House of Commons
Thursday 6 June 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I call Vicky Ford—not here.
The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, including ambitious global action to tackle climate change, and this will continue. We are exploring all options in the design of future trade policy, including how to tackle climate change. We are working to realise the potential for low-carbon exports from the UK and supporting UK jobs.
While the Department for International Development has a clear strategy for promoting low-carbon development in low-income countries, fossil fuels made up a shocking 99.4% of UK Export Finance’s energy support to low and middle-income countries in the last financial year. Does the Secretary of State agree with the International Development Committee’s finding that his Department’s spending is
“damaging the coherence of the Government’s approach to combating climate change”,
and what steps has he taken to ensure a more joined-up approach among his Cabinet colleagues?
The UK has an enviable record of success in decarbonisation. A target will be agreed of 80% of reduction by 2050; renewable capacity is up four times since 2010; and there will be £10 billion in annual support by 2021. Expertise is being built in offshore, smart energy, sustainable construction, precision agriculture, green finance, electric vehicles and so on. As I travel around the world, I meet many representatives from developing countries who are interested in all these technologies. Our trade policy is focused absolutely on ensuring that our exporters are set up to spread this green technology around the world. UKEF will play its part in funding this global revolution. In the short term, I have no doubt that some fossil fuel investments will be made, but as we progress that will transform into low-carbon development.
The Secretary of State has previously stated that
“poverty reduction objectives are deemed to outweigh the impact on climate change.”
However, his colleague the Secretary of State for International Development has previously stated that unless we tackle climate change with the urgency it requires “100 million more people” will be thrown “into poverty”. Can the Minister confirm who is correct and what the Government position actually is?
Certainly from the Department for International Trade point of view, our job is to promote international trade. We are out there making sure that the deals we do internationally suit those countries with which we do them. We are bringing in the unilateral preferences that are transitioning across from a European perspective. We are confident that the backing we can give developing countries is suitable for their circumstances, and allows them to participate in world trade and so bring their people out of poverty.
I think we are spending £1.5 billion in the current period on climate change for less-developed nations, and the same amount—£1.5 billion—on promoting economic development and trade, so there is some synergy for us to work with, is there not?
There absolutely is. As we grow our capacity in this country, we have more capability of exporting and, indeed, advising others on climate change. Yes, we can work in countries on poverty reduction at the same time as promoting energy sustainability.
Will the Minister say a bit more in relation to climate change and trade policy, particularly vis-à-vis the US, because the President of the United States has said:
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”?
The recent chapters in CETA— the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement—and the EU agreements with Japan, Singapore and Vietnam include quite clear climate change commitments. We are of course signatories to the Paris agreement. I recognise that the President of the United States has said it is going to withdraw from that; it has currently not done so. Where it is possible to have chapters in our free trade agreements on climate change and on our climate change policies, we will do so; where not, we have to understand that we can open doors to dialogue through those trade deals. Indeed, we can then create flows of exports on untariffed sales at more favourable rates into those economies and help the transition, even in more developed countries where it is difficult to negotiate such chapters in our FTAs.
May I congratulate the Government on their policies and on what they are doing on the way forward? We should set an example to the rest of the world when it comes to global policies on how we trade. The recent election results have proven that there is a wish among all parties for that to happen, so we need to set an example. What has been done with the regional Administrations to ensure that Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England work together to set that example?
As the hon. Gentleman knows well, the UK has extensive funding for climate change mitigation and for sustainability. I would simply say to him that, as and when we manage to reinstitute the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland, we can have discussions between the DIT and other parts of the UK Government to ensure that those issues are taken forward.
The Secretary of State’s damascene conversion to addressing the climate emergency is welcome, but, as we have heard, some of those with whom he wishes to conclude trade agreements are less enlightened. Given what he has just said, will the Minister commit to introducing climate clauses to all future trade agreements? Will he publish specific details of the support his Department offers the fossil fuel sector through export finance, and say how that support conforms with the Equator Principles?
As I have said, we will consider each and every FTA on its own merits, and in certain circumstances we may find partners who are not prepared to put those sorts of clauses in an FTA. On balance, however, we will look at the advantage to exporters of low-carbon products, and ensure that as and when we proceed with those agreements—if we decide to do so—we facilitate the export of low-carbon products so that economies represented by Governments who do not wish to include an FTA clause on the environment can benefit from the transition that lower input costs produce. I have already made clear the Government’s position on publishing the output of UKEF. There will be an element of carbon-based energy generation in UKEF’s mix in the short term. The UK has huge and growing expertise that will no doubt come to the forefront of UKEF financing in due course, as that transition happens.
UK-Israel Medical Research and Development
Before I answer that question, on the 75th anniversary of D-day it is worth our reflecting that we in this House are able to ask and answer questions in a free and democratic Parliament because of the sacrifices made by those who went before us.
Our dedicated team at the UK embassy in Tel Aviv actively promotes UK-Israel trade, and there is extensive collaboration on medical research between the UK and Israel. The UK-Israel Tech Hub, which is based at the embassy, helps to create tech and innovation partnerships across several sectors, including healthcare.
That is very good to hear. My right hon. Friend knows the state of Israeli technology—for example, all our chips, including the Intel fifth, sixth and seventh core chips, are developed in Israel for Intel in America. Magen David Adom, the equivalent of the Israeli Red Cross, has an app that provides live streaming, medical history and the location of people who use it, and that sort of innovation could be of great benefit to the UK. When we leave the European Union, what will be the advantages of doing business with Israel for both our nations?
There are huge advantages to our collaboration in or outside the European Union. To enable us to shine a light on the excellence that my hon. Friend mentions, on my recent trip to Israel I agreed with Prime Minister Netanyahu that we will jointly sponsor a Government high-level trade and investment conference that will enable us to show the world the best of what both countries have to offer in the sector mentioned by my hon. Friend.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on mentioning D-day. My father served in the Royal Engineers throughout the war, and my thoughts are of him and our brave troops today.
The Secretary of State is right to say that global trade can take place only in conditions of peace. Will he back the small group of MPs from across the House who are trying to create close relationships between university research in the UK and university research in Israel?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He is right—where we are able to take advantage of the innovation coming out of universities, we should make every attempt to do so. One reason that international investors give for putting money into the United Kingdom is the access to high-quality innovation that comes from the collaboration between industry and academia. Where we can take full advantage of that, including with bilateral relations elsewhere, we should do so.
The Secretary of State has already mentioned the UK-Israel Tech Hub, which is the first of its kind and has already generated business of £85 million. How does he see that developing over the coming years?
I see it going from strength to strength, and as greater investment goes into both economies we will be able to scale up the innovation and creativity that is clearly shown in the tech sector. That will be of benefit not only to our two countries, but to the wider global economy.
I wish to associate myself fully with the Secretary of State’s remarks and pay tribute to the sacrifices of the fallen.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of Israel’s participation in the agreement on pan-Euro-Mediterranean cumulation on the trade in medical products between the UK and the EU? What progress have the Government made in replicating other agreements between the EU and Israel, including the 2013 EU-Israel agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products?
As the hon. Lady is aware, we reached a continuity agreement with Israel on 19 February, which will come into effect as we leave the European Union. The conformity assessment element of that is very important because of the number of generic prescriptions that the NHS takes advantage of that are produced by Israeli pharmaceutical companies. We will want to see as much continuity in all those arrangements as possible.
Global Free Trade
Free trade is a driver of economic growth that can trigger positive changes in a country’s economy, helping to raise incomes, create jobs and lift people out of poverty. The poorest countries have enjoyed some of the benefits of global free trade through receiving preferential access to the UK, the world’s fifth-biggest market.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. However, the risk of protectionism is growing and that threatens both free trade and the millions of jobs in developing countries that come with it. May I therefore urge the Secretary of State and his colleagues actively to oppose protectionism, particularly at the WTO and indeed when expressed in this Chamber, so that we can ensure that more of the world’s poorer citizens benefit by trading themselves out of poverty?
Those countries that have benefited from free and open trade, and enjoy the prosperity that we do today, have not only a duty economically to ensure the best outcomes but a moral duty to ensure that those in developing countries are able to benefit from the same trading systems that we have. Simply to say that we are more advanced and are pulling up the ladder behind us would be a betrayal of all those who have believed in free trade and practised it in recent years.
Does the Secretary of State agree that if it is going to end poverty, free trade also has to be fair trade? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that trade deals, whether through the WTO, the European Union or bilaterally, are checked against the sustainable development goals to make sure that they are poverty and development-proofed?
The Government take those elements extremely seriously, which is why we actually seek a closer alignment between our trade and development policies. For example, we are able to invest in countries to give them greater capability to add value to their primary produce, while at the same time potentially being able to take advantage of tariff reduction to increase market access. By bringing the two together, that can be synergistic for this country and for developing countries.
A notable Northamptonshire contest. I call Mr Peter Bone.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does the Secretary of State agree that the European Union is an inward-looking protectionist trading bloc that acts to the detriment of developing countries?
I certainly believe that the European Union’s common external tariff provides barriers to trade for many developing countries, so they are unable to take advantage of adding value to their primary produce. One of the advantages of leaving the European Union will be that Britain will have the ability to reduce tariffs to enable greater access for some of the poorest countries.
So that’s a yes?
We’ll take it as a yes.
G20 Trade Ministers Meeting
At the upcoming G20 trade and digital economy ministerial meeting I will voice the UK’s continued support for the multilateral trading system. I will work with other G20 members to reduce trade tensions, support WTO reform, and advocate for new rules on e-commerce and services trade liberalisation.
Relations with Japan matter enormously. Our termination of the Anglo-Japanese treaty 1923 was probably one of the worst geo-strategic mistakes we ever made, propelling that country into autarchy and nationalism. Will the Secretary of State confirm that post Brexit my right hon. Friend’s priority will be to ensure a global free trade world, with us and Japan leading the way?
It is absolutely essential, particularly given the rise of protectionism globally, that we commit ourselves to a rules-based system based on the WTO. Of course, we have abilities to augment that by other regional relationships, which is why we have had the public consultation and the debate in Parliament about the potential accession to the CPTPP—the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Japanese Government have been key in encouraging the United Kingdom to seek such a membership.
Oh, very well.
Seventy per cent. of the world’s poorest people live not in the poorest countries but in the middle-income countries, and the G20 has a vital role to encourage these people to work their way out of poverty through encouraging free trade. Does the Secretary of State agree?
I do agree, but if the G20 countries are intent on doing so, they need to reverse the recent trend of increasing non-tariff barriers to trade. The largest number of new barriers to trade introduced since the financial crisis have been in G20 countries, so they do not simply have to do the preaching; they have to do the practising, too.
International Education Strategy
Few do more than my hon. Friend to promote UK education. Since the strategy launch in March, we have established a cross-Government implementation group to turn the strategy’s ambitions into reality, including raising exports to £35 billion by 2030 and lifting student numbers coming here to 600,000. We will appoint an international education champion, and I will chair the education sector advisory group later this month as we build on our plans to deliver the strategy in partnership with the sector.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend will be very busy on that project in the coming weeks. What steps are being taken by his Department to ensure that UK institutions, such as the excellent universities in Manchester, can promote their strong educational brands as world-class centres of teaching and research?
My hon. Friend is right: the UK education sector is world leading. It has four of the top 10 universities in the world and 18 of the top 100. Institutions such as the universities in Manchester stand out for their multicultural campuses and international collaborations, driving global research into important areas such as childhood leukaemia. We plan to work with them and others in the sector to promote it across the world.
Inward Foreign Direct Investment
On almost every measure, the UK has strengthened its position as the most attractive investment destination in Europe since the EU referendum. According to “The fDi Report 2019”, published last month on 3 May, last year saw in-year greenfield investment in the UK grow by 19% to 1,278 projects—more, notably, than France and Germany combined. Despite the slowdown in the world economy, the latest figures show that the total stock of FDI in the UK reached a new high of £1.5 trillion, more than Germany, Poland and Spain combined.
I thank the Minister for that extremely positive and encouraging reply. Is he aware that much of King’s Lynn and west Norfolk’s economy is based on foreign direct investment from a number of firms from America and Europe and that we have some subsidiaries of truly world-class companies? What is his Department doing to liaise with those firms and learn the lessons about why they made that successful decision to come to the UK and Norfolk, in particular?
We have a supplier relationship management programme, where we have built relationships at ministerial and senior official level with the largest investors into the UK. It is notable that in 2017-18, the 2,072 FDI projects that landed in the UK created 75,968 new jobs. Investors are not put off by Brexit, but they are deterred by the threat of nationalisation by the Labour party. It is the fear that job creators most often express to me, which goes to show that Labour does not even need to be in power to damage British jobs and living standards. The threat of Labour is enough.
My father, David Thomas Morgan Davies, was head of economic development at the Welsh Office and got Ford to move to Bridgend in the ’70s, yet this week we find that it is announcing its closure at a time when Donald Trump is saying that we are going to have a great trade deal. Does the Minister agree that the people working in Ford who voted in good faith to leave the EU did not vote to leave their jobs and deserve a say on the final deal, so that they can think again and stay in the EU instead of losing their jobs and being decimated by the Americans?
The hon. Gentleman again wants to frustrate the will of his constituents. The automotive industry is in massive global flux, and trying to link every decision to Brexit leads people astray, just as he and so many of his colleagues do as they come up with these false arguments for a second referendum. The people want the thing they decided to be done and they do not want to hear weasel words from the Labour party, trying to say the opposite.
The export strategy sets out how the Government will encourage, inform, connect and finance UK businesses so that they can take advantage of the international demand for British goods and services. In February we launched the new export champion community, a network of the UK’s leading exporters which will encourage their fellow firms to start exporting and will offer practical advice.
I am thinking very much of the workers at Ford this morning, because my first job was as a foreman at Ford in Bridgend. I hope that a way through can be found.
When it comes to informing and connecting, the Department needs people on the ground, but its budget in Africa, where I am one of the trade envoys, is very small. It has excellent people, but not nearly enough of them. What is the Minister doing to persuade the Treasury to invest more in “feet on the ground” for our trade missions in Africa and across the world?
One of this Administration’s successes is the establishment of the Department for International Trade. For the first time, we have a dedicated, focused international economic Department that seeks to build our global prosperity. Africa, which is expected to double its GDP between 2015 and 2030 and whose population will nearly double in the not too distant future, is an area in which we need to up our engagement. That is why we are organising an African uplift this year, and we will continue to do more.
Implementing the export strategy also requires us to implement the cyber-security export strategy, which relies heavily on UK Export Finance for direct lending, export refinancing and so on. If cyber-security exports are a genuine strategic priority, what proportion of UK export financing will be committed to its support?
UK Export Finance responds to the market. It is there to ensure that no viable British export fails for lack of finance. Therefore, predicting, let alone fixing, the percentage that will be put into any particular sector—even if it is a strategic priority for the Government —would, I think, be a mistake.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy, and export promotion.
Let me take a moment to thank Baroness Fairhead for all her hard work during her time as the Minister for export promotion. She has been an invaluable member of my team: diligent, intelligent and 100% committed, and she will be sorely missed.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on women and enterprise. We are about to publish our first report, which draws attention to the huge potential for encouraging more female-owned businesses to export. What support can the Government give in that regard, particularly by identifying market-ready opportunities abroad for our female entrepreneurs?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he does in this area. The Government’s export strategy is about breaking down barriers so that everyone can benefit from trade opportunities, but that includes understanding the distinct barriers faced by women. We will ensure that our independent policy is gender-responsive, and will actively seek to increase the role of women in trade and support female exporters in particular.
Today we remember with profound respect the importance of the multilateral alliance, and the sacrifices made 75 years ago today. Did the Secretary of State take the opportunity of the recent state visit involving those commemorations to express his dismay that UK companies might now fall foul of the Helms-Burton Act, which would subject British businesses and investors to unfair legal challenge in the United States simply because that country has a dispute with the people with whom our companies are doing business?
