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House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

12 October 2017
Volume 629

    House of Commons

    Thursday 12 October 2017

    The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Oral Answers to Questions

    International Trade

    The Secretary of State was asked—

    Trade White Paper

  • 1. What plans he has to publish a White Paper on trade. [901070]

  • Since he is a conscientious and committed Member of the House of Commons, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government published a trade White Paper on Monday 9 October 2017. The trade White Paper establishes the principles that will guide future UK trade policy and sets out the preparatory steps that we are taking. The paper can be found in the Libraries of both Houses and on the website.

  • What transitional plans does the Secretary of State have for the transitional period if he cannot necessarily do the trade deals that he wants to do?

  • If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the transitional adoption of existing EU agreements, I can tell him that we have had a very positive response from other Governments, who, like us, want to ensure that there is no disruption of trade at the point of departure from the European Union. We will want to get as many of those in place as we can. That depends partly on the willingness of partners to get that ready on time; there are obviously contingency measures available to us under the World Trade Organisation to ensure continued market access in any case.

  • Can we just declare for free trade?

  • This Government constantly declares for free trade. In fact, as we leave the European Union and take up our independent seat on the World Trade Organisation, this country intends to champion the cause of global free trade, especially at a time when the growth in trade has been slowing down in recent years.

  • Does the International Trade Secretary recognise that people fear that in the event of, for example, a very right-wing, ideological Government, we could see the erosion of social standards through our trade agreements or even the erosion of our ability to protect our national health service with the wrong type of trade treaty? Will he guarantee parliamentary scrutiny of every trade deal done?

  • I would like the Government to be judged by their actions. Therefore, as I indicated to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), as we want to transition the already agreed EU free trade agreements into UK law—which will include, for example, workers’ rights and environmental standards—I hope that we will get the full support of the Opposition in doing that and in getting the legislation available to give us the powers to do so.

  • The White Paper sets out a strong case for free trade: it is good for growth, and it is good for jobs—but occasionally other countries will act in unfair ways, such as through the dumping of goods. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that it will always be the Government’s approach to respond to that in a proportionate, carefully targeted and time-limited fashion?

  • The Government will bring forward legislation that sets out our plans for a trade remedies authority to ensure that the protections that UK business currently has—and that the UK workforce currently enjoy—are continued when we leave the European Union.

  • White Papers are all good and well, but yesterday the Scottish Government published a report showing what is at stake for business as the UK edges closer to the Brexit cliff edge. We know that the Secretary of State has consulted the business community to find out how it will be affected, but will he commit today to publishing the findings, as called for by a range of MPs across the House, even if they show that business wants to stay in the single market and customs union? At what point will this Government stop governing in secret and publish the reality of the impact of Brexit?

  • The Government are of course extremely concerned about any perceptions of instability. We will consult widely, particularly when it comes to new free trade agreements, but of course the greatest threat to stability, particularly in Scotland, is the insistence of the Scottish Government on threatening a second referendum on independence.

  • Car Exports

  • 2. What plans he has to facilitate exports from car manufacturers after the UK leaves the EU. [901071]

  • The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be leading negotiations on our trade relationship with the EU, aimed at the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade with our European neighbours, including for the automotive sector. The UK will also be able to negotiate our own trade agreements around the world, and it is a high priority that we achieve the best possible deals with global partners. We are in close contact with stakeholders across the automotive industry to that end.

  • Last month, in a speech to the Bank of England, the Prime Minister described the free market economy as

    “the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created.”

    In view of the Prime Minister’s ideological objection to Government intervention, will the Minister say how the highly skilled workforce at Toyota in Derbyshire will be able to find comparable employment, in the event that of Toyota relocates thanks to the Government’s botched Brexit negotiations?

  • I know the hon. Gentleman stands up for those constituents of his who work at the Toyota plant, but we need to look more carefully at what Toyota is doing. It has made a £240 million investment in the Burnaston factory, in order to make a commitment to the UK after Brexit, and that has been supported by a further £21.5 million from the Government, who are also committed to the workers he describes in his constituency.

  • Given that the United Kingdom imports £30 billion worth of vehicles—more than we export each year—does my hon. Friend agree that it is in the interests of not just the UK but the EU for us to have barrier and tariff-free trade on vehicles in the future?

  • My hon. Friend is right. We are absolutely committed to a tariff and barrier-free relationship with the European Union in the future. It is worth remembering that the European Union exports twice as many cars to Britain as we export to the EU. It is in all our interests—it is in the interests of all the workers in the European Union—for us to achieve a successful and fruitful outcome.

  • Following the referendum and the subsequent depreciation of sterling, a number of car manufacturers in Britain have announced plans for further investment and an expansion of production. Nissan, in particular, says that it will expand production by 20% and invest more in the supply chain in Britain. Does that not augur well for Britain’s exports, and should we not start to look towards a time when we can export more than we import?

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One of the characteristics of the UK car industry over the last few years is the fact that UK components of the supply chain now represent 42%, up from 38%. We have a great opportunity in the whole European Union automotive sector, and our Department is working incredibly hard to ensure that we take advantage of it.

  • Given that this country voted to leave the European Union, is it not the duty of every Member to talk up the British economy and the chances that are available to British manufacturing to exploit the new opportunities that will be presented to it around the world?

  • My hon. Friend, too, is absolutely right. I travel the world—as, indeed, do all our Ministers—and meet representatives of businesses in countries around the world who see the huge value that this country has, and the great British brand that the Department is representing and selling abroad. What we have to offer is fantastic, and I am an unashamed patriot when it comes to our great exports from fabulous businesses such as Aston Martin, and any number of others. It is the duty of everyone in the House to support all those businesses, and to talk up the British Isles when they travel, not just around the world but in the United Kingdom.

  • The Secretary of State has just said that he wants the Government to be judged by their actions. Can the Minister tell us what the cost of the Nissan deal was, whether deals have been struck with other car manufacturers, and whether the Government have set aside a large budget to ensure that other sectors can continue to export successfully?

  • The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that, under state aid rules which apply not only to the European Union but to the World Trade Organisation, the Government cannot give subsidies to businesses to create unfair competition against other countries. However, as I said in an earlier answer, the Government have supported Toyota with a £21 million investment. Any support that is given to any businesses—in the automotive sector, and across the piece—will be fully compliant with all the rules by which we abide. Subsidies such as those from the European regional development fund are widely known about, and they are perfectly fair and perfectly legal.

  • Foreign Direct Investment

  • 3. What his policy is on attracting foreign direct investment into the UK. [901072]

  • The Department supports foreign investment in all parts of the United Kingdom through our overseas network, international events programme, bespoke sector support, online services and regional teams. We serve the whole of the UK by working closely with investment promotion bodies in the devolved Administrations and local enterprise partnerships in England to co-operate effectively across a range of investment support activities.

  • We have already heard positive news this morning about Toyota and Nissan. Will the Minister join me in welcoming recent work by EMY Consulting which proves that the United Kingdom remains the most attractive place in Europe for foreign direct investment?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen some truly amazing numbers coming in. Britain has a record number of inward investment projects, and it is worth bearing in mind the fact that 158,000 jobs have been created and a further 66,000 safeguarded over the past year or so as a result of foreign direct investment.

  • I am very happy for the Minister to go around the world selling Britain, but will he come to see the real economy in, for instance, Huddersfield, where we have a strong manufacturing sector, or Leeds, where we have a financial sector? Not one person I meet in those sectors wants us to continue with this folly of Brexit. [Interruption.]

  • What about the voters?

  • Yes, what about all those voters throughout the UK, 52% of whom voted for Brexit? I was a remainer, but we have to uphold the fundamental principle of democracy in this country, and it is the job of all of us in the Government to do our level best to embrace the opportunities—the optimistic opportunities—that Brexit presents.

  • I thank the Minister for coming to my constituency and talking to my exporters and the Port of Felixstowe, and ask him to assure me that he took on board the takeout that they want us to be oven ready with regulations and so forth as we look to move out of the common market.

  • It was a great pleasure to visit Muntons in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Her constituency produces a huge number of ingredients that go into Scottish whisky, beer and any number of fantastic products across the country. It is absolutely right that in addressing the question of regulations going forward into a post-Brexit era we in this country maintain our incredibly high standards of regulation, including workers’ rights as well as food standards.

  • The Minister is assuring his hon. Friend that he is indeed oven ready. That is a new one on me; the hon. Lady has very helpfully added to the collective lexicon of the House of Commons.

  • Why do the Government not draw a clearer distinction between inward foreign investment which adds capacity and jobs and is welcome, and inward investment for acquisitions in devalued pounds, which often detracts from our science and technology?

  • The leader of the Liberal Democrats raises a very important point in respect of looking at the statistics. He is absolutely right that fresh investment that comes into this country that creates and safeguards jobs must be disaggregated from, say, stock market transactions, where there is a significant investment in that type of thing. We are looking very carefully at how to disaggregate these two types of investment in order to get a much clearer picture, but he raises an important point and I assure him that the Department’s economists are looking at this.

  • In the 12 months since the EU referendum in 2016, 32 Israeli companies have invested in new business ventures in the UK, bringing an increase in capital investment of 32% from that country. Does that not demonstrate, first, a strong vote of confidence in the UK economy, and, secondly, that Israel should be a natural partner for any future free trade agreement?

  • Indeed. I have visited Israel; we do a lot of trade with it, and the investment it is making in this country is very welcome. Importantly, since the Brexit vote a huge number of investment projects are coming to the UK, which is creating new jobs. Doom mongers like me who during the referendum were part of the “Project Fear” campaign have been proved wrong, and it is important that we stand up and say that so far we have not got this right, and that is incredibly good news for both Britain and our individual constituencies.

  • The Government’s own figures show a 9% drop in the number of new jobs created through foreign direct investment projects and a record trade deficit in goods exports. In the real world, that means thousands of workers losing their jobs, as we have seen at BAE Systems. Does the Minister accept that it will take a fully aligned trade and industrial strategy to protect jobs in this country? The current policy of relying on a falling pound is simply not good enough.

  • I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that we now have record numbers of people in work, record employment and record low unemployment. None the less, he raises an important point on the relationship between this Department and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is absolutely the case that in creating a pitch book for the UK, we must offer a number of different opportunities for companies around the world. Part of that is our tax regime, part of it is our tax credits regime, and part of it is our enthusiasm to legislate, for example, to allow autonomous vehicles to be tested on all British roads. This is a whole package from the entire Government working together. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the industrial strategy as part of what we are presenting to the rest of the world, but this also involves the whole of the Government.

  • Leaving the EU: Workers’ Rights and Fair Trade

  • 4. What steps he is taking to ensure that the principles of fair trade, workers’ rights and environmental protection are included in future trade agreements after the UK leaves the EU. [901073]

  • The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, including successfully supporting workers’ rights and environmental protections as a member of the EU, and the UK will continue to play a leading role on these as we leave the EU. We are committed to upholding the UK’s high standards; our prosperity benefits from us reinforcing these high standards, not abandoning them.

  • I am glad that the White Paper mentions respecting the role of Parliament, but in order to protect workers’ rights, fair trade and environmental rules, will the Minister now guarantee to transfer to this House the rights that our elected representatives in the European Parliament have to scrutinise, debate, amend and vote on trade agreements?

  • The Government have been absolutely clear on the importance of this House and this Parliament scrutinising trade agreements. There is an irony in the hon. Lady’s question. Only last month, she voted against the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which would write into domestic legislation 40 years of workers’ rights and environmental protection coming from Europe. She did not want to see that transfer. She even whipped her own side to vote against the Bill. Today, she is calling for us to introduce European procedures. I think her actions speak louder than her words.

  • Leaving the EU: Trade Policy

  • 5. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the Government will have an effective trade policy after the UK leaves the EU. [901074]

  • 10. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the UK will have an effective trade policy after the UK leaves the EU. [901082]

  • As the Prime Minister set out on Monday, the Government are preparing for the UK’s future as an independent trading nation. We will maximise our opportunities globally by seeking a deep and special partnership with the EU and boosting our trade relationships around the world.

    The trade White Paper establishes the principles that will guide future UK trade policy and sets out the preparatory steps we are taking, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid out earlier in response to Question 1.

  • Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is Government policy to take full control of the UK’s trade policy in services regulation, in order to take advantage of the free trade opportunities that are open to us as we leave the EU? Does he agree that this must not be obviated by any conditions of a period of implementation for our new arrangements with the EU?

  • The Prime Minister has made it very clear that we want a deep and comprehensive trade agreement with the EU. We in the Department for International Trade are losing no time in preparing ourselves for our own independent trade policy in terms of transitioning existing EU FTAs, in terms of the 14 trade working groups that we have set up, and in terms of transitioning trade preferences for the developing world, and that includes the ability to scope out and negotiate new trade agreements once we leave.

  • Will the Minister update the House on the work that the Government are doing to engage with frontier markets, and how these are being prioritised with existing established markets?

  • May I first congratulate my hon. Friend on becoming the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Pakistan —[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—which, I can tell him, went down extremely well on my visit to Islamabad last month. We are devoting resources to frontier and emerging markets through our economic horizons group. We are committed to transitioning the EU’s scheme of trade preferences with those markets into a UK scheme, which will bring real economic assistance to developing countries, including Pakistan.

  • Northern Ireland will be the only part of the United Kingdom to share a land border with an EU member state after the UK leaves the EU. What discussions has the Minister had with his counterparts in Northern Ireland regarding future trade and investment opportunities and potential issues post-Brexit?

  • The whole Government are engaging very closely with those in authority in Northern Ireland, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and also engaging with the other side of the border. I should be meeting the Irish Trade Minister tomorrow.

  • Given what the Minister says, why have the Government not responded positively to the request that Singapore made 10 months ago to revive the third country training partnership, which in their words would support global Britain’s role in the Commonwealth and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations?

  • The Government take the Commonwealth and ASEAN extremely seriously. In fact, yesterday we hosted a celebration for ASEAN’s anniversary, and we actually hosted the first Commonwealth Trade Ministers’ meeting ever, in March, here in London, and we are making extensive preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next year.

  • Could my right hon. Friend advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that when we leave the EU, businesses do not face a cliff edge for trade with countries that are beyond the EU but covered by trade agreements that the EU has?

  • The Department for International Trade is devoting significant efforts to transitioning the EU’s existing FTAs into a UK FTA. We are doing this in consultation with the European Union. In the majority of countries—certainly all those which we have spoken to so far—third parties are in agreement with that. Just two weeks ago I was in Peru, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Colombia, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State met the Ecuadorian Trade Minister to talk about the transition of the EU/Andean FTA—a perfect example in this space.

  • WTO Tariff Rate Quotas

  • 6. What recent discussions he has had with the World Trade Organisation and his US counterpart on the division of WTO tariff rate quotas between the UK and the EU after the UK leaves the EU. [901076]

  • I discussed the UK’s independent membership of the WTO with the US trade representative Robert Lighthizer when I visited the US in July, and I have had several productive conversations with the WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo, most recently on my visit to Geneva in July.

