chinese investment coming into the United Kingdom. We have a global strategic partnership with the Chinese and that will continue.
Fortuitously, London is the global leader in international shipping. International shipping law is at the heart of international trade. As a former shipping lawyer, I am proud to know a great many London-based international shipping organisations. May I invite the Prime Minister to ensure that her Government make contact with those organisations based here in London to ensure we get the best international shipping deals with international trade?
My hon. Friend refers to a number of organisations being based here. The International Maritime Organisation, a very important shipping organisation, is based here in London. I assure my hon. Friend that the Department for Exiting the European Union is looking across sectors of activity to ensure that the views of those sectors will be taken into account as we develop our proposals for the relationship with the EU.
On behalf of steelworkers in my constituency, may I reiterate how disappointing it was to learn that the Prime Minister did not raise with the Chinese President specifically the overproduction of Chinese steel? May we have a commitment from the Prime Minister here today that her Government will do absolutely everything now and in the future proactively to raise these issues? We need the Prime Minister to do that to protect our steel industry.
I did raise the issue. I chose to raise it in the plenary session so it was clearly raised not just before the Chinese President but before the other leaders. Crucially, what has come out of the G20 is an agreement to set up a new forum, which will be looking at actions that lead to overcapacity and overproduction. The Chinese will be a member of that forum.
May I first congratulate the Prime Minister on focusing more on policy discussions at the G20 than where she was positioned in the photo-op, upsetting to the Scottish National party though that may be? Will the Prime Minister confirm that, while tackling international tax avoidance through the G20 is vital, there is also a great deal we can do, and indeed are doing ourselves?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right. I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) for the steps he took as Prime Minister to encourage not only action in relation to tax evasion and avoidance here in the UK but globally. It is an important issue that we need to address. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should always look to see what we can be doing here in the UK.
With Saudi Arabia patently failing to carry out an independent investigation into potential breaches of international humanitarian law, will the Prime Minister exercise global leadership and call for that independent investigation to be held so we can find out what is going on in Yemen?
As I indicated earlier, I raised with the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia the importance of ensuring that any allegations are properly investigated. I reiterate the point I made earlier that we have a relationship with Saudi Arabia across a number of issues. The relationship we have with it in dealing with terrorism is important, because it helps to keep the streets of Britain safe.
My constituents and I are enormously encouraged by the international interest shown in signing free trade deals with the UK. Did the G20 discussions confirm my suspicion that interest in doing exactly that is only going to grow? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the particular responsibility of every Member of this House to shout from the rooftops for jobs and investment in this country? My constituents’ jobs are, frankly, not a matter of dogma.
My hon. Friend has spoken very well on this issue. I confirm that what was very welcome was the way in which a number of countries were coming up to me throughout the summit to say that they wanted to be sitting down and talking to the UK about trade deals. As he says, this is not a matter of dogma; it is a matter of jobs and people’s security. It is a matter of the prosperity of this country.
In the Prime Minister’s remarks on refugees and migration, she referred to humanitarian efforts but not to human rights. In those words and in her other words today, was she alluding to such things as the Khartoum process, where it is envisaged that refugees in and through the horn of Africa will be concentrated into camps in Sudan, a country whose Government have been bombing their own people and a country whose security forces have been implicated already in nefarious trafficking? Given all that she has said, where is the UK in relation to the Khartoum process? Without it being a matter of commentary on the Brexit exercise, will the UK continue to chair that process on behalf of the EU, pending Brexit?
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, the chairmanship of the Khartoum process will move away from the UK; I think, from memory, that it will go to Ethiopia. It will not stay with the EU; it will be done on a rotation basis. The UK is part of and has been chairing that process.
We have consistently said as a Government—and I did so as Home Secretary—that it is important for us that, if we are going to deal with the significant movements of people that we have seen, including the significant movements of economic migrants across the world, particularly into Europe, we need to work with countries upstream. We need to deal across the board, ensuring not only that people have better opportunities in their home country so that they do not feel the need to come to Europe to grasp opportunities, but that we work with transit companies to stop the terrible trade that often takes place in organised crime groups encouraging the illegal migration and smuggling of people and human trafficking. We will continue to work across all of those.
As we begin the process of leaving the EU, and given my right hon. Friend’s experience of the G20, particularly in her conversations with the other world leaders, what is her view of Britain maintaining a strong voice on the world stage after we have left the EU, and of our ability to lead discussions on the issues that matter to us?
What I saw in my discussions at the G20 was that our leaving the EU will not have a negative impact on us as a spokesman on the world stage. Indeed, I am very clear that I want the UK to be a global leader in free trade. There are many issues already where the UK has been at the forefront of discussions, including on climate change and tax avoidance and evasion. It is important that we continue to play that role. We are the fifth largest economy. We will be out there as a bold, confident, outward-looking nation, continuing to play a key global role.
Not least in the light of the horrific scenes in Syria over the whole summer, did the Prime Minister have any discussions with others at the summit about how we might better protect civilian areas, particularly hospitals and other infrastructure that has been targeted, perhaps even through using our assets and intelligence, as well as humanitarian airdrops, if necessary? Has she given any further consideration to what we can do?
We are all concerned about some of the activities that we have seen taking place in Syria. That is why, as I indicated earlier, we need to put all our efforts into trying to ensure that we can bring an end to this conflict, because of the horrific impact it has had on millions of Syrian people, including some who have left Syria, some who are still in Syria and some who are living in appalling conditions and are under threat of action being taken against them by various forces. We need to redouble our efforts and we need to look—we have been very clear about this—at how we can increase the ability for humanitarian aid to get through to those who need it. Sadly, it is proving to be very difficult actually to put that into practice, but our desire to continue to try to find ways of doing that is still there.
Did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have the chance to discuss the issues of Ukraine and Crimea with the Russian representatives? At the recent Rose-Roth seminar in Ukraine in June, which I attended as part of my NATO duties, much evidence was presented that ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatar people is happening on the biggest scale possible, with some horrendous human rights abuses. If the Prime Minister has not had the opportunity to raise the issue, may I ask her to encourage my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to look very closely at it so that she can be prepared at the next G20 to raise this terrible situation, which is happening right now?
