House of Commons
Thursday 17 October 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I am a big supporter of the WTO, but it does need reform. When the UK takes up its independent seat at the WTO for the first time in many years, we will strongly be backing the rules-based multilateral trading system and making the case for reform.
10 December—the date on which the WTO appellate body crisis will come to a head—is looming ever closer. Can the Secretary of State confirm that she will follow the European Union in working to restore an operational appellate body, and will she tell us what conversations she has had with her United States counterpart regarding that urgent need?
When I was at the WTO in Geneva last week, I met David Walker, who is currently leading work to resolve the appellate body crisis. I have given him my full support in that work. It will require movement on behalf of the EU and the US to find a solution to this crisis, but it is vital that we fix this in order to keep the WTO going.
As well as undermining the dispute settlement system, the US is threatening the principles that support developing economies and imposing tariffs for political ends. How does my right hon. Friend propose that the UK stands up for the rules-based order while trying to negotiate a trade deal with the US?
My hon. Friend is right that the rules- based order is very important. Last week we got the support of all the Trade Ministers of the Commonwealth, who represent a third of the world’s population, to make the case for an immediate resolution to the WTO appellate body crisis and for a rules-based order. As she says, it is particularly important for the smaller countries that do not have the muscle to make their way in trade negotiations to be able to rely on the WTO to resolve disputes.
How exactly do the Government intend to reform the WTO? Are they looking at tariffs, for example? What exactly are they trying to achieve?
The WTO needs to reform to reflect trade in the 21st century. It needs to become more transparent. We also need to deal with issues such as state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfer and intellectual property, ensuring that these matters are resolved within the WTO. But we also need an appellate body system that works for all WTO members, which is why I am supporting David Walker from New Zealand, who is conducting the review. I urge the US, the EU and all other parties to work together to resolve this situation.
May I urge the Secretary of State to use our voice at the WTO to champion both free trade and, as she has described them, “orderly” markets? Now is not the time for world trade to revert to old-fashioned protectionism.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since the repeal of the corn laws, the UK has stood up for free trade. We were one of the founding members of the general agreement on tariffs and trade in 1947. There is a huge opportunity for us as we leave the EU to retake our independent seat, to make the case for free trade and to be prepared to stand up for the values that we believe in as a country.
Will the Secretary of State wake up? She sounds almost as if she is in a trance this morning. Instead of talking to significant people in the WTO, will she come to my constituency of Huddersfield to meet exporting companies and top managers there, who believe that she is sticking a dagger into the heart of this country’s exporting companies? We want to know what the future is for exporting businesses in Yorkshire when we leave the EU, if we have to leave the EU.
Well, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am going to be in Yorkshire next Friday, visiting and talking to exporting businesses such as Bettys of Harrogate and Burberry in Leeds. If he wants to extend an invitation to me to visit an exporting business in Huddersfield, he should get on with it.
Will my right hon. Friend be a champion for opening markets to the world’s least developed countries?
Absolutely. One of the great benefits of trade is the prosperity it can bring to some of the poorest countries in the world. Part of our no-deal tariff schedule is about ensuring that those countries are supported, but we will have a huge opportunity to open up more trade once we leave the EU. At the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting, we talked about just that.
We all wish to see reform of the WTO and a functioning dispute resolution system, but given that the UK is responsible for 3.4% of global trade compared with the EU being responsible for 35%—a full third—of global trade, is it not the case that the UK’s influence inside the WTO is now massively diminished?
One of the groups we are working very closely with is our Commonwealth partners. We are developing a Commonwealth caucus at the WTO that represents a third of the world’s population and has a very strong stake in making sure that the WTO works for small states, in particular. Of course we will work with the EU and of course we will work with the US when it is in our mutual interests, but the fact is that the EU has pursued protectionist policies, and that has not necessarily helped some of the least-developed nations. I believe that the UK will have a unique voice, particularly in favour of free trade.
We know that the new Secretary of State can do the impossible, because recently she announced that for the past 45 years the UK had been a member of the WTO—which was only founded in 1995. So will she now inform the House of how she has resolved the challenge that 20 or so members of the WTO have lodged against the UK’s proposed new bound tariff and quota schedules, and of what provisional sum she has agreed with the Chancellor to pay any successful claims?
The UK was a founder member of GATT, which then became the WTO. As the hon. Gentleman knows, by his definition we would only have been in the EU since 1993, because previously we were in the European Community, as I am sure he has said.
Of course we will work through the issues on the goods schedules at the WTO, and we are doing precisely that at Geneva. Those schedules are all ready to go in the event of no deal. Of course, what we want is a deal, and the Prime Minister is currently in Brussels working very hard to get that. If that is what the hon. Gentleman wants, I suggest that he votes for it.
EU Trade Agreements: Roll-over
In preparation for our exit from the European Union, the Government have, to date, secured 16 continuity trade agreements with 46 countries. Trade with those countries represents 72% of the UK’s total trade. I am pleased to inform the House that only last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State signed another agreement with the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique to roll over the existing EU trade agreements that we have with them.[Official Report, 31 October 2019, Vol. 667, c. 4MC.]
The Minister says there are 16 agreements, but given the Government’s clear broken promise to roll over at least 40 trade deals by one minute after midnight on 31 March, two Brexit extensions ago, have they carried out any assessment of the economic loss that will result if—I will say if, not when—we are unable to secure a trade deal with all the countries that the EU already has an existing arrangement with?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not welcomed the efforts that the Government and officials have made to make this incredibly successful transition. These deals account for over £100 billion-worth of our current trade, and they are warmly welcomed by the businesses that trade beyond the borders of the European Union. I will tell her what assessment we have made on the European Union: we have made an assessment that it would be deeply damaging for our democracy if we do not honour the referendum of 2016.
Will the Minister explain to the House how, when we leave the EU, his Department will continue to protect UK businesses from unfair trading practices?
We remain absolutely committed to ensuring a level playing field. The United Kingdom has been one of the leading international advocates of a rules-based order. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we are committed to playing our full part in the WTO, and we are absolutely committed to having a trade resolution body up and running and formally underpinned by statute. This is the boring bit—the continuity bit. The exciting bit comes when we leave the European Union and we can strike out with new, comprehensive free trade agreements around the world.
Despite the existing architecture, despite not needing to reinvent the wheel, despite not starting from zero—we could just follow the work the European Union has done—and despite the promise to do this by one minute after midnight, the slow progress in these trade agreements surely does not bode well for any of the future trade agreements that the Government talk about ad nauseam. Meanwhile, the UK Government are endangering the trading potential of companies in the UK. When will the other 24 be done?
We are working aggressively to continue the roll-overs, and many are very close to being completed. Despite the hon. Gentleman’s distinguished position as Chair of the International Trade Committee, if optimism were a disease, he would be immune.
The Trade Bill was supposed to govern the roll-over of EU trade deals, but the Government abandoned it in the last Session because they knew that they would lose votes on important amendments, including on scrutiny and parliamentary approval. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will carry over those vital provisions into the new trade Bill, so that elected Members of this Parliament can properly scrutinise all trade agreements, to prevent our NHS, food standards and environmental protections from being traded away to President Trump?
As a distinguished parliamentarian, the hon. Lady knows how this House works. She will have ample opportunity to scrutinise the trade Bill during its passage through Parliament and, if she wishes, to make amendments to the Bill, which can then be considered by the House. I wish that the Opposition would stop peddling this lie, which is worrying people, about the NHS and the United States. The Prime Minister has made it repeatedly clear that the NHS is not on the table in any trade agreement. She should stop scaremongering.
Scotch Whisky Tariffs
We are extremely disappointed that the US has decided to levy tariffs, including on the Scotch whisky industry. I have urged my US counterpart to rethink this, and the Prime Minister has also raised the issue with President Trump.
In the days following this announcement, the Government were asleep at the wheel. We now have only 12 hours before this tariff is implemented. What action will the Secretary of State take in the next 12 hours to delay this? If she cannot delay it, what will she do to mitigate the impact, particularly on small and medium-sized distillers, which rely so heavily on the US market?
I have been raising this issue with my US counterpart since July, when I first met Bob Lighthizer. I have also raised it with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. I have made it clear to the Americans that it is not helpful in terms of our relationship with them to see these tariffs placed on such an iconic industry, among other industries in the UK.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts. In my recent urgent question I asked the Prime Minister to speak to the President, and he did, but I also asked that consideration be given to an announcement that the UK would not levy tariffs on bourbon when we left the EU. Can she tell us something about her consideration of that?
When we leave the EU, the UK will be responsible for its own tariff policy. At this point we are part of the EU and those overall discussions on tariffs, so we cannot make that type of statement. The point I have been making to the US is that this will not help our relationship. We are also being threatened with £1.2 billion of car tariffs, which could hit the UK on 14 November, and I have raised that with my US counterpart. If the US wants the British public to have a positive view of our trading relationship with it, it needs to reverse these decisions.
Scotch whisky producers will have difficulties with the tariffs that will fall on their whiskies, but the Republic of Ireland will have no tariffs whatsoever. Echlinville distillery in my constituency is an Irish whiskey producer. What is being done to help Bushmills and Echlinville distilleries, which are very important to jobs in my constituency and across Northern Ireland?
My understanding is that the Republic of Ireland has been hit with tariffs on other products. These retaliatory tariffs following the Airbus dispute have been levied on a number of European countries. The point I have been making to the Americans is that the UK has complied with the WTO ruling. We are not in breach of that ruling any more, and we have met all the compliance stats.
The Secretary of State is aware that my constituency is severely affected by a number of the tariffs applied by the US. What will she be doing in the next 12 hours to at least delay these tariffs being implemented? If they are, unfortunately, implemented, what can be done to get them removed as quickly as possible?
I am aware of the fantastic whisky distilleries—in fact, I visited Macallan with my hon. Friend very recently—and they are an incredibly important part of the Scottish economy, but also an iconic brand for the UK. I am hosting a roundtable with affected industries this afternoon, and the Chancellor is currently over in the US speaking to his counterpart as well. We are putting as much pressure as we can on the United States on this issue. We will also be looking at measures to help the industry here in the UK.
The best way to avoid potential tariff barriers is to support good free trade agreements with both the EU and the US. I hope the hon. Lady will support any deal the Government bring forward to make sure we can leave the EU with a deal.
I have spoken before about the impact of export tariffs on Welsh lamb and beef exports, which would be seriously damaging for the Welsh farmers I represent in Brecon and Radnorshire. We have heard the Government recently talk up Japan as a tariff-free export destination, but only £4,000 of lamb goes to that particular country. Can the Secretary of State provide a guarantee—yes or no—that the livelihood of Welsh farmers, such as those in Brecon and Radnorshire, will not suffer as a result of the imposition of these export tariffs?
I know that very high-quality lamb is produced in the hon. Lady’s constituency. In fact, I have visited the Rhayader sheep market and seen it for myself. I can assure her that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working with the Treasury to make sure there is support for lamb farmers in the eventuality of potential issues. However, we also need to open up more markets for British lamb. I have particularly got my eye on the US market—it is the second largest importer of lamb by value in the world—and we need to make sure that Welsh lamb farmers have more places to which they can export.
Tariff Policies: US and China
The European Union has made very clear its opposition to tariff escalation and its support for the international rules-based trading system. As a vocal champion of that very system, the United Kingdom endorses the EU approach. Low tariffs and free trade are the underpinning guarantor of prosperity and jobs in the UK; tariff wars are in no one’s interest.
Does my right hon. Friend agree, given the growing disruption in the EU’s trade relationship with both the US and China, that now is not the time to have disruption in the EU-UK trade relationship? The UK will become, overnight, the EU’s second largest trade partner. Does that not show all of us the need to get a trade deal with Brussels that we can live with and move on?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As a distinguished former occupant of the job I now have, he understands these matters incredibly well. He is absolutely correct: the United Kingdom is about to become the EU’s second largest trading partner, with £357 billion of goods and services exported to the UK last year. A good Brexit deal is in the interests of the EU and in the interests of the UK, and I am sure the whole House—at least, I wish the whole House—would wish my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister every success today in trying to get that agreement.
Recently, the Secretary of State said she would be
“unapologetic in fighting the forces of protectionism, in favour of genuinely free trade.”
Will she put this into action now for one of my constituents, a specialist publisher of historical aviation books, who from tomorrow will pay 25% tariffs on his materials, a large proportion of which are shipped to the US?
