All 45 Parliamentary debates on 30th Jun 2021

Wed 30th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021

House of Commons

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Wednesday 30 June 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Speaker’s Statement

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before we come to today’s business, I would like to remind the House that today is International Day of Parliamentarism. The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which protects MPs under threat, says it has found many examples of politicians being persecuted simply for doing their job. In recent experience, Members of this House, peers and others have faced sanctions from China for speaking out against the human rights violations of the Uyghur people. That is completely unacceptable— I stress, completely unacceptable. The ability to speak out on things that matter to us, however controversial, is a basic human right of every British citizen. Members of this House must be able to speak out fiercely on behalf of their constituents, and on important national and international issues. That is why, with colleagues from the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I was delighted to attend the flag raising in New Palace Yard this morning to mark this special day, the principles of which, I am sure, all Members will support.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Welsh Government and (b) other devolved Administrations on the UK Government’s international trade policy.

Simon Hart Portrait The Secretary of State for Wales (Simon Hart)
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May I align myself very much with your comments, Mr Speaker? I know the whole House will share the sentiments you expressed.

I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government and the First Minister on a wide range of subjects, including the UK Government’s international trade policy.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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Does the Minister share my concern that the devolved Governments have had no democratic involvement or oversight in the negotiation and approval of the Australian trade deal, despite the disproportionate impact it will have on their areas? When does he think that this “Union of equals” will start working equally— or, like this Government’s post-Brexit promises to farmers, is this another empty set of words that will turn out to be all bull and no beef?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman that I do not agree with his comments. We have engaged devolved Administrations and numerous other stakeholders during the whole course of the various free trade agreements that have been reached, in particular the Australia trade deal. It would be nice if we could reach some kind of consensus between us about the opportunities that these trade deals offer, not only for businesses in Wales but for businesses in Scotland.

Nia Griffith Portrait Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
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We all support new export opportunities for Welsh businesses, but free trade deals must also be fair. There really is widespread concern that this proposed deal with Australia will disadvantage Welsh farmers, because they will be forced to compete against producers with lower animal welfare and environmental standards. So I ask the Secretary of State again: if he is unable or unwilling to protect our farmers, why will he not let Welsh Government Ministers take part fully in trade talks, so they can stand up for them instead?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Of course, we have involved numerous stakeholders in the preparation of these deals. That includes the Welsh Government and some very positive responses from farmers in Wales, who, by a majority, voted in favour of leaving the European Union in 2016. They accept, as I do, that there are numerous opportunities. We have built into this process some protections—a 15-year transition period—as well as taking note of the fact that the Australians themselves say they cannot even fulfil their existing markets, let alone start flooding ours.

Nia Griffith Portrait Nia Griffith
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It is not just selling out our farmers. Today, the Government are choosing to bury their head in the sand and pass up the last opportunity to renew vital steel safeguards. With our industry now dangerously exposed to cheap imports and the news that a deal is imminent that will grant exemption to EU exports going to the US, our steel exports are going to be desperately trying to compete. What will the Secretary of State now do to ensure that his Government negotiate a similar deal that will protect our steel exports and enable them to enter the US without tariffs? How soon can we have news on that?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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The hon. Lady and colleagues across the House have been resolute champions of the steel industry in Wales. I hope the UK Government’s support of Celsa Steel in Cardiff during the pandemic is an indication that we, too, are prepared to put our money where our mouths are as far as supporting the industry, for all the reasons she has rightly highlighted. It would be rash of me to predict what the statement or announcement might be on this, other than to say that I expect it later today, so she, and colleagues across the House, should get clarity on this matter before close of play today.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. There have been several instances in recent weeks where UK Government Ministers, including the Secretary of State for International Trade, have dismissed concerns from the agricultural community regarding food standards in this trade deal, especially Australia’s position on animal welfare. Can the Secretary of State explain to Welsh farmers how the UK Government will ensure fair competition and that imports from Australia will always match those expected of Welsh farmers?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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The hon. Gentleman, like me, has significant agricultural interests in his constituency in west Wales. We have had local conversations as well as national ones to try to reassure farmers—I think successfully, in some respects—that the transition period and our commitments on animal welfare and environmental standards will not be compromised. I do not think there is anything I can say to him that suggests that that has changed in any respect, but I urge him—I know he will take this seriously—to look at the trade deal as a huge opportunity for food and drink producers in Wales. As we work to challenge some of the myths that have been written and spoken about the Australia deal, let us also use the platforms that we have to promote everything that is good about it and how it will provide access to new markets of the sort that we have not had before.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
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As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, this Government have until tonight to step in and temporarily retain crucial steel import safeguards to protect our steel industry from cheaper foreign imports. There is still no action from the Government. I hear what the Secretary of State says, but we will be waiting with keen interest. Is this what Ministers meant by promising to protect and champion our businesses post Brexit, and what exactly have Wales Office Ministers done to intervene and stop this?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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I assure the hon. Lady that we have been in regular touch with our colleagues in Government on this, as well as with the industry itself, with whom, as the hon. Lady knows, we deal on a regular basis. I said earlier that our commitment to steel in Wales—as she knows, because we have talked about it so many times—is absolutely resolute, but I am afraid that she will have to wait until later this afternoon to have a statement or announcement of some sort, which I hope will clarify the situation.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on co-ordinating a UK-wide response to the covid-19 outbreak.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
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What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on co-ordinating a UK-wide response to the covid-19 outbreak.

Simon Hart Portrait The Secretary of State for Wales (Simon Hart)
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I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues as part of the UK Government response to covid-19. This includes weekly meetings with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment and, of course, the First Minister of Wales.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman [V]
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I thank my right hon Friend for his answer. Clearly, cases of infection in Wales have dropped dramatically. Over the last seven days, they are roughly 50 to 55 per 100,000, compared with the previous highs of 500 per 100,000. In these circumstances, does he agree that it is about time that the Welsh Government gave Welsh businesses some certainty or vision for when they can start to rebuild their lives, and that the Welsh Government should come on board with the UK Government road map out of the lockdown?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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My hon. Friend’s question reveals quite a sad contrast between the priorities of the Welsh Government and the priorities of the UK Government at this moment. We read in the papers this week that the Welsh Government are fixated on talking about new tourism taxes. They are talking about constitutional reform, even going as far as reform of the House of Lords. None of these seems to be consistent with the UK Government ambitions, which are jobs, livelihoods, investment and recovery, and they should be joining us in that endeavour.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds
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Like my right hon. Friend, I hugely welcome the progress that has been made in Wales, but what frustrates many is that the Welsh Government seem to be in the habit of announcing extended lockdowns at short notice—[Laughter.]—without having due consultation with the Government. Does he agree that, should this practice continue, we should expect Cardiff Bay to meet the financial cost of supporting businesses to keep their heads above water during those lockdowns?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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I notice the laughter stopped at the moment my hon. Friend raised that particular question. I will say again what I have often said from the Dispatch Box: certainty is crucial in all this. I have always preferred a UK-wide response to covid, in whatever respect that might come, because it inspires confidence and compliance. I think that some kind of further indication from the Welsh Government as to the unlocking process for businesses in Wales is overdue and I hope very much that we will hear more shortly.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC) [V]
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Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llefarydd. With your permission, I would like to say thanks to Wales’s national football team. It was not to be this time, but fe godwn ni eto— we will rise again.

More than one in five households in Wales with a net income under £20,000 have seen their income drop since January. Nearly 110,000 families are struggling to cover essential costs. Labour’s leader in Wales complained yesterday that the key levers for tackling poverty are in the hands of the UK Government, but paradoxically he opposes the devolution of those powers to the Senedd. One Government have the levers but choose not to use them, while the other are content with not having those levers at all. Will the Secretary of State urge the Chancellor, please, to make use of his powers and make permanent the £20 uplift to universal credit?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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I am absolutely happy to confirm, as I always do from the Dispatch Box, that the Chancellor is very focused on making sure that levelling up means exactly that, that economic recovery means exactly that, that nowhere gets left behind and that every decision we take in Government, in any Department, is always taken through the prism of levelling up and of equalising opportunity and job and life chances across Wales. That has been a really transformational development during covid, and I very much hope that the right hon. Lady can join me in congratulating the Chancellor on the work that he has done.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts
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None the less, I am sure that for those families £20 would make a lot of difference.

Last week, I presented a Bill—the Crown Estate (Devolution to Wales) Bill—to devolve the management of the Crown Estate, and our natural resources in Wales, to Wales. Scotland gained those powers in 2017, and now it is reaping the benefits of the green offshore wind revolution. I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the value of the Crown Estate’s remaining seabed assets, which include those in Wales, has more than doubled over the past year, to more than £4 billion. Does he agree that Wales deserves equal treatment with Scotland as regards control over our natural resources?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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I can confirm that I have conversations with the Crown Estate. Its proposals for offshore floating wind off the west Wales coast are extremely welcome. Where I think that I am in some form of disagreement with the right hon. Lady—she will not be remotely surprised by this—is on the fact that in order to achieve some success in the renewables sector, somehow we always have to go back to powers and further devolution. Of all the conversations that I have had with industries, sectors, individuals, voters—you name them—across the whole of the past 18 months, including and in particular at the Senedd elections, not one single person urged me to follow the route that the right hon. Lady has just set out. Of course, they urge us to pursue our renewables agenda, and that is what we are doing. We are doing it, as far as we can, as a UK-wide endeavour, because that is the way we will get to our targets the quickest.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
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What recent assessment he has made of the role of the Union in the effectiveness of the covid-19 vaccine programme in Wales.

Simon Hart Portrait The Secretary of State for Wales (Simon Hart)
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The UK Government’s vaccine taskforce has been the foundation for the success of our covid-19 vaccines programme. The research, development, acquisition, manufacture, payment and UK-wide distribution, supported by the UK armed forces, has demonstrated beyond doubt the value of our United Kingdom.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb
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Can my right hon. Friend give an indication of just how many vaccines the UK Government have now supplied to the Welsh Government and the NHS in Wales so that they can continue to roll out this triumphant United Kingdom achievement, in which I am reliably told that my constituents in Dudley borough are leading the way?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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To date, the UK Government have delivered more than 3.8 million doses of vaccine to the Welsh Government—free of charge, as should absolutely be the case. Of all the many examples that we could stand here and list of the strength of the Union, the value of the Union and where it has been such a reassuring force in the past 16 months, the success of this UK-wide programme is probably the best that we could ever turn to. I am grateful to have been given an opportunity to say so again.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the safety of staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s offices in Swansea during the covid-19 outbreak.

David T C Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (David T. C. Davies)
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We work very closely with the Department for Transport and share the view that the safety of staff at the DVLA is paramount. That is why the DFT has implemented weekly covid testing for everyone, hired more than 30 new cleaners and installed thermal imaging cameras to carry out temperature checks on all people entering the building.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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I am glad to hear that the Minister is so in touch with the DVLA, but can I enlighten him on an issue? A staff rep at DVLA has been subjected to a tirade of online abuse for standing up for colleagues’ safety. Much of that abuse has been shared on the social media accounts of some DVLA managers. The DVLA is refusing to remove an online petition that includes threats to the rep’s safety. Will the Minister join me in condemning this abuse and, in his conversations with Department for Transport colleagues, encourage them to not only distance themselves from that abuse, but ensure that the DVLA removes all the abusive contact immediately?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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I am not aware of the specific examples, but I am happy to join the hon. Lady in condemning all kinds of online abuse against absolutely anyone. I have been the victim of online abuse myself, and I am sure that the hon. Lady has—I assume that most of us have—and I would never ever support the abuse of anyone online, whatever their views or their position in some form of industrial dispute. I would just gently point out, though, that 60,000 items are received by the DVLA every day that have to be dealt with in person, and many of them are coming from the most vulnerable members of society, so I hope, notwithstanding the issues around online abuse, that the Public and Commercial Services Union will quickly draw this dispute to a close.

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con)
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What steps the Government are taking to create jobs and encourage investment in Wales.

David T C Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (David T. C. Davies)
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Inward investment is central to the UK Government’s mission to level up the UK economy. Last year, Wales attracted 5% of all inward investment projects into the UK, creating over 1,500 new jobs and safeguarding almost 7,000. This strong performance will be boosted by the Welsh trade and investment hub, based in Tŷ William Morgan, which I was pleased to be able to visit last week.

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell
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I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Visitor destinations in Wales are, like Eastbourne, set for an unprecedented staycation summer this year, but to secure the long-term recovery of the sector, to remain internationally competitive and to fully realise the power of the visitor economy, the 5% VAT cut is key. Will he make representations to the Treasury to that effect?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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The 5% cut in VAT for the hospitality industry has been a boost to tourism businesses across the whole of the United Kingdom, including in Eastbourne, and it has certainly benefited many businesses that I have had the pleasure of visiting in Wales, such as the National Slate Museum at Llanberis, the zip wire at Penrhyn and Surf Snowdonia at Dolgarrog. There are fantastic opportunities to go on holiday to north Wales, to south Wales and even to Eastbourne as a result of the cut in VAT, and I hope hon. Members will take advantage of it this summer.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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The Welsh Labour Government’s business support funding has been a lifeline to many Welsh companies throughout the pandemic. Indeed, there are businesses that have been able to stay afloat solely because of the emergency grants and loans that they have received, but this business support is under threat due to this Conservative Government’s determination to make decisions about post-EU funding here in Whitehall instead of working with the newly elected Welsh Government. Will the Minister urgently reconsider this approach to the ending of 20 years of Welsh decision making on these issues, in order that businesses can have confidence that these vital Welsh Government programmes will have the funding to continue in the future?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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I welcome the point made by the hon. Gentleman, because it is absolutely true that the £3 billion that the UK Government gave in support to businesses in Wales has been hugely beneficial in ensuring that those businesses survived, along with the £8.6 billion extra that the UK Government delivered to the Welsh Assembly Government. That commitment of those billions of pounds demonstrates the enormous commitment of the UK Government towards Wales. I can assure him that the new shared prosperity fund and the levelling-up funds will continue to support Welsh businesses, and of course we look forward to working with the Welsh Government to ensure that those funds are well spent.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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The Minister will be aware that last week the Lloyds Banking Group announced the closure of 44 branches across England and Wales. For communities such as mine in Pontypridd and Taff Ely, these banks provide a vital service for residents and are important local employers. Can the Minister therefore confirm exactly what conversations he has had with the Chancellor about encouraging banks to remain open in Wales to protect these vital local jobs and services?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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I have certainly had discussions about closures with Lloyds bank in my capacity as a constituency MP. We do not, of course, have the power to prevent independent commercial organisations from making such decisions, but it is regrettable that banks have closed down. Obviously, I would be happy to work with the hon. Lady, as I did last week when we visited the excellent Royal Mint in her constituency and met some of the kickstart workers who have benefited as a result of UK Government funding.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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With its world heritage site, the Llangollen canal and the steam railway, tourism is vital for jobs and investment in Clwyd South. Does the Minister agree that the Labour Welsh Government’s plans for a tourism tax would be disastrous for the hospitality industry in Wales, particularly as we have just come out of the covid pandemic?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and I look forward, I hope, to an invitation to visit his constituency at some point in the future to see some of the superb tourist attractions there. The UK Government have shown their commitment to the tourism industry by cutting VAT to 5%, whereas the Welsh Labour Government want to implement a tax on the tourism industry at a time when it is at its most fragile. The UK Government will always want to level up the economy, whereas Welsh Labour will always want to levy taxes.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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What discussions he has had with the (a) Welsh Government and (b) Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the potential effect of the Professional Qualifications Bill on professionals affected by that legislation in Wales.