The Government’s position on what has happened in Crimea has not changed and I was able to refer to our position on Ukraine in a number of the discussions that I had, but we will continue to return to the subject.
Was the Prime Minister lobbied at the G20 by the Chinese and US Governments about ratifying the Paris climate treaty as quickly as possible?
The Chinese and US Governments did, of course, indicate their intention and their ratification of the Paris agreement shortly before the G20 summit started, and I was clear with everybody that it is our intention to ratify it.
I am encouraged that the Prime Minister has indicated the willingness of countries to instigate trade deals with the UK, but is she confident that we have the correct number of officials, negotiators and people with the correct experience to be able to deliver those crucial trade deals?
Obviously, over the years, because of the position of the UK within the EU, we have not developed negotiators on trade ourselves, but we are developing that within the Department for International Trade. I thought it was important to set up a separate Department that could bring in that expertise. We are looking at how we can ensure that. The Department has been building up, but we will look to increase the expertise within it.
Child refugees face psychological trauma and loss. They are being systematically exploited and abused. What discussions took place to ensure their safety, progress reunification and meet our commitment under the Dubs amendment?
The hon. Lady is right to refer to the psychological impact that being a refugee can have on children. That is why, as part of the support that we give as a country, through our Department for International Development support of humanitarian aid for refugees, we provide support of that sort to children. On those refugees who are being resettled here under our Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, one of the issues that we look at is the support and counselling that individuals might require. On the Dubs amendment, discussions have been taking place with local authorities. That is, of course, a matter for the United Kingdom; it was not a matter for discussion at the G20.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Paragraph 44 of the communiqué looks at the strategy to tackle forced displacement of people and protecting refugees. On this day last year, I asked the then Prime Minister about the creation of safe havens for the protection of civilians fleeing Syria, and I was told that that was the “right sort of thinking”. Were there any discussions with other countries at the G20 about the creation of safe havens, either now or in future conflicts?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point and the concept he sets out. It is, of course, very difficult to look at some of these issues in practice in terms of what is happening on the ground. He is right, however, that the communiqué refers to mass movements of people and that we need to think very carefully about the support that we can provide for refugees. That is why this country is proud of being the second-biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees.
Thousands of jobs in north Staffordshire are dependent on international trade. Given the Prime Minister’s reluctance to outline her priorities for future negotiations, will she inform us who she is consulting domestically in our industrial centres to ensure that their views are represented in the negotiations?
As I have indicated, the Department for Exiting the European Union is looking across and consulting different sectors of the economy on their requirements. I am very interested to hear that the hon. Lady is an advocate for free trade. I suggest that she imparts that to her party leader, who has patently set out this afternoon that his policy for his party is not to believe in free trade.
This is the first opportunity I have had warmly to welcome my right hon. Friend to her place, so may I do so? I entirely concur with her comments on a free economy and a manufacturing base in this country that will provide jobs and wealth for all. Will she take into account the effect of green taxes and other restrictions on large manufacturers, to ensure that we can compete properly, on a level playing field, around the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. I assure him that what he asks will, indeed, be taken into account. One of the benefits of bringing energy and climate change policy into the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is that energy policy can be seen alongside the requirements of business and our industrial strategy as it develops.
First things first: I believe in free trade. Indeed, Josiah Wedgwood, an early constituent of mine, negotiated one of the first free trade pacts with France in the 1770s, but now many of my constituents are employed at the nearby Toyota plant in Derby and they were very concerned by the Japanese Government’s comments about investment in the UK if we did not have access to the single market. What conversations did the Prime Minister have with the Japanese about their concerns? May I ask her to take control of the Brexit negotiations and make sure that jobs and prosperity in north Staffordshire are not put at risk?
The hon. Gentleman must be the oldest and most long-serving Member in the history of the House of Commons.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that negotiations will look to ensure, as I have said in a number of answers, that we secure growth in jobs and prosperity in the United Kingdom. That applies to the relationship we will have with the European Union post-Brexit and to the trade deals that we will be able to strike around the rest of the world. That is where we are focusing our efforts, and we will continue to do so.
I thank the Prime Minister for signalling to the G20 that free trade will be the core of British strategy as we leave the European Union, and for indicating that substantial progress can be made on country-by-country trade agreements right now. May I add two things to her list? First, can we establish a distinctively British position in the multilateral trade in services agreement? Secondly, will the Prime Minister have a conversation with the Secretary of State for International Development about how to use this opportunity to enhance the trade facilitation agreement, as agreed at the World Trade Organisation in 2013?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will certainly be looking at the sort of issues he has raised. I can assure him that, in looking at these trade deals, we will consider every aspect to ensure that what we get is the right deal for the UK. I think that the sort of trade deals we are talking about will be the right deals not only for the UK, but for the countries that we deal with as well.
Given the Prime Minister’s refusal a number of times to answer direct questions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), among others, on whether or not we would remain members of the single market, when will this House be presented with any kind of detail—beyond the soundbites—of what Brexit actually means?
The hon. Gentleman is not going to get any different answer from me to the one that I have given on numerous occasions throughout this afternoon. I will simply say this: if we are going to negotiate the right deal for the United Kingdom on trade in goods and services, it would be quite wrong for this Government to give away all our negotiating position in advance of starting those negotiations.
As the Prime Minister knows, about 140,000 workers in the UK are employed by Japanese firms. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) has mentioned Toyota, but Nissan, Honda and Hitachi all have large manufacturing bases that are vital to local economies and the supply chain. The Prime Minister knows that the huge uncertainty about our future relationship with the EU and the single market is creating difficulties. I want to provide her with another opportunity to say how, in her discussions with the Japanese and others, she tried to mitigate those risks to inward investment and jobs.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who reminds me that I did not fully answer the question from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) who referred to the issue of Japanese firms. I was able to sit down and discuss these matters with Prime Minister Abe, and the outcome was a positive desire to take forward further discussions on how we can ensure that we are getting the best possible trading relationship with Japan, and that we can continue to see Japanese investment in the UK. I am pleased to say that the single biggest vote of confidence on investment in the United Kingdom since we had the vote to leave the European Union came, of course, from a Japanese company—from SoftBank with its £24 billion takeover of ARM.
