House of Commons
Monday 7 October 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Terminally Ill People
I understand how important it is to support those nearing the end of their life, and I am taking the evaluation forward as a priority. We have made progress on all areas of the work announced by the previous Secretary of State on 11 July. As a next step, we will be holding a workshop event on 29 October to gather key stakeholder views.
The Scottish Government have already done this work. They have talked to the medical profession, the third sector and patients. My Bill to implement a system in England and Wales is ready to go. Why are we not pushing ahead? Is this not just delaying the terminally ill from being able to access terminal illness benefits?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has been a tireless campaigner in this area, building on her personal and professional experience. I have met with her on several occasions, including as part of this work. We want to get things right. We understand the importance of the issue, and we are doing internal research with clinicians and external research with claimants and stakeholders. We are also looking at international research, which will include what the Scottish Government are doing, and we will be concentrating on the process to ensure that it is improved. This is an important area.
Given that the hon. Gentleman chairs the all-party parliamentary group for terminal illness, I call Drew Hendry.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
This Government are stringing terminally ill people and their families along. They already have the evidence from stakeholders and from what is happening in Scotland. When will they do what they should for these people and their families and scrap the six-month rule, get implicit consent in place, and make the situation one of fairness and dignity for people who are dying?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work as chairman of the APPG. We do take things seriously, which is why we are doing this thorough evaluation. We are already working with organisations such as Marie Curie, the MND Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, Hospice UK, the Association for Palliative Medicine, Macmillan, the Queen’s Nursing Institute and Sue Ryder. We must get the balance right so that those who should be getting fast-track access to support are always prioritised, and we will be doing a thorough evaluation to ensure that we get that right.
Part of the evaluation is about looking at the whole process, including not only the six-month rule but the process before and after. I believe that there has been a case in the right hon. Gentleman’ constituency, so it would be helpful to have further information on that as part of the evaluation.
I call the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris); I am very grateful to him for proffering me a very effective throat remedy on Thursday.
Contracted-out Health Assessments
We are committed to ensuring that individuals receive high-quality assessments as part of the suite of evidence that decision makers can use to decide entitlement. Providers are closely monitored against a range of measures, including through independent audit, to improve the accuracy of the advice they provide to decision makers. We continually look to improve the efficiency of the assessment process by working closely with providers.
I listened intently to the Minister’s response, but my constituent has a series of complex and debilitating medical conditions and had been in receipt of disability benefit since 1994. At 60, when she had expected to retire, the Department for Work and Pensions declared her fit for work. Given that 74% of fit-for-work decisions were overturned on appeal in 2018-19, what confidence can the Minister give my constituent that there is equality and consistency of decisions on work capability assessments and, indeed, that the decision-making process is correct?
We strive to get the right decision first time, but we have to do much more to speed up the appeal process in the minority of cases where that does not happen. That is why we launched a series of pilots in the spring of mandatory reconsideration centres for both personal independent payment and work capability assessment, to ensure that we proactively gather the additional written and oral evidence that is often presented at the end of the independent appeal process, speeding up the process of ensuring that people get the right decision quickly.
I know the Minister is determined to see improvements in how decisions are made. Will he kindly update the House on the progress on introducing a single assessment service, which will greatly help the situation?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. She works tirelessly in this area and is held in great respect by all Members on both sides of the House.
The integrated assessment is looking at how, with the claimant’s permission, we can share the evidence they have already gathered. We know that the majority of successful appeals contain additional written and oral evidence, often because the claimant had previously struggled to get that evidence. If the evidence is already in the system, we should be making it as easy as possible for the claimant to use it a second time.
Might I meet the Minister immediately after questions to give him a file of photographs of constituents who have failed to get any mobility component, even when they have foot bones coming through their flesh like in the photo I have here, so that we can have an urgent meeting to discuss how the procedure that we all wish to see is not currently operating?
I would be very happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman, who has a huge amount of expertise in this area. Of those who have transferred from disability living allowance to PIP, there are 144,000 claimants who were not on enhanced mobility under DLA but who now are under PIP.
If a 16-year-old’s DLA stops before PIP starts, should not the contractor be made liable for the maintenance of that child until the PIP settlement is determined?
The two benefits link through together. It is set at 16 to allow time for adaptation, and we continue to work with stakeholders to make sure the process is as straightforward as possible.
Figures recently published by the Department reveal that disabled people are being forced to wait up to 69 days for their mandatory reconsideration for PIP. This process is a barrier to accessing vital social security and, for many, is a deliberate delay to the appeal process. As 85% of MR decisions are upheld, almost three quarters of PIP assessments are overturned on appeal. Will the Minister lay out his plans to improve this failing process, or will he follow Labour’s lead and scrap this unfit-for-purpose assessment?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the need to improve mandatory reconsiderations, which is why we brought forward the pilots in the spring. The pilots are proactively gathering the additional written and oral evidence that was often presented at the end of the independent appeal process, which would sometimes take a year or even longer—that was not acceptable. We have been doing this over the summer, and we are now doing it for all PIP and work capability assessments. I attended a PIP mandatory reconsideration in Cardiff over the summer, and we are seeing some fantastic results because, rightly, we are speaking directly to claimants to ask them why they are challenging a decision. That will make a big difference, and stakeholders warmly welcome it.
Universal Credit: Disabled Claimants
Universal credit targets additional support at a wider group than the system it replaces, with a much higher rate for severely disabled people than the employment and support allowance equivalent. Around 1 million disabled households will gain, on average, £100 a month on universal credit compared with legacy benefits.
It is shameful that it took the Government 15 months and a High Court ruling to sort out payments for those with severe disabilities, but it goes on. Why does a young constituent with Down’s syndrome who is making a new claim have to wait more than three months for a full payment?
We continue to work with stakeholders and claimants to make sure the system is improved and can operate as quickly as possible. I encourage Opposition Members to support the £600 million of additional support for the severe disability premium and not pray against those regulations.
Despite what the Minister says, the reality is that a new claimant on universal credit will be £180 a month worse off as a result of disability premiums not being available. That is in addition to the increasing number of disabled people who are dying after being found fit for work or being refused PIP. When will the Government ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against and are adequately resourced, as they would be under the Labour party’s policy?
This Government are spending an additional £9 billion per year—a record high of £55 billion—supporting those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. The universal credit rate for the most severely disabled is more than double the equivalent employment and support allowance group rate, at £336.20, compared with a legacy payment of just £167.05.
Universal Credit: Financial Resilience
Universal credit ensures that support goes to those who need it, allowing 700,000 more people to receive benefits than did previously—this is worth approximately an extra £2.4 billion. Those who move to UC from legacy benefits and whose circumstances remain the same will be eligible for protection of their entitlement at the point of transition.
This is Challenge Poverty Week, and plenty of people are challenged by UC. They face what Citizens Advice Scotland describes as an “acute dilemma” between enforced hardship for five weeks, while there is no income whatsoever, and ongoing hardship if they choose to take out a loan and have to face reduced monthly payments while they pay back that loan for the first five weeks.
The situation is that this is an assessment period and no one has to wait to receive a UC payment; an advance of up to 100% is available to those in need, and significant funding has gone to Citizens Advice Scotland.
Some 700,000 households yet to move to UC have insufficient savings to cover that five-week wait, which clearly proves that UC is not working. Will the Minister consider making that advance payment to claimants a non-refundable first UC payment?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there is a managed migration pilot in Harrogate, where we are learning lessons, and I take on board the points he makes. That completes at the end of 2020 and, obviously, everyone not in the pilot stays on the legacy system as it currently runs.
One important way for people on UC to build their financial resilience is through regular saving, although that can feel incredibly difficult for those on lower incomes. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s Help to Save scheme, which is precisely for people on tax credits and UC and which provides a 50% bonus on their savings, is a really important tool?
Just today, I met Toynbee Hall and other organisations that are championing the idea of Help to Save. It is making a massive difference, and it is linked to automatic enrolment and to various other schemes we are trying to pioneer in order to ensure that people have savings as well as UC.
I visited my local jobcentre, and it is very positive about the effects of UC. Specifically on financial resilience, how many people have been helped into work and the security of a regular pay packet as a result of UC?
My hon. Friend makes the good point that hundreds of thousands of people have been helped into work, but more particularly this is about the difference between the current system and the legacy system: we now have a dedicated work coach and personalised support; we have scrapped the 16-hour cliff edge; there is more help with childcare; and we have given additional support that was never there under the legacy system.
If the individual case is sent to the Minister with responsibility for UC, they will take that up and respond accordingly.
If people are paid on a four-week cycle, once a year they get paid twice in the same month, which disrupts the UC payment for two months. Will the Minister meet me to see what we can do to prevent these cash flow issues?
I take the point that my hon. Friend makes, in his usual astute way, and I know that the Minister concerned will be happy to have a meeting with him.
As we discussed before the start of questions, the hon. Lady knows that I will soon write to her in great detail on those particular points. The individual issue is being addressed so that there is a much gentler way forward. We are reforming the way that advances are made so that there is no fraud involved in the process.
I hope the Minister will forgive me, but I was hoping to address my question to the new Secretary of State. I am interested to know what she has learned so far about the five-week wait and the damage it does. People have more debt when they come on to universal credit than they had on legacy benefits, and the advance payment is another debt that must be repaid from a meagre amount of benefit, frozen for three years. When is the Secretary of State going to look into getting rid of the five-week wait so that people get non-repayable money into their pockets more swiftly? They cannot wait for five weeks.
I am sure the Secretary of State looks forward to appearing before the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, of which the hon. Lady is a member, next week.
An advance is available to people in the usual way. Supported by the Treasury Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee, we have brought in the Money and Pensions Service to provide debt advice and budgeting support for claimants. There is no doubt that the extra money for Help to Claim, which is administered by trusted providers—whether that is the citizens advice bureaux or Citizens Advice Scotland—is very much helping the process.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) said, it is Challenge Poverty Week in Scotland, and 400 events will take place to highlight the reality of living in poverty. One of the most significant push factors that take people into poverty has been the five-week waiting time between applying for universal credit and receiving it. Today, three quarters of a million households are unable to cover their outgoings during those five weeks and are trying to repay their universal credit advance. We know it, the public know it and I suspect the Department knows it; when will the Minister do something about it?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that it is an assessment period and no one has to wait to receive a UC payment. On migration, there will be a two-week run-on for both housing benefit and employment support benefits.
As part of Scotland’s Challenge Poverty Week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a report that shows that the Scottish Government’s actions—such as the building of 87,000 affordable homes and the introduction of specific child poverty legislation—are making a real difference in tackling poverty. Given the fact that there is at least one Government on these islands who are determined to tackle the scourge of poverty in our society, is it not time for social security to be devolved fully to the Scottish Parliament?
There is much that I could say about the Scottish Government and their approach to welfare, but I will pass on that. The point is surely that this Government have introduced childcare changes, more employment and support on an ongoing basis, including through lower taxes. It is obvious that there is a benefit from the changes and advances we have made.
Since 2010, there are over 3.7 million more people in work and 730,000 fewer children growing up in workless households. About three quarters of employment growth has been in full-time work, which has been proven to substantially reduce the risk of poverty. But it is not enough to have any job; we want people to have good jobs.