David T C Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (David T. C. Davies)
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I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government and the Business Secretary on a wide range of subjects, such as the impact of legislation on Wales. This Bill will ensure that any unnecessary and unclear barriers imposed on accessing professions—both for overseas-qualified professionals and UK nationals, including those in Wales, who are seeking to become qualified—are removed.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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The Bill allows the Secretary of State to exercise powers concurrently over areas where Welsh Ministers normally exercise power. Does the Minister therefore agree that the devolved Administrations should be able to revoke these measures if they decide this is necessary in the future?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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The UK Government have shown their commitment to devolution on numerous occasions and are always willing to work with the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Administrations, but at the end of the day the Bill is about ensuring that highly qualified professionals in the hon. Lady’s constituency are able to work anywhere in the UK, and I would have thought that that is something she would support.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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What plans the Government have to provide funding for renewable energy infrastructure in Wales.

David T C Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (David T. C. Davies)
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I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Morlais tidal energy and Pembroke dock marine initiatives, both of which are part of the growth deals. Later this year, we will bring forward a net zero strategy and hold an auction for up to 12 GW of renewable energy funding.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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The newly re-elected Welsh Labour Government have wasted no time in getting to work and have committed to building greener homes, hospitals and schools, which will develop new green jobs in a radical transition to a zero-carbon Wales. So will the Minister join me and the people of Newport West in welcoming these Welsh Labour Government commitments to build on their investment in Wales? What lessons does he think the Westminster Government can learn from these green, ecologically sound plans?

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies
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Of course I welcome Welsh Government commitments to support green energy and green jobs. I assure the hon. Lady that the Secretary of State and I will want to work with the Welsh Government to further that aim. These are issues we can agree on, which is why we have demonstrated that commitment through the £21.5 million going to the south Wales industrial cluster and the £15.9 million going to Meritor—or Lucas Girling as she and I would remember it—for electric powertrain integration. That will help many members of her constituency.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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What discussions he has had with representatives of the Church in Wales on political neutrality in positions of faith.

Simon Hart Portrait The Secretary of State for Wales (Simon Hart)
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I have recently been corresponding with the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the Bishop of St Davids’ ill-advised and divisive comments on Twitter. I am sure we all agree that our religious leaders should promote tolerance and inclusiveness, and I am pleased that the Church in Wales has apologised for the bishop’s intemperate language.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton
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I am very supportive of the actions taken by the Secretary of State involving the Bishop of St Davids, but does he agree that this issue of intolerance towards those who hold Conservative views is becoming more widespread throughout academia and public life, and that we need concerted efforts to address this?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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As my hon. Friend knows, it appears that this sort of trolling habit is, sadly, not exclusive to the bishop; Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones has also been busy dishing out abuse, with his most recent contribution being to describe Conservative voters as the “lowest form of life”. I cannot help but ask what the professor would have done and how he would have reacted if any of our colleagues had described university academics as the lowest form of life. It would have been as outrageous for him as it is for us, and I very much hope that Cardiff University will follow the example of the Archbishop of Canterbury and deal with this promptly.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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What plans the Government have to provide funding for rail infrastructure in Wales.

Simon Hart Portrait The Secretary of State for Wales (Simon Hart)
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We have committed £2 billion to Network Rail for the current control period, and close to £60 million has been committed to upgrade Cardiff Central station and £76 million to electrify the Severn tunnel route. More locally, the Cambrian and Wrexham-Bidston lines and stations at Bow Street and St Clears are also set to receive additional funding.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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In a previous answer, the Secretary of State said that the UK Government’s priority was investment. That clearly is not the case with Welsh railways: we have more than 11% of the track but have not had even 2% of funding over the past decade. It has been a lost decade for Welsh railway infrastructure. The Secretary of State needs to set out quickly with Department for Transport officials how he is going to address the lack of investment and ensure that Welsh railway gets the investment it deserves.

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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The hon. Gentleman is a great campaigner on this issue, but I can only repeat what I said in answer to the substantive question, which was a list of investment. It is all about levelling up and infrastructure—

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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It is all very well the hon. Gentleman shaking his head in disbelief, but the reality is that there has been more investment in all the infrastructure projects than at any stage in recent history. That is largely thanks to the energy of this Government and our commitment to levelling up in Wales.

Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
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The Cefn bridge at Trewern is a bottleneck between mid-Wales and the west midlands economy. Will the Secretary of State meet me and stakeholders to ensure that the Union connectivity review, which I very much welcome, tackles this bottleneck?

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart
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Absolutely. My hon. Friend is the epitome of energetic campaigning on road improvement and other infrastructure schemes. Who will forget the Pant to Llanymynech bypass as one of the great achievements of the MP for Montgomeryshire? I am happy to confirm that, so excited am I by that prospect, I will be there on Monday next week.

Petition

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Gareth Johnson Portrait Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con)
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I am grateful to be able to present a petition on behalf of my constituents at Stonehill Woods Park, a park home site in my constituency of Dartford, who will be profoundly impacted on should the London congestion charge move to Outer London.

The petition states:

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that consideration should be given to stopping the Mayor of London imposing charges for driving in Outer London; notes that if the Mayor of London imposes these charges, residents of the constituency of Dartford will be forced to pay a £3.50 fee each time they drive in Outer London.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to consider stopping the Mayor of London from imposing charges on driving in Outer London.

And the petitioners remain, etc.

[P002670]

Speaker’s Statement

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before we move on to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to pay tribute to a member of my staff who is retiring today from the House of Commons after 28 years’ service. Ian Davis, who took part in his final Speaker’s procession earlier, joined the House service in October 1993, having served in the Army across the world for 24 years, including the overseeing of a field hospital in northern Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf war.

On his retirement as Band Sergeant Major in the Scots Guards, Ian, a gifted musician who plays the French horn and violin, came to the Commons to be a senior Doorkeeper around the Chamber. He joined Speaker Michael Martin’s team in my office in 2001 as the Trainbearer, which is how he is dressed today, before his promotion to Assistant Secretary to the Speaker in 2011, which is the role he has held until now.

Ian’s military discipline, can-do attitude, friendship, sense of humour and expertise will be sorely missed by my team, and particularly by me. I have got to say: it is not an easy job to become Speaker, but the one thing that was easy for me was knowing that Ian Davis was there to advise me and the Speaker’s Secretary on the work that we do. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I cannot thank Ian enough for the support and help that he has given to me personally, as well as to the office.

Of course, Ian was in the Scots Guards, and so was his father, so he has a great history of serving this country. After 52 years of public service and an MBE for services to Parliament, I would like to wish you, Ian, all the best and a very happy retirement with Linda, back home on the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight’s gain is the Commons’ loss. Thank you for everything you have done. [Applause.]

Covid-19: Impact on Attendance in Education Settings

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

11:30
Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on the impact of coronavirus on children and young people’s attendance in education settings.

Gavin Williamson Portrait The Secretary of State for Education (Gavin Williamson)
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I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. This Government are absolutely focused on returning society back to normal as soon as possible, and that includes in our schools, colleges and right across the education sector. As I have made clear throughout the pandemic, my top priority has been to keep children in school. Indeed, as I speak today, millions of children have been back in the classroom since 8 March, learning with their friends and teachers. As I am sure the House will agree, that is exactly where they belong. The vast majority of schools are open—99.8% of state-funded schools were open on 24 June—benefiting children who have given up so much during the pandemic.

Back in February, the Prime Minister set out an extensive road map. We need to continue to be careful to complete this cautious but irreversible road map to freedom. We understand the frustration of parents and pupils who may feel that they are being asked to isolate unnecessarily. As I have said throughout the pandemic, children are best off in school. As we continue with our educational recovery, it is vital that absence is minimised as far as possible, and that children and young people attend school. I am looking carefully every day at how we manage the balance between safeguarding children’s education and reducing transmission of the virus, because I know that too many children are still having their education disrupted, no matter how good the remote education they receive.

T he new Health Secretary and I have already discussed these matters, and I am working with him across my Department, as well as with scientists and public health experts, to take the next steps. However, as the House is aware, some restrictions remain in place in schools. I want to see those restrictions, including bubbles, removed as quickly as possible, along with wider restrictions in society. I do not think that it is acceptable for children to face restrictions over and above those on wider society, especially as they have given up so much to keep older generations safe over the past 18 months. Further steps will be taken to reduce the number of children who have to self-isolate, including looking at the outcomes of the daily contact testing trial, as we consider a new model for keeping children in schools and colleges. We constantly assess all available data, and we expect to be able to confirm plans to lift restrictions and bubbles as part of step 4. Once that decision has been made, we will issue guidance immediately to schools.

I would like once again to put on the record this Government’s sincere thanks to all teachers for their dedication and work at this time. My commitment to the House and to the children of Britain is that, as we open up wider society, we will stick to the principle that children’s education and freedom comes first.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question.

Data published yesterday showed that 375,000 children were out of school last week because of coronavirus. It is nine weeks until the new academic year begins, but we have no idea what the Secretary of State plans to keep them in class. School leaders dread another last-minute announcement. They need time to put plans in place, and their staff desperately need a break over the summer.

The Secretary of State has briefed that the bubbles policy will be replaced with daily testing from September. Will testing take place in schools? If so, what support will they receive to do it? Can he tell the House the results of the pilots in schools using regular testing instead of bubbles? What impact has that had on the number of coronavirus cases in the school community and the number of hours that children and staff remain in class? Will he tell us why, if he believes he has a solution that will keep children safely in the classroom, he is waiting until September? What is he doing now to keep children in school before the summer holidays?

Time and again, Labour has called for mitigations to keep children learning, including ventilation and Nightingale classrooms. Why has that not happened? Will the Secretary of State clarify why he abandoned the policy of masks in schools when cases were rising and masks were still required in shops and indoor spaces? Will he share the scientific evidence that led to that decision?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that children who have to isolate over the summer and cannot attend the holiday activities and food programme will still receive free meals? Finally, will he tell us when he expects to receive Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advice on vaccinating older children? Does he believe that they will begin receiving the vaccine before September?

Ministers’ negligence on letting the delta variant into our country is keeping hundreds of thousands of children out of the classroom. The Secretary of State must act now or make way for someone who will.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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On daily contact testing, that is something that Public Health England has been running trials on. We expect it to report back to the Department of Health and Social Care and to us in the coming weeks. We are very clear that we want action to be taken, and that is why we very much want to see the lifting of more restrictions and of the bubbles in schools as part of the next step. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, that decision has to be made across Government as part of the next stage of our road map, but we will of course be informing schools and keeping them up to date as to progress in plenty of time before the start of the next term.

The Labour party deigns to give advice. Let us not forget that its advice was to join the European Union vaccine programme. Well, where would that have got us? It was the Labour party that said that it would not be possible for schools to deliver testing right across all our schools and colleges, yet that was what we were able to do. And it was the Labour party that opposed children going back into the classroom and did not support this Government’s efforts to ensure that children were able to get their education at the earliest possible stage. At every point, the Labour party has done everything it can to frustrate and stop the opportunities for children to be in school.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for what he is doing to try to keep schools open, but we have 300,000 children being sent home. In addition, 93,500 children are missing 50% of school or more, as identified by the Centre for Social Justice this week in a hard-hitting report.

We are in danger of creating a generation of ghost children, denied a proper chance to climb the education ladder of opportunity. Will my right hon. Friend update the guidance and look to establish mobile testing units in schools as soon as possible, even before September, to stop the need for children to be sent home? Will he also set out a plan, galvanising the forces of the Department, local authorities and schools, for how these 100,000 ghost children are going to be returned to school properly so that we can bring their education back to life and do not damage their life chances for decades to come?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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My right hon. Friend raises the important issue of children who are not attending school. That is why we have pulled together the REACT teams, which are a combination of DFE teams, regional schools commissioners, local authorities, the police and, crucially, schools themselves, to target those children, working alongside the supporting families initiative led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is already extensive testing in schools. In fact, some 57 million tests have already been conducted in schools and colleges across the country, so we already have a well-established testing mechanism. The next stage, as we move to step 4 of the road map, is that we want schools to be able to operate more freely. We want all children to be able to be part of the summer activities, whether that is the holiday activity and food programmes or the additional summer schools that schools are laying on. That is why, as part of step 4, we are looking at lifting the restrictions and bubbles that schools currently have to operate, and we are looking at doing that at the very earliest opportunity, so children will be able to benefit through the summer.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State stop this dither and delay? On education matters, everyone in this House should be united, but there is a generation of young children who have missed education and will continue to miss education. Families, and parents particularly, want certainty. They want to know what the rules are and what they can expect, so that they can plan their everyday lives. Most of all, all of us who care about education know that the upcoming summer holiday could be an opportunity for a vast number of national volunteers to work with children, to give them the vital support they are missing because they have missed so much school education. Come on, Secretary of State, take the lead and do something positive, imaginative and bold.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughts. We have already outlined, if he had listened to my answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), that we are looking towards lifting the restrictions, especially bubbles, as part of the next step of the road map. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government will, in the very near future, announce the next step of the road map, and lifting the restrictions will very much be part of that. It is important that all our actions, right across Government, are properly co-ordinated as part of a process of easing restrictions right across the country.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted that the Government prioritised the reopening of schools as we eased lockdown; I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all his efforts to make sure that children return to schools and get in-person education as much as possible. Does he agree that rolling out regular testing as we do so will ensure that we not only stop the spread of the virus, but prevent children from being unnecessarily sent home and missing out on their education? At the same time, we must make sure that the tests are carried out properly and appropriately.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend will probably have seen the figures: more than 50 million tests have already been conducted across schools and colleges. We are very much aware that testing has been an important part of getting schools reopened, and we continue to work with colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care and in track and trace to ensure that testing is available to all pupils and their families.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The number of children missing school is rising every single day and families are at their wits’ end, while the Government are once again far too slow to react. Will the Government act now and establish a rapid taskforce with public health directors and school leaders, with a mandate to keep schools open safely?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is fair to say that Liberal Democrats have never been very good at numbers. Actually, schools are open right across the country—they are welcoming children. Millions of children are in school, benefiting from being with their teachers, and we continue to take action to ensure we do everything we can to maximise the number of children there. As part of step 4, as I touched on earlier, we will be looking at lifting more restrictions; that will be announced in the near future.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s work to keep schools open and his ambition to see the end of the bubble system, but may I ask him to look at a cohort of children who risk being caught up negatively by covid guidance and restrictions: those who are due to start primary school this September? I declare an interest in that my own son is due to start school this September. Under the current guidance, schools are unable to run the settling-in sessions that are essential for children to familiarise themselves with their new environment and have the best start in school life. Will my right hon. Friend take action to ensure that those settling-in sessions can happen?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will share some of the guidance that we have. There is flexibility for schools, for those key transition years, to have some level of familiarisation with those children. I will organise it that my office shares that information with my hon. Friend.

