House of Commons
Wednesday 18 July 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU
Wales approaches Brexit from a position of strength with a growing economy and falling unemployment, and our plan for Brexit will allow us to shape our own ambitious trade and investment opportunities, putting Wales and the wider UK at the forefront of global trade.
The Welsh Affairs Committee has now joined in the calls for the retention of membership of the single market and customs union to protect the agricultural sector, in which 80% of Welsh exports go to the EU. Will the Secretary of State confirm what representations he made to the Prime Minister ahead of the Chequers agreement for continued membership for the agricultural sector?
As the House would expect, I looked closely at that report, but of course the outcome that the hon. Gentleman suggests would mean that we could not honour the expectations of the British people following the referendum decision to leave the European Union; it would mean retaining free movement of people. The Chequers agreement protects the agricultural sector so that it has the opportunity to trade frictionlessly with the European Union.
By 2020, the Welsh economy will have been supported by almost £150 billion of investment through EU structural funds. The Government committed to replacing that funding, along with support for farming and the English NHS, with money from the mythical Brexit dividend. Now that it is clear that the UK will not receive a single penny back from Brexit, will the Secretary of State confirm that there will still be money for Wales?
The Government have committed to consult later this year on the UK shared prosperity fund, which will be a Brexit dividend. We are already seeing a Brexit dividend with the £20 billion increase in health spending, which will have considerable consequences for Scotland and, rightly, for Wales. As their budgets are protected, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will benefit significantly from that.
The Secretary of State’s answer directly contradicts the UK Government’s own analysis, which shows that Wales and every other part of the United Kingdom will be badly hit by their plans for Brexit. If the Government do have a plan for Brexit, we would love to hear it—and is there any economic analysis for it?
The hon. Gentleman ignores the hard data, which shows record numbers of people in employment and sharp falls in unemployment. I have met a whole host of international investors from the US, Qatar, Japan and elsewhere, and we are seeing significant foreign direct investment projects coming to the UK. That shows the great opportunities there are as we leave the European Union.
We will hear from Mr Elphicke, but it is very nice to see you, Mr Graham.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important market to the Welsh economy is the internal market of the United Kingdom? That is also true for Scotland, which is why it makes no sense that the Scottish National party wants to peel Scotland away from the United Kingdom and the success of this nation.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. He is right to say that the UK market is more important to the Welsh and Scottish economies than any international market is. It has already been demonstrated that Scotland sells four times more to the rest of the UK than to any international market. That dependence on the UK economy is greater for the Welsh economy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the economic benefit of the city deals that have been agreed in Wales and Scotland is evidence of what is possible when the UK Government and the devolved Administrations pull together in the same direction?
May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked so hard on the Stirling city growth deal? That exciting prospect, will offer real opportunities for long-term economic regeneration. I take the opportunity to highlight the fact that Wales will be the only part of the UK that is entirely covered by city deals and growth deals. That meets the UK Government’s ambitions to close the wealth gap between the most prosperous and most deprived areas of the UK by raising the economic prospects of some of the poorest parts of the UK.
Given the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the Welsh rural economy, the Minister will surely agree that technology and science opportunities must be seized. What is he doing to ensure that Snowdonia Aerospace at Llanbedr becomes the UK’s first horizontal-launch spaceport?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Llanbedr offers great opportunities. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and I have spoken on a number of occasions about this, and I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the statement that was made last week and the additional money that is being made available to exploit the opportunities in Llanbedr. I am excited by this prospect, and we will put the hon. Lady’s constituency at the forefront of space technology.
Let us hear more about the horizontal port situation.
I will say more about the situation of the rural economy, given that the former Wales Office Minister, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), stood down this week to oppose the Brexiteers’ wrecking amendments. At next week’s Royal Welsh show, will the Secretary of State announce his resignation in protest at the Government’s policy of wrecking Welsh livestock farming?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for his excellent work at the Ministry of Defence in supporting the defence services across the whole UK, as well as his role in looking after agriculture as a Wales Office Minister. The hon. Lady will be well aware that the Chequers agreement provides a frictionless trading opportunity for Welsh farmers that will allow them to continue to sell Welsh beef and lamb, and other Welsh produce, to the European Union as they do at the moment.
In calling the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), I congratulate him on what I understand is, unbelievably, his 60th birthday.
It’s a hard life!
The shadow Wales team recently met Farmers Union of Wales representatives, who are desperately worried about the future funding of Welsh agriculture post Brexit. If future farm funding is allocated using the Barnett formula, Welsh farmers will lose £133 million a year, taking £1 billion out of the Welsh economy. That would decimate rural communities and thousands of family-run farms. What steps is the Minister taking to guarantee Welsh agriculture the same level of funding post Brexit?
I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his significant birthday. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I meet Welsh farming unions regularly, and we also meet them jointly with the Welsh Government’s Agriculture Minister. That demonstrates the collaborative approach that we are taking. If I have said once, I have said 100 times that we will not be using the Barnett formula to distribute agricultural spend. Clearly, the current level of spend is the starting point, and we will be consulting in due course. The financial protection that the UK Government have given to Wales, whereby Wales now receives £120 for every £100 spent in England, demonstrates the priority that we put on protecting Wales’s interests.
International Trading Opportunities: Promotion
My Department continues to work closely with the Department for International Trade on promoting Wales’s trading opportunities. During my recent trips to Qatar, Kuwait, Hong Kong and the US I saw at first hand the enthusiasm for Welsh exports as well as the potential for foreign direct investment projects to come to Wales.
Given Wales’s connectivity on the M4 corridor, does my right hon. Friend agree that we can truly capitalise on trading opportunities internationally for Wales and, indeed, the Thames valley by improving the Reading to Gatwick road corridor?
My hon. Friend will be aware that I have been a strong supporter of the third runway at Heathrow because it is important to the Welsh economy, and connectivity to airports is vital to deliver its prospects and objectives. He is right about the M4 corridor. With the abolition of the Severn tolls, it creates an opportunity for a natural economy to develop between Bath, Bristol, Newport and the south Wales economy in general, to create further economic growth.
The Secretary of State knows that Airbus is one of Wales’s most important trading entities and companies, so does he think it is a good or bad sign that the chief executive of Airbus is so worried about the Government screwing up Brexit that he is now stockpiling goods that he feels he will not be able to get in to make his finished products?
I think the hon. Gentleman is out of date. The latest statements from Airbus have welcomed the Chequers agreement, because it will allow the company to protect its supply chain. That demonstrates the positive relationship that we have with large international companies, in seeking to protect their interests but taking the opportunities of leaving the European Union and looking to new markets elsewhere.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade announced that we will have the widest, most extensive consultation in relation to future trading arrangements. We will not only talk to the devolved Administrations regularly, as I always do, but talk to key stakeholders in Wales to ensure that we respond to their priorities. We are determined to have the widest consultation to ensure that people have the facts at hand rather than sometimes inaccurate reports.
The expanding digital economy will bring further opportunities for Welsh businesses, yet they tell me all the time that broadband speeds are still too slow to trade. What are the Government doing about this?
On average, the superfast broadband threshold in Wales is higher than it is across the rest of the UK, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that more work needs to be done. Significant sums have been available, with £69 million going to the Welsh Government from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in addition to the £56 million of gainshare that has come from that. Of course, the priority for how the Welsh Government spend that has largely been driven and directed by them. I am keen to work closely with them to see that we can get to the communities that have not yet received superfast broadband, because clearly that brings them opportunities economically.
Cross-border Rail Services
The Government recognise that cross-border connectivity is critically important. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to look at what improvements can be made to support better journeys for Welsh and English passengers.
People in Neston are concerned that the rail timetable to be introduced by the new operator on the Wrexham to Bidston line may lead to an inferior service on the English side of the border. When I asked the rail Minister about that recently, he told me that it was the Welsh Assembly’s responsibility, not his; but my constituents have no representation there. Who is accountable for services on the English side of the border within this Parliament?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Wales & Borders franchise is part of the Government’s commitment to devolving powers, so there is a joint responsibility between the two Governments. If he wants me to make representations on his behalf to the Welsh Government, I would be more than happy to do so.
Has my hon. Friend had the chance to speak to the management of Great Western Railway about the total shambles that was its rail service last Sunday afternoon, when thousands of passengers faced cancelled or disrupted trains due to staffing problems arising from the World cup final? England did not qualify for the final and Wales was not even at the tournament, so it should not have led to meltdown on the rail network last Sunday.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. When these services do not run effectively, that has a massive impact on his constituents and all commuters. I would be happy to meet him to discuss this further, so that we can take it up with the people responsible.
My constituents were promised electric trains running into Cardiff Central by last year. This week, we found out that they will not even be coming into Cardiff Central by the end of next year. When will the Minister sort out the shambles that is the Great Western Railway line from London to Cardiff?
It is important to recognise that we are investing a massive amount of money to ensure that the electrification brings about improved journey times. The Welsh Government have come up with some suggestions about how we might resolve these issues, and we will work with them collaboratively on that. Let us not forget, though, that this Government are making a massive investment in the railway system.
How is work progressing to develop the business case for the north-east Wales metro?
My right hon. Friend will know that we are looking at a host of different projects that will improve journey times for passengers in north Wales, such as the Wrexham to Bidston line. On the specific issue that he raises, we are looking at that across the board, including through the growth deal that we are developing at the moment.
Order. In generously but appropriately congratulating the Minister not on his birthday but on the magnificence of his tie, may I urge him to face the Chamber so that we enjoy the benefit of his mellifluous tones?
It is not just the cancellations and the delays to electrification—it is the short trains, the short-staffed trains, the lack of reservations and the lack of catering. Great Western Railway is an absolute shambles. What on earth is the Minister going to do about it? Is he going to talk to the Secretary of State for Transport, as it is his responsibility?
I am glad that you like my tie, Mr Speaker.
First, I point out that the Government are investing more in our railways than any Government since Victorian times. I accept that there may be some issues with the service, and I will happily arrange to meet GWR to raise the points that the hon. Gentleman made.
Leaving the EU: White Paper
In line with commitments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Government shared the White Paper on our future relationship with the European Union with the Welsh Government in advance of its publication. This followed a regular dialogue with Welsh Ministers as the paper was being drafted.
The Government have proposed 26 policy areas where joint arrangements will be necessary with the Welsh Government after Brexit. Given the proposal in the Chequers agreement and the White Paper for a common rulebook with the EU, in how many of those areas will such arrangements no longer be necessary?
The hon. Gentleman refers to an ongoing relationship and dialogue with the Welsh Government. He will be aware that the Welsh Government were happy to give a legislative consent motion to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill as it passed through the Palace of Westminster, which demonstrates the mutual respect and ongoing productive relationship that we have. I only wish that the Scottish Government would work in the same constructive, positive way.
The White Paper’s mobility proposals for business visitors and intra-company transfers might be all right for large multinational companies in London, but they offer nothing to small businesses in Wales and important public services. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that they can still recruit the EU workers they need, if Brexit happens?
I have referred on several occasions to the expert panel I formed, which is being extended, and to joint meetings I have held with Welsh Government Ministers. We are keen to engage with businesses of all sizes. Large companies such as Airbus often receive much attention, but it is only right that small businesses, which often depend on their supply chains, receive a similar amount of attention.
I do not think even the UK Government still believe that the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe is fit for purpose. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is time for it to be replaced by a statutory forum that gives equal power of esteem to all four nations in these islands?
A previous Joint Ministerial Committee committed to look at intergovernmental arrangements and how we can best develop and evolve them in the light of our exit from the European Union. My relationship with the Welsh Government is positive. It takes a lot of hard work on both sides, and I am keen to maintain the warmest sort of arrangements because we respect the outcome of the referendum and the importance of the UK internal market.
The Secretary of State is stoical in the circumstances, but there is an excessive number of rather loud private conversations taking place. An air of solemnity should descend on the House as we are about to hear from the Chair of the Select Committee.
My hon. Friend is right, and I pay tribute to him for his work as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee. Not only does the UK remain the No. 1 destination for foreign direct investment, but Wales has seen a 20% increase in the employment created out of that investment. Our exports are growing to record levels and, interestingly, those to areas outside the European Union are growing at a faster rate than those to the European Union.
The White Paper is a little light on the benefits of World Trade Organisation rules. Will the Secretary of State discuss the benefits of those rules with the Welsh Government alongside the White Paper?
I will naturally continue an ongoing dialogue with the Welsh Government about a whole host of issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade yesterday agreed to and committed to consult widely, including with the devolved Administrations. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are great opportunities as we leave the European Union to look at new markets, but nor should we undermine the existing complex supply chains that have built up over 40 years. The Chequers White Paper, I believe, allows us to do both.
Will my right hon. Friend reach out beyond the Welsh Government to businesses in Wales to exemplify the opportunities that will be created as we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We often, rightly, give a lot of attention to the devolved Administrations because they are elected bodies in the nations themselves, but businesses in Wales depend on the UK market and their view is also important as we develop and evolve our policy towards the negotiations to leave the European Union.
I join in the birthday wishes to my youthful shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane).