The extraterritorial jurisdiction that the US claims under the Act was declared unenforceable by the EU under a Council regulation which we have recently replicated in the UK, but does it not send a chill through the Secretary of State that by deciding to activate Title III, the US President is threatening companies based outside the US which are simply going about their legitimate business? Does that not make the Secretary of State question whether the great deal that President Trump says he is already discussing with the UK would be great for the UK, or just for the US?
I agree that there are issues around the whole concept of extra-territorial rules on trade, which is why of course it is fundamental that we get a strengthening of the rules-based system at the WTO in Geneva. That will help us deal with some of those issues, but where the United Kingdom believes we have a unique role to play—for example in upholding the joint comprehensive plan of action—we will continue to do so, and we will resist any attempts to force UK trading entities to behave in a way that we do not believe is legal.
I am delighted to answer that question again. Our team in the north-west works with international trade advisers and partners across Greater Manchester to enable local exporters to showcase their products and services overseas, including through bespoke trade missions, events and the DIT digital platform. I welcome my hon. Friend’s invitation. We have an established export hub that travels the length and breadth of the UK to give face-to-face support and guidance to first-time exporters. I will ask our team to contact my hon. Friend’s office to explore areas of collaboration and I encourage colleagues from across the House to invite the export hub to their area.
Of course post-EU it will be the Government and this Parliament that will determine what trade arrangements we have, not the European Union. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s passionate defence of the NHS: I trained and worked in the NHS as a doctor. Under this Government the NHS will not be for sale, and I would hope that is something we can agree across the House.
What steps are being taken to champion the rules-based system in emerging economies such as Tunisia?
The whole issue of the WTO will be at the centre of what we discuss at the G20. The alternative to a rules-based system is a deals-based system, which would suit only the very biggest and most powerful economies, and we would lose the potential to use trade as a means of getting countries out of poverty. The rules-based system is necessary because it applies to everyone—the richest and the poorest, the strongest and the weakest—and we must give every defence to it that we can.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend from Yorkshire who is right to highlight the outstanding contribution from the team in Barnsley. I will leave it to other Departments and Ministers to reply on whether or not a Yorkshire mayor would be the right thing to have, but what I can say is that we will continue to work together cross-party to promote business and employment across the Humber and Yorkshire region.
For the benefit of my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to knock on the head this nonsense that the NHS will be up for sale in any future free trade agreement?
I am tempted to say “I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.” Let me be very clear for the benefit exclusively of his constituents that the NHS is not, and will not be, for sale.
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Trade with Iceland is of particular importance to my constituency and the ports of Immingham and neighbouring Grimsby. What progress is being made to develop our trading links and investment with Iceland?
I visited Iceland just a couple of weeks ago and had constructive discussions with my counterpart there and with a range of businesses. We have already signed the continuity agreement, which I know will be of enormous benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituency and provide a great deal of comfort to those involved in those industries.
In Blaenau Gwent, we have been working with Fujitsu to encourage our young people to go into cyber-security, but I have learned that there is a real shortage of cyber-security specialists here in the UK. What support can the Government give to training in this key sector so that we can boost our exports for the future?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The value of UK cyber-security exports is set to rise from about £1.8 billion at the moment to £3.2 billion by 2022, and 800 companies are currently involved in the sector. He is right to say that one of the elements we will need to provide is the appropriate education, coming from the sector, to give people the appropriate skills as well as in-house training. The Government, through their wider agenda—the skills agenda, the apprenticeship scheme and what we are doing in the Department—are well aware of the point that he has raised. Without the skills, we will be unable to take advantage of the tech and knowledge that we have.
The Secretary of State was asked—
There should be no distinction at all between work that we do—
Order. I believe the Secretary of State is going to group this question with question 3.
Indeed, Mr Speaker. Thank you very much.
There should be no distinction at all between the work that we do on international development and the work that we do on climate and the emergency. We face a climate cataclysm, and if we get this wrong, 100 million more people will be in poverty. I would therefore like, as Secretary of State for International Development, to double the amount that our Department spends within our budget on climate and the environment, and to double the effort that the Department puts into that issue.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box in his new Cabinet role, and I warmly welcome his clear and genuine commitment to tackling the climate emergency. Does he accept, however, that there is a contradiction between the excellent work that his Department does in helping to mitigate and adapt to the climate emergency in developing countries and the way in which, through UK Export Finance, we continue to subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of billions of pounds? Will he use his leadership in Government, in whatever form, to ensure that he pushes to stop those fossil fuel subsidies?
This is of course a very serious challenge. That is fundamentally an issue for the Department for International Trade, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that it is extremely important, when we think about an environment and climate strategy for the Government, to be fully joined up, particularly in relation not only to what the DIT does but to what we do through the Commonwealth and through CDC’s investments to ensure that they tie in with our climate and environment priorities.
The $100 billion climate finance commitment made by developed countries including the UK is separate from the international aid commitment, as climate finance is an additional challenge to development, yet the UK’s climate finance currently comes entirely from the aid budget, displacing spending on health, education and life-saving needs. The Minister has just explained that this will come from existing funds, so how are the Government exploring alternative sources of climate finance to take the pressure off the aid budget?
There is a range of climate finance initiatives that we could pursue, including green bonds here in the United Kingdom, but fundamentally, all the investments we make in health, education and economic development need to be proofed for the environment and climate. The distinction between these two things is often deeply misleading because, as the World Bank has just pointed out, if we do not get the climate and environment right, we will have 100 million more people living in poverty.
The United Nations framework for combating climate change has three pillars: mitigation; adaptation; and loss and damage. Does the Secretary of State agree with the United Nations framework convention on climate change that loss and damage to property is a huge consequence of climate change? If so, why do the UK Government allocate official development assistance spending only to mitigation and adaptation?
These are difficult choices that we have to make. We are currently leading in the United Nations on the resilience pillar. It is very important, and I think everybody in this House—indeed, in the country—would want to ensure that the next COP summit is hosted in London next year, so that we can take on the baton from Paris; but in order to do that we need to show a distinctive contribution. It is in resilience that we shall be leading the UN discussions, both in Abu Dhabi and then in the UN in September. I think that is where the UK should position itself.
Foreign National Offenders
The UK aid budget is already building the capacity of security and justice institutions in developing countries. That includes support for improved prison conditions, which can facilitate the return of foreign national offenders. Since 2010, we have removed more than 48,000 FNOs from the UK, with over 5,000 removed in 2018-19.
We spend almost £1 billion a year on incarcerating more than 9,000 foreign national offenders in our prisons, many from developing countries to which we already give international assistance. Given that it is far cheaper to build a prison to requisite standards in those countries than here, does it not make sense to use our international aid budget to send these people home, using the funds from the Department for International Development?
I am advised that the Minister of State has just been elevated to the Privy Council. I congratulate him on that and wish him well, and I am sure the House will want to join me in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) knows very well that official development assistance is dispersible only in accordance with the rules set out by the OECD. There is a good argument for building prisons, in order to remove prisoners from the UK. However, ODA funds could not be used for such a purpose, since the primary intention of ODA funds is to render assistance. I would suggest very strongly that my hon. Friend speaks to our right hon. and hon. colleagues in the Home Office and the Department of Justice.
That is quite a helpful answer. Supporting the justice systems in developing countries is hugely important, but we should not make any move towards the notion of tied aid or a quid pro quo, such as was suggested in the substantive question; that would be worrying. Will the Minister make it clear that that is not a policy of the Department for International Development?
It is not a question of that not being a DFID policy; such a thing would be proscribed by the OECD and its development advisory committee. The proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering has merit, but it would not be proper for international development funds to be used for such a thing, and if we did so, it would not count towards the 0.7% to which we are committed.
When I was in the Minister’s position, I refused Foreign Office requests—indeed, instructions—to build a prison on Pitcairn to accommodate one prisoner. Will he assure me that he will not cave in?
I think I can reassure my right hon. Friend that I will in no way be caving in.
Our strategic vision for gender equality focuses on ending violence against women and girls, on girls’ education, on promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and on women’s empowerment.
It is vital that girls in developing countries have access to high-quality education, so what progress is the Department making to help ensure that happens?
I am so pleased that my hon. Friend can support the “12 years of quality education” campaign that we are leading around the world, together with France and Canada. It is an incredibly important part of development, because evidence suggests that for every year that a girl spends in school, her lifetime earnings increase by 10%. Hon. Members can see how powerful that is in terms of prosperity for our world.
The Women Deliver conference heard this week from Sawsan Al Refai, a Yemeni development researcher and activist, who said:
“It is important for Yemeni women to be at the table, but we need to make sure Yemeni women’s issues are at the table too.”
What is the Minister doing to achieve that?
I am pleased to say that my ministerial colleague Baroness Sugg has been at that conference in Vancouver this week. The hon. Lady highlights a very important issue, because the evidence and the research that we have done suggests that involving women in peace processes very significantly increases the chances of their being successful and sustainable.
Does the Minister agree that if we want to make women more equal worldwide, we have to free them from poverty? And does she agree that a road death or serious injury can plunge a family into long-term poverty? Does she agree that we must act now to stop this greatest epidemic of our times, which kills more women and children worldwide?
May I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s tireless work on road safety around the world? He and I have met to discuss this issue, which is one of the biggest killers around the world. Of course, it is a killer of women and girls as well, and often of girls on their way to school. We are thinking about how we can best make sure that, where there is a need to develop growth—where the World Bank is providing finance, for example—the road safety elements are taken into account from the beginning.
In its latest annual review, the CDC claims that, of the jobs it supports, only 32% are for women and 68% are for men. Does the Minister agree it is not acceptable that over twice as many men are being supported with jobs via these investments. Given her Department’s commitment to gender equality, will she take this up directly with the CDC?
We should rightly recognise the important work that the CDC does in creating these jobs in the first place. This is a vital way in which the UK can be one of the significant investors in some of the poorest and most difficult to reach economies in the world. The equality that we are almost beginning to enjoy here in our workplace has not yet reached many of these developing countries. The hon. Lady raises a sensible and valid point that I will be happy to take up.
As China and other developing countries have proved so much over the last decades, the real key to unlocking people’s potential and eliminating poverty is, of course, through economic development, and trade is central to that. The great benefit of trade, and of free trade in particular, is that it unlocks the potential not just for consumers and businesses in developing countries but for countries such as our own, too. That is why our programmes in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and, more recently, Jordan are heavily focused on trade.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of local companies in Southend are very keen to be involved in trade and development, including Borough plating and Jota Aviation? Does he see any further business opportunities once we have left the European Union?
First, I pay tribute to those businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is incredibly important that, through every bit of Government policy, we support small and medium-sized enterprises in Britain. There is huge potential around the world. I would just warn, however, when people start talking about a no-deal Brexit, that we need to be very careful in specifying what kind of tariff levels people are talking about and with whom they are negotiating, because certainly farmers in my constituency, the automotive sector and the aviation sector will suffer terribly if we end up with the wrong arrangements.
On that point, we know that Donald Trump favours a no-deal Brexit so that we turn our back on the EU market and sit at his feet—the American economy is seven times our size. We know that Donald Trump does not agree with climate change, but will the Secretary of State ensure that we focus on investing in renewable technologies via overseas development, rather than continuing to subsidise fossil fuels through export credit guarantees, so that we can build a sustainable world together?
This is a very big challenge. There is huge potential for the British economy and, of course, for the world and the climate emergency in getting involved in new technologies. To take one example, I would very much like to put considerably more money from DFID into research and development in renewable technologies at British universities. If we can develop the next generation of solar film—light spectrum technology —it can convince China not to build the next generation of coal-fired stations. That will make a huge difference to the climate and the world, but also to British research.
Will the Secretary of State set out for the House why the customs union is the wrong policy choice when it comes to lifting people out of poverty in the developing world through free trade?
I strongly disagree; I think it is incredibly important that we have zero-tariff, zero-quota access to European markets, to defend the future of the British economy. We are talking about the climate, which is central to this Department. If Europe needs 300 million electric cars over the next few decades, I would like them to be manufactured in the United Kingdom. We have huge potential in battery technology; we can make the planet a better place; and we can create great jobs for British businesses, and the way to do that is to have the access to those markets.
Civil Society: Lesotho
There are strong links between the UK and civil society in Lesotho. Our support for civil society includes the volunteering for development programme, through which we are working in Lesotho to support young people’s rights, and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
First, may I thank the Minister for the recent meeting we had on the subject of Lesotho and thank the Government for restoring the high commissioner in Lesotho? Will she work with the high commissioner to build links with civil society in Lesotho, because of the difficulties that exist in terms of the Lesotho Government and corruption? Massive links between Wales and Lesotho have been built up over many years, and we want to help the good people of Lesotho to improve their lives and not be impeded by payments to Ministers in Lesotho, which are causing massive problems.
Let me put on record our appreciation of the strong links that exist not only, as the hon. Gentleman says, between Wales and Lesotho, but between Wrexham and Lesotho, and of his commitment to them. He is right to welcome the fact that our new high commissioner, Anne Macro, whom I know he has had the opportunity to meet, has now presented her credentials to the Lesotho Government. This will provide an opportunity for those strengthened links with not only the Government but civil society in Lesotho.
At the same time as we were to reopen the new high commission in Maseru, an announcement was made about Eswatini. Will the Minister update the House on the progress being made on the high commission in Eswatini?
I am pleased to tell the House that the progress is on track. Although we are not quite ready to announce the name of the high commissioner in Eswatini, I believe someone has been identified for the post. So good progress is being made, and I am encouraging our Foreign Secretary to go to southern Africa to open these two new high commissions later this year.
Antimicrobial resistance is a major global health threat and tackling it is a UK priority. DFID works alongside the Department of Health and Social Care and other Departments to support research on and development of new antimicrobials and diagnostic tools and to reduce the need for antimicrobials by preventing infection and enabling prompt diagnosis and treatment.
The O’Neill review makes the case that high-income countries should help low-income countries do important mitigation works in this area, with one example being reducing pollution from pharmaceutical production facilities that give rise to superbugs, which can travel round the world, including to the UK. Will my right hon. Friend outline the work we are carrying out in this area?
Yes, but before doing so, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work and interest in this area. He may be familiar with this, but I would like to draw his attention to the Access to Medicine Foundation, which is jointly funded by DFID, the Dutch Government and the Gates Foundation. It focuses on low-income and middle-income countries, and I particularly draw his attention to its antimicrobial resistance benchmark of 30 pharmaceutical companies, which prompts the pharmaceutical industry to do much more to bring AMR under control, including by reducing pharmaceutical pollution from the undertakings it operates.
In some countries, 80% of the total consumption of antibiotics is in the animals sector. What are we doing to support the World Health Organisation’s recommendations on stopping really important antibiotics being used for growth promotion and disease prevention in animals, rather than for their proper use, which is to treat disease?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right on that. The use of antimicrobials for food animals in this country is falling, and of course the use of antimicrobials for veterinary purposes features in the Government’s strategy, “Tackling antimicrobial resistance”, which was published in January. She will also be aware that it is important to address this particular aspect of AMR, not least to address our commitments under sustainable development goal 3, which is to do with health and wellbeing.
Drug-resistant tuberculosis kills around a quarter of a million people a year, and there are half a million new cases a year and rising. Do the Government accept that full replenishment of the Global Fund will be essential if this global health threat is to be beaten?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight TB. He will be aware of the various funds to which the UK contributes to address this global scourge, and that includes contributions to the Global Fund’s efforts to discover 150 million undiscovered cases of TB worldwide, on which it has made some inroads. My right hon. Friend will not expect me to commit here and now to the sixth replenishment, but he will be aware that we have been at the forefront of encouraging countries to do so. I expect us to be positive—as we were for the fifth replenishment—in Lyon in October.
The UK was one of the first countries to respond to the crisis, providing up to £36 million. The Disasters Emergency Committee appeal raised another £39 million. That has delivered rapid, life-saving relief, supporting food, emergency shelter, clean water and health equipment for more than 500,000 people across the region affected by the cyclone. We are now focusing on longer-term recovery, and the UK made a further £12.5 million available from existing resources as part of the recent Beira pledging conference.