Tahir Ali Portrait Tahir Ali (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The number of children self-isolating has quadrupled during this month because of increases in cases of covid. Following this sharp rise, more children are now able to learn online from home with the IT equipment and internet access provided to schools by the Government. Hundreds of families in my constituency of Birmingham, Hall Green have benefited from the scheme, but I am now hearing that many of the devices have been either disabled or taken back by the schools. That has a significant impact on learning, especially for those who are living in poverty. It is important that access to IT equipment should not be disrupted. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that children keep the laptops and return them only when they leave school at year 6 or 11?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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The investment that we made in IT equipment is there to help pupils. Although those laptops are the property of the schools, we very much want the schools to prioritise using them to help children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. I will certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s point and look in more detail at whether we can give more guidance and a stronger steer to schools to really emphasise that point.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con) [V]
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We all know that the pandemic has caused many young people to miss out on vital learning experiences and I welcome the Government’s recovery strategy to help them catch up. In Cumbria, we have unique outdoor education centres, such as the Blencathra Centre and the Outward Bound centres, that offer life-affirming educational experiences both as day and residential activities, giving young people a chance to benefit from some of the vital opportunities they have missed out on. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these centres can be a key part of the solution, and will he look into his Department directly supporting and utilising these assets to achieve the educational recovery?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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As part of step 3 of the road map, we lifted restrictions so that people could do overnight residential. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the benefits of outdoor education centres and the real value they bring to many young people. We will certainly continue to work with the sector on how we can promote that, especially as schools have more and more freedoms in the future.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have consistently let down our children. To bring down case numbers and to reduce school closures, the likes of me advocated for teachers to be vaccinated, for a circuit break during half-term last year and for other sensible measures, but we were ignored. Now, shockingly, one child in 20 was out of school last week and case numbers are still rising. Will the Secretary of State commit to reviewing the use of the bubble system and to implementing the recommendations now, rather than waiting until the autumn?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I will happily pass on a copy of Hansard to the hon. Gentleman, so he can reference what I said earlier in response to this urgent question.

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
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The Secretary of State is right to push back on the Labour party. I do not remember Labour Members being huge champions of getting schools back on 8 March, when we were campaigning so strongly for it. Their words are a little bit hollow now.

The Secretary of State is clearly indicating where he wants to go on getting rid of bubbles. I am not really sure, though, why we cannot do it now. We are going to cause a huge problem for the rest of term and we will not be giving a lot of time for teachers in schools to prepare for the autumn. What I really wanted to ask him was about testing. We have now vaccinated all adults at risk of being seriously ill from covid. Given that covid is going to be endemic, is he really suggesting that for the rest of time we are going to be testing our schoolchildren on a regular basis? I think we need to move back to normal. Once we have protected everyone who is vulnerable to covid—children are not, largely—we need to get back to normal, not ensuring our children have to be continuously tested for the entirety of their school careers.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend raises a very interesting and thoughtful point. We want to see schools return to normality. We do not want children to feel as if there is an extra layer of things they have to do that we, as adults, do not have to do. That is very important. Testing has been an incredibly important tool in the armoury to get schools back, especially on 8 March when we saw the mass return of schools, but we do keep it under review. We take scientific advice from the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and other scientific bodies. We are looking at this continuously and we have found it a useful tool, but in the much longer term do I see testing as something that we expect children to continuously do always in the future? No, I do not. Ideally, I want to move away from that at the earliest and most realistic possible stage.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) pointed out that there is a risk, as things stand, that children may have to isolate and stay at home when they should be taking part in the holiday activities and food programme over the summer. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that, whatever happens, children who are entitled to access food support over the summer will still be able to do that?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can absolutely assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is the case. Obviously, the Department for Work and Pensions has its covid support fund, which is available for local authorities to provide free school meals. Any changes as part of the road map that would lead to the lifting of further restrictions and of bubbles within schools would also take effect for the summer holidays, so children who wanted to take part in holiday activity and food programmes would be able to do so without operating within a bubble system.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Because of new variants, it is quite possible that long into the future the number of covid cases will increase from time to time. Is the Secretary of State aware that Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who was behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has said:

“If…high protection against hospitalisation continues despite spread in the community, the public health crisis is over”?

Does my right hon. Friend understand that we must move away from being concerned with the number of cases of covid and disrupting schools needlessly through testing and isolation, and focus squarely on hospitalisation?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much have that at the forefront of my mind. If my right hon. Friend has time, it would be very interesting to sit down with him, and with some of my team and some from the Department of Health and Social Care, to discuss this in greater detail. The key thing is making sure that people are not being hospitalised and people are not in danger of dying. The vaccine has had enormous success in doing that, but we cannot then have the brake on children’s lives in the future.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend and thank the Secretary of State for being here today and addressing the concerns of many of us. What happens here sets the direction for regional Administrations. Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the education of young people, with some not being able to access resources and many suffering as a result of the closure of schools. Mental health issues among pupils are rising at alarming levels, so what discussion has he had with school principals and with regional Assemblies to reduce the negative impact on our children’s academic development? What steps can he take to ensure that the education system is pandemic-ready for the future?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have always, at all stages, done as much as possible to work with all devolved Administrations across the UK and we will continue to do so, be it on mental health issues, the awarding of grades, or education recovery. Let me take the opportunity to put on the record my thanks for the work that I had the opportunity to do with Peter Weir, who was the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland. We had a very close working relationship and I am very appreciative of all the work he undertook for the children and students in Northern Ireland in his time as Minister.

James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The metropolitan borough of Bury currently has more than 2,000 children self-isolating, which is negatively impacting on their social, emotional and educational development. I welcome and recognise my right hon. Friend’s commitment to keeping children in school, but does he recognise and agree—I am sure he does—that we cannot allow this situation to continue? Surely we must learn to live with covid-19 and remove the requirements for school bubbles, together with the current policy of self-isolation, at the earliest opportunity.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are very much wanting to go down that course of easing restrictions and ensuring that, as we come out this pandemic, children are one of the greatest beneficiaries. My hon. Friend’s mind and mine are very much in the same place.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Children in the most disadvantaged areas are almost twice as likely to be those self-isolating, such as year 6 in St Mark’s Primary School in my constituency, but they are also likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide, with 23 pupils at St Mark’s still without the kit and connectivity required to log in and learn from home when isolating. With every click widening the attainment gap, will the Secretary of State today back my campaign to ensure that every child entitled to free school meals has access to data and a device at home?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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This is very much why we invested hundreds of millions of pounds in the roll-out of 1.3 million devices to be able to support schools, but most importantly to be able to support children, as the hon. Lady set out.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can my right hon. Friend reassure me, as we look to 19 July and the end of the summer term, that there can be no question of a return to bubbles and self-isolation when children return in the autumn?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not want to pre-empt the decision across Government on the next stage, but our direction is very clear about lifting the restrictions and ensuring that children are not in a situation where they have to bubble. That is very much part of the course of the road map, and of course we would very much expect that our children would not be facing that in September, as my right hon. Friend has said.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State says that his priority is to keep children in school, yet hundreds of thousands of them are missing yet more precious time in the classroom as well as important end-of-term rituals, and families are angry and desperate. For many months, organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Royal Society of Medicine have been saying that one of the basic things that needs to be done to protect our children is to ensure better ventilation in all classrooms. People who live in New York, for example, can consult a public website to see the ventilation status of every single classroom in the state, and there has been serious investment in ventilation and filtration there. Why has the Secretary of State not done something similar here to introduce those basic mitigation measures and fast-track the assessment of testing pilots? Living with covid must not mean dumping all the risk on our children because the Education Secretary has not acted with anything like the urgency and ambition this crisis demands.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

At every stage, we have put in all the protective measures that are required in order to be able to keep children safe and ensure that they are back in the classroom and have the opportunity to learn.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The numbers of pupils self-isolating and therefore not at school have risen nationally from 40,000 to 300,000 in three weeks, and in the same period in Gloucestershire they have risen from a few hundred to almost 8,000, which is virtually 8% of all pupils. That is clearly not the direction that either the Education Secretary or any of us want.

We can therefore all agree with the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ children’s expert, Professor Russell Viner, who has said that we have to rethink all the rules around our schools. Schools are not the driver of transmission at the moment, and to my knowledge there is not a single child in Gloucestershire in any of our hospitals with the virus, so something needs to be done. My right hon. Friend has already given a clear steer that he wants to see children back at school as soon as possible and the benefits of summer school being enjoyed, so would he consider a pilot project in Gloucestershire to allow all these children who are self-isolating to get back to school as soon as possible?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Frankly, if there is going to be a pilot project, it is going to be in Staffordshire, not in Gloucestershire, but that was a good old punt.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Professor Marmot has reported today on the impacts of inequality in large parts of Greater Manchester, including my own constituency, and we know that covid has exacerbated these inequalities. We know that too many children have had and are still having their education disrupted. We all agree that we need to ensure that children and families are supported, not just during self-isolation, and that catch-up is intensified, so what work is the Secretary of State’s Department doing on the wider impact that covid may have on this cohort of children in school or college through the pandemic? How do we ensure that we properly tackle the inequalities created by covid on top of the pre-existing inequalities affecting the same children?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would very much appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman forwarded that report, as it would be interesting to look at the details. We have been looking closely at the impact of covid on children’s learning right across the country. We have been doing a detailed study with Renaissance Learning to look at the lost learning, not just as a national cohort but very much in granular detail, and that is very much informing our policy development as to how we best address that.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers today and for his commitment to remove self-isolation for schoolchildren as soon as possible. That will be widely welcomed across Wimbledon. Can he reassure me about what the Government are doing to ensure that disabled children get the support they need at home when they have been self-isolating and unable to attend school?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We very much expect the education to be delivered for all children remotely, whether they are in a mainstream school, a special school or alternative provision. We work with the sector to ensure that that happens, including on the provision of IT equipment and devices, which is so critical for all schools to be able to deliver that.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We remember the appalling free school meals debacle over Christmas, where the Opposition and football players had to try to force the Government to do the right thing. My Ilford South constituents, who are among some of the poorest in certain super-output wards, are extremely concerned that their holiday activities and food programme has not been guaranteed if they are going to be at home self-isolating. Will the Secretary of State please be crystal clear that nobody will go without food this summer?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman probably heard my earlier answer. Of course, the Department for Work and Pensions scheme is there to support children who are in receipt of free school meals over the summer period. The holiday activities and food programme is an extensive scheme across local authorities right across the country. This is an excellent scheme and we want to see all children able to take part in it because of the benefit of not just food, but, as importantly, the activity that is part of the scheme.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to end bubbles. Last week, some 74% of children who were isolating in England were doing so not because they had caught covid but because someone in their bubble had done so. This puts a huge strain on them and their parents. With that in mind between now and the terminus date, will my right hon. Friend consider accelerating the rapid testing programme to ensure that we see less self-isolating for children?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We always continue to work with the Department for Health and Social Care on testing and being able to maximise that so that we can catch people with covid at home, so they are not in a position of infecting their friends at school and the teachers.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

With nearly 400,000 children and young people out of school just last week for covid-related reasons, the Government’s failure to secure our borders against the delta variant has demonstrated the damage that it is doing to children and their future. Given those failures and the incompetence, frankly, of the Secretary of State over the last year in getting a grip and supporting schoolchildren, is it not time that he worked with the Chancellor to get the funding that is needed for catch-up, as was recommended by the former catch-up tsar, Sir Kevan Collins? There is a shortfall of £13.6 billion. Is it not time that that money was provided so that children do not continue to suffer because of the mistakes of the Secretary of State’s Government?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady seems to be blissfully unaware that we have already invested over £3 billion in supporting children to be able to catch up in our schools. As she requested, we will continue to work closely with the Treasury—as we have been doing—as we approach the spending review to see what further action is needed to be able to support our children.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey (Tatton) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week, 375,000 pupils were off school through self-isolation and there has been a 40% increase in anti-depressants being prescribed to under-17-year-olds. Given that children are extremely unlikely to suffer serious ill health as a result of catching covid, and given the damage being done to their education and their mental health, is it not time we stopped this self-isolation madness and got all pupils back in the classroom where they belong?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend raises a really important issue in terms of children’s mental health. This is why we have been so concerned to put interventions in place to be able to support children, as well as those who work in our schools and colleges, with their mental health at this incredibly difficult time. The best way of helping children and all people—all staff—with their mental health is by actually having schools functioning as normally as possible. That is why we have always been clear that when we are in a position to be able to remove those restrictions, and to be able to make those changes and make it easier for schools to operate as normally as possible, we will always take those steps at the earliest possible stage.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
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My constituent Stephen sums up the frustrations of parents and pupils when he tells me that his boy is now home again for a third time—10 days of isolation—because somebody has tested positive in his school, even though he wears a mask. He has tested negative on a PCR test, plus two further tests a week. Stephen asks how we can justify 40,000 people hugging each other at Wembley, but his son cannot see his friends. The effect on pupils has also been raised by my constituent Joe, who teaches and has seen the mental health effects to which the Secretary of State just referred. What additional support will be put in place to support Joe and the pupils that he supports during this mental health crisis?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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The hon. Member is probably aware that both the Department of Health and Social Care and my Department have outlined support packages for schools to boost mental health provision, including training to ensure that there are people trained to deal with mental health issues in all schools, right across the country. He is probably also aware of the comments I made earlier about the lifting of restrictions and the removal of bubbles. That is the next step that we very much want to take, but it has to be done in line with the broader changes and steps to unlock the country that are part of the road map.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
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Getting children back into school without having to self-isolate cannot come soon enough, as there is no substitute for learning, attainment and keeping children in face-to-face education. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that keeping children in an educational setting whenever it is safe to do so remains his priority?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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My hon. Friend is so right. The provisions—whether it was the roll-out of mass testing across all schools, or the restrictions and levels of safety that we had to put into schools—have all been designed around getting children into schools for the maximum amount of time, ensuring that they are in front of the teacher with their friends, having the very best classroom experience. That is the No. 1 priority. As we move out of this crisis, we want to lift as many of those restrictions as possible and liberate schools to be able to operate in the best possible way for themselves.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government’s failure to get border controls in place has enabled the delta variant to take hold in the UK, forcing children out of classrooms and away from their friends?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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At every stage, the Government have been one of the first to act in order to keep this country safe; this was one of the first countries in Europe to impose travel restrictions on India as a result of the delta variant. The new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the Transport Secretary and the Prime Minister take that responsibility incredibly seriously.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments. I have recently finished a 10-day period of self-isolation following someone in my office testing positive for covid. However, the flatmate of that person was able to go about their daily life in a normal way, using the Government’s daily testing trial. As we learn to live with covid, surely it is time to move quickly to a more nuanced approach that does not endlessly interrupt children’s education, as it cannot be right to have learning continuously disrupted by unnecessary self-isolation.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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There is nothing that I can really disagree with my hon. Friend about, so I had better just sit down, hadn’t I?