It has been two years since the Prime Minister met the First Minister of Wales in Cardiff Bay and stood on the steps of the Senedd, telling politicians and journalists how important the Union is and that she wanted the Welsh Government to be involved in Brexit discussions, so why was the White Paper not shared with the Welsh Government until barely 12 hours before its publication?
The hon. Lady is right that the document was shared with the Welsh Government before it was published. I can also say that many extracts—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. The microphone is not functioning as well as it should be, and I therefore suggest that a modest bellowing by the right hon. Gentleman will suffice.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can point out to the hon. Lady that not only was the document itself shared with the Welsh Government before publication, but—I would say, probably more importantly—as the document was being drafted, various extracts were shared with the Welsh Government and their input during the drafting stages contributed to the document in its totality.
It is not good enough. The Secretary of State knows the terms of the JMC, which state that the UK Government will work with the devolved Administrations
“to agree a UK approach to…Article 50 negotiations”.
After two years of broken promises on Brexit talks, who should the people of Wales blame for the contempt shown to them—the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales or both?
The hon. Lady is ignoring that we shared the drafting of the document with the Welsh Government before we had concluded the document itself. They had an integral part in contributing and sharing their views. I would also say that it was considered at length at the JMC that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster chaired days before the document was shared.
Welsh Guards: Afghanistan
I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence about the armed forces in Wales, including about my recent visit to Kabul to meet the Welsh Guards. During the visit, I saw at first hand the important role that our servicemen and women play in the UK’s operations, and I pay tribute to them.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of an added commitment from the Welsh Guards to secure and to help NATO’s capacity-building mission in Afghanistan?
Having seen the Welsh Guards in action in Afghanistan, I have nothing but admiration and respect for the work that they do. The additional support to help them embed and the important steps they are taking to support the ongoing work of the Afghan Government will be extremely important, and I pay tribute to them for the work that they do.
Universal credit is already operating in 24 jobcentres across Wales, with a further two scheduled to roll out this month. The number of people receiving universal credit in Wales is over 44,000, and 36% of these are in employment. Wales jobcentres are in the latter part of the roll-out schedule, with full roll-out to be completed by the end of this year.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Early indications show that there are huge problems in implementing universal credit, with the Flintshire citizens advice bureau, for example, receiving 340 new cases—serious cases. What is he doing to make sure that our hard-pressed citizens advice bureaux are not overwhelmed when universal credit is fully implemented?
It is important to recognise that universal credit is a transformational benefits system that is working to get people back into work. The recent employment figures, showing that employment in Wales is up by 5,000, are a significant step, but the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises are exactly why we have been careful. We have made significant changes as we have carefully rolled out the project.
Transport Infrastructure: North Wales
The Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Welsh Government on Wales and road infrastructure, and we recognise the benefit to communities on both sides of the border.
The M56 is the main arterial route not just through Cheshire but into north Wales. What discussions has the Minister had about upgrading the M56 as part of the next road investment strategy for Highways England?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the M56 and the whole of the cross-border connectivity routes, because the amount of people who live in Wales but work in England is significant. That is why the Secretary of State recently met the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), to discuss these issues—[Interruption.]
Order. These matters are of the utmost importance to the people of north Wales, and the question and the answer must be heard.
My daughter, Fiona, celebrates her birthday today, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) and the late, great Nelson Mandela, who would have been 100 today.
The north Wales economy depends on the port of Holyhead as the main port from the Republic of Ireland. Many businesses are concerned about a no-deal Brexit scenario. Will the Minister tell us whether there is a contingency plan for a no deal and if not, why not?
First, may I wish the hon. Gentleman’s daughter a very happy birthday?
As an Anglesey boy myself, I know how important the port of Holyhead is not just to the Isle of Anglesey but to the whole of north Wales and the whole of the country. That is exactly why this Government are working closely with ports around the whole country as we prepare for our exit from the European Union.
Cross-border Transport Links
Abolishing the Severn tolls will drive the biggest economic stimulus Wales has seen in decades and create the most natural cross-border economic growth corridor, spanning Cardiff through to Bristol and Newport. The UK Government are looking at the capacity and investment needed for roads in the south-west of England once the tolls are abolished.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. The value of removing those tolls to the economies of both south Wales and south-west England cannot be overestimated. What, in his assessment, would be the impact on economic growth of removing those tolls on the bridge?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a significant announcement. The fact that people will be able to cross the border between Wales and England and not have to pay a toll will, we hope, increase economic activity and improve the number of people who enjoy tourism in both the south-west and Wales.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Today marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to his extraordinary life and agree that his message of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation is as relevant today as it ever has been.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I am proud to have Nelson Mandela Place in my constituency, and we celebrate that today as well.
There were 934 drug-related deaths in Scotland last year. Each one of those deaths is a tragedy, and a preventable one at that. Drug laws are reserved to Westminster. How many more families is the Prime Minister willing to devastate before she will allow Glasgow to get on with the work of building a drug consumption room to save lives?
I agree with the hon. Lady that each death due to drugs is a tragedy, and I am sure that every Member of this House will have known people in their own constituency who have gone through that terrible suffering when they have lost members of their family. There is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms in the UK and we have no plans to introduce them. A range of offences is likely to be committed in the operation of drug consumption rooms. It is for local police forces to enforce the law in such circumstances and we would expect them to do so, but our approach on drugs remains very clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.
At absolutely no point, because Brexit continues to mean Brexit. I know that my hon. Friend wants us to talk about the positives of Brexit and I agree with her: we should be talking about the positive future for this country. I understand that she has also criticised me for looking for a solution that is “workable”. I have to say, I disagree with her on that. I think what we need is a solution that is going to work for the United Kingdom, ensure that we leave the European Union and embrace that bright future that we both agree on.
I, too, pay tribute to Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birth. The people of South Africa stood up against the most vile injustice of apartheid. Their solidarity and the solidarity of people around the world freed him and ended the scourge of apartheid. We should pay tribute to all of them on this day.
People are losing trust in this Government. The Transport Secretary, the International Trade Secretary and the Brexit Secretary were all members of the Vote Leave campaign committee. The Environment Secretary was the co-chair. They have been referred to the police by the Electoral Commission, having refused to co-operate with the Electoral Commission. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that her Cabinet Ministers will fully co-operate with the police investigation?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I actually question the way in which he put his question. He has made an accusation in this House against Members of this House—[Interruption.]
Order. The question was heard and the Prime Minister’s answer must be heard.
The right hon. Gentleman has made an accusation in this House against individual Members of this House and of the Government, and I suggest that, when he stands up, he reflects on whether or not it was correct to do so. The Electoral Commission is an independent regulator, accountable to Parliament, not to the Government. It has, as we know, taken steps in relation to the Vote Leave campaign. I would expect that all those involved and required to do so will give the evidence that is required and respond appropriately to any questions that are raised with them. But I say again to the right hon. Gentleman that I think he should stand up, think very carefully about making accusations about individual Members, and withdraw.
Order. People can rant from a sedentary position for as long as they like. It will not change the way proceedings are conducted in this session. The Prime Minister’s answers will be heard and the questions from the right hon. Gentleman will be heard, and no amount of orchestrated barracking will change that fact this day or any other.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I stated the fact that the Electoral Commission has made that reference. That is what I said. I asked the Prime Minister for a guarantee that her Ministers will co-operate with the police on any investigations that they may make. That is not judgmental—it is a guarantee they will co-operate. These are serious issues. Current Cabinet Ministers were indeed central to the Vote Leave campaign. After two years of dither and delay, the Government have sunk into a mire of chaos and division. The agreement that was supposed to unite the Cabinet led to the Cabinet falling apart within 48 hours, and on Monday the Government U-turned to make their own White Paper proposals unlawful. Given that the proposals in the White Paper are now obsolete, when will the new White Paper be published?
I heard the right hon. Gentleman say in his first question that members of the Government had failed to co-operate with the Electoral Commission investigation. I say again that he should withdraw that. It is very important in this country that politicians do not interfere with police investigations, that the police are allowed to do their investigation and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I still contend that he made accusations against individual members of the Government that were unjustified and he should withdraw them.
The right hon. Gentleman then came to the amendments that the Government accepted to the customs Bill on Monday night. I will explain the position to the House. [Interruption.]
Order. We are less than a third of the way through—possibly significantly less—and people are becoming over-excited. They must calm themselves and we must hear the Prime Minister.
The hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) said, “This will be interesting”. I will go through each of the amendments in turn for the purposes of the House. Amendment 72 related to parliamentary scrutiny on plans under clause 31 to form a customs union with the EU. We are going to leave the customs union with the EU so we accepted that enhanced parliamentary scrutiny. Amendment 73 related to regulations on the application of VAT in certain circumstances. Such an arrangement is not part of the White Paper and the Chequers agreement, and we were able to accept that too. New clause 37 was to prevent a customs border down the Irish sea. That is Government policy. New clause 36 related to reciprocity and accounting for tariffs collected, and that concept is in the White Paper. The Chequers agreement and White Paper are the basis of our negotiations with the European Union, and we have already started those negotiations.
That is all very interesting, but could the Prime Minister explain why the Defence Minister had to rebel against the Government in order to support the Cabinet’s position of a few days before? The Government are in complete chaos. The centrepiece of the White Paper was something called the “facilitated customs arrangement”. Having spent a week trying to convince their own MPs that this cobbled-together mishmash was worth defending, they abandoned it. So what is their plan now for customs?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. We have not abandoned the facilitated customs agreement. We are discussing it with the European Union.
Does the Prime Minister seriously expect 27 member states of the EU to establish their own bureaucratic tariff-collection infrastructure just to satisfy the war within the Conservative party in Britain? On Monday evening, the new Brexit Secretary was starting the next round of Brexit negotiations. No wonder he didn’t turn up—he doesn’t know what he is supposed to be negotiating. Two years on from the referendum and 16 months on from triggering article 50, is it not the case that the Government have no serious negotiating strategy?
The right hon. Gentleman is just plain wrong in his interpretation of what is happening. I have a copy of the White Paper here and I am very happy to ensure he gets a copy after these PMQs so that he can perhaps read it and understand what the Government are doing. There are indeed differences between the Leader of the Opposition and me on this issue. I will end free movement; he wants to keep it. I want us out of the customs union; he wants us in. I want us out of the single market; he wants us in. I want us to sign our own trade deals; he wants to hand them over to Brussels. I have ruled out a second referendum; he won’t. There is no doubt which of us is respecting the will of the British people and delivering on the vote, and it is not him.
We are 11 days on from the so-called Chequers agreement, and the Brexit White Paper did not even survive contact with the Cabinet or the Tory Back Benches, and has not yet even been discussed with the EU. The White Paper states:
“The UK is committed to membership of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
Is the new Brexit Secretary signed up to that?
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are signed up to that: it was in our manifesto. Let me also say to him that he has stood up and asked virtually the same question, and obviously has not listened to any of the answers that I have given him. The point of this is not that you just read out the question you thought of on Tuesday morning, but you actually listen to the answers that the Prime Minister gives.
The Chequers agreement stands. The White Paper stands. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had not even discussed the White Paper with the European Union. I think I have told him in at least two if not three answers that we are already discussing it with the European Union.
The Prime Minister obviously forgot the question that I just asked her, which was about the Brexit Secretary’s support or otherwise for the European convention on human rights. He is on record as saying:
“I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights”.
He is obviously backsliding to keep his job, or that is the new policy of the Government.
With only three months to go until the final withdrawal agreement is due to be signed, the former Brexit Secretary has resigned, the White Paper is in tatters, and the new Brexit Secretary is skipping negotiations. After two years of negotiating with themselves, the Government wanted to shut down Parliament five days early. They have even given up on negotiating with each other. Is it not the case that the Government are failing to negotiate Brexit and failing to meet the needs of the—[Interruption.]
Order. I know what the attempt is, and it is not going to work. The right hon. Gentleman will complete his question. He will not be shouted down, not today and not any day. Learn it: it is quite simple.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Is it not the case that the Government are failing to negotiate Brexit and failing to meet the needs of the country because they are too busy—far too busy—fighting each other?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what I have been doing over the last week, and let me also look at what the right hon. Gentleman has been doing over the last week. While I was agreeing the future of NATO with President Trump—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Lewis, you are a very over-excitable denizen of the House. You are not as well behaved as your little baby daughter.
While I was agreeing the future of NATO with President Trump, the right hon. Gentleman was joining a protest march against him. While I was delivering a plan for our future trade with the EU, he was delivering a plan to teach children how to go on strike. While I was negotiating our future security relationship with Europe, he was renegotiating the definition of anti-Semitism. He protests; I deliver.
There will indeed be more. Helen Whately.
I agree with my hon. Friend that all political parties should do just that. The Conservative party has done that, but sadly the Labour party does not agree. The Labour party is trying to redefine anti-Semitism to allow people to say that Israel is a racist endeavour. The Chief Rabbi says that what the Labour party is doing is sending
“an unprecedented message of contempt”
for British Jews. Even some of the right hon. Gentleman’s own MPs are saying that this is anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism is racism. The Labour party should accept that. The right hon. Gentleman should accept that. We should all sign up, as the Conservative party has, to the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and all its annexes.
