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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
22 October 2018
Volume 648

House of Commons

Monday 22 October 2018

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Defence

The Secretary of State was asked—

Veterans’ Access to Support Services

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1. What steps he is taking to improve veterans’ access to support services. [907158]

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13. What steps he is taking to improve veterans’ access to support services. [907171]

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I recently made a series of announcements on new schemes and initiatives designed to support serving personnel and their families throughout their military careers and beyond. Those include a further package to support armed forces personnel as they enter civilian life, a veterans ID card and a new fund dedicated to supporting the careers of the spouses and civil partners of those who serve.

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I am sure we all agree that more could be done to help veterans when they return to civvy street. Steps have already been taken to improve co-ordination and co-operation between Government Departments on the provision of services for veterans, but what more can be done to improve co-ordination between Departments and local authorities?

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My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. The armed forces covenant, which I know his local authorities are members of, plays a vital role in ensuring that armed forces service personnel and those who have served are able to plug into health services, help with finding a home or any other support that it is so vital for local authorities to provide.

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Would the Secretary of State consider visiting the Heyford and Bicester veterans’ group, which meets once a month on Fridays in my constituency and provides a one-stop-shop for veterans and their families, where they can access all the services that they need?

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I was hoping that I would get such an invite in the near future, and one has just come along. I would be delighted to visit the group. I know that my hon. Friend does so much work there and is so supportive of them, and I look forward to seeing that at first hand.

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Many veterans who have come to my constituency surgeries are being subjected to unnecessary face-to-face medical assessments in order to access social security benefits. Will the Secretary of State speak to his ministerial colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions, to stop that happening?

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I would be delighted to do that.

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As we approach Remembrance Week, we pay tribute to all those veterans who have served Queen and country, as well as those personnel still serving.

Many of the support services that veterans rely on are delivered by local authorities, but councils across the country have faced deep cuts in recent years, with the Local Government Association estimating that in England alone they will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025. There is a similar picture in devolved nations, due to cuts to the block grant. Bearing in mind the vital role that local authorities play in supporting our veterans, will the Secretary of State join me in urging the Chancellor to rule out any further cuts to local authorities in his Budget next week?

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It is very important that all parts of government, whether local or national, play a role in delivering the very best services for our armed forces. The introduction of a veterans ID card will hopefully go a long way towards helping former service personnel to access the vital services provided by local authorities. That will be an important step forward.

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19. I welcome what the Secretary of State says about supporting veterans. My constituent, Lieutenant Colonel L.T., served with distinction for almost 30 years. Ever so typically for a man of his standing, he is more concerned about the investigations into the men he served with in Northern Ireland than where investigations may lead for himself. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those veterans also deserve our support? [907178]

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It is clear that both local and national Government, including the Ministry of Defence, owe those who are serving in the armed forces and those who have served a great deal of support, and we will continue to give them every bit of support that we can.

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Thankfully the vast majority of personnel and veterans have very good mental health, but we know that there are challenges, particularly for early service leavers. What more can the MOD do to ensure that service members are directed to support services when they leave the forces?

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The hon. Lady makes a very important point. The actual mental health outcomes of service personnel are exceptionally good, but there are service personnel and former service personnel who do need a bit of extra support. The investment of £2 million in the veterans gateway is aimed at helping and supporting veterans and service leavers to access the type of support that they best need once they have left the armed forces.

UK’s Defence Capability

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2. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of using new and developing technologies to support the UK’s defence capability. [907159]

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I thank my hon. Friend for his time and for the opportunity to see the excellent Manufacturing Technology Centre in his constituency just the other week, which demonstrated to me that emerging technologies present greater opportunities but also more complex threats than ever before.

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In addition to the great work at the MTC, does the Secretary of State agree with me that an excellent example of new technology supporting military capability is the electric drive systems using anti-vibration technology being installed on our marine vessels, which were both developed in Rugby and built in Rugby, and does he agree with me that they represent a great future for British manufacturing?

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Such technologies do represent a fantastic future for British manufacturing. If we look at the success that the Type 26 has had not just with the eight Type 26 frigates that are going to be built in Britain, but with the success we have had in securing orders in Australia and Canada, we can see that it demonstrates this kind of technology is not only designed in Britain, but should always be built in Britain.

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rose—

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I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) has now timed her bobbing correctly. I call Emma Hardy.

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Workers at BAE Systems in Brough have always been at the forefront of developing technology and manufacturing, but after meeting some of the workers last week I am becoming increasingly concerned about their sole reliance on the Hawk orders. Can the Secretary of State do anything to encourage BAE Systems to diversify their manufacturing and to protect jobs at the Brough site?

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The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I have been working very closely with BAE Systems, but also with the Qataris in securing a key order for Hawk trainer jets. The hon. Lady raises an important point about the diversity of the site. It is certainly something that I can raise with those at BAE Systems at my next meeting with them, and I will be seeing them later this month.

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I am delighted that the Secretary of State has seen fit to protect our amphibious capability—HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion —and their related technologies, both new and conventional. These are such crucial tools for the Marines. On that note, will the Secretary of State fully understand and comprehend the importance of 40 Commando to my town of Taunton in his assessment of future capabilities?

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I thank my hon. Friend for all she did in raising her concerns about Albion and Bulwark. On 40 Commando in Taunton, I absolutely reassure her that there are no plans to move 40 Commando from Taunton: it will be there for a long time into the future.

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The Secretary of State surely knows that, in a world of cyber-warfare, we of course need to invest in new technology and great innovation. However, he should not forget the Cinderellas, such as David Brown Gear Systems in Huddersfield, which is making gear boxes for tanks and for our great vessels. Will he come to Huddersfield and see what we do there?

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I know David Brown very well. He is of course the man who saved Aston Martin, so there is a very famous industrial heritage there. If I am not able to visit David Brown, I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, will be able to do so. We will look to make sure that one of us does. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the amount of technology and ingenuity we have in this country, and we should be very proud of it. That is not always just through the prime contractors, but through the many businesses that are so dependent on defence contracts.

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I urge the Secretary of State to follow my very good example: I visited the Huddersfield constituency, and the hon. Gentleman who represents it is a very good host, as is the university to boot. It will widen the Secretary of State’s learning and cultural experience to go there.

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The UK’s defence capability has been immeasurably enhanced by the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth. We saw her in New York this weekend. Will the Secretary of State consider putting together a national carrier strategy, so that for the next 50 years she has a real, important global purpose?

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We do need to have a very clear national carrier strategy, because this is not just an important part of projecting power, but a key part of our national deterrence and of making sure that nations all around the globe understand that Britain has the capability to defend herself and to protect our international interests.

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Will the Secretary of State commend Cammell Laird for winning for the second time its support order for the Royal Navy? Given the level of technology in the yard, is it not well placed for the new frigate orders? Although we are careful about taxpayers’ money and will not give him the hospitality that Huddersfield has offered, will he please come?

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I am getting a lot of invites and feel privileged to have so many. I congratulate Cammell Laird very much on its successful bid. It goes to show how vital money spent by the MOD is to many local economies. I shall endeavour to visit Cammell in the near future, but if I do not, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, will certainly do so.

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The Government believe it is vital to future-proof technologies, so I was shocked to learn that the Ministry of Defence has given the green light—yet again—to an American company, Boeing, for the replacement of the Sentry AWACS aircraft. That has been done without any competitive process, and it has been said that Boeing is planning to use old aircraft and semi-obsolete radar. Clearly there are differences of opinion about what Boeing has to offer, so will the Secretary of State agree to an independent evaluation of all the options to be considered?

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not intentionally mislead the House by implying that we are going to have old aircraft. We will have new aircraft in terms of the potential procurement of Wedgetail. We are confident that this is the best capability; it is world leading and it has the best ability to bring it to our Royal Air Force at the earliest possible stage.

Armed Forces Pay

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3. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of armed forces pay. [907160]

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As there is a bidding war, may I say that, as the last six generations of my family came from Huddersfield, I am definitely up for coming back there?

Our assessments are made with the support of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. In making recommendations, the AFPRB takes account of the need to recruit, retain and motivate suitable service personnel, affordability, the inflation target and the need for armed forces’ pay to be broadly comparable with that of civilians.

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Does the Minister share my concern that all three services are running below strength, and the Government’s delay in lifting the public sector pay cap has exacerbated the problem?

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I am delighted to say, and I am sure the House will wish to know, that the 2% pay award has now been paid retrospectively, and the 0.9% bonus element will be paid in two lump sums, one next month and one in March.

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The frontline of our country’s defence is increasingly in cyber-space, and the strength of that defence depends on the calibre of the people operating in it, such as my constituents at GCHQ. What steps are being taken to ensure that payscales are sufficient to attract and retain the brightest and the best?

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We take those factors into consideration, and I was delighted to open the new defence cyber-school back in March. We feel strongly that cyber-skills should become part of the core skills of all our armed forces.

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How many staff under the age of 25 are paid less than £8.75 an hour?

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It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I do not have that figure at my fingertips, but I will write to him.

Armed Forces Personnel Numbers

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4. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of armed forces personnel. [907161]

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7. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of armed forces personnel. [907164]

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We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces. We have a range of measures under way to improve recruitment and retention, and these are kept under constant review. Importantly, the services continue to meet all their current commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe.

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The Armed Forces Pay Review Body reports that the outflow rates—personnel leaving the armed forces—are at “historically high levels” under this Government. Why does the Minister think that is?

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Retaining our service personnel is always a challenge, and that is precisely why we are focusing hard on the offer—the opportunity to train and to serve overseas. Only this month, some 5,500 personnel are serving on Saif Sareea 3 in Oman; equally, we have servicemen serving in Estonia and on Exercise Trident Juncture in Norway. We have perhaps not previously had those opportunities to train and to serve overseas, which are key to retention.

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The latest armed forces continuous attitude survey shows that 67% of personnel perceive the morale of their service as low. That clearly impacts on the retention of those who serve. Did it concern Ministers to read that, and when can we expect it to get better?