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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Too many schoolchildren across my constituency of Blaydon have faced disadvantage from being out of school under the current arrangements. Will the Secretary of State be absolutely clear with school leaders well in advance of any new arrangements to be put in place? It is vital that they have that information. Will he also talk about the support that can be given to disabled children to ensure that they have the chance to catch up on the education opportunities that they have missed?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I very much want to reassure the hon. Lady that we will give all schools good notice of any new arrangements. As I have committed to, we are aiming to issue guidance and advice to schools in conjunction with the details of step 4. On disabled children and children with special educational needs, we will continue to have a really strong emphasis in terms of how we support special schools or alternative provision. In particular, we will weight the level of support at a much higher level for those schools than we do for mainstream schools.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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Like others, I would also like to see the immediate return of the daily testing that has been so successful in the pilot schools, so that pupils can remain in school. I agree with others that we should go back to normal as soon as possible, preferably in September. Yesterday, the Minister for School Standards stated that we are consulting parents, teachers and pupils about extending the school day. Will the Secretary of State make it clear during the consultation that the extended day should be for enrichment activities as well as time for extra tutoring where necessary?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I very much want to see children spending as much time in school as possible, although I do want them to have the opportunity to go home at certain points, Mr Speaker! As part of that extra time, I want them not only to be learning from a rigorous curriculum that has been carefully crafted by my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards—they will get a lot of fun out of learning from that rigorous and detailed curriculum—but to have more fun doing sporting activities, cultural activities, art and so much more as well.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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Over the past few weeks, I have been touring secondary schools in my constituency. The current self-isolation policy, which, incidentally, resulted in a Twickenham secondary having to close its doors entirely last week for several days, combined with lockdowns is not just impacting academic progress; the No.1 issue, according to heads and safeguarding leads, is the mental health impact. As well as ensuring support for academic catch-up, may I urge the Secretary of State to do everything he can to speed up the roll-out of mental health support teams in schools? Will he also please speak to the Health Secretary to provide urgent additional capacity for tier 4 child and adolescent mental health services beds because too many children are being turned away? From the evidence that I am being presented with, it is not exaggeration to say that children’s lives are at risk because teachers and school counsellors just do not have the skills to deal with those cases.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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The hon. Lady raises a very thoughtful and important issue. I am very much with her in that I want to see the roll-out of mental health support in schools as quickly as is feasibly possible. That also plays an incredibly important role in tackling some of the further pressure that is then put at the door of CAMHS services. I am very happy to take up the point that she raised with the Department for Health and Social Care, which runs CAMHS, as to how best we can support children in those early stages and, if there is a need for clinical intervention, how that can be best supported and swiftly supported in order to be able to deal with the problem early on.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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The Government prioritised reopening schools above almost anything else. Schools in Stoke-on-Trent have been doing an absolutely amazing job in keeping education going, given the challenges that they have faced. I know that schools in my constituency are struggling with several covid cases right now. It is vital that we keep children in school as far as possible, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to ensure that no more time is lost and that all our young people receive the good quality education that we want to see?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I know my hon. Friend has done so much for education in Stoke, including his efforts to secure a new free school for the Stoke-on-Trent South constituency. He is right: we constantly review what needs to be done to keep children in school for a maximum amount of time so that they can benefit from the education. We recognise that that delivers the best benefits for children not only in his constituency, but in all of our constituencies.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab) [V]
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Teachers and school staff in Warrington North have moved heaven and earth over the past 18 months to try to support the education and welfare of our town’s young people in the face of last-minute, changing and often contradictory guidance. Nowhere is this more the case than in special educational needs and disability educational settings, especially as testing can be traumatic or, indeed, impossible for some children with special needs. When will schools know what is to happen in September and, can the Secretary of State confirm that this will be shared with schools well in advance of the summer holiday to ensure that staff are not required to work across their summer leave, and that specific guidance will be provided for SEND schools rather than their being an after-thought?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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Specific guidance is always provided for special educational needs schools. I can ensure that the detail on the gov.uk website is available to the hon. Lady so she might be able to read it if she is interested in doing so. I absolutely assure her that, as I have said in answer to other questions, we will provide that information at the earliest possible stage.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
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I have been contacted by parents across Burnley and Padiham, some of whom have children who are off for the third time despite having never had coronavirus themselves, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s work to end isolation for students. One thing that will really help schools is getting the testing solution right. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care about new types of testing, such as saliva testing, that would be far quicker and easier for schools to implement?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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We always work with our colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England in respect of the very best forms of testing. We are always aware that there is new technology and innovation and we want to be able to use that to the best of our ability, to make sure that not only all my hon. Friend’s constituents in Burnley who want to attend school are able to do so but everyone throughout the country can do so as well.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab) [V]
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I have had lots of emails from desperate parents in south Manchester whose children have suffered multiple periods of isolation and are worried about more. They all say that we need to review the isolation rules urgently. We now hear that the Secretary of State is looking at announcing plans as part of step 4, but there is no reason to wait for step 4: schools have a problem now and they need to know what to do about it. Every time I have met headteachers in the past year, their biggest complaint is always about the lateness of guidance from the Secretary of State’s Department. Why is it that the Department for Education is always so slow with advice? Why do pupils and schools always seem to be the after- thought in this crisis?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I assure the House that we always do everything we can to ensure that all guidance is available to schools at the very earliest opportunity.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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As my right hon. Friend will be aware, in Keighley and Ilkley, we have been subject to restrictions since the pandemic began, whether under the local or regional approach. There is concern among some of my constituents that a regional approach to the implementation of restrictions may return at some point. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if that was the case—I do not want to see it—we would not end up with a situation in which schools in Keighley and Ilkley were forced to close when others in the country were able to be open?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I assure my hon. Friend that I want schools in Keighley and Ilkley always to be open and never to be closed, and that is certainly something that we want to ensure happens. We do not want to see schools in different parts of the country having to close, which is why we will take all the measures that are required to ensure they stay open.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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Schools will not stay open because the Secretary of State wills it—we need a long-term plan. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care told the House on Monday that we are going to have to live with the virus. What does that mean for schools? Where is the plan for improved ventilation and Nightingale classrooms so that children can socially distance in schools and not have to be sent home in bubbles? The virus is not going away—where is the plan?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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The hon. Gentleman seems to have paid little heed to some of the measures we have put in place to ensure that children can get back into school. That is probably not surprising given that his party’s policy seems very rarely to be to encourage and make sure that schools are open—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to ask his question—

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford
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You sent our kids back to school with the Kent variant!

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that children are able to benefit from a great education. That is what we have been doing. We have seen schools open up and down the country—99.8% of schools are open—and we will continue to take the measures required to keep schools open.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
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Parents, pupils and, of course, teachers have borne the brunt of difficulties in respect of bubbles and the self-isolation of children, but it now feels that the whole country is a goal for progress on these issues. Has the Secretary of State heard today, as I have heard, that the Labour party would now support him if he felt able to go where it feels his spirit wishes to lead him and make progress on ending self-isolation and bubbles? Can he now count on their support?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I would probably count the Opposition as a rather unreliable ally, but I certainly hope that they will not do the usual flip-flop that we are accustomed to seeing from the Leader of the Opposition.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State has again been found sleeping at the wheel. One in 20 pupils were self-isolating last week, and today my office was told of another Coventry school being forced to close. Teachers are doing the best they can, but with mitigation rules relaxed and without additional resources, the delta variant will continue to rip through schools. Why were masks required in class in April but not now, given that case rates were lower then than they are now? Will he abandon his “feeble” catch-up plan—not my words, but those of his former adviser? Will he now put in the resources needed to mitigate covid and for educational catch-up—that is £15 billion—as his adviser recommended?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is arguing for more restrictions or fewer—her question did not seem to be that coherent. Perhaps if she can write to me to clarify whether she is pro restrictions or against then, I would be happy to answer.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for his update, and for the promise of ending bubbles and school isolation. Does he agree that it is surprising to hear the Labour party’s latest change in position on pupils attending schools, especially given that only earlier this month it was advocating moving away from formal learning, rather than catching up on crucial lost lessons?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I suppose one of the great advantages of opposition is that consistency is not something that has to be adhered to. There has been an element of inconsistency there. What we are focused on, as we come out of the pandemic, is ensuring that we do everything possible to support schools, teachers and, most importantly, children, to help them catch up on what they have missed over the last year and a half.

Points of Order

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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13:34
Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On Monday, in a point of order, I queried the apparent discrepancy between the Secretary of State’s insistence to the House on 21 June that 6 million children will benefit from tutoring, and information given by his officials to Schools Week that the Government had pledged to provide 6 million courses. In yesterday’s estimates day debate, the Minister for School Standards again referred to 6 million courses. We now have two Ministers saying two different things. However, despite Mr Deputy Speaker’s response to my point of order on Monday, no ministerial correction has so far been issued. Can you assist me by inviting the Secretary of State to clarify the matter?

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for giving notice of her point of order. It is of course essential that ministerial statements to the House are accurate, but the content of a speech, as she knows, is a matter for the Member or Minister themselves. I do not know whether anyone wishes to make a further point. The Secretary of State and his Ministers are here and will have heard the hon. Lady’s point of order, so I am sure that she will find some clarity forthcoming.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Ahead of my Westminster Hall debate this afternoon regarding my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal, it has come to my attention that Members of this House have been sent briefings originating from the Indian high commission here in London. This is something, as you will be aware, that diplomatic delegations are entitled to do, but in this instance it would seem that they have included details that would seek to prejudge what is a live criminal case in that country. I am sure you will agree this is a most unusual state of affairs when one considers the separation of the judiciary from other branches of government, which is seen as a cornerstone of a well-functioning liberal democracy, and a position that flies in the face of the fundamental truth of being innocent until proven guilty. During the three and a half years of his imprisonment, I have sought myself to not prejudge the case against my constituent as it is, as you will appreciate, a matter for the Indian courts. I have only asked that transparency, due process and the rule of law be abided by—something that in this instance it would seem has been denied to Jagtar and is another indication that the growing calls for the UK Government to define his detention as an arbitrary one should now be listened to. Could you advise me and the House: what recourse is open to Members of this place on diplomatic missions to the Court of St James with regard to their ongoing business with this House?

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I thank the hon. Member for his courtesy in giving notice of his point of order. I do not think it appropriate that Members of this House should be lobbied in this way, nor that judicial processes should be interfered with. I thank him for putting his concerns on the record and for giving me the opportunity to express our concerns as well.

I now suspend the House for three minutes to make arrangements for the next business.

13:41
Sitting suspended.
Bill Presented
Subsidy Control
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Michael Gove, Secretary George Eustice, Secretary Robert Jenrick, Secretary Oliver Dowden, Secretary Alister Jack, Secretary Brandon Lewis, Secretary Simon Hart and Paul Scully, presented a Bill to make provision regulating the giving of subsidies out of public resources; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 135) with explanatory notes (Bill 135-EN).

A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a First Reading of a Private Members Bill, but with the sponsor permitted to make a ten minute speech outlining the reasons for the proposed legislation.

There is little chance of the Bill proceeding further unless there is unanimous consent for the Bill or the Government elects to support the Bill directly.

For more information see: Ten Minute Bills

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
13:44
Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give workers the right to flexible working from the first day of employment except in exceptional circumstances; to require employers to offer flexible working arrangements in employment contracts and advertise the available types of such flexibility in vacancy notices; and for connected purposes.

Before the pandemic, about 60% of the workforce said that they had some flexibility when it came to working. Leading organisations in the field, such as the commercial law firm Hill Dickinson, and astonishing organisations in my constituency, such as Synergy Vision, have talked about bringing in flexible working for their employers and increasing happiness in the workforce. Synergy Vision has been recognised for that with a UK’s Best Workplaces 2020 award. When I asked its chief executive, Ffyona Dawber, what benefits had come out of introducing flexible working, she said that it was a win-win for the employers and the employees.

During the pandemic, things have changed and there has been a 6% increase in the workforce who work from home, but there is a myth that during coronavirus everyone had flexible working and everyone worked from home. Actually, that is not true. The truth is that people who were on higher incomes and earning more were able to work from home and work flexibly, but that was not the case for everyone. People on low incomes either did not have the flexibility at work or had to retain working from home and could not change their working lifestyle at all.

In fact, from March 2020, flexible ways of working other than working from home, including compressed hours, job sharing and part-time working, all declined gradually. The organisation Pregnant Then Screwed said that phone calls to its hotline from women who had been refused when they asked for flexible working had more than doubled, and about two thirds of requests for flexible working had been turned down.

Four out of five people want to work flexibly in future. There are organisations that are already doing that work; the Royal Air Force, for example, was recognised as a leading practitioner with an award for best practice in flexible working. There are other organisations that believe that putting the mental health of their employees first is important.

For those of us who were able to work from home and work flexibly during coronavirus, it was a life-changing experience. I spoke to parents who said that they had never felt more connected to their children. There were mothers who talked about the relief of not being the last to pick up their child from nursery—sitting on the step of shame, as we call it. I can relate to that. I spoke to disabled workers who said that it was such a relief that they did not have to commute to work in the morning and that they could sit in their own living room, log on and speak in Zoom meetings. I spoke to carers who said that it was such a relief not to have to worry about whether the pharmacy was closing and whether they could get to it in time to get urgent medication for the elderly relative they were looking after.

There were people who benefited massively. The truth is that flexible working disproportionately benefits people who are women, people who are disabled, people who are carers, people who are from low-income backgrounds and people from a black and minority ethnic background, because the intolerant office culture still exists. There are also massive mental health benefits from flexible working—in a survey, 96% of employees said that their happiness levels had risen since agile working was introduced—not to mention the benefits for retention and recruitment in the workplace. EY has said that the productivity of workplaces when they introduce flexible working is quantified at £15 million per year. Infrastructure and construction companies said that when they started talking about and promoting flexible working, 38% more people started applying to the jobs that they advertised.

There is also the benefit that there is a wider talent pool of people to pick from once employers have advertised flexible working, but overall the impact of flexible working is mostly on women—that is something that we cannot deny. In this country, the responsibilities for childcare and looking after children largely fall on women. The statistics show that if women can flexibly work and go back to their jobs, they are twice as likely not to quit their jobs after they have had a child, and to go back to their careers. Men can work flexibly, too, and the statistics show that women are twice as likely to excel in their career if their husband is helping them with childcare. McKinsey has pointed out that if we fully utilise women in the UK economy, by 2030 we would be adding £150 billion to our economy. A lot of that depends on widening flexible working and making sure people buy into it.

Despite the benefit to the economy, the impact on mental health, the benefit to disabled people, the benefit to people on low incomes and the benefit to people from BAME backgrounds, there still is not a culture of flexible working in this country. Since 2020, only 17% of jobs advertised have said that those who apply can work flexibly. A third of requests for flexible working are turned down. This problem is that companies can use a wide range of business reasons for not granting a request for flexible working. The problem is that companies are given a blank cheque. They are not told they will face some sort of legal restriction if they say people cannot work flexibly. There is no point saying that coronavirus has completely changed office work culture and that everyone will be able to work flexibly from now on.