We should all welcome the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. Those of us in Scotland are very proud that the city of Glasgow was the first in the world to give the freedom of a city to Nelson Mandela, something of which he in turn was also proud.
This week the Prime Minister caved in to her right-wing Brexiteers, undermining her negotiating position with the EU. In her attempt to hold together her fractured party, she has managed to unite the country against this Government. Playing fast and loose with her own position makes the UK a laughing stock with our negotiating partners. The Prime Minister has put her narrow party interest before that of the country. Is it not the case that the events of this week make a no deal much more likely?
As I explained in answer to the questions from the Leader of the Opposition, we are negotiating with the European Union on the basis of the Chequers agreement and the White Paper. Those discussions started this week and have been continuing this week. The right hon. Gentleman talks about putting a political party’s interests before that of the country. I think the Scottish National party should really think about what it is doing when it promotes the independence of Scotland, which is clearly against the interests of its country.
The reality is that this is a Prime Minister who has lost control of her own party, a Prime Minister who is in office but not in power, and a Parliament that is so divided that it simply cannot function. Mr Speaker, to use a good Gaelic word, it is a bùrach. We cannot crash out of the EU without a deal. We need to think of the next generation, who will pay a price for this folly. They will see lost opportunities and lost jobs. Did the Prime Minister come into Parliament to have this as her legacy? Will she now face up to the reality and extend article 50?
There are strong feelings around the whole House on this issue, but what we need is a deal that is credible and workable, that protects jobs and protects our precious Union, and that delivers on the result of the referendum. That is exactly what we are doing with the Chequers agreement. It allows the UK to leave the European Union, and to take back control of our money, laws and borders. That is what our plan delivers. As my hon. Friend says, let us work together and deliver for the British people.
Order. This is extremely serious and it will be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In relation to ongoing matters, may I, on a personal note, thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and every single Member of this House for the kindness they have shown me?
I am delighted to be in my place to be able to ask the Prime Minister a question. So, to the question—to business. Does the Prime Minister agree that, as part of the Government’s attempt to expand capacity in the NHS, existing sites such as Ormskirk hospital in my constituency, where there is capacity to build an extra floor, should be prioritised for expansion ahead of simply building a new hospital at much greater cost, depriving the NHS of much needed investment which should go into patients and staffing?
First, may I say to the hon. Lady how very good it is to see her in her place in this House? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] And I know from the response that that view is shared across the whole of this House.
The hon. Lady raised an issue to do with the NHS and Ormskirk hospital. As she will know, we are putting extra funding into the national health service: £20 billion a year in real terms by 2023-24. We will have funding available not just to build sites but, as she says, to improve current and existing facilities across the country. On Ormskirk hospital, I understand the Northern England Clinical Senate has issued a report making proposals around the provision of emergency services there. No decisions have been made—that is a matter, of course, for the NHS—but as we look to the long-term plan, I want NHS clinicians to come forward with the best proposals for patients and to take account of local interests such as those the hon. Lady has raised.
As a Government we stand with persecuted Christians all over the world and will continue to support them. It is hard to comprehend that today we still see people being attacked and murdered because of their Christianity, but we must reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions and beliefs and for them to be able to practise their beliefs in peace and security. I am very pleased that I have been able to appoint the noble Lord Ahmad as the Government’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, and he will certainly be doing what my hon. Friend suggests: working with other countries to encourage them to recognise the importance of allowing people to have the freedom to practise their religion and beliefs in peace and security.
I have long championed the need for children with special needs to be able to be provided for in the setting that is most appropriate for them. For some that will be a mainstream school; for some it will be a special needs school. We have of course changed the national funding formula to make it a fairer distribution across the country, but, as I have said, I recognise the need to ensure that children with special needs are provided for in the most appropriate setting.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue; it is absolutely right of him to highlight the opportunities that our announcement on spaceports give us. We have awarded grants worth £31.5 million to enable satellites to be launched from UK soil for the first time, and that is worth a potential £3.8 billion over the next decade to the UK economy. This is the start of a new space age in the UK; it is a huge boost to our world-leading space sector, making the UK a one-stop shop for new satellite services. My hon. Friend has put a bid in for his own constituency in this regard, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be happy to meet him and discuss that.
The hon. Lady complains to me that we want decisions to be taken at local level by the NHS, but I believe it is absolutely right that decisions are taken at local level. When the NHS takes those decisions, the important thing is that it puts the interests of patients, the safety of patients and the treatment of patients first. She has raised this particular issue, and I continue to believe that it is right not for politicians here to make a decision like that but for actual clinicians and others working in the national health service to do so.
I join my hon. Friend in commending the work that is done by all our dedicated staff in the national health service. They continue to do that wonderful work with considerable commitment and dedication. He is right to say that mental health is important. It has been overlooked for too long, and that is why this Government have been putting a focus on mental health. We have been doing more, but there is more to be done. We are putting more money in, and we have announced a new package of measures backed by £6 million in funding, which includes rapid access to mental health services and support for children and their whole families where there is a dependent drinker. Spending overall on mental health issues is at record levels and growing, with a planned record £11.86 billion for 2017-18, increasing by a further £1 billion by 2020-21. It is right that we put this important focus on mental health, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising this.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that constituents deserve a rail service that provides for them and their needs. I recognise the problems that have been experienced on Northern, and of course on Govia Thameslink as well. We have given unprecedented powers and funding to Transport for the North, but the issue that he raises in relation to the World cup was one that affected other train services as well, because of the way in which many services operate, and their requirements for drivers and their relying on volunteers to turn up at weekends. This experience may very well be one that the train operators will want to look at, to ensure that in future they can provide the services that constituents need.
As the Prime Minister is aware, the Department for Exiting the European Union carried out a study of all the previous free trade deals that the European Union had done, in order to create a draft free trade deal that was based solely on European precedent. The Department was—until I left, at least—creating a legal text of such a draft treaty as a fall-back option for the current negotiations. Will she agree to publish that text when it is complete?
First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he did as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Secondly, as he knows, we have published the proposals that we have for the future trade relationship with the European Union. Of course, as we look through those negotiations, we will be looking to see where the European Union has entered into certain agreements with others in the past. Very often, the European Commission will say, “X can’t be done,” only for us to say, “X was done with another country and therefore it is possible for it to be done with us.” But what I want to see is not just an amalgam of those free trade agreements but an ambitious plan—which is what I believe we have produced—that will protect jobs in this country, deliver on the referendum result and, crucially, ensure that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
What we have seen since the apprenticeship levy was introduced is a change in the number of people doing apprenticeships, but we have also seen an increase in the quality of the apprenticeships that are being undertaken. The Government are now looking at how the levy is operating to ensure that we can do what I want to do, which is ensure that every young person has the opportunity to pursue the course, be it of education or training, that is right for them and that is going to give them the best start in life.
My right hon. Friend should be commended for her sangfroid a week ago in dealing with a giant ego—somebody who believes that truth is fake news and leaks continually. I am not referring here to the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); I am of course referring to President Trump, who has acted in a very bizarre way over intelligence. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has to work with him, but is she not alarmed at the way in which he refused to challenge President Putin over the Russian activity that recently resulted in the death of a woman here in Salisbury?
I understand that there have been some clarifications of some of the statements that President Trump made. I did raise with President Trump the incident in Salisbury and the fact that we have seen somebody die here in the UK as a result of contact with a nerve agent. Of course, we took immediate action at the time after the Salisbury attack when we had been able to attribute it to Russia. The United States stood alongside us, as did many other nations across the world, and took action against Russia, which showed a united international front that sent a clear message that we will not accept this behaviour, that this is not behaviour that Russia can conduct with impunity and that we will continue to act together.
The hon. Gentleman raised this in my absence last week, so he will know that we are supporting the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust in its work on this, and we want to see the new hospital built as quickly as possible while securing best value for money in doing so. The Government and the trust continue to be in active discussions with the existing private sector funders to see whether there is a way forward to complete the remaining work on the hospital. It has taken longer, and further issues were uncovered during the process, but the way that we are approaching the situation is the right way to ensure that we are clear about what we are dealing with. We want to make the right decisions, and it is right that those discussions continue.
It is in the national interest that we should have, and have implemented, contingency plans for the unwanted eventuality of exiting the European Union with nothing agreed. Now there is collective agreement to accelerate the delivery of our plans, will my right hon. Friend please give instructions that every communication related to no deal serves to bolster our negotiating position by reinforcing the credibility and feasibility of those contingency plans?
I thank my hon. Friend also for the work he was doing in the Department for Exiting the European Union, and particularly for the work he was doing on this issue. He is absolutely right that we need to make sure that we have those no-deal preparations in place while we negotiate with the European Union on a deal, because we need to ensure that we have made contingency arrangements for every eventuality. Also, the European Union needs to be in no doubt that we are making those preparations and are ensuring that, should that be the outcome, we are prepared.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific issue, and I am happy to ensure that the responsible Ministers will look at that issue.
For a Minister to be able to do their job, they rely on getting impartial, sound and honest advice from their civil servants. When that sacrosanct relationship is broken, there needs to be a full and proper investigation. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has called for the full, open and transparent publication of Sir Alex Allan’s Windrush report. Will my right hon. Friend therefore use her stamp of authority as Prime Minister and insist that we get to the bottom of this and see who was told what and when in order that it does not look like another cover-up?
It is important, as Alex Allan himself has made clear, that proper consideration is given to the publication of information involving individuals’ personal information, but I know my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering this matter very carefully.
I commend the work of the charities Shine and SBH Scotland for their work in assisting people affected by spina bifida and other such conditions. Those charities, public health authorities, scientists and others all agree on the need to reduce the number of pregnancies that have neural tube defects by the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid—the USA and other countries do that already. Will the Prime Minister look at bringing the UK into line by introducing this very important public health preventive action?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I join him in commending the excellent work of charities on this issue. We all want mums-to-be to have healthy pregnancies and, of course, there is NHS guidance on the supplements, such as folic acid, that women planning a pregnancy should take before conception and, indeed, until the twelfth week of pregnancy. Women are recommended to eat more folate-rich foods during pregnancy. We will continue to look at this issue to ensure that the advice and the action that is taken are absolutely right to ensure that mums-to-be have healthy pregnancies.
I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating Sir Cliff Richard on his successful action against the BBC, which behaved atrociously in its illegal invasion of his privacy. Will my right hon. Friend look again at changing the law so that a suspect is not named by the media, except in exceptional cases, until such time as they are charged? I know I am off her Christmas card list, but I have tabled a private Member’s Bill that commands cross-party and, I think, widespread support—I am more than happy to call it Cliff’s law. Will the Prime Minister please agree at least to look at the Bill, because Sir Cliff is not alone and this is not confined to sexual offences? Suspects should not be named by the media until such time as they are charged.
Obviously, my right hon. Friend has raised a very important issue. She has raised it in the specific case of Sir Cliff Richard, but, as she said, this does not just relate to somebody who is well known and in the public eye. This is a difficult issue, it has to be dealt with sensitively and I looked at it when I was Home Secretary. There may well be cases where the publication of a name enables other victims to come forward and therefore strengthen the case against an individual. So this is not somewhere where we either do all of one or all of another; it is an issue for careful judgment. But in exercising that careful judgment, the police have to recognise their responsibilities and the media need to recognise their responsibilities as well.
It is good to welcome the hon. Lady back to the House; I call Naz Shah.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. On Saturday, we had the international day of remembrance for victims of honour abuse. This Friday, it will be two years to the day since the rape and murder of my constituent Samia Shahid, who was lured to Pakistan. I thank colleagues in the House, and, in particular, the leader of my party, for showing solidarity with the #honourher campaign today. Will the Prime Minister once again reiterate our commitment to eradicating violence against women and girls? Will she also urge the Pakistani authorities to give justice to Samia Shahid—two years on we are still waiting for a trial?
The Foreign Office is aware of the particular case and the issue the hon. Lady has raised in relation to the Pakistani authorities, but I am happy to reconfirm our absolute commitment to work to eradicate violence against women. The term “honour violence” is such a misnomer; this is an appalling crime of violence against women. We should all be working to ensure that we eradicate it.
Neuroblastoma is an aggressive form of cancer that impacts 100 children each year, most of whom are under five. Thanks to a campaign involving my constituents the Jeffreys family, and many hon. Members from across this House, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has now approved a drug that may extend lives. Tragically for my five-year-old constituent Jack Jeffreys this has come too late, and he is now undergoing palliative care, with his family at his bedside. For his legacy, and for all of those other children who could lead longer lives, may I ask the Prime Minister to ensure that the NHS now commissions and uses this drug?
I am sure the whole House will join me in extending our thoughts and prayers to Jack’s family at what must be a terribly, terribly difficult and tragic time for them. As my hon. Friend has indicated, NICE has recommended the drug that he refers to for use in children; that was in draft guidance it recently issued. I understand the drug is now available across the NHS, through the cancer drugs fund, and NICE will be publishing its final guidance in August. I am sure the drug will be rolled out swiftly to ensure that as many people as possible are able to benefit from it as swiftly as possible.