Let me first commend the Prime Minister and her Ministers for the hard and excellent work that has been done to prepare and secure trade deals across the world. An example of a trade deal signed with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has just secured us the export of beef to the United States of America for the first time in some 20 years—despite President Obama telling us that we would go to the back of the queue. Does the Prime Minister agree that, for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, if the price is right and if the product is of the highest quality, the world is truly our oyster?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We can trade many products from various parts of the United Kingdom very well with other parts of the world. They are quality products, and it is the quality of the product that will lead to people wishing to take them.
Further to her answer to the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), the Prime Minister will have seen the reports that we have seen that there is a lack of people in the UK with the necessary experience to negotiate trade deals. Is that a matter of concern to her? Are we being forced to employ people from overseas to do that job because they have those necessary skills?
As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), I think it was important to focus the Government’s efforts on trade deals through the creation of a new Department—the Department for International Trade. That Department is building up its expertise and will continue to do so.
I do not know whether there was any discussion at the G20 of America’s greatest cultural export, “Star Trek”, which celebrates its 50th anniversary tomorrow and is commemorated in early-day motion 393, but if any of us want to live long and prosper, we must tackle climate change. Given the commitments of the US and the Chinese at the summit, does the Prime Minister regret abolishing the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change? When will the UK ratify the Paris agreement?
I think I can honestly say that in all the discussions that I had in the G20 and all the plenary sessions that I sat and listened through, “Star Trek” was never mentioned.
Yes, we will be ratifying the Paris agreement. People seem to think that the commitment of the Government to tackling climate change can only be represented by whether or not there is a separate Department devoted to it. That is not the case. The important point is that we have taken energy and climate change and put them alongside business and industrial strategy, and I think that by doing so we will get a better, more strategic approach on these issues. But I repeat the point that I made to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) at Prime Minister’s questions earlier by saying that if the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) is interested in climate change, I would hope that he would congratulate the Government on what we have done in relation to climate change, because we have been at the forefront of encouraging others to take action on emissions.
We know the Prime Minister raised the issue of steel at the plenary session, but did she also raise it at the bilateral session? Did she have any discussions with the Chinese delegation about market economy status? What powers will the new forum have? I have to say that when states such as China are communist, when the state owns its own steel industry and when it deliberately uses measures to distort the market and undermine the steel industries of other nations, it is a bit rich to hear lessons from the Tory party about free trade. When are we going to get immediate trade defence measures from this Government? For the last four to five years, we have seen an explosion of dumping into the British market by the Chinese state—with zero action from this Government.
It is absolutely not true that this Government have taken no action. The whole question of global overcapacity is significant in the steel industry, and it is an issue for other industries as well. That is why it is important that this forum, on which the Chinese will be represented, has been set up. Let us look at the various ways in which we have been supporting the steel sector. The industry had certain asks of us. We secured state aid to compensate for energy costs, and flexibility over EU emissions regulations. We made sure that social and economic factors can be taken into account when the Government procure steel. We successfully pressed for the introduction of anti-dumping duties to protect UK steel producers from unfair trade practices. This Government have taken and will continue to take many steps, because we recognise the importance of the steel industry to the UK.
When the Prime Minister was in China, did she have any discussions with the leaders of France and Germany as to which city is likely to replace the City of London as Europe’s financial capital when the City’s current trading relationship with Europe is severed? If she did not, when she does, will she please ask them to consider Edinburgh, which is currently the UK’s second largest financial centre and is the capital city of a country with a Government who are very clear that they intend to remain in the single market?
The hon. and learned Lady raises the issue of Scotland and whether it will be part of the European Union’s single market post-Brexit. The decision that was taken on 23 June was a decision of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The best thing for growth and prosperity for Scotland is to remain part of the United Kingdom, and I intend to make sure that when the UK has left the European Union, we will be able to seize opportunities that will be to the benefit of people across the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland.
The Prime Minister is rightly using summits like the G20 to press Britain’s case in a globalised economy. May I press her a bit further on the issue of Manchester’s bid for Expo 2025, which I raised at Prime Minister’s Question Time? Part of the Ashton Moss site is in my constituency.
As the Prime Minister knows, the United Kingdom has not hosted Expo since Dublin in 1907; before that, there was the Great Exhibition in London. The issue is therefore important in terms of national pride. It should also be noted that Expo 2015 in Milan brought 22 million visitors to that city, and a £7 billion investment. Will the Prime Minister meet the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Tameside Council, myself and other Members, so that she can fully appreciate the benefits of Britain’s putting in a bid for the Expo?
I would just say to the hon. Gentleman, 10 on 10—in fact, I think probably 20 on 10—for effort in promoting Manchester as a potential host of Expo. I will listen very carefully about the proposal that he has made.
I do support free trade, but may I ask the Prime Minister whether her vision of free trade is a vision of Britain as an offshore tax haven with lower health standards, lower environmental standards and lower labour rights? Or will she ensure that any bilateral trading agreement with America and Canada does not contain new powers for transnational companies to sue our Government in response to laws that we pass here to protect our environment, our health and our workers through the investor-state dispute settlement clauses in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misrepresented TTIP, which has, of course, happened before. All I say to him is that we will be going out there to get the right deals in trade for the United Kingdom with other countries around the globe. We have a real opportunity to be a global leader in free trade, and that is what we will be.
I am sure that, on Monday, members of the European Union delegation to the G20 were delighted that the Secretary of State for leaving the European Union stipulated on the Floor of the House that free trade, or free movement of people at least, with one of its member states will exist when the remainder of the United Kingdom leaves the European Union—that is the common travel area with Ireland. Given that the free movement of people through Ireland and Britain is built on equal rights, will the Prime Minister advise the House that there will be no change at all to the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, as amended in 1949, which gives Irish citizens more or less non-foreign status within the United Kingdom?
Discussions were taking place with the Irish Government, prior to the decision for us to leave the European Union, to consider how we could enhance and improve the current arrangements for the common travel area. Of course, those discussions now continue in the future against the background of the different circumstances.