With regard to in-work poverty, 20% of people in relative poverty in 2016-17 were single people without children and 11% were couples without children. The Government have done absolutely nothing to reverse cuts to work allowances for people without children who do not have a disability. What action is the Minister going to take to tackle in-work poverty among those people?
I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. We are committed to helping lone parents into a job that fits around their caring responsibilities. There are now more than 1.2 million lone parents in work. To support parents into work, the Government spend £6 billion on childcare each and every year.
Has the Minister read the report from the Resolution Foundation that stated that
“Low pay is falling for the first time in four decades”
and that women were the biggest beneficiaries? It pointed out that since the national living wage was introduced in 2016 the percentage of employees on low pay has fallen from 20.7% to 17.1% last year.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I have not seen the report, so I will go away and dig it out. We have invested £8 million to develop the evidence on what works to support people to progress in work, including enhancing our operational capability to support claimants to make good decisions on job switching.
The thing is, it is really difficult for many families in my constituency on the minimum wage, as they may have to travel quite substantial distances to be able to work, while having to meet family responsibilities at the same time. They end up not being able to do enough hours to make the whole package add up at the end of the week. How are the Government going to make sure that such families have a chance to provide for themselves? That is all they are trying to do.
The statistics show that full-time work reduces substantially the chances of poverty. The absolute poverty rate for children where both parents work full-time is only 4%, compared with 44% where one or more parents are in work, so we need to support more people into work, and we are doing so, for example, by offering 30 hours of free childcare to parents of three and four-year-olds. The national living wage is £8.21, increasing to £10.50 by 2024, and we have taken millions out of paying tax altogether.
Employment: Young People
This Government are committed to providing targeted support for all our young people, to give them the best chance of getting into work. That includes the youth obligation support programme, Jobcentre Plus support for schools, and the recently introduced mentoring circles.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I welcome the Government funding given to Go Train, which provides recruitment and training services to businesses at no cost to business. Will she visit Walsall North in November, when a course will be provided specific to the Birchills area of my constituency?
I was recently nearby, at one of our universal credit service centres, with my hon. Friend It was absolutely clear that opportunities for young people in his constituency and the surrounding area are vital. The Department for Work and Pensions is working with the West Midlands Combined Authority to bring together local skills, employment support and Jobcentre Plus services. We are investing £1.2 million in the west midlands for extra resources, including helping young people to tackle the biggest hurdles to finding employment.
Ah yes, I shall be having a cup of tea or coffee with the mum of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) this week, so doubtless we shall compare notes on his inquiry. Huw Merriman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Speaking of young people, they will welcome the decision to grant the living wage to people aged 21 to 25 at £10.50 an hour, but are the Government satisfied that there will not be any impact on young people and their job opportunities as a result of their being paid the same rate as those who have more experience in the workplace?
I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement to bring more people, including younger people, into the scope of the national living wage over the next five years. Employers will continue to select the best person for the job, based on multiple factors. Like me, they will take confidence from the fact that young people will have a chance to take advantage of the support offered to make sure that they are ready to meet those challenges and be the best person for the job. So local labour markets will still be strong.
When are we going to see a glimmer of passion from this Front Bench about young people who do not have any employment opportunities? Has the Minister looked at the report from the Children’s Commissioner that showed that 20% of kids come out of schools at this time with no qualifications? A lot of them are already on the skills journey in further education colleges, waiting to get an apprenticeship. What is she going to do about it?
Wonderful passion—that is very much appreciated. And I make no apology for bringing passion to this new role when it comes to youth unemployment. In fact, I explicitly asked the Secretary of State that I could continue with my focus on young people in this role. Please do not forget that youth unemployment has almost halved since 2010 under this Government.
The Minister may be aware of the talent match programme that was run in Greater Manchester in order to reach young people not in education, employment or training. We have learnt a great deal about how to ally industrial education and skills, and employment strategies, for that group as a result of that programme. Will the Minister look at devolving some of the initiatives that she has described to Greater Manchester, along with providing funding, so that we can do more to work at a sub-regional and city-regional level to support our young people effectively into employment?
Place-based support and understanding is really important in devolving down and making changes on the ground. There is a great opportunity in the coming changes to the European social fund, in the shared prosperity fund and in the ability to work with local enterprise partnerships and local mayors, because young people may have fantastic employers around them, but never know that those opportunities exist.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments about the national living wage and young people. On what evidence has she based the decision not to extend that down to 18, or is she perhaps considering providing the national living wage to those who are younger but still able to provide a great deal to employers in the workplace?
My right hon. Friend knows that, if it were up to me, I would love to extend the national living wage down to 18, but sadly this is down to the Treasury; I will question the relevant Ministers accordingly.
Well-paid, secure work is a good route out of poverty, yet far too many young people—11%—are not in education, employment and training under this Government; or they are in low-paid jobs and on zero-hours contracts. Will the Minister press the Chancellor to set the national living wage at the same rate for all young people in work, as Labour has committed to do—£10 an hour in 2020?
Everybody in this Chamber speaking up for our young people do all our communities a great service. We need a mixture of chances and opportunities for young people, including through mentoring. I am particularly interested in the work that we do with schools around engagement with jobcentres. [Interruption.] It is not all about money; it is also about skills and opportunities. I hear the hon. Gentleman, as do many colleagues, and I hope the Treasury will too.
State Pension: Women
We have extended the right to request flexible working, abolished the default retirement age, and introduced and financed the returner programme. I have seen the success of the returner programme through the company Release Potential, which is based in my Hexham constituency and which I have seen help many people back into work.
If WASPI women were successful in appealing last week’s Court ruling, would the Government abide by that judgment and compensate women accordingly?
I spent 20 years as a lawyer, and my last client was a Mr Ed Balls, when he was Secretary of State for Education. I can assure my hon. Friend that this Government will abide by court decisions and follow the law. If there are any changes—two independent High Court judges heard the case and made the decision— clearly the Government will obey that decision.
I have been contacted by my constituent, who said:
“I have to work as a cleaner and it is hard physical work. I am nearly 63 and getting health problems. Our retirement age has been changed and we have had little time to plan for this so have little alternative but to keep working.”
Does the Minister not get that the real injustice here is that so many women have had no time to plan their pensions, no time to plan their savings and no time to plan for their families, and were told in their late 50s that they would have to work for so much longer? The WASPI women are not going to go away, so when will the Minister give them a fair deal?
I say with great respect and gentleness that the right hon. Lady, I believe, served in the Department for Work and Pensions as a Minister during the period when the state pension age was raised by successive Labour Governments. The Court in the judgment last Thursday—[Interruption.] She asked me a question, and she should let me finish. The Court in the judgment last Thursday indicated that the state, including the Labour Government of 13 years, acted appropriately by giving due notification in the way that it did.
Ah yes, the good doctor—Dr Julian Lewis.
I accept everything that the Minister just said, but does he accept that successive Governments, despite their best efforts, failed to get the message across to enough people that the retirement age for women was rising exponentially? Will the Government try to look at some of the proposals from people such as Baroness Altmann for ways in which alternative schemes could mitigate the problems that have resulted?
With great respect to my right hon. Friend, I refer him to the judgment in last Thursday’s case, a copy of which I will place in the Library of the House of Commons—in particular, paragraph 118 and the successive paragraphs in which the High Court outlines the exact work that was done in copious detail.
Some 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who built Britain face hardship as a consequence of pension changes by this Government. Before the Court, they were told with cavalier disregard that they had no right to be consulted on the change of retirement age. Labour has already committed to some preliminary measures—early retirement and pension credit—and we will now consult with the women concerned about how much further we can go to bring justice to them. Thus far, the Government have committed to nothing. However, the Prime Minister said during the Conservative leadership contest that he is committed to doing “everything” he can to bring justice to the 1950s women. Can the Minister update the House on progress, or will this be another cynical broken promise on the part of the Prime Minister?
This is the matter of a court case which may be the subject of appeal. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman—who is, to his discredit, a friend of mine—the honest truth is that he should be consulting with a 1950s-born woman who was Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions: the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who is also his wife and who was responsible for the continuation of the self-same policy that he now objects to. For 13 years, the Labour party did the perfectly proper thing of taking due account of equality and the rises in life expectancy, and it should stick to that, having made those decisions for 13 years.
Universal Credit: Wages
Universal credit takes earnings into account in a way that is fair and transparent. The amount of universal credit paid reflects as closely as possible the actual circumstances of a household during each monthly assessment period, including any earnings reported by the employer during the assessment period, regardless of when they were paid.
Does my hon. Friend have any plans to introduce a mechanism to universal credit that allows claimants to move their review date?
As I said, monthly assessment periods align to the way that the majority of employees are paid and allow universal credit to be adjusted each month, which means that, if a claimant’s income falls, they will not have to wait several months for a rise in their UC. We have produced guidance to help to ensure that claimants, staff and representatives are aware of the importance of reporting accurate dates and the impact on payment cycles. I am conscious that my hon. Friend has written to me. I would be happy to meet him and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who also raised that issue.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents who have received unexpected pay—for example, holiday pay—during the assessment period. Because that pay is unexpected, it impacts on the amount of universal credit that they are awarded. What work is the Minister doing to ensure that unexpected pay, like holiday pay, will not severely impact their award?
As I have said, the amount of UC paid to claimants reflects as closely as possible the actual circumstances of a household during each monthly assessment period, and those periods align to the way that the majority of employees are paid. I recognise the issue. I have said that I am happy to meet two other colleagues, and I would be happy to also meet the hon. Lady.
I raised this issue with the Secretary of State’s predecessor in the run-up to Christmas last year because many enlightened employers will pay their staff early in December so they can afford Christmas. She told me it was fixed. However, I was phoned last week on my 24-hour helpline by a constituent who, because her partner was paid on the 28th of the month the previous month and on the 27th of the month subsequently, it appeared—to the computer at least—that they had had a 100% pay rise, and her benefit was cut to £11. Can we fix this, particularly before Christmas this year?
The simple answer to my right hon. Friend is yes, I am looking at ways in which we can do this. It is important to put this in context: UC replaces the outdated and complex benefits system, which too often stifled people’s potential, creating cliff edges at 16, 24 and 30 hours and punitive effective tax rates, of over 90% for some, punishing people for doing the right thing. UC seeks to take earnings into account in a way that is fair and transparent, and we want to preserve this simplicity as far as is possible.
Universal Credit: First Payments
Universal credit payment timeliness continues to improve and is near a record high, with the most recent data showing we paid 83% of new claims in full and on time.
Can I thank the Secretary of State for saving herself to answer my question? I welcome that. She will know that the five-week delay is still causing huge harm, so could I ask her what effort the DWP is making to ensure that UC recipients are not penalised by other organisations for the five-week gap in their incomes, and what extra support can the Government give to organisations that support universal credit recipients with financial management during this very difficult period?
It is important to recognise the help to claim—I think it is £39 million of support—that has been given through the citizens advice bureaux to try to help people who may not always be there with the paperwork that is required, so we are making best efforts so that people can make the right claims so they can be paid on time. As regards other elements, of course the advance is available, which can then be repaid over a 12-month period.