Three days after she became the proud grandmother of Holly, I call the Mother of the House, Harriet Harman.
Last night’s shambles over the vote of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) should put it beyond doubt that pairing is not the answer for MPs having babies. We are elected as MPs to vote in this House, and MPs having babies should not lose that right. Will the Prime Minister give the House the opportunity to vote on the Procedure Committee draft motion on proxy voting for baby leave? With more parliamentary babies in the pipeline—there is one right next to me—and more crucial votes coming up, it is time to sort this out. This one is overdue.
First, may I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that the breaking of the pair was done in error? It was not good enough and it will not be repeated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) and the Chief Whip have apologised directly to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Joe Swinson), because we take pairing very seriously and we recognise its value to Parliament. We will continue to guarantee a pair for MPs who are currently pregnant or who have a newborn baby. The issue the right hon. and learned Lady raises refers also to this question of proxy voting and the report the Procedure Committee has brought out. We are looking very carefully at that issue. We want to ensure that we can facilitate parental leave in this place, but, obviously, we also have to ensure that there is a proper consultation. We are looking at the interests of not only individuals, but the whole House.
Govia Thameslink Franchise
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State to update the House on the performance of the Govia Thameslink franchise.
The shadow Transport Secretary has requested an update on the Govia Thameslink franchise. The Secretary of State and I have been clear that the way in which the timetable was implemented by GTR and Network Rail from 20 May provided an unacceptable level of service for passengers. The industry as a whole has apologised to passengers for the disruption suffered on Thameslink and Great Northern services.
I can inform the House that, on Sunday 15 July, GTR implemented an interim timetable, a planned step that aims to improve the reliability and performance of services for passengers. The Department is, of course, watching performance carefully. Some of the benefits that passengers are now seeing include: more trains—around 150 to 200 extra services each day; on-the-day cancellations, which are extremely frustrating for passengers, have been significantly reduced; passengers no longer need to check journey planners before they travel; and the public performance measure has improved on Thameslink, closing yesterday at 84% and at 86% on Great Northern. However, as I said, the Department is closely monitoring for sustained performance improvements by GTR, and we will be holding it and its new chief executive officer to account. At the same time, the Department has been working hard to make sure that passengers receive compensation and an explanation for the disruption that they have suffered.
The worst affected Thameslink and Great Northern season ticket passengers will be able to claim compensation equivalent to one month of their season ticket from GTR for the disruption that they have suffered. Compensation will cover the period from 20 May to 28 July 2018. GTR will contact registered qualifying passengers by the end of August before a claims portal is opened for other passengers. That is identical to the system used for the Southern industrial action disruption compensation. This is in addition to the standard Delay Repay compensation to which GTR passengers are entitled after any 15-minute delay. Full details of eligible stations and more information can be found on the Thameslink and Great Northern websites.
The Department has commissioned two reviews of what went wrong with the implementation of the May timetable. First, the independent Glaister review is under way and seeks to understand the factors that led to the disruption. Our aim is to make sure that we learn lessons so that this does not happen again. Within the Department, we have also started a hard review of this franchise to establish whether GTR has met and continues to meet its contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the May timetable. As part of that process, we are looking at whether GTR has breached its contracts and we will not hesitate to take tough action against it if it is found to have been at fault.
We are still in the first days of the interim timetable on GTR and all timetables require time to bed in. My Department is watching GTR’s progress carefully and we want to see a continued increase in performance for passengers.
It is disappointing that the Secretary of State has had to be summoned here to update the House on the ongoing calamity that is the GTR rail contract, and it just a shame that he has not turned up—yet again.
For four years, Govia’s appalling service and performance have wreaked havoc and misery in the lives of millions of people. What have the Government done to hold the company to account? Precisely nothing. What does this disgraceful company have to do to be stripped of its contact?
GTR’s new interim timetable introduced on Sunday—its third in two months—was supposed to provide more certainty for the public, yet the disruption, delays and disaster are worse than ever. We learned this morning from ITV News that GTR underestimated the scale of the disruption caused by the timetable change by a factor of 10. This failure is totally unacceptable. Labour says that enough is enough. The Government must stop pussyfooting around and strip Govia of its contract without delay. There is no need to wait for Stephen Glaister’s review of the timetabling chaos, to which the Minister refers, as it will not tell us what we do not know today. The Government and the rail industry have failed passengers both on GTR and across the north of England.
The Government’s threats to GTR mean nothing. Members of this House and the public are not reassured. Can the Minister tell the House whether GTR is in breach of its contractual obligations with the Department for Transport? If it is, will he remove the contract from the company?
The Government have already done a sweetheart deal with GTR over compensation. Can the Minister confirm who will pay for the compensation promised to passengers? Will it be the company or taxpayers?
Almost a year ago, the Government announced major rail investment cancellations on the last sitting day before recess thereby avoiding parliamentary scrutiny of the decisions. Perhaps the Minister could give the House some notice today of any cuts to transport investment that he plans to sneak out on the sly before or during this year’s summer recess?
The Secretary of State would have been here had he not been at the Farnborough air show, which is a long-standing commitment that has been in his diary for a considerable time. I understand that he was on an aeroplane at the time the request came in, and it was simply not practical for him to make arrangements to be back in the Chamber to answer this urgent question.
Let me turn to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. We will establish during the hard review whether GTR has been in breach of its contractual obligations. That process is under way. It is important that the Department follows due process in all these matters. He asked who will pay compensation. The compensation that I described—a month’s cash compensation for passengers on the most severely affected lines—will be predominantly funded by Govia Thameslink Railway. That is important, as it is the private sector operator of this train company and it will be providing the predominant amount of compensation.
Against the background of a truly deplorable few months for my constituents in East Grinstead, Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield, the new timetable is beginning to bed down and provide a far more reliable and sustainable service, which is quite the opposite of what has been portrayed by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and greatly welcomed by my constituents. Will the Minister please continue to impress on the operator that the short-formed trains are really unacceptable and that we need to get back to the full-length trains as soon as we possibly can?
I thank my right hon. Friend for recognising that there has been some progress and that that has started to benefit his constituents. Obviously, we want that to continue and that improvement to accelerate. We recognise that ensuring that there are fewer short formations, indeed no short formations, will be a very important part of that process.
Quite simply, the Secretary of State’s handling of the rail franchise and the rail operations makes Brexit seem like an organised process. It really is a disgrace. What needs to happen before a company is stripped of a franchise? It is certainly not poor performance. Owing the taxpayer £2 billion and the Government cannot wait to step in and take it off the private operator’s hands, but for poor performance, no; they just stand back and do nothing. What action has the Government actually been taking to sort out this mess with Govia Thameslink? As the shadow Secretary of State said, we are now on the third timetable. There have been 420-odd cancellations when it had anticipated 40, which shows what lack of a grip Govia has on this matter. Can the Minister confirm whether Govia is still in the running for the Southeastern franchise, and if so, why? How much compensation has been set aside by Network Rail, which is owned by taxpayers and is not a private company? I would like to ask when the Secretary of State will lead in these matters, but the true question is when will the Secretary of State resign because of these matters?
The Department’s top priority is to ensure that passenger services across GTR get back to the standard where they need to be. The hon. Gentleman asked about compensation; it is being predominantly funded by GTR, which will not receive payments that it would otherwise have received for delivering the timetable. Network Rail will make a contribution towards the cost of compensation, recognising that it too played a part in the disruption experienced by passengers. Our rail industry is in both public and private hands, so it is appropriate that both parts contribute to the important compensation that passengers will receive.
My hon. Friend will recall the assurance given to me by the Prime Minister that
“nothing is off the table”—[Official Report, 4 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 313]—
if the interim timetable fails. He is monitoring GTR’s performance carefully, but so far this week it has been less good on the Cambridge line than in some other parts. Will he continue to put pressure on GTR for a proper service for my constituents, who have suffered so badly over recent weeks? Will he also look into compensation for carnet holders as well as season-ticket holders?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for recognising that there has been improvement, even if it has not been consistent across all parts of the GTR network. We particularly want to see an even higher standard of service on Great Northern, which serves his constituency, than there has been. Performance overall has been improving: as I said, yesterday the PPMs on Thameslink were at 84% and at 86% on Great Northern. There have been some operational difficulties today due to a signalling failure, which is a Network Rail responsibility. As part of our work with GTR, we are ensuring that it pays particular attention to areas such as that of my right hon. and learned Friend where there has been poorer performance than that across the rest of the GTR franchise as a whole.
GTR’s third attempt since May to implement a more robust and reliable timetable has been met with understandable incredulity by those passengers who are still experiencing more cancelled services, more confusion and dangerously overcrowded stations and platforms. How long is the DFT prepared to prolong the ridiculous situation in which the only available option to stabilise things is to cancel more trains, causing more pain for passengers who are paying handsomely for GTR’s so-called service? If the Minister will not step in to take direct and effective action to put things right, is not the franchise in effect unfit for purpose? Does that not demonstrate the Department’s total inability to act in the best interests of passengers?
Things are improving, although they are not yet back at the level they need to be. More services are running today—150 to 200 each day—than before 15 July, as a result of the interim timetable that GTR has just implemented, and the number of on-the-day cancellations has been dramatically reduced, so the Chair of the Select Committee could give some credit to GTR for the kind of progress that we have seen since the introduction of the interim timetable on Sunday, while recognising that there is significant work still to be done.
I have to say to the Minister that on the lines in my area, which also run through Royston and St Neots stations in the constituencies of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) and my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), the new timetable did not go live, to all intents and purposes—most certainly not on Sunday, and we still had lots of cancellations on our lines on Monday.
I have two specific questions. First, like a lot of people I remain deeply dissatisfied that compensation is only for season-ticket holders, with other people having to use Delay Repay. What about my constituents who are having to drive to main commuter stations that they would not normally use and sometimes having to pay £9 or £10 a day to park there? They would normally be able to walk to their own village station. We need to do better on compensation, and there are a lot of us who will not let that drop. Secondly, how long is this hard review actually going to take? We are two months in and the service is still nowhere near acceptable.
There are a number of elements to that. I recognise that services in my hon. Friend’s constituency have not been running perfectly, by any means. Some technical operational difficulties that were Network Rail’s responsibility have been at fault. There was a signal fault between Cambridge and Royston, which was a Network Rail issue, and there was a double track-circuit failure at Foxton, which was also a Network Rail issue and which has played a particular part in the difficulties that my hon. Friend’s constituents have been experiencing today.
On her point about compensation, the package has been designed to compensate the worst-affected passengers who travel every day on season tickets bought in advance. As I said, it is similar to the compensation that was offered to Southern ticket holders following the industrial action last year. Passengers who travel less frequently can claim Delay Repay compensation for the disruption that they experience, and we encourage them to do so.
The hon. Lady’s question, although comprehensive, was notably shorter than the delays about which she complained.
I have said to the Minister in the House several times that Govia runs not only GTR but Southeastern. This morning, services were again delayed because of a broken-down train. That is not infrastructure; it is the rail operating company. Why do the Government turn a blind eye to Govia? It is not fit and proper and should have its franchises taken away.
The Department’s hard review, which is under way, is looking into GTR’s preparedness for the timetable change and will leave the Secretary of State with the full range of options, should GTR be found not to have the managerial strength or capability to be a train operating company. All options will be available to the Secretary of State at the review’s conclusion, which we hope will come by the end of this month.
First, when it comes to compensation, does my hon. Friend agree that the priority should be to improve the compensation on offer and accelerate it, so that people actually get the repayment that is being talked about? Secondly, will he tell the House how many route train drivers we are short of on the Thameslink service and when we expect to have a full complement?
GTR will be proactively contacting my right hon. Friend’s constituents when they are in the group of severely affected passengers who hold season tickets. GTR will actively get in touch with them to ensure that they get the compensation to which they are entitled. GTR has been making significant progress with driver training, which is part of the underlying problems with the disruption, and we are pleased with that progress. That plays a part in ensuring that services are getting back to where they need to be.
I listened to what the Minister said about reviewing the contract to see whether the terms had been adhered to; surely the contract is to run a rail service and surely GTR has not done that. What other business would possibly stay in business if it had to compensate its customers on a daily basis? What will it take for this contract to be withdrawn?
The important questions that the hon. Lady raises will be answered by the Glaister review and the departmental hard review. We need to establish what responsibility GTR had for the disruption that passengers have experienced, while recognising that other actors are involved that also have a share in what has happened, including Network Rail.
As the Opposition spokesman implied, Mr Speaker, you probably could have granted this urgent question on any day in the past four years, since the London Bridge investment work began and the timetable fell over after new year 2015. Will my hon. Friend the Minister warn the Opposition, who focus simply on the GTR franchise, that there is a complex set of overlapping responsibilities in this area that mean that a simple solution is almost certainly the wrong one? Will he and his team address the complexity of the structure that started with the privatisation of this service back in 1993? Will he do what is within his power and address the grotesque unfairnesses in some of the fare structures and significantly improve the compensation deal, so that people who access the Thameslink service get compensation as well as those who are lucky enough to go on to a Thameslink train straight away?