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I am confident that it will get better, partly for the reasons I have just outlined. We are focusing very hard on the offer to our service personnel to ensure that people stay. That is not only about pay—we have talked about the pay award—but the opportunities we give to our service personnel and the training they receive. There are very few professions in this country where one can join with limited qualifications and then leave with a degree-level apprenticeship. That is the sort of offer we make in the armed forces, and we are determined to continue.

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Capita’s Army recruitment contract has been an unmitigated disaster, so as a member of the Select Committee I was very relieved to hear the Secretary of State say in evidence to us last week that if necessary he would be prepared to sack it. The sooner the better. May I ask the Minister of State, who we all respect, whether there is any good news at all on Army recruitment that he can share with the House today?

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As my right hon. Friend says, the Secretary of State was very clear, in the evidence he gave to the Select Committee, that there is always the option of ending the contract. I am pleased to say that there is good news. This is a long process, from application stage to delivering a soldier who is trained perhaps a year later, but we are now seeing applications at a five-year high, so the hopper is being filled at a rate not seen for the past five years. Equally, the conversion rate—managing to get applications converted and on to training—is also improving. At the start of the pipeline there are very positive signs indeed.

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It is a regrettable fact that the legal pursuit of our veterans is a significant deterrent to recruitment. What concrete steps is the Department taking to bring it to an end?

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I have not seen any evidence that supports what my hon. Friend has just said, so I would be grateful if he could supply it. None the less, the point he makes about our veterans being pursued legally is an important one. I can only refer him back to the Adjournment debate, I think on 25 June, when over 50 right hon. and hon. Members came to the House to discuss the matter. There is a consensus across the House that this is an issue we simply must address. He will be aware that the Government have consulted on the issue and we intend to publish the results of the consultation shortly.

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A scathing report by the Public Accounts Committee has found that the Ministry of Defence lacks the strategy to remedy, before 2023, the skills shortages now apparent in over 100 critical trades. Those shortages are putting an unprecedented strain on servicemen and servicewomen, with morale in freefall. When will the Government face up to the fact that personnel numbers have been plummeting on their watch, and what specific action will the Minister take to respond to the recommendations in the Committee’s report?

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We already discussed some of the actions we are taking, but equally it is important to say that, while the hon. Lady likes to project a picture of gloom, the Army, for example, is actually over 93% manned and fulfils all its operational commitments. Our service personnel are getting opportunities today—the opportunity to train overseas, or, crucially, through training itself—that they may not have had five or six years ago. I already talked about the fact that the Ministry of Defence is the largest provider of apprenticeships in the United Kingdom. These are some of the things that the hon. Lady might like to champion and praise for a change.

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21. It terms of making a career in our armed forces a positive choice, many young people get their first taste of what life might be like in the armed forces by joining the cadets. The Scottish Government make it as difficult as possible for the cadets to recruit in Scottish schools. What will the Minister do to make it easier for young Scots to have the opportunity to join the cadets and gain the advantage of that experience? [907180]

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced that in England and Wales, we will be increasing the number of schools with cadets, and I like to think that this is a good example. We do not recruit directly from the cadets—let us be absolutely clear. None the less, it is a fact that a large percentage of members of the armed forces were once cadets, and not only that, although the vast majority will not go on to joined the armed forces, the sorts of values that they are taught as cadets will set them up well for life.

CBRN Defence Capability

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5. What steps his Department is taking to increase investment in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence capability. [907162]

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The UK has world-leading counter-chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capabilities. The MOD has committed around £950 million to maintain and improve these over the next 10 years.

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The Minister will know that following Salisbury, the armed forces played a vital role in identifying the nerve agent and helping to clear up the scene. Will he reassure the House that the MOD will do everything that it can to ensure that the investment in that capability will be maintained and increased?

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Absolutely, and I pay tribute to all those who worked so carefully and so hard in Salisbury and Amesbury on our behalf. As I said, the £950 million is there to improve this over the next 10 years. That includes £48 million to help to set up a new chemical weapons defence centre in Porton Down to make sure that we maintain our cutting-edge capability in chemical analysis and defence.

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Earlier this month, along with other Members of the NATO Parliament, I visited the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Centre of Excellence in the Czech Republic. One of the training courses that it runs is a skills training course for first responders—for police and ambulance personnel—who may often, as in Salisbury, be the first on the scene. What efforts is the Ministry of Defence making to make sure that we have that capability in this country?

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The hon. Lady makes a very important point. Of course, this is not just about the armed forces; we have to recognise that all the emergency services were there very quickly. We need to ensure that they have all the training that they need. I will speak to colleagues in other Departments to ensure that that is happening.

Capita Management of Army Recruitment

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6. Whether his Department has plans to cancel its contracts with Capita for the management of Army recruitment. [907163]

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The Army is working closely with Capita to deliver improvements to recruitment. While there are positive indicators that measures are having an impact, I continue to monitor the Recruiting Partnering Project very closely and hold regular discussions with my officials regarding the contract.

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Subject to a legal challenge, Capita was awarded the MOD fire and rescue contract despite an MOD financial assessment that gave the company the highest category of distress and vulnerability. With shoddy finances and an abysmal record of delivery, does the Minister agree with the MOD fire and rescue staff from my constituency that private corporations should have no place in managing MOD services?

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No, I do not think I do actually. Successive Governments have involved the private sector and I am sure that that is set to continue. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a challenge to that particular contract at the moment, but I remain convinced that the use of the private sector in delivering the Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation is probably the right thing to do.

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The private sector has had enormous success in delivering huge efficiency savings to the Ministry of Defence over decades now, but on this particular contract, there seems to be an element of risk aversion in the management of it, not least on the medical side from the people making health assessments. Is there a case for getting more military back engaged in the delivery of this contract to make the right risk assessments about recruiting?

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will be aware of recent work being carried out by the Ministry of Defence through a medical symposium to try to tackle these very issues. Sometimes, some of the medical reasons for not joining are frankly quite archaic. To give a brief example, if someone has had childhood asthma, they cannot join even if they no longer have it, even though the chances are that it will not return until that person is probably in their 50s, when, of course, 99% of service personnel will have left.

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The Minister is celebrating current recruitment levels. Will he explain why the Scots Guards is currently under-recruited by 36%?

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I am not celebrating current recruitment levels. What I am saying is that we are all aware of the challenges facing the defence recruiting system some months ago, but given that this is a long pipeline, I am confident that the hopper at the start of that process, which can take up to a year, is now at a five-year high. I hope and I am confident that we will then see that slowly come through the system, which will result in an increase in the number of our service personnel.

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The sorry saga of the Capita recruitment programme is made worse by the fact that the Ministry of Defence was told at the time that it would not work. I hope the programme will be sorted out in the short term, but until then will the Minister place a greater emphasis on retaining those superb personnel currently engaged in our armed forces?

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There are always two factors in the equation of armed forces numbers. One, clearly, is the number we recruit, and being a bottom-fed organisation, we have to keep recruiting, but equally, although we cannot retain everybody—the rank structure does not allow it—it is important that we continue to retain as many service personnel as possible for as long a career as possible. I have already highlighted some of the things we are doing to make that happen.

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May I send the best wishes of the Scottish National party to the UK team at the Invictus games? I cannot believe it has been left to the SNP to do that—but there we go!

Can the Minister tell me the total financial value of Capita’s contracts with his Department?

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Once again, it may come as a surprise, but off the top of my head, no I cannot, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

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According to a written answer from the Minister, the figure is £1.15 billion. This addiction to privatisation at the MOD, which I get he is ideologically attached to, is causing mayhem, from recruitment to the fire and rescue service. If he pledges to sack Capita, he will have the support of people behind him, of the people across from him and of the SNP Benches. Why won’t he do it?

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The Secretary of State has made it clear that that always remains an option, but if the hon. Gentleman had listened to a word I had said over the past 10 minutes, rather than preparing his question, he might have realised that there was hope. I am confident, at the start of this process, that things are getting better.

South China Sea

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8. What assessment he has made of the security situation in the South China sea. [907165]

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I pay tribute to the crews of HMS Albion and HMS Sutherland, which have played an important role in upholding freedom of navigation in the South China sea. Security in that region is vital to the UK and its global economic interests, and we shall not shy away from asserting our commitment to upholding the rules-based international system.

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The continuing expansion of Chinese military activity in the South China sea, particularly around the Paracel islands, should worry anyone concerned about stability in the region, hence it was welcome to see HMS Albion there, flying the white flag—[Laughter.] —I mean the white ensign, but more will be necessary to reassure our allies. What are my right hon. Friend’s thoughts on more forward deployment of Royal Navy assets in this region—flying the correct flag?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point about how our allies have seen our presence in the Indo-Pacific region. We have had the largest deployment of the surface fleet in a generation, and that will continue with HMS Argyll, which is due to be on exercise with our five power defence agreement allies, and also with HMS Montrose, which will be going to the region next year. It all goes to show that our passion and commitment to the region is growing, and we will be looking at how we can expand this in the future.

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It must be remarkably tempting as Secretary of State for Defence to look at the map and long for the days when a gunboat or two could be sent. Sadly, the days when the white ensign—the white ensign!—flew unchallenged are gone. Will the Secretary of State accept the fact that our friends and allies in Taiwan greatly value British maritime presence in those waters? Has he considered the possibility—I ask him for no more than an indication that he will think about this—of visiting a port in Taiwan, just to show our solidarity and friendship?

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There might be some challenges with that, but we will always consider all options and ideas. The actions that the Royal Navy has undertaken have brought in more allies in support of upholding the rules-based international order in the South China sea. That is what was so valuable about both Australia and France taking part in operations.

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I understand from a defence company in my constituency that the Taiwanese are looking for defence contracts in this country and that the Americans are about to spend a lot of money on ships out in Taiwan. Can companies in this country go for those contracts, or is there some difficulty with that?

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If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will write to him to clarify the matter.

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The Secretary of State has commended the work and the crew of HMS Albion, one of our landing platform docks in the South China sea. Bizarrely, however, the national shipbuilding strategy has defined it as not being a complex warship, unlike frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers. Can the Secretary of State explain why HMS Albion and other amphibious ships are not deemed to be complex warships?