I am extremely grateful to the Prime Minister and to all colleagues.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The BBC is reporting that “Newsnight” believes that the House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls are going to recommend that the Government no longer sell arms to Saudi Arabia. I make no bones with that; I rather agree with “Newsnight”, but the point is that it says it is doing this on the basis of having seen a draft report from the Committees. The House has always taken the leaking of draft reports from Committees to the media extremely seriously. I hope, Mr Speaker, that you will have an opportunity to speak to the Committees to establish whether that is the case, and if so, what remedial action the House can take.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. What he says about the seriousness with which leaks of copies, or draft copies, of Select Committee reports are taken is absolutely true. He is quite right about that: it is a very serious matter. I do not know whether there has been such a leak or whether there is merely speculation, but I am happy to make inquiries into the matter, and knowing the dogged and tenacious character of the hon. Gentleman, I have a feeling that if I do not get back to him, he will probably return to it. We will leave it there for now, and I am most grateful for him for the public service that he has done in mentioning it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier today, during Cabinet Office questions, it seemed to be suggested by some hon. Members that the Boundary Commission was a gerrymandering organisation, there to act at the behest of the Government. My understanding, sir—and I would welcome your confirmation or, indeed, correction, if I am not correct—is that the commission is entirely independent, that it will come up with its own proposals, and that we, as Members of Parliament, and our constituents will then be able to respond to them through a formal consultation process. Can you confirm, Mr Speaker, that the commission does not act, or come up with proposals, at the behest of the Government?
I am very happy to confirm that the Boundary Commission operates, and has always been expected to operate, on the basis that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Neighbourhood Planning Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Sajid Javid, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Greg Clark, Secretary Chris Grayling, Secretary Andrea Leadsom and Ben Gummer, presented a Bill to make provision about planning and compulsory purchase; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 61) with explanatory notes (Bill 61-EN).
Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a bill to make provision about the safeguarding of workers’ rights derived from European Union legislation after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU; and for connected purposes.
I am delighted to have secured this timely opportunity to highlight some of my concerns about the future of workers’ rights in Britain post-Brexit.
This Bill was brought about by necessity. Despite the warnings from the TUC and others about the potential for workers’ rights to be significantly undermined if we left Europe, the Government have, to date, failed to explain just how they will ensure that that does not happen. I now call on them to take proactive steps to protect employment rights that are not contained in primary legislation and that therefore risk falling away post-Brexit. It is no use adopting a wait-and-see attitude; people in this country deserve to know that their rights at work will not suffer detriment.
Research conducted by the Library has highlighted several areas of legislation that derive either partly or wholly from European directives. They include rights for agency workers, the European Works Council, information and consultation of employees, health and safety, TUPE, the working time directive and the protection of young people at work. Those are the broad areas that could disappear if the Government opted to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, in which case there would be no legislative framework relating to, for example, collective consultations on restructures, redundancies, shift pattern changes or pay. Those are not small, inconsequential or obscure areas of employment law; they are up front and centre for many working people today who, in an increasingly unstable labour market, rely more than ever on the certainty of protections that can be afforded to them under that legislation.
For more than 40 years, the EU has devised laws designed to protect working people from exploitation and discrimination. Trade unions have operated together at a European level to secure agreements across all nations to better protect workers. The rules have ensured that, regardless of any Government’s ideology, hard-fought-for minimum standards have been protected. They have kept those rights a non-negotiable distance away from the potential deregulatory whims of Ministers who may take the view that such rights are no more than cumbersome red tape. After all, we know that the Secretary of State for International Trade—the very Minister who is responsible for negotiating our trade agreements as we exit the European Union—is on record as having said that it is “too difficult” to fire staff. Members of Parliament must not allow the downgrading of workers’ rights to be an unfortunate side-effect of the Government’s negotiations.
In July, on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister referred to those who have a job but do not always have job security. For millions of agency workers in the care sector, retail, security or factory work, the agency workers legislation ensures that they have access to the same wages and holiday entitlements as permanent workers and have equal access to facilities, vacancies and amenities. That is progressive legislation, which recognises the changing needs of an increasingly so-called flexible workforce, and we should not hesitate to secure our own domestic laws to support those workers.
In recent days, we have been reassured by the Government that Brexit will not undermine workers’ rights. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union wrote in his July article for the “ConservativeHome” website that, in his view, it is
“not employment regulation that stultifies economic growth”.
If that is the case, there should be no barriers to the Government positively reviewing which elements of UK employment law will be without any foundations after leaving Europe unless appropriate alternatives are implemented, and then implementing them. Given that the UK has one of the most lightly regulated workforces in the OECD, it is right the Government should seek to uphold these minimum standards.
Further, much UK employment law originating from the EU has become a basic expectation of reasonable employers. The protection afforded to workers is woven into the fabric of the employment relationship—for example, no discrimination against part-time or fixed-term workers and the right to rest breaks, paid holiday and leave for working parents. All those things are now standard; we should not be going backwards.
If we take a closer look at TUPE—the transfer of undertakings, protection of employees—it is clear the intention is to benefit workers. It means that if someone’s employer contracts out their job role to another organisation, or there is a company takeover, they can expect certain minimum guarantees in relation to these changes. They can expect that there will be a period of consultation. They can expect that there will be reasonable sharing of information. They can expect that any proposed changes to structures, salaries or redundancies will be discussed within the consultation. If they are transferred to the new employer, their salary, holiday and sick leave will all be protected, as will their pension, unless another agreement has been made during the negotiations.
Importantly, rights to representation and recognition of trade unions also transfer, providing certainty and reassurance to affected employees. After transfer, employees continue to be protected unless the receiving employer can provide evidence of operational, technical or economic purposes that make it impossible for them to continue with certain terms and conditions. Even then, they must undertake sufficient consultation before they can make those changes. This is only possible because of the European legislation that provided the TUPE framework.
We should accept a reality here. TUPE and other EU-derived legislation is not perfect. As we have seen with other legislation such as maternity and paternity leave, our Parliament—us, here—can make the choice to go further and offer more than the minimum requirements of legislation. But in this instance, it has not, choosing the least burdensome interpretation of the legislation.