My hon. Friend raised the issue of the fare structure. He has been a tireless campaigner on this question on behalf of his constituents in Reigate and Redhill, and we take his concerns extremely seriously. He also made the important point that we should not leap to simplistic solutions, as the Labour party has done by thinking that there is a quick-fix answer to this in nationalisation. We have to remember that there are many actors in what has gone wrong, including Network Rail, which is, of course, in the public sector.
Many commuters and campaign organisations, such as the St Albans commuter action group, will be watching this debate. They will want to know what role the Secretary of State had in choosing 15 July as the date for implementing the interim timetable. They will also want to know why, in response to a letter from the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones)—I thank her for writing that letter on behalf of MPs—the Secretary of State hid the fact that the DFT is on the industry readiness board, which has been responsible for the last two years for overseeing the introduction of the timetable. Is it not time for a performance monitoring system for Ministers, so that they can be sacked when they do not perform?
The chair of the Office of Rail and Road, Professor Stephen Glaister, is looking into what went wrong with the introduction of the timetable so that we can learn lessons from it for December and subsequent changes. The terms of reference of the review allow him to examine DFT’s role in all decisions leading up to the introduction of the May timetable. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Secretary of State’s role in choosing 15 July for the introduction of the interim timetable. That was a decision of the operator, as I have already explained to the right hon. Gentleman in answer to a written question.
As a direct consequence of the third emergency timetable, which came in on Sunday, schools in East Worthing have had to bring forward the closing of their day by an hour because there are no longer any trains for their pupils. The punctuality rate will indeed improve, because with 100% of those trains no longer running, they are 100% punctual. What exactly will it take from the Glaister review—in addition to what thousands of our constituents tell us every single day about this shambles—to get this franchise removed once and for all, and as soon as possible? What will it take to get a proper compensation scheme that properly reflects the daily agony that our constituents are going through?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case on behalf of his constituents, who have suffered unacceptably as a result of the disruption that they have experienced. It is right that the industry and the Government have apologised for everything that constituents have experienced. We are working hard to ensure that the disruption comes to an end as soon as possible, and we are ensuring that there is compensation and a proper explanation so that lessons can be learned for the future.
In May, GTR issued guidance to its staff instructing them to ignore the needs of disabled passengers if not doing so would cause a delay to trains. We know that that was discrimination against disabled passengers. Does the Minister agree that no rail operator should be discriminating against disabled passengers? In future, will all rail franchises ensure that all disabled passengers are treated equally?
It is entirely right that the train operating company in question apologised for that incident. No disabled passenger should be treated in such a way. We must have a fully accessible transport system. The Department will shortly launch an inclusive transport strategy, which will ensure that that is the case.
I welcome the hard review into GTR, which still has a tin ear when it comes to constituents who complain about their travel on the Sutton to Wimbledon loop. I also welcome the Glaister review, which is looking at the relationship between Network Rail, GTR and the train operating companies. What more can the Minister do to bring track and train back together in smooth operation?
I refer my hon. Friend to the strategic vision for rail that the Secretary of State published in November last year. It builds on work to bring track and train closer together, so that we get the best out of the public and private sectors in a sense of partnership. That will address many of the dysfunctionalities in our present system, in which there is too much of a blame game between train operating companies and Network Rail. There is too much buck-passing, and we want to bring that to an end.
“Not functioning properly” is a woeful understatement of the continuing misery that passengers from Cambridge are enduring. It started with the cancellation of peak-time services on Monday morning, when people who wanted to go to Kings Cross were told that they would be better off going to Liverpool Street. The previous evening I read in the Cambridge News that people who went to see Paul Simon found themselves left in London and had to pay £150 for a cab home. GTR will forever be remembered as the great train robbery. Has the Minister got a target for GTR to meet by next week? If it does not meet the target, will he finally strip it of the franchise?
The hard review, which we have discussed this afternoon, is under way. It got going on 21 June, and it is looking carefully at the performance of the new timetable. This is early days—we are on day four of the new timetable—and it is important that we give it a bit of time to bed in before we leap to conclusions. We want to make sure that we get the processes right. Performance yesterday was significantly better than it had been prior to the introduction of the interim timetable, with public performance measures in the 80s. The PPM for Great Northern, which I believe is relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, was 86%. Some issues this morning with Network Rail performance have affected services out of Cambridge, but they are not GTR’s responsibility.
My constituency is a Southern-only constituency, and I have seven stations. Although they are not high-volume stations like nearby Haywards Heath or Brighton, they provide people’s only public transport for getting to work and school, and visiting our coastal tourist regions. Although the PPM figures are improving, Southern passengers are still experiencing short formation, complete removal of trains from the timetable and station skipping. Why are they not getting the same compensation as Thameslink passengers?
We have focused compensation, as we did with the Southern compensation that resulted from the industrial action 18 months or so ago, on passengers who have been most severely affected. Although Southern passengers have experienced certain knock-on effects, they have not been as affected by disruption as those on the main Thameslink services and Great Northern services following the introduction of the timetable on 20 May.
My constituents stand in strong solidarity with, and have great sympathy for, the passengers of Govia Thameslink. Will the Minister make a statement on Arriva Northern Rail’s now tedious and predictable ongoing failure to serve Cumbria, in particular? Having cancelled every single train in June, four days ago Arriva Northern cancelled 33 trains on the Furness, lakes and coastal lines on one day. Given that the chaos predates the new timetable, the company cannot blame it. Will the Minister help us out by explaining precisely how dreadful Arriva Northern needs to be before he will get his act together, remove its franchise and give us back our trains? [Interruption.]
Order. Somebody says, “Irrelevant.” Well, I exercised latitude. I think that there may be a diversionary route. The link between Cumbria and Thameslink—if it exists—is tangential, but the hon. Gentleman has deployed such intellectual dexterity as he possesses, which I am sure is very considerable, to render his question orderly, in a manner of speaking.
One link that joins these issues is the Glaister review, which is now under way. It will examine what went wrong in the run-up to the introduction of the timetable, and how it affected the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in Cumbria.
The professor has helped us, and that is very useful.
Some 2,400 trains have been cancelled at Hassocks, in my constituency, since the introduction of the new timetable. The interim timetable this week seems to have resulted in fewer cancellations, so it is an improvement, but trains are still being delayed. What it has not done is to restore the direct service from Hassocks to Clapham Junction, and Hassocks is unique among commuting stations in no longer having such a service. Will my hon. Friend undertake to look at the matter again and ask GTR to review that omission, with a view to putting it right in future timetable changes?
I thank my right hon. Friend for recognising that there has been some improvement since the introduction of the interim timetable on Sunday. He has been a strong champion of his constituents and their rail services in Hassocks. He and I have discussed how we can restore the direct services that he has mentioned on several occasions, and we have had debates on them in the House. I assure him that I will continue to raise the matter with GTR.
The Minister is saying that there is no quick fix, but I suggest to him that there is a quick fix for Bedford rail users—reinstating the East Midlands Trains service for rail users. They are struggling with Govia Thameslink, which has breached its contract with the DFT twice since 2015 and has surely done so again. The major cause of the failure was insufficient and under-qualified drivers, and it is the same cause this time. Will the Government publish the remedial plan from the second breach so that we can determine the extent of Thameslink’s unprecedented and repeated failings?
The hon. Gentleman has been a strong voice for his constituents. We have met on a number of occasions to discuss EMT’s services and the withdrawal of services to Bedford in the peak. As he knows, we are working hard with EMT to see what can be done. There is no easy solution, given the constraints, and I would caution him against thinking that there is a quick fix. If there were, the amount of effort that the Department and the train operators have been putting into finding a solution would have produced one by now.
Despite the interim timetable from Govia Thameslink, my constituents continue to get a woeful service, as they have done for years, on the Great Northern route in and out of Moorgate. Does the Minister agree that it is about time that Govia was stripped of this franchise and the line given to the Mayor of London to run?
The Secretary of State has indicated that he is open to looking at the shape of the franchise in future. Discussions have been held with the Mayor of London about perhaps including some elements of the current franchise within the orbit of Transport for London’s Overground service. We are totally open-minded to solutions that work in the passenger interest.
Following on from the final question asked by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State, and in the light of speculation in the Railway Gazette, will the Minister give an undertaking that he will be coming before the House in the next few days, leading up to when we finish on 24 July, to announce that the electrification of the TransPennine route has been cancelled?
I am here at the pleasure of Mr Speaker, and I cannot predict when I will be called. The TransPennine upgrade is a massive programme of investment. It is the flagship enhancement programme of the next control period for our railways. We will spend £2.9 billion on the TransPennine route in the course of the years 2019 to 2024. It is a phased programme that will include major civil engineering work, and it will also include electrification.
Northern Ireland: Recent Violence
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement regarding the recent violence in Northern Ireland and to outline what the Government are doing to assist the Police Service of Northern Ireland and local community organisations to ensure that violence does not return to the streets of Northern Ireland.
I start by paying tribute to the brave men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the emergency services. They have been working relentlessly over recent weeks to keep people safe and secure, and in some cases they have come under attack while doing so. I am sure the whole House will agree that we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I, like the hon. Gentleman, was in Northern Ireland on 12 July to be briefed on the ground by the Chief Constable and the chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, when I stressed once again our admiration and support for the work that they do. This morning, I had further conversations with the Chief Constable and the head of the Northern Ireland civil service for an update on the latest situation.
Let me now set out the factual position. Last week, on 11 July, in Belfast and some surrounding areas of County Down, there were episodes of serious disorder following a court order to remove a bonfire that was considered to be unsafe. The public disorder took place throughout the evening and into the night, resulting in a number of hoax security alerts, pipe bombs, and a number of vehicle hijackings. A number of sporadic, isolated acts of violence have taken place in the days since 11 July, causing some damage to property—but thankfully there have been no injuries. I know from discussions with the Chief Constable that every effort is being made to bring to justice those responsible for this reprehensible activity. In addition, we witnessed unrelated but serious disorder in Londonderry last week. This included violent acts of provocation against the police and, in some cases, petrol bombs being thrown at residential properties. There was also a serious shooting attack against police officers that could easily have injured anyone in the area.
I have been absolutely clear in my condemnation of this activity, which is a matter of deep concern for everyone who wants to see a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland. I am also clear that this violence is not representative of the wider community in Derry/Londonderry. As the Chief Constable informed me this morning, there have so far been 15 arrests in connection with the violence in Londonderry, and 10 people have been charged. I know that the PSNI will continue to do all it can to bring those responsible before the courts. In many cases, it would appear that young people are being exploited and goaded into criminal activity by adults who have nothing to offer their communities.
For our part, the Government have invested significantly in the PSNI, with some £230 million of additional security funding in the 2010 Parliament and £160 million over the current spending review period. In addition, as a result of the 2015 Fresh Start agreement, we are providing £25 million to help tackle the scourge of paramilitary violence. Let me be very clear: paramilitary activity was never justified in Northern Ireland in the past, and it cannot be justified today. It must stop, and I know that the Chief Constable is committed to using the full force of the law to that end. All of us need to work together, across the whole community, to see that the malign influence of paramilitary activity is ended for good.
I thank the Secretary of State for her comments so far. I join her in recognising the work of the PSNI, but also the work of community groups, particularly in Derry/Londonderry, who came together last Friday and whose actions almost certainly had an impact on the ongoing levels of violence that had taken place in the city. I also want to mention the forbearance of the communities that felt themselves under attack during that period.
I would say to the House, and probably to people in Great Britain, that the situation that took place last week, with different causes and different motivations, was unacceptable. None of us should over-dramatise what took place, but none of us should be foolish enough to think that it does not matter. We saw burnt-out buses across east Belfast. We saw one bus, at least, in Newtownards, hijacked at gunpoint. We saw a return to political violence in Derry/Londonderry. We also saw, as the Secretary of State said, the use of live rounds, possibly with the intent to take life—the life of a PSNI officer. That means that we are talking about very serious levels of civil disorder. I pay tribute to those who are bringing to bear efforts to control this. Nevertheless, we have to take it seriously.
There is now an obligation of leadership on Arlene Foster and on Michelle O’Neill, the respective leaders of the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin, but there is also a demand for leadership from the Secretary of State and from the United Kingdom Government. In particular, we must now ensure that the Good Friday institutions are made once again to work. They were put in place precisely because they brought an end to the troubles. Some of them have fallen seriously into disrepute, others almost casually into disrepute.
In that context, I welcome the Secretary of State’s call to re-establish the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. That is right and proper. However, we need to know what the agenda of its first meeting will be. Will it look, for example, at the recent political violence and at the need to get the Stormont Assembly back into operation? It is not just a question of east-west; the BIIGC also has a role to play in the situation in Northern Ireland. The meeting also cannot be allowed to be a one-off. The BIIGC now has to be brought on to the basis of being a standing conference, so that the Government in Dublin can work with the Government here to bring legitimate pressure. We must also see the restoration of the Stormont Assembly, which is perhaps the most important institution. There the Secretary of State must take action, bringing all parties together until there is a resolution. That really does matter.