With former Thomas Cook employees being offered food bank vouchers by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Trussell Trust in Peterborough reporting a 50% increase in the number of food parcels given to my constituents in the last year alone, can the Secretary of State tell us what impact she thinks the collapse of Thomas Cook will have on these figures?
The hon. Lady was at our first taskforce, and I am sure she will be impressed with the work that we have already been doing together, including the jobs fair that happened last Thursday. It is important, and we have seen this with Thomas Cook ex-employees, that they make a universal credit claim—some of them have —quickly so they can get the support that they need. I welcome, actually, the support that is given through the Trussell Trust in order to help people in this difficult time, but the sooner people come into Jobcentre Plus and start claiming universal credit, the sooner we can help.
Without giving this House a debate or a vote, as they had promised, the Government have pushed through regulations for the pilot of universal credit managed migration and payments to severely disabled people who lost out in being forced to transfer to universal credit. Will the Government explain why those payments still do not fully reflect the financial loss those disabled people have suffered?
There is an extra £600 million of support going to the most vulnerable. I really do want to encourage the Opposition to withdraw their early-day motion, because if they succeed in praying against this, they are hitting the most vulnerable people, and I am sure that is not something that they wish to be remembered for.
Spending Round 2019
The Department’s resource budget will increase by 1.9% ahead of inflation for the first time since 2011, enabling us to provide excellent customer service, help people move into and progress in work, and provide financial security through timely benefit payments. As part of this, the DWP has been allocated £106 million to support vulnerable people and help to tackle private rented sector housing affordability through additional funding for discretionary housing payments.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted that, with more social housing and lower housing costs, Scotland’s poverty figures are lower than the rest of the UK. The reality is that the biggest poverty factor is still Tory austerity. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that recent announcements will only mitigate a quarter of the cuts implemented since 2010. It is clear from the Secretary of State’s answer that a 1.9% increase is not enough. If austerity is really ending, when will the other three quarters of the cuts that have been implemented be reversed?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have lifted 400,000 people out of absolute poverty since 2010 and that income inequality has fallen. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to go back to the Scottish Government and see what more they are doing to increase the number of higher paid jobs, because we all know that the best way out of poverty is to work.
On this subject yet again, the spending round did nothing to address the cuts to the local housing allowance and the pressures on private renters, who are £38.49 a week worse off due to the UK Government’s benefits freeze. To ensure affordability and prevent evictions and hardship, will the Secretary of State immediately increase the LHA to the pre-2010 level, and uprate it in line with inflation and rent increases?
I have just laid out that we increased the amount of money for discretionary housing payments. I have spoken to Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish Minister, and it is my intention to see her soon, but the hon. Lady knows there are things the Scottish Government can do with the funding they have.
We have made significant progress to improve support and have seen the number of working age disabled people in employment increased by over 1 million in the last six years. However, we continue to focus on improving our services for those who use them. This includes the current consultation on measures aimed at reducing ill health-related job losses.
I thank the Minister for that answer. What specific help is available to young people with disabilities to support them into work?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight this very important area and I am very proud that I helped to champion disability apprenticeships. Through the Access to Work scheme, which is now seeing record numbers benefiting, we saw a 34% increase in 16 to 24-year-olds using it, opening up more opportunities for employment.
The catalogue of the Department for Work and Pensions’ own failings has created a hostile environment for disabled people. Figures released this year show that almost 6,000 people died within six months of being found fit for work. The announcement of the new independent serious case panel lacks any meaningful detail, terms of reference or purpose. Will the Minister confirm whether the new panel will review previous social security benefit deaths, and will he set out what the statement of purpose is for the new independent panel?
We work all year round with claimants, stakeholders and charities—organisations with real-life experience—to help to improve not only the training but the understanding of all areas of disability and health conditions. We back that with genuine financial support. The Government now spend £55 billion a year, 2.5% of all Government spending and 6% of GDP—a record high, at £9 billion in real terms, to support people with disabilities.
Universal Credit: Identity Verification
It is a priority for this Government to provide swift access to support those who need it, while protecting those same people from potentially fraudulent behaviour. If a claimant does not have the documentary evidence we need, we can verify by using: biographical tests and checks, and information held on the Department’s systems; confirmation of third-party organisations; and two members of jobcentre staff knowing and recognising the claimant as part of their work.
This is not what is happening in practice. Constituents are coming to me who have had their claims denied or who have just been turned away and told, “Go and find the documentation.” Newcastle citizens advice bureau also reflects that. Will the Minister guarantee that no vulnerable claimant will be turned away because of not having the right documentation? Will she write to me with the number of those who have had their claims denied because of a lack of documentation, so we can see the size of the problem?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know she is passionate about her constituency. It is absolutely right that there is a balance, but to get a universal credit claim right we need to ensure we verify the identities of all vulnerable people. We heard earlier about the challenge if a claim is made fraudulently. We must be able to understand when there is a particular need to intervene. As we heard earlier, home visits are possible in relation to Help to Claim. If she would like to give me the details, I am very happy to look into this matter further.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) can legitimately shoehorn his Question 19 into this exchange.
The Department is absolutely committed to making sure that we have the most compassionate and approachable opportunities for people to claim in every single constituency. I have met work coaches—from Scotland to Crawley to Walsall—who are dealing with this day to day, and the Help to Claim scheme backs that up.
This Government take child poverty extremely seriously. The evidence shows that work is the best route out of poverty and that there are 730,000 fewer children in workless households compared with 2010, but there is more to do—one child in poverty is one too many—and this is a key priority for me and the Secretary of State. I will continue to work with colleagues from across the House, other Government Departments and stakeholders to identify and tackle the root causes of poverty.
Children are not getting the nutrition that they need on the 170 days a year when they are not at school. Local authorities and devolved Governments are tackling this issue head on; why are not this Government?
This is probably a question for the Department for Education, but we are supporting more than 1 million children with free school meals, investing up to £26 million in school breakfast clubs and providing approximately 2.3 million four to six-year-olds with a portion of fresh fruit or vegetables each day at school. Through the Healthy Start programme, hundreds of thousands of low-income families benefit from vouchers that can be redeemed against fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula.
Child poverty is being driven up by the five-week delay during which people have to wait before they receive universal credit. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that what Ministers refer to as an advance is in fact a loan that has to be repaid by claimants, and will he commit to scrapping the five-week delay?
I think that this one has been answered several times already, but advance payments of up to 100% are available from day one of a universal credit claim and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help. The repayment time for the advances has been extended to 12 months and will be further extended to 16 months from October 2021.
There was a discernible world-weariness in the Minister’s reference to this question having been answered several times already. I simply remind those observing our proceedings that repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons. It never has been, and I doubt that things are going to change very much.
An article in The BMJ shows that researchers have highlighted a possible link between an increase in the number of babies who die before their first birthday and child poverty. They estimate that there were an additional 570 excess deaths between 2014 and 2017, with 172 attributable to an increase in child poverty, so will the Minister scrap the two-child limit and the benefit cap, which are driving up child poverty?
I humbly suggest that few Members in the Chamber have raised child and infant mortality more than I have. I take the issue incredibly seriously and I have read that report. No one in government wants to see poverty rising. Wages have outpaced inflation for 18 months, and there are more people in work than ever before. We know that children in households in which no one works are about five times more likely to be in poverty than those in households in which all adults work. Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families.
It is a pleasure to be in the Chamber as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, leading a fantastic Department that serves people from the Shetlands to the Scilly Isles, with more than 20 million customers across the country. In my short time in this role, I have already witnessed at first hand the inspiring and incredible work of civil servants throughout the country, and they are benefiting as well in seeing our employment rate continuing at a joint record high and an unemployment rate at its lowest since the ’70s. There is more to do, however, and I will keep focusing on improving the payment of universal credit and ensuring that we support everyone in society.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s sunny disposition in outlining her priorities, but the retirement plans of millions of women born in the 1950s are in ruins because of a decision by the previous Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government to accelerate the increases in the state pension age. Last week, a decision in the High Court made it clear that only a political decision could deliver a just solution for these women, so will the Government now give the WASPI women dignity in retirement? Some 197 MPs have signed early-day motion 63 calling for justice for the WASPI women and for this historic injustice to be put right.
The High Court set out quite clearly that successive Governments had taken a measured approach in recognising the inequality in the state pension age and the need to increase the state pension age. Indeed, it was the Pensions Act 2007 that started the trigger going beyond 65. It is important to recognise that and the efforts made to communicate it, but can I assure the House that, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there are record numbers of women in employment. We will continue to support them in fulfilling their careers.
My hon. Friend is right to praise the people who work for the DWP in his constituency. We have more than 4,000 civil servants in service centres nationally and we constantly monitor the volume of work as universal credit grows, but I assure him that sufficient resources will be in place to support those workers in his constituency.
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleague. We are determined to continue to improve PIP—31% of claimants now access the highest rate of support, compared to just 15% under the legacy benefits—but I would welcome any additional information.
As we have heard, many 1950s-born women have now reached the age at which they expected to receive a pension but are not, and many are struggling. Given that the judicial review is now out of the way, will the new Secretary of State agree to meet me and my co-chair of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), to discuss the proposals in the transitional arrangement document we produced? Can she also give us an estimate of how many women are affected in this way and whether they are in work?
That was about four questions in one. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) in due course.
Such decisions need to be made fairly soon, and I am conscious of the analysis presented to me and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), as we make decisions on that matter.
On Friday, I visited the new Barnstaple Work Club, a fantastic initiative giving support to those seeking employment, particularly those with disabilities. Will the Minister join me in welcoming this new initiative and in thanking the volunteers as well as Barnstaple library for hosting it?
It would be a pleasure to thank those volunteers doing so much to create new opportunities for disabled people, which is something I know my hon. Friend, as their MP, regularly champions, as I have seen at first hand on some very good visits there.
I do agree with the hon. Gentleman that secure and stable accommodation is one route out of poverty. It will come as no surprise to him that I raise this issue regularly with my counterpart at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I have been pushing the Ministry to consider providing more affordable homes, and homes for social rent, as one of its policy initiatives.
As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for youth employment, I warmly welcome the Minister’s announcement about additional support for our young people. Can he confirm that mentoring will be an important part of that, given that it has been proved that it will help, in particular, those furthest from the labour market and the most vulnerable into work?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. In the middle of last year, there were 63 new mentoring circles in operation. The circles originally focused on the race disparity audit, but they are now being rolled out across the country, as was agreed last January. I recently met the members of one circle in Basingstoke, where they were having a real effect on local young people who know what is around them. Mentors, businesses and employers can do a great deal to change young people’s lives locally.
Childcare provision is far more generous under universal credit than it was under the legacy benefits system. Another recent change is that the flexible support fund can now be used to pay deposits or first month’s payments.
I call Toby Perkins. [Interruption.] I did not call a Conservative Member because I know that the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) is normally paying the closest possible attention, and none of the hon. Members sitting on the Government Benches wished to contribute to the proceedings. I therefore alighted on the oratorical opportunities offered by the hon. Gentleman.