I absolutely give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will work tirelessly to promote trade, investment and the prosperity of the United Kingdom. On the hon. Gentleman’s particular point, I would be delighted to meet him to talk about his constituency business.
I am working closely, as are my colleagues across Government, to make sure that the freeport policy will be successful, and will help bring regeneration, jobs, opportunity and prosperity to every part of this United Kingdom.
Given Aberdeen’s new harbour expansion, which is supported in part by UK Government investment, and a growing cluster of subsea businesses near Aberdeen International airport, does my hon. Friend agree that freeport status for Aberdeen could help to turbocharge the engine room of the Scottish economy?
My hon. Friend is correct in his assertion that freeports have the potential to drive growth in towns and cities across the UK, enabling them to make the most of Brexit opportunities. We are working hard to design a model that delivers optimal benefit for the UK and specific locations. Where appropriate, we will work with the devolved Administrations on this matter, but it would be helpful if the SNP showed more enthusiasm for something that could make a big difference.
Does my hon. Friend agree that freeports could hugely benefit and provide great opportunities for the south-west regional economy? What plans will he put in place to ensure that local communities around freeports benefit economically?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—no one in the House works harder to promote their area than him. Freeports offer an opportunity to unleash enterprise. We want to set forth all the principles and wealth creation that the Labour party stands against, and to allow my hon. Friend’s constituents, and the communities he represents, to prosper and grow through free enterprise, and we will carry on doing that.
The Prime Minister has suggested that there would be about six freeports. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that that would have on ports that are not chosen to be freeports?
The hon. Lady makes a serious and important point. We are working hard and closely with our Treasury colleagues and others to ensure that we design the policy in the right way so that we minimise displacement and bring in additional activity and prosperity. We do not expect, and we will not design, a system that will damage those ports that do not become freeports.
I am delighted to have been appointed as Trade Secretary at this vital time in our nation’s history. For the first time in 46 years, we will have an independent trade policy and be able to set our rules and regulations, which means that we will be able to strike deals with likeminded countries such as the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. We will also be able to take up our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation, leading the fight for free trade and participating in the battle against protectionism.
Ninety per cent. of the world’s illegal deforestation takes place in the Amazon rainforest—something that the Paris agreement explicitly sets out to tackle and reduce. Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are serious about tackling climate change, the ratification and implementation of the Paris agreement must be a precondition for any country that wishes to make a trade deal with the United Kingdom?
I am a great believer that free trade and free enterprise help us to achieve our environmental goals through better technology, more innovation and more ingenuity. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), recently visited Brazil and discussed those precise issues with its Trade Minister.
Sylatech is a precision engineering business in Kirkbymoorside in my constituency, but it is suffering a significant business impact due to control delays on its export licence applications. Will my hon. Friend update the House with a timescale to resolve that problem?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on working so hard to promote businesses in his area. I am delighted that our performance in dealing with licence applications is good, and I pay tribute to those who work in the Export Control Joint Unit. Some 80% of applications are concluded within 20 days, and 96% within 60 days. In some cases, complex issues have to be assessed, but we will do everything that we can to facilitate and accelerate the decision on the case raised by my hon. Friend.
The House recently passed a statutory instrument to extend EU protection against extraterritorial lawsuits under the US Helms-Burton Act. The Secretary of State will know that investors are already speaking with law firms to launch dispute proceedings against the UK under long dormant bilateral treaties. What estimates has she made of the quantum of such suits, and what protections will she introduce to safeguard the public purse and public policy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and I will look into that issue.
It sounds like my hon. Friend is drawing up a very exciting programme of autumn travel. He is absolutely right that our departure from the European Union will offer huge opportunities for the United Kingdom in the vast and growing Asian market, which I saw at first hand only a couple of weeks ago in Vietnam.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that an incredible amount of work has been going on across Government to make sure that we are fully prepared for all scenarios. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been holding daily meetings—there have been 60 so far—and we are performing well, particularly on making sure that actions at the borders are in place.
Our biggest export sector is services, which are invisible, and particularly financial services. Our biggest export market is the US. What discussions has the Secretary of State had about opening up financial services exports to the US and removing some non-tariff barriers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—this is a fantastic opportunity for the UK. When I was out in the US, I met Bob Lighthizer, and I also met the Treasury Secretary to discuss those potential opportunities with him. The UK is not just going to roll over in a trade deal with the US. We will make sure that our industries are promoted. We want barriers removed in the US to our successful service industries.
I hope that the hon. Lady will be supporting the Prime Minister in his negotiations in Brussels, where he has already secured significant advances to where we were, in particular by ensuring that Britain is able to have its own independent trade policy once we leave the EU, and to control our own rules and regulations.
To avoid freeports just displacing activity, does the Minister agree that freeport activity should be based on the existing unique and distinctive capabilities of a port, such as Milford Haven, the UK’s leading energy port, which has an unrivalled skills base and infrastructure?
My right hon. Friend is quite right. The design of the policy is vital. Optimising existing strength is an important part of ensuring that the policy is a success.
To be frank, a free trade deal with Colombia is not one of our urgent priorities.
As a result of devastating African swine fever, 130 million pigs have recently been slaughtered in China, which is home to half the world’s pigs. Is this not a great opportunity for my right hon. Friend, who did so much to open this market to British pig farmers, to promote the merits of British products from our pigs, including, of course, the unrivalled Gloucester Old Spot?
My hon. Friend is right. I was very proud to open the market for pigs trotters into China when I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Market access is very important. We have seen a massive increase in pork exports to China over the past five years. He is right that our high welfare standards and quality produce are valued across the world. There are lots of new opportunities, including for the Gloucester Old Spot.
Leaked documents from Operation Kingfisher showed that York would be the worst-hit place in the country in the event of no deal. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with my city to ensure that we will be able to trade after 31 October?
No doubt the hon. Lady will be supporting a deal to ensure that the good people of York have the trading opportunities that they deserve.
Returning to the issue of freeports, the Secretary of State visited Immingham in my constituency last year and saw for herself the great opportunities that exist to improve the local economy. Will she continue working with me to ensure that the Humber ports do indeed receive freeport status?
As I represent a constituency in the Humber area, I will continue, without giving any special status, to ensure that we liaise with my hon. Friend, but he is so right. Conservative Members are focused on trying to find policies that open up investment and bring in further jobs, but the Labour party’s manifesto sets out policies that would destroy inward investment and cost tens of thousands of jobs.
Does the Secretary of State accept the Food and Drink Federation’s analysis that, with a complex and confusing no-deal tariff schedule, investment made right across the supply chain in preparing for a no-deal Brexit means that food prices will likely increase?
The best way of avoiding no deal is for the—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but this is common sense: the best way to avoid no deal is to vote for a deal.
Will the Secretary of State give us an update on where we are on joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?
I discussed that with Trade Ministers when I visited New Zealand, Japan and Australia. They are all very interested in the UK’s joining, and I want to progress that alongside the bilateral discussions that we are having with the countries. It will give us access to 11 fast-growing markets in Asia, so it is a massively exciting opportunity.
Will Ministers assure us that, in their desperation to sign any trade deal to justify their Brexit policy, they will not give a green light, or a nod and a wink, to President Bolsonaro to continue the destruction of the Amazon rain forest?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State alluded to some moments ago, I visited Brazil recently. In addition to conversations about trade, we discussed with the Brazilian Government how the United Kingdom can assist them in their move to a low-carbon, greener energy production model. We have spent over £150 million of climate finance in forest programmes across Brazil, and I was delighted, in the light of my recent visit, that the Prime Minister announced a further £10 million to help the Brazilian authorities in forestation and deforestation.
The National Audit Office said yesterday that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, cross-border shipments could be reduced by more than 50% and would take 12 months to return to normal. Can we stop this charade? Is it not the case that no responsible Government would do that to our businesses, and that if there is no agreement with the EU by Saturday, the Prime Minister will send the letter requesting an extension, not least because if he fails to do so he will be in contempt of court, given the proceedings in the Court of Session?
As well as birthday congratulations to the hon. Gentleman, I have other good news: we are taking steps to support businesses in all scenarios and to ensure that, with or without a deal, we minimise any negative disruption. But as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just said—this is an appeal to Members right across this House—we will have the opportunity to vote for a Saturday sitting, and we will have the opportunity, I hope, to see a deal put through that will mean that we can move forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, finally, will support and respect the decision of the British people in 2016.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Gender Recognition Act 2004
The issue of the response to the consultation on the Act is very important. It needs time for consideration, and I will want to study it closely.
Last night, at the PinkNews awards, Baroness Williams of Trafford, the House of Lords Minister for Equalities, said, “bear with us” on gender recognition reforms. Quite frankly, Minister, that is not good enough for people who are already going through one of the most difficult experiences they will ever face—more difficult than we can possibly imagine. They face abuse, discrimination and even, sadly, violence, just because of who they are. So I ask the Minister again: when will we see the results of the consultation, and can she assure me, and the people who are waiting on those results, that the most right-wing Government in decades will follow through on the GRA?
I completely condemn bullying or violence towards trans people, but I do not think that that could be confused with the complex piece of work that is the reform to the Gender Recognition Act. In particular, I will not be rushed into it. I am very keen that we protect single-sex spaces and vulnerable women, and that we do not rush into reform before we have had full, proper discussion.
I welcome the Minister to her new position and look forward to working with her on all these issues. I am losing count, but I think she is the fifth Minister whom I have shadowed since I have occupied this position. However, we do not start from the beginning every time we change Ministers.
Reform of the Gender Recognition Act was promised in 2016. The Minister does not need to look at it carefully; the Minister just needs to expose what came out of the consultation and amend the Act as promised. The Minister needs to stop kicking the can down the road. There has been a 37% increase in hate crime against transgender people, and the Minister is exacerbating the pain and the hurt in the LGBT+ community. Please, Minister, just reform the Gender Recognition Act already.
As I have said, I completely condemn violence against trans people, and we and the Home Office are doing a lot of work to combat it, but I think it is completely wrong to conflate that with a complex piece of legislation that we need to get right. There are serious concerns about single-sex spaces and ensuring that vulnerable women are protected, and we should get the legislation right rather than rushing into things.
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is trying to make this into a political football. What I am interested in is making the right decisions for the people of Britain so that we have proper protection for transgender people and also ensure that we protect our single-sex spaces.
Gender Pay Gap
This is the third year of gender pay gap reporting. We are focusing on the three sectors that employ the most women, and also on those with large gender pay gaps, such as financial services. Work is already under way on, for instance, the independent review of the gender pay gap in medicine, the recommendations of which will be published shortly. I am delighted that experts on the Women’s Business Council are helping us with our work in the retail and financial sectors in particular.
The Scottish Government have lowered the threshold for listed public authorities to report their gender pay gaps and publish equal pay statements from more than 150 employees to more than 20. Will the UK Government consider lowering their threshold as well to increase equal-pay transparency?
I am delighted to hear what the Scottish Government are doing. We keep that and other measures under review. As I have said, this is the third year of reporting, and we are delighted that thus far there has been 100% compliance. We must look at the data carefully, but everything is open to review. What is brilliant about this legislation is that for the first time, 10,500 employers in the country are talking about how they treat their female workers.
Last year in Motherwell and Wishaw, women working full-time earned an average of 10% less than their male counterparts. For women who are already struggling with Tory austerity—for example, the capping of universal credit at two children—a 10% increase in pay would make a huge difference. What are the Government doing to help those women, and women across the country?
The hon. Lady will be delighted by the Chancellor’s announcement that we are increasing the national living wage. As she will know, 60% of people who are paid the living wage are women, so that increase will have a huge impact on many women. The hon. Lady and I can agree on at least this: we want women to be treated properly and fairly in the workplace, and I am sure that we all want to close that gap.
Flexible working gives many parents with young children an equal chance to work, and they would therefore support the narrowing of the gender pay gap. Does my hon. Friend agree that all job advertisements should specify whether the jobs are flexible, and that employees should have the right to request that flexibility?
Very much so. My hon. Friend is right to mention flexible working and childcare. The message for employers is that flexible working not only improves diversity in their business models, but helps the bottom line. It is good for business, it is good for our country, and I think that, in particular, it is good for women to have the ability to earn their own incomes and to have the independence that we all cherish in this place.