I have a million case studies at my fingertips, but I will use just one. It is of a mother who looks after a five-year-old child, has a disabled husband and has caring responsibilities for her 80-year-old father. During the pandemic, she worked flexibly and her productivity increased, which was reflected in her bonus. She went to her employer when the pandemic sort of came to an end and they were all going back to the office, and her boss said, “You can’t continue working flexibly.” That goes to show that we cannot leave it up to offices to make their own decisions. We have to bring in robust legislation if we want to change the culture and if we want to make some amount of change.

I welcome the fact that the Government are consulting on making flexible working the default, but I have been in politics far too long and know that consultations can drag on. They may have the veneer of being true and that action will be taken in the end, but they drag on and nothing changes. We in this Parliament have the privilege of changing the law so that flexible working becomes something that everyone can enjoy and to which everyone has the right, not just the privileged few who have the perk of enjoying it.

I ask the Government to pay attention to the fact that I have cross-party support for my Bill. Members will have received numerous emails from constituents about flexible working. I also ask the Government to take this seriously, to bring in robust legislation and to make a difference to the way we work in this country.

I thank some of the organisations that have pushed for the change for years and have helped me with my Bill: Pregnant Then Screwed, the TUC, the Fawcett Society, Mother Pukka, Young Women’s Trust, Gingerbread, the Fatherhood Institute, and Working Families. I hope the Government will listen to me, to their colleagues who support this Bill and to voices across the House by introducing legislation that changes the way we work in this country once and for all.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Tulip Siddiq, Laura Farris, Layla Moran, Christine Jardine, Caroline Lucas, Dr Philippa Whitford, Claire Hanna, Jim Shannon, Mary Kelly Foy, Kevin Brennan, John McDonnell and Dawn Butler present the Bill.

Tulip Siddiq accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 November, and to be printed (Bill 136).

Estimates Day

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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[2nd Allotted Day]

Official Development Assistance and the British Council

Wednesday 30th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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[Relevant documents: Written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Main Estimate 2021-22, reported to the House on 18 May; International Development Committee correspondence with the Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on FCDO Main Estimate 2021-22, reported to the House on 15 June and 22 June; Fourth Report of the International Development Committee, Session 2019-21, Effectiveness of UK aid: potential impact of FCO/DFID merger, HC 596; and the Government Response, HC 820; International Development Committee correspondence with the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs on cuts to the UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) Budget, reported to the House on 15 December 2020, 13 April, 27 April, Session 2019-21, and 7 June; oral evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 26 January, 13 April and 22 April, Session 2019-21, on the Future of UK aid, HC 1141; written evidence to the International Development Committee, on the Future of UK aid, reported to the House on 26 January, 23 February, and 22 April, Session 2019-21 (HC 1141) and 18 May, and 15 June (HC 100); International Development Committee and International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact correspondence with the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs on the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s budget, reported to the House on 14 April, 27 May, and 22 June; and oral evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 20 April, Session 2019-21, on Humanitarian crises monitoring: UK aid to Yemen, HC 1353.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2022, for expenditure by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £2,516,113,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 14 of Session 2021-22,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £739,069,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £3,725,498,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Rebecca Harris.)
13:54
Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us this estimates debate on official development assistance, more commonly known as foreign aid, and the British Council. It is clear how much passion and interest there is across parties on this topic.

Over the last two years, there have been considerable and brutal reductions in overseas development aid at a time of unprecedented global need. When other nations across the globe are stepping up, the UK seems to be walking away, and that is why today’s debate is so important. Public and parliamentary interest in aid has never been greater.

I wanted to spend the debate looking in detail at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s spending plans. I wanted to scrutinise how UK aid, cut drastically to 0.5% of GNI at a time when more aid is needed, is being spent in the most effective way possible. However, the information needed to carefully check that spending simply is not being shared by the FCDO.

The Select Committee on International Development has had to fight tooth and nail to extract whatever information it can from the Government. A pattern of behaviour is emerging that demonstrates this Government’s contempt for parliamentary scrutiny. That cannot be allowed to continue.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for the comments that she has made so far and for her work on the Select Committee. In the post-Brexit age, we hear a lot from the British Government on sovereignty and being able to make sovereign decisions, but is not the crux of the matter—as this major issue, the cut to international aid, shows—the fact that we are not making decisions on the basis of parliamentary sovereignty, and that the Government really should be paying more attention to the views of this House?

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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That is absolutely the nub of my speech. At a time when we ought to be able to scrutinise the detail of the spending of taxpayers’ money—particularly at a time when cuts are being made to it—that is not in the gift of this House. It is in the gift only of a very few Ministers, and that should concern us all.

When my Committee received the main estimate from the FCDO this year, we were genuinely shocked. It looked very different, with considerably less detail than last year’s equivalent. Budget lines had been altered, with the majority of spending from the former Department for International Development lumped together under one heading. That obscures the size and distribution of the cuts to aid spending.

It is customary for the Government to consult with relevant Select Committees prior to making such radical changes to the presentation of estimates. Needless to say, that did not happen. Surely, at a time of increased parliamentary interest in aid spending, we should expect more detail, not less. With such little detail and information, Parliament cannot know exactly what is going on and what it is agreeing to. How can we make an informed decision without a basic breakdown of where the FCDO plans to spend in a particular country or on a particular theme?

Sadly, that is entirely consistent with the lack of information and transparency provided by the FCDO throughout last year. Add that to the lack of willingness to engage with my Committee, and Members’ questions being dodged or simply ignored, and Parliament faces a constant uphill struggle for the most basic details that we should be entitled to.

The Government have said that they will return to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid “when fiscal circumstances allow”. My Committee, and I am sure other Members in the House, have lost track of how many times we have asked the Foreign Secretary to define what is meant by that. We are getting no closer to an answer. We have repeatedly asked for a country-by-country breakdown of funding allocations for this financial year. Instead, we got only a worryingly short list of countries where the UK will spend bilaterally this year, with no figures attached. It is simply impossible to perform proper scrutiny without those figures.

My Committee is being stymied in its efforts to scrutinise, Parliament is being blocked from being able to consider the figures, and many of the organisations that are implementing the UK aid programmes, making the difference on the ground, have had to fight for clarity on whether their programmes will even survive these cuts. The haphazard way in which these cuts to aid programmes have been made has also caused considerable financial waste.

Let us take the cuts to global health, one of the FCDO’s priority areas, as just one example. Donated drugs to treat preventable diseases will be wasted, as there is no one available to distribute or administer them following a 90% cut in funding. In Bangladesh, a programme providing essential healthcare to disadvantaged communities, including a response to covid-19, was given less than a week to close. That story plays out across every area of UK aid.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent point on the fact that the more barriers there are to aid, the more difficult it is to deliver. Does she agree therefore that it is a moral and economic imperative that this Government do everything in their diplomatic might to reauthorise and readopt the cross-border crossings in north-east and north-west Syria to relieve the millions of people there at serious risk of loss of life?

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I absolutely support my hon. Friend’s calls for that border crossing to be reopened. It is a time-limited ask, and the International Development Committee wrote to the Foreign Secretary over two weeks ago asking for that very thing—to open those borders and keep them open so that aid can get in to help those desperate people—and we still have not received a reply.

In Vietnam, teams clearing land mines are being made redundant, as there is no funding for their project. In the Central African Republic, a project fighting the worst forms of child labour will be forced to close early. How does it make sense to invest in these transformative projects over years and then cut the funding at the very point they are about to realise their goals? It is a waste for those communities and a waste for the UK taxpayer, who has been funding it.

This debate also considers the role of the British Council, an organisation that has experienced huge challenges as a result of the pandemic. Unable to offer its normal range of paid-for educational services, budgets have been squeezed dramatically, impacting upon other programmes and leading to office closures around the world. Indeed, from next week, the British Council is starting the redundancy process for between 15% and 20% of its jobs.

The British Council is one of the best examples of soft power that I know, and the Government are standing by and letting it crumble. That is set against a growth in cultural institutes from other states—namely China’s Confucius Institutes—that are creeping across the planet. That is not exactly the action of an outward-looking, global-focused Great Britain, is it?

The Government say they are proud of the UK’s aid spending, but hiding figures and failing to respond to my Committee’s questions are not the actions of a Government who are proud. They seem like the actions of a Government who are trying to cover up their shocking reductions in funding and the devastating results: the girls who will not go to school, the children who will not be vaccinated and the families who will not have access to clean water. Once again, I ask the Minister for three things: to publish the individual country allocations for this financial year; to provide immediate clarity to organisations implementing UK aid programmes on their funding allocations for this financial year; and, most fundamental of all, for the Government to detail the steps that they will take to return to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA.

Finally, I want to say thank you to all the FCDO staff and all the aid workers around the world who do an amazing job in the most difficult of circumstances. We stand with them and will continue fighting for the resources that they need to be able to do their job: tackling poverty and inequality around the world. That is the right thing to do; morally it is the right thing to do, but it is also the right thing to do for Britain’s interests.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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There will be a seven-minute time limit on Back-Bench contributions, with the clock in the Chamber and on the screen for those participating virtually.

00:04
Theresa May Portrait Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the very good speech from the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and I echo her comments in thanking FCDO staff and aid workers around the world for the work that they do, often, as she said, in extremely difficult circumstances. I would also like to say to the Minister that I am grateful to Lord Ahmad for the discussions he is having with me on modern slavery and initiatives on modern slavery, and those discussions are continuing.

Before I come to the specific points I want to make on the estimates, I will make a general point on this debate, because I believe that, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) last week, the Prime Minister implied that this debate was a vote on 0.7%. Of course, it is a vote on the estimates for the FCDO. It cannot be used as a proxy vote on 0.7%, and I hope the Government will accept that and recognise that the calls for a vote on 0.7% are still there.

There are two issues that I particularly want to raise. The first is that, in the limited information available to us on aid spending from the Government, there seems to be little suggestion from the Government that they are actually paying attention to the important linkages between the different elements of spending in the aid budget. This is often an holistic matter, and these things cannot just be looked at in silos.

To give just one example of this, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is rightly very keen to encourage girls’ education around the world. It has been a theme of Conservative Governments now for some considerable time. We have taken it up in G7 meetings, and we have encouraged others around the world to take up that theme. Of course, a girl who is educated is less likely to be lured into modern slavery. However, if we cut the programmes for dealing with modern slavery, that girl may not be able to get into education because the slave drivers and the gangs—the criminal gangs—may have got to her first. We have to look at these issues holistically and at the linkages between them.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting her, but she is making such an excellent point, and exactly the same argument can be made on tackling gender-based violence. If we want to succeed in getting women through education, then we must tackle gender-based violence. It is a comprehensive package, and that is why we need to be securing the 0.7%.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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Indeed. My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I gave just one example, but actually we have to look at aid funding holistically, and look at the linkages between areas and the impact of cuts in one area on another area. There is no evidence, I am afraid, from what I have seen from the Government, that that is what they have done. It does appear that they have just cut in silos. We see, for example, that the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery has an 80% cut in its funding and there is a 25% cut in funding for girls’ education, but these are linked. I urge the Government to look at those links.

I want to note that, in their response to the fourth special report of the Select Committee, in late September —28 September—last year, the Government said:

“The Government’s manifesto made clear that we would proudly maintain our commitment to spending 0.7 percent of our national income on development—a commitment enshrined in law and one to which the new Department will honour its responsibilities. The Integrated Review, which will inform the priorities and direction for this new department, will set an ambitious vision for the future of the UK as an active, internationalist, problem-solving and burden-sharing nation. Investing 0.7 percent of Gross National Income…on international development is at the heart of that vision; it shows we are an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world.”

That was at the end of September 2020, and in November 2020 the funding was cut. Either one hand does not know what the other hand is doing in the Government, or they were just trying to calm everybody into a sense that everything was going to be okay before they actually wielded the knife on this particular issue.

The second point I want to make is about the impact on the UK’s presence on the world stage of the decisions that have been taken. This relates not just to ODA spending, but to the spending of the FCDO in general. I note that the Select Committee, in response to the decision to merge DFID into the FCO, said that it had

“significant concerns that the merger may jeopardise the ongoing effectiveness of future UK aid spending… In the long run, the creation of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office could reduce the UK’s clout on the world stage.”

I fear that it is reducing the UK’s clout on the world stage, and this cut in overseas aid is but one example of that, although we focus, as we have in previous debates on this issue, on the very real impact on the ground of the money being cut from different programmes. The health programme has been mentioned by the Select Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Rotherham, but there are others, including the cut in funding to starving people in Yemen, for example, and all of these are having a real impact on the ground.

The FCDO also needs to look very carefully at the DFID expertise that is now within the FCDO. As it looks across its estimates and at how it is spending its money in the Department, it needs to make very certain that it does not lose that expertise. There have been times in the past when people have rightly questioned the way in which our aid money has been spent, but I have to say that that has changed in recent years, largely due to and initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield when he was the International Development Secretary. We spend our aid differently, and we have developed—and successive International Development Secretaries did this too—real expertise. We are now hitting the needy across the world with a double whammy because they are losing our funding and they are losing our expertise as well.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend realise that the position is far worse than was set out when the so-called merger took place? What has happened is that DFID has been completely dismantled. Even in the days of her predecessor, Lady Thatcher, there was an overseas development administration within the Foreign Office, which was a sort-of department for development with a Minister of State in charge of it. There is nothing like that today. The whole thing has been completely smashed to pieces, as she is saying in her speech.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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I thank my right hon. Friend for clarifying that point so well. If we are going to continue to be respected as a country that leads on overseas aid, it is absolutely imperative that we not only spend the money, but that we also have the expertise to ensure that it is being spent properly. Hosting receptions in the British embassy, and getting to know local businessmen and politicians, is a different skillset to knowing how to deliver aid on the ground logistically, so that British taxpayers’ money is spent in the most effective way.

Maintaining that expertise is particularly important if the Government are to be believed, as we hope they are, when they say that they are going to restore the 0.7%. When a programme is cut, we cannot just say, “Well, you are not having that money this year, but next year you are going to have it.” People will no longer be employed to give the aid on the ground. We need the expertise to be able to build the programmes up. We are looking at a perfect storm, where not only has the money gone away but, when the time comes—I hope it will be next year that the Government restore 0.7%—we will find that the people are not in the Department to ensure that that is being done, and being done effectively.

I say to the Minister that I sincerely hope that we can restore the respect that we have had around the world, through our funding and our expertise, restore the 0.7%, look holistically at the aid spending and not lose DFID expertise. If we do that, we might be able to return, as was said in the Government response to the fourth special report, to being

“an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world.”

Sadly, at the moment, the message is rather different.

14:12
Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow the effective speech by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I suspect that we will see a good deal of consensus across the House this afternoon on these points.