  • I understand that Britain and the EU have now formally informed WTO members of how they would like quotas to be split after Brexit, but the Trump Administration and seven WTO members have already rejected the proposals. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that a deal on quotas is achieved?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the chance to explain our methodology. We decided to split the quotas that we have up to now shared with the EU on a market basis. In other words, we would not divide by 28 or by 15, but by the UK’s share of a market. We did that to avoid disadvantaging exporters from other countries, as well as our own producers or consumers. That is the best route to avoid disputes in Switzerland.

  • As we are talking about the WTO, if this country cannot reach a deal with the EU, what are the Department’s plans if we do not get an agreement on quotas?

  • As I have said, we first have to get our trading schedules agreed and then we have to agree free trade agreements with third countries, which involves the division of quotas. We are making good progress on that. We want a comprehensive agreement, because that is in the interests of all concerned. However, the Government are preparing contingencies should there be no agreement, which is the only responsible thing for a Government to do.

  • The Secretary of State knows full well that a technical rectification would disadvantage other members, which is why seven member states of the WTO have written to Azevêdo specifically setting out that that is unacceptable to them. On 6 July, the Secretary of State said that he was confident that a technical rectification of WTO schedules would be

    “smooth and fully understood by our trading partners.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1364.]

    Well, it is not. What is he going to do about that? What assessment has he made of the delays and of the impact on our businesses that will result from that?

  • I do not anticipate that that will happen. The hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand what the process is, or what a negotiation is. It is quite clear that our first offer is not the final thing that we expect to be accepted. For example, we have no agreement yet on what will happen with unused quotas or aggregate measures of support. Those issues will be dealt with during the negotiation—[Interruption.] I know that the hon. Gentleman likes to multitask, but being able to speak and listen simultaneously is not among his abilities.

  • Topical Questions

  • T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [901093]

  • The Department has three tasks: promoting UK exports to support a growing economy that serves the whole country; maximising opportunities for wealth creation, including through overseas direct investment; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU.

    I welcome Crawford Falconer to the Department as chief trade negotiation adviser—he brings a wealth of knowledge—and I can announce the convening of the Board of Trade today, which will ensure that the benefits of trade and investment are spread across the whole UK.

  • The EU Commission seems hellbent on damaging the economies of the remaining member states through its Brexit negotiations, so will my right hon. Friend say what preparations are being made for no deal?

  • The best thing for the whole of Europe is for us to reach a deep and comprehensive agreement on trade. We are committed to doing so, and we hope that our European partners will commit to move on to the second stage of negotiations as soon as possible, not least to remove any uncertainty to businesses and workers across Europe. However, if we are unable to do so, the Government have already undertaken a wide range of contingency plans.

  • Following the Bombardier tariff crisis, can the Secretary of State guarantee that Airbus in Bristol, which employs many people in my constituency, will not have new tariffs to pay once Britain leaves the EU?

  • There are two elements to that. Of course we want to maintain a completely tariff-free trading environment in Europe, and that is what we should be able to do, given that it is the starting point—that, of course, is unique in any trade negotiation. On the Bombardier case, we have made our views very clear to the United States. I spoke to Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, only last week.

  • T2. The Government’s approach, based on the Florence speech, is entirely sensible and pragmatic. Of course we want a free trade deal, but it takes two to tango. May I press the Secretary of State further on earlier questions relating to what happens if there is no deal and we leave the single market at the end of March 2019? Is the Treasury giving him all the resources he needs to prepare for no deal—for schedules and making deals with other countries? That is absolutely vital. [901094]

  • I do not really wish to trumpet this to other Departments, but our Department has a unique agreement with the Treasury: we are able to increase staffing levels when that relates to Brexit issues, and we will continue to do so. As I said, we want to ensure that we get a good deal. There is no difference between the Chancellor and me. The Chancellor says that we need to spend money only as necessary. I think that that is correct, but we also need to ensure that we spend money on all areas where contingency plans are necessary.

  • I call Barry Gardiner—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman looks perplexed.

  • Are we on topicals, Mr Speaker?

  • We are. The hon. Gentleman must try to keep up!

  • Thank you, Sir; it is always good to have you keeping me up to pace.

    Recent reports suggest that Boeing provided Monarch Airlines with 45 Boeing 737 MAX jets at a cut price and that Boeing used a complex sale and leaseback deal to provide Monarch with more than £100 million in cash against a paper profit. Given the Secretary of State’s earlier commitment to trade defence remedies, why has he left it to me to write to the EU Commissioners to ask them to investigate this as a matter of potential illegal dumping and anti-competitive behaviour?

  • I am happy to look at the precise nature of the hon. Gentleman’s allegation, but I have to say that the Government’s response on Monarch has been exemplary. We have devoted an incredible amount of resources to getting tens of thousands of stranded British subjects abroad back to this country. The process was led incredibly well by the Department for Transport, and we should be proud of the Government’s efforts in helping the victims of Monarch.

  • T3. Sheep farming in this country is good for the countryside, food and farming. It is important that we combine making sure that we control quotas of New Zealand lamb with maintaining exports to France. How is the Secretary of State getting on with disaggregating the EU quotas on New Zealand lamb meat? [901095]

  • We will take the same approach to New Zealand lamb as we do to all other tariff-rate quotas: allocate them on the basis of usage. As I have already explained, that will keep the market stable and mean that we are not disadvantaging New Zealand exporters or our domestic market. That is not only the fairest thing to do, but the best way to prevent the UK from being taken to dispute at the WTO, which is again to our mutual advantage.

  • If the EU27 do not give the two-year extension that the Prime Minister begged for in Florence, trade barriers will rise between the UK and how many other countries? Does the Department have a number?

  • I am not sure that I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s question. If it is helpful to him, I can say that there are 27 other countries in the European Union and the EU has more than 40 FTAs around the world. As I mentioned earlier, one of the roles of our Department is to transition those into UK-only FTAs, which should avoid any cliff edge or future trade barriers at all.

  • T4. The all-party parliamentary group on trade out of poverty, which I chair, is initiating an investigation into the role that the Commonwealth can play to help developing nations to trade out of poverty. We hope that that agenda will be taken up at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April. We have a potential leadership role, so will the Secretary of State communicate with the Commonwealth secretariat to ensure that that agenda item is taken up? [901096]

  • We have made it clear that we see our trade policy and our developmental policy as going hand in hand. We want countries to have the power to trade their way out of poverty. That will be one of our key themes at CHOGM and we will be setting out processes by which we think that can be made more possible in the future.

  • Many businesses in my constituency, particularly sheep and dairy farmers, are signing contracts early in the new year for exports in 2019. What certainty can the Secretary of State give them about pricing for 2019?

  • As I have said, our aim is to maintain market stability, but of course the good news is that the UK is continuing to export extremely well—we had an increase of about 15% in our exports in the 12 months to August 2017. We want to encourage that and to ensure that we get bigger market penetration, irrespective of what deal we get with the EU.

  • I call Richard Graham. Where is the feller? He is not here.

  • T6. Will the Secretary of State publish the Department’s plans for a no-deal situation before Christmas? [901098]

  • Across Government we will make our contingency plans, but we continue to hope that the EU will come forward with a proper commitment to entering into the second part of the trade deal, as we think that is in our mutual interest.

  • Women and Equalities

    The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

    Domestic Violence: Police Resources

  • 1. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of police resources to support victims of domestic violence. [901055]

  • Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire & rescue services has noted in recent inspections that forces have protected dedicated resources to support victims of domestic abuse. The number of police referrals, prosecutions and convictions for domestic abuse has increased significantly since 2010, but this Government are not complacent. In this Session, we will introduce a landmark domestic violence and abuse Bill to better protect and support victims, and to bring perpetrators to justice.

  • According to the crime survey for England and Wales, an estimated 2 million adults aged 16 to 59, mostly women, say that they were victims of domestic abuse in the past year. Do not the Government accept that the massive cuts in police resources that they have inflicted will inevitably mean that there will be fewer arrests and fewer prosecutions for domestic violence, leaving more women in danger?

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question, but I simply do not accept that at all. Interestingly, funding for Bedfordshire police has risen by 1.8% this year—that is £1.8 million. I hope that he will join me in congratulating his local police and crime commissioner on her personal leadership in tackling domestic violence in Bedfordshire and, in particular, on Project Emerald, which is delivering record numbers of prosecutions and protecting more women than ever before from domestic abuse.

  • Which police force responds to domestic violence the best and which responds to it the worst, and will the Minister get them together in the same room at the same time so that one can inform the other?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can assure him that through the rigorous inspections of HMICFRS and the Home Secretary’s leadership in bringing together Government Departments, we are doing everything that we can to support police officers to deliver the best possible outcomes for victims of domestic abuse and violence.

  • The Minister said that legislation to tackle violence against women will be introduced. Will she comment on the practice of upskirting, on which a constituent of mine is leading a campaign? The practice involves individuals taking photographs from underneath women’s skirts. I understand that it is unlawful in Scotland, so what plans does she have to introduce some form of penalty for it here?

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Any sort of violence against and abuse of women and girls is totally unacceptable. This Government have a very ambitious strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, and of course we are always looking to make sure that police officers and our criminal justice system have all the measures that they need to keep women and girls safe.

  • Alcohol plays a significant part in the scourge of domestic violence, so will the Minister consider using the forthcoming legislation she mentioned to allow the use of alcohol abstinence monitoring orders in domestic violence cases, given that they are proving so successful with respect to other violent offences?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the important role that, tragically, alcohol can play in cases of domestic abuse and violence. It also causes wider harms. Dealing with the abuse of alcohol is a key part of our modern crime prevention strategy, which is why we are looking carefully at what more we can do to keep people safe, including through new measures on alcohol.

  • The reluctance of victims of domestic abuse to complain, and the law’s chronic failure to prevent serial abusers, are distressingly commonplace. Does the Minister agree that a domestic violence register of convicted repeat offenders would help the police to save lives?

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I do not accept the premise at all. Confidence in the police is higher than it has ever been, and more and more victims are feeling confident enough to come forward. We see more victims coming are forward, more prosecutions and greater use of the powers that we already have to keep women safe. As I said, we are leaving no stone unturned and we are very ambitious about what more we can do to keep women and girls throughout the country safe.

  • I call Wera Hobhouse.

  • Will the Minister confirm—

  • Order. The hon. Lady needs to ask Question 2.

  • Leaving the EU: Equalities and Human Rights

  • 2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on equalities and human rights. [901056]

  • I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on ensuring that all the protections in the Equality Act 2010, including the public sector equality duty, will continue to apply after we have left the EU.

  • I apologise for being a newbie, Mr Speaker.

    Will the Minister confirm that pregnant women will not be obliged to work night shifts after we have left the EU? They currently enjoy such a protection under EU law.

  • EU equalities law has already been overwhelmingly transposed into UK law via the Equality Act. As I said, Ministers must also comply with a public sector equality duty. On workers’ rights more broadly, the Prime Minister was clear in her Lancaster House speech, which she made some time ago, that one of our key priorities will be to protect and maintain them.

  • As the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, may I say how heartening it is to see seven Ministers present to respond to Women and Equalities questions, which shows the importance that the Government attach to these issues?

    Ministers have been consistent and clear that their policy objective with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is for things to stay the same after we leave the EU, with our having time to debate policy changes after that point. It is clear, however, that the removal of the charter of fundamental rights in itself creates a significant change in the underpinning of equality rights. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can avoid that unintended consequence?

  • The right hon. Lady should take it as a compliment that seven Ministers are required to cope with her.

  • As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) points out, the Government are committed to this agenda, which is why so many Ministers are prepared to answer questions this morning. She raises an important point. I have been very clear that there will be no backsliding on our equalities agenda and law as we leave the EU. I know that my right hon. Friend has a meeting with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) next week. That will be an important time to discuss how we can make sure that there will be no backsliding.

  • Very unusually, I had not heard the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but I have now.

  • Many protections in EU law, especially equality rights, have already been written into UK law. Does the Minister therefore agree that our leaving the EU should not cause any detrimental impact on or removal of the rights and equalities that we currently enjoy, and will merely present us with the opportunity to further improve the law wherever we in the UK see fit to do so?

  • Absolutely, and it is worth my pointing out that in several areas, UK law already goes beyond existing EU law.

  • Does the excellent Secretary of State agree that one of the many advantages of coming out of the EU is the fact that this Parliament will be able to improve equalities and human rights without being restricted by the European Union?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have been one of those countries around the world that has constantly stood up for human rights and that has been credible because of our human rights record and our legal framework. We are determined that there will be no backsliding. I have no doubt that this Government, and future Governments, will want to continue to make progress.

  • Women’s State Pension Age

  • 3. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of changes to the state pension age on women born in the 1950s. [901057]

  • The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has regular discussions with the Minister for Women and Equalities, but the Government will not be revisiting the state pension age for women born in the 1950s who are affected by the Pensions Acts 1995, 2007 and 2011.

  • What encouragement are the Government giving to the 1,524 women in my constituency of Hull West and Hessle who are suffering because of the lack of notice given by this Government about changes to the state pension age?

  • The Government have already introduced transitional arrangements at a cost of £1.1 billion. The cost of reversing the Acts would be in excess of £70 billion and create an inequality between women and men.

  • What is the Minister’s view of any proposal to change legislation that would then favour women as opposed to men in pensions legislation?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am not a legal professional, but I think that any amendment to the current legislation that creates a new inequality between men and women would unquestionably be highly dubious as a matter of law.

  • 8. Does the Minister recognise that signatures to early-day motions in this House since the general election show that there is cross-party support, and probably majority support in this House, for justice for the Women Against State Pension Inequality? If and when the WASPI question comes to the House on a Backbench Business motion or an Opposition day motion, will the Government sit on their hands like they have been doing, or will they allow the House to express its will? [901063]

  • The hon. Gentleman is very right to raise that question. Clearly, there is support on that matter across the House. However, it is also right that arrangements for the state pension system reflect welcome changes in average life expectancy and address long-standing inequalities in pension age. If we had not equalised state pension ages, women would be expected to spend more than 40% of their adult life in retirement.

  • Like scores of other 1950s women, I have struggled to get any information on the availability of apprenticeships that a Minister in a Westminster Hall debate on 5 July suggested were an option for struggling 1950s women. Can the Minister confirm whether she agrees with her colleague and thinks that his suggestion of an apprenticeship was really an appropriate one for tens of thousands of women currently being denied their pensions?

  • I am delighted that the hon. Lady is considering taking on an apprenticeship, because a very large number of women over the age of 60 are. I do not think that anybody should be forced to take one on, but those who want to should be practically encouraged to do so. Between August 2016 and April 2017, the number of apprenticeship starts for people aged 60 and over was 3,500, an increase on the previous year.