Does the Minister agree that the Conservatives have actually done more than any other Government to tackle the issue of pay inequality at work? What more is she doing to help women in the boardroom who do not earn as much as their male counterparts?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who has done so much work on women and equalities and also on menopause. [Interruption.] I note that Opposition Members are laughing and guffawing, but these issues have a real impact on women who are the lowest paid. I am delighted if it means that the Labour party is supporting gender pay gap regulations, because it was a Conservative coalition Government who introduced the regulations and a Conservative Government who brought them into force two years ago. We need to ensure that employers are treating female employees correctly and properly, and that we are tackling that in the lowest paid sectors. That is why we have the three priority sectors of retail, healthcare and education that are working to bring action plans forward to ensure that we help the lowest paid.
May I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to congratulate you on your PinkNews award, and your inspirational and outstanding speech? Trans rights are human rights.
In the previous Queen’s Speech, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) pledged to make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap, but that was noticeably absent from this week’s Queen’s Speech. Does that mean that the current Prime Minister does not want to reduce the gender pay gap?
I thank the hon. Lady for her very gracious remarks; I apologise for my inattention. It is much appreciated.
Mr Speaker, forgive me for not congratulating you on your award. My right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) also received an award last night at the PinkNews celebrations.
On the question, that most certainly does not mean that this Prime Minister is in any way not committed to improving the gender pay gap. The fact that we have a strong ministerial team on the Front Bench today is a very clear indication of how seriously the Government take this issue. Having got the regulations in place, we are now working with industries to ensure that we are helping them achieve those action plans so that they can make the change. This has to be led with business; we have to bring business and employers with us to make this real cultural change.
As we begin to understand the gender pay gap, does the Minister agree that, because the race pay gap is bigger than the gender pay gap, we should start to compel companies to publish their figures on that?
That is a very good question, and I would expect no less from the hon. Lady. We are looking closely at ethnicity pay gaps. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who is present on the Front Bench, is leading on that work, and it is really important. We have been talking to industry leads and stakeholders in the third sector, and the hon. Lady will appreciate that quite how it is defined is not as easy as it is for the gender pay gap, but there is a great deal of work going on in Government to look at it.
Gender Equality in Boardrooms
Women represent half of the population, and I believe that we are missing out on a huge amount of talent because we do not have enough women in senior positions. I commend the work of Helena Morrissey who has achieved fantastic results with the 30% Club.
I do a lot of work with science and technology companies and there is still a struggle in many of them to get women into senior positions or get women in at all. We have been using the carrot for decades now to try to get more women into the boardroom; when are we going to start using the stick?
The hon. Lady talks about science and technology, and one of the big issues is the gap that we have in school education, with fewer girls going on to study maths and science later in their school careers and girls losing confidence earlier on in their school careers. The way for us to tackle that it is to improve our education system, which is why we introduced things such as the English baccalaureate and tougher maths GCSEs, and why we are working more on maths education. I am passionate about this, and I am very keen to drive it forward as Minister for Women and Equalities.
The construction industry is notoriously male-dominated, so will the Minister join me in congratulating Caroline Gumble, who has just become chief exec of the Chartered Institute of Building, of which I am a very proud member?
I completely agree: as well as Bob the builder, we need Brenda the builder. I congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituent on her fantastic achievement. In every walk of life, it should not matter whether someone is a woman or a man; it should matter how good they are and how much effort they put into the job. That is what we champion on this side of the House. We believe that it is about someone’s qualities as an individual, not what group they belong to.
I have to say that my focus in this job is not on bank holidays; it is on getting more women into work and getting them up the career ladder once they are in jobs. However, if the hon. Gentleman is offering to take on some work while women have a day off, I am sure that we would be very interested in that.
The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee has nine members, eight of whom are women. Will the Minister encourage the Bank to employ more women in senior roles, and the Chancellor to appoint more women when he gets the chance?
The hon. Lady is right. I describe finance as the final frontier for feminism. We have never had a female Chancellor, and we have never had a female Governor of the Bank of England. The Governor’s job is coming up very shortly, so I am sure that the Chancellor will hear what the hon. Lady has to say.
Sexual Harassment and Bullying at Work
In the summer, we ran a consultation to understand people’s experiences of workplace sexual harassment and to assess whether the law in this space needs changing. Our consultation also included wider harassment protections, which cover many bullying behaviours. We are now considering the responses that we received, and we will publish proposals in due course.
Last week, a partner at Freshfields solicitors was ordered by a professional tribunal to pay more than a quarter of a million pounds for sexual misconduct with a junior colleague. Should not every regulator treat actions of sexual misconduct as a breach of professional standards? If the regulators do not act, will the Government?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee has done so much work on ensuring that employers’ and regulators’ responsibilities in the area are met. I welcome—indeed, I encourage—strong action from regulators to stamp out sexual harassment. We are working with relevant enforcement bodies and inviting them to join our public sector equality duty network to share and promote best practice. We are particularly focusing on regulators of specific relevance, to explore how they can support compliance with equality law.
The #MeToo movement was inspired—if that is the right word—by the activities of Harvey Weinstein in the film industry. Despite all their celebrity, many of the women affected did not feel able to turn to anyone when they encountered bullying and harassment in the workplace. That is all the more true for women today, particularly in small businesses. What is the Minister doing to ensure that women have legal and present support? Does she agree that the fact that Harvey Weinstein remains honoured by the British state with a CBE is a terrible indictment of our honours system?
Of course, the #MeToo movement met with a great deal of attention and support across the world. In terms of sexual harassment, the consultation that closed on 2 October looked at all sorts of workplaces across the United Kingdom, and we are looking at responses to it very, very carefully. The hon. Lady will appreciate that it is only just over two weeks since the consultation closed and I do not want to pre-empt anything. In terms of Mr Weinstein, I cannot comment on individual cases; his case will be dealt with in the US.
Pensions: 1950s-born Women
The claimants applied for permission to appeal on 16 October 2019, which was of course yesterday. Hon. Members will therefore understand that I cannot comment on live litigation.
Thousands of women across my constituency and millions nationally continue to face real hardship from this inequality. What steps is the Minister taking, in conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions, to address their real concerns and distress and to provide equality?
I thank the hon. Lady for this opportunity to comment on the wider picture. As the Minister for employment with responsibility for jobcentres, I would tell anybody experiencing hardship at any point in their life to go to the jobcentre and to speak to their local citizens advice bureau—[Interruption.] The jobcentres do so much more than help people into work. They are a place of safety if you are suffering domestic violence, if you are looking to get support on benefits or if you are looking for housing support. It is a severe frustration for me as the Minister that people simply do not understand that jobcentres do much more than help people into work.
Yesterday, along with many other colleagues in this House, I met a group of 1950s women who have been affected by the changes to the state pension age. Having been silenced while other groups took legal action, they are frustrated that they are still no further forward. What concrete actions will the Minister now take to help those women and give them the justice they deserve?
I appreciate that this will look and feel frustrating to many women because of the legal action and the live litigation, but I absolutely believe that we are trying to find a balance in our Department in supporting people of all ages at all points in their lives when they need support and ensuring that we are balancing an ageing demographic and a secure retirement.
I am grateful to the Minister for those replies, but notwithstanding the High Court decision and the appeal, there are thousands of women in my constituency who were born in the 1950s and who are affected. They find the support and advice measures that have been put in place inadequate, and I ask the Minister to liaise with the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look again at this issue.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I absolutely understand that this is about a sense of balance. I reiterate my point that we have a wide range of benefits and support in the jobcentres—[Interruption.] Well, if the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) disagrees, I would be happy to meet her to say more. It is absolutely right that if the support is not there, people should come to the jobcentres, speak to me and get involved with the DWP. We will support these women. This is ultimately about equality. We now have no defined retirement age for anyone: anyone who can work can continue to do so, and for anyone who wants to have a secure retirement, we will support them.
As a WASPI woman, may I say on behalf of the many women who have come to me about this matter that we have been caught in a sandwich generation? We had our children young and brought them up, then acted as carers looking after our mums. This is causing big problems for women caught up in this dilemma. They are now finding themselves in the job market, having had very disrupted careers. That is what is so difficult for those women, when they are suddenly being asked to retrain in their 60s. It is really causing big problems.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. The women issue and the work journey are absolutely a priority for me in this role. Universal credit is not a gender-specific fund. It focuses on individual needs and support, and that can be different for men and women. I am absolutely determined, in this role, along with the new Secretary of State, to ensure that we better reflect the women’s work journey, including returning to work.
Women Leaving Prison
We remain committed to delivering on the commitments laid out in the female offender strategy, which sets out our vision to see fewer women coming into the criminal justice system, a greater proportion being managed successfully in the community and better conditions for those in custody. Currently, women leaving prison are supported under the enhanced Through the Gate service specification implemented in April 2019. This new specification includes defined minimum support requirements such as accommodation, employment, training and education, finance, benefits and debt, and health and social care.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but we are seeing an increased number of people affected by homelessness and addiction problems across the streets of my city of Hull, many of whom have left prison. In addition to the things that she has already mentioned, what more can be done to support women leaving prison to prevent them from ending up homeless, and what more can be done while they are in prison to deal with their addiction problems?
I know that the hon. Lady takes an interest in this topic and has a prison in her constituency. Alongside the enhanced Through the Gate service specification, resettlement planning is led by the probation officer in the community where the offender is to be released, making it easier to connect into local services such as women’s centres. We also want greater involvement from voluntary organisations with the expertise to support offenders leaving prison.
Ministers will be aware of the campaigning work done by Bishop Rachel Treweek of Gloucester and others to encourage non-custodial sentences for women, and the Minister for Women, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), visited the Nelson Trust in my constituency, which does so much to help ex-prisoners. However, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), will know that many women who leave prison do not have a suitable home to go. What more can we do to provide suitable accommodation for such women?
As I have set out, we have the enhanced Through the Gate service specification, but I am more than happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend. I would be interested to know a little bit more about the particular project to which he referred.
Today, Mr Speaker, with my voice, I am going to be Bonnie Tyler. [Laughter.]
One in six women leave prison with no home to go to. A combination of homelessness, a lack of job opportunities, and the stigma of being an ex-offender is setting up these women to fail and is undoubtedly responsible for the disproportionate number of recalls. The Government have to do more to help these women, who have to be able to escape the vicious circle. What are the Government going to do for these women?
In addition to the Through the Gate service, I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware of the social impact bond. In June of last year, we published our strategy for female offenders, setting out our vision and a plan to improve outcomes for women in custody and in the community. Like her, I am keen to do all that we can to help women who are leaving custody.
My vision as Minister for Women and Equalities is to ensure that everyone has the freedom to be whoever they want to be and to shape their own future, regardless of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or disability. I was proud to open the Asia chapter of the Global Equality Caucus during my recent visit to Japan, and I look forward to building on the excellent work of this Government: from ensuring 12 years of quality education for every girl internationally to removing the barriers that stop women getting on at work and bringing LGBT leaders from across the world together in May next year. Together we can make Britain the best place in the world to be a woman and to be LGBT.
The Child Maintenance Service is failing receiving claimants, most of whom are women. Will the Minister introduce tighter monitoring of direct pay compliance, stop collect and pay charges for receiving parents, and finally introduce a service that ensures effective enforcement of late payments?
I am happy to hear details of where the Child Maintenance Service is a concern. The Minister for Welfare Delivery is working directly to support families in this area. As I said, I am happy to hear the details, so please write to us and we will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
Again, I thank my right hon. Friend, who has brought a laser-like focus on bullying and harassment in all places of work. The Government and I strongly support this convention, which seeks to ensure that women and men around the world are properly protected at work. Our law makes it clear that violence and harassment at work are unacceptable and unlawful, and our next steps will be to consider how we will ratify this and bring this new treaty to the attention of Parliament.
I do not believe that we need the EU in order to have strong rights for women in Britain; I believe that we British women are strong enough to stand up for ourselves.
We have a gender gap not just in the workplace, but among entrepreneurs; one in 10 men in work are entrepreneurs, whereas only one in 20 women are. What does the Minister think would be the best way to address that?
My hon. Friend is right about this, particularly in respect of funding. Female-led businesses are getting less funding from venture capital than male-led businesses. We want to address these barriers and open up entrepreneurship to women across the country. We are lagging behind places such as Canada and Australia, and we need to do better.