Having taken numerous groups of employees through TUPE transfers as a Unison officer, I recognise the weaknesses within the law, but that is all the more reason to be concerned about what would happen if TUPE were not there to act as a check and balance.
Before TUPE, employers were able to make the staff of a transferring unit redundant regardless of whether their job would exist within the new undertaking. Very often, those same staff would have to go through a recruitment process to secure their previous jobs, but often on lower wages, with worse pensions, fewer holidays and increased responsibilities. These were workers such as school meals assistants and refuse collectors who were not even given the chance to participate in any consultation. We surely would not want to place that kind of disruption and uncertainty on workers again by rolling back to the bad old days, but roll back we might. Without there being any recourse to previous European Court of Justice rulings, we may find ourselves sleepwalking into a situation where recent positive outcomes for workers, such as carers who do sleep-in shifts receiving a full wage for their time, are no longer adhered to as employers seek to cut their costs.
We should not allow the potential for European case law to simply be discarded, as it risks dumping swathes of precedent in favour of re-litigation of settled principles. For example, relatively recent ECJ case law around the calculation of normal remuneration for holiday pay under the working time regulations must factor in non-guaranteed overtime, which is not explicitly stated in the wording of the regulations. If future decisions were no longer bound by that case law, workers would pay the price.
Given the changes in employment-related legislation over the past six years— including reduced consultation periods for redundancy, the extension of qualifying periods of employment for unfair dismissal claims, the introduction of fees for employment tribunals and the attempted undermining of trades unions through the Trade Union Act 2016—there is little to give the British public faith that the Government’s warm words will translate into action.
And what of current proposals in Europe that would bring further protections to UK workers? A right to a written statement of terms and conditions, improved work-life balance and improved rights for posted workers: will workers in Britain ever feel the benefits of such changes?
I have been asked why I have not asked for more in this Bill—extended its reach, filled the gaps in the current system and sought to extend workers’ rights further—but this is not about grandiose positioning. It is based in the reality of the situation we face today. It is right that, first and foremost, stability is provided and the Government do everything in their power to protect what we already have.
Despite being on the other side of the debate, I accept that the British public voted for Brexit, but they did not vote for more insecure contracts, less safe workplaces or anything less than they currently have by way of protection in their jobs.
Question put and agreed to.
That Melanie Onn, Louise Haigh, Chris Elmore, Ruth Smeeth, Wes Streeting, Jess Phillips, Chris Stephens, Christian Matheson, Jo Stevens, Justin Madders, Carolyn Harris and Matthew Pennycook present the Bill.
Melanie Onn accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the first time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 November, and to be presented (Bill 62).
[7th allotted day]
Paris Agreement on Climate Change
I beg to move,
That this House notes that the USA and China have both ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change; regrets that the Government has not accepted the Opposition’s offer of support for immediate commencement of domestic procedures to ratify the Paris Agreement; further notes that if the UK lags behind its G20 partners in ratifying the Paris Agreement it risks losing diplomatic influence on this crucial future security issue; recognises, in light of the EU referendum vote, the need to maintain a strong international standing and the risk of rising investment costs in UK energy infrastructure; and calls on the Government to publish by the end of next week a Command Paper on domestic ratification and to set out in a statement to this House the timetable to complete the ratification process by the end of 2016.
I am delighted to rise to move this motion.
“My country has an unwavering commitment to pursue the path of sustainable development”: those were the words of President Xi last week when he and President Obama jointly—communist China and capitalist America—announced their ratification of the Paris climate treaty. In a quite extraordinary event, we saw the world’s two superpowers, who are also the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, locked in an embrace to try to save our species from itself—from so altering our atmosphere that we make it almost impossible for many of our fellow human beings to survive, and destroy countless other species and ecosystems in the process. A few days before they did so, I wrote to our Prime Minister urging her to begin the process of ratification of the treaty by the UK. I understand her office passed my letter to the Secretary of State. I also tabled today’s motion to discuss ratification and press for the UK to follow China and America’s lead and get on and ratify the Paris agreement. So now with the US and China making it highly likely that the agreement will formally come into force by the end of this year, I decided that if China and America can put aside their differences and ratify, surely we in Parliament could do the same and become founder parties to the agreement.
I wrote to the Secretary of State and offered to amend the motion to make it the formal vote required by the House of Commons to ratify the treaty. The process of ratification is not unduly complex. It requires the tabling of a Command Paper by the Government and then affirmative resolution by both Houses. The Government have not tabled that Command Paper. In fact, my offer has still not received any formal response. The Scottish National party agreed. The Green party agreed. Plaid Cymru agreed. When I eventually could find a Liberal Democrat to speak to, he agreed as well. Here we had Her Majesty’s official Opposition, the Labour party, offering to forgo one of its precious Opposition day debates to do something on a cross-party basis and for the wider good—to create parliamentary time for something the Government had said they wanted to do but could not find the time for—yet that offer was rejected.
Sometimes, I think that people must look at us in this Parliament and say to themselves, “Can they not, just for once, put aside their petty party differences and agree to do something together? Are they really not bigger than this?” The Government had even said earlier this year that they would do this. In March, David Cameron agreed the EU Council conclusions, which underlined
“the need for the European Union and its Member States to be able to ratify the Paris Agreement as soon as possible and on time so as to be Parties as of its entry into force.”
The shadow Secretary of State knows that I am a great supporter of the Paris climate change treaty, and I hope that we will ratify it as soon as possible, but I cannot help but feel that he is manufacturing a disagreement here. I think that there is consensus on both sides of the House that we should ratify it. All member states of the EU must ratify it in their time, so in my view, his sense of urgency is also manufactured.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I trust him, and I know that he cares deeply about this issue; I think he knows that I do, too. The olive branch that I extended to the Secretary of State was a genuine one. This is something that I had been told the Government wanted to do; indeed, they stated publicly on many occasions earlier this year that that was the case. However, I had been told that they had been unable to find the time to do it yet, so I decided that this would be an opportunity for them to make time. This is therefore a matter of deep regret to me. I am sure that the Minister will come to the Dispatch Box in due course and explain to us precisely why it was impossible to take this opportunity to table the Command Paper yesterday or the day before and to use this parliamentary time to enable us in the House of Commons to vote to ratify the treaty.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has secured this time to debate these matters. The United States of America, China and France have already completed ratification, and other G20 countries such as Brazil and Germany have pledged to do so by the end of the year. All we are asking this Government to do is to set out precisely what the timescale is going to be for the United Kingdom to ratify this important piece of work, but we are not getting any answers from them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I really hope that we can make some progress this afternoon. The right hon. and hon. Members in the Government Front Bench team know that I have respect for them and that I do not seek to be partisan on this matter, but I will attack them if they do not keep to their commitments and I will continue to do so.