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The national shipbuilding strategy highlighted the fact that the definition was to apply to aircraft carriers, frigates and destroyers, and the strategy was welcomed on both sides of the House.

Counter-Daesh Operations: Syria and Iraq

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9. What contribution UK forces are making to counter-Daesh operations in Syria and Iraq. [907166]

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RAF strikes in Iraq and Syria will continue until Daesh has been defeated in both Iraq and Syria. In Iraq we have about 500 personnel participating in the coalition’s programme of training.

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Can the Secretary of State give some indication of what we are doing to maintain the momentum against a fractured Daesh?

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It is important to remember that although Daesh has been considerably weakened and the amount of territory under its control has been massively reduced, it remains a great threat. In the last month alone the RAF has made 27 strikes against it, which goes to show that the tempo of operations is not actually slowing down. We cannot take it for granted that Daesh has been defeated, and we must continue to put pressure on it.

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It is a year since Raqqa was liberated from Daesh. There is still work to be done on securing all parts of the city, but attention needs to be given to how it will be rebuilt in the future. What plans are being drawn up, and what resources are being allocated to the reconstruction?

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The Department for International Development is leading this process, and the Ministry of Defence will continue to give it as much support as possible. We recognise the important role that must be played in respect of reconstruction following such a devastating conflict.

Defence Expenditure Commitment

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10. What assessment he has made of the effect on NATO capabilities of the NATO commitment to allocate 20% of defence expenditure to major equipment. [907167]

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The 20% target for major equipment ensures that investment is directed towards NATO’s capability priorities, which directly enhances the security of the alliance. The United Kingdom continues to spend more than 2% of GDP on defence, and to spend more than 20% of that on major equipment. That investment helps to keep the UK safe, and ensures that NATO remains at the heart of our defence.

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The NATO commitment opens up many potential opportunities for UK shipbuilders. Sadly, however, it comes at a time when Babcock International is considering the future of Appledore shipyard, which is very concerning. Will the Minister join me, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), in continuing to work with Babcock in committing ourselves to a long-term future for Appledore?

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon, for the work that they are doing on an issue that I know is important to them. One of the key aims of the national shipbuilding strategy is that UK shipbuilders should be competitive in overseas markets as well as domestically, so that we can secure their long-term future. I hope that they will engage in all the competitions that exist.

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Mr Gorbachev has said that the United States’ decision to withdraw from the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty is a mistake. He has said:

"Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements...Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?”

I am not naive about Russia and the threat from Russia, but what is the future of existing international nuclear non-proliferation treaties, and what additional effect will that have on NATO’s budget?

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I apologise for missing the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but we want to ensure that we are a full member of NATO.

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What are the implications for its budget?

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We have made a commitment to spend 2% of GDP, and we have never spent less than 2%. We are doing everything we can to work with other partners and encourage them to do exactly the same.

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NATO has always been the cornerstone of Britain’s defence, so does my hon. Friend agree that the worst thing that could possibly happen to NATO would be the arrival of a Government whose leader has said recently of NATO:

“I’d rather we weren’t in it”.

He has said:

“NATO, the father of the Cold War in the 1940s, should have shut up shop in 1990”.

That was from none other than the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. NATO is an important alliance that we are proud to be a member of, and it is part of our defence strategy. It is extremely alarming to hear some of the views from the Leader of the Opposition.

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The intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty was mentioned earlier. Is not one of the consequences of the actions of President Trump that short and medium-range nuclear missiles will have to be relocated on UK soil?

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One of the things that we have to make clear is that we want Russia to adhere to the treaty in the first place—that is incredibly important. The treaty was incredibly important at the time it was signed. We need to ensure that they maintain the treaty and stick to the values it presents to us.

UK Cyber Counter-measures: Russian Activity

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11. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the UK’s cyber counter-measures as a result of alleged Russian malicious activity in Europe. [907168]

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The Ministry of Defence takes cyber-security extremely seriously and co-ordinates closely with the National Cyber Security Centre. I cannot comment on specific measures that the Department has taken, for national security reasons, but I can say that the Government have identified a number of cyber-actors widely known to have been conducting cyber-attacks around the world, and who are in fact from the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. The cyber-attacks are a further demonstration of Russia’s disregard for international institutions and norms.

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As the Secretary of State says, it appears that Russia has developed sophisticated cyber-espionage and cyber-warfare capabilities that it is utilising to pursue its strategic goals. Can he assure us that the Government will provide the dedicated leadership needed to co-ordinate the multi-agency response to this threat?

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The hon. Lady raises an important point about how we have to work right across Government, and also right across industry. That is why we have been committed to investing £1.9 billion in this area. It is about co-ordinating that, bringing people together and ensuring that vulnerabilities do not open up in the industrial sector, so we are working closely with the sector.

Syria

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12. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the security situation in Syria on the delivery of aid to that country by the armed forces. [907170]

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The UK supports the United Nations, non-governmental organisations and the Red Cross to meet the needs of vulnerable people in Syria and refugees in the region. So far we have committed £2.71 billion since 2012.

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The situation in Syria is complex and unpredictable, and many civilians are at risk. Given what the Secretary of State has just said about the financial commitment that this country has made to vulnerable civilians, I ask him to keep all options on the table and to keep talking to his colleagues in the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office to ensure that we do everything we can to get basic supplies to the civilians who need them in Syria.

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Every time there is such a request, we consider it very closely, to see how best we can offer help and support. We recognise the dreadful plight that so many people are suffering in Syria. The Ministry of Defence and our armed forces will always be there to support important humanitarian work.

NATO

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14. What assessment he has made of the importance of NATO to UK national security. [907172]

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Earlier this month I met my counterparts in NATO to discuss efforts to strengthen the alliance, including further burden sharing and working with allies so that they can step up their efforts to tackle today’s threats, including by deterring malicious cyber-attacks.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that the UK should continue to play a leading role in NATO, and that working with our allies to combat terrorism and the increasingly sophisticated threat of cyber-attacks should remain a priority?

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We should be incredibly proud of the leading role that we play; we were the first nation to commit our offensive cyber-capabilities to NATO, we have seen an uplift in troop numbers in NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, and we are second only to the United States in supporting NATO and the work it does.

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The Government’s counting within the 2% that we spend on defence things that would never have been counted under previous Governments undermines our voice when it comes to NATO. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm that current spending is simply inadequate if Britain wants to play a global role in the defence of the country?

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Britain has met and will always meet its NATO commitments, and we undertake to spend the money that is required by NATO guidelines.

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As I am sure you will vividly remember, Mr Speaker, on this very date 35 years ago the largest ever demonstration by the campaign for one-sided nuclear disarmament marched in London. Just under 100,000 people marched—although, typically, four times that number was claimed—and the then leader of the Labour party, a lifelong unilateralist, told the rally that NATO should not deploy cruise or Pershing II missiles. If that policy had been followed, we would not have had an intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. What assessment have my right hon. Friend and his Department made of whether that INF treaty, which has been successful for so long, has now been violated by Russia?

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It has been our clear and consistent view that Russia has been in breach of that treaty. We urge Russia to comply with the treaty.

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I do vividly remember the demonstration in question, not least because, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is keenly aware, at almost exactly the same time I made an absolutely splendid speech at the University of Essex student union that was based overwhelmingly on the sagacious briefing provided by the right hon. Gentleman.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for listening to Plymouth’s campaigns to base the new Type 26 frigates in Devonport, in the constituency that I represent, and to save Albion and Bulwark from being cut. Can he give any further reassurance to the workers in Devonport that we will be a base for future NATO operations by confirming that we will be the home to the Royal Marines super-base as well?

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I should like to pay tribute to all the Members of Parliament in Devon and Cornwall who have campaigned so hard on the basing of the Type 26s and on keeping Albion and Bulwark. We are not going to make any early comments on the future basing arrangements, but I take note of the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

Uganda

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15. What military support the UK provides to Uganda. [907173]

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The majority of UK military support to Uganda involves training for the African Union mission to Somalia, which includes training officer cadets at Sandhurst and senior officers at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.

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Ugandan soldiers recently tortured five Members of Parliament, including the pop star Bobi Wine, and dozens of others. Two of those MPs might never walk again. Why is the UK training those Ugandan forces at Sandhurst?

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We are not training those Ugandan forces. Let me be absolutely clear about this Government’s condemnation of the actions involving those Members of Parliament. The Ministry of Defence does not engage with the special forces command, which operates separately from the mainstream Ugandan people’s defence force. It was the special forces command that was involved in that incident.

Prosecution of Veterans: Northern Ireland

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16. What steps he is taking to ensure that veterans are given adequate protection from prosecution in relation to their service in Northern Ireland. [907174]

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Our service personnel perform exceptional feats in difficult circumstances to protect this country. The Government’s view is that the institutions set out in the draft Stormont House agreement Bill, on which public consultation has just concluded, are the best way to ensure a fair, balanced and proportionate approach to addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.

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Will my right hon. Friend comment on the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) in the Select Committee last week? If I understood this correctly, the case related to a 77-year-old veteran who is suffering from terminal cancer and whose case has already been investigated. The soldier was cleared in 1975, and I understand that everyone else involved in the incident is now dead. Can my right hon. Friend tell us why this has happened?

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I believe that my right hon. Friend is referring to the case of Dennis Hutchings, which has been discussed on several occasions in this Chamber. Indeed, Mr Hutchings has very much become the figure who demonstrates why so many colleagues across the House are so uneasy about this process. I would like to reassure my right hon. Friend that the Ministry of Defence continues support Mr Hutchings in every way we possibly can. This underlines why we are absolutely determined to put this right and sort out this issue.

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To echo the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), my constituent Mr Tom Lynch received a service medal that he asked me personally to return to the Prime Minister when he received a very distressing letter from the Historical Enquiries Team. Please can we have every assurance that these investigations, although necessary, will be carried out in the most sensitive manner, especially for those veterans who suffer from dementia and who are in their 80s?

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Frankly, in my 14 years in Parliament, I have found few issues on which the House is unified to such an extent. The consultation has recently closed. Speaking as a serviceman, I can only reassure the House how keen we are to try to address this issue. I am sure there will be an announcement in the House in due course.