  • Discrimination Claims: Tribunal Fees

  • 4. What steps she is taking to ensure that women who were unable to pursue pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims due to the cost of employment tribunal fees are able to bring forward their cases. [901058]

  • Anyone who believes that they were prevented from bringing an employment tribunal claim because they could not afford to pay the fee can make an application to the tribunal for permission to bring a claim out of time. The tribunal would then consider the application and apply the relevant legal criteria.

  • The Minister is in a muddle. He is supposed to be grouping the question with No. 6, which was the request of his Department to my office to which I agreed, but which he appears to have forgotten.

  • I apologise, Mr Speaker. With permission, I would like to group questions 4 and 6, and I refer to the answer that I have just given.

  • 6. What steps she is taking to ensure that women who were unable to pursue pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims due to the cost of employment tribunal fees are able to bring forward their cases. [901060]

  • The Government’s research into maternity-related discrimination shows that one in nine mothers reports that they were either dismissed, made redundant or treated so badly that they had to leave their job. Following the Supreme Court case brought by Unison, the union I used to work for, what specific action are the Government taking to identify those who could have brought claims but did not because the Government acted unlawfully?

  • The Supreme Court judgment was clear on fees and we immediately stopped charging fees in response. We are putting in place the detailed arrangements to ensure that those who paid fees are refunded. We will shortly announce the practical detail that the hon. Gentleman is looking for. As I indicated a moment ago, those who could not apply to the tribunal because of the fee will now have the opportunity to do so.

  • I understand that the Government are considering how to approach the system, but will the Minister rule out any type of up-front fee to access justice in employment tribunals in the future?

  • We are clear that we are accepting the Supreme Court judgment. If the hon. Gentleman would like to read the judgment, he will see that it makes clear that there can be, in principle, a place for fees in the justice system. We need to strike the right balance between taxpayers subsidising the justice system and those who benefit from it making a contribution, but only when they are able to do so.

  • May I first ask the House to send our best get well wishes to our spokesperson on women and equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), who cannot be here today because she was in a car accident last week and is recovering at home?

    I was glad to see the Supreme Court rule out tribunal fees because it has been a case of justice denied for so many thousands of women over the past years. There are still barriers for women accessing tribunal fees. The March of the Mummies will take place on Tuesday 31 October to ask specifically for an extension from three to six months to allow women more time to apply for the tribunal fees. Will the Minister meet me and those campaigners on 31 October?

  • First, I join the hon. Lady in extending my condolences and those of the Government to her colleague.

    In relation to the Supreme Court judgment, I have to correct her. It was the balance of the fees that was an issue, and the judgment made it clear that it was, in principle, possible to have fees, but I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and look at her suggestions.

  • Gender Pay Gap

  • 5. What steps the Government are taking to tackle the gender pay gap. [901059]

  • The gender pay gap is the lowest it has ever been, but we can do better. We have introduced mandatory gender pay gap reporting for the first time and large employers now have six months left to report their gender pay gaps.

  • The gender pay gap remains as high as 34% in the east midlands. In my region in Wales, it is now 18%. That is largely due to the efforts of the Welsh Assembly Government in trying to support organisations in Wales, funded by the European social fund. What assessment has the Minister made of the use of that fund to help to close the gender pay gap? Will she examine this, to replicate it post-Brexit?

  • We are of course looking at all the European funds we currently have, and how we can best ensure that we continue the work that they are doing post-Brexit. We can all do a lot more on this specific issue. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the recent Government Equalities Office employer events, which we have done around the country; I think he attended the one in Cardiff. The key thing is that the transparency requirement now on companies will, as much as anything else, force them to be clear-cut about where their policies lie. We are already seeing that, when that light of transparency is shone on the data, companies are producing action plans that are really making a difference.

  • Are the Government as committed to eliminating the part-time gender pay gap as they claim to be about eliminating the full-time gender pay gap? Will the Minister set out exactly what they are doing to eliminate the part-time gender pay gap?

  • We are absolutely committed to eliminating all the different gender pay gaps. Through the transparency work, we will ensure that companies produce clear-cut action plans that cover all their employees, whether or not they have flexible working arrangements.

  • Two days ago, the First Secretary of State made a statement to the House on the race disparity audit. He also told the House, as a white man with privilege, that he knew more about race than me—a black women with lived experiences—and Opposition Members, who are a broad church. As there are seven Ministers here today, will the Minister for Women and Equalities highlight seven of her Government’s policies, new or old, over the past seven years—seven is the magic number—that have helped to narrow the inequalities in our country?

  • Income inequality is at its lowest level. In the Department of Education alone, we have done significant work to ensure that black and minority ethnic pupils are doing better in school. Like me, the hon. Lady is a London MP and will know that there have been dramatic improvements in educational outcomes for BME communities here in London. More young people from BME communities are going to university than before. In fact, the ethnic group that is now the least likely to go to university in the UK is that of white British males. We are taking action across the board. The important thing about the race disparity audit is that, alongside things such as gender pay gap reporting, it is about using transparency to shine a light on areas where inequalities do still exist. I would like to think that we can work together as a Parliament to tackle those inequalities.

  • Childcare Responsibilities

  • 7. What steps the Government are taking to support parents with childcare responsibilities. [901062]

  • In relation to progress on childcare, we are taking unprecedented steps to support parents with caring responsibilities, whether by providing tax-free childcare or doubling the provision of free childcare from 15 to 30 hours, and nearly 80% of parents in the early-delivery areas with 30 hours reported that the extended hours had given them more flexibility in their work choices. Of course, the right to request flexible working is also helping parents to balance work and care between them in a way that works for them and their families.

  • Does the Minister agree that it is important that the message goes out that mothers and fathers who choose to stay at home full time to care for their children, and who often care for those in their wider families and communities, are just as valued and appreciated for their contribution to society as those who of us who go out to work?

  • I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The approach in our Government policy agenda has been to give choice and to enable families to make the choices that are right for them. For many people, that will involve staying at home, and that is a choice that we also want to support. We have taken steps to equalise the choice for those parents who want to stay in the workplace and continue with careers, so that they can do so while also bringing up a family.

  • Caring for a terminally ill child can be absolutely devastating for parents. Currently, however, parents in this circumstance are not able to access disability living allowance mobility payments when the child is under three, despite having to carry about often very bulky medical equipment. Will the Government overcome this anomaly and support parents in this absolutely devastating situation?

  • Our hearts go out to any parent in what is, as the hon. Lady says, a devastating situation. We have a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions here today, who I know will take note of what she said. More broadly, we are spending nearly £3.6 billion on carer’s allowance every year. However, I think that we all recognise the responsibility we have, as a Government and a community, to support those who are carrying out such vital roles.

  • Topical Questions

  • T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [901087]

  • Last month, I was delighted to be able to speak at the Financial Times Women at the Top summit, urging business leaders to fast-track their plans to address their gender pay gaps.

    Similarly, on a separate matter, we will mark the centenary of voting rights being extended to women for the first time, by creating a new £5 million fund to help celebrate this landmark occasion. That will include a £1.5 million scheme specifically for projects run by local and community groups across England. We will set out plans for that shortly, and I hope that many communities will take part practically in those centenary celebrations.

    I am delighted to say that the number of girls taking science, technology, engineering and maths A-levels—we saw the results this year—increased by 20% between 2010 and 2017.

    Elsewhere on our policy agenda, we have now received over 100,000 responses to the nationwide survey on the views and experiences of LGBT people living in the UK.

  • The High Court judgment on Monday found that the Government’s 2016 redefinition of torture for immigration purposes was unlawful. Will the Government now widen the definition of torture so that vulnerable women who have been victims of abuse and trafficking who are currently held in Yarl’s Wood can be immediately released?

  • We can be proud of this country’s record on not only fighting torture abroad and improving human rights but being a sanctuary and home for asylum seekers. In relation to the court case the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I have no doubt that Ministers are looking at the judgment carefully and will want to address the issues it raises.

  • Earlier this week, we saw new information that shows that the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence against girls in our schools is increasing, and that is a year after the Women and Equalities Committee published its inquiry into the subject. What more will the Government do to make sure that their policies are working to keep girls and children safe in our schools?

  • As my right hon. Friend points out, we have taken a range of steps already, but the recent report highlights again how significant an issue this is for young people now. As social media becomes a staple part of young people’s lives to a greater and greater extent, those risks will only grow. She will be aware that we are trying to make sure that the guidance that we provide to schools remains up to date, and that sits alongside other areas of action from the Government such as updating the relationship and sex education guidance. We are clear that if schools see this happening, they should report it to children’s social services or the police—it is vital that they take action.

  • Schoolgirls in Yorkshire and elsewhere have had to use toilet paper and even socks stuffed into their underwear because families cannot afford sanitary protection due to poverty pay and welfare cuts. Will the Secretary of State consider matching our commitment to set aside funding to tackle period poverty and ensure that girls never miss out on their education just because they are having periods?

  • Schools already have discretion over how they can use their funding. If they want to make sanitary products available to disadvantaged students, they are free to do so. The House will recognise that the issue goes far wider than the role of schools: it is also about making sure that parents understand the need to play their role in educating their children and, separately, the clear-cut duty that they have to comply with the law and make sure that their children are attending school.

  • The Secretary of State referred to the welcome increase in the number of girls doing STEM subjects at A-level. What measures will the Government take to increase the number of girls choosing careers that require STEM subjects?

  • The work of the Careers & Enterprise Company will be vital in making sure that employers are plugged into schools and helping to shape careers advice at a much earlier stage, including in primary schools, than in the past. It is welcome that we are now truly building that pipeline of women who will be able to go into those careers. I opened the National College for High Speed Rail earlier this week, and many girls were starting their apprenticeships there, but there is much more work to be done.

  • T2. While I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiative to tackle ethnic inequality in targeted areas, including Kirklees, can the Minister explain what that will actually do to improve the lives of my constituents? [901088]

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is important that we look closely at the findings of the racial disparity audit that was released this week, and work across the Government in every Department—including the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education—to bring forward positive changes to address some of the very uncomfortable findings in the audit.

  • We have made incredible progress since women won the right to vote, and I am especially proud of my female colleagues and Ministers and, of course, our second female Prime Minister. What more will the Minister do to increase the number of women in Parliament?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Interestingly, for all political parties—much of this is down to political parties—it is about the pipeline. Only 17% of council leaders are women; only one third of councillors are women; and, shockingly, of the board members of combined authorities, only 4% are women. Next year represents a fantastic opportunity not only to celebrate the centenary, but for all elected representatives to encourage more women to enter public life.

  • I call Catherine West to ask her topical question. Get in there—go for it!

  • Sorry, Mr Speaker, but I asked my question earlier; it was about upskirting.

  • Yes, but the hon. Lady is No. 3 at topicals, and therefore if she is fizzing with a further inquiry with which she wishes to favour the House, she is welcome to do so. It is not compulsory.

  • T3. May I therefore press the Minister on the period question, because I find her attitude a little harsh and I wonder whether she will review it in the light of what has been said today? I think the matter needs a second look. I think her approach is a little harsh in terms of, first, schools having to stump up money for sanitary pads and, secondly, blaming parents. Periods are just one of those things; we cannot blame parents for periods. [901089]

  • The hon. Lady is really getting going now. She required only a modest encouragement.

  • As I said, this is clearly an important area, but we have to recognise that we need to allow schools some discretion about how they deal with this alongside a range of other specific issues that the pupils that they teach may face. I do not agree with the hon. Lady; I do think that parents have a responsibility to play their role in making sure that children understand how to approach adult life.

  • The publication of this week’s racial disparity audit contained many interesting findings, including that Chinese pupils do particularly well at school and that white British males are under-represented in university applications. How will the Minister promote and replicate the first issue and tackle the second?

  • My hon. Friend is quite right. He will be aware that our opportunity area work—bearing in mind the communities in which it is being done—is doing a lot to address those issues. We have excellent data in the Department for Education to enable us to look at where we are doing well at improving outcomes for white working-class boys, but we absolutely have to do a lot better. That is why we are taking a much more place-based approach to our education delivery.

  • Seema Malhotra? Not here.

  • T5. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about adding misogyny to the list of hate crimes? [901091]

  • We keep all public order offences under constant review. If the hon. Lady would like to make a submission in relation to that, I would be happy to look at it.

  • It is important to ensure that our girls, as well as our boys, get a good education, and the best way to do that is to ensure that we have good teachers. What is the Minister doing to ensure that more girls, as well as boys, go into teaching?

  • We are determined to increase the number of high-quality graduates coming into teaching, whether they are male or female. We have a series of generous tax-free bursaries of up to £28,000 to encourage the best graduates to come into teaching. We have a very strong economy, so we are competing with industry and commerce for those graduates, but we are doing everything we can to get more good people into teaching.

  • T6. Can Ministers say what more can be done to eliminate the cruel and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation? [901092]

  • As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have campaigned on this for many years, and we can be proud of the role that the UK has played in helping to tackle this atrocious practice overseas as well as at home. We have introduced FGM protection orders, and most recently the Girl summit was co-hosted by the Department for International Development, of which I was Secretary of State at the time, and by the then Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister. There is much more work to be done, but we are more on track than we have ever been in the past. We are, importantly, working with communities on the ground to change cultural attitudes.

  • We are out of time, but I am going to take a question from one more hon. Member who missed out earlier—Gerard Killen.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following yesterday’s High Court decision to allow a full judicial review of the Government’s policy, does the Minister agree that it is time for the UK to join countries such as Ireland and Australia in issuing gender-neutral passports?

  • I know that the Home Office will be studying the Court ruling carefully. The Office for National Statistics is also looking generally at how we approach data in relation to gender. I simply say that although we need to reflect the modern world in which we live, I hope that a bit of common sense can be brought to the matter.

  • Prisons Policy/HMP Long Lartin

  • (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on prisons policy and the recent disturbance in Her Majesty’s Prison Long Lartin.

  • I can confirm that there was an incident at HMP Long Lartin last night, and that it has now been resolved without injury to staff or prisoners. The incident is of course of concern, and we will need to investigate properly what drove the actions of a relatively small number of individuals. It will take a number of weeks to ensure that all the intelligence is properly examined, and that we learn lessons and apply them to prevent any reoccurrence.

    We cannot speculate on the cause of this incident, but we know that the prison was running a full regime and that this was not linked to any shortfalls in prison officer staffing levels. Its last inspection report found the prison to be “calm and controlled”, and that although there were improvements to be made, it was “both competent and effective.”

    The incident remained contained on a single wing of the prison, and it involved 81 prisoners. I want to commend the actions of the staff, who acted swiftly in response to the incident. They locked down the wing, ensured the rest of prison remained settled and prevented any public protection issues or escalation. Our specialist staff were deployed to the prison from across the country. They swiftly resolved the incident in just over an hour, securing all prisoners without injury. Once again, they demonstrated their bravery and professionalism, for which we should all be very grateful.