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, and this has been very much a cross-party debate on climate change, but the heart of the commitment on climate change is the Climate Change Act 2008, which was voted on in this House and is now part of British law. We have committed in the Act to achieve an 80% reduction in our emissions by 2050. I echo the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) that the hon. Gentleman is creating an argument where there is none. The Government have not said that they will not ratify the treaty, and I fully believe that we will do so. We must think about this very sensibly, and I hope that we will continue to lead the way, just as we have done all along the line.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has referred to the Climate Change Act 2008 and to the fact that the commitments made under the Act are legally binding on us. Later in my speech, I shall examine exactly what the legislation stated and try to show precisely where the Government have deviated from it over the past couple of years. This is why we have been on a pathway of divergence rather than convergence in this House for the past two years. The bipartisan—indeed, cross-party—approach that used to obtain in the House on these matters has been severely tested by what has been seen as the Government’s backsliding on those legally binding commitments. I shall adumbrate that a little later.
Until this morning, it was not clear to me why the olive branch I had extended to the Government had been quite so haughtily ignored. Then I found out what the Minister had said to the Aldersgate Group and what the Secretary of State had quietly revealed to journalists at his departmental cocktail reception for the ladies and gentlemen of the press yesterday evening—[Interruption.] They laugh. They said candidly that they would not be publishing the carbon plan by the end of the year. Carbon plan? What is that?
This is not the kind of thing that any normal member of the public would think sounds terribly important. If I were to explain that it is really important because it is supposed to set out precisely how the Government are going to meet their carbon budget, that same hypothetical member of the public might look blank, because people do not talk in these terms. They do not talk in terms of carbon plans and carbon budgets; they talk in terms of effects, not budgets. They know that climate change is causing disruption across the world, with more flooding in some places and more drought in others, with stronger hurricanes and typhoons and with the loss of crops and arable land. They know that that is related to the emissions polluting our air and our children’s lungs, and these things are important to them.
That is precisely why we politicians agreed, back in 2008—under a Labour Government but very much on a cross-party basis—to limit the ways in which we were causing those problems. We agreed to reduce and limit those emissions that were changing the world with such devastating effect. That is why we created the Committee on Climate Change to set legally binding carbon budgets that would precisely limit the damage that we were doing, but we tasked it to ensure that we always adopted the most cost-efficient pathway, so that we could move towards the long-term target of at least an 80% reduction in admissions by 2050 at the lowest possible cost to the public, to industry and to business.
That is why this carbon plan is so important. How dare the Secretary of State let slip to a few journalists at a cocktail party that of course he will not be publishing the carbon plan by the end of this year? How dare the Minister reveal to the Aldersgate Group that he “may” find space in the timetable to publish it in 2017? May? May? I ask the Minister to read the primary legislation, which states that after the publication of a carbon budget, the Government must publish a plan to put it into effect
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”
thereafter. The fourth carbon budget was published in 2011. Five and a half years later, we still have no carbon plan. My grasp of the English language is not so weak that I would think that five and a half years, during which we have had a change of Government and a new Prime Minister, constitutes “as soon as is reasonably practicable”. And now the Minister says that he “may” get around to doing this in 2017.
Earlier this year, the Government promised that the reason for the delay was simply that they now wanted to include their measures for achieving the fifth carbon budget in the plan, which they set almost three weeks later than the legislation required. This is another area in which the Government have lost the people’s confidence. The primary legislation is very clear. It states that a carbon budget must be deposited on 30 June 12 years before it comes into effect. The Government published it before then, but they did not set it in legislation, as was required by law, until 19 July—almost three weeks late.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is making the point that publishing the carbon plan would be very good and a useful next step. He spoke earlier about the pertinence of climate change to ordinary people on the street. The reality is that 222,000 homes in Wales are in danger of flooding. The current cost of remedying that danger would be about £200 million, and that cost is certain to grow. This demonstrates the need for urgency.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When we talk about such matters in terms of carbon plans and carbon budgets, it can seem as though we are talking about a world separate from that understood by the people who listen to us. They understand when their homes are being flooded. They know that such things are the effects of climate change. What they need to know is that we are following what was the best legislative model in the world when it was set out in 2008 with cross-party agreement under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). We achieved that here and it has become a model across the world, but we must follow it and the tragedy is that this Government have been backsliding.
The reason Ministers could not accept the cross-party olive branch that I extended was that, the night before, they knew that they were about to admit to the world that they still had not a single clue about how they were going to meet the promises and targets that they had already made to keep the UK safe from climate change. They knew that they were not even going to commit to a new deadline by when they might put such a plan together and that to come to this Chamber today—all smiles—in a cross-party endeavour to ratify the Paris agreement would have exposed them to the accusation of being arrogant hypocrites. They have avoided that charge, but they have opened themselves up to an infinite number more: incompetence, dithering, anti-business, anti-investment. They are a party divided between those who circle on the Back Benches saying that all these budgets and plans are just costly “green crap” and that we should get on with a future industrial strategy based on fossil fuels and the few sane heads, some of whom are in the Chamber today—[Interruption.]
Order. There is some unrest about the hon. Gentleman’s language, but I think that in using a word that I would not advise him to use, nor would I use myself, he was in fact perhaps quoting.
My excuse is that I believe I was quoting the former Prime Minister, who used such language about his previous embrace of the huskies.