That is simply not the case. The first time that I became involved with a food bank was in 2006, when people were falling between the gaps. One of the things that make me proudest of the Conservative Government and the coalition is that people are better off in work than out of it unless they cannot work, and we have championed the vulnerable. Universal credit is ensuring that people can have more and more income, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important issue. We have doubled the number of disability employment specialist advisers, and we are ensuring that we do everything in our power to identify claimants who need additional support. That is a real priority for us.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that we are still in the middle of a negotiation for how we leave the European Union at the end of the month. It is important to stress that we have decided on a three-year rise unilaterally. We encourage other European Union countries to do exactly the same and we will continue to support those who have relied on UK pensions.
People with a terminal illness want the choice of whether to work or not, and they should expect help and support from their employer. Does the Minister support the TUC’s Dying to Work campaign, which asks businesses to sign up and promise not to sack employees who have a terminal illness, and will she encourage more businesses to sign it?
The TUC has done really good work here. We are working with employers to highlight the importance of making those sorts of changes, and this is an area where I am sure there would be cross-party support.
There are over 5,700 WASPI women in Inverclyde. Many have worked their entire adult lives. They have paid their dues and they were expecting a pension, not a benefit. If we mucked around with MPs’ pensions in the same fashion, many Government Members would be standing and asking questions. Will the Secretary of State commit to undertaking an impact assessment for all women affected by changes in the state pension age and, once completed, offer a payment acknowledging any disadvantages caused?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be speaking to his own Government, who have the power under sections 24, 26 and 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 to take interventions and address the problem that he has raised.
Why are the Government not tracking young people when they leave the youth obligation? As such, how do they know whether the scheme works? [Interruption.]
Order. This is very unseemly. The hon. Lady was asking her question and there is a lot of very noisy chuntering taking place between the SNP Benches and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who luxuriates in the lather of the Treasury Bench. It is very unfair on the hon. Lady, very unseemly and very uncharacteristic of the hon. Gentleman, who is normally a most emollient fellow.
The youth obligation programme is now being fully rolled out and looks at 18 to 24-year-olds making a new claim on universal credit. We had an internal evaluation report in April 2018 that identified a need for what the hon. Lady raises. We believe it is too soon to be looking at this, but I know that she and I share a great interest in how we can support our young people, and I am happy to speak to her further about this.
One way that the Government could start to put right the injustices done to the women born in the early ’50s who were denied their pensions is to have a discussion with their colleagues in the Department for Transport and local authorities and provide free bus passes. That would help them a lot.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the judgment given by the High Court on Thursday and, obviously, any individual local authorities that wish to address that point in a particular way.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) is being addressed by her leader, which is a very solemn matter. Nevertheless, I intrude, in the hope that she still wishes to ask a question.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Or perhaps not by her leader but by any leader.
Further to the points already raised by other hon. Members, there are 6,500 women in Edinburgh West who were born in the 1950s and who have been affected by last week’s Court judgment. Can the Secretary of State assure me that, in the meeting that she has agreed to with the chairs of the APPG, there will be a meaningful attempt to address the poverty that these women face and not just sweep it under the carpet like an inconvenient problem?
I refer the hon. Lady to the judgment that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), has already raised. She might also wish to speak to her party leader, because she joined me in the Division Lobby when we made the changes that we did in the Pensions Act 2011. [Interruption.] Or rather, at least that the coalition Government did. I wish to make sure that we have a sensible conversation going forward, but the judgment stands. It is open for the ladies to appeal, but I can assure the House that we have made every effort, as did the Labour Government before us, to ensure that people knew about these changes.
Withdrawal Agreement: Proposed Changes
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will make a statement on when the Government intend to publish the full legal text of their proposed changes to the withdrawal agreement and political declaration.
We are unconditionally committed to finding a solution for the north-south border that protects the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the commitments that can best be met if we explore solutions other than the backstop. The backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement between both main traditions in Northern Ireland, grounded in agreement, consent and respect for minority rights. Any deal for Brexit on 31 October must avoid the whole UK, or just Northern Ireland, being trapped in an arrangement without consent in which it is a rule taker. Both sides have always been clear that the arrangements for the border must recognise the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland and, reflecting that, be creative and flexible. Under no circumstances will the United Kingdom place infrastructure checks or controls at the border.
On Wednesday 2 October, the Government proposed a new protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. These were serious and realistic proposals that reflect the core aims put forward by both the UK and the EU. These proposals are consistent with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and deliver our aim of avoiding any checks or infrastructure at the border. The proposals were set out in detail in an explanatory note and in a letter to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The Prime Minister deposited both documents in the Library on Wednesday 2 October and published them in parallel on gov.uk. To support these negotiations, a draft legal text was also shared with the Commission on a confidential basis. The Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, David Frost, and UK officials have been in intensive discussions with the Commission for some time now and will continue to meet their counterparts from taskforce 50 for further technical talks this week. These meetings will cover our proposals on the protocol and the political declaration to reflect the goal of a comprehensive free trade agreement.
The previous withdrawal agreement and political declaration would have trapped the United Kingdom within European regulation and customs arrangements. The Prime Minister is continuing talks with the EU leaders today, including the Prime Minister of Sweden, the Prime Minister of Denmark and the Prime Minister of Poland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is also travelling to EU capitals, including visiting Amsterdam and Valletta over the course of this week. Discussions with the Commission are ongoing and thus sensitive, and we must ensure that we as a Government act in a way that maximises our chance of success in these negotiations. We will of course keep the House informed as the discussions continue. The legal text that we have shared with the Commission will only be published when doing so will assist the negotiations.
We hope that those in Brussels will decide to work with us over the upcoming days. If they do, we will leave with a new deal. If they do not want to talk, we are prepared to leave without a deal. We need to get a new deal or a deal, but no more delays. We must get Brexit done so that the country can move forward and focus on other issues, such as the cost of living, the NHS and other domestic priorities.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. The Government have presented the EU with a 44-page legal text, a seven-page memorandum and a four-page letter. In this House, we have seen the memorandum and the letter, but not the full legal text. Frankly, that is not good enough, because without the full legal text, we are being asked to guess at the detail of the Government’s proposals, or, worse, we are being asked to take the Prime Minister’s word on it. We do not want a summary. We do not want the Prime Minister’s interpretation of the text. We need to see the full legal text. And it matters, because there appears to be what the Taoiseach has called a “contradiction”—his word—between what the Prime Minister tells the House and the words of the legal text.
Last week, in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), the Prime Minister said that “the proposals we”—that is, the Government—
“are putting forward do not involve physical infrastructure at or near the border or indeed at any other place.”—[Official Report, 3 October 2019; Vol. 664, c. 1389.]
I noted the words used by the Minister just now, and I hope he can clarify this. The contradiction the Taoiseach appears to be highlighting is that the legal text may say something different on that very issue, and the Minister will know just how important that is.
Can the Minister now clear the issue up at the Dispatch Box? Does the full legal text bear out the Prime Minister’s assertion to the House that his proposals do not entail physical infrastructure at the border, near the border or in any other place? That is what he said, and that is what prompted the Taoiseach to say that the full text should be published. That goes to the heart of the only defence the Minister has put forward—that of confidentiality.
Both the Taoiseach and the President of the EU Commission have called for the legal text to be published. That shoots through the confidentiality argument. They want us to see the text so that we can properly debate and scrutinise what the Government are putting forward. The only party insisting on secrecy are the UK Government, so the question is obvious: what are the Government hiding?
Then there is the question of a level playing field. As the House knows, no Labour MP could support a deal that strips away or undermines workers’ rights, environmental protections or consumer rights, yet that is the very—[Interruption.] I hear the claims that it does not. If it does not, the Government should publish the text and assure the House. Before I first came to the House, and since I have been in the House, I have dealt with summaries and interpretations of texts, and I have seen texts, and there are differences between the full text and somebody’s summary or interpretation. If it is clear that the text does not undermine workplace rights, environmental rights and consumer rights, the Government should publish it and assure the House. What is being hidden? Will the Minister agree now to do the right thing and publish the full legal text forthwith?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for those comments. Last week, I was able to tell the House that proposals would be tabled to the EU by the end of the week. Not only were we able to table those proposals, but we were able to publish them and share them with the House. It is the Government’s intention to share as much as possible, but at a time that is right, and not at a time when getting a good negotiation through takes precedence.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the Prime Minister’s position in relation to his assertion that there would be no checks at the border, near the border or at any other place. I have not seen the Taoiseach’s exact comments, but I can confirm that the position that the Prime Minister stated is still correct today and is the Government’s position, and I see no reason why that is going to change.
In relation to level playing fields, we are not hiding anything. We do not wish to undermine workers’ rights. We will keep those workers’ rights. Truth will tell over time, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman sees the results of the negotiation. He wants a deal, and I want a deal. The Government genuinely do not think that sharing the full text now will make doing a deal more likely.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister’s statement in response to the urgent question, and we all hope for no further delays on the Brexit negotiation. Is he aware that business groups across the country want certainty, to allow them to plan for the future? What discussions has he had with them to reassure them?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Clearly, he has been talking to business groups in his constituency. Businesses certainly do want certainty, and whether it is meetings with business groups in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, everyone wants to get Brexit done. The last thing they want is more delay. We have had delay and delay and delay, and the answer to delay cannot be more delay.
I congratulate the Minister on managing not once but twice to include all this week’s Brexit buzzwords in such a short but, I am sorry to say, not particularly informative answer.
The Government have made public only their version of a seven-page explanatory document based on a full 44-page legal text. Last week, a number of Government loyalists criticised Opposition Members for saying we were likely to oppose the Prime Minister’s plan before we had read it properly. They then went ahead and committed themselves to supporting it before they had read it properly—they cannot have seen it or read it properly, because nobody has seen it yet.
It is simply not acceptable for us to be asked to commit to support something based on the Prime Minister’s version of what it says, because none of us can trust what he tells us. Last week, he twice gave us a promise from the Dispatch Box—once to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) and once to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady)—that the Government are going to restore full control of Scotland’s fishing to the people of Scotland. If only that were true.
The Taoiseach told us that the Prime Minister’s version of what is in the 44-page confidential document was not accurate. The Prime Minister told us last week that there would be no checks on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but even the seven-page summary tells us that that was not true.
Does the Minister not accept that if he is to have any hope of Parliament agreeing to the withdrawal agreement, he must trust Parliament and allow us to see the full agreement now, not at the last minute when there is no time to read 44 pages of detail? When will the document be published? When can we expect to be asked to vote on the deal? How much notice will we have regarding the detailed legal text? Going back to the question that is still being dodged, does the Prime Minister’s proposal mean that there will be additional infrastructure anywhere in relation to the Irish border? If so, where will it be?
The legal text will come forward at the right time. The hon. Gentleman is critical of Tory Members for supporting the Prime Minister before seeing all the detail, but I would not be critical. Indeed, I suggest that my hon. Friends should always support the Prime Minister as a matter of default. I understand that SNP Members will be more sceptical, but they will have all the information in front of them before they are asked to vote. However, we will not provide the legal text if it gets in the way of the negotiations and the deal, which I think the hon. Gentleman would want.