The Government’s sudden default on their commitments, enshrined in law, and the way the cuts are being implemented, with minimal information for this House, has damaged plans, partnerships and trust that have built up over many years between the UK Government and international partners. At a stroke, the Government have succeeded in damaging the UK’s reputation as a reliable partner, at a time when they are supposedly developing the UK’s role as a global player. All of this is purportedly to ensure that we can shoulder the burden of their disastrous covid policy, while conveniently playing into the supposed prejudices of their new and possibly fickle supporters.

These cuts have been rushed, with no consideration or assessment of the impact they will have on the people who receive UK aid or the effect on UK-based overseas aid projects, particularly small-scale initiatives without the robust structures or funding to absorb large-scale cuts made by their main or only real source of finance. There has been no real consultation, not least with this House, and there has been a failure, or more likely a refusal, to understand and take into account the likely impacts, or to engage with partners and communities, so as to try to minimise the damage, if that is at all possible.

Throughout this process there has been poor communication with partners. The Government have failed to provide dependable and predictable information, and the repeated failure to deliver on promises of forthcoming decisions and information has left organisations and projects unable to plan or manage the situation.



Let me turn for a moment to small-scale projects in Wales. Hub Cymru Africa reports that the closure of the FCDO’s small charities challenge fund—the most accessible grant scheme up to £50,000 for Welsh NGOs—is hitting, for example, the Teams4u project in Wrexham. The closure of the FCDO’s partnership grants of up to £250,000 is affecting the successful delivery of projects such as Interburns. Perhaps the Minister would like to explain why the partnership grant of £249,000 to Bees for Development Monmouth for its work in Ethiopia is being cut by £102,000, thereby closing the project early. That explanation might be useful for his ministerial colleague at the Wales office, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies). United Purpose in Cardiff has been working in Malawi for 32 years. Its work has been rated A++ for performance and value for money by the FCDO itself. It has had to drastically reduce its work, with only weeks of warning, due to Malawi’s law on staff notices and severance packages. Some Welsh NGOs are considering closing down entirely.

Such cuts stand in clear contrast to the Welsh Government’s aid schemes, such as Wales for Africa. Wales takes international aid seriously; achieving sustainable development is written into the Welsh constitution. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 commits to a “globally responsible Wales”. This Government are betraying those Welsh values. Even our universities—responsible for so much of the success of the domestic vaccine programme—are affected. UK Research and Innovation has already confirmed that the ODA cuts will lead to a £120 million budget shortfall in 2021-22. That conflicts with the Government’s own ambitions for R and D to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027. This is disastrous not only for Welsh universities, but for the wider UK research community.

Let me turn to an example of broad-scale effects. Plan International reports that an estimated 20 million women and girls will now not be reached; 700,000 fewer girls will be supported by girls’ education programmes; 2 million fewer women will be supported by humanitarian assistance; 8 million fewer people and girls will be supported by nutrition interventions; and 9 million fewer women will be supported to access clean water and sanitation. This is a disaster.

This is not a deliberate wrecking by a perfidious foreign competitor. It is not an explicit hostile action by an enemy. It is not even the unintended consequence of absent-minded and careless prime ministerial policy making aimed at grabbing a headline or two. It is a deliberate disaster of this Government’s own making, and it will not be forgiven or forgotten by its survivors.

14:17
Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
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I will not go over the existing point about 0.7% and 0.5%, because I think the House knows my view. I share absolutely the views of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who have made their point—and, in fact, my point—extremely clearly.

Instead, I will focus on the integrated review and the merger of the Departments, and what it actually means according to the statements of Her Majesty’s Government compared with the actions on the ground. I would suggest that there is a slight dissonance between the talk of global Britain engaging directly with nations, and the cuts to bilateral Britain while we are reinforcing multilateral action. Now, I understand why we have taken those decisions: we have legal contracts with multilateral agencies and therefore we have legal obligations with them that are harder to break; so instead we are undermining our own policy and weakening those bilateral ties.

It seems to me—perhaps the Minister will be able to explain why I am wrong—that we are wracked over the small print while others are racking up the newsprint of their achievements, and that is a mistake. It is a mistake because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead made clear, we need to be demonstrating our place around the world. I support the ambitions of aligning the two Departments, and indeed of bringing the Department for International Trade and perhaps other Departments much closer together with the Foreign Office. My former colleagues in the Ministry of Defence will not like this terribly, but I support the idea of having a Foreign Secretary who is the strategic mind for the British Government overseas, including on the deployment of, for example, carriers. HMS Queen Elizabeth is in port in Cyprus today. Although the Foreign Office should have had a very clear view on her role and deployment, and was absolutely right to support the ships going through international waters—or Ukrainian waters, as they were only the other day—I would never argue that an ambassador should be the admiral of a fleet or that a political councillor should be the captain of a destroyer. The same is true, I am afraid, in respect of aid spending; there is a technical expertise here that is not the same as the strategic oversight of foreign policy, which is why I would like to see some of this coming back and being reinforced as the technical skill it really is.

Let us look at a few examples. Some have said to me that perhaps we are going back to a pre-1930s world, and there is certainly a hint of that. Let us look at the cuts we have seen in Lebanon, a very important historical ally, one in which we have invested heavily, through the Lebanese armed forces and through the relationship of building capability that would fight terrorism, which we all face. This is an organisation that has done more to hold the state of Lebanon together than many of its supposedly civic institutions. We have invested an awful lot and we have a huge amount of good will—having been there and met the Lebanese armed forces chief when I was serving in the armed forces, I can also say that we have also brought back a lot of raki from his personal collection, but that is a separate matter. We have built up a fantastic relationship with a very important strategic partner in the middle east. That is not just good for Lebanon, which is facing the crisis of a quarter or a third of its population being migrants—refugees forced over from the Syrian civil war—and nor is it just a good moment for the middle east, because it creates a link into various forms of support into other countries, but it is brilliant for Britain. It is fundamentally strengthening the UK and our place in the world. It gives us a toehold into one of the most vibrant financial climates in the region and an essential partner for so many of our other operations.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to interrupt him, because he makes an excellent point about how our having that relationship with countries promotes Britain. But it is also about the organisations we support, be it the HALO Trust or War Child. These organisations end up being supported by the British Government and then find themselves on active duty promoting our interests—helping save people. That is also integral to delivering the global Britain message.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have spoken to the Mines Advisory Group about its work in Lebanon, which has been so important, not just in promoting our interests. Sadly, it will almost certainly be needed not just in Iraq, where it has operated at some points, but in Syria.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison
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Does my hon. Friend share my concern that £6.8 million of the spend by the Foreign Office last year was not “ODA-able”, which is a remarkable thing, as our support, in particular to Lebanese armed forces, has enabled land in Lebanon to be farmed by farmers who have not seen that land for 50-odd years?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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My right hon. Friend makes an essential point: the OECD definition of what is “ODA-able” is historically anachronistic. He is right to say that we need to update it and that spending money on the armed forces who keep the peace and allow development is an essential building block of development, and therefore should be ODA-able. That is a slightly separate point to the one I am making, but I am very grateful to him for making it. As a right hon. and gallant Member, he knows well the strength that the armed forces and indeed the royal naval surgeons can bring to any theatre.

My next point is about the change to our footprint in Mali, Niger and Chad, where we have just opened embassies, which I welcome. I am glad that we are extending the Foreign Office’s footprint. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) is the Minister responsible and has visited or will no doubt soon visit all three of those embassies and missions. When he does so, I hope he will take with him the best wishes of the whole House to the staff there.

Of course, in such areas of the world it is not enough to have just nice words; we also need nice actions. The actions that we need our diplomats to be able to complete are those that promote our interests and values and, indeed, the interests of the people in those areas. Those things are not terribly surprising: they are democracy, the rule of law and the education of women. I have heard the Prime Minister speak about them so often that I can rattle them off not quite in my sleep but pretty much. It is certainly true that we are doing all the right things when we have the capability; the challenge is that for Mali, Niger and Chad there is no budget line. We will therefore see our efforts branded as the work of the World Bank, the World Food Programme and many other organisations. They are fantastic organisations, but that will reduce the impact of global Britain.

I am a little concerned about the cut to our funding for research on tropical diseases—from £150 million to £17 million. As the House may know, the Foreign Affairs Committee is doing an inquiry into global health security, and we have been hearing how that investment is essential to the maintenance of future capabilities against pandemics. We are all aware of the pandemic we face today but, as the House knows, it is not enough to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted; we need to try to predict when the horse might be getting a little jittery. For example, we know the effect we have had in making sure that Ebola never broke out in the UK —although there was a limited incident when one nurse came back with it.

In Nigeria, a country of which I am particularly fond—forgive my bias, but I think it is a quite remarkably vibrant, brilliant and engaging country—we have been cutting our ODA spend again. This leaves me somewhat confused. Health makes up 34% of the current allocation and education about 11%, so a cut of 58% is very likely indeed to cut into those things.

I hope the House can see that although I welcome strategic alignment, I do not think that ambassadors are admirals or that consuls are captains. What I do think, however, is that this House and, indeed, this Prime Minister have set a strategic vision for Britain in the world that seems to have got lost in translation between the Cabinet table and the Foreign Office. I question, very slightly, whether or not a moment of deep thought, alignment and reinvestment might just bring back a bilateral and a multilateral into balance, and perhaps when we get back to 0.7% that will give us the global Britain we have all asked for.

14:27
Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), and the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on speaking so powerfully.

This debate has demonstrated the cross-party strength of feeling about what is being done to our aid budget. While every other G7 member state has responded to the pandemic by increasing aid, the UK Government have done the exact opposite, which is deeply frustrating and concerning. They are reducing the budget by £4 billion this year, on top of the almost £3 billion that was cut last year. Reducing aid spending to 0.5% should shame us all. Until this year, there has been a strong cross-party alliance in favour of maintaining the 0.7% commitment, of which we are all proud. The speeches today have demonstrated that strength of feeling.



The pandemic has left the world even more vulnerable, with some of the poorest people in deep trouble and some of the poorest nations in great difficulty. We know that the Government’s cuts are leading to lifesaving water sanitisation and hygiene projects being cut by 80%. Education programmes will be cut by 40%, resulting in 700,000 fewer girls receiving education. They will then be much more vulnerable, as the former Prime Minister said. Essential humanitarian aid programmes, including to Yemen, will be cut by 60%. The Rohingya crisis has led to 1 million displaced people in camps in Bangladesh. Funding to that group has been cut by almost 50%. They are the most vulnerable people in the world. They have faced genocide, and rape has been used systematically against the women. Across the world in conflict zones such as Yemen, many of us have seen women and children suffering the most. Rape and violence against women, whether Syrian refugees or those forced into refuge in Yemen, has been used as a weapon of war. That is what these cuts have meant: women being made more vulnerable when they have already faced trauma and violations. That is why the proposed cuts are so unacceptable and why this Government’s undermining of parliamentary scrutiny and democracy is so concerning.

There is not only a moral imperative to support those who face vulnerability, especially given the pandemic; it is in our economic interests as well. The World Bank estimates that nearly 124 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty since the pandemic began. The World Food Programme estimates that 270 million people are either at risk of becoming or already are acutely food insecure. This is a global economic and health crisis. As we have heard time and again, the virus is not a respecter of international borders. While one country is at risk, all countries are at risk. No one is safe until everyone is safe. Last year, the UN Secretary-General described the covid-19 pandemic as

“menacing the whole of humanity—and so the whole of humanity must fight back.”

To the contrary, our Government are being isolationist. They are not thinking about our interests. If we do not support the poorest countries in the world to protect those who are vulnerable and manage the pandemic through our aid effort and other partnerships, we will not get out of this crisis. We will leave many more people vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of dying because of the decision to cut our aid budget.

On the economic dimension, we have to think about the linkages, as the former Prime Minister said in her speech. Others have spoken about the influence that Britain can have on the global stage. If we provide the support to countries that need help, according to the International Monetary Fund the cumulative gain will be $9 trillion by 2025, with $3.6 trillion accruing to the advanced economies, which will recoup $1 trillion in tax revenues. So it is in our economic interest to help countries develop, get out of the pandemic, and survive and thrive. There is not just a moral imperative, albeit that is very important for our country and we are all proud to be a part of what we have done over the last few decades. A country-by-country analysis by Save the Children shows that American and European funding of vaccines will each be repaid 35 times over in increased trade and output.

That link takes me to a wider point about the cuts to the British Council. As we have heard, the linkages between our different institutions, what they do and their presence in developing countries, can create the climate for better trading relationships for our economy to succeed through those partnerships. We are already seeing that in the attempts to get trade agreements with countries outside the European Union. If we cut our funding when they need it most, it does not bode well for strong partnerships, whether on the economic side or in relation to security and development. That is why it is so important that the Government should allow us to vote on the 0.7% in the future, and that they should reconsider this cut in the aid budget, because supporting the vulnerable is in our economic interests as well as a moral imperative in these really difficult times. I call on Ministers to think again and to reverse the cuts.

14:35
Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee and, indeed, the International Development Committee, which is so ably led by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), who shadowed me for a period of time when I had responsibility for some of these matters. I want to underline what has already been said about our respect for and gratitude to humanitarian workers and others around the world who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow members of humanity and also, of course, to our brilliant diplomats, who are the subject of these estimates debates.

The Prime Minister, when responding to me last week, mentioned the possibility of a vote on these estimates. Languidly, that ball was tossed to him by the Leader of the House, but it is worth making clear, not least for those outside this place, that there was never any question of having a vote on the estimates. The Leader of the House was merely teasing the House by suggesting that, because he knows perfectly well that it is neither sensible nor serious to vote in that way. I believe he sleeps with “Erskine May” on his nightstand, and he knows that very well. The estimates have never been rejected by this place. They can either be reduced or rejected, but they cannot be increased. Of course, many of us want to see them increased so that we honour our commitment to 0.7%. If we had accepted my right hon. Friend’s invitation on the estimates, and if we had rejected them, the Foreign Office would have needed to send out redundancy notices on Monday in order to meet its legal obligations, like Liverpool in the days of Derek Hatton and the loony left. And they think that we who stand up for the 0.7% are the irresponsible Members of this House!

Let us be absolutely clear on the estimates. To oppose them would have given my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip all his Christmases in one go. No responsible Opposition would support such a thing. What we seek from this Government, who are rebelling against their own promises and manifesto, is a meaningful vote, not a show of force or something that the Government can ignore, and we do this in accordance with Mr Speaker’s specific instructions to the Government at 3.30 on 14 June, just a couple of weeks ago.

Why do we care so much about this issue? I would like to make just three points, because the House has probably heard enough from me on much of it. These cuts are hurting our reputation and threatening our foreign policy ambitions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who spoke so eloquently today, made the 0.7% her first commitment in the 2017 election, because she understood the importance of standing by the 0.7% in reinforcing our values and our promises. Much worse, these unprecedented cuts in the heart of a pandemic are damaging hundreds of thousands of people’s lives and leading to many avoidable deaths.