I declare my interests in southern Africa.
Does the Minister agree that one lesson we need to take away from this appalling cyclone is the need to concentrate on longer-term flood and sea defences? Will she elaborate a bit on what her Department is doing in that respect?
Yes. Last time we had exchanges on this subject, I said that I felt it would be impractical to build a sea wall along what is a long and vulnerable coastline, but we are learning that a lot of things do work well. For example, we are making sure that we work on soil erosion and in terms of mangroves, which can provide resistance. There is a lot to do, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to increase our research and commitment in this policy area.
Order. We are running late. I will accommodate the remaining questioners on the condition that they confine themselves to a single-sentence question, without preamble. No dilation is required.
Small Charities: Funding
In the end, the Department for International Development is of course spending taxpayers’ money. To work out how to spend it in a way that resonates with the British people, we must get much better at focusing on the small charities that British citizens back. The way to do that is to learn, from examples such as the lottery fund, how to provide more support for small charities. We will push ahead with that work to make sure that small charities flourish.
The Secretary of State is an extraordinarily brilliant and cerebral fellow. He has not quite yet got the hang of the rather more prosaic matter of the announcement of the desire to group, but I shall do it for him. The Secretary of State wishes to group this question with Question 12. I know that these are comparatively footling matters, but in procedural terms, they are not footling. Footling is a very good word, I think.
Would it form part of a preamble, Mr Speaker?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the support he already gives through his Department, but many Members will have charities in their constituencies, such as Signal in Shropshire, or will individually promote charities, such as the Hotcourses Foundation. What more can my right hon. Friend do to support British charities that do excellent work in Africa?
Two quick points: first, we must understand that Signal in Shropshire, which does work on hearing loss, is a really important symbol of the kind of work that small charities can do, and it is an inspiration to all of us in this country to invest more in technology to deal with hearing loss. We are terribly bad with our technology investments on this issue; we could transform it. Secondly, I return to the idea that we need officials from DFID to work much more closely with these charities to make it easier for them to get our support.
First, it is shocking to hear this from the Archbishop of Erbil. We should pay tribute to what the Kurdistan Regional Government have been doing to look after an incredible number of displaced people in Iraq, but it is certainly true that Christians and Yazidis have suffered terribly through the fighting in Syria and Iraq and through persecution led by Daesh in particular. This Department must do more to protect Christians around the world if they are vulnerable, marginalised and abused.
The primary purpose of the prosperity fund is reducing poverty through inclusive economic growth. Departments that execute prosperity fund programmes are responsible for ensuring that they meet the requirements of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015.
Between 2016 and 2018, the prosperity fund financed 16 fossil fuel projects across the world, including two in fracking. Is not this obsession with fossil fuels, despite the fine words of the Secretary of State, just confirmation that this Government could not care less about addressing the climate emergency, which is, after all, one of the biggest threats to alleviating world poverty?
These funds are obviously administered by other Government Departments in compliance with the wording of the Act, so I am not sighted on the specifics of what the hon. Gentleman refers to. He will know that we do need to work together as a world to reduce emissions. One of the ways in which we are doing that is to encourage people to power past coal. Often we can do that by substituting less polluting fossil fuels. It may be in that context that these disbursements were made.
Global Fund: AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
The Global Fund directs its resources to countries with the highest disease burden and the least ability to pay and within countries to key vulnerable and marginalised populations. The UK was the second largest donor towards the fund’s fifth replenishment, which is currently tackling the three big killers that the hon. Gentleman cites in his question.
Will the Minister tell me what assessment he has made of the work of the Global Fund in co-ordination with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and how his Department is working to foster this collaboration so that the most vulnerable communities receive all the healthcare that they need?
Given the nature of the conditions that the Global Fund principally deals with, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise Gavi. The UK is the biggest contributor to Gavi for a very good reason—vaccination works. In dealing with those three key killers, it is clearly vital that we focus on prevention. That means not just vaccination, and Gavi does not simply vaccinate people, but dealing with a range of public health issues that are necessary in order to prevent infection happening from the beginning. This Government fully support both Gavi and the Global Fund.
There is one big issue at the centre of everything that we do in development, which is climate and the environment. This is a global problem—it is not just a domestic problem—and it needs a global response, which is why the Department for International Development is central to that response. That is why I would like to double the amount that this Department spends on climate and the environment, and why I would make sure that every policy in our Department is properly assessed for its impact on climate and the environment, and it is on that that we will be judged over the next generation as a Department and as a nation.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his role and wholeheartedly agree with what he just said on climate change. Indeed, climate change has affected Somaliland. As he will know, I am secretary to the all-party group on Somaliland and we recently welcomed the Finance Minister. Can he say what steps his Department is taking to support the upcoming parliamentary elections in Somaliland and also the talks between Somaliland and Somalia? Will he meet the all-party group to discuss what we can do to support that fantastic country?
First, I pay huge tribute to the work of the APPG on Somaliland. As all Members of the House will know, Somaliland is a remarkable success story. Somalia itself has been through a very difficult situation, and Somaliland is a small miracle in a sea of difficulty. We worked very closely with Somaliland on the last presidential elections and we will be supporting the new parliamentary elections. On my last visit to Somaliland, I was lucky enough to meet the gentleman who is now President. There is much more we can do and I would be delighted to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to discuss all those issues.
It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to meet representatives of HUGS in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As the Secretary of State said, we do have a small charities challenge fund, and we need to make it easier for small charities such as HUGS to be able to access some of that funding. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend’s constituents.
May I start by saying how much I am enjoying following the Secretary of State’s novel approach to his party’s leadership contest? He certainly stands out in a field of populists, potty mouths and parliamentary proroguers. I also know that if I do not get satisfactory answers today, I can find him on the high street, at a botanical garden or at #rorywalks. Some of his fellow leadership contenders have called for his Department to be scrapped and the aid budget to be slashed, and his predecessor said that spending 0.7% of national income was unsustainable. Will he take this opportunity to defend an independent DFID and 0.7%, and perhaps call on his fellow contenders to make their positions clear?
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his remarks; his endorsement is probably the nail in the coffin of my campaign. I know that I am meant to be campaigning on being the person who can convince people who do not normally vote Conservative to vote Conservative, but this may be going a little far. The commitment to 0.7% is a Conservative commitment that we put into statute, and we are deeply proud of it. At a time when we are facing a climate emergency, to spend not 7% or 1%, but 0.7% of our GNI, makes entire sense. We are facing an emergency to the climate and to people that could cost trillions of pounds if we get it wrong so this spending is exactly the right thing to do, and I am delighted that both sides of the House are following the Conservative lead on the commitment to 0.7%.
I am grateful for that answer. The growing debt crisis in developing countries, with debt repayment increasing by 85% between 2010 and 2018, is of growing concern, and it is a crisis that diverts money away from vital public services. Yesterday Labour announced plans for an overseas loans transparency Act. Will the Secretary of State join us and call on the Chancellor to commit to full transparency on loans to foreign Governments?
Having gone party political, I will now say that I am very happy to reach out and talk about this matter. Clearly, finance is key for development and the City of London is one of the major players. If we can get the right kind of capital into Africa, for example—where there is a huge amount of labour, with 18 million people a year coming on to the labour force—and get that capital connected, we can transform those economies, but we can do so only if these are good loans. The problem at the moment is that too much money has gone in that has not been invested in infrastructure or productivity, but which has instead found its way into some rather dubious bank accounts. It is in the interests of Britain, the City, the Government and the whole nation to ensure that the financing we put into development really drives development. I would be delighted to sit down and discuss this with the hon. Gentleman.
Since the Secretary of State’s statement on Ebola just before the recess, has there been any positive progress in tackling this terrible outbreak?
I feel a little bit cheeky standing up to answer this question because the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), made a trip to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last week to see the response on the ground. Essentially, there are three issues in relation to Ebola. The first is co-ordination issues for the World Health Organisation. The second is vaccination resources. The third is political issues between communities and the Government of the DRC. We have now put a considerable amount of resources in and we are getting the vaccines in on the ground. We have put more British staff on the ground to ensure that we can work with the UN, and in Kinshasa we are really focusing on ensuring that we can overcome the political problems that are driving communities away from the vaccination programme. It is a huge crisis, but Britain is stepping up and so, I am glad to say, are the United States.
First, we have to leverage our position. We are almost the major donor—proportionally, certainly—to the World Bank, and we need to leverage that kind of support. There is, though, a bigger point: it is not just about money. For example, British scientists are doing something really interesting at Kew Gardens looking at drought-resistant crops, particularly coffee and cocoa. In somewhere such as Ghana, climate change could wipe out a large sector of the economy. We need to get shade trees in. We need new crops and irrigation techniques. This is of course about resources, but it is also a great deal about using British and international research and development and science to solve these problems in, as the hon. Lady said, the global south.
Most victims of human trafficking come from developing countries. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to end the scourge of human trafficking?
First, I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friend for the passion and commitment that he and many others have put into this issue. We do work on this. We have been particularly focused on the Nepali-Indian border, across which there is terrible trafficking taking place. These are very difficult things to deal with. We are talking about global crime. It involves working with communities in Nepal to educate women and identify instances of trafficking and working with the police and customs and ultimately finding an approach that stops both the misery there and our role in the UK in propagating that misery. I really am delighted that he has taken such a lead on this.
We are very clear that we do not tie aid spending. There may be situations in which it is beneficial. For example, we have just put £70 million into British universities to find a universal cure for snake bites. That is a very good example of how we can solve a global public health problem through investment in British universities, but that is not tied aid; it is because British research and development, particularly the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, is the leader in this area.[Official Report, 10 June 2019, Vol. 661, c. 4MC.] We can do this in many areas without feeling ashamed of ourselves, benefiting Britain and the world, and without tying our aid.
Yes. The absolutely greatest example of this is Scotland and Malawi. It has mapped thousands of amazing Scottish voluntary organisations working in Malawi and uncovered work that we had not begun to understand. It is a fantastic idea. I would love to see different regions of the UK taking the lead in partnerships with different countries and my Department understanding much better what British charities are doing. If we can get that right, we can get the enthusiasm and soul of the British people behind international development, which will ultimately be the best guarantee of the 0.7%.
Yes. As my right hon. Friend said, the Scotland-Malawi partnership is a very strong one, as the hon. Gentleman has shown with his question. In the recent elections, the results of which we have welcomed, some two thirds of the parliamentary seats in Malawi changed hands. I am not sure if they learned that level of turnover from recent experience in Scotland not so long ago.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 10 June will include:
Monday 10 June—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions (Termination Awards and Sporting Testimonials) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion on the mineworkers pension scheme. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 11 June—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on the UK voluntary national review on the sustainable development goals.
Wednesday 12 June—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on inequality and social mobility, followed by a debate on discrimination in sport. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 13 June—Debate on a motion on social housing, followed by a general debate on making Parliament a more modern, family-friendly and accessible workplace. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 14 June—The House will not be sitting.
May I, on this particular occasion, extend the best wishes and thoughts of the whole House to all who are assembled in Normandy today to reflect on and commemorate the D-day landings?
It has been a very crowded field, with many runners and riders, but here I am as the new Leader of the House, and also as the new Lord President of the Council, which means that I have become a leader without an election and a lord without having to be elevated to the peerage. For having quietly achieved that during these tumultuous times, I think I should be congratulated.
You’ve already done it.
Indeed I have.
I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). In so doing, Mr Speaker, may I say that I hope that we can continue in the warm and familiar spirit that characterised your relationship with my predecessor, and hope that I can benefit from your continued indulgence? My right hon. Friend travelled the length and breadth of our country to press the case for our Parliament. She pressed hard to protect the very fabric of our Parliament with all her work around restoration and renewal. She fought for the piloting of proxy votes to make this place a more family-friendly environment. She worked particularly hard to change the culture in the Palace of Westminster so that there should be no place for bullying or harassment of any kind. We owe her a great debt.
I would also like briefly to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), who stood in at such short notice on the previous occasion and performed with such oratorical brilliance and dexterity. His are big shoes to fill, not least because he has very large feet.
For my part, I will strive to be an effective voice for Parliament in Government and to conduct myself in a consensual and inclusive manner. My door will always be open to Members right across this House—especially, of course, to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and all those who speak for their parties and the Committees of this House.
Beyond these walls, I will play my part to defend our democracy, in a world in which the public square has too often become a place of misinformation and abuse. This House is precious, yet sometimes fragile. When it is degraded, we are diminished, but when it is at its best, we are all enriched.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position and congratulate him on his appointment. Perhaps we can talk later about whether he is going to give a speech every time he announces the business; I am happy to have the extra time too. I thank him for giving the forthcoming business and for restoring our Opposition day. I am pleased that he is starting off in the right way—long may that continue.
Can the Leader of the House confirm the dates for the summer and conference recesses? I ask that not because I do not want to be here—we do want to be here—but because I have heard rumours that the House might rise on 19 July. There is a new timetable for the election of the Conservative leader, and we need to ensure that the House is not in recess when the new leader—effectively the new Prime Minister—takes up his or her post. Does he agree that it is vital for the House to have an immediate opportunity to test whether the new leader of the Conservative party commands the confidence of the House?
I remind the Leader of the House that he holds democracy in his hands, which is a very precious thing. This is a minority Government, and he needs to respect that. Can he confirm the status of the confidence and supply agreement and whether it will have to be renegotiated with the new Prime Minister? I am sure that he has been briefed, but I will give him the figure again: it is 715 days since the Queen’s Speech. This is now the longest continuous parliamentary Session since the Acts of Union in 1800.
The Leader of the House is the voice of the House in Government. Can he assure the House that he agrees that Parliament is sovereign, and that Parliament has voted against a no-deal scenario? I say that because there are many candidates up and down the country coming here to have coffee and tea and talk to their colleagues, and they are saying various things. I am sure that he still respects his former colleague at the Treasury, the Chancellor, who said that the Conservative party is at risk of losing its “reputation for fiscal responsibility” as candidates fighting for the top job have made “unfunded” spending and tax-cutting pledges. Are those meaningful or un-meaningful pledges? Are they new policies? We need to know. As a former Treasury Minister, he knows that when someone makes a public spending commitment, they have to honour it. One of them is even talking about repealing the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Given that they have all been in the Cabinet, why did they not do those things at the time? Does that mean they are not very good at persuading their colleagues?
This Government are failing in their duty to bring forward important legislation. The Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill all need their Report stage, and the Trade Bill is stuck in ping-pong. Can the Leader of the House update us on when those Bills are likely to get their Report stage and when the Trade Bill will return to the House?
The House has resolved that there is a climate and environment emergency. I do not know about other Members, but I am already getting emails from people about the Environment Bill. The Environment Bill is required to put in place a domestic structure of environmental governance, but it is still to be published and is only in draft form. The draft Bill seems to exclude our cultural heritage from future environmental improvement plans. When the Leader of the House is having strategy meetings with his candidate, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, can he ask him when the Environment Bill is likely to come before the House?
All the while, the UK manufacturing sector contracted in May for the first time since July 2016. The justice system is under threat while barristers are considering strike action in a dispute over legal aid rates and prosecution fees; that is about the rule of law. A shortage of qualified staff has become hospitals’ most pressing concern. The Royal College of Radiologists recently said that the shortage of cancer doctors “puts care at risk”. Also at risk is the community of Scunthorpe and, we learn today, the community of Bridgend.
Also at risk are children in Northamptonshire. Yesterday two Northamptonshire serious case reviews on the murder of two toddlers were published and widely reported, and they said that there was a serious failure, after child protection workers, police and the local authority missed crucial opportunities to intervene. An Ofsted inspection last year said that social workers and staff are inundated and are “drowning in work”. When will the Government make a statement on this horrific incident, and what steps are being taken to ensure it never happens again?