I thank the hon. Lady and all Members of this House who contributed so positively and, on occasion, movingly to the Second Reading debate on this important piece of legislation. She knows that the Government are conducting a review of the treatment of migrant women, because we have very much borne in mind the findings of the Joint Committee, chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). That review is ongoing and as soon as I have more news I promise that the hon. Lady will be among the parliamentarians I speak to.
In Cheadle, Northern Rail has responded positively to my campaign for lift accessibility for people with disabilities by giving 24-hour access, but not every disability is visible—some are invisible. Does the Minister agree that we should support people and help to promote the need for accessible toilet signage?
Absolutely, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on campaigning so hard on behalf of her constituents and working with Northern Rail. She is right about this. The inclusive transport strategy covers not only visible disabilities, but those that are invisible, and we are about to undertake a huge communications campaign to make people with all disabilities comfortable and confident to use our public transport system.
This is a key piece of our work in the inclusive transport strategy, especially as buses are the form of transport used most often by people with disabilities. We are crunching the data we have and we are hoping to make this available soon, but the inclusive transport strategy abides by the United Nations’ aims to make sure that all of our transport is accessible by 2030.
Sexual harassment online is a major issue for many women. Will the Minister examine the issues of cyber-flashing and revenge porn to make sure that victims are given the proper legal protections from those as sexual offences?
My hon. Friend raises a point that concerns many in the House and outside. I am currently doing a piece of work on online offences and look forward to the development of the online harms White Paper, because I suspect that many of the answers we all seek will be in that documentation.
On the particular issue of endometriosis, I will have to write back to the hon. Lady, but being wrongly diagnosed as having a mental health condition is incredibly serious, and we are looking into rolling out training to GPs to help them better to diagnose mental health conditions. I will use this opportunity to say again that we are investing £2.3 billion a year in mental health services in the community, and hopefully that will go into GP practices and GPs will know not to make those kinds of diagnoses in future. I will get back to the hon. Lady on that particular condition.
When she was Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) committed to the House to introduce legislation to remove caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010. When will the current Minister for Women and Equalities and her team bring forward legislation so that we can end this bizarre and divisive situation?
It is a pleasure, as always, to respond to my hon. Friend on this important piece of work. I am in the process of discussing this with the Secretary of State, and we hope to have an answer for him shortly.
It is perfectly proper that we make sure that the right people are voting and that they bring ID with them to the polling to station. We have had issues with electoral fraud in this country.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue again. Obviously, with the litigation ongoing it is difficult for me to comment more broadly, but I understand that that comment was made by the Prime Minister. If people are suffering and need any support, they should go to their jobcentre, talk to their local citizens advice bureau and make sure that they ask for help. We have many different benefits, both in retirement and after retirement, to support people to have a good, secure retirement. This issue should not affect anyone—women or men.
Order. We now come to the urgent question.
Online Pornography: Age Verification
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on the future of age verification for online pornography.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for the work that she did as my predecessor at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
It will always be the priority of this Government, and probably of any Government, to protect citizens in general and children in particular. We will do that online just as much as we would seek to do offline. It is because of that approach that we are changing the approach to age verification on the internet. As my hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State tabled a written ministerial statement on this issue yesterday. I hope to provide some more detail on that.
Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm. We want to deliver the most coherent approach possible. I believe we can protect children better and more comprehensively through the online harms agenda that my hon. Friend championed so effectively than we can through the measures in the Digital Economy Act 2017. I shall be straightforward: it will take slightly longer to do it through this mechanism, but we will go as fast as we can and deliver on the agenda in a more comprehensive way.
As my predecessor in the Department, my hon. Friend was of course responsible for the publication of the “Online Harms” White Paper, which proposed the establishment of a duty of care on companies to improve online safety, overseen by an independent regulator with strong enforcement powers to deal with non-compliance. That vehicle goes further than the age verification proposals originally tabled, and since the White Paper’s publication, the Government’s proposals have continued to develop at pace. This week, the Government announced as part of the Queen’s Speech that they would publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny next year. It is important that our policy aims and our overall policy on protecting children from online harms be developed coherently. In view of these developments, we will bring forward the most comprehensive approach possible to protecting children.
The Government have concluded that this objective of coherence and comprehensiveness will be best achieved through the wider online harms proposals that my hon. Friend championed and that have support across much of the House. That is why we do not propose to commence part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. As currently drafted, the Act does not cover social media platforms, for instance, which is something that she and I both know was of concern to this House. It will give us a further opportunity to revisit the definition of pornographic material, which was also a concern of some Members.
As I say, we want to deliver the most comprehensive approach to keeping children safe online. I fervently believe that we can do that better through the online harms agenda. We are committed to the UK becoming a world leader in the development of online safety technology as a whole. This is a part of that, and it includes age verification tools, which will continue to be a key part of it. Everyone across the House agrees on the need to protect children online and offline. Pre-legislative scrutiny for the online harms Bill will be a vital part of that process. I hope that Members across the House, particularly my hon. Friend, will continue to engage with the Government so that we can bring forward something for which there is a cross-party consensus and that delivers an agenda that we can all share.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. The statement yesterday came as a shock to children’s charities, the age verification industry, the regulator and the online pornography industry itself, all of which were ready for, and expecting, the age verification regulations to be brought into law by the end of this year.
The Government postponed the introduction of the controls in July after an administration error in which the EU was not informed about the proposals as it should have been in line with single market rules. At that time, firm assurances were given to the public, children’s charities and the industry that the EU issue would be resolved swiftly and that legislation would be brought in by the end of the year or early next year at the latest. There was a debate in the Statutory Instrument Committee earlier this year about the exemption of Twitter and other social media platforms from the AV regulations, and it was agreed that we would review the effectiveness of the regulations 12 months on from their introduction. Such a timetable would still be much sooner than the indefinite postponement effectively announced by the Secretary of State yesterday.
No one is arguing that AV provides a panacea for the prevention of children accessing adult content—we know that there are ways to circumvent AV—but children’s charities have provided evidence that too many children stumble across adult material accidentally and that this can have a damaging effect on them at a vulnerable age. It is likely that the regulations would raise the age at which young people are first exposed to pornography. The Secretary of State should not make the perfect the enemy of the good when it comes to child protection, especially after the Government have given so many assurances that once the privacy issues have been dealt with—they now have been—the regulations will be brought into law. For the Government to renege on their commitments in this important area is a very retrograde step, and I urge my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State to think again.
I share a huge number of the hon. Lady’s concerns. This is not an indefinite postponement of the measures that we are seeking to introduce; it is an extension of what they will achieve. I honestly believe that we can do even better than some of the original proposals. For instance, she is right that raising the age at which children are exposed to deeply inappropriate content is important. Nobody is pretending that the proposals, either in the online harms agenda or in the original legislation, are perfect, but we should do all we can to make them as good as possible. I honestly believe that we will achieve more for child protection through this slower but more comprehensive approach than we would be taking the faster approach, which, as she has said, would end up being reviewed relatively quickly and, I suspect, wrapped into the online harms agenda. We are not delaying this unnecessarily; we are seeking to bring forward this aspect of the online harms agenda as quickly as possible.
Every time the Government get in a mess, they used to say, “Uncork the Gauke.” But now, with Morgan missing, the cry goes out, “Where’s Warman?” And here is the Minister again, to clean up yet another Government mess.
Just four months ago, the previous Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport came to the House to announce another delay in the introduction of age verification. He stood at the Dispatch Box and told us
“let me make it clear that my statement is an apology for delay, not a change of policy… Age verification…needs to happen… it is in the clear interests of our children that it must.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 368.]
Well, it is not going to happen. It is obvious today that the Government’s much-vaunted age verification policy is dead.
The Government tried to bury the bad news once again, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) had the courage to force the Minister to the House, to clean up the Government’s mess and explain the policy to the nation. Ever since its inception, the policy has been beset by mistakes, mishaps and month after month of delays.
The Opposition raised serious concerns at the outset that the policy was not well thought through, posed serious privacy concerns and would prove nearly impossible to implement. The Government used every excuse in the book to explain the delays, but today we know the truth: the policy, as conceived by the Government, was unworkable, and the Minister has finally ditched it. Will he now confirm that the policy has been abandoned? If he will not, will he admit that it was at least severely downgraded in the Queen’s Speech?
My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), in the process of scrutinising the legislation in Committee, warned that the British Board of Film Classification should never have been tasked with this job in the first place, even though it said yesterday that it had a system ready to implement. Can the Minister explain whether the Government had confidence that the BBFC was ready to implement age verification and whether it will have any future involvement in the project? Can he tell us how much public money has been spent on this failed policy? If he cannot do so today, will he commit to providing that information in writing in the near future?
The bigger danger in all this is that it is a sign of what is to come: that the online harms legislation that we so badly need will also be delayed, disrupted and finally abandoned in the “too difficult to implement” box. We must not let that happen. Every day our children are viewing hateful and harmful material online—material so sickening that it drives some young people to suicide and others to extremist violence and murder. These are the frontier challenges of internet regulation.
We need to keep our kids safe. Any Government taking on the tech giants will need determination and meticulous attention to detail. That has been utterly lacking thus far. The Government must not fail again.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words at the beginning of his question, if not much else. He is absolutely right in his closing point that online harms is a difficult agenda and we must not get it wrong. I look forward to working across the House to ensure that we do this right because there should be no party political division on this agenda.
Age verification will be a key part of the online harms agenda. It will be a key tool in the box, but the toolbox will, through the online harms agenda, be bigger. I say honestly that the inclusion of the online harms Bill in the Queen’s Speech is testament to the Government’s commitment to delivering it, and we will be bringing it forward for pre-legislative scrutiny so that we can get it right. I hope that the BBFC will be a key part of the future of this process, because its expertise is in the classification of content. I am going to see its chief executive shortly; my officials have already been in touch. We look forward to working together with the BBFC.
The hon. Gentleman asked how much money has been spent. I think that approximately £2.2 million has been spent on this part of the agenda, but it is of course also a key part of the online harms agenda, so it would be silly to suggest that that is money wasted. It is money invested in protecting our children, and we will continue to do that.
There is nothing that I have heard from the Minister today or that I saw in the written ministerial statement yesterday that gives any good reason why this decision has been made. There is no reason why these provisions could not have been commenced and then the online harms process added. This decision has delayed the provisions for at least a year, if not longer, as the Minister well knows. Will he explain why the previous Secretary of State came to the House in June and said that this measure would be commenced as soon as possible and that there was no change in policy, but now there has been? What has happened between the summer and now for this decision to have been made?
Of course the Secretary of State appeared before my hon. Friend’s Select Committee yesterday, after the publication of the written ministerial statement. The Secretary of State and I sincerely believe that we can deliver this agenda better and with an overall more comprehensive net impact by doing it through this mechanism rather than through the Digital Economy Act. Some people will say that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but I think we can go further overall and do better with this approach. This agenda is so important that it is worth us taking our time to get it right.
This disastrous handling seems to be a metaphor for this shambolic Tory Government—not least as they forgot to inform the EU of their plans. The first duty of any Government is to protect their citizens. The widespread availability of pornographic material to children and young people, and the increase in violent content and revenge porn, is having a profound impact on society, relationships and body image. This delay will create more harm to young people and citizens across the UK.
The Government have suggested that this issue will be addressed through the proposed online harms Bill. How do they plan to do that? Will the proposed online regulator be tasked with the responsibility for pornographic verification, or will that be conducted by a separate regulatory body? The charities I met have concerns about the BBFC, despite the assurances that it has given. What is the cost to the taxpayer and to businesses, which are ready for this change and will now be severely out of pocket?
The approach of introducing a duty of care on all relevant companies through the online harms Bill is what will allow us to go further. The hon. Lady—as I did at the beginning of my response to the urgent question—talks about the duty of care that a Government have to their citizens, and that is what is driving us to take this new and broader approach. She asked about the money—as did the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson)—and I refer her to my answer to him. My officials met the affected companies yesterday, and I will continue to engage with them. In what was a constructive meeting, they said that they would seek to continue to be part of the online harms agenda because, as the hon. Lady says, it is an issue that is far broader than simply age verification.
This is more than disappointing; it is critically urgent. Over half a million pornographic images are posted daily on social media platforms, and there cannot be a parent in the land who is not worried sick about this. The Government need to treat this with much more urgency and respect than they have done. How are the Government—how is the Minister—going to demonstrate urgency in protecting our children from accessing pornographic websites? There are over 50 streaming this material daily, many not from the UK.