There are three examples that I want to mention quickly. The first is education for girls, which the Prime Minister has spoken about so eloquently, and on which British policy has been driven passionately and effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin). However, we are cutting that investment by 40%, meaning that 700,000 fewer girls will get into education, and we are also cutting by 60% our grant to UNICEF, the agency that is the very engine of getting girls into school. In 2010, the British Government doubled their UNICEF grant. A third of all girls in secondary schools in Africa drop out because they become pregnant, yet we are cutting by 85% our funding of the work of the United Nations family planning agency across the world. That is not, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead indicated, joined-up government.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
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Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is often women and girls across the world who face the brunt of climate change in their own communities, and that the cutting back of aid within those countries and communities is not only having a devastating effect over there but, given the interconnected nature of climate change, is impacting on us here? In the year of COP, five months away from it, surely we should expect better from this Government.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. We cannot understand international development unless we see it through the eyes of girls and women.

My second point, which has already been mentioned, is on the 90% cut in funding for work on neglected tropical diseases. That funding is a huge British taxpayer investment. It is also one of the best investments we can make in global health. The Prime Minister, in a superb video earlier this year, promised strongly to support that work, yet it has now been cut by 90%. That means that 74 million schoolchildren will not receive drugs to prevent parasitic worms. It means that huge numbers will be maimed, blinded, debilitated, disabled and killed. The UK was a world leader in this extraordinarily important area, stimulating public and private sector partnerships. As a result of this cut, hundreds of millions of drugs, vaccines and tablets will be wasted and probably burned.

My third point has been very well made by my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). It is about the work of the British Council, the Voluntary Service Overseas and the International Citizen Service, which I had the privilege of setting up some 10 years ago. There is no clarity about the future funding of the International Citizen Service, which has sent thousands and thousands of youngsters overseas, many of them not from well-off families but from families that were on free school meals. They have been brilliant ambassadors for our country as well as doing such a good job in international development. The British Council, which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay is going to talk about, is now far more self-sufficient in raising its own money and giving the taxpayer a better deal than ever before, and to let it down in this way is really quite wrong. Is it any wonder that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead rather movingly made the 0.7% her first pledge in 2017 general election?

I want to draw the House’s attention to the words of the deputy Foreign Secretary—the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly)—who, as little time ago as 9 July last year, said this from the Dispatch Box:

“The Government remain completely committed to the 0.7% of GNI to ODA. That has been called into question a number of times, so I will repeat myself, despite the fact that my time is short: the Government are completely committed to the 0.7% target…That commitment is embedded in law, but we do not spend 0.7% because it is embedded in law—we spend 0.7% because it is the right thing to do.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 1198-1200.]

I end on two points. First, when are the Government going to abide by Mr Speaker’s instruction to the House at 3.30 pm on 14 June to bring forward a meaningful vote? Secondly, post-Brexit, with the emphasis on returning powers to this Parliament, we stand here today on an issue where we all promised—all 650 of us—to stand by the 0.7%. It is an issue on which the Government gave undertakings on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly; that is enshrined in law, with the most senior lawyers in the country warning that the Government have changed the 0.7% and not missed the target; and on which the Government have avoided a vote on the Floor of this House because they know they will lose it. If that is the case, what is the point of the good people of the royal town of Sutton Coldfield sending me here? What has become of the pride we all feel in being Members of this place? If we cannot secure a vote on an issue of life and death, do we not need to look afresh at the balance of power between the Executive—the Government—and the legislature of this House of Commons, in order that we do have powers to vote on something that is so important and to which so many of us have been, for years, so committed?

14:43
Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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I do not think I have ever agreed with so many consecutive speeches from the Conservative Benches. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and the Chair of the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), on securing this debate.

It is great that we are getting to discuss the estimates on estimates day. Not so long ago, Members would have been called to order and dismissed from the Chamber for trying to do that, so this is one arrangement—possibly the only arrangement—that has been a beneficial emergence from the establishment of English votes for English laws in this House. If EVEL is to be done away with, and I hope it is, I hope that this aspect of scrutinising line by line Government expenditure through the estimates is retained. Sadly, as the hon. Member for Rotherham said, we are discussing only one line in today’s estimates documents. What was once an entire Department—the Department for International Development—with its own estimate and all the scrutiny that could accompany that has been reduced to one budget heading in HC14, the estimates document, on page 187, “Strategic priorities and other programme spending”. All the amazing, life-saving work carried out by DFID staff, partners, stakeholders and grassroots organisations around the world has been diminished not only by the savage cuts to the budget, but even by the way it is accounted for and reported in the Government’s spending paperwork.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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The hon. Member is making a very good point. Does he agree that we could learn, although perhaps only in this example, from the US Congress, the French Parliament and a few other Parliaments around the world where the Government are required to publish their accounts line by line in a way that can be compared year on year? It is a bit difficult to hold the budget to account if we are not given the details with which to do it.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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Absolutely. Indeed, if we had that kind of appropriations process, we could vote to amend the budget lines. I agree again with the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield on that, but at least we should be thankful that it is not just listed as “a giant cash machine in the sky” in the budget. Of all the offensive, dismissive and belittling expressions used by the Prime Minister, both before and since his election to office, that description of the UK’s aid budget and everything that went with it—to dismiss so frivolously and contemptuously the leadership that it showed, the cross-party consensus that it represented, the diplomatic weight that it carried—tells us everything we need to know about the ideology behind the decision to walk away from the 0.7% target and slash spending by over £4 billion. It has nothing to do with the pressures of covid on the economy and everything to do with an ideological distrust of what aid is supposed to achieve.

But aid works. Aid saves lives. The 0.7% was not a magic number; it was agreed by developed countries in the 1970s as the result of working out how much was needed to address global poverty at the time and how much those who could afford it should contribute. It helped to shape the goals of those days that eventually became the millennium development goals and the global goals for sustainable development—goals that the UK helped to devise.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those in Wales and Scotland who believe in an ethical foreign policy and who support humanitarian aid will see this as skewed priorities? When over £200 million is to be spent on a royal yacht and yet there is a cut to international humanitarian aid, what message does that give to the people of Wales and Scotland?

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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Absolutely. Aid was supposed to be one of the great benefits of the Union. DFID in East Kilbride and the UK’s global leadership were presented to people in Scotland in 2014 as a reason to vote to stay in the United Kingdom, so I do not know what message the Government think they are now sending to people in Scotland by slashing aid. I noticed that a high proportion of Members of Parliament from Scotland and Wales are down to speak in this debate. Perhaps the Government, if they want to protect their precious Union, should reflect on that as well.

Aid is not a cash machine in the sky. It cannot be turned on and off like a tap without consequence. Cuts and closures today simply cannot be undone tomorrow or when the fiscal situation allows, whatever that is supposed to mean. The abrupt end of many projects, not least those supported by the British Council, will do long-term damage that is not easily fixed. Indeed, to undo the damage or restart the programmes will end up costing even more in the long run.

A recent cross-party meeting hosted by the STOPAIDS campaign heard from incredibly brave activists and service providers from Kenya and Indonesia whose projects are at risk from these cuts. That means more people at risk of contracting HIV or going without treatment. The Government’s own Aid Match programme, which they get plaudits for and which allows charities to put the UK aid logo on their publicity, is under threat. Many projects are on hold. Members of the public have donated in good faith to charities such as War Child and Mary’s Meals, thinking that every pound they donate will be matched by another pound from the UK Government, only for those charities to be told that they and their partners delivering projects overseas will have to wait for the money and wonder whether it will arrive at all.

Just today, the former President of Malawi, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, who the all-party group on Malawi hosted here in Parliament in 2018, has joined 32 other former Heads of State and Heads of Government from Africa in calling out the very cuts to neglected tropical disease funding that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield spoke about. The WHO said about the cuts that there is no obvious alternative source of funding and that they will literally lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths.

In my constituency, at the University of Glasgow, Professor Alison Phipps and her collaborators working to tackle violence against women in Ghana, Palestine and Zimbabwe have had their work paused, again without notice. Professor Phipps said that

“people were in tears…we are being offered advice from people in other countries who have experience of working with governments who are corrupt or cancel contracts with impunity.”

Well, so much for the soft power superpower. In the year that it hosts the G7, the UK is the only G7 country cutting its aid budget. In the year that it hosts the global climate conference, it is stepping back from global leadership, but it can always find money, as my friend the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) says, for a new royal yacht. There is also always money for weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde.

The Government have been boasting of late about vaccine stocks, ventilators, and certain amounts of funding they are making available to developing countries to fight covid. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister today whether this is additional to the aid budget, because if it is not we will diminish the small pot that is there for the aid budget anyway. If it is additional, then will it get classified as ODA, and how does that work in the overall accounting of things? [Interruption.] The Minister can address this in his summing up, but it would be interesting to know exactly what effect this covid assistance will have on the overall aid budget.

As we have said, debating estimates on estimates days is an improvement on the previous scrutiny, but the Government should be relieved that these motions are not amendable. If there were a votable amendment today to recommit the Government to the 0.7% target, everyone knows that it would be carried by the House. Perhaps this is just another example of where the Government do not really want Parliament to take back control after all.

As we have said, this was supposed to be one of the great successes of the Union. It has been a pledge of the SNP ever since the target was set that an independent Scotland would meet, and even seek to exceed, the target of 0.7% GNI for aid. In the recent Holyrood manifesto, the SNP Government have pledged to increase their relatively small, but highly effective, international development budget, which, incidentally, the UK Government then quite merrily account for as overall UK ODA spend.

Even in the face of economic difficulty and the global pandemic, the Scottish Government and we in Scotland recognise our responsibilities to those less fortunate than ourselves. That is the difference between the inward, introspective little Britain attitude that this Government’s aid cuts demonstrate, and the outward, internationalist vision that more and more people in Scotland have of their country as a good, independent global citizen.

14:51
John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con) [V]
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May I start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for granting this aspect of today’s debate on the British Council, and, indeed, all those who supported our application?

Parliament will know that, since 1934, the British Council has promoted British culture and education and the English language abroad, and in doing so it has fostered good relations and trust between the British people and people from other countries. It was the first and remains the world’s pre-eminent cultural relations organisation. For example, prior to covid, it directly connected with nearly 800 million people. It is a key reason why the UK is considered a soft power superpower, and on behalf of the British Council all-party group and of Parliament as a whole, I thank all employees, both past and present, for their excellent work. It is both recognised in this place and very much appreciated.

Governments of all persuasions have got it. The Prime Minister has told me personally that he gets it. The Defence Secretary, earlier this year, said that there was not enough British Council in the world, but actions speak louder than words. Our campaign, which has included a letter to the Prime Minister signed by well over 100 colleagues, which still has not been answered, relates to the fact that, despite generous Government support to see the British Council through the pandemic, it is still £10 million short of what it requires to keep or maintain its international network of offices, and this will result in the largest single set of closures in the British Council’s proud 90-year history.

This Government’s support is needed, because in any normal year the British Council is almost self-funding, courtesy of its commercial activities, including, typically, teaching English in China. Last year, these commercial activities dried up. The cash reserves were used and no commercial loan was available, because of the nature of the British Council’s relationship with the Government. Yet the FCDO maintains that it has increased its support to the British Council by around 27% on last year. Last year was an unusual year. A more accurate and fairer comparison is with the last normal year, 2019-20. The 27% increase claimed by the Government actually represents a cut in FCDO support when compared with that last normal year. In addition, a chunk of this year’s support is earmarked solely for restructuring, typically redundancies, and cannot be used for programming or keeping offices open. As the Government will not close this £10 million shortfall, office closures and programme reductions are to follow.

Let us be clear that these closures are not operational matters left to the British Council. As the Foreign Secretary’s letter to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee confirmed, these closures have been required by the FCDO and have been the subject of close ministerial involvement.

Indeed, the FCDO has listed the 20 offices to be closed, as defined by the removal of a country director and staff. They come in three categories: there will be a complete cessation of in-country activities in Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, the United States and Uruguay; there will be a remote presence over the internet or via local third parties, but no British Council staff, in Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile and New Zealand; and, finally, there will be hub and spoke operations, directed from London, essentially covering the Balkans but also including Malta and Switzerland. In all 20 countries, a physical, recognisable and distinctive British Council presence will cease.

I briefly draw particular attention to our withdrawal from Afghanistan. As an ex-soldier, I supported the initial well-resourced mission to rid the country of al-Qaeda in 2001, but thereafter I opposed morphing the mission into one of nation building. I believe the British Council’s withdrawal compounds that error. Over the past 20 years, Britain has invested heavily in Afghanistan, in every sense. We made a promise to the Afghan people that we would not abandon them and, almost in one fell swoop, we are withdrawing our military support as well as our British Council offering. This will live long in the memory.

Let us also be clear that, although the FCDO is right that we should be alive to innovations such as remote working and digitalisation, the British Council would not be going down this road on this scale but for the current financial situation. The fact that other countries are increasing their global footprint indicates that they believe there remains great value in having a presence on the ground. China, for example, is planning to open a further 1,000 Confucius Institutes over the coming years. There is no better substitute for a physical presence on the ground, to understand the country in question, and such a presence might have averted some of our foreign intervention errors.

I believe this retreat from the world will be noted by other countries, and it is not compatible with the vision of a global Britain or with the ambitions in the integrated review. I ask the Government to think long and hard about this error, particularly when it comes to the comprehensive spending review.

Yesterday I received an answer to a written parliamentary question confirming there will be no further closures. I ask the Minister, when he speaks at the Dispatch Box, to confirm that remains the case.

Finally, I thank the many colleagues who have supported our campaign to get the Government to think again, including the hundred who signed our letter. I ask the Minister to bear this in mind in future considerations with regard to the British Council.

14:59
Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab) [V]
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Like many others, I want to speak because I deplore these cuts in aid, which have been discussed this afternoon with so much analysis and eloquence. These cuts will have consequences; these cuts will cost lives. I like the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), a lot, but I thought he was being almost ridiculously polite about the strategic incoherence that we now confront, because these cuts in aid deface, they demean, they damage the global Britain strategy that was set out just a few weeks ago in the House of Commons. We cannot have a Prime Minister who asks for a rules-based order and then orders the Treasury to break the rules and cut what we actually helped construct—the 0.7% aid target.

As chair of the international Parliamentary Network on the World Bank & International Monetary Fund, I just wanted to throw three points into this debate. First things first: we must reverse these cut because they are damaging the global effort to vaccinate the world. The Prime Minister sallied into the G7 talks in Cornwall with grand talk about getting the world vaccinated by the end of next year, but when the dust had settled on the G7 communiqué, the IMF revealed that we are two-thirds short of the grant finance that we need to vaccinate the world—that is $23 billion. When I asked the Prime Minister a week or two ago where that money was going to come from, he just brushed it off. That is not good enough; we need answers, and reversing the cuts in aid could help us to provide those answers.

The second point is that we need these aid cuts reversed because we need the Foreign Secretary to reacquire some credibility in order to rally the global resources that we need to tackle the pandemic and its aftermath. The World Bank thinks that we need about $200 billion extra to tackle covid-19 around the world, and $250 billion extra to reinvest in climate-friendly infrastructure in poorer countries. This week, we took a big step towards finding those resources. The executive board of the IMF basically signed off on a plan to issue $650 billion of special drawing rights. That would channel about $27 billion in extra resource to the poorest countries. But the real prize is the $623 billion of SDRs that go to richer countries. We need to recycle them; we need to revise the old voluntary agreements that entail half of that money being held back; and we need to maximise the amount of money that goes into grant rather than soft loans. We need Britain to be a force helping to lead those debates.