    We do not tolerate violence in our prisons, and we are clear that those responsible will be referred to the police and could spend longer behind bars.

  • I thank the Minister for his remarks. It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State has more pressing problems than prison disturbances and the axing of Conservative manifesto prisons policy, which I shall come on to shortly.

    Last night’s disturbance at HMP Long Lartin marks another low point in the prisons policy of this Government. The House will no doubt recall the frightening scenes on our televisions from HMP Birmingham last year. That was no one-off, with many other disturbances in recent months, but when it involves a high-security prison housing some of our most dangerous prisoners, it is especially concerning. Does the Minister believe that forcing through hundreds of millions of pounds of budget cuts to our prisons in recent years has left our prisons more safe or less safe?

    Seven in 10 of our prisons are now overcrowded, and the situation is getting worse. The former director general of the Prison Service has warned that the recent surge in numbers is adding to the pressures on a prison system that he says is

    “already woefully short of space”.

    Does the Minister believe that prisoners spending more and more time locked in their cells is making our prisons more safe or less safe?

    Government cuts have seen over 6,000 frontline prison officers cut. Despite recent Government boasting about new recruits, one in three of our prisons has lost frontline staff this year alone. Does the Minister believe that fewer and fewer staff dealing with more and more dangerous prisoners leaves prisons more safe or less safe?

    Yesterday, the head of the Prison Service ruled out shutting down and selling off dilapidated Victorian jails across England and Wales. This amounts to shelving a 2017 Conservative general election manifesto promise. Does the Minister believe that housing more and more people in Victorian conditions will leave our prisons more safe or less safe? Finally, will the Government apologise to the country for yet another broken manifesto promise?

  • Let us be clear about what happened yesterday and remind ourselves that we are dealing with category A prisoners in Long Lartin, which contains some of the most challenging and difficult prisoners within the estate. Prison staff work incredibly hard to deal with these prisoners—many of them are extremely difficult individuals—and to manage them successfully on a day-to-day basis.

    Last night’s disturbance was an incredibly rare occurrence, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Inevitably, the nature of our business is such that the situation can become volatile. This situation was isolated—isolated to one wing—and, as I have said, the prison was running a full regime. When situations become volatile, staff in prisons sometimes need extra support, and in this situation our specialist trained prison staff were needed to support the staff in the prison to resolve the incident. They did that very quickly, without harm to staff or prisoners.

    In response to the questions about staffing, the shadow spokesperson will be aware that we are investing in our staff in prisons. We are investing £100 million to add 2,500 prison officers by the end of next year. We are on track to deliver that commitment. This year alone we have added a net 868 new prison officers.

    The hon. Gentleman is very aware, from his conversations with the chief inspector of prisons and a number of prison governors, that the long-standing challenges facing our prisons are not just about staffing, but new psychoactive substances that the prison ombudsman himself has described as a game-changer for the security and stability of our prisons. We know that staffing would make a huge difference, which is why we are making huge efforts to increase not just the number of staff but the ratio of staff to prison officers, so that one prison officer has a caseload of six prisoners to help with rehabilitation.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about our commitment to close old Victorian prisons and add new prison places within the course of this Parliament. Our first priority is to ensure public protection and provide accommodation for all those sentenced by the courts, but that commitment very much remains.

  • Long Lartin prison is in my constituency. I thank the prisons Minister for keeping me up to date on developments throughout the night and for his comments about the professionalism of prison staff. I am relieved that nobody appears to have been seriously injured in this incident and I am very pleased by the speed at which the incident was dealt with. May I ask the Minister for reassurance that the incident will be properly investigated and that any appropriate action will be taken?

  • I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that there will be a full and proper investigation. There is no point in speculating today on the exact causes of the incident, but there will be a full investigation and lessons learnt. When incidents happen, it is important that we not only deal with them but learn lessons for the future, and we will be doing that.

  • This is not the first time in recent years that the Government have been called to account in this Chamber for trouble in prisons in England. I note that the Prison Governors Association expressed concern about the fact that this trouble took place in a high security prison and reminded the Government that it had called for an independent public inquiry into the state of prisons in England due to cuts.

    In Scotland, we have been fortunate to avoid such problems due to record investment in modernising and improving the prison estate, with the Scottish National party Government spending almost twice as much as the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration on modernising the prison estate. Will the Minister accept an invitation to visit prisons in Scotland to see the good work being done there to avoid this sort of trouble?

  • I will almost certainly accept the invitation to visit prisons in Scotland. We should always learn from best practice, wherever it is. That is not to say that what is happening in Scotland is necessarily best practice, but I have an open mind. I reiterate that we have a £1.3 billion commitment to modernise our prison estate in England and Wales over the course of this Parliament.

  • It is good to see twice as many Ministers on the Treasury Bench as there are spokesmen on the Opposition Front Bench. I thank the Minister for his statement and observe that this is a prison that was described by Her Majesty’s chief inspector as calm and well-controlled. That indicates an underlying issue about the volatility of the prison population. Will the Minister confirm that he is prepared to revisit some of the recommendations made in the Justice Committee’s report on prison safety in the previous Parliament? Will he look again at the way we handle security and mental health, and how we sentence and treat vulnerable offenders who go into the prison population?

  • I hold the recommendations of the Justice Committee very dearly to my heart. We will of course look at all its recommendations. The Chair of the Select Committee makes a very important point about the prison population. We not only hold some very difficult individuals, but some very troubled individuals. Dealing with issues such as mental health is a key part of dealing with the security and stability of our prisons. It is not just about security solutions.

  • Two of the three murders in the prison system last year were at Long Lartin. Last week, two individuals were convicted of the murder of a prisoner committed in June in Long Lartin. In the last four years, there have been four murders in Long Lartin. Why does Long Lartin seem to have more murders than any other prison in the country?

  • The right hon. Gentleman, a former prisons Minister, will be aware that Long Lartin holds some of the most difficult individuals. It is a category A prison holding some of the most notorious prisoners this country has ever incarcerated. The prisons ombudsman investigates every death, and referring to its report will be the best way to understand what has occurred.

  • I am sure the whole House will want to thank the Tornado team that restored order at Long Lartin last night. I think there is considerable support on both sides of the House and among the public for our taking yet further action on returning foreign national offenders. If the Minister did that, he would create headroom to allow that extra calm that the prison system needs at the moment. I know the numbers have improved, but will he say what further action we can take in that area?

  • I thank my hon. Friend, a former prisons Minister, for his question. Yes, the number of foreign national offenders returned to their home countries has increased—I think the number is about 6,000, but I will confirm the exact number in writing. It is the highest figure in recent years, but we continue to redouble our efforts. A cross-Government group comprising the policing Minister and the Immigration Minister, as well as Ministers from the Home Office and the Foreign Office, is working actively with foreign Governments to increase the rate at which foreign national offenders are returned to their home country.

  • While it is reassuring to hear the Minister say that no staff were physically hurt during the disturbance, these events are not supposed to happen and can be terrifying for the staff present. Will he make sure that staff receive the support they might need in the coming weeks to deal with what happened and that no staff member is forced to come back to work before they are ready?

  • The staff were brilliant last night and are brilliant today. We also have an excellent governor, to whom I have conveyed my full support. Yes, we need to give them all the support they need, and I will put it on the record again that we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for managing on a day-to-day basis not just isolated incidences such as last night’s, but a very difficult and challenging situation in our prisons.

  • I am grateful for the Minister’s confirmation that this was an isolated incident confined to one section of the prison and that the public were not at risk. Will he also confirm that the staffing level in that section of the prison was as normal?

  • I can confirm not only that there was a full regime but that the number of prison officer staff on the wing was as normal.

  • Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, said this week that our prisons were full to bursting. In the lowest-category prisons, will the Minister consider trying to deal with this overcrowding and reduce prison numbers safely and sensibly by introducing a presumption against short sentences, as has been successively implemented in Scotland?

  • That is a very interesting question. As a former Minister, he will be aware that it is not for the Minister to pronounce on sentencing policy at the Dispatch Box. Of course, we want to reduce the prison population, but one of the best ways to do that is to reduce reoffending rates and to end the conveyor belt into crime by intervening before people end up in custody. That is more effective than arbitrarily letting people out of prison.

  • If the Minister wants a zero-tolerance approach, may I suggest he change the law so that anybody involved in riots in prisons or assaults or attacks on prison officers is no longer eligible for early release but has to serve the full sentence handed down by the courts? That would give prison officers some of the support they deserve and would perhaps act as a deterrent to these appalling kinds of behaviour.

  • My hon. Friend has asked this question of me a number of times. He will be aware that a prisoner who is a perpetrator of a crime in prison will be prosecuted for that specific crime and, if convicted, will serve that sentence, and that has certainly happened in the case of the perpetrators of the Birmingham riots last year. That is a fair and just way to deal with this kind of situation.

  • There is of course no procedural barrier to repeat questions, which many people regard as an example of dogged and insistent campaigning.

  • That was a really interesting answer, because the heroin dealer Ian Paul Manuel beat up prison officer Adam Jackson at Kirklevington prison in Stockton, and the courts gave him a conditional discharge and ordered him to pay £20 compensation to the officer. Does the Minister agree that such a slap on the wrist is totally inadequate, that it offers no deterrent at all to the thugs who turn on prison officers, and that it is time the courts were given clear advice that they, too, have a responsibility to protect prison officers?

  • Absolutely: our prison officers do a very difficult and challenging job, and when they are assaulted or threatened at work, we should follow the course of the law to its full extent. In order to do that—[Interruption]—if the hon. Gentleman would listen—there are a number of things we need to get right, such as collecting evidence, making sure that the local police force is on hand to investigate the crime, and then getting the courts to prosecute it as they should. We are working to ensure that those procedures are followed, so that when a prison officer is assaulted in their line of work, the full force of the law is brought to bear on whoever the perpetrator is.

  • Clearly the background to this particular disturbance will be investigated, but can the Minister outline what the Government are doing to prevent the use of drones to bring contraband into prisons?

  • Drones are an emerging and serious threat to our prisons, especially as they carry an increasing payload as they develop. We are working with a number of drone manufacturers to use technology to stop drones, but we are also focusing on the law enforcement aspect. Before I became the Prisons Minister, there had been only one conviction of a person flying a drone into a prison. This year alone there have been 11 convictions of people flying drones into prison. That is because we are working with the Home Office forensics team, examining drones that fail, going after the perpetrators through the forensic work we are doing and ensuring that they face the full force of the law. It has become apparent that those involved in serious and organised crime are often behind such activity, and we are sending a signal that we will go after them.

  • Will the Minister visit Amsterdam for a relaxing weekend, in order to study the special prison crisis they have in Holland, which is a lack of prisoners to fill their prisons? They have had to close 19 of them down. Will he examine the contrast between the intelligent, pragmatic policies on drugs of the Dutch over the last 50 years and the harsh, unintelligent policies that we have had in this country? The Government there have shown a welcome desire to reflect on the failed drug policies here and introduce new measures that reflect the reality of the situation, in having drug houses that can be used and possibly looking again at imprisoning people for using the medicine of their choice. Is it not time we decided who has got it right over the last five years: the Netherlands or us?

  • I think the Government Whips would be slightly concerned if I accepted another invitation to go abroad to visit prisons, but the substance of the hon. Gentleman’s point is very interesting when it comes to dealing with people who are on drugs in prison. It is about dealing with the supply side and the demand side, but also getting people off drugs. Holland clearly has a very different approach to its prison system. As I have said in relation to Scotland, I am willing to learn from all different jurisdictions to see how we can improve what we are doing here.

  • Does the Minister intend to make extra resources or help available to prison governors at high-security prisons, to ensure that our prisons are calm and well controlled?

  • Our high-security estate does not lack the resources that it needs for the purposes of security or maintaining a regime. In fact, such prisons have higher staffing ratios because of the difficult people with whom they deal. Of course, if situations change and they need more staff or any other resources to cope with that, such resources will always be available.

  • The Minister simply cannot pretend that we will not see further outbreaks of this kind of rioting in our prisons, and he cannot pretend that prisons are not in any case regularly very violent places. As long as we have overcrowded prisons and too few staff, these events will continue to take place. The Minister must look seriously at non-custodial options for the courts when it comes to low-level criminals for whom such options would be more effective, as well as being cheaper. Why is that not already being done?

  • I am not suggesting for a second that such incidents will not be repeated. We try to mitigate and manage risk, but there is always a chance that something like this could happen again. As I have said, what is happening in the high-security estate is a rare occurrence. Of course, as I have also said, the level of violence in our prisons is too high, but dealing with the issues that have led to the current situation—drones, drugs and illegal mobile phones—will take time. We are investing in staff and our intelligence network, we are working on drone detection equipment and we are working on mobile-phone blockers, but there is no silver bullet to deal with the issue in our prisons, and doing so will take time.

    No one here is saying that this will not happen again. We must all be frank with ourselves: prisons are difficult places with some very difficult people to manage, and because of the particular set of circumstances that we face, it will take time to resolve the situation.

  • Of course it is of concern that an event like this should take place at a high-security prison. However, if there is one conclusion we can draw, surely it is that the method of dealing with such events that is available to the Minister through the Tornado team is effective when tested, which, in itself, should give the public some reassurance.

  • That is an excellent point. The Tornado teams are the bravest of the brave. As we saw last night, they deal with some of the most difficult situations, and the fact that they can be mobilised relatively quickly to arrive at a prison and offer support to its frontline staff is testimony to their effectiveness and professionalism. Of course we would prefer not to have to deploy them, but when there are problems and a need to protect the public and prison officers and maintain stability and order in our prisons, they are second to none.

  • The Minister says that the Government are investing in increasing prison officer numbers, but they are only doing so after slashing funding and causing the problem in the first place. They are only 868 officers into their 2,500 target, but in any event, given an increase of more than 1,300 in the prison population in England and Wales, is 2,500 enough?

  • The 2,500 target is obviously based on careful analysis of what we need in order to deliver the offender management model, which means one prison officer having a six-prisoner caseload, and it should be capable of allowing us to do so.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the measures that have been taken to tackle drugs in prisons, which are of particular concern. Will he update the House on the measures that are being taken to deal with new psychoactive substances, which have added an extra layer to the problem?

  • New psychoactive substances are a game-changer. They are particularly difficult to detect. There have been instances of letters to prisoners being impregnated with them: looking at such a letter makes it possible to inhale the drug and to suffer the adverse consequences.

    We have trained 300 sniffer dogs to help us with detection, and the UK is the first jurisdiction to develop a test for such drugs. We are redoubling our efforts to deal with the supply side by increasing investment in intelligence. We are investing £3 million, not just at establishment level but across the prison estate, so that we can deal with what is essentially a product of serious and organised crime. People want to get drugs into our prisons because they sell at a higher mark-up: 10 times the price outside.