My hon. Friend is of course completely right. It is a critically urgent issue, but it is also critically urgent that we get it right, and I do think that we can make that progress by doing it in a way that is comprehensive, in line with the online harms agenda. However, I am not seeking to make age verification line up with that timescale. We will do this aspect of the policy as quickly as we possibly can, and I honestly look forward to working with her on that.
I am very shocked at this U-turn by the Government. The framework that had been created to support section 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 was robust: it was a platform to start protecting children from online harm. Why can it not continue in parallel with the online harms legislation being developed? The two are not incompatible. The Government have a choice—they start protecting children now from online pornography or they leave them exposed.
The hon. Lady is right that the framework was potentially a start, but I think that we can do better. We have a duty to present a coherent set of regulations rather than introduce something that would have been, as she puts it, a start, but would not have gone as far as we can and will overall, I think, be seen as something that we would have had to fundamentally reform and review once we had put it in the context of the online harms agenda. I understand where she is coming from—I really do—but I honestly believe that by doing this more slowly we will make a better impact overall.
The Government’s approach seems to be, “Give us more time and we can produce a better system”, so, as parents, when can be satisfied that there will be a system in place that will protect our children from the corrosive effects of online pornography?
My hon. Friend characterises our response absolutely correctly. It is time that will allow us to produce the best possible solution for protecting children. We will be responding to the online harms consultation by the end of the year and bringing forward legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny in the new year.
In the statement yesterday, the Minister said that the regulator will have the discretion to require companies to meet their duty of care, so what sort of enforcement does he envisage that regulator having, and how soon will they get it?
I hesitate to pre-empt what will ultimately be in the draft Bill, but it is obvious that we would want any regulator to have extremely strong sanctions in extreme circumstances. However, we would also want there to be a tariff, as it were, of what they could do in less severe circumstances to make sure that users were protected from a whole host of both illegal and legal but harmful experiences online.
Age verification is important, but please, as a result of this debate today, let us not see it as a silver bullet. The real solution is to educate all young people on the harm caused by pornography. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that those who protest against mandatory relationship education for primary school age children—measures this Government have already put in place—are failing to see the importance of teaching all children what a good relationship looks like, which is not pornography?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. While pornography is one extreme example of some of the corrosive effects of the internet, we have to look far more broadly than online behaviour in order to try to fix some of the effects that have come into the real world as well.
Further to that point, when the Children’s Commissioner worked with DCMS and had workshops with children asking them what they wanted from this, they reported that their e-safety lessons at school were generally boring and not very useful. Does this not highlight how important it is to have relationship and sex education across the whole of our education system, but also, critically, to give teachers high-quality training to deliver fun, useful lessons that children find will actually help them?
The hon. Lady highlights the importance of a comprehensive approach that goes far beyond online. The nature of the lessons that she talks about is not within my Department’s scope, but I think we would all agree that we want children to be engaged in lessons that are particularly important.
This legislation is well overdue, and many are concerned that the delay may come at a significant cost. If we genuinely get better legislation that can better protect children, it may be worth while, but this delay has come as a surprise. What is the Minister doing to restore or build trust with key stakeholders that this delay will lead to better legislation to protect children?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is right that it is important for us to retain the confidence of stakeholders. For instance, the response of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is one that I share. It has said:
“This delay is disappointing, but it is also imperative that the vehicle used to achieve protection for children from pornography is robust and effective.”
That is what we seek to deliver, and we will work with the NSPCC and a whole host of other stakeholders to deliver it.
We have been debating this in the House for nine years. The Minister simply cannot say that this is an urgent problem that has popped up. His decision today means that children will be exposed to this vile pornography for another two or three years. Can he take back his suggestion that it is the children’s responsibility to learn how to avoid it? It is his responsibility, surely, to protect them.
If what I said was open to misinterpretation, I apologise. I am not suggesting for a second that it is a child’s responsibility to protect themselves online. That is why the Government are bringing forward the online harms agenda. I am not suggesting either that we are addressing a problem that has suddenly popped up. It is something that Governments of various colours have sought to address over a number of years, and we will continue to do that. We are seeking in the “Online Harms” White Paper to go further, in a thoughtful and sensible way, than any other country in the world has managed to do, and I hope we can do that with cross-party consensus.
The internet has been a fantastic resource for children in their education, but all too often, pornographic images are available to children when they are not specifically looking for them, particularly on social media sites. What will the Government do during this brief delay to ensure that social media is encompassed within their reforms?
My hon. Friend highlights one of the crucial differences between our new policy approach and the old one, which is that we are now able, via the “Online Harms” White Paper, to consider what the duty of care might mean for social media companies in a way that would not have been in the scope of the original proposal. That is just one example that demonstrates how much further we are able to go with this new approach, and it is a reason why this is the right thing to do, even though it is a tough decision.
I am really struggling to understand the logic here. Some 95% of 14-year-olds have seen porn, and the harm that it causes to future relationships is well documented. Why, when the age verification regulator was ready to install this measure by Christmas, can it not go ahead? When, under the Minister’s new proposals, will we see protections in place for children?
I sympathise with what the hon. Lady seeks to achieve, but we can do more by going slightly slower. As I have said, we will respond to the consultation by Christmas and bring forward legislation for prelegislative scrutiny in the new year. I hope that she will work with us on that. We will, of course, seek to bring forward this part of that agenda much more rapidly than the whole package, because, as she says, this is hugely important. Getting it right is important, but getting it enacted quickly is also important.
Does the Minister recall the nerve required to reach for Health and Efficiency and the looks at the counter as it was put in a paper bag? What is out there now makes H&E look like a nursery rhyme. His approach really is going to be comprehensive, is it not?
I am afraid I am too young to recall precisely the experience to which my right hon. Friend refers—and I am sure he was speaking on behalf of others, rather than himself. However, he is absolutely right that what is out there on the internet now pales into insignificance compared with everything that was printed for newsagents. That is precisely why we have to go so much further.
For the Minister to say that he will wrap up childhood protection in the online harms legislation is not even a fig leaf to hide the fact that his Government are absolutely naked when it comes to a robust legal framework that deals with privacy, data, age verification and identity. We need measures that put in place protection for children online, not that kick in after they have already been exposed. What is he doing to ensure that children have the same rights online as they do in the real world?
I think what the hon. Lady is saying is that in many ways prevention is better than cure, and that is why the online harms approach will place a duty of care on website operators to make sure they have to take a preventive approach.
The hon. Lady shakes her head as though I have misunderstood her question. I am very happy to talk to her outside the Chamber to try to give her a better answer if she wants one.
Keeping our children safe must always be a priority, and I too am deeply concerned by this delay. Age verification is achievable. The company Yoti in my constituency is already providing highly accurate digital ID in 170 different countries. Will the Minister work with companies such as Yoti to make sure that the very best technology is used to keep our children safe?
I am glad my hon. Friend raises this point. In many ways, this is a technology problem that requires a technology solution. She mentions Yoti, and I have already met SuperAwesome, which is another company working in a similar space. People have talked about whether facial recognition could be used to verify age, so long as there is an appropriate concern for privacy. All of these are things I hope we will be able to wrap up in the new approach, because they will deliver better results for consumers—child or adult alike.
The age checks for porn have been backed by children’s charities. The NSPCC said this morning that
“viewing this explicit material can harm their perceptions of sex, body image and health relationships”,
and it has said that the climbdown was “disappointing”. May I therefore ask the Minister how the Government will allay my fears and those of charities such as the NSPCC, and how they will deliver the objectives of the Digital Economy Act to ensure the protection of children and vulnerable young people from online pornography?
The hon. Gentleman is completely right that the concerns of the NSPCC are those that I know he and I, and, I am sure, Members across the House, would share. We will work with such charities to make sure that we deliver, as I quoted earlier, the “robust and effective”—and comprehensive—regime that they and I think we would all want to protect children online.
The tech companies and social media companies have incredibly powerful and sophisticated tools at their own disposal. Does the Minister not agree that they have a moral responsibility to do more themselves, and what will his Department be doing to urge them to do that to keep our children safe?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the technology companies can do more. For too long, a voluntary approach has not delivered the results that we would all like to see. As I have said, the “Online Harms” White Paper is the legislative method that will put a far greater duty on them not just to invest in safety, but to make it a genuine and meaningful top priority.
During the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into the impact of social media on young people’s health, we heard some horrendous statistics about the number of young people who have stumbled across pornographic images. I asked my own daughter, who was 11 at the time, if she had seen such images, and she had. These are our own children—the children of many Members—who are stumbling across this. Yes, we have to get it right, but we have to get something in place now, as quickly as possible. If it needs correcting later on, we correct it. Why are we not acting now?
I share the hon. Lady’s concerns. I worry about what my three-year-old might stumble across online, even though she would be too young to understand it. Too often, stumbling across explicit material happens through sites such as Twitter, which would not have been in the scope of the original proposals but now will be. That is an example of why we should take an approach that, while not being unnecessarily slow, is more comprehensive. I hope that we can work across the House to deliver on those objectives.
The internet can provide children with a wealth of information, but it also exposes them to real harm. What progress has been made by the Information Commissioner’s Office in designing a new statutory code of practice for developers regarding standards of privacy for children?
My hon. Friend references the age-appropriate design code, and the ICO has published proposals and is working vigorously to improve on what they might mean. As I said earlier, we do not fix problems after they have occurred for individual children in this country; we must present an internet that is appropriate for their needs.
The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Dominic Cummings know a lot about online harms—they have been committing them since at least 2016. The Minister calls for a cross-party approach, but how can that possibly happen when that triumvirate have been ducking and diving, avoiding questions from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and from me, regarding online harms through which criminal offences have been established, and in which they will not divulge their role?
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the online harms being discussed in this urgent question are fundamentally about the protection of children on the internet, and I hope we can genuinely forge a cross-party consensus on what that means. This is an important and difficult agenda, and I hope that we can work together to protect children on the internet, wherever they may end up finding themselves.
The protection of our children is paramount, and a recent report on online harms by the NSPCC did not make good reading, and suggested to me that time is of the essence. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that any independent regulator that is introduced will have sufficient enforcement powers to take effective action against sites that ignore their moral responsibility and make it easy for children to access inappropriate material?
The precise purpose of changing our approach is to have a regulator that, in due course, will have comprehensive authority to take the actions that we need to protect children. That will always be this Government’s top priority on the internet. I hope that Opposition parties across the House will join us in that endeavour, and that we can come quickly to a conclusion that allows us to achieve what should be shared objectives.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 21 October is as follows:
Monday 21 October—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on the NHS.
Tuesday 22 October—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on the economy.
Wednesday 23 October—Second reading of the Environment Bill.
Thursday 24 October —General debate on spending on children’s services.
Friday 25 October—The House will not be sitting.
Right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the motion on today’s Order Paper which, if approved, will allow the House to sit on Saturday. Subject to that approval and to the progress of the negotiations, the necessary motions for the House to consider on Saturday will be tabled before the rising of the House today.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business for next week. There will be a debate on the business motion in any event, I am sure he will agree.
We are in a new parliamentary Session. It was helpful that in the Official Report on 14 October there was a chronology of parliamentary debates, a list of Her Majesty’s Government and all the people who are in the House. It is helpful for Members to look at that. There is a recently updated list of ministerial responsibilities.
Unlawful, breaking conventions, misleading—all these words apply to this minority Government. Our gracious sovereign was forced to read out a programme that should have started with, “My Government apologises for dragging me into controversy.” Where are the state visits? It seems that no one wants to come here. Eleven out of the 28 Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech began in the previous parliamentary Session. Of the seven Brexit Bills, five are Bills that the Government failed to get through the last Parliament—nothing new in the Queen’s Speech.
This minority Government set out their plans to recruit more police officers, but they imposed, as we found out in the west midlands, a five-year recruitment freeze. That was the last Conservative Government—hopefully, it will be the last Conservative Government. The total of 20,000 police officers is just replacing those that were cut in 2011. Building 40 new hospitals quickly unravelled as spin. It is not 40 new hospitals; it is a reconfiguration of six. Perhaps the Leader of the House can update us on the news about Canterbury hospital? I am not sure if the Prime Minister was right. Is Canterbury hospital on or off?