As the Government approach the final stages of the negotiations to get the necessary changes to the backstop, is it not the case that if the EU believes that this House will not support the Government’s deal, it is less likely that a deal will be achieved? We have heard people say, month after month, that they want the Government to negotiate a deal, so I say to Opposition Members who, like me, want a deal that now is the moment to speak up and support the Government in getting that deal.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. Now is the time for a deal, but the way that the House has behaved has made a deal less likely and made it more likely that we will have no deal. However, it is not too late. The Government are reaching out across the Chamber to our friends on the other side, saying, “Join us in supporting a deal. It is the right thing for the country.”
Earlier this year, the Government said that if we left the EU with a deal, we would keep our world-leading standards and rights on food, quality, employment and environmental protections. That commitment was pretty flimsy then, but people now fear that it has been ditched in desperation, and the Government will not even publish the text. The public have a right to know whether the Prime Minister is prepared to sacrifice the quality of food on supermarket shelves, the rights of workers to take holiday and our children’s right to breathe clean air.
We are supposed to be temperate in our language, but, quite frankly, that is a load of rubbish. That is not our intention, and if our constituents are worried and scared as a result of what the Liberal Democrats say, that is a terrible thing; it simply is not true.
I said from this spot a few weeks ago that it did not matter what the Government brought back, because there are Members in here representing leave seats who will always find a reason to vote against what the Government bring forward, because their real aim is to stop us leaving. Is it not the ultimate irony that the people who are giving the biggest croggy to a no-deal Brexit are the very people who repeatedly stand up and tell us that we have to vote for compromise but then vote against any compromise—any deal—that is put on the table?
My hon. Friend is right. That is a particular problem with the Liberal Democrats who, for perfectly respectable reasons, do not want a no-deal exit but who will not back a deal. It makes sense for us all to get behind a deal, which is better than no deal. That is what the Government want to do, and we reach out to all Members to support a deal.
Something does not quite add up on there being no physical infrastructure at any other place, which is probably one reason why the Government’s proposals are currently not acceptable to the European Union. The Prime Minister told the BBC last week that
“there will have to be a system, for customs checks away from the border.”
The explanatory note says that such checks will
“take place at traders’ premises or other designated locations… Goods moved under either mechanism would be under customs supervision by one or other customs authority from the point at which they are declared for export until they are cleared by customs in the territory of import for free circulation”.
Can the Minister name any jurisdiction in the world where there are customs checks but no customs infrastructure?
The Government are looking for a tailored solution. Of all the trade between the UK and Northern Ireland, only 1% of goods cross the border. As well as trusted trader schemes, goods could be examined by authorities at commercial sites run by hauliers and freight forwarding companies. That is already provided for under existing transit rules, under which logistics services are commonly approved as authorised consignees for these very purposes. It already happens.
Were any of the frightful diminution of rights mentioned by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) to occur, it would clearly require primary legislation by this Parliament, wouldn’t it?
Yes. We would not propose it; I would not support it; and I do not think my right hon. Friend would support it. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats can say whether they would support it.
We know the Prime Minister thinks that preparation is just for girly swots, but at least the last Prime Minister gave us a 90-page White Paper on her proposals and we got to see them at the same time as the European partners. Here we are, 11 days before the summit, and we have this pathetic rag—four pages—and an explanatory note. It would be comical if the Good Friday agreement and the promises contained therein did not rest on this. Can the Minister explain the magic thinking by which we have a border down the Irish sea and a border on the island of Ireland without border posts?
I acknowledge, as I think the whole House would, that we are working to a compressed timescale compared with the previous negotiations, but those negotiations were not successful. Following the same tack in our negotiating strategy and expecting a different result would be foolish. It is time for a change of tack in the negotiations, which I welcome.
As a member of the “MPs for a Deal” group, it would make my life easier if we were to include environmental and workers’ protections, as requested by many Opposition Members, but does the Minister agree that the right place for those protections is probably in the political declaration?
I thank my hon. Friend for her work with the “MPs for a Deal” group, which brings together MPs from across a number of political parties. I welcome her introduction of the political declaration, as getting that right will set the tone going forward from 1 November, after we have left on 31 October, and will form the basis of the future economic partnership and the first-in-class free trade agreement that most hon. Members want.
I thank the Minister for his response to our questions, and I wish him well in his job. Can he confirm that there is no intention to change the original position that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will take back control of our seas and our fisheries, enabling our fishing sector to grow and create jobs, and that we, the citizens of this great nation, will be in charge and in control?
I can give the hon. Gentleman that confirmation, but I encourage him to discuss the detail with my colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. If that is not to his satisfaction, I will be happy to talk to him about fishing rights or impact at the same time.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the agenda of Members from the Opposition parties to overturn the referendum result, put a stop to Brexit and revoke article 50? Will he confirm that this Government and this Prime Minister will not let that happen?
With great sadness, I can confirm that I fear that some Members on the Opposition Benches and in this House simply do not want to follow the mandate of the British people. They do not want to exit and they will use every trick and turn in the book to frustrate. That is not to say that there are not some genuine concerns, and I recognise those, but she is right: some people, having offered the referendum to the electorate, do not like the result and are trying to interfere and overturn the democratic will of the public.
Can the Minister confirm whether the full legal text has been shown to the Democratic Unionist party? If it has, why is it reasonable for one party to be able to make an informed judgment about the Government’s proposals while everyone else is kept in the dark?
I am not going to get into the detail of—[Interruption.] Opposition Members who have been Ministers will realise that lots of people see documents, and Ministers do not constantly want to be in the position of saying who has seen what documents, which versions and when. I will not comment on who has seen which documents or indeed on documents that I have seen or have not seen.
I love the way that Opposition parties are implying that if only they could see these documents, they would rush to support the deal. I think the British public are now wise to the way in which Parliament has frustrated the Government’s negotiating position. Would it be possible for the Government to strengthen their negotiating hand by holding a vote on these proposals, in the way that we did on the Brady amendment in January, and show that there is a majority in this place for them?
I think members of the public are getting wise to what is going on: this Government are trying to deliver Brexit and this Parliament, collectively, is trying to frustrate it. She raises the interesting solution of putting this to a vote, and I will discuss that with my ministerial colleagues.
Has the Minister seen the documents?
I have already said that I will not comment on which documents I have and have not seen, or which versions I have and have not seen. This is a document that we are negotiating on. It makes sense to look at that document, negotiate on that document and come back to the House with a final document. This House does not want a blow-by-blow account; it wants to deliver a deal.
As has been said by honourable colleagues on the Government Benches, it is a well-known fact, and the public are not fooled, that most MPs in this place—in all positions in this place—do not want to leave the EU. That is a dishonourable stance to take, after the EU referendum. Will my hon. Friend reassure the public and us that we will honour this referendum and leave the EU, with or without a deal, on 31 October?
I can reassure the people of Dorset and the United Kingdom that we will be leaving on 31 October. Our preference is to do so with a deal, but we are very much ready to leave with no deal.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you may not have heard the use of the word “dishonourable” to describe those of us who think that our great country has made a mistake and are doing nothing more than speaking out with the freedom that I thought was at the heart of our democracy. I would have hoped that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) might have withdrawn his comments. In any event, it is very odd that we are all being asked to support a deal the details of which we know very little of, unless of course our name is Arlene Foster. We want to know the details of these customs arrangements, and of the structures and infrastructure, because of the position in other countries, notably Norway and Sweden. Sweden is a member of the single market and the customs union, and Norway is in the single market but not the customs union, and they have a hard border. May we therefore have these unicorn details please?
I must say that although I am reaching out across the Floor, I have given up on reaching out to the right hon. Lady. There are many Opposition Members and there is still hope for people who will support a plan, but I suspect that under no circumstances will she support a plan, regardless of what we produce and what it says.
That may well be true but I hope that the right hon. Lady, who is not too delicate a flower, can bear the almost unendurable pain of the criticism of the Minister with such stoicism and fortitude as she feels able, in the circumstances, to muster.
Last week, the Leader of the Opposition said that no self-respecting Labour MP could vote for the proposals, yet we are now being pressed on a confidential document, the production of which would undermine yet again our negotiating position. Does the Minister agree that to reveal the documents would make no deal more likely?
I thank my hon. Friend for asking that question. No deal is indeed made more likely by the House not supporting the Government’s position. As for the Leader of the Opposition, I think that MPs and the public are coming around to the idea that he is flip-flopping on these issues left, right and centre, and want a general election so that they can re-elect a Government with a strong Conservative majority.
A few days ago, I asked the Minister whether the term “infrastructure” included cameras. He was not quite sure at the time; now that he has had a few days to go away and look it up, will he give us an answer?
I do not think I said that I was not quite sure. I think I used the words, “It would have been something that was considered,” but that the House should not read anything into that in any way. I think that is what I said, virtually verbatim, and that remains the position.
I wonder whether the Minister could help the House. Opposition Members say that they are not supporting a deal because they are worried about workers’ rights, yet if we had a deal, it would be this House that would decide on workers’ rights, and if they were ever in government, they could do whatever they liked. Can we conclude only that the Opposition do not think they will ever be in government?
I think everyone in the House believes in higher protections for workers’ rights and maintaining and expanding them over time. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the Opposition’s level of confidence; not only are they not confident that they will be in government to improve workers’ rights, but they do not seem to be confident that they will even win a general election. They are running scared of going back to the people because they know that they are trying to overturn the will of the people who wanted Brexit.
Paragraph 13 of the memo issued last week confirms that even if the European Union agrees to the proposals, and even if Parliament then agrees them, they would not come into force for more than a year, unless they had also been endorsed by the Northern Ireland Executive, which has not met for several years. Will the Minister confirm that if the Northern Ireland Executive continues to fail to meet, the proposals automatically fall away after 12 months?
The right hon. Gentleman is right: we are in a constrained period and we are trying to do an unprecedented amount of work. Even separate to the problem of which he speaks directly, there are already many hurdles to get over, but we will work together with all our partners to re-form Stormont—that is our priority in relation to Northern Ireland—so that we can get this deal through.
In the most recent general election, more Chelmsford constituents emailed me about the environment and animal welfare than about all other issues put together. I am enormously proud of the way in which the Government are leading the world on protecting the environment and on endangered species. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Lib Dem’s suggestion that this deal, which is to resolve the issues on the Irish border, could somehow be used to undermine our standards on the environment, animal welfare or workers’ rights is pure scaremongering and totally irresponsible?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We will maintain environmental and animal welfare standards. I know that she works tirelessly to improve those standards, both in Chelmsford and with Back Benchers. I remember many a campaign that she led in her time in the House of Commons, particularly on environmental issues, recycling, and changing behaviours and perceptions. I thank her for that work, and there is nothing in this process that means that we are going to go back on any of those commitments. In fact, the Government are committed to going further, as she has demanded.
It is almost as if members of the Government have been taking lessons dancing around slippery poles this afternoon. Essentially, we do not have a credible deal, because there are no customs borders anywhere in the world without some form of physical infrastructure. We have a Government who are still insisting that they will obey law, but only those parts that it chooses to obey. Will the Minister at least confirm that the Government will comply with the spirit and the provisions of the Benn Act in full?
In answer to the latter question, yes. When it comes to slippery poles, the thing that is slippery is introducing a ten-minute rule Bill to say that if hon. Members, for whatever reason, cross the Floor of the House and leave their party they should stand in a by-election, then not doing that when she crosses the Floor of the House. That is slippery.