We will leave the point as to whether it was a quote or a misquote, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will temper his language.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not the least bit offended by the hon. Gentleman’s language, but if he is allowed to describe green policies in that fashion, I want to clarify whether I will be allowed to do the same.
No. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his making his point of order, because the reason for my intervention was to ensure that the rest of the debate will see temperate language that we would all be happy to quote in future.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
This is interesting because the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) is one of those who believes that in meeting their climate change commitments the Government are wrongheaded and that man-made climate change is somewhat overblown as a hypothesis. He is, in effect, a climate change denier—[Interruption.]
Up until that point, the hon. Gentleman was quite right and I was nodding. I have never ever denied that the climate changes. In fact, on every single occasion that I have spoken on this subject, I have made the point straightaway that of course the climate changes, but that it has been changing for a lot longer than 250 years. The real deniers are people like the hon. Gentleman who seem to deny that the climate changed prior to the industrial revolution.
I was of course referring to the hon. Gentleman being a denier of anthropogenic climate change, and he knows that.
However, there are sane heads who understand that when the world’s largest superpowers ratify a climate change treaty that commits the world to a net carbon future by the second half of this century, it is time to do what President Obama said last week and
“put your money where your mouth is.”
Last year, global investment in low-carbon technology was $286 billion. The problem is that investment in developing countries outpaced that in richer nations. We are locked in a low-carbon race and we are losing. The reason I want us to get on and ratify is not because Paris is some sort of totemic environmental symbol, but because political leadership sends a strong signal to attract investment. Countries with a clear policy framework are the ones that attract investment. Countries with a stable policy framework attract investment. The UK has had neither over the past few years.
On solar, the Government plan this month to hike the tax on businesses with rooftop solar installations through a six to eight times increase in business rates. In 2015, they cut all solar subsidy for commercial installations of over 5 MW and reduced the subsidy for the rest by 65%. The Government’s own figures show that that has resulted in a 93% fall in UK solar deployment and the loss of more than 12,000 jobs in the industry.
On wind power, the Government decided to end all subsidy for onshore wind farms despite them being the cheapest source of renewable power. For offshore wind, they took away all investment certainty by announcing that they would extend the levy control framework only to 2021.
On biomass, I wrote to the Secretary of State only a few days ago to ask why regulatory changes to the tariff structure of combined heat and power biomass plants were rushed through this summer, using secondary legislation to amend the renewable heat incentive without proper consultation. No impact assessment was made of the risk to business, and trade associations estimate that £140 million of investment is now at risk.
On carbon capture and storage technology, the Government broke their manifesto promise, cancelling £4 billion of promised finance—the latest £1 billion was cancelled last year just six months before it was due to be awarded, sinking the White Rose and Peterhead projects.
On energy efficiency, the Government ditched the zero-carbon homes policy and finally scrapped their green deal policy despite having no idea about how to replace it with other household efficiency measures.
On transport, the Government reduced the vehicle excise duty incentives for low-emissions vehicles. Is it any wonder that in just four years we have sunk from fourth to 13th in the Ernst and Young index of the best places for investment in low-carbon industries?
Just to make the investment picture complete, they took the quite monstrous decision to sell off the green investment bank. A bank that was precisely set up because there was a market failure that the private sector simply could not address. By abolishing the GIB, they are now prepared to starve low-carbon industries in the UK of the investment that they need at a critical phase of development.
However, not all parts of the energy nexus are being hit by this Government. In 2013, they announced that fracking companies would pay half the tax paid by conventional oil and gas producers. The then Chancellor called the tax regime the
“most generous for shale in the world”.
CCS, commercial solar, business rates on rooftop solar, onshore wind, offshore wind, biomass, the levy control framework, the green deal—is there any part of our energy sector that I have not mentioned? Oh yes, nuclear. Hinkley—oh dear. Dithering, delay, incompetence and an overpriced contract have led to a contract for difference that will now cost the bill payer, not the Government, not the £6.1 billion originally calculated by the Government but the £30 billion as determined by the National Audit Office.
The Hinkley project has already been delayed for eight years, and the Prime Minister has now thrown in into chaos. Two and half years ago, the Government should have reviewed the project on grounds of cost. To do so after the EDF board had taken a final knife-edge investment decision is to show a level of contempt for investors in our energy infrastructure and a lack of understanding of how company boards actually take decisions, sending out the most damaging message and turning investors away from the UK as a market of preference for low-carbon investment.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point, but I suggest that it is all about the way one uses statistics. In this country, 16% of our energy comes from renewables, and this year 25% of our electricity is from renewable sources. He laughs, but in 2014, 30% of all of Europe’s renewable energy investment took place here. Does he not agree that that is an excellent track record, and that one of the best ways we can indicate we are combating climate change is by phasing out fossil fuel power stations, which is exactly what this Government are doing?
The hon. Lady is right to say that we have had an enviable track record on the amount of our renewables and way in which they have been built up. But of course the statistics she referred to were created by the policies that previously allowed the subsidy into the renewable industry. The points that I have just been making show clearly how the Government, in the past 18 months to two years, have withdrawn those subsidies. As I said, the effect on the solar industry was a 93% cut in the projects that are now going ahead—in the panels and the capacity now being installed.
The hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) mentioned energy investment in this country, but she failed to mention that energy companies in this country often buy in energy from Europe—in fact, they have invested £2 billion to £3 billion in Europe. That does not say much for the Government’s energy policy, does it?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I had not referred to it in my speech, so I am glad he has drawn the House’s attention to it, because interconnection with Europe is vital for our energy security. It would be a very positive move if the Minister were to talk about the future of energy infrastructure and of energy interconnection with the continent. As I understand it, there is no reason why coming out of the European Union should mean we are not part of the single energy market—that can stand separately. I would very much like confirmation from the Minister that the Government intend to make sure that that is safeguarded, because it is an important way of managing our energy supply.