On financial services after Brexit, there was nothing in our sovereign’s Gracious Speech on ending tax avoidance or tax evasion. The Government pulled the Financial Services Bill at the last minute in March. Will the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will not pull this very important Bill? Where is the registration of overseas entities Bill to address money laundering? The chairman of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, Lord Faulks, said in May:
“Time is of the essence: the Government must get on with improving this Bill and making it law.”
There are no policies for the people, so the Government want to rig the next general election. Requiring voter ID will disproportionately affect people from ethnic minority backgrounds and working-class voters of all ethnicities. The Government only want votes for the few. In the last general election, there was only one instance of voter personation. Will the Leader think again and pull that Bill, or may we have a debate on early-day motion 30 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid)?
[That this House expresses deep concern at the Government’s announced plans to prevent people from voting unless they can provide photographic identification at the next election; notes that of the 44.6 million votes cast in the 2017 general election, there were just 28 allegations of in-person voter fraud and one conviction; recognises that some 11 million citizens do not possess a passport or driving licence and that people aged between 17 and 30 and black and minority groups are 15 per cent less likely to own driving licences; expresses concern that this policy will introduce widespread voter dropout among vulnerable and disadvantaged groups if rolled out; and calls on the Government to urgently review its proposals.]
We have the Environment Bill next week. We have had earthquakes, and Cuadrilla has begun removing equipment from its site. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be an end to fracking?
Misleading statements: saying Brexit can get done by 31 October, when the Leader of the House and this minority Government know it will take years to unravel 40 years of partnership and agreeing new trade deals. The Leader of the House admitted on Sunday that he might have to eat his words. I have two for him: terminological inexactitude.
What about a debate on an alternative Queen’s Speech, with a Bill to establish a national education service that values all children and lifelong learning, and abolish tuition fees; a Bill for an NHS that remains free at the point of need, with safe staffing levels and over £30 billion of extra investment; a Bill to establish a Ministry for employment rights, delivering the biggest extension of rights for people in the workplace; a Bill to build 1 million affordable homes to rent and buy over 10 years; a Bill to invest an extra £8 billion to tackle the crisis in social care; a national investment bank; regional development banks; a national transformation fund; a green new deal; and the closure of loopholes so there is no outflow of capital, with equality, social and economic justice and opportunity as our watchwords? When can we have a debate on that?
When can we have a debate on harnessing the energy of our natural resources in a way that respects planet Earth, on harnessing the energy and talent of all our citizens in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and on an ethical foreign policy that does not allow the incarceration and separation of Nazanin and Gabriella when they go on holiday, or the detention of other UK nationals detained in Iran—Morad Tahbaz, Kamal Foroughi, Aras Amiri and Anousheh Ashouri? Will the Leader of the House please arrange for the Prime Minister to meet with the Families Alliance Against State Hostage Taking? Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a case against Nazanin based on the Prime Minister’s words to a Select Committee?
I thank the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) for moving the address on the Queen’s Speech. He failed to address one question: in whose interests do we make evidence-based policy decisions—the many or the few? Moreover, we must always make them in the public interest. I say to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) that it is great to think that a former party vice-chair is either Demelza or Ross. She may like to know that Ross was a socialist. However, both hon. Members gave entertaining speeches.
I thank Ruth Evans, who has resigned as chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, finishing in that post yesterday. I know that we value her insights into IPSA, and I hope that her great contribution to public service will continue.
We wish England, Cymru and Ireland all the best in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.
Finally, I welcome the new Serjeant at Arms, Ugbana Oyet. Mr Oyet is currently Parliament’s principal electrical engineer and programme director for the estate-wide engineering infrastructure and resilience programme. Mr Speaker, you know what they say—bigger job, smaller title. We wish him well.
There was an enormous amount in that, but I think the key point on the Queen’s Speech is that we have had six days of debate and all those issues could have been raised then; that is the opportunity to discuss them. This Queen’s Speech is not very popular with the Opposition, which I confess is not a great surprise—why would it be? They are, after all, the Opposition. The basic point is that they should have voted for the motion allowing for an early general election, and then they could have had their own Queen’s Speech. The right hon. Lady kept asking when we were going to have a new Session of Parliament, so it really is absolutely extraordinary that as soon as we oblige her—as soon as we do what she has asked for—she says that that is not right, either. There is, it has to be said, no pleasing some people.
I shall address some of the specific points the right hon. Lady raised. The Government will be spending an extra £33.9 billion on the health service—a really important and significant amount of money—including £1.8 billion going to 20 specific hospitals. I am glad to say that the Royal United Hospitals Bath, which serve my constituency, will be receiving some of that additional money. I think that right hon. and hon. Members across the House should welcome the commitment that the Government are making to the health service. Perhaps that is the nub of the matter: a really exciting domestic programme has been announced in the Queen’s Speech—it will tackle knife crime, it will ensure that prisoners serve proper sentences, it will deal with the national health service and improve it, and it will improve people’s standards of living—and it is absolutely fascinating that the Opposition are clearly not in favour of reducing knife crime, do not care much about the NHS and do not want to improve standards of living for people across the United Kingdom. That is the oddity of opposition.
Is it not wonderful, Mr Speaker: there is objection to ID being presented before people go and vote, whereas there are reports that somebody has gone to work for the Leader of the Opposition who had been found guilty of fraud—over 100 individual cases of people faking electoral identification? One begins to understand why the Opposition are not so keen on identification—because it makes it harder for them to scurry for votes around and about.
The right hon. Lady, as always, mentions Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and is quite right to do so. This is a matter of the highest priority for the Government, although there is a recognition of the limits of what Her Majesty’s Government can do in influencing regimes that behave unlawfully. She mentions the Families Alliance Against State Hostage Taking. I am sure that a Minister will be available to see them and talk to them; I think that would be an important and right thing to do.
The right hon. Lady ended by saying that the Government should act for the many and not the few. Well, this Government, being a Conservative Government and not factional, believe in operating for everybody and looking at a united and single country, where we offer services, good will and an improved standard of living to all.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the amendment that stands in my name, which will fall to be discussed after the business question. Would he consider, even in the short period available, the Government’s actually accepting that minor, technical amendment, which would provide for amendments to be made on Saturday, so that we do not have to have a vote on it today?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is one of the most thoughtful Members of this House; the things that he brings forward have always been carefully considered. I would say to him that the motions that the Government are tabling are in relation to Acts of Parliament, and when we have amendments of many kinds to motions that follow an Act of Parliament, it is more likely to cause confusion than elucidation of the point.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing—well, something, anyway, that it looks as though we will be doing next week.
I, too, welcome the new Serjeant at Arms, Ugbana Oyet. I think that all of us on these Benches are looking forward very much to meeting him and working with him in the future.
It was uncharacteristic of the Leader of the House not to announce today that he had secured his deal—and well done to him and his Government for eventually getting something after all this time. The only problem is that it is a worse deal than that of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). It takes Scotland out of the European Union against its national collective will, it deprives us of customs union and single market membership, and it will stop the freedom of movement on which our economy and so many vital sectors depend.
They are all still on the Hillary Step. The dark clouds are still there, and the mist is still in the air in the shape of the Democratic Unionist party. Sherpa Foster has unshackled herself from the Prime Minister, and is busily descending the mountain as we speak.
May we have a debate on culinary delicacies? The plat du jour for the Leader of the House is his own words: a delicious Northern Irish Brexit jambalaya of choice vocabulary including “impractical”, “bureaucratic” and “betrayal of common sense”, all washed down with the finest Château Cretinous. Churchill may indeed have found his own words very nutritious, but I suspect that the Leader of the House will only get indigestion.
We will deal with the issue of the Saturday sitting when we debate the motion, but we will complete our debates on the Queen’s Speech in the next few days, and it looks very likely that a Queen’s Speech will be voted down for the first time since 1924, when Stanley Baldwin was in power. May I ask the Leader of the House what happens in such circumstances? He will obviously tell me that he thinks and hopes that the Queen’s Speech will get through, but what will happen if it does not? We have heard from the Government that they intend to introduce the measures in the Queen’s Speech Bill by Bill. If that is indeed their intention, I should like the Leader of the House to confirm it to the House. I know that he likes to give his views on such issues, so let us see whether he can be straightforward with the House today.
The Leader of the House will have noted from what was said at the Scottish National party conference that we intend to hold an independence referendum next year. We as a nation must unshackle ourselves from this whole ugly, disastrous Brexit business, an issue that we wanted absolutely nothing to do with. Is it not interesting that under the deal that has been announced today, Northern Ireland will be given a differential deal on single market membership, Wales will get what it wants, and the rest of the UK will get what it wants as well? The only nation that does not get what it wanted in relation to Europe is Scotland, and that is not good enough.
It’s being so cheerful as keeps the hon. Gentleman going. It is always a pleasure to listen to him. He mentioned the deal. I am pleased to say that it is a really fantastic and exciting deal, and I am very glad that he has given me the opportunity to speak about it. When I was speaking on behalf of the Government on Sunday, I was doing so because I trusted the Prime Minister and knew that he would get a good deal. I was supporting the deal on the basis of trust, and now that I know what is in it, my trust has been completely justified. It is a really exciting and positive deal. It removes the undemocratic backstop, and it is a huge advance for the whole United Kingdom. It will ensure that we are one single customs territory.
I am aware of the details of the deal. I actually have the text of it here. I am glad to say that, unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have had a chance to peruse it in detail. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, from a sedentary position, that I have not read it. How do you peruse something without reading it? Does the hon. Gentleman think that I have understood it through extrasensory perception? I tell him he is wrong. It has not come to me through the ether. I have looked at the words on the page, of which the normal definition is reading. Perhaps, after this session, people should be given remedial education so that they can understand the normal use of words in English.
We have a really good, exciting deal that takes out the undemocratic backstop and delivers on what the Prime Minister promised he would do. In 85 days, he has achieved something that could not be achieved in three years—
Because of you.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me credit for it, but the credit belongs to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has achieved this remarkable success in a deal that all of us can support. Every single Member who stood on a manifesto saying that they would respect the will of the people in the referendum can support the deal with confidence. All our socialist friends can support it with confidence because it delivers on the referendum result. Today is a really exciting day in British politics. All Eurosceptics—all my friends who sit where I used to sit—can rally around this great deal, and I hope that my friends in the DUP will also find that what it does for the whole of the United Kingdom is something in which they can have comfort and that they can support. I understand that our separatist friends do not want anything for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom; they are always trying to pick things apart, but they will be shown to be wrong.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked if I would at any point have to eat my words. I must say that this deal is the tournedos Rossini of a deal—it is a deal that one can eat with joy and pleasure, and it is the finest culinary delight for me to have.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I did not pay unduly close attention to the SNP conference, having other things to do of slightly more interest, although it has to be said that almost anything would have been of slightly more interest—I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was very pleased to be here in the House of Commons earlier in the week to avoid his leader’s speech. The difference between Scotland and Northern Ireland is absolutely clear, and that is the Belfast agreement—the Good Friday agreement—and the fact that there is a land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and that is a land border with the European Union. Northern Ireland is therefore unquestionably in a unique position, hence its difference.
We have our own environmental emergency in Buckinghamshire at the moment at Great Missenden. Despite Buckinghamshire County Council, Chiltern District Council, myself and the local councillors all asking the Department for Transport to halt the enabling works at Great Missenden for HS2 until the Oakervee report has come in, they have gone ahead. We have traffic chaos on the A413. I have been sent pictures of an ambulance and a fire engine being held up. Eight trees are going to be felled and people are demonstrating outside Great Missenden. May we have a debate on HS2 before the Oakervee report comes in so that we can give the Secretary of State for Transport courage to cancel this terrible project—phase one at least—and spend the money better on other parts of the United Kingdom whose transport infrastructure desperately needs improving?
My right hon. Friend makes a very fair point on behalf of her constituents and the people who live in Great Missenden, and I will certainly take what she says to the Transport Secretary to try to ensure that she gets a prompt response to the letter that she sent to him. When these sorts of projects are under review, I would encourage people to proceed in a thoughtful and careful way, and to consider the interests of communities affected by the works, particularly due to the inconvenience that may be caused. Perhaps there is a special feeling of the inconvenience that may be caused in this context, because I understand that the road to Chequers passes through Great Missenden, so this might be of immediate interest to the Prime Minister and I am sure that he will want to know about it.