Mr Speaker, you can see why we need such debates. Given that the Government do not have much business or refuse to put business before this House, could the Opposition have that time because we could put forward how we see the future of this country? That is important because—and I join the right hon. Gentleman in saying this—on this day more than ever, we want to remember and thank the 22,442 British troops who gave their lives over the summer of 1944. They worked together to ensure, and they still ensure, peace and our freedom, fighting antisemitism, racism, fascism and injustice. Let us get this place and this country working so that we honour their sacrifice.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and particularly for welcoming me to my new role. I very much look forward to the great pleasure of working closely with her in the weeks and months ahead.
The hon. Lady asked several questions. She initially asked about recess and when we will be coming forward with the dates for recess. These matters are being considered in the normal manner at the moment, and I will come to the Dispatch Box to announce those dates in due course.
The hon. Lady raised an interesting question about a vote of no confidence and whether such a vote would be permissible. I think the desire to put forward such a motion is really something that originates from her side of the House, so I would suggest she speaks to the leader of her own party. I am aware that there is a lack of communication between the Back Benches and the Front Bench, but I did not realise that there is a lack of communication between the Front Bench and the leader of her own side. She would do well to speak to him in that respect.
The hon. Lady also raised the matter of the confidence and supply agreement. It is of course an agreement between the Conservative and Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party, and I am therefore confident that it will not be affected by any change in the leadership of the Conservative and Unionist party.
The hon. Lady specifically asked whether Parliament is ultimately sovereign. Of course, the answer to that is very simple: it is yes. Parliament is the sovereign body within our constitution.
The hon. Lady raised—rather bravely, I thought—the issue of tax cuts, among other measures. That comes from a party that has pledged unfunded spending commitments approaching £1 trillion in total, and one can only imagine the kind—[Interruption.] I am looking at the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), who is smirking away at the thought of all those tax cuts, which he knows he will be bringing in in the course of time. Meanwhile, our party has of course reduced tax left, right and centre, including the latest increase in the personal allowance in the last Budget, taking up to 3 million or 4 million of the lowest-paid people out of tax altogether since 2010.
The hon. Lady quite rightly turned to the issue of legislation and the Bills that will come before this House. I would remind her that no less than 44 Bills have received Royal Assent in this Session. To go back to her point about tax, that includes the last Finance Bill, which reduced tax for no less than 32 million hard-working people up and down our country.
Perhaps I should finish by saying that it is our joint desire to get business through the House—it seems we both have such a desire—and I very much look forward to working closely with the hon. Lady to make sure that the views and aspirations of those right across this House are fully met.
I join others in paying tribute to the outgoing Leader of the House and congratulating my right hon. Friend on his appointment. Will he find time for a debate on future relations between the United Kingdom and the Maldives? The House will be delighted to know that, following the election of the new President, Ibrahim Solih, the warring factions have joined together and the Majlis is now sitting. The Maldives wants to rejoin the Commonwealth, and it would very much like a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question—I know he is a welcome and regular fixture on these occasions, and I look forward to future questions from him. The Government welcome the growing bilateral relations with the Maldives and President Solih’s commencement of steps to rejoin the Commonwealth. My hon. Friend may wish to raise that issue with Foreign Office Ministers during the next Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on 25 June.
I thank the new Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, and I warmly welcome him to his post. He is only the fourth Leader of the House that I have encountered over the past four years, but I have a feeling that he will be about the best yet. In that spirit, given all the unallotted days that are kicking about, and the lack of business, how about giving the SNP a debate one of these days? Perhaps that could be a starting gift for him to offer the Scottish National party.
The post of Leader of the House is usually offered to those in government who are firmly on their way up, or decidedly on their way down. I will leave it up to the right hon. Gentleman to decide which category he falls into. However, looking at this poor excuse for business, it is not a new Leader of the House that is required—it’s the sandman. We do not need a business statement; we need a cup of Horlicks laced with Mogadon. This business purgatory is where zombies go to die. We have only another six or so weeks of this nonsense to go before we can all go away and do something much more interesting.
May I fully associate myself with what has been said about D-day? This 75th anniversary has caught the whole nation’s imagination, and we pay tribute to all those engaged in providing the freedom that we enjoy in this House today.
I bet Government Members are delighted to be back—that was a good and productive week off! Absolutely and totally gubbed in the euro elections, their Brexit going nowhere, and Farage pulling all the strings once again in their dilapidated party. May we have a debate about beauty contests—specifically, no-deal Brexiteer beauty contests? SNP Members are enjoying watching those Tory beauties strutting their stuff, with their mad plans about the degree of just how disastrous their Brexit will be. One thing that has come out of their hustings thus far, however, is the suggestion that this Parliament could be prorogued to facilitate their no-deal Brexit. The first thing that the new Leader of the House must say this morning is that that subversion of democracy will never be considered or entertained, and that he has no intention of suspending democracy in this country to facilitate that no-deal Brexit.
Lastly, may we have a debate about anything—something with some meaning? We have all this to look forward to when we come back again to hear another business statement that says exactly the same thing next week. Welcome to your new life, Leader of the House.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I have observed him from a distance over many weeks performing as he has done—he normally has a tightly knit script of prose that he rattles through at great speed, and we were not disappointed in that respect this morning. With his comments about zombies and other references there was something more of the Rab C. Nesbitt than the Rabbie Burns about it on this occasion—[Interruption.] I do have a soft spot for the hon. Gentleman, so he will make good headway with me on a general basis.
On SNP Opposition days, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Standing Orders are clear that there should be 20 Opposition day debates in any one Session, with 17 for the largest Opposition party, and three for the second largest, which is the Scottish National party. Those days have already been allocated and occurred, but in the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s generous opening remarks, I would be happy to sit down with him, at a time of his convenience, to discuss that matter, and perhaps even the vexed issue that he raised about whether I am on my way up or on my way down. Only time will tell.
The hon. Gentleman raised a specific point about prorogation, which of course is ultimately in the gift of the Queen. I think Her Majesty should be kept out of the politics of our Parliament, and I am sure that matter will be in the forefront for those who toy with such decisions in the future. He also mentioned the Bills being introduced, and I think many fine Bills are coming forward in this House, as well as many important debates. It should be borne in mind that debate does not just take place on the Floor of the House, and important work is also carried out in many important Committees.
It is good to see another one of my protégés climb the greasy pole.
Martin Luther King said that law and order exist for the purposes of justice, but the injustice of disorder hurts people and spoils places as too many yobs and crooks penalise, torment, terrorise and taunt their innocent and vulnerable neighbours. Small shops are targeted in particular. The Federation of Independent Retailers said recently that the cost of crimes against the convenience sector alone is £246 million. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on retail crime, which does so much harm in all our constituencies? Then, perhaps, as well as being a Leader, as well as being a President, as well as being a Lord, he will, like me, become a champion of the shopkeepers.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman was legendarily eloquent and mellifluous, but it is extremely important that the proceedings of this House are intelligible to all those observing them. Therefore, for the purposes of clarification and the avoidance of doubt, I inform people that before the Leader of the House attained the giddy heights in the political stratosphere, which is he proud to announce today he has done, he did serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). I fancy that the right hon. Member thinks that that was the apogee of the career achievements of the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride).
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think it is very important to put that important matter clearly on the record. May I say what a privilege and honour it was to have served as my right hon. and gallant Friend’s PPS? I always found him to be visionary, wise, and just occasionally present in the 21st century. [Laughter.] I did stress the word “occasionally”, Mr Speaker, in that context.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his important point about crime and our local communities. We tend to see local communities and high streets through the prism of taxation and, in particular, business rates, but he is right to raise the other issues that impinge on the health of our high streets and communities. If he were to suggest this issue for a Backbench Business debate to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, it might well find favour.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role and look forward to working with him as we try to sort out parliamentary business over the coming weeks and months.
I very much echo the comments about D-day and remember the terrible sacrifice that was made as the liberation of Europe began on 6 June 1944. I wonder whether we could also spare a moment to remember those, like my dad, who were anxiously waiting to be liberated in prisoner of war camps across Germany and other parts of Europe. They had done their bit, but were captured in doing so. They could not perform any further heroics during the war, but they were still serving their country in prisoner of war camps.
The likelihood is that there will be two days of estimates day debates in early July. The Backbench Business Committee is anxiously waiting for applications for estimates day debates by Friday 14 June. The Committee will make its deliberations on Tuesday 18 June and we will then have an idea of what four estimates day debates will take place on those two days in early July.
Finally, last night I attended a function to celebrate the Open University’s 50th birthday. The OU is still a real chance for those already in work or those who missed out on studying for higher level qualifications after school, and for many to requalify in the fast-moving and ever-changing world of work. There is, however, a sting in the tail, which is that we have witnessed a massive reduction in the number of students from the UK signing up to courses because of tuition fees for adult learners. May we have a debate in Government time, so we can highlight the ever-growing need for lifelong learning and the great potential the OU still offers to people across this country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and very much look forward to working closely with him in the coming period. I echo his sentiments regarding D-day and the reference he made to his family and prisoners of war at the time of the second world war. It is important to reflect not only on those who made the ultimate sacrifice and the men and women who fought in the war on our behalf, but on all those who were damaged in many different ways by it: men, women and children not just in our country, but in many countries around the world.
The hon. Gentleman said that he seeks applications for estimates days by his deadline of Friday 14 June, so that the Backbench Business Committee can deliberate on 18 June and decide the four debates. If he requires any assistance from me as Leader of the House in ensuring that that process is followed through efficiently, I am entirely at his disposal.
The hon. Gentleman makes important points about the Open University, which has been a great success for our country, and I pay tribute to the Labour party, because the commitment of the former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, saw the birth of that important institution. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) is an alumni of the Open University, and it is good to see her on the Front Bench today.
As for a debate on the matter, perhaps the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) can consider that as a Backbench Business debate. He can ask himself that important question, deliberate and wrestle with the pros and cons and perhaps even come up with the answer that it would indeed be appropriate for a Backbench Business Committee debate.
Parliament matters, and it seems to me entirely proper that a new Prime Minister should face the House before any recess. If the Government fall on a vote of confidence in a newly elected Conservative Prime Minister, I would expect that Prime Minister to take us to the country and return with a substantial majority. We should not be afraid of Parliament; we should encourage it. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the new Prime Minister will be in place to face Parliament before the recess?
The answer to that question is an interplay between when the contest within the Conservative party for the new leader is due to conclude and when the recess is announced to fall. As we certainly do not know the answer to the latter, and I am not sure that we entirely know the answer to the former, I think that the answer, unfortunately, is no, not necessarily.
There are reports today that Ford is planning to close its plant in south Wales. This would be a devastating blow to the 1,700 people who work there and for supply chains across Wales. May we have a statement from the Government on this dreadful situation and a programme of practical support for manufacturing in south Wales?
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. Clearly, discussions are taking place, and I believe that senior executives from Ford America are taking part in them. We do not yet know the outcome of the discussions. No announcement has been made, although I am led to believe it is possible that one will be made later today. What I can assure him of is that this Government and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in particular, will keep a very close eye on developments and respond appropriately.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position and pay tribute to his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who was in her place for a long time and did a lot of valuable work for the House.
May we have a statement or a debate on the Leader of the Opposition leading a student-type protest in Trafalgar Square against the leader of the free world when he purports to become the next Prime Minister? Is this appropriate?
I respect the question, but I do not think it is for me to comment one way or the other on the decisions made by the Leader of the Opposition about which events or demonstrations he chooses to attend or not to attend—other than to say that I am sure the public will have noticed, and I am sure the electorate will draw their own conclusions.
Yesterday we had an excellent debate on hidden disabilities, but there are still several areas in which those with disabilities are disabilities are being badly let down over accessibility. One of my constituents, Shirley Todd, has launched a campaign on that very issue. A particular problem is boarding aircraft. At most airports—including Edinburgh airport in my constituency, which has won several awards relating to accessibility—once passengers are beyond the gate they come up against a completely different set of circumstances, and are often literally manhandled on to the plane by baggage handlers. May we have a debate on the issue, and discuss how airlines and air transport services could be encouraged to tackle it a bit more sensitively?
The hon. Lady raises a very important matter, particularly in the context of her constituent. The Government fund support for those with disabilities and long-term health conditions extensively, to the tune of some £55 billion a year. However, the specific issue of getting on and off aeroplanes might lend itself to an Adjournment debate, which would give the hon. Lady an opportunity to question a Minister in detail. I also refer her to Transport Questions, which will take place on Thursday 13 June.
In a week in which Muslims across the world have celebrated the end of Ramadan, the crisis in Sri Lanka seems to be increasing still further, with the resignation of all the Muslim Ministers and officials in the Sri Lankan and state Governments. Today, in the other place, Lord Naseby is putting a question about travel advice given to UK citizens. I note that there has been no statement from the Government about either travel advice or the crisis. May we have a debate in Government time on the situation in Sri Lanka, so that Members of this House can put their views on record and challenge the Government on what they are doing to assist UK nationals?
I believe I am right in saying that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides travel advice online, so that those who are considering travelling to certain parts of the world can be properly informed. This might well be an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate, and my hon. Friend may wish to consider that.
As I told the House earlier today, my thoughts are with those commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings. As a small child I saw very little of my father in the first five years of my life, because he was overseas serving in the Royal Engineers. I think that the House should think very profoundly about those young men and women who fought and lost their lives.
As a fitting tribute, could we seriously consider something that I am passionate about—the planting of trees to remember people and their contribution? Is the new Leader of the House aware that there is to be a new northern forest stretching all the way from Hull to Liverpool, containing 50 million trees? Could we expand that across the United Kingdom, as a real tribute to the people who fought for us in the war and many of whom died fighting for the freedom of this country?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we should seek whatever means we can to pay tribute to those who fought on our behalf in the second world war. He mentioned the planting of trees. I remember that when I was a young boy, we were urged to “Plant a tree in ’73”, and I assume that there are forests of giant trees today as a consequence of that initiative. The planting of the great northern forest is an excellent and imaginative approach; I think that the Government intend to plant about 15 million trees. As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, environment questions, on Thursday week, will provide an excellent opportunity him to raise it with Ministers.
May we have a debate about the Queen’s award for voluntary service? This year Forres in Bloom received the honour. Diane McGregor, the chairwoman, Sandra McLennan, the secretary, and all the volunteers do outstanding work throughout the year in Grant park and across Forres with their flowers and displays. This is appreciated by not just locals but the thousands of visitors to the town. Will the Leader of the House also join me in congratulating them on all these efforts, ahead of their 30th anniversary next year, in their three decades of work and agree that their motto is very fitting: “We love where we live”?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point, and I do of course join him in paying tribute to Diane McGregor, Sandra McLennan and the amazing band of volunteers for their outstanding work and for receiving the Queen’s award for voluntary service. The Government recognise the huge importance of volunteering and it would be an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate.
I warmly congratulate the new Leader of the House, although I will not do your trick, Mr Speaker, of reminding him of where we first met as it would be far too embarrassing for me. May I just say that I think his answers on prorogation and whether a new Prime Minister will address the House swiftly after being elected have been wholly inadequate so far? It would surely be on a Venezuelan scale of outrage if we were to prorogue Parliament simply to force through a no-deal Brexit against the will of Parliament. Even Winston Churchill—during the midst of war when the British Expeditionary Force was in danger of complete collapse in France and we were trying to get people out of Dunkirk—when he was made Prime Minister in May 1940 addressed the House of Commons just three days later. Even the Marquess of Salisbury in 1885 knew he had to come to Parliament the next day. So surely to God the new Leader of the House should be able to say to us today, “Yes, a new Prime Minister will address the House of Commons within a week of being appointed.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I am not quite as shy as him about revealing to the House where we first met: I was very proud to meet the hon. Gentleman I think for the first time as a fully signed up member of the Conservative party at Oxford University. Quite where it all went wrong after that I have no idea, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to come and talk to me about the error of his ways at any point I will be happy to try to enlighten him on those matters.