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Order. We are about to move on to topical questions, but I advise the right hon. Members for Warley (John Spellar) and for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett), and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen), that, having missed out on substantives, they can take their chance in topicals. I am trying to encourage them.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [907198]

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I take the opportunity to wish our team who are taking part in the Invictus games the very best. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), is currently in Sydney supporting them, so sadly is unable to be in the Chamber today.

As we approach the centenary of the end of the first world war and this year’s armistice commemorations, we remember all those who have fought and died in the service of this country. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will go to the thousands of events up and down the country to remember those who have lost their lives and pay tribute to our armed forces personnel, both current and former.

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I concur with the Secretary of State’s comments.

I welcome the finalised deal for the nine Hawk aircraft being sold to Qatar. It is important for the employees at BAE Systems at Brough, for skilled local jobs and for flying the flag for British defence manufacturing, but there is more to do. What further support could the Government offer to win export orders for the Hawk in places such as Kuwait?

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As was touched on earlier, we have held discussions with the Qatari Government about the order for nine Hawks. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), was out in Kuwait furthering discussions about future orders for the Hawk. We will continue to work closely with BAE Systems to land more orders to sustain Brough.

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T5. A constituent wrote to me about his father, who served on HMS Repulse and survived both its sinking and imprisonment in Japan. More than 500 of his fellow sailors died aboard the ship, which is their final resting place. Today, many warships have been partially or completely destroyed by scavengers. What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to prevent further destruction of our maritime war graves? [907202]

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The whole House will be united in complete disgust at what has happened. These are war graves. We would not tolerate the desecration of war graves on land, and we should not tolerate the desecration of war graves at sea. We have instructed a survey of the site and are engaged with other Governments to ensure that, where ships are under their flags, action is taken to ensure that such behaviour does not go unpunished.

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At last month’s Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister said that austerity is over, but we know that the Tories’ record on defence is one of deep cuts and falling budgets. In cash terms, defence spending has been slashed by £4.9 billion since Labour left office. Can the Secretary of State tell us by how much his party has cut the defence budget in real terms?

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The defence budget is going up in real terms year on year. We have a commitment for it to go up every year by £1 billion up to 2021.

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With due respect, I have to correct the record. Between 2010 and 2017, the real-terms value of the defence budget fell by nearly £10 billion, which puts immense strain on the ability of the Ministry of Defence to meet its commitments. We welcome the long overdue pay rise for service personnel, but whereas Labour set out a clear plan to fund a fair pay rise, will the Secretary of State confirm that his Government is providing no new money to cover the cost and therefore that he will have to make additional cuts elsewhere to give our forces the pay rise they deserve?

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We all welcome the increase in service personnel pay. When I meet service personnel, whether in the UK or abroad, they particularly point out that this is the largest pay increase they have experienced since 2010.

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T6. My right hon. Friend is well aware of the strength of feeling in North Devon on securing the future of Royal Marines base Chivenor. When will we receive a decision? [907203]

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The better defence estate strategy was published about two years ago, and the strategy remains in place as it stands. The strategy extends over some 20 years, and the Royal Navy continues to work to establish the amphibious centre of excellence in Plymouth.

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T2. The Defence Secretary has said that, for every £1 spent on defence, we get £4 in return. How can the Government square such comments with their willingness to see the fleet solid support ship built in foreign yards? [907199]

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We are currently in the pre-qualification process, which means we are making sure that we get the very best price for the ships we need. The FSS is not classed as a warship, and therefore it has to go out to international competition. We want to make sure that we have British shipyards competing for the contracts so that they become world competitors when other countries are looking to offer such contracts.

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T7. Earlier this year, cadets in Arbroath embarked on a new era with the opening of a new £600,000 joint facility in the town. Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), will the Secretary of State underline the Department’s plan for increasing investment in cadet units across the UK? [907204]

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We will be doing everything we can to increase cadet units right across the United Kingdom. Cadet units play a vital role in everything we do by sending out the message that our armed forces are important to every community in the United Kingdom.

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T3. York has four remaining Normandy veterans who fought in the second world war. LIBOR funding will be needed to give them, and their carers, the opportunity to make one last visit to mark D-day on 6 June 2019. How will the Minister ensure that they are able to pay their respects next year and that they will be able to take their carers with them to attend fully? [907200]

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The hon. Lady is right that next year is a significant anniversary of the Normandy invasions, and it is important that we get it right. We are looking carefully at the right way for the Ministry of Defence to support the event, and an announcement will be made in due course.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s work on mental health support for veterans and members of the armed forces. Does he agree that the 24/7 mental health helpline plays a vital role in supporting those personnel and needs maximum publicity?

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The helpline is an important part of everything we do, but we can never rest in looking at what more we can do to support those who are serving and those who have served.

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T4. My Jamaican constituent applied for leave to remain after serving with the Royal Marines for seven years. He has post-traumatic stress disorder and found it difficult to cope with the increasing demands for information from the Home Office. What is the MOD doing so that service members are directed to support services when they leave the armed forces? [907201]

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We offer an enormous amount of support through the career transition partnership, and we offer mental health and, indeed, physical support to veterans. If the hon. Lady would like to write to me with the details of that individual case, I am more than happy to look into it.

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I refer the House to my entry on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I warmly welcome the combat air strategy, announced earlier this year. Will Ministers update the House on any potential discussions with future national partners?

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We continue to work closely with industry, especially BAE Systems. As we develop this strategy, four companies are at the heart of it—BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MBDA—but we are in discussions with other nations. I am afraid that I am not in a position to update the House on who they are.

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T8. Can the Secretary of State inform the House what has happened to the modernising defence programme? [907206]

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We will continue to keep the House informed and we will update the House with the findings in due course.

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This follows on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) about the situation in the South China sea, as last week I had the pleasure to meet representatives of our allies in the region. HMS Albion gave a demonstration of freedom of waters and of navigation, and the importance of that cannot be understated. Is this going to become a regular exercise, because our allies in the region would be very happy to see that?

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We are committed to stepping up our presence right across the Indo-Pacific area. I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot go into operational details at the moment, but we see our Royal Navy playing an important role in upholding our values.

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The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) deserves some encouragement at this very early stage of his parliamentary career!

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Does the Minister not understand that to export defence equipment we have to have a strong home market, and that is why other European countries insist on building vessels such as the fleet solid support ships in their own yards, with their own workers. What blind dogma is stopping these Ministers and their Department from doing the same and ensuring that we make them in Britain?

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As I said a moment ago, we are making sure that we go out to international competition, because that gives value for money to this country, and we can also then invest the savings we make in other capabilities. It means that we attract the best and affordable solutions. It also brings competition at the heart of our shipbuilding strategy, because we want our shipyards to go out there and compete for international orders.

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Captain Mainwaring’s doughty band of men who formed the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard are in danger of looking like special forces, on account of their ability to climb in and out of Lance Corporal Jones’s converted bread van, when compared with the modern Army, which has 18,000 clinically obese soldiers and servicemen, with 398 having type 2 diabetes, 160 being on prescribed diet pills and 16 having had liposuction. When is the Secretary of State going to do something about the state of the fitness of the British armed forces?

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this matter, but, of course, as I look across this Chamber, I do wonder whether or not this was the right establishment to be criticising the British Army for obesity. Every year, all soldiers are required to carry out fitness tests. He will have realised, or seen, that from 1 April we are changing that annual fitness test to make sure it is more aligned with the combat roles our soldiers are required to carry out.

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rose

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rose

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rose—

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Gosh, there is something of an internal Scottish National party competition. It is an invidious choice between three celebrated individuals, one of whom is a member of the Select Committee. I call Martin Docherty-Hughes.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. First, let me say that I agree with the Secretary of State that we should be mindful of the armistice we commemorate this year. I will be joining family at Westminster abbey later this year to commemorate my great uncle James from County Mayo, who fell at Passchendaele.

Asbestos kills, and it is a silent killer. I represent a constituency with the highest rates of mesothelioma not only in Scotland or the United Kingdom, but in Europe. I was therefore dumbfounded at a recent Defence Committee meeting when senior members of the Ministry of Defence seemed to be silent and unable to answer questions on the use of asbestos in Sea King helicopters between 1969 and 2016. I have even heard that two of them have been brought back into service for training purposes. Will the Secretary of State please ensure that the report that has been brought about is fully published and that we ensure that those exposed to asbestos, both civilian and military, get due compensation, if affected?

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The hon. Gentleman is quite right to bring this issue up. I am starting to look at it in more detail. If he would allow me, I would like to write to him with further details, once I have had more information from the Department.

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The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) offers the Chamber on a regular basis a passable imitation of Demosthenes, but Demosthenes was not subject to constraints of time, whereas under our Question Time procedures the hon. Gentleman and other Members are. I advise him to plough through the pages of the textbook on pithy questions by the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne).

EU Customs Union and Draft Withdrawal Agreement: Cost

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(Urgent Question): Will the Government make a statement on the additional costs of staying in the EU customs union after 2020 and provide an updated estimate of the total costs of the current draft of the withdrawal agreement?

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Every arm of Government is working at pace to firm up and put in place all necessary arrangements to ensure that we are ready to leave and chart our own course as global Britain. The Government will continue to update Parliament on the progress of the negotiations, and the Prime Minister will update the House shortly in this regard in a post-Council statement.

In respect of the customs union, common rules will remain in place throughout the implementation period to give businesses and citizens critical certainty. This will mean that businesses can trade on the same terms as now until the end of 2020. As the Prime Minister has said, a further idea has emerged—and it is an idea at this stage—to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months, and it would only be a matter of months. But as the Prime Minister has made clear, this is not expected to be used, because we are working to ensure that we have a future relationship in place by the end of December 2020.

As the House will appreciate, the length and cost of any extension to the implementation period are subject to negotiations. Throughout the implementation period, we will continue to build our new relationship, one which will see the UK leave the single market and the customs union to forge our own path and pursue an independent trade policy while protecting jobs and supporting growth.