  • I fear the Minister might have misunderstood the situation described earlier by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), because the main difference in Scottish Government policy has not been to suddenly release prisoners early; it has been to give the courts a way of sentencing and punishing low-level offenders without sending them to prison in the first place. Every Member in this House representing a Scottish constituency has seen significant community benefit work carried out in the local area by people who would otherwise have been in prison. I hope the Minister accepts the invitation to meet Scottish Ministers to talk about the investment programme, and I urge him to also speak to others involved in the justice and prison system in Scotland and find out that—although I appreciate this would be a difficult decision for a Conservative Government to take—moving to a presumption against short sentences reduces offending.

  • No one could accuse the hon. Gentleman of excluding any consideration that might in any way at any time to any degree be judged material in his question.

  • I fully understood the question posed by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). Would we rather have a situation in which interventions in the community work and people do not end up in custody? Of course, yes. Would we rather invest there before people ended up in custody? Of course, yes. In this country we have a presumption against custody, but after several repeat offences judges have no choice but to send a person into custody. That means we have obviously got to improve the work that happens in our community, but we cannot arbitrarily let people out of prison, which is what I assume the question of the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) to be about.

  • Will my hon. Friend update the House not on his aim but on the actual latest recruitment figures for prison officers, and explain how that will help improve safety and security in these troublesome areas?

  • The 868 net new prison officers is not an aim: these are people who have been trained, who are on the payroll, and who are being deployed on wings as we speak. We are on track to deliver the target of 2,500; the commitment is do that by the end of next year. We are making rapid progress, but there is still a long way to go in bringing stability and order to our prisons overall.

  • I rise as co-chair of the justice unions cross-party group. We all know that the numbers of assaults on prison staff have reached an all-time high in recent months. The Minister has sung the praises of the recruitment drive for new prison officers, but will he explain how new raw recruits are being prepared to cope with the frankly lethal results of long-term cuts in English and Welsh prisons?

  • We have some excellent trainees coming into the Prison Service. For example, one trainee I met had spent seven years in the NHS and was being deployed in HMP Woodhill, a prison where there have been high rates of self-harm and also self-inflicted deaths. That person is more experienced in dealing with the problems that prison is facing today than many who have been in the Prison Service for a long time. These are not raw recruits; in some cases, they are bringing new experience to the Prison Service. In the second world war, someone could be a bomber pilot at the age of 20, so I think someone can serve in the Prison Service at the age of 21 as well.

  • If we want to significantly reduce the number of foreign nationals in our prisons, we need compulsory prisoner transfer agreements in place with countries around the world, so that these people are sent back to serve their sentence in prison in their own country—rather than being sent back when they have served the sentence already in this country.

    I understand that about half the foreign nationals in our prisons are EU nationals. While we are a member of the EU we are meant to be under the prisoner transfer directive. How many EU national prisoners have been sent back to the EU countries they came from?

  • I do not have that exact figure to hand, but am willing to write to my hon. Friend with the answer.

  • This month the inspectorate reported that there was a major under-prescription of methadone at Low Moss prison near my constituency and also of the anti-overdose drug naloxone. Will the Minister consider the impact that the under-prescribing of these critical drugs may have on the safety of the prison population?

  • If the hon. Gentleman is willing to write to me, I will be happy to look at that specific situation; it sounds as if it is a situation specific to that prison.

  • Business of the House

  • Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?

  • The business for the week commencing 16 October will be:

    Monday 16 October—Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill.

    Tuesday 17 October—The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration followed by a debate on a motion on the persecution of the Rohingya by the Myanmar Government. The subject of this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Wednesday 18 October—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Pause and Fix of roll-out of universal credit” on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.

    Thursday 19 October—Debate on a motion on the tobacco control plan, followed by a debate on a motion relating to valproate and foetal anti-convulsant syndrome. The subjects of these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 20 October—Private Members’ Bills.

    I am delighted that next week we will have the first debates from the Backbench Business Committee and the first private Members’ Bills sitting Friday, and I look forward to hearing many interesting contributions from Members right across the House. I take this opportunity to welcome all Members back after the conference recess for what I am sure will be a very busy time in the run-up to Christmas.

  • Order. I call Dr Julian Lewis.

  • As well as my weekly—[Interruption.]

  • Order. I do beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). I am not bothered about the right hon. Gentleman—I do not have to beg his pardon; I have known him for 34 years. It is no use his smiling beatifically at me. I call Valerie Vaz.

  • I am wearing pink, Mr Speaker, so I thought you might have noticed that I was sitting here.

    I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the forthcoming business. Did the she really announce the Second Reading of a Bill that had its First Reading and was published yesterday? I have looked at the Bill, and it is riddled with delegated powers to Ministers. Is this an acceptable way for the Government to behave—with no scrutiny? In addition, the Leader of the House has announced only one week’s business, whereas her predecessor used to announce the business for two weeks. Are the Government in such chaos that they do not even know what is happening from one week to the next?

    Mr Speaker, this is a fiasco. I think we are running out of words. There is a new lexicon for constitutional outrage—I will have to consult my thesaurus. This is terrible. It is actually quite a serious matter, because it is a contempt of the democratic process. I am trying to make light of it, to see whether we can get some movement, but we cannot.

    I note there was no reference in the Leader of the House’s statement to a debate on restoration and renewal. Whereas we all want the works to be done, Members on both sides of the House will be keen to see the Government’s motion, particularly as, in response to a written question tabled in the other place, Lord Young of Cookham said that a motion and debate was likely “in the autumn”, although he failed to say which year. Can the Leader of the House confirm that that will be autumn 2017?

    Will the Leader of the House ensure that the list of ministerial responsibilities is updated? The Prime Minister confirmed ministerial appointments on 20 June 2017, and I do not know whether there is any reason—we are waiting for an announcement—why the new list cannot be published. Members need to know which Minister to write to. The last list was published in December 2016.

    I want to clarify a question that was raised on Tuesday. An hon. Member asked, “Where does it say in ‘Erskine May’ that the Government have to vote?” Well, chapter 21 of “Erskine May” deals with debates. At the conclusion of a speech of a Member moving a motion, the Question is always proposed by you, Mr Speaker, or the Chair, and voices are called when the Question is put on every motion. The Government are either for or against a policy, and if they abstain, they have to tell the House—and the country—exactly what their position is on that policy. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) made a pertinent point in Tuesday’s debate when, as a true parliamentarian, he said that the Government could actually make a statement on what that policy was within a reasonable time, so they would not have needed to have do so before the conference recess.

    The Prime Minister yesterday referred to the Labour party conference, but she failed to mention that when she spoke at conference, there were cries of ,“F off!” Actually, that was people saying that the letter “F” had fallen off the back of the platform. Her Majesty’s Labour party had no problem with our F’s—ours was “For the many, not the few.” Maybe our message has more stick-ability.

    In yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Prime Minister failed to answer when the Leader of the Opposition asked whether she agreed with the former Prime Minister, John Major, when he said that universal credit is

    “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving.”

    Croydon Council, which piloted the roll-out, has said that it wants a pause. Mayor Burnham has said that homelessness will increase. The National Housing Federation has expressed its concerns. Members on both sides of the House and the Work and Pensions Committee have called for a Christmas truce. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions actually comes to the House on next week’s Opposition day with a position? People are being pushed into rent arrears and poverty.

    The Government are always saying that the NHS is not being privatised, so will the Leader of the House please say why Public Health England is reviewing whether free travel vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A should be stopped? Does she agree that they should remain free? Their removal could pose a huge risk to the community. May we have a statement to say that those vaccinations should remain free?

    It is National Libraries Week, and I would like the Chancellor’s autumn Budget to provide local authorities with enough money so that South Walsall, Pheasey and Pleck libraries in my constituency can be reopened. Our children are losing out.

    Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and I will be presenting on your behalf, Mr Speaker, a Speaker’s School Council Award in the 17-to-19 category to Queen Mary’s Grammar School in my constituency for its “change your mind” project. The aim of the scheme is to increase awareness and discussion of potential mental health issues, particularly for those in years 6 and 7 who are making the transition to senior school, and that message has already been taken out to six primary schools.

    Sunday is the last day for the old £1 coin, and David Pearce, a pupil at Queen Mary’s, was the winner of the contest to design the new coin. The winner was chosen by George Osborne, who in a nice move actually telephoned David to tell him. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing headteacher Tim Swain, the teachers, the parents and, of course, the pupils for their continued success and commitment to public service.

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on having a fantastic school in her constituency. I am sure we would all like to congratulate Queen Mary’s Grammar School on its excellent work on World Mental Health Day, and we have seen work done right across the country. I also pay tribute to the excellent efforts of the parent-infant partnerships right across the UK that help families who are struggling to bond with their newborn babies. Cross-party consensus has been reached on the need for help in the earliest years. I also congratulate the school on its excellent work in contributing to the shape and design of the new £1 coin. I was not aware of that, and the House sends many congratulations.

    The hon. Lady mentioned Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. I assure all Members that the Bill will be debated and scrutinised in absolutely the usual way. I have said many times at the Dispatch Box that I am absolutely keen to hear from Members if they have ideas about how to improve Bills or scrutiny. She also referred to the business for the week after next, but there has frequently been no such advance notice. We are hopeful for some good news from Northern Ireland that may allow for legislation to recreate the Northern Ireland Executive, and other legislation can also come up at the last minute. It is important that we provide as much notice as possible, but it is perfectly normal to announce only one week’s business.

    As for restoration and renewal, I can confirm that the debate will come in autumn 2017. The hon. Lady and I both sit on the House of Commons Commission, which you chair, Mr Speaker, so she will be well up to date with my determination to see some progress. I was not aware that the list of ministerial responsibilities had not been updated. I sincerely apologise to the House for that and will look into it straight after business questions.

    The hon. Lady talked about F’s, and I am slightly bemused by the various F’s that are going on. As far as I am aware, nobody is going to “F off” and that is good news. Whatever happened during the party conferences, the Conservative Prime Minister made some excellent policy announcements, not least the excellent proposals to reform the energy market, which is so much in the interests of this country’s consumers.

    The hon. Lady asked about universal credit. As she will be aware, the policy is designed to help people to get back into work. It reduces the complexity of six benefits by replacing them with one. It is incredibly important and is showing progress in helping people to get into work. We absolutely take on board the concerns: all of us as constituency MPs always have issues with individual constituents whom we need to do more to help during the implementation. Nevertheless, it is a good policy.

    I take on board the hon. Lady’s point about the review of vaccinations. I am not aware of that specific review of those particular vaccinations, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health will take her views on board.

    We are all keen on National Libraries Week and we will continue to support our libraries. We thank all those volunteers who do so much to keep our libraries going. That is a great thing to be doing.

  • I call the good doctor—Dr Julian Lewis.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is always worth waiting for a good opportunity.

    As well as my perennial request for a statement about what steps the Government will take to protect our Northern Ireland service veterans from pursuit in the courts, perhaps I may ask for a good news statement about the progress made by so many schools and colleges in GCSEs and A-levels in recent weeks and months.

  • I believe that that was two questions; we are all keeping count. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his assiduous focus on good news stories for this country. He is right to raise them and I certainly join him in congratulating all those who achieved so excellently in our schools and higher education colleges with GCSEs and A-levels, and in other forms of higher education such as apprenticeships, under this Conservative Government.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

    Well, that was a successful conference recess for the right hon. Lady and her party! They have all returned full of peace, love and understanding, all united—well, the Brexiteers are all united against the Chancellor anyway. We desperately need an urgent debate about the consequences of a no-deal hard Brexit if that lot are seriously contemplating going down that route. Already there are claims that that could cost up to £400 billion and suck 18% of GDP out of our economy. No country in history has ever considered committing economic self-harm on such a scale before. We need to know the Government’s views about the costs, and the issue needs urgently to be debated.

    What we do not need, Mr Speaker, is for you to have to grant any more emergency debates about the behaviour of the right hon. Lady. She needs to accept the Government’s minority status in the House, obey the democratic structures of the House, and seek not to circumvent our arrangements, which protect the rights of all Back Benchers.

    There has still been no statement on the situation in Catalonia. If people were getting beaten up for voting and ballot boxes were being confiscated anywhere else in the world, the Government would be indignant and a Minister would race to the Chamber. Just because the situation involves a supposed friend on mainland Europe does not excuse the Government from simply ignoring this appalling state repression.

    Lastly, when are we going to see the repeal Bill? We thought that the right hon. Lady would say a bit about that today. As she knows, the Bill is still unacceptable to the Scottish Government, who are not prepared to give it a legislative consent motion. We are not prepared to have our devolution settlement undermined, or our Parliament emasculated and made subject to this unprecedented power grab. What is she doing to fix the situation?

  • The hon. Gentleman has given us a tour de force. I think he was asking about expenditure in the event of all outcomes of the negotiations to leave the EU. He should feel absolutely reassured that, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, all outcomes are being considered, assessed and prepared for, including the spending of money as necessary on contingency arrangements to ensure that, whatever the outcome of negotiations, there is a strong and secure future for the United Kingdom. It is our intention, plan and expectation that we will have a very good outcome from EU withdrawal, along with our EU friends and neighbours. That is our absolute intention.

    The hon. Gentleman mentions Catalonia, and all Members were distressed, as were all people in the country, to see the level of violence there. It can never be right to inflict violence against innocent people, and that is absolutely clear. Spain is a key ally of the United Kingdom. It has a strong constitution, and it is absolutely right that it resolves this issue not only constitutionally, but in a secure way that respects the rights of individuals.

    The hon. Gentleman mentioned the repeal Bill—I believe he was asking when the sittings of the Committee of the whole House will be scheduled. What I can say to all Members is that some 300 amendments and 54 new clauses have been proposed—and rightly so—by Members who have concerns about the Bill. Those proposals are being closely evaluated. That is taking a bit of time so that we give proper, thoughtful, well considered responses to them. We will, of course, be bringing forward the Committee of the whole House just as soon as we are able to do so.

  • In January 2016, Cannock Chase High School was rated as requiring improvement, but following a recent visit, Ofsted recognised the positive impact that has resulted from the improvements that are being made. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the staff and pupils at the school on that progress? May I use this as another request for either a statement or debate about schools and, in particular, improving standards?

  • I am always delighted to join colleagues in congratulating a particular school, and it does sound as though this one has great news to celebrate, so I am happy to echo my hon. Friend in that. All colleagues will be delighted to know that 1.8 million more children are in good and outstanding schools than was the case in 2010, when this party came into office.

  • May I just correct my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, as World Mental Health Day was on Tuesday, not yesterday? It is always on 10 October, and we should never forget that.