The hon. Gentleman raises once again the issue of prorogation, and he will know that these matters and others are all going to be decisions that the future Prime Minister will take and that it is not for me to speculate about what they might be.
One thing we all know, because I have said it myself several times—and I think the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) believes this—is that Parliament will not be evacuated from the centre stage of the decision-making process on this important matter. That is simply not going to happen; it is so blindingly obvious that it almost does not need to be stated—but apparently it does and therefore I have done.
May I also welcome the very modern-minded Leader of the House to his role? With that in mind, he may be aware that in 1989 when cameras were first allowed in this place they were brought in with restrictions: footage can be used on news programmes and so on, but not on satirical or light entertainment programmes, presumably to maintain the dignity of this place. Given that so much of this content, in particular the more light-hearted moments—a lot of it including you, Mr Speaker—is currently available online on YouTube and so on does the Leader of the House believe it is about time to update the rules and bring them into the 21st century?
I am sure there are many light-hearted and satirical moments in the House—too many for any producer of any film to get their head around I would imagine. However, whether we should permit this might be the subject of a future debate, rather than my opining on it at the Dispatch Box.
Unfortunately, many foreign-born citizens and others with the right to live and work in the UK are being made to feel like second-class citizens. This happened a couple of weeks ago to EU citizens who were turned away from polling stations, and last week at my surgery, Firas Ibrahim, the regional director for the middle east at the University of Edinburgh, came to tell me that, despite the fact that he loves living and working in Scotland, he feels that the UK Government are making him feel like a second-class citizen. Despite holding a British passport and fulfilling an important role at a Russell Group university, he has been repeatedly questioned by border officials on returning from business trips abroad, and as a dual Syrian national, he was very upset by the Home Secretary’s suggestion about banning travel to Syria. As the architect of the hostile environment—the Prime Minister—vacates her role, may we have a debate on how the hostile environment has made our friends, colleagues and family members who are foreign-born British citizens and EU nationals living here feel like second-class citizens, and on what we can do to remedy that?
I think it is fair to say that our Prime Minister has done a huge amount to ensure that we reassure those EU nationals who live in our country that they are not only entirely welcome but an essential part of our communities and our society. The hon. and learned Lady raised a specific point about voting, and my comment would be that the Government ensured that we provided all the legal requirements and funding to facilitate that, and that the returning officers had the tools at their disposal to enable them to take the appropriate decisions. We will have Home Office questions on Monday, and she might wish to raise that issue with Ministers at that time.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on assuming his position. May we have a debate on the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria? It is absolutely essential that the UK not only maintains its generous commitment but increases it, as a congressional appropriations sub-committee has just recommended that the United States should do. We need a proportionate increase to ensure that those deadly diseases can be tackled, and an early decision by the Government is now necessary so that they can continue to show the global leadership on this issue that they have shown in the past.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work in this area and on his chairmanship of the Global TB Caucus. The Government recognise the importance of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and we are in fact the world’s third-largest contributor to it. We are currently considering a further commitment to the fund’s replenishment this year, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend’s points are noted.
I was under the impression that the new Leader of the House’s most important previous role was his position on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in 2010. That position has allowed him to speak with accuracy and clarity on the state of the confidence and supply agreement, and I hope that he will continue to develop his relationship with the people on the Ulster Bench. Will he take this opportunity today to commend the work of the education and engagement team in Parliament and to support them as they try to fill the gap to ensure that their brilliant work in reaching 11,000 children every year is extended to Northern Ireland, where only 37 children were reached last year?
I echo my hon. Friend’s warm comments about our time together on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I remember that time with fondness, when he and I worked on a lot of important matters. His point about education and engagement and the relatively low number of children coming from Northern Ireland seems to me—although I have not looked into this in great detail—to be something that might need to be addressed. I would therefore be happy to meet him to look at this more carefully.
I should like to add my congratulations to the new Leader of the House. Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) referred to the problems faced by small shopkeepers. He and I attended an event yesterday that was organised by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. As well as the issue of retail crime, they drew our attention to the anomalies in the business rates system that are having a damaging impact on them. Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that issue?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and for mentioning my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) again; may I say once again what a deep honour it was to serve as his PPS?
On business rates and high streets, this Thursday there will be BEIS questions, and that would be an opportune moment for my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) to raise the point that he has made.
A constituent of mine is in the process of applying for a visa, but she has experienced technical problems online and is attempting to resolve the issue by phone. It would appear that the helpline—I use that term in the broadest sense—has been outsourced, and the company being used is charging £2.50 per minute for calls. She has already spent over £100 and is absolutely no nearer to getting the problem resolved. I thought the Government had told us that the hostile environment was over; it clearly is not. May we have a statement urgently on what the Government will do about that helpline?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has raised that matter, because there are a number of companies out there who purport to do things which, apparently, are too complicated to do for nothing, and make profits as a consequence. I personally believe in general terms that that is not right, and I would be happy to facilitate a conversation perhaps between the hon. Lady and the appropriate Minister.
I very much support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said about the global health fund.
May we have a debate on the importance of smaller accident and emergency units up and down the country? Yet again, County Hospital, Stafford has come into the limelight. It is actually performing excellently at the moment. However, there is no way that the local health system—indeed, the regional health system—could survive without the A&E there and, indeed, the one a few miles away in Telford. May we have a debate so that we can highlight that, and ask for a different model for funding those vital smaller general hospitals up and down our country?
My hon. Friend, who is a great champion for his local hospital, raises the issue of smaller A&E units in general. We are, of course, investing the largest cash amount in the national health service in its history—some £85 billion over the next five years—and we are fully committed to the NHS. The point that he raised might make a good BackBench Business Committee debate, or perhaps even a Westminster Hall debate when it is the Department for Health’s turn to respond.
From an early age I have been a real champion of, and been fascinated by, Glasgow’s built heritage. In particular, most people would associate Glasgow’s iconic tenements with the city. Indeed, 76,000 tenements were built in Glasgow before 1919, of which over 60% are in need of urgent repair. Would the Leader of the House consider congratulating pupils at Whitehill Secondary School who developed a Go4SET engineering project to look at future-proofing and greening Glasgow’s tenements, and surpassed 91 other secondary schools by winning the Go4SET national competition? Would he consider building on their excellent achievements and work by holding a debate in the House, in Government time, on the need to provide practical support for improving our historic built environment—particularly looking at measures such as VAT relief for historic buildings?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the schools that he referred to, particularly Whitehill Secondary School, and the competition that was won around the greening of buildings. He is right to raise our historic buildings and our heritage; they are extremely important, especially in local communities. He referenced some tax measures that may assist in that area. I would be very happy to write on his behalf to the Treasury, or facilitate a meeting with the Treasury to discuss those matters.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the support that the Government can provide to industry at this deeply challenging time? As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) mentioned earlier, there are deeply worrying reports this morning about the future of car manufacturing at Bridgend, which faces the pressures of reduced demand for conventional combustion engines and Brexit uncertainty. It is imperative that industry is given the support to transition to new technology and a more sustainable footing, so a debate on the role that Government can play in that endeavour is urgently needed.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware of the extensive industrial strategy that the Government have committed to. He will be aware of the reduction in corporation tax rates that we have been bringing in, and the reliefs around research and development—all the things that are important in ensuring that our businesses are sustainable, growing and strong. I think the subject might make quite an interesting debate, so perhaps it is one to propose to the Backbench Business Committee.
Last Thursday I joined local residents of all ages at “Jumpers for Goalposts,” a community football event organised by my constituent Pete Bell, alongside students from Farnborough Academy, and supported by the police, the armed forces, the Prison Service, the city council, Nottingham Forest and many others. Pete is using his experience of delivering “Step Out, Stay Out,” a prison football programme, to strengthen community cohesion on the Clifton estate, where he lives. Will the new Leader of the House congratulate Pete and the students on the event, and will the Government make time to debate the vital role that sport-based education and mentoring can play in both helping offenders to turn their lives around and preventing young people from getting involved in crime and antisocial behaviour in the first place?
That may be an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate and, therefore, for a close discussion with the responsible Minister. I will certainly join the hon. Lady in congratulating Pete Bell and the “Jumpers for Goalposts” initiative.
In joining those congratulations, it seems opportune to point out that the women’s parliamentary football team scored a great victory last night—2-1, I am advised—at a match in Battersea Park.
I was told they had won 2-1. By all accounts it was a splendid performance, and I think colleagues will wish to congratulate all members of the team. [Interruption.] I note the sedentary chunter of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), which probably would bear repetition, but I will spare the House at this time.
Will the Leader of the House consider scheduling a debate on early-day motion 2455, on the theme of sport and free-to-air TV?
[That this House celebrates a successful start to the summer of sport but regrets that a lot of sport is broadcast on subscription TV which is unavailable live to most people in the UK; notes that the European Nations Football League finals is available free to air in three of the four participating countries: the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, but not England; regrets the fact that BT Sport tried to fulfil its promise to make the European Champions League final available to all viewers by offering it on a flickering YouTube channel rather than through a main public service broadcaster; further regrets that no cricket world cup matches have been available live on free to air to inspire future generations; welcomes the fact that the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup and Netball World Cup will be broadcast live on the BBC but notes that no female team sport has been accorded the status of a listed event which must be offered to broadcasters with reach across the population; calls on Sky TV to allow the final of the Cricket World Cup to be simulcast on Channel 4; and calls on the Government to undertake a review of the listed events with a view to extending such events.]
The early-day motion argues the case for extending the list of events that must be offered live to free-to-air TV, given that much of our glorious summer of sport—the cricket World Cup; the UEFA Nations League finals, which England are involved in tonight; and the Open golf championship at Portrush—is hidden away behind subscription TV. Even the Champions League final was available to many only on a grainy YouTube channel.
These arrangements are clearly subject to a variety of commercial contracts and arrangements between businesses. As to the suggestion of our having a debate, I invite the hon. Gentleman to write to me setting out precisely the arguments he is putting forward and what he wishes to be debated. I would then be very happy to have a much closer look.
I did not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) when he was a member of the Oxford University Conservative association, but I agree with him when he challenges the new Leader of the House to be much clearer about his constitutional position in relation to proroguing Parliament. Will the Leader of the House now make it absolutely clear from the Dispatch Box that he would oppose any future Prime Minister who proposes Prorogation in order to avoid this House being able to express its view on a difficult constitutional matter such as Brexit? As Leader of the House, he needs to be clear that that is his position.
If I may say so, Mr Speaker, both your interjection on this matter and my previous answers cover the hon. Gentleman’s point.
Today the oil company Hurricane Energy has started production in a giant oilfield west of Shetland—the output is expected to be 20,000 barrels a day. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on how we transition to a much greener economy and transfer all current oil and gas revenues to the Scottish Exchequer so that they can be used much more productively and wisely in future, and not be frittered away by the UK Government?
That is probably best a question for Scotland questions, which are on Wednesday 19 June.
I welcome the Leader of the House to his new role. We urgently need a national debate on social care. As a first step, can we at least have a statement indicating when the Green Paper in respect of England will be published and offering proper resources for immediate social care needs all around the United Kingdom?
The Government have made a number of announcements about additional funding for adult social care in particular. There will be a Green Paper, as the hon. Gentleman has identified, and it will come forward at the earliest opportunity.
The last thing the Speaker wants to do is to mislead the House. I have just been shown what appears to be conclusive evidence that the team eventually lost 3-2. I had been advised of a 2-1 victory, but perhaps it was a 2-1 lead. Apparently, the team lost, but they had a great time. There are magnificent players in that team, and I think we should celebrate the merits, commitment and passion of the women’s parliamentary football team. They may have lost the battle, but they will win the war.
It is almost three years since I reassured students at Sheffield Park Academy, in my constituency, that the Government were acting to introduce sharia-compliant student loans. That was on the basis of a pledge made in the higher education White Paper, which had just been published at that time, but nothing followed. In May this year, the universities Minister implied that the issue would be addressed by Philip Augar, but his report, published last week, barely mentions it. May we therefore have a statement from the Education Secretary on when the Government intend to fulfil their promise to Muslim students?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue of sharia-compliant loans on behalf of pupils at Sheffield Park Academy. Within the Treasury, that comes under the responsibilities of the Economic Secretary. As the hon. Gentleman has suggested, the Department for Education also has important input on it. If he would like to contact me, I would be happy to make sure I facilitate appropriate contacts with the Treasury—if that is appropriate—and certainly with the DFE.
May I say that an ability to make glory out of a football defeat qualifies you for honorary membership of the tartan army, Mr Speaker.
On 1 May, a constituent of mine and his colleagues received an email from the subcontracting firm they worked for telling them that the company was being placed into administration, leaving them out of pocket by £1,000 each. They were successfully taken on by the main contractor, but in the five weeks since then the employer has refused all attempts to communicate with him. He has failed to give his employees notification of who the administrator is—if indeed an administrator has been appointed. The Gazette has no notice of liquidation, and Companies House records, as of this morning, do not record the fact that the company is in the process of closing down. So may we have a debate, in Government time, on not only the protection of workers’ rights when a company genuinely does go into administration, but what protections there might be where a company claims to be in administration incorrectly in order to avoid paying its workers their due wages?
The hon. Gentleman raises a specific point about the experience that one of his constituents is having with a particular business, and on that aspect of his question I would be happy to facilitate contact, perhaps with an appropriate Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to see what possibilities there are. On the more general point he makes on policy on administration, we have BEIS questions on Tuesday coming and he may wish to raise the issue then. Equally, he may wish to consider it for a Westminster Hall debate, perhaps when BEIS is the Department due to answer those debates.
I recently introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on animal sentience. When I asked the relevant Minister about it before the Select Committee, he said that the Government were just looking for a “vehicle” and parliamentary time in order to bring forward such a proposal, which I believe was promised back in 2017. Clearly, I can provide the vehicle; I have been working with animal welfare groups on draft legislation. When we look at next week’s business, we think, “Why can’t we just crack on with it?”
First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on the huge amount of effort she puts into the very important area of animal welfare, something to which this Government are totally committed; she will be aware of the many measures we have brought in during this Parliament. She asks what legislative vehicle there might be to further the issue of animal sentience that she has raised. I would like to give that some thought, and if she would like to have a conversation with me after questions, I would be happy to talk to her specifically about it.
The Leader of the House’s predecessor was a keen supporter of breastfeeding, so I am sure he will be keen to congratulate all volunteers in Volunteers’ Week and all those in Scotland who are involved in Scottish Breastfeeding Week, which happens to coincide with Volunteers’ Week. May we have a debate on the “Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly Scotland” recommendations, which are part of a global project in which England is also involved, in conjunction with Yale University and other countries around the world?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the issue. She is absolutely right that breastfeeding was very important to the previous Leader of the House, and I recognise its importance, too. The extent of breastfeeding in the United Kingdom is below that in many other countries, most notably Sweden, where a high proportion of babies are breastfed. I recognise that it does matter and that it does make a difference. Perhaps a debate in Westminster Hall at the appropriate moment might be the right approach.
I welcome the Leader of the House to his new job. He and I have done business together over a period of time, so I wish him well in the job.
May I also associate myself with his remarks and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) about the D-day landings and the sacrifices that those men made? The Leader of the House will probably know that Coventry suffered as a result of the bombing. There are lots of services in Coventry today because the people of Coventry, like those in the rest of Britain, appreciate the sacrifices of those men.
May we have a debate or statement on the national school breakfast programme? I am told that it has been a great success, but there is concern about future funding. Bearing in mind the fact that 20,000 people in Coventry used food banks last year, and that we still have the working poor, I am sure the Leader of the House will be sympathetic to getting us a statement or a debate, because he is a humane person and understands that the longer it takes to get a decision, the longer children will suffer from anxiety.
I associate myself entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the D-day landings, and I recognise the enormous damage and destruction that was caused to Coventry by the bombing in the second world war. May I congratulate him on securing an Adjournment debate on his local hospital next Thursday? I look forward either to being present at that debate or to reading Hansard after it.