My hon. Friend the Minister had a strong outing on this subject on 26 September—a date that I happen to remember. Today, I noticed a subtle difference in his wording, as he talked about our leaving with a deal or being “prepared” to leave without a deal on 31 October. Will he confirm not only that we are prepared to leave without a deal on 31 October but that we will actually leave without a deal on 31 October, unless we have deal?
I thank my right hon. Friend, and confirm that nothing has changed since his birthday—I think that that was what he was referring to. Apologies for not congratulating him at the time. My language was not nuanced in any way. We will be leaving on 31 October with a deal or without a deal.
If I were charitable, I would say that the right hon. Gentleman turned 58 on 26 September, but I am afraid that I must not mislead the House. [Interruption.] I call Chris Bryant.
May I ask about the political declaration, which is of as much concern to many of us as other elements of the withdrawal agreement? The former Prime Minister was quite right to say that if there is no deal, there is no deal on security. All the elements of security are shunted forward into the political declaration. I wonder where we are with extradition, because since the original version of the political declaration was signed, four major European countries have said that they will not on any terms extradite their nationals to the UK if we are no longer members of the European Union. Will that not pose a significant problem for us if we want people to face justice in this country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that. Obviously, the broader case is that the convention of the ’50s on extradition will come into play. There is a problem with four or five countries, and we are having discussions with them. They are quite significant difficulties, as they concern constitutional arrangements, but there are other arrangements that are not entirely satisfactory to try people in their home country that can be used if we do not secure a workaround. It is not ideal, but there are workarounds, and we are progressing them.
Will the Minister update the House on the volume of trade that would be subject to special customs arrangements that have attracted so much heat and light in discussions? Will he confirm that with good political will on both sides problems can be resolved?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. People said that it was impossible that negotiations would reopen, but negotiations did effectively reopen after the Prime Minister spoke to President Macron and Chancellor Merkel, so I am optimistic. I am optimistic because negotiations are ongoing now: David Frost is in Brussels as we speak; my Secretary of State is travelling around, whipping up support and enthusiasm from other member states; and I understand that at around the time we are speaking—if not as we are speaking—the Prime Minister is on the phone to other Prime Ministers to whip up enthusiasm for the deal and avoid no deal. If only there were that much enthusiasm on the Opposition Benches.
With respect, who do the Government think they are kidding? The reaction from the EU to the Prime Minister’s proposal is courteous but critical, and it is abundantly evident that no agreement will be reached on his terms. We ask only of the Prime Minister that he is straight with people and their Parliament, and acknowledges this. Can the Minister therefore guarantee that the Prime Minister will not hold a meaningless vote before the European Council meeting?
To paraphrase a famous quotation: well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? EU representatives are negotiating. When we put papers in front of them, they are not going to say, “Gosh, this is wonderful. Thank you very much for making all these compromises. Let’s accept that wholeheartedly and send you back to celebrate.” They are bound to probe and see how far the Prime Minister is going to go. We have already compromised significantly; this is a good solution in which the UK Government have made a number of compromises. It is now time for the EU Commission and member states to say that they are up for compromising as well.
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration with the attitude of the Opposition parties, particularly the Scottish National party, who seem more intent on sowing discord and division in our United Kingdom, rather than acting in the national interest? If they really were working for the economy and peoples of our country, they would get behind the Government and support us as we try to get a deal to leave the EU in good order on 31 October.
I thank my hon. Friend for speaking up for Scotland in this Parliament, and for focusing on the nitty-gritty of the economy. No deal will not be as good as a deal for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland, so he is right to ask colleagues on both sides of the House—including Scottish National party Members and other Scottish Members—to back a deal.
The Minister may not be aware of this, but until about half an hour ago I had no idea who he was. From his answers today, I wonder how he can be so deeply unpleasant to so many colleagues on the Opposition Benches. The fact is that today he has said that it is not loyal or legitimate to stand up for our constituents when we are asking questions about what is contained in the deal. Some of us would vote for a good deal if we could see it—if we did not live in a secret society and a secret state. Will he wake up to the fact that there is a lot of good will in this House for a deal, if we could actually see it?
I am flabbergasted that the hon. Gentleman says he does not know who I am, because previously when I was at the Dispatch Box he asked me whether I knew about Huddersfield, and afterwards he thanked me for not mentioning that I was a comprehensive schoolboy who went to school in Huddersfield and he is the Member of Parliament for Huddersfield who was privately educated in the south of England.
Does my hon. Friend agree that at least some SNP Members are simply attempting to undermine the progress that has already been made and that this Government are attempting to make towards a deal? Does he find it as worrying as I do that, when challenged on passing on the Brexit preparation funding to local authorities in Scotland, the First Minister said:
“We should not be having to spend a single penny on Brexit preparations”?
Is that not taking a political view of Brexit preparations, rather than looking at what is good for the economy of Scotland?
I thank my hon. Friend for speaking up for Scotland. He raises a very important point about fund distribution, and while some of these things are in the purview of the Cabinet Office, I am happy to have a discussion with him about how we can improve the situation.
May I now appeal to colleagues for single-sentence questions without preamble? I do not want speeches. We have four other urgent questions, so short inquiries would help.
We are here on 7 October. The Government’s plan was for Parliament to be prorogued and not return until 14 October. Under the original plan, we would have had no scrutiny at all of the withdrawal agreement and very little time when we returned. Is that not the case, Minister?
If Parliament had not been in Session, I would have been helping to negotiate with member states, and perhaps we would have collectively, having spent more time doing that, got a deal.
Much nonsense has been spouted about the impracticalities of dealing with consignments when they reach their destination, rather than when they cross the border. Is it not the case that Britain’s biggest port by value operates on that basis already? Goods inbound to Heathrow airport do not stop at the border or near the border; they arrive at Heathrow and are dealt with there. Indeed, if the Minister were to visit the UPS hubs at East Midlands airport or in Cologne or Louisville, Kentucky, he would see tens of thousands of parcels crossing borders, with the duties, tariffs and VAT being dealt with in parallel with those goods travelling.
My right hon. Friend served in the Department for Transport and knows these issues incredibly well. I look forward to talking to him in more detail about East Midlands airport and UPS, particularly because Southend airport is doing a little bit of transit of goods with Amazon. He is right that these things can happen without intricate checks.
I gently point out that Members who came into the Chamber after the questions started cannot now expect to be called.
The Minister will be well aware that the withdrawal agreement we already have says that it protects the Belfast/Good Friday agreement “in all its dimensions”—those are the precise words. The withdrawal agreement also protects the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent. I would like the Minister to take a few moments to explain in detail to the people of Northern Ireland in particular how the Prime Minister’s new proposals guarantee those essential features of the withdrawal agreement.
The reason why they are an improvement on the backstop is that the backstop could have left Northern Ireland linked to the EU in perpetuity without any consent. This consent mechanism is a massive improvement. I thank the hon. Lady for the discussions we have had. I think she wants to have another discussion with me after this, and I am more than happy to do that.
The Minister was asked whether the Government are committed to publishing the details, but would that question not carry more weight if those on the Labour Front Bench had not already closed their minds? Within minutes of the deal being proposed last week, they said it was not good enough. Sadly, too many minds on the Opposition Benches—with honourable exceptions—are already closed. Is it not time to just get on with it?
It is certainly time to get on with it. I think that there are a significant number of Opposition Members who have more open minds than those on the Labour Front Bench, and we look forward to working with them over the coming days and weeks.
One reason why we need to see the legal texts is that there is every chance that this Government are planning to throw food and environmental standards under the bus for the sake of securing a dodgy trade deal with President Trump. Forgive us if we do not find the Minister’s reassurances very reassuring. We would like to see the full legal texts. While he is at it, could he have a word with the Prime Minister to make sure that the Trade Bill comes back in the Queen’s Speech, so that we have a chance at least of ensuring that planetary health comes before the interests of US trade lobbyists?
We will continue food and environmental standards. I have made that clear, and I will pass on the hon. Lady’s comments to the Prime Minister with pleasure.
In Michel Barnier’s speech in October last year, he said that a hard border in Northern Ireland needed to be avoided; that customs checks would be required, but they could happen using existing customs transit procedures; and that regulatory checks would need to increase, but they could continue to happen in the Irish sea. Does that not sound remarkably like the Prime Minister’s deal? Is it not time for the EU to negotiate in good faith, so that Members across the House can vote for this deal and we can leave on 31 October?
I thank my hon. Friend for that information, and I had not quite linked the two together. Perhaps we should call it not the Prime Minister’s proposal, but the Barnier solution.
It has been interesting to watch the Minister’s position morph from “We are prepared to leave without a deal” to “We will be leaving without a deal” in the course of this afternoon. Is he aware that in Edinburgh at lunchtime today, the Court of Session accepted from the Prime Minister “unequivocal assurances” that he would comply with the Benn Act? Is the Minister now departing from that promise made by the Prime Minister to the Scottish courts?
Just to be clear, we will leave on the 31st and we are prepared to leave on the 31st—that adds information, rather than detracts—and we will abide by the Court decision.
This morning, a Cabinet source was quoted as saying that the reason the Prime Minister is removing the level playing field protections on consumer, workers’ and environmental rights is that the Government know they would
“seriously restrict our ability to deregulate and do trade with other countries.”
That is the real aim of the Government’s Brexit proposals, is it not—to deregulate our economy and cut back rights?
No, it is not.
I have to say that the world of work wants a deal to be done, but the Minister’s contempt for Parliament today makes it less likely that a deal could ever be arrived at. Serious questions have got to be answered seriously. May I ask the Minister about this specific point, as someone, like many in this House, who fought for decades for peace in Northern Ireland and would never, ever put that at risk? The Prime Minister talks in his letter about the
“very small number of physical checks needed”,
“other points on the supply chain.”
I asked the Prime Minister last week:
“Where are they, and what are they?” —[Official Report, 3 October 2019; Vol. 664, c. 1409.]
He was unable to answer. Can the Minister?
I have tried to be as open as I can within the remit of trying to get a good negotiation. On the record, in response to an earlier question, I went through the trusted trader scheme and where checks could take place.
Can the Minister confirm whether he has seen the most recent legal document and read it, and say whether it confirms when a data adequacy agreement between the UK and the EU will be agreed? Without one—whether it is deal or no deal—very little is likely to be crossing any border.
I see all the papers I need to, but I will not go through them, on a paper by paper basis, saying which version I have seen and when I have seen it. I simply will not do that; it is not helpful to the Government process.
If the Minister is so convinced that this is a good deal, whether or not he has seen the paperwork, why will the Government not put that deal straight to the British people?
Because they have already voted for Brexit.
I raised with the Prime Minister on Thursday the concerns of the Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Simon Coveney, about the nature of the democratic issue in Northern Ireland, where a minority could potentially hold a veto over the wishes of the majority. The Prime Minister assured me that he would seek discussions with the Irish Deputy Prime Minister, so can the Minister update me on whether those discussions have taken place—or when they are scheduled—and what the outcome of them might be?
I heard the hon. Gentleman in the questions to the Prime Minister. I have not discussed this issue with the Prime Minister since then, so unfortunately I cannot update him, but I am happy to do so in correspondence.