During the progression of our exit negotiations, we reached a financial settlement with the EU that did two things—honoured our commitments made during our membership and ensured the fairest possible deal for UK taxpayers. In December, we estimated the size of the settlement to be between £35 billion to £39 billion, using reasonable assumptions and publicly available data. In April, the National Audit Office confirmed that this was reasonable.

The Government are committed to upholding our parliamentary democracy through honouring the result of the referendum and remaining fully transparent with Parliament on the deal that is reached, in advance of the meaningful vote.

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The Treasury should do some calculations, because it would be an act of great rashness to agree to extend our period when we would be in another seven-year financial period for the EU, with all the consequences that might bring. It could cost £15 billion or more for a year and we would probably have to accept liabilities that might extend for the whole seven-year financing period. Why wouldn’t the EU front-load its expenses when we were still in the thing, and why wouldn’t it expect us to meet the forward commitments, as it says it wants us to do as and when we leave under the existing seven-year period?

We are desperately in need of more money for our schools, our hospitals, universal credit and for our defence—[Interruption.] We desperately need money so that we can honour our tax-cutting pledges which we all made in our 2017 manifesto—[Interruption.]

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Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, whose flow is difficult to stop—and I would not want it to be stopped.

The right hon. Gentleman must be heard. Mr Matheson, you are normally a most cerebral individual. Take a tablet.

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Our economy is being deliberately slowed by a fiscal and monetary squeeze that we need to lift. We need tax cuts to raise people’s take-home pay so that they have more spending power. All this is possible if we do not give £39 billion to the EU, and all this will be even more possible if we do not pledge another £15 billion or £20 billion for some time never, if we are now going to give in yet again. When will the Government stand up to the EU, when will the Government say that they want a free trade agreement and they do not see the need to pay for it, and when will the Government rule out signing a withdrawal agreement that is a surrender document that we cannot afford?

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for a number of Budget representations on that point. What I can confirm is that, when the sum of £35 billion to £39 billion was agreed, it was agreed on three principles: the UK would not make its payments sooner than it would otherwise have done; it would be based on the actual rather than the forecast; and it would mean that we would include all benefits as a member state. I recognise the wide range of concerns in the House, including those raised by my right hon. Friend, but we are at a delicate stage of the negotiations and the Prime Minister will be speaking to the House shortly.

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The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) has some brass neck. He spent eight years being a cheerleader for austerity and he comes to the House today and says that; it is unbelievable. Amid the Tory quarrelling, the Prime Minister’s negotiations appear to succumb to a new failure every day. She has stood staring at the menu for two years while the Cabinet devours itself. It now seems that it may take a bit longer for her to make up her mind, demanding that the EU give further time in relation to the transition period. What we cannot fathom is how the Government are unable to negotiate our exit within the agreed period, begging instead to make it longer.

Humiliatingly, I have to say, we hear that 95% of the agreement is done as though that is supposed to reassure us. Perhaps I may remind the Government that 95% of the Titanic’s journey was completed successfully. Meanwhile, the Government have gone from discussing a backstop to discussing a backstop to a backstop, to requesting an extension to the transition. These do not signal a Government who are about to emerge victoriously.

Let me ask a couple of questions, if this 95% deal is done. First, on the EU’s trade policy, during the transition, the common external tariff and customs regime will continue to apply to the UK, but third countries will have no legal obligation to continue to treat the UK as if it were a member state. Therefore, what trilateral discussions have the Government had with both the EU and third country partners, such as Mexico, South Korea, Switzerland and all the other countries with which the EU has preferential trading agreements in place, to ensure that the UK will continue to benefit from these arrangements during the transition period? Secondly, what progress have the Government made towards acceding to agreements facilitating trade, such as the pan-Euro Mediterranean convention that facilitates diagonal cumulation of origin, during the transition period and in any deal thereafter?

These matters, along with the question of the wider trade in goods, are easily resolvable with the transition period that has already been agreed. If the Government had got their act together, there would not be talk of additional time. The only thing that is costing the Government is this useless Government.

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It is difficult to discern the precise questions there, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The Government are in a negotiation and there are a number of issues that are not yet resolved. With respect to the final state around our future freedom to trade, those are matters that will be reported on to this House before there is a meaningful vote. So he needs to be patient a little longer as we move through that last 5% and deal with those matters.

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Order. I gently remind the House that there is a further urgent question afterwards and then a statement by the Prime Minister, so I shall have to take a view as to the point at which we need to move on, but I would be assisted if colleagues were extremely brief.

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I am very concerned about the Government’s plans because, essentially, they mean our staying in a customs union in which we will have no say on the rules for a prolonged period, at the very moment that the global economy is facing some significant risks. Can my hon. Friend explain how this is in the UK’s national interest?

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I have set forward the Government’s position with respect to the negotiation and the idea about a modest extension in terms of months. It will be for the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to update the House sooner, but I acknowledge my right hon. Friend’s point with respect to the opportunities that exist beyond the EU in terms of finding a settlement that gives us the freedom to develop our trading relationships.

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I was going to start my question by thanking the Chancellor for coming and answering questions on the cost of Brexit, but it is not the Chancellor who is here and I am afraid that the Economic Secretary is not doing a very good job of answering the questions on the cost. Can he tell us please: in the event of no agreement on staying in the customs union and the single market, what will be the loss in productivity to businesses in the UK and in Northern Ireland specifically and how many redundancies does he expect to see in Northern Ireland and in the UK? What is the loss cost to the UK economy of the EU citizens who have chosen not to come here or who have chosen to leave as a direct result of the Brexit vote? Lastly, if he truly believes that we would be better off as a result of the UK leaving the EU without being in the customs union or the single market, can he tell us what his models say about how much better off each of us will be?

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No, I cannot give the hon. Lady a cash figure for every member of the United Kingdom, but what I can say is that the Government and the Treasury are determined to make preparations for all eventualities. That is why we are preparing 70 statutory instruments to take through this House in the event of a no deal. The EU should be very clear that we are going to be ready for all eventualities while being committed to negotiating the best possible outcome, as directed by the British people two years ago.

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Of course, it is the policy of the party opposite for us to remain in the customs union forever. That is worth bearing in mind. Will my hon. Friend give a bit of detail on what work HMRC has done, in the case that we are in the customs union but outside the EU, on who determines things such as trade preferences and who runs trade defences on behalf of this country in those years?

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I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that these are matters with which the Government are engaged intensively in the negotiations at the moment. We are also working towards securing as much autonomy as possible for the British Government in the future. That is the mandate that we have been given by the British people.

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The Minister told the House a moment ago that the Government expect the negotiations on the future relationship to be concluded by December 2020. However, when the Government published their backstop proposal for Northern Ireland, they said that they expected those negotiations to be concluded at the latest by December 2021. Which of those two dates represents Government policy?

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Government policy is that we have a backstop arrangement in place to fulfil our obligations and we are in negotiation over the timings of that. The Prime Minister will be coming to the House later today and the right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to clarify with her the answer to that question.

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Can my hon. Friend inform me why he thinks that there is any incentive for the EU to give us a good deal if they think that by dragging their heels they can drag us into being obliged to pay extra money to them?

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There is no expectation that this Government will seek to pay more money to the EU. We are in negotiation, as has been set out. We have made considerable progress. We have a small number of items to resolve, but the intention is to get the best possible deal for the British taxpayer in the national interest.

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Will the Minister break it gently to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that, if we stay in the customs union and the single market—and, quite frankly, if we remain in the European Union—we will save our constituents that £81 billion that will be lost to them otherwise? That is not my calculation, but the Minister’s—the Treasury’s own calculations and forecasts from last December say that our constituents will be £81 billion worse off if we leave on the WTO terms of the right hon. Gentleman.

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I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) has a lot of faith in the Treasury on this, so I feel there is little point in taking that figure back to him.

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What businesses in my constituency want is certainty and reassurance that the border will be as frictionless as possible. This is key to many sectors of prosperity in the north-west. Will the Minister confirm that the costs involved in temporary ongoing membership of a customs union will dramatically be outweighed by the benefits to business?

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The Government have to reconcile the decision of the British people to leave the EU with, as my hon. Friend says, the need to make sure that the cost to business is as little as possible. That is why it is absolutely imperative that, when we secure the final outcome of the negotiations, it is good for business, good for the economy and good for jobs.

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Could the Minister set out the extra cost to UK GDP of leaving the customs union, and the extra cost to businesses in Wokingham, in particular, of the hard Brexit favoured by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)?

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My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has spoken for himself. The reality is that, before the Government come back to the House for a meaningful vote, a whole range of data will be supplied to the House in order to make the discussion about that decision meaningful.

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I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is doing an excellent job today, is, like me, an avid reader of the Conservative manifesto, which states that the withdrawal agreement and future relationship will be negotiated side by side. Ninety-five per cent. of the withdrawal agreement has been completed, which is great news. How much of the future relationship agreement has been done?

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At this stage, we are clearly in a delicate negotiation. It is important that the two are taken together, and the Prime Minister will be updating the House on our precise position in that negotiation.

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I understand that the Minister’s natural courtesy inclines him to look in the direction of the person who is asking him a question, but it is helpful if he faces the House. It is not a serious sin; I am just trying to aid and counsel him in the discharge of his duties.

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The Government’s own statistics show that leaving with no deal would put unemployment in the north-east up to 20%. What is their calculation of the effect on unemployment in the north-east of leaving the customs union?

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There are a range of assumptions around the implications of different scenarios. The Government seek to ensure that we minimise the downsides and maximise the upsides in the agreement that we come to. I recognise that significant industries in the north-east rely on certainty in that relationship, and that is why it is very important that we get it right.

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This modest extension that is only a plan is going to cost £15.6 billion. How will the Minister explain that in Southend, Salisbury and Stockport? Could we not use the money slightly better?

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I would be in a position to justify that if it were a firm outcome of the negotiations, but it is not. I have not been conducting the negotiations; the Prime Minister has, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to ask her about that later.

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Could I ask what the purpose of any such extension might be? Is it to replace the Irish backstop, or is it in addition to that?