The school breakfasts programme might be a good subject for an Adjournment debate, so that the hon. Gentleman can have a discussion with a Minister across the Dispatch Box.
Sacred Heart and St Lucy’s in Cumbernauld are among the churches up and down the country that have close and long-standing links with priests, ministers and other religious leaders from overseas—people who come to lead and support worship while regular pastors are on vacation. May we have an urgent debate on the changes to the immigration rules that are set to destroy those links and make that recruitment impossible?
The best forum for furthering the hon. Gentleman’s point would be Home Office questions on Monday.
I thank the Leader of the House for his debut performance at the Dispatch Box. It has been a stimulating occasion with the airing of many important topics. I can say to him without fear of contradiction that any warmth from him to me will be duly reciprocated.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The new Leader of the House was asked three times about the prospect of Prorogation being used to facilitate a no-deal Brexit. I listened carefully to his responses, and I do not think I heard him rule out such a prospect. We know that it is a live prospect because several of the candidates to become the new Prime Minister have said that it is something they intend to do. Will you, Mr Speaker, lay out for the House what the seeking of such a Prorogation would involve and what the responsibilities, duties and rights of the House would be in the matter?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I hope that he will understand if I decline to do that today, here and now. If I were minded to make further comments beyond those that I have made, I would do so at a future time and on a prepared basis. Suffice it to say that I have said what I have said and have nothing to add to or to subtract from what I have said on a number of recent occasions, including this morning. However, the hon. Gentleman is a perspicacious and adroit parliamentarian. He was that before he became his party’s shadow Leader of the House, and he has demonstrated clearly that he remains that in his current role. The issue has been aired by him and by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), and of course by the shadow Leader of the House in the first instance—her lead has been followed—and I feel that the matter will continue to be aired for as long as colleagues feel that it has to be. We will leave it there for now, but the way was led by the shadow Leader of the House and others of us have followed.
Grenfell Tower Fire
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the response to the Grenfell Tower fire.
I wish to thank the Backbench Business Committee, the Minister, the Government Members who agreed to support the debate, my colleagues here today and those who have given me strength and help over the past two years, but who are, I hope, on the battlefield of the Peterborough by-election today. I also thank those in the Public Gallery who are watching the debate. I want to reassure them that this debate is just one step and that we will return to this subject over and again until all our demands are met.
I asked for briefings on all aspects of the response to the Grenfell Tower fire from organisations and groups that I have met. I was inundated. I received enough information for a two-hour lecture with slides, but I have just 15 minutes in which to speak today. To preserve this invaluable response, all the briefings will be available online very soon in the Grenfell archive that I am compiling—it will be factual information. In the short time available, I will speak on areas close to my heart and leave comments on the detailed issues to my hon. Friends and other Members.
Just four days after my election two years ago, a horrific and an entirely avoidable atrocity took place in my neighbourhood. Shock and disbelief resonated around the world. Pledges, commitments and guarantees were made in this House in the aftermath. Many of these commitments have been broken, and my community has been failed horribly. A year ago, a debate was held in Westminster Hall about the response to the disaster. The briefing from members of Grenfell United and the inquest was clear: they wanted the Government to demand that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council rehouse those people made homeless by the fire within a certain time frame and that if the council continued to fail, the Government would send in commissioners to take it over. They also demanded that the Government appoint two independent panel members from diverse backgrounds to advise the public inquiry. It took a further year to appoint the panel members, and their very late arrival after phase 1 had ended will surely reduce their effectiveness.
I commend the work of Grenfell United in its tireless campaign to hold the council and the Government to account, often in very difficult circumstances. I also commend the work of the countless campaign and community groups fighting against the odds for Grenfell-affected people, including Humanity for Grenfell, the Grenfell Trust, Justice4 Grenfell, the Latimer arts project, Kids on the Green, Hope for Grenfell, Grenfell Speaks, Cornwall Hugs Grenfell and all those other groups that I may have forgotten. I thank the community centres, religious centres and the vast number of outside campaigns and individuals whose breadth of expertise and support is evidence of the depth and breadth of the failure of the statutory services that we have paid for to care for the people to whom they have a duty of care.
Let us look for a moment at rehousing. I must declare an interest as a current member of the council—I will remain a member of that council until every single person has been housed and cared for in the way that they deserve. The Government have failed to make the demands of the council that were requested a year ago, and the council has failed to rehouse many people who were made homeless. The official figure is 19 tenants, but a tenant can comprise a household of many people with disparate needs. Only those made homeless from the tower and the facing Grenfell Walk are counted in those official statistics. In the walkways attached to the tower, there are a further 109 homeless households as of last month, making a total of 128 homeless households. Some remain in their homes, which re-traumatises them every day. The council has removed those households from the wider Grenfell rehousing scheme, and they will now languish on the council waiting list; some for many, many years.
While desperate families struggle to keep going, there is frustration and impatience within the council. Although there are good and empathic officers, this impatience is demonstrated by outbursts from some people because they are overstretched, and from certain senior councillors who should know better, while they persuade, cajole and sometimes, I am sorry to say, bully people into homes that are not suitable. While these 128 homeless households—around 250 people, in my estimation—are still awaiting rehousing, the rank incompetence of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation to have an up-to-date list of tenants at the time of the fire means that fraudsters have sneaked into the system and pillaged funds meant for the genuinely homeless and desperate.
During my tenure on the TMO board from 2008 to 2012, along with the now leader of the council, the TMO was so dysfunctional that I had to call in an independent adjudicator. There followed a change of director, but clearly not of culture or of staff Meanwhile, the attitude of some people at the council is questionable, and I have noted that for years some people have found it almost feudal.
In the early days after the fire, my predecessor as MP wrote to the council to air her concern about the numbers of people roaming around the streets “like gangs”. A senior council officer was told to go down to the site but refused, saying, “It’s like little Africa down there.” Another said that the area was full of people “from the tropics”. A senior officer regularly, in front of others, referred to my neighbours as “muzzies”. A recent visitor to the walkways was congratulated by a senior councillor for entering the “lion’s den”. I say “vulnerable”; they say “volatile”. This attitude is hardly surprising. About two years ago during a debate on refugee children, a senior councillor said:
“if we let these people in, we will have an Islamic Caliphate in Kensington and Chelsea.”
Racism or snobbery—take your pick.
What I see is people who have been utterly failed by the system subsequently being punished for it. Is it right to off-roll a child from school because they cannot cope with the pressure of trauma and schoolwork, and send them to a pupil referral unit or alternative provision located in a council-owned building, which is then closed because it is in such a poor state of repair that it is judged to be dangerous? According to parents who confide in me, these children have been left to roam the streets. Who is responsible for safeguarding these fragile children? Is it another case of accountability pass the parcel?
Is it right to punish a bereaved man beside himself with grief and anger—someone who has been a good friend to many people—who in a moment of blind fury on behalf of others used threatening words? Is it right to punish this moment of fury with imprisonment? Should we imprison someone who has been so dramatically failed? I say, “Free Mr Latimer,” so he can at least join the memorial event on Friday week for those he lost on 14 June 2017. Why are my neighbours being punished, excluded from school and imprisoned when the perpetrators of their misery, who continue to view us with disdain, walk the streets of Chelsea free?
I am reliably informed that a senior councillor recently complained, “I do not know why they are wasting so much time on mental health. They all seem fine to me.” I declare an interest as a recipient of mental health services, although they have not helped me. We have 11,000 people affected to various degrees by the Grenfell atrocity in our neighbourhood. Some have been helped; many have not. The type of trauma we have does not go away. There have been several suicides. While it is always difficult to ascertain causes, the five people I know of who lost their lives in the past seven months were affected by what happened to various degrees. This heavy toll includes young teenagers.
I am still meeting people who are not getting any help and some who are refusing help because of the perceived shame of mental illness. I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder myself, but I am able to function. However, I know so many who cannot. On their behalf, I will wear the scars of my own mental ill health with pride. The shame is not for those whose mental health has been damaged. The shame lies with those who neglected our homes—those whose first reaction to the fire was that of damage limitation and passing the buck of blame, rather than accepting failure.
Local people and specialists have also been discredited over the controversial soil testing exercises. Members of the community concerned about toxicity of soil in the area around the tower contacted a university professor of fire chemistry and toxicity, who took samples and was so alarmed that she reported it to the council, Public Health England and the NHS. For some reason, they sat on these interim findings, and then six months later, the council leader denied in public that she had seen them, even though we have seen the minutes of the meeting at which she was informed of them.
After a long and failed campaign by the council and from other quarters to discredit the professor, they are now finally—after two long years—starting to test the soil for carcinogens and other toxic materials that can seriously affect people’s health. We are calling for full health screening, including blood and DNA testing; they are offering lung capacity tests. It is another fight that has sapped the energy of so many unnecessarily.
I turn briefly to the wealth of information we have had from the fire services, building regulators, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Association of British Insurers, which all have an interest, from various perspectives, in the safety of buildings and those who live and work within them. All this will be available in the Grenfell archive. I have worked closely with the fire brigade and the Fire Brigades Union for many years. The cuts to services have been devastating, and I pay tribute to the fire services for their extraordinary dedication. They often work long hours and double shifts to keep the service functioning. I well remember the previous Mayor of London, when challenged at a public Greater London Assembly meeting, uttering a foul expletive that I shall not repeat. The Minister may have witnessed it.
The independent review of building regulations and fire safety, the Hackitt review, includes many recommendations that fire services have put forward, including improving skills in the sector, defining who is responsible for what under fire safety legislation and increasing the role of the fire service in the safety of buildings, which, owing to deregulation, is currently open to all comers. The demand for the inclusion of sprinklers to all new buildings and for the retrofitting of residential buildings is consistent from many quarters. It costs money but not a lot, and not having them can have a terrible human cost that I have no wish to see imposed on anyone. Today, my hon. Friends will speak in more detail about improved regulation for fire doors, about responsibility for fire safety within the trained professional setting of fire services themselves and about regulating for safer electrical goods.
As many here will know, I spent most of my career writing about design and architecture. I know how buildings are constructed and what went wrong at Grenfell during the refurbishment. During my time on the TMO, work was done on digital cabling to Trellick Tower, which has the same concrete frame construction. During this work, firebreaks had not been reinstated. Fortunately, I was alerted to this by tenants, and after a row, these defects were corrected. Since that time, there have been several fires in Trellick Tower, all of which have been contained within a single flat.
The RIBA has specific demands that are more extensive than the recommendations in the Hackitt report. Its demands for non-combustible cladding, the use of sprinklers and alternative means of escape in new buildings would add just a few percentage points to the cost of buildings and keep people safe.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, however good building regulations might be, if developers can get away with not having them signed off, they are of no use? In St Francis Tower in Ipswich, in my constituency, a developer completely refurbished a tower block with flammable cladding without ever getting the building regulations signed off, because it did not have to do so through the local council.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.
I will move now to the question of insurance, which might have been relevant in this case. The ABI has been working closely with the Fire Protection Association to reform building regulations, including on its review of approved document B. This relates not only to saving life; saving property is also paramount. If someone escapes a catastrophic fire in their home, they will have lost all their possessions and documents, and this can set them back years. They may never recover. A catastrophic fire in an office or warehouse not only destroys the contents and building; it can destroy a business, the jobs of all those who work there and the future of their work and family life, as well as all the organisations that depend on the business.
The ABI is demanding that sprinklers be fitted to homes, student accommodation, schools, care homes and warehouses. It is also concerned—as am I, with my background in architecture—with the implications of modern methods of construction, many of which have not been fire tested to destruction and do not perform well under more stringent tests. The results of tests I have seen argue against the wholesale embrace in the architectural profession of cross-laminated timber, particularly in the production of the next generation of social housing, which we so desperately need. I know that colleagues will discuss that later. The Shelter report on social housing has been a welcome piece of research whose recommendations I hope, in time, will be adopted. We need more homes for social rent, but they must be the right homes in the right places.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful and important speech. My Committee heard from Professor Anna Stec about her concerns about the way that these combustible panels are being used in warehouse, school and hospital constructions that are exempt from the Government’s review of the new regulations post the Hackitt review. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to look more widely at the use of flame retardants in these panels and the way in which these buildings are being constructed, to avoid tragedies in the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for that hugely helpful intervention. That work is ongoing and we must reach conclusions soon. We cannot put toxic chemicals in mattresses, foam furniture and so on too near to people, including babies. There is a wealth of information out there, and we must listen and learn.
The public inquiry has been subject to criticism and a lot of delays. While we wait for the interim report, now expected in October, there are serious concerns whether it will make any recommendations at all and stop the merry-go-round of speculation about whether meaningful change will come from this detailed and forensic process. We believe that phase 2 will now begin in the new year, prolonging the pain and anxiety of those who have to give evidence, plus those awaiting justice for the perpetrators of what some have called “social murder”.
The police investigation is struggling for funds, having asked for a further £2 million from the Government and been refused. The timeline for criminal charges is slipping and, along with it, the hope for justice. As far as most local people are concerned, the police are one of the few trusted bodies, which is gratifying in an area where previously there was very little trust. I commend the police for their sensitivity in dealing with most of us, at least, in the past two years.
The campaign group Inquest recently published “No voice left unheard”—the results of a family consultation day for the bereaved and survivors when a large proportion of affected families were asked about their experience of being heard in the inquiry. It was pretty devastating. Many of them stated what I have witnessed—that they have had to fight for every single one of their rights: to be housed, to be compensated, to receive legal advice and mental health support and to understand what they are entitled to. Many of them feel that they have been punished for the failings of others.
On that note, I will hand over to my hon. Friends and other Members. I look forward to hearing their opinions and perspectives on these terrible matters that affect all of us across the country and worldwide.
Order. We have about 14 speakers and a couple of hours, so I hope that Members will limit their remarks and be careful in how long they take. If that does not work, then I will impose a time limit, but I hope, as this is a good-natured debate and everyone is aiming in the same direction, we should not need it.
I shall take your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, and be as brief as I can.
I welcome this debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) on securing it on what is nearly the second anniversary of this terrible, terrible tragedy. If we look back to 14 June 2017, we will all remember waking up to those terrible pictures of the building on fire and the horrendous human tragedy that we saw unfolding in front of our very eyes, with the outpouring of grief and the solidarity that was shown in this place and, more importantly, in that community at the time.
The hon. Lady talked about the fact that there are a number of people still to be housed. I believe that the last figure mentioned by Lord Bourne in the other place was that about 196 out of 211 households had been rehoused, so that still leaves some to be rehoused. We need to look into exactly what expectations they have and what barriers are stopping those last few families getting into a property that they can call home; I hope the Minister will outline some of those in his summing up. It is important that people are not just pulled from pillar to post and moved around the area. They need to rebuild their roots. Their children will be at school and they will have local community roots, and they need to know that there is surety for them in that part of North Kensington.
I am glad to see that the Government have committed £80 million to a number of things over the past two years, including not only rehousing but mental health services. The hon. Lady talked about PTSD and mental health. It was one thing watching it on television, but if someone has lived through that—if they sat and watched it unfold in front of them, able to see and smell the flames and hear the sounds, which would undoubtedly have been terrible—that will stay with them. It is so important to look at the ongoing human costs, not only the bereavements. I am pleased that some money has gone into community spaces and support for the bereaved and survivors.
I was interested to read that the Bishop of Kensington has done a wider piece of work. I have not had time to go through all his conclusions, but the areas that he looked at, following conversations with survivors and people in the area, are really worth exploring. Those areas are wider than just the fire. He talks about renewing democracy, to ensure that people in those kinds of buildings and communities are listened to and that when there are warning signs and people are crying out for change, there are people—regardless of party politics—who are listening and, more importantly, responding.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I commend the hon. Member for Kensington for her speech. She has been a stalwart MP for her constituents in this matter, and I congratulate her on that.