Finally, we congratulate the PSNI on its work. It is one of the real achievements of the Good Friday agreement, in generating trust across different communities. However, it is under-resourced, even on the basis of the Patten recommendations; the Chief Constable has requested 300 extra officers. The Secretary of State must now show real action. Northern Ireland has had 547 days without a Government, breaking the record held by Belgium for non-government. That is not a great record. She must give leadership and get people back round that table.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of points. I start by joining him in paying tribute to the community groups in both Derry/Londonderry and Belfast. In east Belfast, community groups worked hard to ensure that the issues around bonfires were managed so as to minimise the effects. I am not complacent—I recognise that we saw violence that is unacceptable—but the community groups really helped by working together. I pay tribute to those groups and those communities, who, as he said, are the ones in the firing line—literally, in this case.
The hon. Gentleman is right that what we saw is unacceptable. Like him, last Thursday I saw those burnt-out cars and the level of disorder. To suggest that that level of disorder is acceptable on the streets of the United Kingdom—anywhere in the United Kingdom—would be absolutely inaccurate. We all join together in this House in condemning the activities and in paying tribute again to the PSNI and the work that it does.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the PSNI’s resources. He will know that it has put in a specific bid around further resources and we are ensuring that that is looked at in government. Again, I pay tribute to the PSNI. As he said, we do have a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference next week, the agenda for which will be available. We obviously want to ensure that we have an appropriate agenda that reflects the conference’s strand 3 nature.
I now finally join the hon. Gentleman in agreeing that we need devolved government in Stormont. Devolved government and the institutions established under the Belfast agreement are key. The relative peace and security we see in Northern Ireland is as a result of that agreement. I, as Secretary of State, will not shy away from taking steps that need to be taken to ensure good governance in Northern Ireland, but I agree that the best, most appropriate and effective way for the people of Northern Ireland is to see those decisions taken in Stormont.
I do not think I have ever commended the comments of any Sinn Féin politician before in this House, but does the Secretary of State agree that the comments of Gerry Adams, the former Sinn Féin leader, were helpful rather than unhelpful, and correct in that it is dialogue, not violence, that Northern Ireland needs?
I agree with my hon. Friend on the comments made by Gerry Adams and those made by Mary Lou McDonald, the president of Sinn Féin. I also agree with comments made by political leaders across all parties in Northern Ireland condemning the violence. The fact that the people of Northern Ireland have heard their political leaders saying the same thing with the same voice is incredibly important. That message needs to be made to the very, very small number of people—it is a very small number now—who do not believe that the way to resolve the issues in Northern Ireland is through dialogue rather than violence.
We on the Scottish National party Benches of course condemn any acts of violence in Northern Ireland and any attempts by any party to destabilise the Good Friday agreement. I also pay tribute to the PSNI for its response to the unrest and for keeping local communities safe. The fact that all parties have condemned the violence demonstrates an appetite to work together constructively, thereby creating a window of opportunity for further talks on restoring power sharing.
Simon Coveney has visited Derry and met the PSNI and residents, but the Secretary of State has not yet visited any areas affected by the violence. Will she tell the House why that is? Why has it taken an urgent question for her to address the House on this very important issue?
Does the Secretary of State believe that the vacuum in leadership, and instability, has led to this increased tension and unrest? There have been months and months of political drift. Will she tell us in detail what she is doing to restore power sharing at Stormont?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for joining in the condemnation of the activity that we have seen. It is incredibly important to hear that united voice from this House, sending support and a message to those people in Northern Ireland who are standing up against violence.
I wish to correct the hon. Gentleman. He suggested that I had not visited any of the affected areas, but I was in east Belfast and Newtownards on Thursday, the site of some of the violence, and I intend to be in Derry/Londonderry in the near future. It is also worth saying that, as well as Simon Coveney, Arlene Foster visited the Fountain estate in Londonderry over the weekend, again to show her solidarity with the community. He is right that the answer is to have devolved government in Stormont and to have those politicians, who are speaking with one voice—I pay tribute to them for that—not just speaking with one voice but acting with one voice.
I join my right hon. Friend in expressing deep admiration for the PSNI. Given that there is no functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland, will she identify what resources and extra support are going in to help support the PSNI and community groups, so that they can deal with any escalation in violence?
My hon. Friend is right to reflect on the fact that great credit needs to be paid to the PSNI. She asks about additional resources. In my comments I mentioned that the 2015 Fresh Start agreement provided £25 million of additional funding from the UK Government to help to tackle the scourge of paramilitary violence, and we have also put in £230 million in the 2010 Parliament and £160 million over the current spending review period.
I join the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State in defending and exhorting the security services and community representatives in the light of the ongoing violence. The most sustained campaign of violence was in the Fountain/Bogside area of Londonderry. She is right: I invited my party leader there to tour the area—hopefully, the shadow Secretary of State will be able to do the same with his party leader—to speak to the people who have suffered as a result of violence. First, will she confirm that she has received a written invitation from me to come and visit the area very urgently? Secondly, will she review the security implications of the fencing there, so that the people who have lived under threat and under terror for many, many years can receive some comfort and assurance that action will be taken to help them?
The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous constituency MP, who regularly raises many constituency issues with me. I join him in his tributes to the community and the PSNI for the work they have done. I can confirm that not only did I receive a written invitation from him but he personally hand-delivered that written invitation, so I have definitely received it.
During my own service in Northern Ireland, I have seen at first hand the skill with which PSNI officers react proportionately but robustly to public disorder and paramilitary criminality in the Province. Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing admiration for the bravery and restraint that the PSNI shows when policing these very challenging situations?
I join my hon. Friend in saying exactly that. I visited the gold command centre on Thursday morning to see the work that those very dedicated public servants do; that is something that I will take with me for a long time.
I also commend the PSNI and the community for the work they have done and unreservedly condemn those people who have perpetrated violence in Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the vacuum in our politics in Northern Ireland is, while not wholly responsible, at last partly responsible? I urge her to do more to fill that vacuum with political dialogue and restore the institutions.
I agree that we need political dialogue, but there is no excuse for the violence we have seen. There can be no excuse whatsoever. It is totally unacceptable behaviour.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response, and for coming to the House to make that clear. I put on record my condemnation of the violence that took place across the Province, but in particular in my constituency of Strangford. Compare that, Mr Speaker, with the next day, when the Secretary of State attended the 12 July celebrations: we had a smashing day. It was good to see her there, and she was obviously very welcome.
What we need, Secretary of State, is more police on the streets. The Patten recommendation talked of 7,500 officers, but we now have 6,715—a shortfall. What are we doing to address that? The PSNI wants to address the scourge of paramilitaries and their activities across the Province. It has a strategy for that, but it needs the officers and needs the resources.
I did very much enjoy my day in Newtownards. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have received a request from the PSNI, and we are considering that matter.
I call Tom Pursglove.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, but my question has already been covered.
That is an extraordinary and almost a novel development in the House of Commons—a Member who deliberately eschews repetition.
It is the second time this week.
Is it the second time this week? The hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) will be in “The Guinness Book of Records”. Of that I think we can rest assured.
For many things.
Possibly for many things, as the hon. Gentleman chunters from a sedentary position.
I hope I will not repeat what was said earlier. I thank the Secretary of State for what she has said. May I gently say to her that of course the experiences in my constituency over recent years reflect the fact that we have made considerable progress? There was worse violence at the time when the Executive was actually in place, ironically. I just make the point that these things are not necessarily linked. There are particular circumstances in Londonderry and east Belfast. The need for extra police resources is key. That is what the Chief Constable is asking for, and that is what the Secretary of State has heard today.
As the Chief Constable put it to me today, there has been slow but fragile progress. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have received the request from the Chief Constable, and I am considering it.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. I apologise for missing the start of the urgent question. I am grateful to you for your generosity. [Interruption.] I am very grateful, Mr Speaker—and we will move on from that.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, on the evening of 11 July, Assistant Chief Constable Todd made the quite extraordinary declaration that he expected widespread violence in the name of a paramilitary organisation, particularly in my constituency. As the Secretary of State knows, at least a dozen cars, caravans and so on were burnt out, which, to my mind, satisfies the conditions for a Chief Constable’s certificate and for compensation. Has the Secretary of State engaged with the PSNI, and will she confirm that steps are being taken to recognise the involvement of a proscribed organisation, and that compensation will be arranged quickly and efficiently?
I spoke to the hon. Gentleman, whose constituency was particularly affected, before the events of last week. I have spoken to the Chief Constable, but perhaps I can write to the hon. Gentleman with the specifics of our conversation.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Leader of the House if she will make a statement on arrangements for Members on maternity, paternity or adoption leave and proxy voting.
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to this urgent question. As I have said on many occasions, it is right that Members of this House have the opportunity to spend time with their new babies.
I want to start by saying that the situation that arose yesterday, where the pair between the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) was broken, was not good enough. I am very sorry that it happened. I am assured by the Chief Whip that the breaking of the pair yesterday was done entirely in error and will not be repeated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth has apologised directly to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire for the mistake, as has my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip on behalf of the Whips Office. I have the utmost respect for the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire. In particular, her work on the steering group establishing the independent complaints and grievance policy has been invaluable.
I believe all new parents should be entitled to spend uninterrupted time with their new baby. This is vital for both the physical and mental health of parents and babies. The Government Whips Office has undertaken always to pair Opposition MPs on maternity leave from the start to the end of their leave, without applying any conditions. Should an MP who is on baby leave wish to vote in any particular Division, the pair will be re-established immediately afterwards for all subsequent Divisions until their baby leave ends. I am really sorry that an error was made yesterday, but I have been reassured that there remains a guaranteed pair for MPs who are currently pregnant or who have a new baby.
Pairing is a matter for the usual channels. I can tell the House that since the general election the pairing system has worked well overall. Almost 2,000 pairs have been arranged between Government and Opposition MPs. We have investigated yesterday’s result in the light of the broken pair to see whether the result should be changed. As it would not materially change the result of the Division, we will not look to take further action on this occasion. However, I sincerely hope that the House can accept the apologies that have been offered.
On the issue of proxy voting, I know this is a matter of great interest to many Members on both sides of the House. I am planning to ensure the House can have the debate in the September sitting, and I will update the House further about its scheduling in the usual way. No one was more disappointed than I was that the debate we scheduled was unable to take place due to the tragic events in Amesbury. I am sure all Members look forward to discussing the matter further at the earliest opportunity.
I thank the Leader of the House for her statement. I very much welcome the tone of what she says about the importance of maternity, paternity and adoption leave, and I am sure that is a matter of common accord across the whole House.
As the Leader of the House has said, as my party’s Chief Whip, I was given an undertaking yesterday by the Government pairing Whip that the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) would be absent from the Lobbies in accordance with the normal terms. I was therefore very concerned to learn that, although the right hon. Gentleman had not voted in the earlier Divisions or, indeed, even at the 6 pm Division, he had taken part in the Divisions at 6.15 and 6.30 pm. Obviously, this is a very serious breach of the convention. Within the usual channels, we rely on these agreements being honoured. The Government Chief Whip has apologised to me directly, and I of course accept that apology. It remains less than clear to me exactly how this came to pass, but I can pursue that directly with the Government Chief Whip outside the Chamber.
Yesterday’s events are symptomatic of a wider problem, which is the question of relying on pairing to provide maternity, paternity and adoption leave. It is using a 19th-century practice to provide for cover under 21st-century employment law, and that is no longer good enough. I can think of no other area of public or business life where this would be allowed to happen, and I have to say that I think the House should no longer allow it either. My question to the Leader of the House is: will she reconvene the talks between the parties with a view to devising a sensible and workable solution to this problem? It is clear from recent days that we are likely to have a lot more knife-edge votes in the months to come. The Leader of the House is absolutely right that the result was not affected by the breach of the pair last night, but that is not to say that, at some point in the future, if it occurred again, that would not happen.
Those who are absent from their duties as a result of baby leave should be able to go on leave without their cover being subject to this sort of convention and the uncertainty that comes with it. They should be allowed to enjoy those most important first months secure in the knowledge that their absence is properly covered. We now need a properly organised system of proxy voting, and it is apparent from last night’s events that we can no longer allow the situation we have tolerated thus far to continue.
Mr Speaker, you know that I have been a Member since 2001. When I was first elected in June 2001, my younger son was 10 weeks old. I rejoice in the progress—much of it at your behest—that the House has made in relation to childcare since that time, but it was not always thus. When I was first elected, children were not to be seen and they were certainly not to be heard within the House. I fear I may suffer when I get home for recounting this, but I remember that I once had to change my younger son’s nappy in the Members’ Cloakroom—obviously, he should not have been there because he was not a Member—on a copy of the Daily Record, because there was no changing mat to be found. Whether it was novel for that sort of content to be found in the pages of the Daily Record I will leave others to judge.