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At the moment, this is an idea that has been raised. In terms of the detail of it and where it fits within negotiations, clearly the Prime Minister will be best placed to answer. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the enduring principles of our negotiations is to ensure that we treat the whole United Kingdom as a single united entity. That is an enduring principle that is guiding us through these negotiations.

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Succinctness as exemplified, legendarily, by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees- Mogg).

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Will my hon. Friend say whether, if we stayed in the customs union, any revenues that came from customs would be considered to be own resources?

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I say to my hon. Friend that we need to have a fair settlement that does the right thing by the people of this country.

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The Minister is doing his best to accentuate the positive, as the song goes, but he knows that the cost of Brexit is already being paid by every family and every business in this country: higher prices in the shops, a staffing crisis in the NHS and a hit to the public finances of £26 billion a year, before Brexit has even happened. Can I ask him to resist the jingoism and fantasy maths of the English nationalists in the Conservative party and remember that staying in a customs union is a red line for those of us in the Labour party? The value of not returning to a hard border—

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Order. Forgive me for interrupting the hon. Lady, but we have got a lot to get through, and we must make progress rather more quickly.

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I do not accept that characterisation of any of my colleagues on the Government Benches. We are seeking to secure the best deal in the national interest for the whole of the United Kingdom.

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Is the Minister aware that many people on the Government Benches and in the country think that £39 billion is not worth paying, let alone any more?

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I imagine that my hon. Friend—like many of his constituents—thinks that no sum is worth paying. Of course, there are a range of views on this matter, but we have to honour our obligations, as this country does, and secure a fair outcome.

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Thousands of people across Merseyside, including my constituents, are employed in the automotive and aerospace sectors. Our membership of the customs union is vital for supporting jobs and investment in our regional economy. What assessment has the Treasury made of the effect of leaving the customs union on those sectors? Does the Minister agree that only staying in the customs union will ensure the future of those sectors?

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The Government have made an assessment that means that it is imperative that we come out with a solution that is right for those employers in the hon. Lady’s constituency and gives the certainty that they need, because that is what her constituents will require.

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I think we can agree that any extension to the transition period will be costly—£15 billion, £16 billion or whatever it is—but the problem is that we will have no MEPs to represent us, no say and no influence on any legislation introduced during that period. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be no taxation without representation?

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My right hon. Friend makes a factual point, and no doubt those conducting the negotiations will have that at the top of their mind.

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Who is offering to do a short sentence? Ah, well done—Catherine West.

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There seem to be a number of questions that the Minister is not able to answer. Is his boss available, or is he also in “the killing zone”?

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I was asked to respond, and I am happy to do my best to do so.

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The extension to the transition period is designed to replace the backstop to the backstop. Given that the Irish Government and Her Majesty’s Government have both said that they are not going to build the hard border, who is?

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We need to understand that the backstop is just that—it is not expected that it will need to come into force. We must secure an agreement and come to arrangements that work for both sides.

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In January, the Prime Minister promised ahead of the so-called meaningful vote that there would be a full economic impact assessment of the exit deal. Can the Minister guarantee that that will happen? How much time will MPs have to consider the deal before we have to vote on its credibility or the lack of it?

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We will have a considerable amount of material before the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who is about to come to the Dispatch Box, will have more information on that issue.

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When looking at the customs union, would it not also be wise to look at the significant benefits of being in a trading bloc of 500 million people that has delivered wealth through some 40 FTAs with some 70 countries—agreements that the Government have already said they wish to adopt if we are able to, post Brexit?

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It is important that we honour the decision of the British people and that we come out with an arrangement that gives us the optimal long-term relationship with the EU and also a chance to exploit the opportunities in the world economy beyond the EU, which is growing faster.

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Last October, I asked the Chancellor in the Treasury Committee whether the benefits of feasible future trade deals outweighed the costs of leaving the single market and the customs union. He could not give me a clear response. Is the Minister any closer to giving a clear response today?

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Such an answer is dependent on so many conditions and the determination of what is in those trade deals, so I am sorry, but I cannot give a precise answer.

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Is the Minister finding withdrawal from the European Union as easy and cost-free as some of those on the Government Benches behind him suggested it would be?

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Government is always challenging, and there are always issues that need to be resolved. It is self-evident that this is a challenging set of negotiations.

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Will the Minister confirm that the head of HMRC estimates that the cost for British business of leaving the European Union customs union would be £20 billion a year?

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I am aware of that assessment. It depends on the assumptions for the final agreement we come to, but clearly the Government are taking a range of concerned parties into account throughout this process.

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A lot has been said this afternoon about the strategic cost of Brexit, but every day thousands of civil servants are dedicating their working lives to working to the Prime Minister’s direction, yet the Prime Minister is sacrificing the interests of the country to try to heal the divisions in her party among those on the Conservative Benches. When are the Government going to get a grip and stop wasting taxpayers’ money on delivering the impossible?

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The Chancellor has made money available across-Government to help us through this process. I would acknowledge the massive contribution made by our civil service to help across many Departments of Government. The Prime Minister is committed to securing the best deal for the nation.

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Leaving the customs union will cost us billions, but it is also costing dear now. Does the Minister not agree with me that, with violent crime rising, the Home Office could have done with the extra money to pay for an extra 4,500 police officers, instead of £500 million for extra customs and border officials to prepare to leave the customs union?

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There is a Budget next Monday, and it will be for the Chancellor to set out the spending settlement for Government Departments.

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Will the Minister advise the patients of the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank in my constituency how patient they have got to be to have medicine regulation while Recardio is taking out its health clinical trials for new heart medicines?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible point about the urgency of securing a deal across lots of areas of our country, including the health service, and that is what the Government are engaged in seeking to resolve.

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The truth is that this is typical crackpottery by the Brexit extremists on the Conservative Benches, who seem to be running the show over there at the moment. Will the Minister tell us what the effect will be on the aerospace sector and on Airbus next to my constituency of leaving and being outside the customs union, as opposed to remaining in and protecting those jobs?

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It is in the interests of aerospace and defence industries across the country for the Government to come to the right long-term solution that secures jobs and certainty about their operating environment in the UK and for trading abroad.

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Experts have found that Wales will be hit disproportionately hardest, with people and communities up and down Wales hit hardest, if the UK leaves the customs union and the single market. Is the Minister prepared to make that sacrifice?

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The Prime Minister and the whole Government are committed to finding a solution for the whole of the United Kingdom. I recognise the different distribution of EU funds and therefore the policy challenges that will exist for the Government thereafter.

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The Minister has been asked five times to identify the figures for unemployment if we leave the customs union, so let us make it easier for him: will unemployment go up or will it go down?

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What I can say is that unemployment in this country is at a record low, demonstrating the coherence of this Government’s economic policy.[Official Report, 12 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 2MC.]

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The Minister looks as though he wishes he was somewhere else, and he has referred most of our questions to the Prime Minister, for which I am sure she is grateful. He must be able to answer this question: does he stand by the Treasury forecast that this country will be worse off outside the customs union, the single market and the EU?

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What I stand by is the desire of the Government to find the best possible solution for the United Kingdom—that maximises the advantages to the UK economy of the growth in economies outside the EU. There is a range of assumptions to a range of forecasts, and the Treasury always goes into considerable depth in setting those out clearly.

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Manufacturers in my constituency need certainty, yet in recent weeks we have had a backstop, a backstop to the backstop and now an extended transition. Is not the truth that the Government’s chaotic approach to these negotiations is putting jobs at risk?

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We have a short amount of time to secure the best outcome for the United Kingdom. It is urgent, and I recognise that the whole country needs to have that solution.

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rose

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rose

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rose—

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I will take the three remaining questioners if it is a short sentence from each—no more than that. I call Mrs Madeleine Moon.

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Ford Automotive in my constituency has made it clear that frictionless trade is essential, but Canada—no matter how many pluses we put on it—is not going to work, so how will the Minister ensure that the 12,000 jobs associated with Ford are not going to be lost?

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We will secure that by observing the principles of the White Paper and getting the best deal through the negotiations.

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Is it not cheaper to just stay in the EU?

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This country voted to leave the EU by a narrow but clear majority. It is the job of Government to deliver on that.

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Does the Minister not accept that any firm whose operations span European supply chains will be worse off if we do not have a customs union?

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Again, that is why we have to reach a conclusion to the negotiations that leaves the United Kingdom with the best possible outcome in respect of the future economy.

Leaving the EU: Meaningful Vote

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To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will make a statement on Her Majesty’s Government’s policy on how any motion under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is to be put before the House of Commons for decision.

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May I start by welcoming the question from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve)?

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 confirmed in statute the Government’s long-standing commitment to provide Parliament with a vote on the terms of our final deal. When it comes to the motion that we consider at the point when the approval of the House is sought, the decision whether the motion is amendable or not will be a matter for you, Mr Speaker, not for the Government. However, the Government have made clear our expectation, subject to your prerogatives, that the motion will be amendable. The Government’s response, dated 10 October, to the report of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, “Parliamentary scrutiny and approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and negotiations on a future relationship”, stated:

“Of course, we accept that the Speaker may permit the tabling of amendments to the motion, as is usual convention.”

That understanding is also reflected in our response to the inquiry by the Select Committee on Procedure, which I provided on 10 October. Both responses were made publicly available on the Committees’ websites in the interests of transparency and to ensure that this House understands the Government’s position on the matter—although again, I defer to the House and to you, Mr Speaker, on procedural matters that fall within the prerogatives of the House.

It will be evident to hon. Members that any amendment to the motion would not be able to effect amendments to the withdrawal agreement or the future framework, which will have been agreed at the international level between the United Kingdom and the European Union; nor could any such amendment delay or prevent our departure from the EU as set out under article 50. It is worth reminding the House that the timing of our departure from the EU is set out in international law under article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which this House voted to trigger.

The Government committed to giving Parliament a vote on the deal, and section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 sets out how that will happen. In passing that Act, Parliament confirmed its ultimate role in delivering on the will of the British people. Approving the final deal will be the responsibility of the House of Commons alone—a responsibility I know all hon. Members will take very seriously indeed.