It is important that out of this terrible tragedy, with the lives that were lost and those that were changed, comes recommendations from the inquiry. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that lessons are learned and then shared with other parts of the United Kingdom? Across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, we all have areas in our constituencies where there are high-rise flats, and these changes need to happen everywhere else. Does he agree that the recommendations that come out of the inquiry and this debate need to be shared with the regional Administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I totally agree. It is disappointing that the report from the first part of the review has been delayed, but I hope that when it comes out in October, we will get some decent answers. I would rather it be slightly delayed, but with a decent set of answers that we can share across the UK, than rushed through to hit an arbitrary deadline. People want answers, and we want to be able to share those in all areas of the UK.
In July last year, a flat in a tower block in my area, Chaucer House, caught fire. Fortunately, there were many firemen, and I pay tribute to Sutton fire services, which I visited recently, and the neighbouring fire services. Because of the fear and worry following Grenfell, they were on top of it and controlled the fire very quickly. Some lessons have already been learned, but there are plenty more. Whether it is about the response of the fire services, the cladding or the building regulations, we need to learn these lessons to ensure that this can never happen again. Whether it is Lakanal House or other fires, how many times have we said in this place, “This must never happen again” and then similar things have happened again? We need a comprehensive response that we can all learn from.
The Bishop of Kensington talks about humanising welfare. It is a controversial issue in this place, but I would argue that universal credit seeks to do that, because it is tailoring benefits that were a blunt instrument. We always need to review these things, but in Sutton, which was a digital pilot area for universal credit, things have started to improve. Unfortunately, because of the political rhetoric about universal credit, there are people who are not claiming as much as they could, because they are still on the legacy programme. We need to smooth out the bureaucracy and technology as much as we can, to ensure that we have a humanised welfare system.
The Bishop of Kensington talks about becoming neighbours. When I led the e-petition debate last year, I read the names of the 72 victims of Grenfell into Hansard. I saw how Grenfell United and the other advocate organisations had mobilised so many people. The area had its own community, but that community has come so much closer together as a result. That is another lesson we need to learn. It should not take a tragedy to bring people together in communities. We talk about social isolation and loneliness. Many of the people in those flats knew each other and their stories. The more we have to do with our neighbours, the better, and if such a tragedy should occur or if there is a risk, we will find out about it by getting to know our neighbours better.
The bishop also talks about providing homes and noticing faiths. It was disappointing to hear the hon. Member for Kensington say that people had used the words “Islamic caliphate” and other disparaging terms. We just had Eid al-Fitr on Tuesday, and I wish everyone celebrating that Eid Mubarak. John Cleese said on Twitter recently that London is not an English city. How do we define Englishness? It is a set of values, and it is a community. When I was doing my research for the e-petition debate, I looked at the stories of the 72 people who died. Many of them travelled across the world to make London their home. Some of them were fleeing persecution and conflict, and others were looking for a better life. I cannot use the word “community” enough. My friend Shaun Bailey, our London mayoral candidate, comes from that area. He was working in charities for young disadvantaged people in North Kensington, living under the shadow of Grenfell Tower himself.
It is clear that Grenfell Tower, with the white hoarding and the green heart on it, remains a symbol of community. You can see it from so far away. I go down the westway on the A40 quite a lot, and the tower dominates the skyline. When you are walking past the posh houses on Holland Park, you only need to look down the road to see Grenfell Tower dominating the skyline. I hope that for as long as it is there, local people in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster, which borders the area, reflect on what has happened there, to ensure that this never happens again.
I welcome the two new appointees to the panel, who I hope, with their experience, can add value to the findings. Perhaps the Minister could say a few words about the fact that some private leaseholders who have bought their properties may get caught out with the extra cost of re-cladding their buildings. Some developers have said that they will protect leaseholders from exorbitant fees, but we see from restoration of other buildings and blocks around the country how leaseholders can suddenly end up with a sky-high bill, and have to re-mortgage or sell their home. That is totally inappropriate, when these should be basic fire safety measures.
I will speak in particular about the work of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad). I say in a heartfelt way that I do not think her constituents—particularly those most directly affected by this disaster—could have a better champion. She has the respect of Members across the House for what she has done to represent her constituents forcefully, with emotion and with detailed knowledge of these matters. She certainly has my respect for what she has done.
In looking at a disaster and a tragedy such as Grenfell, we can occasionally look at what can come out of it that will help others—in this case, what will help other people to be safer in their homes as a result. As a Committee, we have not looked at the causes of the disaster and the reasons for it, because that is a job for the inquiry to do. It was not our job to go into that area and second-guess its findings, but we have tried to follow up particularly on the work of the Hackitt report. We have looked at what improvements can be made to regulations and rules on buildings and building safety to make other people safer in their homes and other buildings they are in in the future.
We produced a report last July after taking evidence. Prior to that, we had had a session with Dame Judith after both her interim report and her final report. We have had Ministers before us on a number of occasions. I see the Minister for Housing in his place. He came most recently in January, and he is coming again in a few weeks’ time. Dame Judith came in January, and she is coming again at a session before the Minister. We have tried to follow through not merely on what the promises were, but on how far they have been implemented and what more needs to be done. We have had a very detailed exchange of correspondence with Ministers. Indeed, I am still waiting for some answers on the most recent questions we have asked. As I say, we tried to concentrate in our inquiry on the issues of cladding, building safety and building regulations.
In the end, this is a story of a response by the Government with a recognition that dangerous or potentially dangerous material on high-rise and high-risk buildings needs to be removed. However, it is also a story of probably quite a slow response in some respects, and of a response that is still completely inadequate in others and one that has not been finalised. I hope it has not been finalised because I hope that the Government will go further. It is a story about ACM cladding—the cladding on Grenfell—and clearly a requirement for that to be removed, and it is a story of other materials that may be just as dangerous as ACM cladding. It is a story of materials generally that are not of limited combustibility and what should happen to them. It is a story not merely of high-rise residential buildings, but of other high-risk buildings such as hospitals and old people’s homes. Very importantly, it is a story not merely about new building, but about existing buildings, and I will make particular reference to that in a few moments.
It was immediately agreed that the ACM cladding—the cladding on Grenfell—on other high-rise residential buildings should be removed. However, the Government initially produced no funding to go with that. It took till 16 May 2018—roughly a year after the disaster—for the Government to come forward with £400 million, which was welcome. It has generally meant quite a lot of progress on taking the cladding off high-rise social housing, and that progress is welcome. It is not quite complete, but it is welcome progress.
Alongside that, there has been a real problem in relation to private sector buildings and the refusal of the freeholders to accept responsibility. The Government’s reasoned response was that leaseholders should not have to pay for the responsibility. However, for a year after the announcement of the funding for social housing, there was virtually no progress at all on private high-rise buildings, except where some developers decided that they would accept responsibility for the material they had put on. We have to recognise that, in some cases, developers were no longer responsible for the buildings—they may have been bought out by other companies, which were often freehold companies with limited assets— while there were leaseholders who could not pay. It really was a situation that was never going to be resolved. Ministers kept saying—I think this was the famous phrase—“We rule nothing out”, but for the most part nothing actually got done for a long period of time. That was even though the Committee, when it did its report last July, recommended that an immediate fund be established, initially at a very low rate of interest, at least to provide the wherewithal to get this work done, and we could argue about who would pay for it afterwards. We are still very much in that position.
Does the Chairman of the Select Committee accept that there was not only a financial impact on the leaseholders exposed to this pressure, but an emotional one on their mental health from the anxiety of living in what they thought was not a safe home and of worrying about where they were going to find the money to pay for the remedial work and other fire costs?
I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s point. I suppose I am trying to take a practical and financial approach to this issue. I recognise that that is all right for me sitting in here as a Member of Parliament, but for the people who actually live in these properties it is a very different experience given the impact on their daily lives and their mental health, as my hon. Friend has rightly highlighted.
The Government then gave additional powers to local authorities. I am not sure that a single local authority has used any of those powers yet. Indeed, when the permanent secretary came to see the Committee, she said there was a risk to local authorities if they used the powers in relation to whether they could actually make them hold and make them effective, and whether local authorities could actually get any money back if they went in and spent the money themselves.
Now we at least have the £200 million fund that the Government have announced for private sector properties, but there are a lot of questions about it. First, who applies for the fund? Who ensures the work is carried out? Is there a timeline by which all this work has to be carried out? What happens if no one applies and the building is still there with this cladding on it? What happens to the local authority if it goes in and does the work in default: does it get the money back? What happens where a developer has already, rightly, paid for the work themselves: can that developer claim the money back from the fund, or does it apply only to work that currently has not been carried out? In the end, who is responsible for the work being signed off as satisfactory? There are a lot of questions that need addressing, and I have written to Ministers about them on behalf of the Committee.
The Chairman of the Select Committee has proved very tenacious in following up on these issues. Does he agree with me that the Grenfell Tower fire was a systems failure—a whole-system failure—at various points, and that it is now imperative for the Government to put in whatever money is required to rebuild that system from the bottom up, so that in dealing with the consequences and the aftermath of that fire we do not recreate problems or create new ones in the systems for homes, inspections or fire regulations?
I thank my hon. Friend for taking away from me my final, winding-up comments. She is absolutely right, and that is at the heart of Dame Judith’s report. This is about making sure that materials are right and are properly tested. In the end, it is not even about the building regulations in relation to fire; it is about the building industry as a whole and how it operates. There is a race to the bottom, and the industry is taking the cheapest on board all the time as the way forward. This is about making sure not merely that the materials are right, but that the materials specified are actually used, that the buildings are properly signed off and that they are properly maintained and managed. This is a whole-system issue.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the correct way of doing that is for local authorities, not private companies, to police the building regulations system?
That is a really important point. In our report in July 2018, one of the things we highlighted was the conflict of interests in the building industry, which go right the way through. Fire authorities can actually be testing their own work and recommendations, which is wrong. This is also about the whole testing regime for products. We had evidence of producers going around different testing organisations until they found the one that actually approved their material, and there was no record of the failures from other organisations. Fundamentally, this is about building inspectors being appointed by developers and then signing off the work of the people that have appointed them. That cannot be right. This is not necessarily about local authority or private sector building inspectors, but about who appoints them to a particular job and whom they are accountable to, which is absolutely key. Dame Judith’s recommendations on that need to be followed through, because they are really an important part of the changes we need.
On other issues, when the Minister came to the Select Committee in January, we asked him about other forms of material. Rockwool had drawn to the Committee’s attention about 1,600 properties on which the material was not ACM, but could be as dangerous. The Minister was very open and direct about it, and he did say that all those properties would now be tested—I think there has been a delay in the testing, which is unfortunate, but it has started—but that if those tests showed that the material on those properties was as dangerous or as risky as ACM, the same rules would apply about taking it off and about having a requirement to take it off. That is what he said. There is, of course, disagreement about the testing arrangements, which have been a matter of contention right the way through our work. We must come to a conclusion whereby the industry in general is satisfied that the tests are fit for purpose, but nevertheless that testing is happening, and if any material is as dangerous as ACM, it must be removed. Will the Government pay for that as well as for taking ACM off homes in both the social and private sectors? That is a fundamental question. There is no point in banning the stuff if we then return to the same problems that we had with ACM.
The Government introduced a ban on materials that are not of limited combustibility immediately after Dame Judith’s report—on reflection she probably feels that she might have recommended that herself, and she is certainly comfortable with that recommendation, which was right. But there is a problem—the elephant in the room—how can we possibly say that it is too risky to put materials that are not of limited combustibility on new buildings, if we are happy for such materials to remain on existing buildings? How can we say to people, “You are safe in your homes, but we wouldn’t put that material on a new home because we don’t think it’s safe”? That is a fundamental problem.
I am sure that sums are going round in the heads of people in the Treasury, who will be counting the cost of taking material that is not of limited combustibility off all existing buildings. That cost will be considerable and probably far larger than the budget for dealing with ACM to which the Government had to commit, but is the Minister really comfortable with saying to people, “You’re going to live in a home that has material on it that we would not consider safe to put on a new building”?
I know that if building regulations are changed, we cannot always go back and retrospectively apply them to all existing buildings, but we are talking about a fundamental issue of safety and fire prevention that the Government must consider. Importantly, we must also think about non-residential buildings. Many hospitals, schools, student accommodations and residential homes are not covered by the current ban, although they are high-risk buildings. In 2018 the Committee said that this is about not just high-rise but high-risk buildings, and that provision must be applied.
Some progress has been made on many issues, but we have a lot more to do. Dame Judith recommended a whole review of building regulations, which is key, and we must get proper tests agreed. There is the conflict of interest to resolve, and the issue of existing buildings. Fundamentally, however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) prompted me to say, this is about the whole construction industry not being fit for purpose. We need a fundamental review of how it operates, considering not just specifications, but including the management of projects and ensuring that people have homes and other buildings that are safe to live in.
Order. I am happy to have given some latitude to the Chair of the Select Committee, which is perfectly reasonable, but we must now introduce a time limit of seven minutes.
Grenfell should not have happened and it is a stain on this place that it did, but my words will be of no comfort to the victims and relatives of those left behind. I think I was sitting in the Chair where you are now, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I listened to the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad). She has spent two years of her time here fighting tirelessly on behalf of her constituents. Those who report on these matters are fixated with Brexit and with who is or is not visiting our country, but in eight days it will be the second anniversary of the nightmare, and I pay tribute to the ways that the hon. Lady has ensured that Grenfell is not forgotten in this place. She has become vice-chair of the all-party fire safety rescue group. A number of other colleagues in the Chamber also bring their expertise to that group, whether that is a former fire Minister who leads on fire safety in leasehold properties, a colleague with expertise in white goods, or another who brings with him 31 years of service in the fire brigade. It is probably the best all-party group with which I am involved.
The world was horrified when we saw a tower block ablaze in the fourth or fifth wealthiest country in the world, and it should never, never, have happened. Over the past six years, the all-party group has met resistance when seeking improvements to fire safety, despite compelling evidence that such measures should be introduced. In the 13 years since regulations were last reviewed, nothing has happened. It is perhaps rather easier for a Conservative Member to make those points than it would be for other Members, because we should never have got to the position of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, especially after the warnings and recommendations from the coroner after the Lakanal House fire and the 2013 inquest, the rule 43 letter to the Secretary of State—I am glad to see the Home Secretary in his place—the large number of letters exchanged between me and numerous Ministers, and meetings with successive Ministers.
It brings no comfort to the victims of Grenfell if we blame. It is the fault of the Conservative Government, the coalition Government, the Labour Government—it is the fault of every Member of Parliament that our voice was not heard and the recommendations were not listened to. Speaking at the Local Government Association fire safety conference on 4 July, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service said that
“we may have to confront an awkward truth…that over many years and perhaps against the backdrop of, as data shows, a reduced risk in terms of fire, in terms of number of incidents and deaths, that maybe as a system some complacency has crept in.”
The questions to which we need an answer are: has enough been done? What has changed? What difference has been made? The official answer is that immediately after the fire, the Government announced a public inquiry under Sir Martin Moore-Bick. They appointed Dame Judith Hackitt to undertake an independent review of building regulations. They established an independent expert panel, chaired by Sir Ken Knight, and set up a comprehensive website at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that lists all actions then taken and proposed. It is therefore not true to say that nothing has been done, but not enough has been done. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Home Office, would retain overall joint responsibility for the measures to be taken, and as the hon. Member for Kensington said, it is for others to talk about how the housing situation has been dealt with.
Whether enough has been done during these two years depends on what perspective we take. The Government have established a public inquiry, an independent panel of experts, and a building regulations review. There have been calls for evidence, working groups, and Committees have been pointed in a direction of travel, with instructions to those who were guilty of a “race to the bottom” to fix things. There are Departments full of people and a website stacked with volumes of literature and guidance, but there is little by way of prescriptive action and that is the frustration of the all-party group.