    I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s businesses and, in particular, for advertising the wares of the Backbench Business Committee. On Tuesday there is opposed private business, and I do not yet know what form this will take. I also do not know whether there will be any statements or urgent questions on that day, but we will have a heavily supported debate on the Rohingya and Myanmar. Is there any chance that the Leader of the House could protect the time for that important debate so that as many right hon. and hon. Members as possible will have an opportunity to contribute to it?

    In tune with the shadow Leader of the House, may I also ask that we get early notice of any future time for Backbench Business Committee debates? We have a list of unheard debates, and we will be making considerations next Tuesday, so will the Leader of the House let us know as soon as possible what time will be allocated to us in future weeks?

  • As I have said, I am delighted that we are having two days of Backbench Business Committee debates next week. I will always endeavour to let the hon. Gentleman know as soon as possible when Backbench Business Committee time can be given. On his point about protecting time for the incredibly important debate on the plight of the Rohingya people, I have absolutely heard his request, and I will look into it to see what can be done.

  • I congratulate the Government on their response to the unfortunate demise of Monarch Airlines, but I wish to call for a debate on the pension fund of former employees of that company. Many of my constituents who were employed by Monarch are deeply concerned about that.

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising a really important point about Monarch workers’ pensions. I am proud that the jobcentre rapid response service has looked quickly at the future for any employees made redundant from Monarch. People are naturally concerned about their pensions. The Insolvency Service can make payments out of the national insurance fund for unpaid pension contributions, subject to statutory limits, and I am sure that he will want to raise this issue at the next Work and Pensions questions.

  • S4C, the Welsh language public service broadcaster based in my constituency, is undergoing a review, which was announced in August. Will the Government be making a statement on that review? When can we expect any announcement that will guarantee S4C’s future as a unique and valuable broadcaster in Wales, offering quality and innovation?

  • I pay tribute to the work of the Welsh language channel, which is vital; I have come across it in previous roles and think it does a fantastic job. I do not know the answer to the hon. Lady’s question, but she can certainly write to me and I will find out for her; or I am sure that Ministers from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be happy to answer her directly.

  • Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, given the leadership vacuum in Police Scotland since the chief constable stepped aside last month and the chair of the authority resigned in June, it would now be irresponsible and reckless for the Scottish National party Scottish Government to continue with their merger of the British Transport police into Police Scotland? May we have a statement to update Members on the discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments, with particular reference to the concerns of BTP officers and staff in Scotland?

  • In his short time in the House, my hon. Friend has shown that he is a strong voice for his constituents and for Scotland. He will be aware that, under the Scotland Act 2016, the issues he raises are matters for the Scottish Parliament. Nevertheless, although they are devolved, it is important that, as the Prime Minister has said, this Parliament does not devolve and forget, so the UK Government are engaging with the Scottish Government on the transfer arrangements to make sure that the overall level of policing—including police across the border—remains as effective as it is today.

  • I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

    Next Wednesday is national Anti-Slavery Day, when there will be an event at which various awards will be given out to people, courtesy of Mr Speaker, who will also be speaking at the event, for which we are very grateful. The House is united in trying to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. Has the Leader of the House had any indication that any member of the Government will come to the House next Wednesday to talk about the progress in tackling this horrific issue?

  • I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his becoming the co-chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery. I know that the issue is of great importance to him and to you, Mr Speaker. It is also of great importance to the Prime Minister, who was absolutely behind the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It is a horrific problem that is still taking place on our streets every day, but the UK is at the forefront of tackling this evil. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find a way to make sure that the Government come to the House to make a statement on progress.

  • You must be cheered up today, Mr Speaker; in all the time I have been in Parliament, I have never heard a Leader of the House ask Members to suggest ways to increase scrutiny. That is a triumph for the current Leader of the House, who will be so good at this. One thing that we could do urgently is to require a statement from a Minister within four weeks of the House making a decision on a substantive motion, whether it is in a Backbench Business debate or on an Opposition day. As we go into a situation in which there will be a lot of delegated legislation under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, a statement about substantive motions would help to reassure the House.

  • My hon. Friend has made this suggestion several times, and I am interested in it and would like to discuss it with him further. My concern is that such a process could lead to the downgrading of the quality of debate, because it would effectively mean that the Government could just reply after the fact. Nevertheless, I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say and would be delighted to have him buy me a drink so that we can discuss it further.

  • Scunthorpe market provides around 250 local jobs and is well valued by its customers, yet its future is currently at risk because of the behaviour of North Lincolnshire Council. May we have a debate about the role of markets in local communities and councils’ roles in supporting them?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. Market towns, of which I have two in my constituency, are incredibly important to our communities and we should do everything we can to sustain them. I thoroughly recommend that he use the good offices of the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns); I am sure there would be enthusiasm across the House for such a debate.

  • Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the welfare of British subjects detained in Dubai? One such individual is one of my Stirling constituents. He is currently being detained in Dubai, and, as the House will understand, there is much concern for his wellbeing and prospects.

  • My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. A number of our constituents are held overseas in circumstances that we as MPs become very concerned about. I think that I know the case to which he refers, and I point out to him that he might want to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, on Tuesday 17 October at Foreign Office questions, when he can raise this matter directly.

  • I am sure that, as a great student of British history, the Leader of the House will know of the turbulent time in 1917 when a group of very angry Members of Parliament —they were angry that Lloyd George was not giving the right amount of importance to the co-operative movement—marched down to Westminster Hall and founded the Co-operative party, of which I and many of my hon. Friends are proud members. Can we have an early debate on the real value of co-operation—what it has done for this country and what it can do in the future—and would she like to pop into the Co-operative party’s annual conference this weekend just down the road?

  • I am absolutely happy to share with the hon. Gentleman in remarking on the incredibly valuable work of the co-operative movement over a century. I thought that he was going to mention the revolution in Russia. I am glad that he did not go there, because I might not have been quite so enthusiastic.

  • That was just a sideshow.

  • Yes. I am very happy to celebrate the anniversary that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and to pay tribute to all of the excellent work that has been done over many years to try to help improve the plight of people in this country.

  • As my right hon. Friend will know from her previous role, the food and farming sector is vital to my constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire. We help to add to the 3.9 million people employed in the agricultural sector in this country and to contribute to the £108 billion to our economy. Can we have a debate on the importance of the food and farming sector in this country?

  • I certainly agree that the food and farming sector contributes massively to the success of our economy. There can never be too many debates in my book about its importance and about what more we can do, because there is huge potential for innovation, improving productivity and making more of our superb food and drink exports, which are growing rapidly. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and urge him to try to ensure that we do spend more time in this House debating that important issue.

  • Can we please have a debate on the future of the Red Arrows? For decades, the Red Arrows display team has showcased the best of British aeronautical manufacturing around the world. The Hawk trainers used by the Red Arrows and built at Brough just outside Hull had been due to go out of service in 2020. As the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in 2014 and as the lead pilot, Squadron Leader Jim Turner, said, the jets will need to be replaced in 2018. In 2016, the current Defence Secretary said that, eventually, we will have to replace them and will start to think about that in the next year or two. In the light of the announcement from BAE Systems this week, a discussion about the future of the Red Arrows would be very timely.

  • We would all pay tribute to the excellent displays by the Red Arrows, not least of which is the one put on every year at the British Grand Prix in my constituency at Silverstone circuit, where they fly overhead. I can actually see them from my garden, and it is a fantastic sight. They do a brilliant job, and I absolutely support the hon. Lady in her request. She could speak to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead, as I am sure that there would be plenty of interest in such a debate.

  • Mr Speaker, you were 100% right to have said in a recent speech that the House of Commons belongs to all its Members on behalf of the people and not just to those Members who happen to serve in ministerial office and that therefore this House should have the ability, in cases of emergency, to recall itself and not wait for the Government to do so. Does the Leader of the House agree, given that, as well as being a member of the Government, she is also meant to be a representative of the Members of this House to the Government? If she does, what will she do about it?

  • Mr Speaker, I found your speech yesterday very thought provoking with some extremely interesting ideas, particularly the idea that Back-Bench MPs could recall Parliament. I am sure we will hear more about that interesting idea and I shall certainly be listening.

  • Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate, which I suggest should be led by the Cabinet Office, to enable Ministers from different Departments to set out the costs of Brexit? They could set out, for instance, the cost of the contingency plans, the cost to the 50 different sectors set out in the sectorial reports that we are not allowed to see and the cost of the Nissan deal and any other secret deals with car manufacturers. It would also enable Ministers, like the Leader of the House, to set out exactly what they had said during the EU referendum campaign about what the cost of leaving the European Union would be for the taxpayer.

  • I absolutely disagree with most of the right hon. Gentleman’s points. He is clearly seeking to fulfil the Liberal Democrats’ ambition of denying the public their say in last year’s referendum by trying to tie the Government up in knots talking about contingent possibilities that may or may not come to fruition. This Government, however, are getting on with the job of delivering on the democratic decision of the people of this country.

  • Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the work of the National Infrastructure Commission and the progress of major projects—in particular, to give a timescale for the implementation of the northern hub and to say why there are such lengthy delays to Crossrail 2?

  • I am sure my hon. Friend has some specific points in mind about which he is concerned, and I urge him to raise them at Transport questions on Thursday 19 October.

  • My constituent’s daughter, Amy, is a United States citizen who has lived in the United Kingdom for 10 years. She has graduated from university and has been successfully running her own business, yet she has been refused a renewal of her entrepreneurial visa. Her appeal was nothing more than a tick-box exercise. She has been visited twice by Home Office agents and her mental health is suffering as a result of the situation. Will the Leader of the House commit to getting a Minister to do a proper review of this case and see common sense about somebody who is contributing to the UK economy?

  • I commend the hon. Gentleman for taking up this case. We all have individual cases about which we are concerned because we want to ensure that justice is done and that we are fair to the person who is contributing so much as well as to our own rules and regulations. I am sure that the Home Office will be keen to look into the matter for him if he wants to take it up with the Department directly.

  • The Leader of the House—and perhaps you, Mr Speaker—may not be aware that the Westminster dog of the year competition will be held in two weeks’ time. Although the event may seem somewhat frivolous, there is a serious point behind it: raising the subject of good animal care and welfare. The Government take these issues seriously, recently raising the sentences for animal cruelty to five years. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming that move by the Government and in wishing everyone good luck in Westminster dog of the year, which helps to promote animal welfare? If she has a spare moment on 26 October, I know that the Dogs Trust would welcome a late entry. Indeed, Mr Speaker, you might think about coming along as well.

  • I was not proposing to enter myself and I do not have a dog. We have a cat called Order and my son has a tortoise.

  • I see you as something of a springer spaniel, Mr Speaker. I am not sure whether I would qualify because I sadly do not have a dog or even a tortoise. I would love to have both but life seems to get in the way. My hon. Friend made an important point, though. We are a nation of dog lovers. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I was totally delighted to preside over a change in puppy licensing laws, which has gone a great way towards helping in the welfare of puppies and dogs. I am also delighted with our changes to animal cruelty sentencing. I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising a point that may appear trivial but that is actually very dear to us all. I offer good luck and best wishes to every entrant.

  • The national health service is under immense pressure from under-resourcing, but also from the heavy and continuing burdens arising from alcohol abuse. May we have a full debate in Government time on how the Government propose to address this serious problem?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important issue. Alcohol abuse is certainly enormously to the detriment of people’s lives in this country, but it also adds enormously to the financial imposition on the NHS, given the burden of care involved in dealing with the ramifications of excessive alcohol abuse. The hon. Gentleman may well wish to raise this directly with the Department of Health and to look for a specific opportunity to talk about the impact of alcohol abuse on the NHS.

  • Can the Leader of the House provide time for the Business Secretary to address the threatened closure of the Britvic and Colman’s factories in Norwich, which could lead to job losses for hundreds of my constituents? I have written to the Business Secretary, and I hope the Leader of the House can assure me that he will respond. He was able to intervene in the Nissan case last year, and if he can do that for Nissan, he can do the same for my constituents. Anything less just will not cut the mustard.

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to speak up for his constituents, and I can assure him that the Business Secretary will reply—of course he will, as the hon. Gentleman would expect. The hon. Gentleman may wish to call an Adjournment debate, and he will then have a Minister here who can directly address the issues he is concerned about.

  • I am vice-chair of the all-party party parliamentary group on Show Racism the Red Card, and the Leader of the House will be aware that there is a fortnight of action, so can we have a debate or a statement in Government time on the funding of that organisation? Does she agree that it is great that the football community is in schools such as St Constantine’s Primary School and Ibrox Primary School in my constituency talking to kids and encouraging anti-racism activity?

  • I think we can all agree that football has a really good part to play in providing a role model for young people, where it seeks to do that—it can also be a bit of a problem on occasion. However, the example the hon. Gentleman gives of football being used as a means to motivate and inspire young people in schools is very valuable, and if he wanted to apply for an Adjournment debate, I am sure you would look very favourably on the matter, Mr Speaker.

  • I do not know what the Government have against the children of York, but we are going to experience real funding cuts to all the schools across the city—in fact we are going to move from being the seventh worst funded authority to the very worst funded authority. When will the Government have a debate in their time to discuss the new funding formula?

  • The hon. Lady might like to share in the genuine happiness and pleasure at the fact that 1.8 million more children are in good and outstanding schools than in 2010. Unfortunately, the Opposition always equate achievement with more money. It is just not clear to me from what the hon. Lady said that she is concerned about standards in her schools—she just talked about money in her schools. If she wants to raise the issue of standards and achievement, that would be different, but, unfortunately, the Opposition always focus on just providing more money. This Government’s achievement in education has been superb. There are more children in good and outstanding schools—1.8 million of them—than ever before. It would be great if the Opposition recognised and celebrated that.

  • Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder tell me that residential treatment is a lifeline for many of them and their families. Welsh veterans will be among those protesting tomorrow against the planned closure of the Combat Stress treatment centre at Audley Court in Shropshire. They fear that their nearest residential centre will be hundreds of miles away in the south of England. Could time be found for the House to debate how to ensure that all veterans with PTSD receive effective, affordable and accessible treatment that puts their needs first?

  • The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue and we would all want to pay tribute to the amazing contribution made by our armed forces, often at a high price for them personally and individually. She will be pleased to know that on 9 October the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Foundation publicly announced their new partnership to try to reduce further the residual stigma of mental ill-health across the defence community. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is very concerned about this issue, and the hon. Lady may want to raise her concerns about that centre directly with him.

  • On 3 June London Bridge and Borough Market in my constituency were attacked by terrorists, leaving eight dead and shutting the area down for 10 days at a cost of £1.4 million to local businesses. The Borough Market Trust has done a huge amount to raise public and business-to-business support, the council has provided £100,000 in rate relief and the Mayor of London has provided £175,000 in support. Despite meetings between traders and Business and Treasury Ministers, not 1p of Government support has been provided and insurers such as Aviva have yet to make pay-outs. Will the Leader of the House re-examine what emergency support the Government offer in the aftermath of terror attacks and provide Government time to debate the publicly funded pool reinsurance system?