We have come a long way, but anybody who thought that we had done it all and that there was no more left to be done was sadly disabused of that last night. Will the Leader of the House please take these concerns seriously? All my experience in this House tells me that when the House accepts the need for change at an early point we make sensible changes for ourselves. If we wait until change is forced on us, the law of unintended consequences will inevitably come into play.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and I completely agree with him. I am personally committed and resolved to try to improve this issue for new parents. I think that I have demonstrated that commitment in my response to the urgent question. It was the tragic events at Amesbury that prevented the debate from taking place. The Procedure Committee has done a good job in providing thoughts about how proxy voting could work, but it has raised a number of questions on which it will be important for us to consult in this Chamber before we make a final decision. Let me remind colleagues of some of them: when should a proxy be used; should it be used for every type of vote, including those on going to war or a closure motion, when, as we know, colleagues should be present in the Chamber; and should it apply to all business, private as well as public, or only to Government business. There is also the contested question of whether it should apply only to baby leave or to other circumstances. That is why I am so keen to have a debate in this place before we come to conclusions, but I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s tone and his desire to see this resolved. I share that desire and, as I say, I will ensure that we get that debate during the September sitting.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, he has already committed to engaging again with Opposition Whips to try to find a better process. For our part, the Government will be tightening the procedure by which individual paired Members are made aware that they absolutely must not vote and between which hours of the day. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be reassured by that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her contribution and her commitment to bringing the debate back to the Chamber. Clearly, the Procedure Committee carried out the review, as required by the House. Will she undertake to look at the aspects of the fundamental issue of Members being required to be present on the Estate or in the Chamber to register their votes? If we are going to change the system, will she consider allowing people who are hospitalised or have other complications to do so, too? They do not choose to be away, but are forced to be away because of medical conditions.
My hon. Friend clearly highlighted why we need further debate. I feel that there is something fundamentally different about baby leave over other sorts of leave, and I also feel that, were the House to undertake such a significant constitutional change to our conventions, we should start small because of the law of unintended consequences. That is a matter for further consultation with the House and I look forward to the debate in September.
Order. Before I call other Members—I do want to hear others— in thanking the Leader of the House for what she said, I want to make the point, as much for wider public knowledge as anything else, that we know that the Procedure Committee looked at this matter and that many people gave evidence to the Committee, myself included, and I made it clear that I was personally perfectly happy with the idea of a proxy voting system in respect of baby leave in particular and that I would be happy to play my part in the operation of such a system.
For what it is worth, I think it is qualitatively in a different category from other requests for proxy voting, but that is a matter for the House to decide. The only other thing I would like to say, which is not directed at any one individual at all, is that I detect in the House and in representations made privately to me a very strong sense not merely that we should debate the issue again soon but that we should decide the issue and, if a change is agreed on, give effect to it. Obviously, if a change is not agreed on, that does not arise, but I think that there is concern about a potentially endless debate, which I feel absolutely sure the Leader of the House would not want and which I would not want. With good will, perhaps, and I think I speak for people on both sides of the argument, we can resolve the matter. I am sure that people would not want endless procrastination.
I thank the Leader of the House for her response and congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on his urgent question about this important issue. I thank you, too, Mr Speaker, for granting it.
Last night’s events do not reflect well on this House; I am sure the whole House agrees. It is time that we ensure that this is a modern workplace with modern employment practices. The Leader of the House and I had both decided on 5 July that we would not give closing speeches so that we could debate proxy voting, but she has said that she wants the debate in September. Could she arrange for the debate to take place next week, as we have just a general debate? There is time to discuss that.
Last night shows why the Government must urgently introduce proxy voting for those on baby leave. The Prime Minister’s answer earlier to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was simply not good enough. Consultation by this Government is always code for delay and obfuscation. Members of the Procedure Committee have taken evidence from you, Mr Speaker, and from all of us, and they have produced a report that we could debate immediately. I know that the Leader of the House wants urgently to find a way forward. Does she agree that proxy voting for those on baby leave could be introduced today without the need for debate through public agreement by all parties to nod through those on baby leave for every Division? We could ensure that those voting by such means were denoted by a “P”, or, to make it really up to date—and I hope Hansard have this—a baby emoji, giving full transparency to the public. Will she agree to meet me today to discuss this?
It is vital that we are a modern workplace and that those on baby leave can have their vote recorded and take part in our proceedings as they want to and as they are elected to.
As I have just said, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has already started discussions with Opposition Whips on exactly those lines and others. This House needs to decide how it wants to accommodate baby leave and I do not agree with the hon. Lady that we can just do that today. There are unintended consequences and implications of any solution we choose, and it is important that the House has the opportunity to debate the issue. It could be possible to have an earlier debate, but, of course, if I were to say that we would have a debate on Monday, the hon. Lady would ask why we were giving no notice. I felt it very important to ensure that suitable notice is given to enable Members to contribute to the debate in September.
We have to modernise. I come from a business background, I have worked in the public sector, and I have never experienced archaic practices like some of those that we have here. We have to change. We have to find an alternative, new way of voting. Dragging in sick and heavily pregnant Members does not send a good message to the public. It is not good enough for us to be okay in this place; we have to be better than okay. In everything we do, we have to display the very highest standards for the country to follow. I welcome what the Leader of the House has said. We need to debate this, and we need to do so fully. I accept that, but we must do so as a matter of urgency, and I worry that if the debate is in September we will have only a short window before we break again for the conference recess, and I want to have some sense that there is time for a vote and a decision. We need to do this with open minds, to decide it, as you say, Mr Speaker, and to embrace it and not be afraid of change.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I will table a debate, and we need to bring forward a solution with which the House is happy as soon as possible.
What happened last night was nothing short of appalling and underlines why the Scottish National party will have nothing whatsoever to do with these antiquated pairing arrangements. Pairing relies on trust and I am sorry, but we are absolutely right not to place our trust in Government Members. We have to ask how it was right that the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) voted in some of these votes last night and not in others, and why was it that the most important votes were the votes that he voted in.
We have to change the voting arrangements of this House. We see that every day in the absurd waste of time of a headcount in cramped voting Lobbies, but to be disenfranchised for having a baby in 2018 demonstrates just how out of touch this archaic place is and how these arrangements should embarrass and shame this House. No more of these ridiculous pairing arrangements—we need reform now that recognises the realities of the communities we represent. We have a perfectly good Procedure Committee report and I gave evidence to that Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). All we have to do is agree and accept it. Surely now the Leader of the House can bring this forward at the earliest opportunity. Let us end this nonsense now.
As I have said, I will bring forward this debate at the earliest opportunity. I absolutely agree that we need to resolve this issue, but I gently say to the hon. Gentleman again, as I often do, that he has a perfect opportunity in the Lobby to come and talk to Government Ministers and to promote how he wants to improve the plight of Scotland. All he has to do is join us in our Lobby to be able to do that.
I think I can say in a non-partisan spirit that the Leader of the House is an optimist.
Mr Speaker, I sat on your diversity and inclusion panel, and we discussed this issue at some length. We identified that it is far more complex an issue than just baby leave, as important as that is. For example, as we speak, I understand that the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill is being concluded. That would give two weeks paid leave for those who lose a child. This is a complex issue, so I very much welcome that my right hon. Friend is bringing forward the debate, but does she agree that such a complex issue needs to be debated in full by all Members of the House?
My hon. Friend is exactly right: we do need to debate this. I have already given some examples of where as yet un-agreed factors are involved. I think that consulting the House in the September sitting will give us the answers we want and we will be able to progress very quickly after that.
I am afraid that it stretches credibility to think that the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) could remember that he was on a pair for all the votes in the afternoon and then happened to forget at 6 o’clock, when everybody knew from the start of the day that they were the most important votes. That aside, I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) said. We have to get a wriggle on with this. We have massively important votes in October about the future of the country. If the debate is in September, will the Leader of the House guarantee that changes will be made before those big Brexit votes?
I will absolutely get a wriggle on. I point out to the hon. Lady that the issue of pairing is a matter for the usual channels, but as she will know, pairing can be per vote, and not necessarily for a whole day. I think that is where the error was caused. I understand the scepticism, but this apology is very genuine, and the mistake was very genuine. I ask hon. Members to accept that the pairing system does not quite work as the hon. Lady suggests it does.
I have recently been elected as the chair of the all-party group on women in Parliament, which is a great honour. I was paired last night to help an Opposition Member who wanted to make sure that his vote was not missed. I also spent a number of years in the European Parliament, which a lot of people say is very modern in its voting practice, but it does not have a pairing system. I often saw women with very tiny babies travelling all across Europe to Strasbourg to vote, so the pairing system that I have witnessed here appears to me to be quite modern and far from archaic. However, it must be robust and respected. As a mother of three who once had to spend quite a lot of time with her baby when he was very unwell, I say that maternity leave is important but so is compassionate leave, as is sick leave for one’s own reasons. I would like to see a proper debate so that all these types of leave can be properly respected, and not just baby leave.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us something of her experiences, both in the European Parliament and here. She is exactly right: there are some complicated factors to discuss and I look forward to having that discussion as soon as possible.
Whips do get a bit of a bad rap sometimes. I must confess that quite a lot of Whips are among my best friends, including on the Government side of the House, and often they enable Members do their jobs effectively, efficiently and well. However, when we are at a moment such as this, when frankly, a kind of total war is going on on key issues that affect the nation, it is going to be terribly difficult to make these conventions last. We have already had nodding through abandoned. We used to have a tradition that Whips, and Government Whips in particular, never patrolled the Benches inside the Chamber to try to prevent people from moving motions and things like that, but we now see that as standard in all the debates. We have to move forward with a vote on this issue as soon as we possibly can, so that we just take the temperature down a bit.
The hon. Gentleman is often in this place when I am, and I completely agree with him that we need to continue to listen to people. We need to show people the utmost respect, which I certainly always try to do, and I know that he does, too. My colleagues on the Whips’ Bench are delighted to hear that he considers them to be his friends. I am always very grateful to hear his thoughts on these issues.
Well, they will be pleased to know they have some.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her very gracious statement and I am pleased that the apology given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) has been accepted by Liberal Democrat Members. As someone who was on maternity leave when the general election was called last year, this issue is very close to my heart. It did make me seriously consider whether this is something that I could do with a six-month-old baby. However, given the over 2,000 successful pairs that we have had in this Parliament, does the Leader of the House agree that we should not dismiss the entire pairing system because of one mistake?
Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. Without wishing to be hostile to anyone, there have been a number of broken pairs, which are always carefully looked at on both sides of the House. It is very difficult. As I say, a pair is not usually for a lengthy period of time. It can be for one vote because a Member has to go somewhere or is not back from somewhere. It is actually a very complex system. Errors do happen. Yesterday was an error and my hon. Friend is exactly right to say that we should not ditch the whole system because of the odd few errors here and there.
The Leader of the House should not underestimate the damage done by what happened yesterday. I urge her to look very closely, if she has not already, at the comments on social media. I have certainly received representations from my constituents today who are appalled by what happened in this House. We should be setting the example, not falling short of it. The public will have heard the apology from the Leader of the House, but why are the Chief Whip and her right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) not here to listen to this urgent question—[Hon. Members: “He is here!”] My apologies, but equally, the sentiment of that apology will be diminished by the Chief Whip’s absence.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth is indeed here. When he and I spoke last night about this subject, he was very upset to hear about this problem. He was unaware. He was absolutely blameless in this, and he has apologised to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire. He is here, so I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that. As for my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, his deputy is here and he has apologised on behalf of the Whips Office, where the administrative error took place.
Clearly, there was a mistake last night. Happily, it did not affect the result of any Division. It is a mistake that cannot be repeated. Will my right hon. Friend reiterate to the House that anyone who is on maternity leave and requires a pair will get one?
Yes, I absolutely confirm that to the House. It was an undertaking given by the Government Whips Office and it remains in place. As I mentioned in my answer to the urgent question, if a Member wishes to come in for a particular vote, they can do so and then the pairing can be resumed straight after that vote.
As the Leader of the House will no doubt be aware, we had a lengthy debate on proxy voting, supported by all parties in the House, in which there was near unanimous support for it going ahead. In those circumstances, can we not have the debate on Monday and then refine the process, for which there is already support, over the summer, after which it could be agreed?
I was delighted to take part in the debate to which the hon. Lady refers. It was a very good debate. As I recall, there were about 10 or 11 contributors, but those contributions did not necessarily look at some of the broader issues around, for example, the unintended consequences of one person on parental leave deciding to take a pair and another to proxy vote, thereby potentially leading to misunderstanding among constituents. Such issues would be very personal to the individual. It is important that the House discusses these matters and draws a conclusion with the benefit of a proper debate.
My understanding is that a number of agreed pairings in place for yesterday’s Divisions were adhered to completely. Would the Leader of the House agree that, regardless of whether we end up with a form of proxy voting, we should not allow one error to cloud our judgment of the effectiveness of the pairing system, no matter how regrettable that error may have been?
My hon. Friend is quite right. We have had about 2,000 pairs in this Parliament. Some have been broken, owing to administrative errors, but nevertheless it remains a good means by which Members can take either urgent or unexpected absences and not have their votes just omitted from the overall Division result.