To his credit, the Secretary of State has banned combustible materials from high-risk buildings over 18 metres and desktop studies, and he has extended the removal of dangerous materials on private sector flats. But why not all high-risk buildings, not just those over 18 metres? Why are we still building single staircase high-rise flats? This is crazy! Why are we still building new schools without making it mandatory for them to contain sprinklers? It is six years since the Lakanal House fire and disaster, and the coroner’s letter to the former Secretary of State has still not been properly acted on. The classic example is the encouragement for retrofitting sprinklers in all tall flats, which was recommended by the coroner after the Lakanal House fire.
The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee and my hon. Friend have raised this issue, and so that the House is fully informed, it is worth pointing out that this morning we laid a written ministerial statement with our response to the Hackitt report and our proposals for consultation, including calls for evidence. One of those proposals is about the scope of buildings that should be looked at as part of the Hackitt inquiry. I understand my hon. Friend’s desire for urgency, but we have today published that statement and launched a large exercise to gather evidence, consult on proposals, and put in place some of the measures that have been mentioned.
I apologise to my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary. I was not aware that that action had been taken and I have not had time to look at it. I will read it with great interest and hopefully it will be of some encouragement to our group.
The formal review of building regulations promised by the Secretary of State in 2013, to be completed by 2016-17, still has not started. They were last looked at in 2006 and it will take at least a year and a half before anything comes from it.
In conclusion, the building regulations must be reviewed. We have to stop messing about. We want a proper audit, so there is retrospective fitting of sprinklers in all high-rise buildings. We need urgent action on all these matters. There are a number of Scottish and Welsh Members here. Wales and Scotland are further ahead than England in regulating for automatic fire sprinklers and the built environment. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister: why is England so far behind, given that it is coming up to two years since Grenfell and 10 years since Lakanal? The hon. Member for Kensington is doing a splendid job, but I really hope it is not necessary to have another debate in a year’s time and to be again frustrated by a lack of action.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) on securing the debate and on the work she has championed since she was elected. She was plunged into this catastrophe just days after being elected—probably one of the biggest challenges any Member of Parliament has had to face. She knows how much it matters to me, too. My previous constituency boundary included Grenfell Tower. As the neighbouring constituency, many residents in my constituency watched in horror from tower blocks around Harrow road as the fire claimed those lives. The trauma affects my constituents, too.
The night that Grenfell burned and 72 people died in a modern, refurbished tower block, at the heart of one of the wealthiest communities in one of the most prosperous cities the world has ever known, is seared into our national consciousness. It is a defining moment of modern British politics. It should have been the event that changed everything. It should have brought about a wholly new attitude to housing, social housing and meeting housing need, the duty of care we have to people in high-rise accommodation, risk and deregulation in housing. I let myself believe that that would be true. It should have been a defining moment and it has not been.
Of course, some action has been taken, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chair of the Select Committee, said: the inquiry is under way; we have had the interim report from the Hackitt review; and the Government have today launched a consultation. I am grateful for the fact that the Government backed my private Member’s Bill, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which allows tenants legal recourse when their homes, including the common parts of flats, are unfit and threaten their health and safety. That includes fire risk. We have also had the £200 million fund for cladding removal in private blocks.
What has not happened, however, is a seismic shift in attitude and action from the Government. That falls into two parts and I will briefly refer to both of them.
The first is the meeting of housing need relating specifically to Grenfell. On the day after the fire, we convened in Westminster Hall—Parliament was still prorogued; it was just after the election—and a number of us spoke to Ministers about the aftermath. I recall saying to Ministers that one of the things that needed to be understood was how many of the residents in Grenfell Tower and around Grenfell had direct or close experience of homelessness, and how critically important it was that immediate action was taken to provide permanent accommodation for them. In addition to the trauma of the fire, the dislocation of moving from one home to another and the experience of being in emergency or temporary accommodation would only compound what they had experienced. I remember placing that in the context of rising homelessness across London and the importance of not making other vulnerable families in housing need wait longer for a home because of the demands posed by Grenfell. Heads nodded.
We know now, two years later, that not all those housing needs have been met. Of the 202 households from Grenfell, 14 remain in temporary accommodation. Of the 129 evacuated from the wider area, 41 are still in temporary accommodation. That is unacceptable. It sits in the wider context of homelessness across London, which is detailed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington said, by the Shelter commission. That should also have been a wake-up call and a demand for immediate action to tackle housing need.
We have seen very little action. There has been a collapse in social housebuilding under this Government. It was inadequate beforehand—I am happy to say that—but there has been a collapse since then, with record lows in housing delivery and an acute homelessness crisis. The needs of the Kensington and Grenfell families should be seen in that context. In a new era for social housing that Grenfell should have generated, we have not seen action from the Government.
The second legacy, as we have heard, is the Government’s commitment that such a catastrophe should never happen again and that people should not fear that it will happen again. They should not live under the shadow of safety concerns in their own blocks, yet two years on that is exactly where we are. We know that 60,000 people live today in blocks with potentially dangerous cladding. We know that eight out of 10 of the blocks that had cladding are yet to have it removed. We know that 16,400 private apartments are wrapped in potentially dangerous cladding. In a question to the Mayor of London two weeks ago, Assembly Member Andrew Dismore found that London Fire Brigade paid 1,200 visits to high-rise premises with suspected flammable cladding, of which 316 confirmed flammable cladding. That is at its most acute in three boroughs: Tower Hamlets, where there are 65; Greenwich, where there are 45; and my own borough of Westminster, where there are 26.
The £200 million the Government recently announced is welcome—it came just under the wire for the second anniversary—but it is clearly not enough to ensure that either the ACM cladding blocks or those in potentially non-ACM flammable cladding can be dealt with.
We have heard from the Select Committee about the generally deregulatory attitude of the building industry. It was very, very concerning to see a survey in Building, which showed how little the business industry had risen to the challenge of safety concerns and how little change there has been in the way it works.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the industry has not taken responsibility. It is a shame that past Ministers are on record as putting the onus on industry, saying it is not for the Government to regulate but for the industry to self-regulate. Does she agree that we have to end that, and that if industry will not take responsibility the Government will have to act?
I totally agree. People living in high-rise blocks wrapped in cladding find it inexplicable that the Government still have such a deregulatory approach and expect the industry to take responsibility.
Does my hon. Friend share my concerns about the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s review of fire retardants in foam on the back of fridges and in furnishings, cots and mattresses? This issue has been ongoing since 2004, following warnings from officials that the flame retardants were no longer fit for purpose and could, paradoxically, cause more injury through smoke inhalation than they prevent through stopping fire. Three years after the 2016 consultation, the Government still have not published the responses.
It is completely inexplicable. The public expect the Government to act quickly and firmly to ensure that products and building standards are safe, but that has not been done. As the Building survey showed, nearly half those operating in the industry had yet to change the way they carried out competency checks on their supply chain partners; nearly half had not been swayed by the Hackitt report’s recommendations to change the way they shared building safety information with their supply chains; nearly a third reported no change in product specification and performance checks; and more than a third reported no change in checking on the quality of work being undertaken. We have an industry that is effectively in crisis in meeting safety standards. As we approach the second anniversary, it is time that the Government recognise that the deregulatory approach does not work.
We heard a great deal in the early days after the fire about retrofitting sprinklers, but in my constituency, where the local authority—to its credit—was prepared to make that investment, that has faltered, as it has in many other places, because the Government are yet to get to grips with the reality of mixed tenure in high-rise properties and the fact that it is impossible, under the current law, for local authorities to require the owners of private flats in local authority blocks to give them access and comply with the requirement to fit sprinklers. As a result, everybody else in those blocks is potentially suffering.
We are, two years later, in an unsatisfactory position. We have failed to rise to the challenge of Grenfell and this distracted, exhausted and fractured Government have not done enough to honour the memories of the dead and support the survivors—nowhere near.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck).
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) on securing the debate and commend her for the tenacity and dignity she has shown over the past two years, which must have been an immensely difficult journey. I thank her for that.
This is an intensely emotional subject, and I am aware that some in the House have strong views on what the royal Borough or the Government might, or should, have done differently in their immediate response to the aftermath of what we all know as “Grenfell”. Likewise, the former residents, who have all been through the most traumatic event—some having lost family and all having lost their home—have every right to expect clarity going forward. I hope that this debate will go some way towards providing a bit of clarity, because it has been lacking to date.
There have been well-publicised cases of families still waiting to be offered permanent accommodation, seemingly for reasons that are not swiftly resolved. Given the magnitude of the tragedy, I suspect that the response was reasonable in the circumstances and accepting the constraints of a single London borough, particularly considering that those working within Royal Borough of Kensington would have been just as devastated—and probably more devastated—as the rest of us in the UK when we first learned of the tragedy that summer morning, as the facts unfolded. This includes people working in the housing department, in adult social care and in family and children’s services, as well as local councillors and, not least of all, the MP, all of whom will have liaised with the residents of Grenfell Tower over the two-year period and will have been deeply affected by the fire and its aftermath and consequences.
Whatever some of us might feel or think about the response, we must commend those workers for their efforts in the most extreme and distressing circumstances. They worked tirelessly and efficiently to find temporary accommodation and support, and they should be proud of their efforts. I note, however, that there have been failures in that journey—not by all, but by some—and the failures that I have heard about in the Chamber today are totally unacceptable. A number of emotional support schemes were set up to assist former residents of the tower after the fire, but I hope that those working within the borough have also had all the support necessary to help with their emotional wellbeing in dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy and the personal contact that they had with individuals.
Former residents have rightly and reasonably expressed concerns about the speed at which the Grenfell Tower inquiry is progressing, or, as might be the case, not progressing. They are understandably keen for closure to an extremely traumatic episode in their lives—an episode that someone can only imagine unless they experienced it themselves. It must be borne in mind that by all accounts there is a remarkable weight of written evidence and verbal testimony, and giving that testimony would have been a challenge for those individuals. That is all to be worked through and properly considered and the response will take time. Nevertheless, will the Minister update the House on the progress of the inquiry? I am sure that it would bring some comfort to the residents to know that progress is hopefully being made on the journey towards securing the truth and justice that they so richly deserve.
There are few adjectives sufficient to describe the bravery of the fire officers and other emergency responders on the night of the Grenfell fire—and a very dark night it was in London. We owe those individuals a great debt and I thank them. I am aware that the review of the fitting of sprinklers is ongoing. It is a natural move from the effectiveness of the home smoke detector. It is a natural move for the system where we live to have sprinklers, irrespective of the cost, which should not come into it. It will be only a small fraction of the new-build cost of a house, and retrofitting can be achieved. In my time in the fire service, as a fire officer of 31 years’ standing, I have seen the effectiveness of sprinklers. They work—that is not in any doubt.
The key issue is cladding, and how the fire spread so rapidly is of particular interest to me. Pending the release of the inquiry report, I would be grateful to know from the Minister what progress has been made in remediating social, public and private buildings with regard to the high-risk cladding that is attached as we speak. There are unsafe homes in the United Kingdom. We need to speed up addressing, resolving and mitigating or removing that risk—mitigating is an option, but the final thing is to remove the risk entirely. I know that there has been difficulty in persuading the owners of some private dwellings to do the right thing for their leaseholders and tenants. An update on that matter would be most welcome from the Minister.
For those who have been through an ordeal such as this, there is seldom enough that can be done to restore personal confidence or relieve long-term anxiety. I am hopeful, however, that with the right support and with post-inquiry progress on building and construction standards, we will—and must—do everything possible to ensure that this tragedy can never be repeated, as I have said before. That thought, I hope, will bring a little comfort to those who survived this tragedy. I am fearful that they and others will remain troubled and traumatised for years to come. The loss of 72 innocent lives at Grenfell must focus the minds of legislators. Their loss must not be in vain.
I add my congratulations to those given to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) for her phenomenal leadership on this issue. She represents a constituency where many people feel disenfranchised and voiceless. In this place, she has become their voice and we thank her very much for that.
Days after Grenfell Tower went up in flames and 72 lives were lost, the Prime Minister promised to do everything in her power to keep people safe. That was two years ago and the Government’s record since then has been one of denial, dither and delay, as they failed to act on words that now ring very hollow indeed. Some years before Grenfell, in 2009, there was a fire at Lakanal House in south London that led to the death of six people, including a baby. The inquest reported in 2013 with very clear recommendations. The coroner said that the fire safety regulations and, specifically, part B of the building regulations that cover fire safety, were unclear. That was why unsafe and combustible cladding was being strapped on residential buildings inappropriately. The coroner warned, sadly prophetically, that if the confusion was not put right, more deaths would follow.
The Government were given that warning in 2013, but they did nothing, so three years later, flammable ACM cladding was strapped to the outside of Grenfell Tower. A year after that, it went up in flames and 72 people lost their lives. It could not be more horrific, and I am afraid that Ministers’ responsibility could not be clearer. We are now two years further on and yet the fire safety regulations remain unaltered. The Government could have acted on those regulations after Lakanal House 10 years ago, but they did not. They could have introduced a complete ban on flammable cladding after Grenfell, but they did not. They could have taken immediate action to strip Grenfell-style flammable cladding from every housing block where it existed, but they did not. Why not? Because if they had belatedly acted on the Lakanal House recommendations after the deaths at Grenfell Tower, they would have had to accept that their failure to act earlier had contributed directly to that disaster. Rather than do that, they chose to cover up their earlier inaction with more inaction. If the leaders of a private company had acted in the way that Ministers did, they would find themselves in the dock charged with corporate manslaughter. Ministers should reflect on that.
Last December the Government finally, and belatedly, announced a partial ban on flammable cladding, but a partial ban is not enough. They have proposed a ban on flammable cladding on new buildings over six storeys or 18 metres high, but have excluded hotels and office blocks. I simply cannot not understand why. I have written to the Minister asking for the evidence that a hotel or an office block is safer than a block of flats, but he has not provided anything convincing, and I doubt whether he will be able to. Surely people in a hotel where they have never stayed before are less likely to know the fire safety escape routes than they would be at home, in a block of flats with which they are familiar; and if flammable cladding is not safe above six storeys, why would anyone on the fifth or the fourth floor want flammable cladding strapped outside their home?
The Government propose to continue to permit the use of flammable cladding on the majority of schools, care homes and hospitals, because most of them are under than 18 metres high. How do the Government think parents will feel, knowing that flammable cladding is still allowed on the outside walls of the school that their child attends every day? No parent I know would tolerate that.
Right now, there are still 60,000 people living in 272 blocks with Grenfell-style cladding. The Government refused all demands to act for nearly two years. They finally performed a welcome U-turn last month and found £200 million to remove and replace flammable ACM cladding on residential blocks, but even that is not enough to pay for the work to be carried out fully. It includes nothing to deal with other types of flammable cladding which could be just as dangerous as ACM, nothing to deal with failing fire safety doors, and nothing to enable sprinklers to be installed in the blocks where they are required. Even after all this time—even after two years—Ministers continue to evade their responsibility to keep people safe.
The best way in which to meet the Lakanal House coroner’s demand for clarity on fire safety rules is to introduce a complete ban on flammable cladding on all buildings where people live or work, and that ban should not only cover new buildings. We must take down flammable cladding wherever it exists, because it is an unacceptable danger to people’s lives. Many European countries have already introduced a complete ban; Scotland is introducing one, and we need one here in England as well.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is completely insane for the Government not to introduce a complete ban? If they are not going to do so, Ministers should guarantee today that there will be no further fatalities. Otherwise they should call for a complete ban, through legislation if necessary.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It strikes me as incredibly and frighteningly contradictory to say that flammable cladding cannot be allowed on new buildings, but is fine on buildings where it already exists. If I lived in a block like that, I would be living in fear, and I know that thousands of people are living in those circumstances.
There is still an average of one fire a month in buildings with flammable cladding, and it is only a matter of time before one of those fires is not put out. Let us mark the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster next week, and honour the memory of those who died by making sure that what happened at Grenfell can never happen anywhere ever again.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for securing this important debate. Like others who have spoken, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) for her powerful speech, and for all the work that she has been doing to support