  • The whole House was incredibly impressed by the way the traders and communities in the London Bridge area came together after the appalling terror attack, and we all pay tribute to the work that they did. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that contributions have been made by local government, which does of course receive funding from central Government so that it can support local communities. I understand the point he makes, however, and he may wish to raise a specific issue in an Adjournment debate. The Government provide support in many ways for recovery after these horrendous attacks, and it is right that we will continue to do so.

  • Andrew Brunson, a Protestant pastor, who led a small church congregation in the western Turkish city of Izmir, was arrested in October 2016. He has faced unsubstantiated accusations in the Turkish media. Erdogan’s offer of a prisoner swap for Andrew Brunson is an unfortunate confession by the Turkish president that the pastor is a pawn held hostage by Ankara. May we have a statement or debate on the suppression of human rights in Turkey, in particular for those of a Christian faith?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that case. The Government are firmly committed to protecting the right to freedom of religion and belief around the world and to being a strong voice in defence of that fundamental right. The persecution of Christians and those of any other faith is of profound concern to us and we are active in condemning any such persecutions.

  • I have been made aware that constituents taking advantage of the call-back service on the universal credit helpline commonly wait at least 12 minutes to get through, which costs some £7 on a mobile equating—as I am sure the Leader of the House is aware—to an hour’s wages for some people. Universal credit is on its way to my constituency and my constituents are already contacting me because they are worried about the implications. Does the Leader of the House agree with the 55p a minute cost of calls to the helpline and may we have a debate on that specific issue?

  • I share the hon. Lady’s concern that we have to do everything that we can to make claiming universal credit as easy as possible. I rang the universal credit helpline myself just before business questions to see how long it takes. Clearly there is the facility for call-back, and if the hon. Lady has evidence that it takes too long for that to be provided, the DWP will look at it. It has made clear its commitment to ensuring that the process is fair to claimants. Of course, 99% of all universal credit claims are made online, and jobcentres have facilities for people to access digital services and be helped to make an application online.

    I would just like to point out to the House that universal credit is a good policy. It is designed to help people get back into work, to reduce six benefits to one and to make the system less confusing and less capable of causing a problem.

  • May I begin by putting on the record the great sadness of many of my constituents at the recent death of Sir Teddy Taylor, who served my constituency for 15 years? It is a privilege to represent his old stomping ground, where his name looms large to this day.

    During the recess, Mr Speaker, you visited two schools in my constituency, and I am quite sure that the young people there told you about their experiences of cyber-bullying and having social media platforms used against them. [Interruption.] I say to hon. Members who are screeching from a sedentary position that this deserves a bit more respect. There is deep confusion at what the Government are doing in this regard. The Culture Secretary yesterday said that legislating on this would be ideological and too difficult. May we have a statement from the Culture Secretary on how she intends to clamp down on companies such as Facebook being used to make a misery of young people’s lives?

  • I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Sir Teddy Taylor. I do not agree that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was at all confusing yesterday. I heard her say very clearly that, ideally, to address this issue more quickly, we will seek voluntary co-operation from social media organisations, because it takes longer to legislate. It is really important, as the hon. Gentleman quite rightly says, to explore means of reducing the appalling problem of cyber-bullying, which goes on all too frequently.

  • The Leader of the House spoke about universal credit just now. I have constituents who have waited more than 20 minutes, many of them more than once, to get through before they can even ask for a call-back. Will she please get a Minister to come to the House as soon as possible and announce the scrapping of the 55p charge? These people are in desperate need of money, which is the only reason why they are having to make the calls in the first place.

  • To be clear to the hon. Gentleman, the charge—I am not condoning it at all—is not a Government charge. The Government do not make money from these calls; the charge is made by phone providers, so his remedy of scrapping it is not a matter for the Government. I absolutely take on board his concern that people should not have to hold on for so long on those calls. As I said to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), 99% of applications are made online, and there are facilities in jobcentres to help people to log in online. It is absolutely vital that all of us, as constituency MPs, make it clear to our constituents that they can ask for a call-back, which would be free to them.

  • May we have the debate that has been missing for so long on the importance of the UK textile and fashion industry to the economy? The industry contributes almost £21 billion each year. There are very real concerns in the industry regarding Brexit, and it is crucial that we support this important industry.

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on raising a subject that is, I know, very important to you, Mr Speaker, with your clear personal commitment to fashion and design. She raises a very good point, and I urge her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the importance of this industry, in which the UK is, if not leading the world, a key player in the sector. It is a growing success story for the United Kingdom.

  • May we have a debate on early-day motion 372 so that I can enjoy the lifetime first experience of congratulating the Government on an intelligent drugs policy of approving safe injecting rooms? I congratulate the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the United Patients Alliance on the act of civil disobedience that was undertaken on Tuesday of this week, when a group of seriously ill patients protested against an unjust and unenforceable law. These are people who have already suffered more than their fair share of life’s misfortunes, and it is wrong that they should live under the threat of prosecution for taking their medicine of choice—the only medicine that will cure them of their symptoms.

  • I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ten-minute rule Bill—I happened to be in the Chamber for its introduction—which seeks to address this very issue. In particular, in raising this issue he will, of course, have proper Government scrutiny over it. I wish him well in achieving his ambition.

  • At Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Prime Minister had the opportunity to rule out the scrapping of the Royal Navy’s entire amphibious assault capability, but she chose not to. Will the Leader of the House recognise the very genuine cross-party concern about this latest round of Government defence cuts, and will she hold a debate in Government time to help inform the Ministry of Defence’s decisions?

  • The hon. Gentleman will know that it is simply nonsense for him to talk about defence cuts. We are committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence, and that means there is increasing expenditure on all areas of defence. It is for the Ministry of Defence to look at the mix of different types of activity and the levels of expenditure that are appropriate to meet 21st-century needs.

  • It is a year to the day since I held a debate in Westminster Hall on the rape clause and the two child policy. May we please have debate on this vile policy, particularly as it has implications for women in Northern Ireland? They are being actively put in danger by this policy, because the third-party verifier is obliged by the law in Northern Ireland to report the rape to the police. There are significant implications for both women and third-party professionals, who could find themselves criminalised by this ill-thought-out and vile Government policy.

  • I am sure the hon. Lady will find ways, as she has in the past, to raise this at various departmental questions.

  • It is a matter of great pride in this country that the British aerospace industry is the second largest in the world, employing many thousands of highly skilled people who are paid well above the national average wage. It was therefore with great dismay that we heard this week that 2,000 jobs are being cut at BAE Systems. I have personal experience of that, having worked in the shipbuilding industry when 2,000 jobs were cut at BAE Systems back in 2013. In both cases there was a common cause: a lack of long-term industrial planning for key sovereign industrial capabilities. The national shipbuilding strategy, published just recently, in fact gave up any pretension to our having a world-class shipbuilding industry through providing the capital investment in shipbuilding infrastructure necessary for the industry to be world class. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate in the House on the national shipbuilding strategy and an aerospace industrial strategy to enable us to scrutinise this properly and ensure that we maintain a world-class industrial infrastructure?

  • I must say that it is great to hear an Opposition Member speaking up for the amazing manufacturing sectors in the UK. He raises an important point about BAE Systems. He will be pleased to know that, just last month, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary signed a statement of intent with Qatar, committing the country to the purchase of 24 Typhoons and six Hawks from BAE. It is incredibly important to have a long-term look at the potential for industrial growth in this country, which is why the Prime Minister has set out a new industrial strategy, and this Government are absolutely behind it.

  • The Grace Arms is a well-known landmark on the drive into Ellesmere Port town centre, but its existence is under threat from property developers. Many in the area are deeply concerned by the potential loss of this much-loved community facility, so may we have debate on what more the Government can do to support local pubs?

  • I know we all go to great lengths to support our local pubs—not just by our physical presence, but in this place as well. It is right that we should do so, because they really are at the heart of all our communities. It sounds to me as if the hon. Gentleman might want to consider applying for an Adjournment debate.

  • The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, recently spoke about the serious threat facing Spanish democracy. However, the real threat to democracy is the brutal and thuggish approach to the Catalan people as they took part in a peaceful democratic vote. In that, he is acting more like a dictator than a democratic leader. May we have a debate on the right of democratic self-determination to enable hon. Members to discuss the brutality of the Spanish state?

  • I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in being extremely disturbed by the violence against innocent citizens. However, he will appreciate that each case of self-determination needs to be addressed according to its specific circumstances, and the Spanish courts have ruled that the vote was not held within the Spanish legal and constitutional framework.

  • Retail Energy

  • With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement to the House about the draft Energy Price Cap Bill, which we are publishing today.

    Over the past 15 years energy prices have risen by over 90% in real terms. Currently, most households in Great Britain are on tariffs that penalise rather than reward loyalty. In 2014, in response to widespread concern that competition in the retail energy markets was not serving customers’ best interests, the independent regulator Ofgem referred the market for investigation to the Competition and Markets Authority.

    The CMA completed its investigation in 2016 and found that the retail energy market was not operating in a fully competitive way. It reported that customers of the big six pay an average of £1.4 billion a year more than they would in a truly competitive market. The CMA report said:

    “Overall, our view is that the overarching feature of weak customer response gives suppliers a position of unilateral market power concerning their inactive customer base and that suppliers have the ability to exploit such a position through their pricing policies.”

    Since the CMA findings, the big six energy suppliers have announced unjustified price increases in their poor value standard tariffs. Customers of the these firms have seen their energy bills increase by between 7% and 10% within the past 12 months, increases on prices the CMA had already concluded were too high.

    The Government want the market to thrive, and we continue to promote competition as the best driver of value and service for customers. However, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week, the Government are prepared to act when markets are not working for all consumers. The energy market is a clear example of this, as Ofgem itself said yesterday.

    The energy market is on the cusp of a major change, in which smart meters will be offered to every household and business by the end of 2020. When fully rolled out, smart meters will make it easier for consumers to reduce their energy consumption and to access competitive deals. In the meantime, however, the CMA panel recommended a number of measures to improve competition and a temporary tariff cap for those with prepayment meters until smart meters are rolled out. As the CMA said:

    “our remedies will take time to implement before they start to address the features that we have identified and, in turn, reduce the detriment to domestic customers arising from them.”

    The CMA was in two minds over how widely interim protection should be applied. The panel’s minority opinion was that the temporary price cap should be extended to a wider group of consumers. In its words:

    “They must be supplemented by a wider price control designed to give household customers adequate and timely protection from very high current levels of overcharging.”

    The Government agree with that view, which is why I wrote to Ofgem in June to ask them what action they intended to take to safeguard customers on the poorest value tariffs. In response, Ofgem undertook to consult consumer groups to provide measures to protect vulnerable consumers.

    We welcome Ofgem’s commitment yesterday to protect a further 1 million families, meaning over 5 million families will be protected from expensive standard variable tariffs for the first time; and we welcome Ofgem’s statement that suppliers must step up their efforts to get more of their customers currently on default tariffs on to better value deals. However, this does not address the scale of the detriment suffered by all consumers on expensive default tariffs and it still leaves 13 million families paying more than they would in a competitive market. These consumers are often on lower incomes, are elderly and are renters. I am determined that we will be on the side of all consumers and ensure that the market can become more effective. Our goal is to ensure a fair deal. The market is currently not delivering this, which is why the energy companies and Ofgem need to act. It is precisely for this reason that we are publishing this draft Bill today.

    I have invited the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to scrutinise the draft Bill, which provides for a price cap for domestic customers on standard variable tariffs and default tariffs. The cap will be temporary and will be set by the independent energy regulator, Ofgem. It will initially last until the end of 2020, with the potential to be extended by up to three years if needed.

    The draft Bill will preserve the ability for the market to act competitively: there should be savings for customers on high-priced standard variable tariffs, but enough headroom to allow for effective competition and to give a reason for people to shop around. It is of the utmost importance that consumers are treated fairly and our priority must always be to act in their interests. The draft Bill would allow competition and innovation in tariffs between existing players and new entrants, but would ensure that the worst excesses of overcharging could not be visited on loyal and, in many cases, vulnerable consumers of energy companies. It would require Ofgem to impose the cap as soon as is practicable after legislation, but it does not stop companies acting sooner and they should do so.

    To conclude, Mr Speaker, when £1.4 billion a year of detriment to British consumers is identified, following a thorough investigation, we have a duty to act. These measures are intended to safeguard the interests of consumers during the transition to a more competitive market. I commend this statement to the House.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.

    Just two years ago, the then Prime Minister criticised Labour’s energy price cap policy, saying we wanted to live in a Marxist universe. Well, we certainly are in strange political times, that’s for sure. It has taken an extraordinary amount of time to get to this stage and enormous pressure from the shadow Front-Bench team and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is impossible, however, for the price cap to protect families this coming winter. Ofgem has indicated it would take about five months after the Bill’s Royal Assent for the regulator to enact a price cap. Owing to the Government’s dithering, the 4 million households in fuel poverty, almost 1 million of which include a disabled person, will now face another winter of cold homes or astronomical bills. Will the Secretary of State explain why it has taken so long? Labour has been consistently calling for action and clarity on the Government’s position since the election and for a price cap for several years, but even today several issues require further clarification.

    First, will the Secretary of State confirm why the draft Bill, which I have just perused, does not provide any direction from him on his preferred cap parameters but instead passes the ball to Ofgem, as it were? Will it be a relative cap or an absolute cap? Will he direct Ofgem to implement a different cap if he is not content with the one it proposes following the review? Secondly, will he confirm how long he anticipates the Bill’s passage taking and whether he will take any ancillary measures to expedite the usual scrutiny process?

    Thirdly, reports this morning stated that the cap would apply to 12 million households, but the Bill is not clear on the cap parameters, as I have said, and leaves much to the discretion of Ofgem. Will the Secretary of State confirm, then, why the Government have seemingly rowed back from the commitment to knock £100 off the bills of 17 million households? Surely this should be explicit in the Bill or ancillary directions to Ofgem.

    Fourthly, the Secretary of State is no doubt aware that Labour would introduce an immediate emergency price cap to ensure that the average household bill remains below £1,000 a year, which would save the average big six customers £142 a year. Had the cap been in place since 2010, the average customer would have saved more than £1,000 on their bills by now. Does he anticipate, in all this ambiguity, that the final cap will go anywhere near Labour’s proposals? If not, by how much does he expect bills to be reduced, if at all?

    Finally, we are discussing the need for an energy price cap in the first place only because our energy market is fundamentally broken—even the Prime Minister acknowledges that. Labour understands that the price cap is only a temporary fix and so would radically reform the market by, among other measures, creating a publicly owned, locally accountable energy supply company in every region and ensuring greater transparency and fairness in the pricing structures of the supply and wholesale energy market. Does the Secretary of State accept that a price cap, although welcome, is only a sticking plaster and that radical reform of the market is necessary?