Last year, The Economist reported from the Norway-Sweden border—at Svinesund—and said:
“Even with the latest technology being outside the customs union entails a hard border”.
There is automatic number plate recognition, and there are lorry parks and the confiscation of alcohol. How can we have anything but that if the Government proposals come forward?
The hon. Gentleman refers to one border. There are many borders around the world. Technologies can be used to avoid a hard border, and this Government are committed to having no hard border.
Do the Government stand by the December 2017 joint report, in which the UK is committed to the avoidance of
“any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls”
in Northern Ireland?
Are the proposals for the Northern Ireland border the Government’s vision of the perpetual future relationship on the border, or are they actually another form of backstop until some glorious new customs relationship is reached between the whole of the UK and the European Union?
There will be the point of exit on 31 October; a future economic partnership and a final relationship; and the consent point for the Northern Ireland Assembly to review the issue. So there are many junctures in the future where things can change.
Have the Government sought and received advice on the compatibility of their proposals with strands 2 and 3 of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement?
As a matter of course, the Government do not share the legal advice they receive, nor do they confirm or deny whether they have sought legal advice. That is standard practice not related to this specific issue, but more generally.
As someone who supported Prime Minister May’s deal and wants to support a deal as opposed to no deal, and further to the answer to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), may I ask the Minister to reassure me that strenuous efforts are being made in Northern Ireland to recover the support for a deal that seems to have been lost since the DUP changed sides and supported a deal?
Work is going on in Northern Ireland at a number of levels. I have been involved more at a business level, looking at the detail of the arrangements. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been involved on a more political level, as have a number of members of the Cabinet. This is obviously the big issue remaining: the Northern Ireland-Ireland border within the withdrawal agreement. All of the Government are working towards solving that. I am more than happy to discuss this issue with the hon. Gentleman in more detail, because I know he has a high level of expertise on it. I personally very much respect his position, and his thoughtful comments on this issue and many others.
The Minister wrongly says that the backstop threatens power sharing. The Government’s solution is to hand a veto to one side, undermining strand 2 of the Good Friday agreement. What assessment has been made of the economic harm all this uncertainty presents for the promotion of business and investment in Northern Ireland?
The whole idea of Brexit is to reposition the economy not only of Northern Ireland but of the whole United Kingdom around the growth areas of the world. That is not to say that we are turning our back on our European friends, whose trade is very important, but global growth in the longer term is with the rest of the world. It positions Northern Ireland alongside the UK in a much better place for long-term economic growth.
The Government’s proposal makes it clear that the UK will not be in a customs union, there will not be a close single market alignment and there will be even less protection for rights than the May deal offered. Given that, how do the Government expect the proposals to win cross-party support in this House?
I think the Government expect cross-party support because there are a number of colleagues who have behaved very reasonably. I am afraid I did not hear who the hon. Lady was quoting at the beginning of her question, but I am more than happy to talk to her about that later on. Apologies, but I did not hear the beginning of her question.
Are cameras on the border infrastructure?
To be frank, I was not being careful with my terminology. If the hon. Gentleman is asking, “Is there no infrastructure?”, there is no infrastructure. In relation to cameras, I saw cameras in Northern Ireland on the main road. I do not think it would be tenable to have cameras all along the border. They would simply be ripped down and be targets for terrorists to attack. I think he has successfully stretched my desire not to comment in any more detail. Certainly, he has done so effectively.
No-deal Brexit: Schedule of Tariffs
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade if she will set out the final schedule of import tariffs proposed in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question.
On 13 March, the Government announced that they would implement a temporary tariff regime in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This regime would apply equally to all imports that are not subject to alternative trade arrangements and would apply for up to—I stress, up to—12 months while a full public consultation takes place to inform long-term tariff arrangements. The Government would prefer to leave with a deal and will continue to work energetically and with determination to get that better deal. This will require the European Union to show the same spirit of compromise that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is demonstrating in his engagement with our European friends and allies.
As the UK leaves the EU, the Government are stepping up their preparations to get the UK ready to trade if there is no deal. The temporary tariff regime will maintain open trade on the majority of UK imports, helping to support consumers, business supply chains and sensitive sectors of the UK economy. Due regard has been given to the five principles set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018: the interests of consumers in the UK; the interests of producers in the UK; the desire to maintain and promote external trade of the UK; the desire to maintain and promote productivity in the UK; and the extent to which these goods are subject to competition. It reaffirms our commitment to become a free-trading nation. It realises the benefits of an independent trade policy to support increased trade and investment with partners new and old around the world and increased choice for British shoppers.
At the same time, Her Majesty’s Government recognise the importance of retaining some tariffs. Tariffs would therefore apply on just over 10% of imports, supporting sectors facing unfair global competition, mitigating otherwise significant adjustment costs for the agricultural sector, supporting the strategically important automotive sector and maintaining our commitments to developing countries. Preferential access to the UK market is important for our developing country partners, and tariffs are being retained on a set of goods, including bananas, raw sugar cane and certain kinds of fish, to demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to countries in the developing world. During the article 50 extension, the Government have remained responsive to the concerns of business and have reviewed the tariffs that would come into effect if the UK left the EU without a deal.
To answer the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), the Government will publish the final tariffs shortly. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on any amendments being considered prior to that announcement. As he will understand from his former guise as shadow Chancellor, to do so would be irresponsible. The Government will ensure that Parliament is informed as soon as is practically possible once a final decision has been made.
Thankfully, the Benn Act will safeguard Britain from a no-deal Brexit, but with the Minister still insisting that, in only 24 days’ time, we might somehow crash out on a World Trade Organisation basis, does it not beggar belief that the Government have still not got around to publishing the final schedule of import tariffs for that eventuality? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said that what we have had is not the final word, and he has repeated that today.
At present, we can import from and export to the EU without any customs duties applying, but that could be about to end. The consequences for so many sectors of our economy, including farming, manufacturing and engineering, are massive. I ask the Minister: how are businesses supposed to “get ready”, as the £100 million advertising campaign suggests, if Ministers still cannot tell us the tariffs that will be imposed and seem incapable of even the most basic competent level of preparation?
The CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn rightly asks why there is no time to consult industries about what tariffs will be applied. Even if we put aside the enormous non-tariff barriers of veterinary inspections, border checks and certification, are businesses to assume that the draft tariffs that were put out in March will still apply? Some of the import tariffs that Ministers are rumoured to be planning are really high. For example, if a British haulage company needs to buy an HGV truck from abroad, should it plan to pay an additional 22% on the cost or 10% because of the Government’s tariff plan? Will my constituents have to add 10% to the cost of buying a new car? What about the UK energy and bioethanol sector? Will customers have to pay the 4.7% tariff on fuel imported from the EU, as they currently do for fuel from beyond the EU? If not, will that not push the British energy sector into being at a competitive disadvantage when the 4.7% is imposed on its exports? There are container ships full of goods, components, textiles and clothing that have already been dispatched from the far east and elsewhere, heading for arrival at our shores at the end of the month. Will they face tariffs when they get to Britain, or not?
If British businesses suddenly have to start paying tariffs to export into Europe, what will the reciprocal tariffs be on goods imported into our country? How will British farmers compete with foreign produce when, for example, their lamb will face a 48% tariff when selling into Europe, their cheddar 57%, their poultry 37%, their wheat 53% and their beef 84%? The National Farmers Union is deeply concerned about the risk of foreign producers undercutting domestic production. So can the Minister at least do us the courtesy of setting out the rationale and strategic logic behind his decisions? Where is the parliamentary authority for imposing these tariffs and taxes? When will there be a vote in the House of Commons as the customs legislation requires?
Given that the Government now want a customs frontier in Ireland, will the Minister confirm that goods coming from the Republic into Northern Ireland will have tariffs added on? How does he think people and businesses in Northern Ireland will respond to the imposition of a tariff border in that way?
Would it not be far better to accept that erecting reciprocal tariffs between the UK and the EU is a fool’s errand—an endless cycle of costs and bureaucracy where everyone loses out in the end? Will the Minister at least have the good grace to acknowledge that, by leaving the single market and the customs union, British businesses and customers will be worse off, and for no good reason?
I said in reply to the hon. Gentleman’s first question that it would be irresponsible to go through the entire list of proposed tariffs prior to the formal announcement by the Government, which, as I indicated to him, he may not have to wait all that long to see. He spent the majority of his subsequent questions asking me to do that which I had said it would be irresponsible to do and I will not be drawn down that road, however tempting it is.
I thought the hon. Gentleman’s subsequent questions underlined the desirability of there being a deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union as we seek to leave. I hope that in the days ahead the EU will respond in the same spirit as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has demonstrated and show flexibility and compromise to get a deal that will pass the House. Then the tariff announcements might become redundant. That is very much our hope. The hon. Gentleman said that he found it extraordinary that so long had passed and we were yet to publish this. Many people in my constituency and around the country find it equally astonishing that it is more than three years since the UK voted to leave the EU and still people in this House are determined to thwart that democratic decision.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the situation on the island of Ireland. I am happy to confirm, as I think he will know, that there will be no tariffs on goods coming from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland. On parliamentary process, he will know exactly how that works. The House will have the opportunity to have its say within 60 days of the tariff regime coming into place.
This is the second of five urgent questions I have granted today. There is a premium upon time and therefore I reiterate what I said in respect of the last urgent question. People who came into the Chamber after the question began should not expect to be called. I have a list of about half a dozen people who beetled into the Chamber after the question began. Please do not stand. It is not the right thing to do.
The day one tariffs were set to produce price stability, protect businesses that took time to make adjustments and ensure there were not additional costs for British importers, who then add value and re-export. Given that it is a good policy and that the assumption of a sterling depreciation of 7% to 13% in the event of a no deal has not changed, can the tariffs be published as soon as possible? Will my hon. Friend also make it very clear that, if we have to introduce the day one tariffs as they are at the present time, the responsibility will lie not with the Government but with those who refused to accept a deal of any sort in the House?
My right hon. Friend has put that argument extremely effectively and powerfully. May I use this opportunity—my debut at the Dispatch Box—to thank him for all the work that he did in the Department? The fact that, in the last couple of weeks, we now have more than 72% of trade agreed in continuity agreements is largely due to the enormous efforts that he put in during his time at the Department. He is absolutely right: the day one tariff regime is determined to protect British consumers in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Those who can avoid a no-deal Brexit are our friends in Europe coming to terms with the Prime Minister in a deal that will be passed by the House and implement the democratic decision in the referendum of 2016.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box.
The Government failed to consult properly with business organisations or with trade unions before publishing these tariff measures, ignoring the very producers whose jobs and livelihoods would be most affected. Their refusal to listen and their inability to compromise are now posing grave dangers to our country.
The Government told us that EU manufacturers would be demanding a deal with us. They did not. The Government said that a trade deal with the EU would be the easiest in human history. It is not. The Government told us that they would have 40 trade agreements ready to be signed one second after midnight on Brexit day. They do not. Far from our seeing other countries
“chomping at the bit to strike trade deals with a post-Brexit Britain”,
as the Secretary of State claimed, many of those countries already have a trade agreement with us by way of the EU, but it is a trade agreement that will fall away if we leave the EU without a deal. The Government have failed to roll over all the existing deals with approximately 70 countries. That is why, earlier this year, the Government announced emergency proposals to reduce up to 87% of UK tariffs to zero, and to expand our tariff rate quotas in the event of a no deal. As new tariffs are imposed on our exports, damaging jobs, this is a desperate attempt to keep import costs down for British consumers.