As a Whip, I like to think I have friends on both sides of the House. I suspect that a lot of people watching are finding out for the first time what the pairing system is. The lack of transparency is important. A proxy system, whether by a smile emoji or whatever, would allow for much greater transparency, scrutiny and understanding, and it would not just benefit Members who are new parents. Not only proxy voting but fixed decision times and electronic voting would help to end this farce of taking so much time walking through the Lobbies.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the issues of how we vote are looked at periodically, and I am always keen to consider the well-known views of him and his colleagues on electronic voting. Generally speaking, the House tends not to agree; its view tends to be that the way we vote currently is the right way. It also tends to consider that the pairing system is effective and useful, and offers the flexibility that all Members want.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of any systems in place in Parliaments around the world from which lessons could be learned? I tend to agree that there are intricacies involved in all this. For example, we are very conscious that we have independent Members. How would this work for them?
My hon. Friend raises important questions that would be part of the debate. Professor Sarah Childs, in “The Good Parliament” report, looked at other legislatures, as I am sure you are aware, Mr Speaker, and found that most—six in total—of the surveyed Parliaments had formal House leave arrangements, those being either general leave provisions or more specific maternity, paternity and parental leave provisions. Three did not but relied on informal party arrangements—Canada, Scotland and Wales. A single Parliament—Sweden—matched the country-level provision for all employees. So they do differ, but he is absolutely right to raise the importance of considering how other legislatures handle this situation.
Let’s be as good as Sweden, shall we? Depriving the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who was at home taking care of her three-week-old baby, of a pair last night was disgraceful, but depriving her of the opportunity to represent her constituents was unacceptable. I was on so-called maternity leave last year, and was hauled in several times, sometimes late at night, when my baby was only five months old, so pairing is not enough. I was not able to represent my constituents in that time. This is not complicated; it is simple. Will the Leader of the House commit that in September, when we have this debate, it will be on a votable motion and that if it is passed we will proceed to introduce the proxy voting arrangement as soon as possible?
I am told by the deputy Chief Whip that in fact the hon. Lady’s pair was not broken by the Government at any time, so if she came into the House, that was her choice. It is important to make that point, given the accusations around. The Government have been very clear that we will honour pairs for baby leave. On the hon. Lady’s other point, as I said it is important that we debate some of these issues by way of a consultation in this place. As she will have heard, having sat through this urgent question, there are different, important and opposing views, so it is important that we have a proper debate.
Obviously, none of us would see dragging someone who is terminally ill or heavily pregnant through the building as the best way for a modern Parliament to operate, but neither would any of us want to see Divisions like those in the New Zealand House of Representatives, which basically involve the Chief Whip of the relevant party holding up a hand and exercising a block vote on behalf of all their Members. Does the Leader of the House agree that it will never be possible to offer an exhaustive list of each situation in which a pair could be considered, and that even if a proxy system came in, the pairing system would still need to exist?
My hon. Friend is quite right. The Procedure Committee report proposed that hon. Members taking baby leave should be able to choose between proxy voting and a pair, even from vote to vote, so the complexity would obviously increase; nevertheless it is important that we have choice and flexibility.
The Chair of the Procedure Committee will attest to the fact that I have been a proxy voting sceptic—until yesterday. Does the Leader of the House agree that the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) has done for proxy voting what the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) did for the private Members’ Bills process?
The hon. Lady is being extremely unfair to my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth. It is absolutely clear that he was unaware that he was breaking a pair. It was an administrative error.
Does the Leader of the House share my disappointment, from talking to potential parliamentary candidates, at just how many of them are put off standing for Parliament altogether because of the widely held perception that this place is inconsistent with family life or even the aspiration to a family life? How many potential fantastic MPs have we lost on both sides of the Chamber because of that reputation? Can she assure me that she will do everything she can to make sure that this place becomes friendly for anybody who wants to stand for Parliament, no matter what their stage in life?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. We need many more people to come forward, particularly women, and to be compatible with good, solid family life, it is vital that we look at how we manage things in this House and improve on it.
In her statement, the Leader of the House told us that 2,000 pairs had been arranged without error until last night, but I note that since then, in her responses, she has backtracked slightly to ease herself through this discussion. People will take from that what they will, but given the closeness of the votes on Brexit this week, which I think has driven this so-called administrative error, the simplest way forward would be for her to adopt the good and thorough work of the Procedure Committee and put its recommendations to a vote. She says that she is supportive, so why is she trying to wriggle out of this?
The hon. Lady is wrong on two counts. I said that the pairing system had worked well overall. As I have made clear, there have been more than 2,000 pairs in this Parliament and several have been broken because of errors. The vast majority were broken by Opposition Members, although I do not want to be at all partisan over this. It is a complex administrative system and errors have occurred. She makes a good point about the importance of bringing in new processes, but the Procedure Committee did not set out a prescription; it raised a number of issues that the House would need to decide on, such as, for example, what business should be proxy votable—all business, just Government business, business Monday to Thursday, closure motions of the House, private Members’ Bills on Fridays? These are the questions that the Procedure Committee rightly raised and the reasons why the House needs to debate this further.
I echo the enthusiasm expressed by colleagues across the House for a look at our voting processes and how we might make them more family-friendly. In the meantime, does my right hon. Friend agree that the pairing system can be transparent? Those who are paired can say that they are paired and with whom they are paired, as, indeed, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) did yesterday on social media.
My hon. Friend is right. Let me reiterate the undertaking by the Government Whips Office to provide even greater process, so that individuals who are paired will be specifically told the duration of the pair and with whom they are paired. I think that that will also reduce the number of errors. I can only say again that what has happened is extremely regrettable, and that the Whips are very apologetic about the error.
As a former employment rights lawyer specialising in maternity discrimination and flexible working, I have been shocked by some of the outdated practices in this place. While I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for relaxing the rules to allow my son to go through the voting Lobby with me, it really is time that we became a modern 21st-century workplace. Given that many Members have recently given birth or are currently pregnant, I echo the calls for an urgent vote on proxy voting before the summer recess, before it is too late.
The hon. Lady says that she is an employment lawyer, in which case she will know very well that Members of Parliament are not employees but office holders. It would be a very fundamental review that would say that MPs should become employees. The hon. Lady would have to consider by whom they would be employed, and the subsequent taking on of modern employment regulations. She has not been clear about what she is after, but I am absolutely clear about the fact that we will be debating this issue. We want to provide proper baby leave for new parents, but the hon. Lady cannot possibly suggest that we should become employees in order to do so.
I have a quick question for the Leader of the House. I wonder how many times Members, mainly on her own side, raised with her, prior to the proposal for baby leave, the need for a new system for sick Members of Parliament. It seems to me that they have all become incredibly committed to such a system, in what I would call “whataboutery”, since the suggestion about parental leave. Did anyone ever raise the issue with her before?
Yes, a good number of people. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), the Parliamentary Private Secretary, was absent for a considerable length of time with a very serious life-threatening illness. For as long as this Parliament has sat, there has been the need to provide pairing for people who are extremely ill suddenly, and the issue of how best to manage those processes has always been raised. The suggestion that baby leave is a unique problem for the House is simply not true: there are clearly other issues that Members want to raise in the debate.
Mary Beard has said:
“You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.”
Pairing is such a structure. It is not transparent, and, in fact, it seeks to disenfranchise two MPs rather than enfranchising one. Will the Leader of the House bring the Procedure Committee’s report to the House before the recess, so that we can vote on it and stop pregnant women being disenfranchised?
Let me say again that I am absolutely committed to ensuring that women will be able to spend time with their new babies, and the fathers, including in cases of adoption. It is vital that they are able to do so. I have made it extremely clear that I will arrange for a debate during the September sitting, and we can then make fast progress.
This morning, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on child care and early education, I hosted a lobby consisting of more than 100 nursery and childcare providers. They spoke to me at great length about the challenges that new parents face when they go back to their workplaces, and about maternity discrimination. Does the Leader of the House think that we, here in the House, have the moral legitimacy to lecture those in other workplaces about maternity discrimination and unfair practices when our Government have cheated a pregnant woman out of her vote in the most underhand manner?
I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Lady’s assessment, but I absolutely agree with the nursery workers whom she mentioned about the vital importance of women being treated fairly. What she is seeking to do is simply to politicise this issue, at a time when the Government have made it absolutely clear that there are guaranteed pairs for anyone on baby leave and that what happened yesterday was an error.
The Conservative party appears to have an issue with women. That has been made clear by the sexting scandal and the fact that only a third of the Cabinet are women, and now the chairman of the party has broken with parliamentary protocol and betrayed a new mum. The Leader of the House promised that pairing would take place when she withdrew the previous debate. How can we be sure that the Government will keep their word on anything now?
We are on our second female Prime Minister. In case the hon. Lady had not noticed, the Leader of the House of Commons is female. In case the hon. Lady had not noticed, the Leader of the House of Lords is female. What is very clear to those on this side of the House is that it is her party that has a problem with women.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on a key development in UK space policy.
As a result of announcements made this week, the United Kingdom will, for the first time ever, be able to launch satellites from its own soil. This is a development that the whole House should welcome and celebrate. The space sector is changing globally, and at a pace never seen since the race to the moon. It is allowing us to answer questions about ourselves and the universe that curious minds have debated for centuries, but it has also seen the development of technologies that are transforming our day-to-day life here on Earth. For example, the technology that was developed to provide clean air on the International Space Station is now being used to control the spread of superbugs in hospitals across the world.
The UK is well placed to be at the forefront of developments in space, and the Government are determined that we will take advantage of the vast opportunities that are available to us as a country. That is why I met the new NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, today to discuss UK-US collaboration. As we all know, NASA is the biggest space agency in the world, with budgets in excess of $10 billion a year. We discussed how to extend and deepen the opportunities for our two countries to collaborate, especially in relation to the hugely ambitious vision for exploration set out by President Trump.
It is nearly 50 years since man landed on the moon, and since then we have been no further. Questions remain about whether or not we are alone in the universe. The UK has been at the forefront of robotic exploration to address that question. Indeed, our space industry built the Mars Rover, which will be launched in 2020, and I am very excited that later this week I shall be able to announce a competition related to that mission. We want to continue to be at the forefront of the next human exploration missions, working alongside NASA and the European Space Agency, but space is also a fundamental part of our economic future. The UK space sector is growing. It is worth about £13.7 billion to the economy according to current estimates, and it employs more than 38,000 people across the country.
As is set out in the Government’s industrial strategy, we are working with industry to increase the UK’s share of the global space market from 6.5% to 10% by 2030. The sector has grown at an average of more than 8% every year over the last decade, and three times faster than the average sector over the last five years. Space is a growth sector not only in its own right but as part of our “critical national infrastructure”, underpinning all other key industrial sectors including agritech, automotive, aerospace, maritime and energy. Our space sector is one of the most innovative in the world. It is a world leader in small satellite technology, telecommunications, robotics and Earth observation. For example, we build 25% of the world’s telecommunication satellites and our universities are some of the best in the world for space science.
This week the UK has seized an opportunity to capture a share of the emerging global market for small satellite launch. The Government are working to create the capability and conditions for commercial spaceflight to thrive in the UK. The Government’s industrial strategy includes support for a £50 million programme to kick-start small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports. Funding will be used to support the first launches from the UK and to deliver a programme of work to realise benefits across the country.
The Government have made announcements this week which underpin our commitment to the sector. A £2.5 million grant has been announced for a vertical spaceport site in Sutherland, on the north coast of Scotland. That the first ever satellite launch from the UK could be from Scottish soil highlights our commitment to the Union. With the support of £29 million of industrial strategy funding, Lockheed Martin and Orbex will be the first companies to set up operations in Sutherland, delivering capable commercial and globally competitive small satellite launch services. Not only does the UK have the technical skills and capability, we have the geography. We are seeing the biggest growth in the sector in small satellites, which are typically launched into polar orbits. This makes the position of the UK a very favourable launch site.
But it is not just about vertical launch capability. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also announced a £2 million fund to help horizontal spaceports to progress their plans from our £50 million industrial strategy fund for the UK spaceflight programme. Separately, Newquay airport, Cornwall and Virgin Orbit have signed a memorandum of understanding this week, which is an important and positive milestone towards establishing a leading horizontal commercial launch provider at a UK spaceport. We cannot underestimate the scale of the opportunity here, from entering new markets such as space tourism to transforming our intercontinental travel. The Government are providing support not only through funding, but by putting in place the right regulatory framework to enable commercial success.
I am pleased that the Government are not alone in recognising this opportunity. Up and down the country, ambitious local authorities and private investors are coming together to help build our space capability. The rapid growth at the Goonhilly site in Cornwall is further evidence of the excitement in the sector. As technology evolves and reduces the cost of access to space, there is an exciting opportunity for the UK to thrive in the commercial space age. A sector deal for space aims to build on our global leadership in satellites and applications using space data to create a hub in the UK for new commercial space services. Following the sector’s publication of its “Prosperity from Space” proposal in May, we intend to work with it to explore how a sector deal can drive forward the Government’s industrial strategy. We are also developing world class facilities, including the National Space Propulsion Facility in Westcott and the National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell, as well as business incubators in more than 20 locations to support British start-ups hoping to grow into successful space companies.
The whole of the Government recognise the strategic importance of space and the immense