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While I have every sympathy with procedural problems that the Government may encounter and any honest attempt at finding a solution to them, I have to say that I find the Government’s position as stated in the memorandum they sent to the Procedure Committee entirely unsatisfactory. It departs from the plain assurances given repeatedly to the House that we would be enabled to express a desire for alternatives when voting to reject or accept any deal.

To remind my right hon. Friend, when his predecessor, our right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), appeared in front of the Exiting the European Union Committee on 25 April, to Question 1383 from the Chair:

“Can you give an assurance that the Government’s motion on the withdrawal agreement will be amendable? Yes or no?”,

our right hon. Friend replied:

“Mr Chairman, if you can tell me how to write an unamendable motion in the House of Commons, I will take a tutorial.”

Actually, one way of reading the memorandum is that that is exactly what the Government are planning to do. I might add that the promises were repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) on 18 April in front of the Select Committee on the Constitution, and that throughout debates on the Floor of the House in June, when we were looking at unamendable motions, no one on the Treasury Bench demurred from the oft-repeated statements that the motion on the substance of the deal would be amendable.

Could my right hon. Friend please tell the House how he can reconcile those statements with the Government’s plain submission to the Procedure Committee recommending that a vote is first taken on the Government motion and before amendments are considered? What happens if Parliament approves the Government motion, but then amends it afterwards? Are the Government suggesting that they have what they need to ratify or not? Surely the issue will be no clearer if the Government adopt their method rather than the one they are criticising in the memorandum. Why, if there is a genuine problem over uncertainty, which I do understand, have the Government not suggested allowing different motions and choices to be put to the House for a view to be expressed prior to the Government motion being put? Why does that not feature in the Government’s submission at all?

My right hon. Friend knows that a lot in this House depends on trust. If I may say to him, the difficulty with the memorandum is that on one reading of it—I am glad to hear what he said at the Dispatch Box—it tends to undermine trust in the Government’s intention to honour the commitments they gave to the House.

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I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s question and his comments. Let me try to address them, if I may. He fears, if I understand correctly, that the Government are in favour of an unamendable motion, but in fact, as the memorandum he cites makes clear in paragraph 4:

“The approval…will be a substantive motion”—

that was, I think, the first point he made—

“and therefore, under existing House procedures, will be amendable.”

I hope that gives him some reassurance. It is also worth pointing out the implications that we set out in paragraph 6 of the memorandum, which was published on 10 October, which is that

“due to the legal status accorded to the motion under s. 13 of the 2018 Act,”

which I know he scrutinised very carefully,

“a clear decision on approval of the motion is needed in order for the Government to be able to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Again, I hope that that makes clear what the basic challenge is.

If I understand my right hon. and learned Friend correctly, he may wish to change the terms of the agreement that has been struck. I think that would come up against very real, practical and diplomatic obstacles. So late in the day, there would not be time to revisit the negotiation. Secondly, just from a practical, diplomatic point of view, is he really suggesting that at that point we would actually be offered different or more favourable terms? I think that that is unlikely in the extreme.

It is very important that this House is presented with a very clear decision of the most meaningful sort available, which is between the terms of the best deal that the Government can negotiate and the alternative. I hope and I am sure that that will focus minds when that point comes.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question.

May I start by saying this: I profoundly disagree with the Prime Minister on a number of issues, including Brexit, but some of the quotes and comments about the Prime Minister this weekend, attributed to Conservative MPs, Ministers or former Ministers, are nothing short of disgraceful. In a time of growing extremism, hostility and threats to those in public life, MPs should know better. The comments are, as ever, from unnamed sources. I hope the House can agree that this kind of language has no place in our politics and has to stop.

Labour has spent 18 months campaigning for a meaningful vote and for Parliament to be properly involved in the Brexit negotiations, yet at every stage the Government’s response has been to push Parliament away. We fear that this is the latest example. Labour is clear that Parliament must be able to express its view on any deal the Prime Minister brings back, yet the Secretary of State’s letter bring that into question. Of course Labour recognises that Parliament will have to approve or disapprove of any Brexit deal—it must be a decisive decision—but it is the role of Parliament, and not the Executive, to decide how that view is to be expressed.

Labour has always believed that Parliament should be able to table, debate and vote on amendments. That is consistent with paragraph 5 of the Government’s own legal advice, which makes it clear that absent a business motion being approved by the House,

“Multiple amendments may be tabled”,

the selection of amendments and the order they are taken in is

“in the hands of the Speaker”,

and that multiple amendments can be selected. I want to be clear that Labour will not support any business motion that does not meet these criteria, and I urge the Secretary of State to think again.

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I thank the shadow Brexit Secretary for his comments, and I agree with him about the need for a serious, substantive debate and for the right tone for this debate. He is right that the meaningful vote needs to be a decisive decision. We set that out in the memorandum and that is what section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 provides. As the memorandum that we have published makes clear, we expect amendments to be allowed on the motion, although again, that is an issue for you, Mr Speaker. The distinction that needs to be borne in mind is between the likely impact that any procedural amendments would have on the withdrawal agreement at the international level. The shadow Brexit Secretary is far too assiduous and astute a lawyer not to know that as a matter of basic law, they could not have an effect of altering the withdrawal agreement. Also, common sense—he will know—means that it will be highly unlikely, if not impossible, for us to refer back to the negotiating table.

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I gently say to the Secretary of State that of course he was in the Ministry of Justice, and in his ministerial role, he helped to negotiate the passage of the Bill that eventually became the Act that is the subject of this urgent question. And I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve): this is a matter of trust, and it is quite incredible for the Secretary of State to stand up and basically say that, as a former Minister who navigated the Bill through the House, they did not understand the consequences. This is a matter of trust not just in Parliament and along the Government Benches—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows that many Members were very concerned about all of this and trusted the Government that we would have a meaningful vote—but among the people of this country, and if they think there is any breach in trust, they will not forgive this Government.

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I thank my right hon. Friend. She will know, because it is set out in our memorandum—I know she scrutinises these things very carefully—that we are amenable, subject to the prerogatives of the Speaker and the House, to this being an amendable motion. She will also understand the need—this is why it is a meaningful vote of the very highest order—for there to be a clear decision that we are given on the deal we are confident we can strike with our EU partners, so that we know whether we can proceed to implement it.

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I commend the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) not only for securing the urgent question but for the forensic way in which he has completely dismantled any credibility that the Government’s position may have had. I also endorse in their entirety the comments from the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), about the appalling comments that have been directed against the Prime Minister. I disagree with the Prime Minister on a lot of things, but nobody should be issued with the kind of threats that she has been expected to cope with over the last few days.

Too much of the discussion is now about who will become the next Prime Minister. The long-term career prospects for the Prime Minister, or any of us, are infinitesimally trivial compared with what will be at stake if and when this Parliament gets a chance to do its job in a meaningful vote—that means not only a meaningful motion, but that we must be able to put forward and vote on meaningful amendments before the final decision is taken.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that meaningful amendments will be allowed and that Parliament will have the opportunity to meaningfully amend the motion before we are asked to agree the final deal? Given that we are getting hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute updates on the Government’s negotiations with a select 50 or so Members of Parliament, will he tell us when the Government intend to start seeking consensus across the 600 Members of this House who are not members of the Democratic Unionist party or the European Research Group?

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I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, as set out in the memorandum we sent to the Procedure Committee, which has been published, there will be a substantive and amendable motion. I do not think that any hon. Member, on either side of the House, would table a meaningless amendment, so I reject the premise of the question in that regard.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm that no motion of this House can overturn the two Acts of Parliament on withdrawal or the article 50 letter, which all say we are leaving on 29 March next year, and that the Government are not minded to repeal those Acts?

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My right hon. Friend is right on both counts. None the less, on the meaningful vote, the motion will be substantive and amendable, and it will be for you, Mr Speaker, to decide on the scope and acceptability of those amendments.

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Having read the Secretary of State’s memorandum to the Procedure Committee, and paragraph 13 in particular, may I point out to him that the Exiting the European Union Select Committee’s recommendation on amendments to the withdrawal agreement motion is that these be taken before the vote on the main question, not after? That is the issue. Will he take this opportunity to accept both that that is what the Select Committee recommended and that to order the vote in any other way would be unacceptable to many Members of this House?

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I always respect the views of the Select Committee Chair, but the position is set out in the memorandum. We think it the proper course to ensure both a meaningful vote to which substantive amendments can be tabled and a clear decision on the outcome.

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When did the Secretary of State and the Government get the legal advice that told them they needed this so-called clean motion first? I do not remember, and I do not think my colleagues remember, it being the subject of any discussions with Ministers or Whips in relation to section 13. When did they get it and why did he feel it appropriate to break the news to the Procedure Committee and not Members of his own party with whom he had discussions?

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We do not comment on legal advice, but obviously we took advice continually throughout the progress of the EU withdrawal Act, and the issue of section 13—the process and the need for it—and the importance of having a clear and decisive outcome to the meaningful vote, which is the surest way to make sure it is meaningful and substantive, were discussed at length during the passage of that Act.

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The Secretary of State seems to be arguing that we cannot discuss any amendments in advance simply because those amendments might not be ones the Government agree with, might not give them the legal support they want or might not agree with them that there is no alternative to their motion. I am afraid they should be making those arguments when we discuss the amendments, before we discuss the main motion, in the normal way. Anything other than that is procedural ducking and diving to avoid the real substance of the debate and to avoid a meaningful vote.

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I do not think there was a question there, but as the right hon. Lady will know, the selection of amendments and what the House can discuss is a matter for the Speaker. [Interruption.]

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Order. People can take whatever view they like, but, to be fair, the Secretary of State is always an estimably courteous individual in the Chamber, and we must hear the fella.

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Will my right hon. Friend confirm once again that the choice in the meaningful vote is clear—either to accept the Government’s proposition or to leave without a withdrawal agreement?

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My hon. Friend will know that section 13 deals at length with the procedural variations and what would need to happen in the event of Parliament not approving the deal. On the proxy debates that some hon. Members want to repeat—on the type of exit or deal we should negotiate—we have, of course, had 11 votes on single market or customs union-type variations to the Government’s negotiating mandate, and the Government in this House won each and every one.