When the Leader of the House had another role somewhere on the Back Benches, he described the kind of deal that it appears has been done by the Prime Minister as “cretinous”. Can he tell me what on earth has happened in the last few months to change his view of the deal from “cretinous” to one of the best things that has ever happened? Is it his sudden appearance at the Dispatch Box that has changed his mind?
The hon. Lady is unduly cynical. This is a fundamentally different deal because the undemocratic backstop has gone. Why is that so important? The backstop meant that the whole United Kingdom could be kept in the customs union and the single market in perpetuity and could leave only with the permission of the European Union. It was harder to leave the backstop than to leave the European Union; there was no article 50 provision to get out of the European Union’s backstop. Under article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, this was made superior law for the United Kingdom.
That undemocratic backstop having gone, the operation of article 4 therefore means that as a nation, including Northern Ireland, we will not be tied into the control by the European Union that there would have been under the previous deal. We will be free. We will be out of the European Union. We will control our own tariff regimes and our own regulatory regimes. We will be a free country, and Northern Ireland will be free to follow the same route by a democratic vote of the people of Northern Ireland. I am proud to stand at this Dispatch Box, not for jobbery but because the Prime Minister has done such a fine job in freeing this country.
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but we must expedite proceedings because there is other important business with which to deal, so there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on an issue that was brought to my attention at the recent Conservative party conference: the lack of careers advice at school for young people who suffer from hearing loss?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue every week for the Government to consider. The Government’s careers strategy was published in December 2017. It contains a number of proposals to improve careers advice for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, including funding for the Education and Training Foundation to provide professional development for practitioners working with these young people; funding for training and materials for post-16 providers to help them to design and tailor study programmes that offer a pathway to employment for these learners; and training for enterprise advisers so that they are confident in helping people with special educational needs and disabilities. I believe that what my hon. Friend asks for is being provided and will continue to be provided—and it is important that it is provided.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government’s own economic assessment of a free trade agreement with the European Union shows that it would lead to the second-worst outcome for the economy after no deal and would, as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs reported recently, result in British businesses spending £15 billion a year on filling in forms that they do not have to fill in today? Since he has just extolled the virtues of allowing the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide whether it wants to change its mind about the deal that has been agreed, why is he so opposed to the British people deciding whether they want to change their mind on the deal whose virtues he has just extolled before the House? I have to say that this is not a culinary delight; it is really bad for the future of our country.
The right hon. Gentleman has not asked for a debate, an Adjournment debate or a statement. His question is therefore irrelevant.
If the House does indeed sit on Saturday, and if it does indeed approve the deal that the Prime Minister has secured, does it remain the Government’s intention to bring forward the legislation necessary to implement that deal so that we can leave by 31 October? Will the Leader of the House therefore be returning to the House on Monday to make a further business statement?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that important question. If the motion tabled for Saturday is passed, legislation will have to follow, so I fear that I may be troubling the House with further statements next week.
The Leader of the House’s answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) smacks of sheer and utter arrogance. Can we have an urgent statement from the Government, or an urgent debate, on how bad this new deal is for workers and for the jobs of people in this country?
The hon. Gentleman objects to how I responded to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), but the point is that this is business questions, not a general debate—that is another occasion in this House. Given all the hon. and right hon. Members who wish to involve themselves in these proceedings, we will never get on to the Queen’s Speech if this is turned into a free-for-all. It is very important to remain orderly. The hon. Gentleman asks for a statement on the deal. There will be a debate on the deal tomorrow, so what he is asking for will be given.
Order. For the avoidance of doubt—I know that the Leader of the House will readily accept this, and I say it for the benefit of those observing our proceedings—the arbiter of order is the Chair. The arbiter of order is not the Leader of the House. Proceedings were entirely orderly; otherwise, I would have indicated to the contrary. It is the prerogative of the Leader of the House to respond as he thinks fit to each question put. I will just very gently make the point that if there is a desire in responding to questions to develop an argument more fully and with justified—in his mind—pride to celebrate a particular policy, and in the process going somewhat beyond merely treating of the schedule of business for next week, it is perhaps not altogether generous-spirited to excoriate a colleague who does not operate in quite the way that the Leader of the House would like. But as I say, I will judge order, and I do not require any help from the Treasury Bench.
From personal or familial experience, and because of all the work we do here, we know of the fragility of good health, and 100,000 sufferers from multiple sclerosis know that, too. This week, I, along with colleagues, learned more about that condition in a presentation that was given in the House. Its causes are complex and its symptoms are initially very subtle, so raising awareness is critical, and a statement or motion before the House would allow that to happen. Ruskin said:
“Government and co-operation are in all things the laws of life”
Co-operation across this House can help to counter this dreadful condition.
I can come to the aid of my right hon. Friend straight away because on Monday 21 October the continuation of debate on the Queen’s Speech will be dedicated to the national health service, and that would be the opportunity on which to raise this point. The point is an important one, and bringing it forward in debate is absolutely the right thing to do.
Could the Leader of the House please let us have an urgent debate on the serious issues facing shellfisheries? They are highly dependent on EU markets, and I am afraid that no-deal planning has been woefully inadequate. Mussel fishermen in my constituency still do not have guidance on how to export in the event of no deal after 31 October. Likewise, many crab fisheries have many—in some cases, all—of their pots in EU waters. Could we hear when we can debate this?
The debate on the economy on Tuesday would be an opportunity to discuss the economy of the sea as well as the economy more narrowly.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 2769, which points out a major flaw in the Sexual Offences Act 2003?
[That this House notes the ease with which registered sex offenders and criminals are able to change their name via deed poll, for as little as £15 online, as an automatic right; further notes that, under Section 84 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the onus is placed on the sex offender to notify the police of any such name change; understands that this loophole in the law has the potential to allow many convicted sex offenders to go under the radar of authorities; acknowledges that the safer recruitment process and DBS checks are being undermined by the lack of regulation and robust due diligence provided for by the existing legislation in this area; further acknowledges that this is potentially placing society’s most vulnerable people at risk of harm; and therefore urges the Government to reform legislation to remove the automatic right of sex offenders to change their name online by deed poll, to set up a regulatory system to create a more joined-up approach between the relevant bodies and to introduce interim measures to protect the safety and security of children and vulnerable people presently at risk.]
My Harlow constituent and founder of the Safeguarding Alliance, Emily Konstantas, has conducted research showing that convicted criminals are able to change their name by deed poll for as little as £15 online and evade vetting processes and DBS checks under a new name, allowing them to work in an environment around vulnerable people. May we have an urgent debate on the state of safeguarding legislation?
My hon. Friend, as always, raises a point that is important and needs to be answered. He will be reassured to know that the United Kingdom has some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders, and we are committed to ensuring that the system is as robust as it can be. Public protection is inevitably and rightly a priority, and the notification requirements for registered sex offenders are vital to managing them in the community. Crucially, the failure of a sex offender to tell the police of a name change within three days is a criminal offence with a maximum prison sentence of five years, so although it may be easy for people to change their name, it is illegal and the penalty is quite severe.
This week, the Government announced an arms embargo as far as Turkey is concerned after its incursions into northern Syria, but all is not quite what it seems. My understanding is that there is an embargo only on new licences where it is believed that the equipment may be used in northern Syria. Given the confusion and lack of detail, will the Leader of the House organise a statement from the Department for International Trade?
What is happening in Syria troubles Her Majesty’s Government and is being taken seriously, and what is going on in terms of arms and Turkey is being reviewed. This is an important and sensitive matter, because Turkey is, of course, a NATO partner and, therefore, there is no simple solution. However, the Government are treating the matter with the utmost seriousness and concern and have tried to discourage the Turkish Government from proceeding in the way that they have been proceeding.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), if we are able to sit this Saturday and pass the deal—heal with a deal—is it possible that we may also want to sit next weekend in order to expedite all the legislation needed to leave by 31 October?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her zeal for Parliament? I think there is only one other person in this House who has such zeal, Mr Speaker, and that is probably you. We will need to use time very efficiently in order to legislate by 31 October. I think it is safe to say that I do not expect us to have to sit next Saturday and that we should be able to do things in an orderly way before then, but I will obviously keep the House updated.
I make no argument against us sitting on Saturday, but it is inconvenient for many people who have families. Unfortunately, the nursery is not able to be open to ensure that childcare is provided for hon. Members. Would it not be incumbent upon the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to make financial provision so that the costs of childcare can at least be met for Members?
I recognise that it will be difficult for some right hon. and hon. Members with responsibilities. The matter can certainly be raised with IPSA to see whether it feels any special arrangements can be made. As a general principle, though, I would say that to sit on three Saturdays in 70 years is not an insuperable burden.
Does the Leader of the House agree that, once we have Brexit done, there is the perfect opportunity to debate the stronger towns fund money that the Government have awarded to Redditch, unlocking up to £25 million of funding to regenerate our fantastic town? Will he find time for such a debate?
My hon. Friend tempts me, because the fund that she refers to will benefit two towns in North East Somerset: Keynsham and Midsomer Norton. The idea that we should have a debate is one that appeals to me greatly, but it may be more suitable for an Adjournment debate or even for the Backbench Business Committee.
Last week, more than 600 MPs from around the world were in London for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s annual session, and I thank the House staff who worked diligently over the weekend to support and greet members. They were exemplary and left everyone with an image of our hospitality and professionalism. We held a session with more than 120 schoolchildren from around London, who were invited to talk to me and my vice-presidents from the UK, Portugal and Canada about defence and security issues. There was huge excitement about the debate and the questions were superb. I have asked the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence whether that is something that we could also take forward, as there is a clear appetite for it. Will the Leader of the House look at the potential for Select Committees to do outreach work in schools, so that we can engage young people in Parliament and its processes?
First, may I thank the hon. Lady for the tribute she has paid to the House staff? We are extraordinarily lucky in the way we are looked after in this House and with the commitment they have to Parliament. This gives me the opportunity to say that every member of my private office volunteered to come in to work on Saturday. That gives me great pride in the team I am supported by, and I know this applies across the House. This House is incredibly good at education and bringing young people in, and it is one of the things you have focused on, Mr Speaker. The team in the education department are stunningly good, and I am certainly in favour of encouraging this, if Select Committees can do it.
I warmly appreciate what the Leader of the House has said about the staff of the House. I think it will be warmly appreciated by Members throughout the House and, above all, by those staff, who have been very properly acknowledged and congratulated. I thank him for that.
May I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to use the House? The House did itself proud, and many of the delegates, from all around the world, including partner nations, were very impressed by what we are able to do here.
Thousands of women in the UK suffer from the debilitating, chronic disease of endometriosis. Despite employment law requiring employers to support employees with medical conditions, many women find themselves forced out of work, with little redress, especially because, on average, diagnosis can take seven to 12 years. May we have a debate on workplace practices for women who are suffering with this terrible disease, so that they do not have the trauma and stress of losing their jobs, on top of having to deal with a debilitating condition that destroys their work lives, as well as their personal lives?
The Government recognise that there is more work to do on raising awareness of conditions such as endometriosis, and ensuring that clinical guidance is being followed and that therefore diagnosis is earlier. It is essential that all of us—Government, Parliament, employers, the NHS and wider society—do what we can to improve the diagnosis, and more generally get rid of old-fashioned taboos relating to women’s health to ensure that people are treated fairly in the workplace and have their rights in law upheld and enforced. A debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall would be a good way of giving this important issue further attention.
It was really discourteous of the Leader of the House to wave around his own private copy of whatever has been agreed in Brussels, start the debate off and then try to stop everybody else asking him about it. Will he do something to remedy that discourtesy? I have two particular points to make about this Saturday sitting. First, he is not planning for it to be a 90-minute debate, is he? That would be totally ridiculous. Secondly, will he ensure that the Government publish a full economic impact assessment of what has been agreed, so that we can have it to inform Saturday’s debate?
I am slightly puzzled that the hon. Gentleman thinks it is odd that members of the Cabinet receive Government documents; this is the normal process of government in this country. I can give him the assurance that all the documents will be published as required by the Act. [Hon. Members: “ When?”] They will be available online as soon as practicable. They will be in the Vote Office in draft shortly and they will be available as finalised documents once they have been agreed—assuming they are agreed—by the European Council. The surrender Act requires them to be laid on the day of the debate, and that will be done, but because the Government want to facilitate this House’s ability to study the papers, they will be made available earlier than is formally required under the Act.