Instead of using our time today to take a bold step forward, seeking Commons approval for the UK to join the founder parties of the historic Paris climate deal, we have had to hold the Government to account for just how far the UK’s leadership on climate change has fallen on their watch. Leapfrogged by the world’s biggest polluters, we have gone from the world-leading Climate Change Act to where we now sit: with a 47% gap in meeting our target, which we simply do not know how to fill—we have not yet even given a date for the publication of the plan as to when we will fill it. I will rephrase that, because we do know how to fill it. It is by properly insulating millions of homes in the UK to increase energy-efficiency and, where that is not viable—with older, single-skin properties—by ensuring that they have access to low-carbon renewable community sources of energy, so that we are not burning fossil fuels to see the heat escape through draughty walls and windows. It is by transforming our transport system with electric vehicles whose battery capacity can double up as storage facility and fill that space that intermittent renewable technologies require.
Later today, the leader of the Labour party will set out his ambitious vision for our environmental and energy policy, creating 300,000 jobs in low-carbon industries and using a new national investment bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy projects. The Paris agreement demands that we move to a net zero-carbon future in the second half of this century. That requires courage and imagination. It requires a coherent low-carbon investment plan. Today should have been a day when all parties came together to piece together that future in optimism and hope. By turning their back on that opportunity, the Government must explain when they will ratify the Paris agreement and when they will publish the carbon plan to show the British public how they will deliver on that promise.
As you well know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Opposition days are traditionally set up for division. When I saw today’s motion, I hoped that today was going to be different, but 28 minutes later I was really disappointed by the tone the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) set for this debate. That is because, as I hope he knows, I have a deep respect for him personally, and it is widely acknowledged that he has a deep and serious knowledge of this issue and agenda, and, to date, has had a serious commitment to it. His speech, however, was very disappointing. As I said, Opposition days are set up for division. Sometimes the divisions are real and sometimes they are exaggerated, but rarely have I been asked to open a debate where the division has been so entirely manufactured, stretched and distorted, in a way that is really unhelpful and matters. That is at the heart of my disappointment.
Today, we had, and I hope still have, an opportunity to have a substantive and timely debate on an issue of enormous importance. We can take stock, at a pivotal time, of where we are in, what is now, at last, a global effort to manage the risk of dangerous, expensive and possibly extreme climate instability. Arguably—and I have argued this—this is the most complex and important long-term issue that our generation of politicians have to grapple with. It is an issue on which there has been impressive and very important cross-party support over successive Governments, not least when the groundbreaking and enormously influential Climate Change Act, on whose Bill Committee I remain proud to have served, was passed by a majority of 463. Without that cross-party support, British Governments would not have been able to show the leadership we have shown, under different political colours, which has, in turn, enabled us to have the global influence that is at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s motion.
The motion encourages the Government to get on and do what we have already said we will do, which has been confirmed again by the Prime Minister today: ratify the Paris treaty as soon as possible. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman, who is widely respected for his knowledge and commitment to this agenda, to resist what I think I heard, which is an urge to play party games, particularly against a backdrop of a Labour leadership election. That is extremely unhelpful and out of character for him.
Out of respect for the hon. Gentleman, I do, however, want to address his motion and, in doing so, seek to reassure the House and many outside, whom he rightly says are deeply concerned about this issue, that this new Department, led by a highly respected former shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who is sitting alongside me on the Front Bench this afternoon, and the new Government remain very committed to Britain playing a full part in the global effort to improve our climate security. There is no backsliding here; we are genuinely committed to this. Why? It is not only because we see climate change as one of the biggest long-term risks to our future security and prosperity—a risk that has to be actively managed—but because we believe that long-term, cost-effective climate action is an opportunity to promote growth, good jobs and improvements to our health, not least through the right to enjoy cleaner air in our cities.
We are committed to ratifying the pivotal Paris agreement, and we see it, as I said last night, as a start. We are committed to the UK Climate Change Act 2008. Arguably, there is no more important proof of that in the short term than the very early unflinching decision to put into law the fifth carbon budget. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who, just hours after he was lured from the charms of chairing the thoroughly agreeable Select Committee to enter Government, was on his feet facing the Opposition Front-Bench team putting the fifth carbon budget into law. Anyone who knows anything about this subject will understand that that is an extremely important and challenging commitment on behalf of the British people. Therefore, there is no more important proof than that the new Department was prepared to make such a commitment at such an early stage in its life.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of green jobs. I represent Ashfield, a former coalfield community, where the pits are now closed and the replacement jobs are not as secure or as well paid. What are the Government doing to get those green jobs to areas such as mine?
The hon. Lady addresses a very important and substantive issue, which lies at the heart of this Government’s commitment to forge and commit and put on the tin of this new Department the need for an industrial strategy. As the Prime Minister said, that strategy needs to work for everyone, to create a broader sense of opportunity across the country and to take a very hard look at industries, sectors and places and think about future competitiveness and resilience, It needs to ask such questions as: “Where are the opportunities going to come from?” and “How do we broaden the opportunity for other people?”. I am talking about fundamental, deep-seated questions, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering. Fundamental to that incredibly important work is this debate today and the debate about the future of our low carbon economy.
I was just trying to make the point about the importance of the fifth carbon budget, which commits us to reducing our emissions in 2030 by 57% relative to 1990 levels. That is a very major commitment. I will return to our commitment to take effective climate action in the UK, but, out of respect to the hon. Member for Brent North, I will address the issue of Paris ratification, before moving on to address how we intend to maintain our international influence.
We signed the Paris agreement in April and we said that we would ratify it as soon as possible, and we will. For the information of the House—the hon. Gentleman knows this—there are two steps to ratification. First, countries complete their domestic processes to approve the treaty and then they deposit an instrument of ratification with the UN. We signed the agreement as part of the European Union. As many Members know, we negotiated the treaty together and—this point was ignored in the hon. Gentleman’s speech—the convention is that we will ratify it together. That is our understanding. Until we leave the EU, the UK will remain a full member with all the obligations that that entails.
Colleagues will understand that with such a complex process in which so many different countries are going through their domestic processes of approval—we are lucky because ours is relatively straightforward and there is an understanding that we will ratify simultaneously —it has always been understood that the EU was never expected to be at the vanguard of ratification. Indeed, that was confirmed to me by the most senior people involved in the negotiating process and, in part, explains why others have chosen to go first. Of course we welcome that, as we want early ratification of this hugely important treaty.