So may I ask, first, whether the Minister will publish the Government’s assessment of the price rises that they anticipate would hit UK consumers in default of these tariff rates? The Government advise businesses that, in a no-deal scenario, we would trade under World Trade Organisation rules. However, the Government are yet to have our WTO schedules formally ratified owing to challenges over our tariff rate quotas—challenges that are likely to require substantial compensation to resolve. So, secondly, when does the Department believe that such a challenge may crystallise, and what contingency funds have they laid aside to pay compensation to any complainants?
The lunacy of the Government’s position has been exposed by a country that they previously regarded as a friendly model for their future free trade agreement with Europe. Canada has walked away from trade talks with the UK precisely because these measures would mean free access for Canadian exporters without requiring them to open up access to our goods and services in return. So, thirdly, can the Minister tell us what progress has since been made with respect to Canadian trade talks, and whether any other countries have similarly refused to negotiate as a result of the announcement of zero tariffs by the UK? Under this regime, UK companies will face competition from a flood of cheap imports, undercutting them and putting thousands of UK jobs at risk, without any reciprocal right of free access to their markets for our manufacturers and businesses.
Just about every single major trade body and trade union in the UK has decried the lack of engagement with it, and, in particular, the Department’s lack of understanding in respect of trade defence measures. So, fourthly, I ask the Minister what assessment he has made of the diversion of goods originally destined for other markets at a time when those other markets are increasing tariffs and taking substantive action to tackle the issue of dumping. These are existential threats to our industrial heartlands. The steel sector, the ceramics sector and the automotive sector are all greatly at risk from the proposed measures.
The EU has introduced stringent new safeguard measures to tackle dumping, and is due to set out its approach to tackling circumvention shortly. So, fifthly, does the Minister recognise that this could add further tariffs to our EU exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and could drive even more dumped goods to our markets? If so, sixthly, can he explain why the Government have sought to establish the weakest trade remedies authority in the world, and to do so without proper legal authority?
Well, goodness me! We heard not a single word about what the Opposition would do to support the Government in trying to get a deal. We heard no word of compromise. We heard flip-flop after flip-flop, with not a single constructive suggestion from the shadow Secretary of State. Why am I not remotely surprised by that?
The hon. Gentleman talks about a lack of interest. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Lesley Laird) stopped chuntering and listened, she might hear something. The shadow Secretary of State said there was no interest in trade agreements. What does he think is going on with the United States? With Australia? With New Zealand? Everywhere that I have travelled in this role, I have discovered an enormous interest in what our withdrawal from the European Union means not just for the United Kingdom, but for our ability to do bilateral trade agreements with other countries. As I said in reply to my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State, we have transitioned over 72% of UK trade in continuity agreements, which will protect us in the event of a no-deal Brexit—which is something that the hon. Gentleman seems determined to advocate, given his lack of support for the Prime Minister.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the Trade Remedies Authority. There is not a single member of the civil service working today who was working in the civil service the last time the United Kingdom had her own independent trade body. The fact that we have established the Trade Remedies Authority, which I visited several weeks ago—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman took a bit of time to understand his brief, he would understand very clearly—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman laughs. He should be laughing at himself, because he does not understand the very policy that he shadows. The body is created. The body can function temporarily without the passage of the Trade Bill in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as he should know, and then we will put it on a statutory footing when we introduce a new trade Bill in a new Session of Parliament.
The shadow Minister talked about all the things that we have not done. Let us talk about some of the things that he said he would do. He said that he would respect the referendum. He did not. He said that he would implement the decision of the British people. He will not. What we will do is take the opportunities of having an independent trade policy—the opportunity to sign bilateral trade agreements and the opportunity of free trade—to deliver prosperity to our citizens.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his clear command of his brief. Will he take this opportunity to update us on the progress that he is making on seeking continuity of some of the other EU trade agreements, particularly those with Canada and Africa, many of which the Opposition opposed?
This Government take great pride in the number of those agreements that we have transitioned into continuity agreements. There are many more on the cusp of being agreed. We are dealing with some technical issues and there is ongoing engagement all the time. I was recently in Algeria and Morocco, where we are making substantial progress, and I returned yesterday evening from Vietnam—you might say that I am in another time zone, Mr Speaker, while the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) is on another planet. Even in Vietnam there is significant interest in coming to a continuity agreement with the UK. We will continue to work to deliver those. Of course, as my right hon. Friend and I will both agree, it would be much better if we did not have to go to continuity agreements but instead got the best continuity agreement, which would be a new agreement between ourselves and the European Union, which I hope the Opposition will finally support.
When the temporary tariff regime was announced this March, the UK Government argued that, if they maintained the current external tariff regime, there would be new tariffs on EU imports. They said that, if zero tariffs were maintained with the EU, even though that would minimise trade disruption, that would be required to be extended to the rest of the world due to WTO rules. The Government also said that they would keep 43 of the existing trade remedy measures that were in place, but much has changed since then. There has been another round of US tariffs and there is the potential for another round of EU tariffs in response to the US action, so let me ask the Minister this.
Given new tariffs from the US and the EU, has the schedule in the temporary tariff regime changed and, if so, by how much? Has the list of 43 trade remedies to be kept and 66 to be abandoned changed and, if so, by how many? Most importantly, with barely three weeks to go to a potential no-deal Brexit—although the Benn Act should protect us from that—I say to the Minister that it is not irresponsible to publish the new schedule. It is absolutely necessary to publish it, not least to allow businesses—importing and exporting businesses alike—at least a little certainty and to ensure that they can continue to operate within the law. The Minister is having a great time teasing us about when the schedule will be published, so may I ask him to publish it today so that businesses understand precisely what they are dealing with?
Of course, I did not say that it would be irresponsible to publish it. I said that it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to comment on what is in it before it is published.
High-value manufacturing and engineering are key to our economy, including in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend assure me that as we develop our independent trade policy he will take action to ensure our vital industries are protected from unfair trading practices?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are determined that the trade remedies body will be one of the most innovative and strong bodies in protecting not just free trade but fair trade.
The Prime Minister talks about getting Brexit done by 31 October and indeed, the Minister has just referred to that, too, but is it not the reality that, if Brexit were to happen on that day, with or without a withdrawal agreement, no trade agreement, including a permanent tariff regime with our biggest customer, the EU, will be in place at the point of departure? Is it not the case that, to put in place a permanent trade agreement will take at least three years? If I am wrong about that, can he name one EU leader who is suggesting that we could get a permanent trade agreement in place quicker than that timeframe? Nothing is going to be done, really, by 31 October.
If there is a deal by 31 October, as the Government wish, it is highly likely that the deal will come with an implementation period. That would give us the opportunity to come to a comprehensive free trade agreement with our European Union friends and neighbours before the end of that implementation period. I give the hon. Gentleman full marks for consistency on this, as he has never seen any opportunities in the idea of Brexit, and he believes—it is a perfectly logical and consistent position—that our current membership of the EU under the current terms is the best thing possible. Many of us believe that there are significant opportunities for the United Kingdom not only to trade with our largest and nearest trading partner, but to have new bilateral trade agreements with countries around the world—that is the opportunity that Brexit provides.
Will my hon. Friend confirm whether an impact assessment will be published at the same time as the new schedule of tariffs to show the effect of these tariffs on both imports and exports, and hence on jobs within the United Kingdom?
The schedule has been drawn up to take account of much of the lobbying and of the assessments that the Government have made, and by our drawing on wide expertise on the position that we would face in a number of scenarios. My hon. Friend will have to wait for the publication, but I assure him that he will not have to wait for very long.
For manufacturers in the north of England, it is hard to know which is worse: the fact that this Government are prepared to countenance no deal, or the fact that the deal that they are proposing significantly disadvantages the north compared with Northern Ireland. Can I ask the Minister, therefore, further to the question from the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy): which representative organisations has he met that represent companies in the complex modern manufacturing supply chain?
I have met both companies and representatives of companies—and, indeed, representatives of the two devolved Governments. My first visit as Minister of State for Trade was to Scotland, to meet Derek Mackay, and I then went to Wales and met Baroness Morgan; our two counterparts. I have met with various representatives of trade organisations and employers’ organisations. We are listening widely. The idea that the hon. Lady seems to be advancing that we are sitting in Whitehall dreaming up schemes that are completely and totally divorced from reality—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) really thinks that—well, how many years has he been in the House? Come on.
We have our own advisory body, which we set up within the Department, and that has multiple employer groups, business and representatives of the regions and nations of the UK. We seek to inform ourselves as much as possible before these decisions are made.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend’s point that the best way out of this situation is to pass a deal and avoid a no-deal outcome. However, I recently met arable farmers in my constituency who are profoundly concerned that, if there were a no-deal outcome, they could face tariffs of €90 a tonne. That would make their surplus unexportable through the port of Ipswich, especially as we seem to be considering nil tariffs on foreign wheat and barley. Does my hon. Friend understand that, from their point of view, that is not unilateral free trade, but unilateral protectionism for overseas competition? Whatever happens in the schedule, I urge him please to remember to support the bread basket of England.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I point him to the comment that I made twice in my first reply to the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie)—that this day-one tariff regime will apply for up to 12 months, and it will be reviewed during that time. We will be open-minded and open-eared to representations that are made to us. I would be happy to extend an invitation to people to meet me and to talk specifically about the point my hon. Friend made, which, if I may say so, he did robustly, as he always does, on behalf of those he represents.
Fawcett in Castleford, which exports malt to Europe, has described the tariff arrangements it will face in the event of no deal as manufacturing suicide. Tereos in Normanton, which imports sugar, expects a 50% increase in its costs as a result of tariffs in the event of no deal. Will the Minister confirm that these tariffs are not just costs that can be mitigated away by preparations or border changes, and that these are real costs to industry? If he has done all this work on the possible impact of different tariff schedules, surely he has a responsibility to publish the full impact assessment alongside the tariff schedule.
I indicated the tests this tariff regime is set against. It is set to try to protect the interests of consumers and producers in the UK, and it will be kept under review. It will go for up to 12 months. However, I stress again that the best way to avoid any of this happening is for us to come to an agreement in this House and with the EU, and to get a deal through and leave the European Union on 31 October in an orderly way. Then, this would become an academic exercise.
The Leader of the Opposition’s vision is for us to stay in the customs union. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that does not honour the result of the EU referendum?
It will not come as an enormous surprise to my hon. Friend that I agree wholeheartedly. Indeed, at the time of the referendum, the Government, of which we were Back-Bench observers, spent over £9 million sending a leaflet to every home in this country making exactly that point.
Order. I reiterate what I said at the start of this exchange, which is that people who arrived after it began should not stand and expect to be called—[Interruption.] No, no. No matter how illustrious they are, and irrespective of the exalted office that they occupy. Other Members of this—[Interruption.] Order. I am not debating the point with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). I am telling him what the situation is, and that is the end of the matter.