I am pleased to see the Environment Bill coming before us again next week. However, Homes England is proposing that 13,000 homes be built just outside my constituency on greenfield sites to the west of Ifield. My constituents, through their local authority, will not get a say in the planning process. May we have a statement from the Communities Secretary as to how my constituents can have a say on the impact of 13,000 housing units, the loss of green space and the pressure on infrastructure that that would represent?
My hon. Friend lives in such a beautiful part of the country that many more people want to live there. That is a difficulty for many people with attractive constituencies. It is a natural desire of people to live in the most outstanding areas of our countryside. There is inevitably a tension, because the Government have a mission to build more high-quality, well-designed and affordable houses, and there is a balance to be struck between building them and protecting greenfield areas. However, I understand the issue that my hon. Friend raises—people in a nearby area but not the same administrative area can feel that they are not sufficiently represented—so I shall pass on his request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
As the Leader of the House says, when the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) brings things to the House, they are carefully considered. The Leader of the House has undertaken to put the documents in the Vote Office if they are agreed with the European Union. When will that be? Will the documents include the political declaration? Will the documents highlight the changes made from the previous agreement, so that each Member does not have to go through and make their own comparison?
As I said, the documents will be made available as soon as they can be. The European Council meets today and tomorrow and will have an opportunity to approve or not approve the agreement. It is a decision made by the 27 members, as the hon. Lady will know, and that decision will be made. The papers will be deposited once they are agreed. This is how things happen—it is a normal process—but I can be absolutely certain that the papers will be laid, in accordance with the Act, before the debate takes place.
A few months ago, Barclays bank closed its Cleethorpes branch. At the time, the bank wrote to me to say it had identified 106 vulnerable customers whom it would be contacting directly so that they could do their banking through the Post Office. Barclays has now withdrawn some of its Post Office arrangements, so may we have a debate to discuss how the people of Cleethorpes can be supported against Barclays bank?
I have just been given wonderful news and the House will rejoice: the documents are now available on the gov.uk website, so I imagine that people will now flee the Chamber so that they can read them earnestly before bringing forward further points.
To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), access to banking is a really serious issue for people. The Government are committed to supporting digital payments and safeguarding access to cash for those who need it, and we are pleased to see banks signing up to the banking framework agreement with the Post Office. It is saddening that Barclays has not been able to reach an agreement with the Post Office. I hope that efforts like that of my hon. Friend will put pressure on the banks to behave in the best interests of their customers and to ensure that service continues.
The Government talk about putting billions of additional money into our NHS, yet in York the whole primary care mental health service is not being cut—it is being shut down because of lack of funds. May we have an urgent debate on where all these billions of pounds are meant to be going?
Some £33.9 billion is going into the NHS, and considerable extra funding, which has cross-party support, is going into mental healthcare facilities. I suggest the hon. Lady asks for an Adjournment debate on this matter, because that would be the ideal opportunity. I am sorry, Mr Speaker, I am giving you lots of Adjournment debates today, but they are such a good mechanism, using the Chamber of this House to highlight issues with Ministers, with the Box full of their officials, to make sure that things get done. The money is there and the hon. Lady is absolutely right to campaign for it for her area. If I were in her position, I would be doing the same.
I was pleased that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was reintroduced after the Queen’s Speech. I supported the Bill before Prorogation as it is another example of the Government’s excellent record on animal welfare. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on when the Bill will have its Second Reading?
My hon. Friend tempts me to stray into matters that are not quite right for today. There is so much business to be done and so many future business statements. This issue is a priority for the Government—he is right to say that the Government have a good record on animal welfare. This is an important Bill that commands a lot of support across the House and I hope it comes forward in the not-too-distant future.
People were obviously delighted to see Baby’s law come before Parliament, and if Parliament had not been illegally prorogued, it would have passed through this place by now. I am glad to hear that it is a priority for the Government, but I would urge the Leader of the House to introduce it as soon as possible. It is a small Bill and could actually be fitted in in the next few days. Please will he give us some commitment that it is top of his list?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but I refer her to my previous answer.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on transport infrastructure provision across south Gloucestershire, especially in relation to the campaign for a new junction 18A on the M4, which is ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore)? The new junction would unlock great potential for many more much-needed homes and more jobs.
My hon. Friend, who represents a south Gloucestershire constituency, is a near neighbour of mine, and I must confess I have a prejudice in favour of very good transport around Somerset and Gloucestershire, which is in all our interests. He can raise this at Transport questions on Thursday, but I would also encourage him to continue campaigning for it. I understand the beneficial economic consequence that road infrastructure can have.
Fortunately, the legal texts were available from the EU before the Government made them available. Does the Leader of the House, like me, welcome the fact that, under article 12 of the protocol, the courts in the United Kingdom will continue to be able to obtain preliminary rulings from the European Court of Justice and be subject to EU law? Can we have a debate about the benefits that the supremacy of EU law has brought to the UK?
I am glad to say that the supremacy of EU law was one of the things rejected in the referendum, and it will fade away. As the morning mist fades, so will the supremacy of that appalling Court.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House might not be aware of the bridge crisis in my constituency, with first Abbeyton bridge and then Park bridge declared unsafe and closed, owing in part to swingeing budget cuts to Aberdeenshire Council from the SNP-run Scottish Government. Can we have a debate about how we can get direct UK Government funding for crucial infrastructure projects that are made impossible by budget cuts to local authorities by the Scottish Government?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It is sad to see how wasteful the SNP is of taxpayers’ money and how badly it manages to administer Scotland. The Union is good for everybody and works for the whole of the United Kingdom. He makes a good point about whether there are ways of directing money, but the devolution settlement is very important and needs to be respected.
The decision has been taken to franchise two post offices in my constituency, which will lead to a reduction in postal services and is a stepping stone to closure and ending the livelihoods of postal workers and their families. Can we have an urgent debate on the future of our postal services, after a decade of privatisation and neglect?
Obviously the provision of postal services, and the ability to access them conveniently and to get to post offices, is of great importance to people. I recognise that, because it is important in my constituency of North East Somerset. There are many opportunities to raise these subjects. It might be a suitable subject for the Queen’s Speech debate on Monday, which is on economic matters—I think that post offices play an important part in the economy.
This Government, like the previous Government, have made a welcome commitment to oppose the persecution of Christians globally and to support freedom of everybody in religion and belief, including those of no religion or belief. In the light of increasing problems, the latest being the closure of churches in Algeria, could we have a regular statement in Government time on the work the Government are doing in this area? I know they are committed to it, but we need to hear about it in Government time in the House.
I have huge sympathy with what my hon. Friend is asking for. It might be possible to do that at business questions, in the way that the shadow Leader of the House raises the issue of people held illegally by foreign Governments. If Members were to raise this issue at business questions every week, that would be extraordinarily welcome. I think it is important, even though I am now sitting on the Treasury Bench—[Hon. Members: “Lying on it!”]—sometimes, indeed—to keep pressure on the Government to act in favour of good and important activities so that they do not get forgotten. I am very grateful to him for raising this.
After nine years of austerity, there is a huge funding gap in the early years sector, so I was shocked to hear not a single mention of the sector in the Queen’s Speech. Will the Leader of the House therefore commit to having a specific debate on the closure of Sure Start centres and nurseries across the country?
That was actually mentioned in the Queen’s Speech debate yesterday, so it has already been covered.
In Harrow, we are blessed with three NHS walk-in centres, but the problem is that anyone from anywhere can just walk in and queue to see a doctor. To make the service more efficient and effective, the clinical commissioning group recently decided to move to an appointments system— 12 hours a day, seven days a week—so that people can see a GP by appointment and not have to wait extraordinary lengths of time. That is a service improvement. May we therefore have a debate, in Government time, on how we can improve our NHS and ensure that our money is spent in the best way possible?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is necessary to ensure that everyone has access to GP services. With extended access, evening and weekend appointments are now available across the country. The independent contractor model of general practice means that practices have a large degree of autonomy in deciding how to manage and run their practice to best suit the needs of their patient population. I am encouraged that he has noticed improvements. If he wishes to raise the matter at greater length—I hope that he will do so—the NHS debate is scheduled for Monday.
Further to the important question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), will we, in advance of the debate on Saturday, be privy to the full economic analyses of the declarations and the deal that has been secured today?
The paperwork will be available, as I have set out. With regard to economic analyses, there are all sorts of economic analyses—you pays your money and you takes your choice with economists.
I thank the Government for putting the deal online and the Doorkeepers for putting a printed copy in my hands. I am delighted to see that co-operation on science and research remains a top priority. May we have a debate on delivering infrastructure, which is such a top priority in the Queen’s Speech, because I want to ensure that critical projects in my constituency, such as securing a second railway station and mending our broken flyover, are delivered?
A broken flyover does sound extremely inconvenient. There will be any number of debates—as my hon. Friend knows, the Queen’s Speech debate covers many of these issues. Transport questions will be on Thursday, so they can be raised again then. The Government are absolutely committed to an infrastructure programme that ensures that this country has workable infrastructure, with the beneficial economic effects that will follow.
May I give the Leader of the House a little advice? All Leaders of the House have to get the House on their side. I thought that his disrespectful and rather patronising response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the Chair of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, won him no friends. As a result of urgent business—this is not his fault, or your fault, Mr Speaker; it is no one’s fault—today’s Queen’s Speech debate on the climate emergency will be truncated, so is there any way he can compensate for that?
If the hon. Gentleman had not asked his question, we would be getting on to that business sooner. It is up to Members to self-regulate, and then business questions would be shorter.
May we have a debate on the policing of the Extinction Rebellion protests? That would give Members an opportunity to praise the Metropolitan police and other forces that lent their help, such as Kent police. We would also have an opportunity to rebut the shameful criticisms levelled against the police by the Mayor of London.
I must confess that I agree with my hon. Friend; it is really shameful that somebody who has a role with the police should criticise them when they have done everything possible to ensure that law and order is maintained, despite coming under enormous pressure. I spoke to some of the police officers who were around during the Extinction Rebellion protests. Some of them were getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning and then being on duty for 12 or 14-hour shifts, to ensure that we were kept safe. We should be enormously grateful to the police service of this country.
Mr Speaker, I note that you did your bit for British-Irish relations at the weekend by appearing on “The Late Late Show” on RTÉ—it is good viewing, if anyone wants to watch it. This Sunday, as Vice-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I shall be meeting friends and colleagues from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Channel Islands as part of the Assembly’s meeting. Will the right hon. Gentleman, as the Leader of this great House, join me in recognising that, at this critical and really difficult time in our relations across these islands, the gathering together of politicians of different views and from different parts of these islands is more crucial than ever, and will give an assurance that the full support of this House will be forthcoming in future years to ensure that the Assembly flourishes and that our conversations flourish, so that we can get through this particularly difficult time in our history?
Yes, I will absolutely do that. May I also hold up the hon. Lady as an example? She is a neighbour of mine, and despite our strongly different views of the world, we have always been able to have, whether on television or in hustings debates, very civilised conversations. I think that is a model for how debate should be carried out.
Many parents in Rugby have expressed concern about a sex and relationships education programme for primary schools, provided by Warwickshire County Council—it is called “All About Me”—that goes well beyond statutory guidance and involves sex education for children as young as nine years old, and potentially younger. It is important that parents are reassured that what their children are being taught in school is age-appropriate, so may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on the appropriateness of that programme?
I have read about this, and it is quite rightly a cause of controversy if schools give children messages that their parents are not happy with. I fully sympathise with my hon. Friend’s concerns. Schools do have to make the choice themselves, but parents do have a choice about schools, and that is important. Parents and schools need to be happy that what is being taught is suitable and that both sides are content with it. Schools should not go off and do things that leave parents concerned about what their children are being taught, and I am glad to say that we do not have that sort of approach in this country. I share his concerns and will ensure that they are brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Week after week, I have constituents coming to my surgery whose only crime is poverty. That does not just happen; it is a consequence of one of the Government’s flagship policies: universal credit. They sometimes have to wait for weeks before receiving any money, which cannot be right. May we have yet another debate on the operation of universal credit, so that those of our constituents who are suffering poverty as a direct consequence of something the Government are implementing have a voice that can be heard in Parliament and so that we recognise the reality of what they are dealing with in their lives?