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It is clear from what the Secretary of State has just told us that the Government are not offering the House a meaningful vote. How does it amount to Parliament taking back control if the Government are now attempting to gag our democracy by preventing MPs from being able to amend the motion first?

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I gently refer the hon. Lady to the memorandum, which makes it clear that there will be a substantive motion. It is our view that, subject to the view of Mr Speaker, there would be amendments.

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When will the Government accept that the time for negotiations is over, and the time for appeasing factions is over? The European Union has consistently offered two options, Norway and Canada. Norway does not meet the expectations of the Brexit-voting public, and Canada does not have a majority in the House. The Government’s latest attempt to prevent Parliament from having a meaningful vote is yet more evidence that the foisting of a Brexit fudge on the Commons is imminent.

In London on Saturday, three quarters of a million people recognised those realities. When will the Government do so too? When will they give the British public a meaningful vote to obtain their informed consent to whatever Brexit is on offer, or to remain in the European Union?

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It was very inventive of my hon. Friend to get that in through the back door. All I would gently say is that the basic democratic arithmetic suggests that several hundred thousand taking part in what was an impressive protest cannot trump the will of the 17 million who voted in a national referendum to leave the EU.

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I think that the Minister has gone through the looking-glass and left his dictionary behind. He seems to think that “meaningful” actually means “meaningless”, and he seems to think, in his topsy-turvy world, that it is possible to amend motions after voting on them. Why does he not get a grip, get back to the real world, and give this Parliament the meaningful vote that his Government and his colleagues promised us when they accepted that amendment?

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I do not think that the hon. Lady was right in either of her key points. The memorandum that we published sets out very clearly that there will be a substantive motion. It will be, in our view, subject to amendments. What we cannot have is a vote that renders meaningless the outcome of the referendum.

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There has been much reference to the Procedure Committee, of which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is of course a distinguished ornament.

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The evidence given to the Procedure Committee last week was very clear. If there is no deal under section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, there will be a vote on a neutral motion. If there is a deal, there must be a meaningful vote under section 13(1). That motion is amendable, and amendments must be taken first, unless the Government produce their own business statement, and there has to be a vote on it. That is the procedure.

The important point to understand, however, is that deal or no deal, meaningful vote passed or not, can only affect the deal; it cannot affect the outcome of Brexit, because that is in statute. Only the Government can introduce legislation, so only the Government can stop Brexit on 29 March. Will the Secretary of State therefore give an unequivocal declaration to the House that in no circumstances—deal or no deal, deal rejected by the House or accepted—will Brexit not proceed on 29 March?

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The Government are absolutely committed to giving effect to the referendum and leaving the EU in March next year.

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The Government only agreed to a meaningful vote on the final deal to avoid a parliamentary mutiny from their own side during the passage of the withdrawal Act. The Secretary of State knows that there is no majority in this place for a no-deal Brexit, but that, by implication, is what he is offering in his memorandum. When will he change his mind—or will there have to be another case in the Supreme Court?

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It is not our intention to go for no deal. We have been working tirelessly, and we continue to work, through the October Council and into November, to get the very best deal for the country. We have made clear that we could deal with a no deal scenario, but it is a sub-optimal outcome. What we want to do is get the best deal that works for the EU and the United Kingdom—for all quarters of the country.

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Come off it, Secretary of State. If a motion is amendable but not in a meaningful way, it is not a meaningful vote, and this House will not take it.

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All I would gently say to my hon. Friend is that there is nothing meaningless about this vote. It would be one of the most ground-breaking decisions that the House has had to make for a generation: the decision on whether or not to accept a deal negotiated by the Government with the EU that works for all parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that at that point we would have some consensus in the House on a decision to accept the deal and move forward to the implementing legislation.

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Let us cut to the chase. The Government have tried to gag Parliament at every turn in this process. Now they have a choice. The position that the Secretary of State is trying to take is, essentially, that it is no deal versus the deal that the Government have. That is not politically, constitutionally or morally sound. Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), will the Secretary of State tell us whether he took legal advice, when he took it, and who commissioned it? Was it him?

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I have not commissioned any specific, bespoke legal advice on the point the hon. Gentleman raises, but we have been informed right the way through about the implications. Section 13 of the withdrawal Act was informed by legal advice not just from Government lawyers, but from all the lawyers across the House. It was scrutinised very carefully and at length in Committee, and it will give effect to what the House voted through in the Act.

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As I understand it, all votes in this House are meaningful—that is my first point. My second point is that the Act states that the House will vote on whether or not the withdrawal agreement should stand. I might be voting against that agreement, but it will be the meaningful vote. Amendments would then follow, if that motion was lost.

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Subsections (4) to (6) of section 13 set out the process, which includes the Government coming back to Parliament in a no deal scenario—it is all set out very clearly in the legislation and amplified in the memorandum that we have provided to the Committee.

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Why does the Secretary of State not just confess that he has been caught red-handed trying to stitch up Parliament, again? It is the same as the way the Government would not publish papers or share the impact assessments. They tried to grab Henry VIII powers at every possible twist and turn. They certainly will not let the public have a final say. Now he is trying to fix the arrangements so that we have amendments coming after a motion. He knows that the meaningful vote is in the legislation—it is the law. It is Parliament that decided that, and we fought very hard for that outcome. He should not undermine or recant on that when it is MPs’ duty to have that meaningful vote.

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MPs will have their say in the meaningful vote. They have scrutinised at length every stage of the Brexit process. Of course, it is not for the Government or any Minister to set out which amendments are allowed; that will be for Mr Speaker to decide. We have made it clear that we not only accept but welcome the fact that we will have a substantive motion, and of course that means it should be amendable.

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Once the Brexit deal has been secured, how long will it be before we move on to the meaningful vote, keeping in mind that Select Committees, for instance, will want to look at the terms of the deal in order to advise other hon. Members?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. We obviously want to bring forward the meaningful vote expeditiously, because that will give us proper time for scrutiny of all the legislation, but there must be time for the relevant Select Committees, and indeed every hon. Member of the House, to scrutinise it carefully. We are a little dependent on the time it takes us to negotiate the deal, but I will certainly bear in mind the important point he has made.

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The reality is that the Government promised the House a meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement, and now they are trying to backtrack and say that it is take it or leave it, in an attempt to bully MPs into accepting whatever they manage to cobble together. The Secretary of State’s predecessor said:

“Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons it will be for the Speaker to determine whether a motion…is or is not amendable.”—[Official Report, 21 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 13W.]

Can he confirm that it is also for the Speaker to determine the order of those motions, and the order of any amendments? If he does not think that is the case, will he publish the legal advice that says to the contrary?

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It is not for Ministers to determine the ambit, remit or scope of the prerogatives of the Speaker or this House, although we will of course respect them.

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The Brexit Secretary has said that he needs the negotiations to be finished by the end of November. If he reaches that target, will the House vote on deal or no deal before or after Christmas?

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My remarks were just reflecting the practical challenges, on both sides, for example in implementing legislation in the UK, but obviously there is a degree of flexibility to ensure that we have a meaningful vote and that there is as much time for legislative scrutiny and that the right balance is struck.

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Order. I will call a very small number of Members now, but colleagues will also have an opportunity to question the Prime Minister, who is always very committed to the House.

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What does the Secretary of State think the consequences would be if a majority in this House opposed the deal, opposed no deal and perhaps in those circumstances even supported a people’s vote if the Government tried to thwart the will of this House being expressed and implemented?

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We do not support a second referendum.

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In December last year this House voted for a meaningful vote on the final deal, and we have subsequently, and again today, been reassured that any amendments to the motion on the subject of the deal will be a matter for the Speaker. Indeed, just last week the Prime Minister replied to me that in the case of no deal, the matter would come back to this House for us to agree on next steps. Why is the Secretary of State now undoing all those good assurances by suggesting that Parliament will have only a token role in all this? Does he not accept that this is a serious breach of trust? I ask again why he sought to communicate this change to the Procedure Committee before the MPs in this House.

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There is nothing tokenistic about the meaningful vote set out under section 13, which will be on the deal that we do with the European Union—good for the UK and good for the EU—or the alternative, which is to leave the EU without that deal. The procedure that my hon. Friend refers to is clearly spelled out in section 13. The memorandum to which she referred was not somehow snuck out; it was given at the request of the Procedure Committee and made public so that every hon. Member could see it.

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A number of parliamentarians are trying to establish whether article 50 can be unilaterally revoked. The Court of Justice of the European Union will hear that question on 27 November. If it says that article 50 can be revoked, does the Secretary of State accept that it would be open to this House to amend the Government’s motion, ordaining them to take whatever action is necessary to revoke article 50 and get us out of this unholy mess?

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The Government have no intention of supporting a second referendum or the revocation of article 50.

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For the sake of absolute clarity, will the Secretary of State confirm either that the motion described in section 13 is neutral or that Standing Orders could be disapplied?

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The technical answer to my hon. Friend’s question is set out at some length in the memorandum, but if there is any doubt about it, he can write to me and I would be happy to give him further clarification.

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The Institute for Government recommends that we have at least five days to discuss the deal that the Government reach with the EU. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that we will have at least five days for those debates?

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We will have as much time as we possibly can, but the hon. Lady will know that this will in part be predicated on the time it takes to close the deal. We are confident that the remaining obstacles are narrowing and that we can get a good deal, but this will be at least partly determined by the length of time it takes to secure the end of the negotiations, and that depends on the EU as well.

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You do not need to be a procedural junkie or one of the many historians in this House to know that here, we vote on the amendments first. Can the Secretary of State give us any example at all of the House voting on the amendments second?

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The simple answer is that I am not sure, but I can tell the hon. Lady that we will have a substantive motion and that it will be subject to amendments, which will be for the Speaker to decide on.

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The Secretary of State’s memorandum justifies the ordering involving the substantive motion coming first, which is highly unusual, on the basis of Standing Order No. 31, which relates to Opposition day motions. On what planet could this motion be described as an Opposition day motion?

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