    If so, how and when does the Secretary of State propose to reform the energy market and will he direct Ofgem to do it, rather than simply calling for a review, as the draft Bill suggests? Or have we got to wait until 2020 and the outcome of such a review before we see any real action? I hope that we do see action before 2020 because the cap is only guaranteed for the next two winters. Homes and businesses up and down Britain face a bleak winter and—it seems—further ambiguity and uncertainly regarding the Government’s position on the price cap mechanism and the wider reforms our energy market desperately needs.

  • If one thing would be disastrous for consumers, taxpayers and business confidence in this country, it would be the hon. Lady and her Front-Bench colleagues’ proposal for nationalised energy companies. It is not even clear how it would be paid for, but there are only three ways: taxing more, borrowing more, or expropriating assets. If that is about achieving the confidence of British business, she has a long way to go.

    The hon. Lady asked about the action being taken and the required pace. I remind her that in 13 years of Labour Government not a single protection was put in place for consumers. It was the Conservative-led Government who commissioned the Competition and Markets Authority report—something that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), when he had the opportunity, signally failed to do—as a result of which 4 million consumers will benefit this winter from a cap on prepayment meter tariffs, which again is something the previous Labour Government failed to do in their 13 years in office.

    Since taking on this role, I have been absolutely clear, on the basis of the CMA’s assessment, that we require nothing less than the eradication of that detriment of £1.4 billion, which is why, in response to my requirements, Ofgem has announced that a further 1 million will be protected this winter, with a further 2 million to follow. I have been clear, however, that that is not comprehensive enough, and it is because I am not satisfied that we are introducing the Bill. We published it and submitted it to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, which I hope will give it urgent pre-legislative scrutiny so that we can reflect what I think is a broad consensus in the House that the objectives should be an energy market that works for all and, before that, protection for the consumers currently suffering the detriment identified. I hope that there will be a consensus around that so that we can proceed with the Bill.

    As I said in my statement, however, it is open now to energy companies to move people off the standard variable tariffs identified as overcharging customers. Indeed, Ofgem has made it clear that it expects them to do so. They should do so now and not wait for the Bill.

  • I congratulate my right hon. Friend on embracing the huge cross-party consensus on protecting 17 million households from rip-off energy bills. This is a good day. It is great that we can now move on to discuss how, rather than if, we make it happen. In the spirit of consensus, will he listen to the widespread concerns that an absolute cap would throttle competition, be out of date as soon as the wholesale price of gas changed and mean energy companies spending more time lunching their regulator than delighting their customers, whereas a relative cap would preserve competition, make the customer king and provide far wider consumer choice?

  • I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s personal energy in this matter. He has been assiduous and tenacious in pursuing consumers’ welfare. The reason for publishing the Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny was to build the consensus that I know he will participate in. Our proposal is for an absolute cap—to ensure a clear limit on what can be charged—but I know he has thoughtful views that he will want to convey during the scrutiny process.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of the statement and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for the cross-party way in which they have brought this to the House. I am sure that that is what has forced Government action.

    With 18 million customers on default tariffs, today’s announcement is a welcome step forward. I hope that those customers get the benefit of the savings that have been talked about. We need to make sure, however, that there is not too much equalisation or coalescing of pricing around the cap and that customer service is not affected as a consequence of companies trying to find other ways to save money. As the Secretary of State rightly said, standard variable tariffs themselves are a problem. How will the Government guarantee that people are moved off them once and for all?

    The end supplier is only a small component of energy bills. What steps will the Government take to review the profits that the distant network operators make? They make up a huge cost in energy bills. Government energy policy also impacts on energy bills. I refer the Secretary of State to the Hinkley project and the fact that future auctions have been announced but onshore wind cannot bid. To keep energy prices down, clearly we must have the most cost-effective energy generation policies in place, so it must be allowed to bid in the electricity generation market. In Scotland, the First Minister has announced that a public sector supplier will be set up and allowed to bid in the markets. Does the Secretary of State welcome that and is it something that the UK Government will follow? Energy efficiency is also a key component. The Scottish Government are committed to a warm homes Bill. Will the UK Government do likewise?

  • I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to stay for the statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and Industry.

  • He says that he will. I hope he will give a warm welcome to the proposals in the clean growth strategy, which will include something that many of his colleagues in Scotland, from all parties, have pressed for, which is the remote islands being entitled to bid in renewables auctions. I hope he will welcome that and, indeed, our leadership in renewables, not only in deployment—we are the world’s leader in offshore wind—but in the jobs being created around the United Kingdom in the supply chain.

    When it comes to the proposals in the retail market that we have set out, I can confirm that it is absolutely the Government’s intention and requirement that competition should be preserved—indeed, extended—in this market. The Competition and Markets Authority said there was not enough of it at the moment. That is why part of its panel said that interim measures were needed while that competition comes in. That is important, and the requirement of the draft Bill is that Ofgem should take steps to ensure choice and vigorous competition as part of that.

  • I welcome the changes that my right hon. Friend has made today. I have mentioned this to him before, but can he look seriously at the issue of energy companies charging people a lot more money for their domestic energy bills if they do not pay by direct debit and instead pay by cheque or through their bank or post office? It seems outrageous that these customers have to pay a lot more when they are doing the right thing and paying on time, but not by direct debit.

  • I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is always a doughty champion of consumers. It is right in a competitive market that decisions should be taken by the companies, but it is clear from the proposals that we have made that we expect responsibility to be exercised and that unfair advantage should not be taken, especially not of vulnerable consumers who are not as able to switch, for example—this may apply to payment methods, in the way that he described. That is absolutely part of the duty of the regulator to look after consumers.

    Perhaps I could take this opportunity to reply to the point, which I did not respond to, that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) raised about the other costs on consumer bills. We have commissioned a review by the energy expert Professor Dieter Helm, which will be inquiring into just such things and reporting shortly.

  • Given that this policy was once described from the Dispatch Box as “a con”, “a joke”, “disastrous” and “living in a Marxist universe”, it would be churlish not to welcome the Secretary of State’s conversion to it today. Well done. He is very welcome to the party. However, I still think his voyage into the Marxist universe is a bit slow, if I can put it that way, because this is a draft Bill. It is four months since the general election. He said that there would be help this winter. He could have chosen to fast-track this measure with the Opposition Front Bench and get the help in now. Why so slow? Why not do it now?

  • I certainly have not joined the Marxist universe that the right hon. Gentleman inaugurated and that has been taken up with such enthusiasm by those on the current Labour Front Bench. The problem with the proposal that he put forward—one of many problems—was that it would have frozen energy prices when prices in the wholesale market fell, so consumers would have been paying more. That is a good reason why we should act with the grain of the market rather than imposing a policy that would have been disastrous for consumers.

    It is important that Ofgem has the powers and it is exercising some of them. I have been clear and candid with the House that I do not think it goes far enough, so through this Bill we would require that. We are putting that forward with immediate effect for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important that we establish that it has the support of the House and then Ofgem can act on that, but it has been clear in its statement that, as the Bill is scrutinised, it will prepare and consult on the implementation requirements so that no time is lost.

  • I welcome the statement. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and many of my constituents in Stirling, who are currently paying too much for their energy bills, that a fully functioning competitive market is the best long-term driver for value for customers? Will he also say when smart meters will become universal? By that I mean not supplier-specific, which I consider to be anti-competitive.

  • My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is absolutely right that a fully competitive market is what we want and what we will achieve. The essence of the problem for people on standard variable tariffs is that the energy companies have more information about the habits and behaviour of consumers than is available to their competitors. They therefore know which consumers will never respond, no matter how swingeing a price increase is, but other competitors do not have access to that information to address the imbalance. That is why smart meters are being rolled out. They are moving forward from the first generation so that they are fully rich in the information available, and that is part of the roll-out that is taking place now.

  • Did the Secretary of State receive any of the advice that I did in his position that an energy price cap such as that which he is proposing could mean higher bills for the most vulnerable consumers, as seven of the eight members of the Competition and Markets Authority also feared? Will he confirm that without a cap we have seen a dramatic expansion of competition, switching numbers soaring, and a sustained reduction in the number of consumers on variable tariffs? Is not the real reason he has gone for this temporary and timid price cap that he does not really believe in it?

  • No. I have been determined from the outset to eradicate the abuse that the CMA has identified. It seems to me that if £1.4 billion of abuse has been identified, it is essential that that is eradicated. This problem is specific to modern markets—without the smart meters that will provide some relief from that—which is why it is important to provide interim measures, as the minority report of the CMA said. It is right to act on that. Everyone agrees—no one thinks that the market is fully competitive. The CMA in its majority report identified that the market was not functioning in a fully competitive way, and Ofgem said as much yesterday. As far as switching goes, in the last year only 16% of consumers switched, which means that 84% of the population did not. Until competition is fully established, it seems to me that people in that category deserve the Government to be on their side to ensure that they cannot be ripped off.

  • I congratulate the Government on putting the consumer first. It is a shocking revelation that £1.4 billion is being overpaid by consumers on their bills, so I welcome the fact that the Government are taking this seriously. Many of those customers are in Taunton Deane and many are the most loyal customers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way to deliver best value for those people is through a truly competitive market and that nationalisation would certainly not be the answer?

  • I agree with my hon. Friend. Many consumers who are loyal to a supplier, often for many years, assume not that they will get the best deal, but that a trusted brand will respect their loyalty and not abuse it. However, as the CMA has pointed out, that is not the case, and I think it is important that the issue is addressed before competition is fully established. As Ofgem said yesterday, highly priced, poor-value standard variable tariffs have had their day, and the energy companies should act to move customers away from them.

  • Much of what I am hearing is music to my ears, and I welcome the fantastic cross-party support. The draft Bill, however, is a vindication of Labour’s warnings since the data became available in 2011 that customers were being ripped off by the big six energy companies.

    The Secretary of State has finally accepted that customers were overcharged by £1.4 billion between 2012 and 2015, but will he admit that what he is proposing today will not help the many millions of customers who will need help this winter? Why does he not stop wasting time? Why does he not use the extensive powers that the Labour Government gave him in the Energy Act 2010, under which he could bring an order to the House to cap prices right now? The dithering must stop. We have had the debate. Price caps already exist for those with pre-payment meters and those receiving the warm home discount, and the Secretary of State should do this for everyone else now.

  • I welcome the support from the cross-party group of which the right hon. Lady has been part, along with my hon. Friends. However, while she talks about the data being available, she seems to have forgotten that her party was in government for 13 years. It was this Government who exposed the degree of overcharging and it is this Government who are acting on it, so it is this Government who are standing up for consumers.

    The right hon. Lady asked about relief this winter. As I have said, I welcome the extra relief, although I think that Ofgem should go further. It has said that it expects energy companies to move customers off the standard variable tariffs, but we are acting to ensure that that is backed up by an instruction and a requirement.

    The use of the legislation mentioned by the right hon. Lady—I have of course examined it and taken advice—would have the consequence of increasing other prices, rather than capping the overall price, which is why the backstop power in the draft Bill is necessary.

  • Battle of the New Forests! I call Sir Desmond Swayne.

  • I want to escape this Marxist universe. We cap university fees and, lo and behold, all the universities charge the maximum. Can the Secretary of State persuade me that electricity will be any different?

  • As my right hon. Friend will know, there is a vigorous competitive market for deals that are available through a great many new entrants, and we want to expand that market. The CMA has established that at present there is insufficient competition in the standard variable tariffs. Our aim is to expand the competitive part of the market and in the meantime provide some protection for those who are paying too much on those tariffs.

  • I welcome the Government’s intervention on the road to Marxism. I think that—apart from one—we are all Marxists now. I want to make a serious point, but I have been banging on about this for a long time, and I have been accused of lots of things, which is why I make that statement.

    Speaking as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I think it is realistic to assume that the pre-legislative scrutiny will take some time. When does the Secretary of State expect the Bill to receive Royal Assent? Will that happen at the earliest opportunity so that we can help the vulnerable people who are being ripped off? On the issue of competition, the Secretary of State mentioned a review. The energy companies said recently that the price hikes were due to transmission costs. Can we look into the uncompetitive nature of this broken energy market?

  • As I said earlier, that is being considered as a separate exercise.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committee. I think that that is necessary so that we can establish a consensus and allow the technical scrutiny that is needed, meaning that once the Bill has passed that scrutiny and been introduced to the House, it can proceed with the strongest possible consensus.

  • Given the time that will elapse before the cap is introduced, is there a danger that the energy companies will raise prices as much as possible in the hope of influencing the level at which the cap will be set? What will the Government do to prevent such a tactic from succeeding?

  • Ofgem has powers, and that is one of the reasons why it is responsible for setting the cap. The prices must reflect the actual costs, and extensive powers are available to Ofgem to prevent that kind of abuse.

  • Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Bill will shave £100 from the energy bills of 17 million households, as promised by the Prime Minister?

  • Yes. The detriment identified by the CMA was that people on standard variable tariffs were paying too much. It will be for Ofgem to determine what the level should be, but I have made it clear that I expect the whole of that detriment to be removed.

  • There are still some people who believe in free markets. It is a lonely life, but I try to bear it with good grace.

    I am naturally suspicious of caps, especially when they are introduced by a Conservative Government. Following the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), can the Secretary of State reassure me that the energy companies will not simply bunch up all the prices around the cap, and that what little competition—imperfect competition—we see in the energy market today will not be further eroded so that more customers are put off from switching in the complacent, mistaken belief that they will get the best price thanks to Government intervention?

  • It is possible—and it is the practice—that companies, large and small, on the basis of their purchases in the wholesale market, can make offers to consumers in the competitive side of the market. Nothing will change that. Companies can offer attractive deals and have the same prospects—in fact, growing prospects, as we roll out smart meters—of access to customers who are engaged with the market.

  • The Secretary of State has placed some emphasis on the roll-out of smart meters by 2020. How does he react to the figures published in The Daily Telegraph over the summer revealing that in the case of some companies, fewer than one in five consumers were accepting the offer of a smart meter?

  • I do not recognise that figure. It is a fact that smart meters are being offered to every household in the country, and I think it is important that as they are rolled out, their benefits—not least the ability to secure lower prices—are made very clear to people.

  • I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the recognition that there are issues with the energy market, but consumer apathy is the real problem. Does he agree that more needs to be done to encourage people to switch, and to make switching easier?

  • My hon. Friend makes a good point. One of Ofgem’s responsibilities is to stop the erection of barriers to switching. It seems to me, however, that it is not unreasonable for consumers to expect to be able to trust a particular brand—a particular supplier—rather than having to change their arrangements frequently, and to be confident that they will not suffer a huge pen