Furthermore, we have a big decision to make, as a world community, on replenishment of the International Development Association. IDA20 replenishment has been brought forward. The framework that was published last week has significant changes that involve prioritising investment in human capital—absolutely critical when we hear what is happening to education and girls’ education around the world. We need the Foreign Secretary to have credibility in those talks, and reversing this cut would help give him that credibility to rally resources around the world to do what the world needs to do to reverse the first rise in extreme poverty that we have seen this century.

The final point is that we judge a nation’s values by the numbers in its budget. Right now, we are putting up defence spending by something like £24 billion; we are cutting development spending by £4 billion. We are cutting the budget to prevent conflict and increasing the budget to prosecute conflict. We are even cutting aid in places where we drop bombs, like Iraq and Libya. That is just morally wrong.

I know that these things are a balance, but right now we have got the balance wrong. We need the Foreign Secretary to do a better job of fixing that imbalance now, in the comprehensive spending review. If he cannot do that, he needs to hand the task to the House of Commons. Let us have a vote and we will fix it for him.

15:03
David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne). He is, as he so often is, absolutely on the nail with his speech. It is all well and good our sitting or standing here, talking about the percentage cuts here and the percentage cuts there, but we are all clear on this: these cuts will kill. In Whitehall, the savings that the Government say they will make are rounding errors in their accounts, but in Syria, Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel, these “small savings” are a matter of life and death. It is that simple.

In the horn of Africa, the epicentre of instability may be Ethiopia at the moment, but it threatens to ripple through Eritrea and Somalia into Kenya and Tanzania because the virus and locust plagues have ravaged livestock and livelihoods there—fertile ground for the terrorist organisation al-Shabaab to thrive and recruit and to revive its murderous endeavours. To the west, across the Sahel, droughts in the summer and floods in the winter have already caused conflict over resources, and in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram’s reign of terror persists.

The fact that these events are not on the evening news does not make them any less of a threat to us. The tragedies at home—covid-19 deaths, job losses, loneliness, mental health problems—may be our primary concern, but the fact that something is not happening here does not mean that it is not happening, or that it does not matter here.

In the Sahel, 270,000 people a year get life-saving medical support. That is going to be cancelled this year. In Syria, funding for the International Rescue Committee is being cut by 75%. That means that 100,000 Syrians will be without life-saving services, including health clinics to support women and children traumatised by war. In Nigeria, the International Rescue Committee will see the budget for its programmes fall from £15 million two years ago to just £2.8 million this year, which will leave women, children and disabled people who have fled the conflict with Boko Haram without life-saving support. The UN has told us that in Ethiopia, 350,000 face imminent starvation.

Let us put this in context. The four-year Bosnian war—a brutal, devastating war that saw Europe’s first genocide since world war two—left 100,000 people dead. These cuts will result in a death toll equal to or higher than that war’s. In the words of the Secretary-General of the UN, they are “a death sentence”. He is right. We have arbitrarily and unilaterally turned our back on victims of war in the middle of a global pandemic. It goes against every value that we promote as global Britain, and it is happening against the will of the British people and the British Parliament.

The Government may think that they are appealing to some populist vote on this issue, but even there they are wrong. Polling since the decision now shows that 53% of the public support foreign aid. Let us be clear: a majority of the public support the arguments that we are making today in this Chamber. The public in this country are caring, compassionate and principled, and our foreign aid policy must reflect that. It is perfectly reasonable to ask questions about how aid money is spent, whether or not we should have a fixed target and how big or small it should be, but there is a time and a place to ask those questions. Now is not the time, and this is not the way.

Listening to the debate, I thought that there was a risk for all of us. I think it is asserted that Stalin once said that a single death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic. We have been standing here talking about 100,000 deaths here and 100,000 deaths there, so I will finish by drawing attention to the nature of what we are talking about. We are talking about miserable deaths for babies and children from starvation, diarrhoea and dysentery. We are talking about women dying in childbirth or shortly after. We are talking about the sort of cruelty—although it may be cruelty by neglect—that, if put in front of any ordinary constituent of ours, would draw both their compassion and their generosity. That is what we want from the Government, either today or when they come to make their proper decision on this policy.

15:08
Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
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It is a genuine pleasure to follow the very powerful speech from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I congratulate the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on introducing the debate.

It is incredibly moving and, I think, poignant just how much agreement there is across the House. When does it happen like this? It is rare, and so is the absence of dissent from those on the Government Benches. Usually, someone will intervene to bolster the Minister—for whom I have a lot of sympathy for having to defend this stuff—but now the silence is deafening, and the reason is that the Government know this is not the right thing to do. The Government would be defeated in a vote and that is why they do not want to give us one, to put it bluntly.

This also matters because of how ordinary people across the country are seeing the effectiveness of Parliament. They also have genuine concerns about the effectiveness of this Government. My constituents in Oxford West and Abingdon care deeply about this, as one might expect, and many of them work in this area. Keith Hyams, for example, is a researcher and member of the Global Challenges Research Fund’s strategic advisory group, which is UK Research and Innovation’s main funding vehicle for ODA research. He wrote to me to outline the projects that he is involved in. They include youth groups based in slums in six African cities, seeking to understand how covid is affecting life in the slums; a project in Cape Town, with the city’s local government, looking at how climate adaptation can include some of the most vulnerable populations in the city; and a large project tracking the effect of covid on indigenous peoples.

Keith Hyams writes:

“It is difficult to imagine that project partners will be willing to trust UK collaborations again, having invested heavily in existing projects only to have funding pulled out midway through with very significant consequences for organisations reliant on the funding that they receive.”

He says that he does not want to see GCRF funds rescued at the expense of something else, but that

“there are better ways to implement these cuts than abruptly ending”

live projects. Why end live projects? Why not let the projects run their course and then look at how we can find savings down the line? The taxpayer value question, which the hon. Member for Rotherham raised, is very important. Why do it this way?

Talking about covid, Oliver Pybus, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, received an email to say that funding for his project is to be cut. His project helps track genomic variants in places such as Brazil—the P.1 variant, which emerged in Brazil, now has its own name; it is known as the gamma variant. How on earth is cutting that funding in our interests, when we know that the biggest strategic threat to our recovery from the pandemic, now that we have hopefully broken the link between covid infections and hospitalisations, is a new variant that will most likely emanate from somewhere where the people have not been vaccinated? How will cutting the funding for such projects help us? It is foolish and pointless.

People out there—our constituents—are beginning to notice. The last time I spoke about this matter in this place was on 15 June, days before the Chesham and Amersham by-election. Like many on the Opposition Benches who take an interest in foreign affairs, we accept that this is not always the most relevant concern on the doorstep—I occasionally hear it, but potholes and planning reform often take precedence. I was therefore genuinely surprised, in a good way, when aid cuts spontaneously came up on the doorstep in Chesham and Amersham as an example of why this Government could not be trusted.

One could be forgiven for thinking that those people were just Lib Dem or Labour voters anyway, but they were not. They were angry—an emotion I was also not expecting—because they were Conservative voters who had voted for the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) in 2019, giving him the benefit of the doubt, and now they felt that their vote was being taken for granted, and that this was as sure a sign as any that the Tory party had moved so far away from what they considered to be their roots that, for the very first time, they were planning to vote Lib Dem.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
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Perhaps Chesham and Amersham is a little unusual, but certainly that is not the message I am hearing from my constituents in South West Wiltshire. Neither was that the message given to YouGov in its polling of last November, which showed that 66% of the public were in favour of the temporary cut from 0.7% to 0.5%.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
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Yes, that may certainly be the case, and I will come to polling in a moment, but the right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that other polling that has been done—the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden referred to it—shows that if we ask the question, “Do you think aid spending should increase or decrease?”, the proportion of people who think it should increase has leapt nine percentage points this year, to 53%. The direction of travel on that question is upwards.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
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No, I will continue, because this is the important point. To be perfectly honest, as a Lib Dem looking to take seats off the Conservatives in the blue wall, I welcome the Government’s complacency. The Coalition for Global Prosperity has done polling in those seats, and I know that this is not the sole issue—it is not even the top issue—but it is an issue, and it is one that many Conservative voters, especially in those areas but, actually, across the country, care about. When I raised that with the Foreign Secretary the day before the by-election, he said of voters in Chesham and Amersham:

“I do not think that they will be that daft”.—[Official Report, 15 June 2021; Vol. 697, c. 122.]

Well, they did vote Lib Dem, in quite surprising numbers.

The ink will dry on the PhDs that will be written about what happened in that seat, but the point I am trying to get across to the Government is that this matters. This is not just about the spending on one project here or there. It is the moral thing to do and it is the smart thing to do, but it is also the right thing to do, not just for the country but for their seats. People in those areas understand the interplay. They understand the link. They understand that if we want to sit proudly on the world stage and lead at COP26 but say to other countries across the world, “Do as we say, but don’t look at what we do,” then we are going to lose credibility. I urge the Government: please do not be complacent. Give us our vote, or even better, give us the assurance that 0.7% will return next year—no ifs, no buts.

15:16
Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing this afternoon’s debate.

Let me start by anticipating some of the things that my hon. Friend the Minister may choose to say at the end of the debate. I have no doubt that, as my excellent successor, he is extremely well briefed on some of the points that he will choose to make in response to the points that have been raised by so many colleagues this afternoon.

I first want to say, in my most understanding mode, that I understand that when we have the sharpest economic contraction for 300 years, it is necessary to review aid spending that is linked to the size of the economy. The £2.9 billion that had to be removed from the budget as a result of that economic contraction is something that I can understand. It is unfortunate, but I can understand it.

I can also understand the defence, which the Minister will no doubt put up, that there is a clause in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 that says that, under extreme circumstances, the Government can come to Parliament and outline an explanation for why they did not meet 0.7% in a particular year.

I anticipate that the Minister will also point to the fact that the UK continues to spend £10 billion this year in overseas development assistance. Any one of us would accept that that is a very large amount of money, and when we are spending a large amount of money, it is always important to review it and see whether we are spending it wisely. A zero-based budget exercise, looking at every line item of expenditure, which is effectively what the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has just gone through, is something that any prudent Government should do from time to time.

However, where I begin to depart from agreeing with what my hon. Friend is likely to say at the conclusion of the debate is around the change to 0.5%—going into a financial year and deliberately changing that percentage—without testing the will of Parliament to agree to it. That is where I think we are getting on to rather difficult legal and constitutional ground, because we all went into the last general election with a pledge to meet 0.7%. It was something that 100% of MPs were elected on. The law does state that 0.7% is what we should be aiming to achieve, apart from when there is an inadvertent inability to meet that due to economic circumstances.

I feel very passionately that those of us who are expressing concerns this afternoon are really expressing the concerns of those who are most affected, who are unable to voice their opposition. Of course, when a party breaks a manifesto pledge, it is usually voters at the next general election who are affected by it who will vote them out, but in this case, those who are most affected will, according to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), very likely be dead by the time of the next election and not able to lobby a UK Member of Parliament.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) was saying about polling—no doubt the Minister may also allude to this—the fact is that this policy does not poll badly in the United Kingdom, because those affected are not themselves being polled and those being polled are not themselves affected.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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There has been lots of backwards and forwards on this, but the simple truth is that the polling depends very much on the question asked. One of the effects of these cuts falls on starvation relief, drought relief and on medical support. If it is put to the public, “Do you want to give emergency aid to people starving to death?”, we get 92% in favour.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin
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Indeed, that is an excellent point. People are very strongly in favour of vaccinating the world, and that is why I very much welcome the pledge made at the G7, which I understand will be in addition to the 0.5%. No doubt the Minister will confirm that.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison
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Just on the subject of polling, the British Foreign Policy Group, which is hardly a right- wing organisation, polled this issue earlier this year. Some 72% of people would like to see a cessation or reduction in aid until the financial situation is resolved. We are in danger of batting these figures backwards and forwards. We must rely on what we hear on the doorstep. I do not know what my hon. Friend’s doorsteps are like, but mine are quite unequivocal on this matter.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin
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What I would say is that there is one poll I would like to take—it is the one that Mr Speaker has asked us to take in this House—and that is a vote on whether the 0.7% should be changed to 0.5% on a forward-planning basis. That is the poll I would like to take. Last week in Prime Minister’s questions, in response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), the Prime Minister indicated that today’s debate on the estimates was that vote.

I have looked into the matter, and I understand that if we voted down today’s estimates, not only would all diplomats stop being paid immediately, but a vote against estimates can only be done to reduce a budget, rather than to increase a budget. That is why I am perfectly happy to support today’s estimates, but I would like to see a separate, stand-alone vote on whether we should go from 0.7% to 0.5%. If this House agrees that, I do not have any problems with the constitutional situation. I think that would override what is in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. We need to see a test through a poll of the Members of this House.

I am delighted to see that the economy is recovering very fast at the moment here in the UK, which I hope will mean that next year’s budget for overseas development assistance can start to increase once again. I am also delighted that the UK and Kenya are jointly co-hosting the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education at the end of July. I very much welcome the £430 million that the Prime Minister announced at the recent G7 towards global education. It is the single best investment we can make in the future of our planet in terms of making sure that every child gets 12 years of quality education. We all know how much that unlocks in terms of economic prosperity, a better climate and a healthier society, so that is an incredibly important thing to be doing.

Can I suggest to the Minister that, in encouraging a successful replenishment of the $5 billion that the Global Partnership for Education is seeking, we offer, as our economy grows, to match fund contributions from other donor countries around the world? I think that would be a really positive way of saying, “If you’ll put in more money, we’ll put in more money here in the UK.”

I would like to see a reversal of the 85% reduction to the United Nations Population Fund for family planning. I want every girl in the world to be able to access the same choices in family planning as we were all able to access in our lives. Of the countries around the world, one of the most alarming anecdotes I have heard about the impact of this reduction in aid spending is that in South Sudan the World Food Programme is saying it is now having to choose between feeding hungry children and feeding starving children. I would urge the Minister to put that very much at the top of his shopping list for his budget increase next year.

In conclusion, let us not argue about which poll says what. Let us have a poll in this place on this issue. Tonight’s vote is not the vote on that. Let us have a separate one.

15:25
Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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I also congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), on securing this debate and on an excellent speech, which I very strongly agree with. I am glad to see there is such consensus across the House on this issue, because it is too important for knockabout or Punch and Judy.

Save to say that the SNP has a different world view from that of the United Kingdom Government. We have a very sharp sense of who we are and what we are trying to do. We are a northern European country aspiring to statehood to represent ourselves in the fora of the world that matter—the EU, NATO, the UN, the Council of Europe and others—and to be that good global citizen and that force for change in the world.

Government Members would say that we are already represented in those fora by the UK. We know that; our contention is that we could do it better. I would caution Government Members that doing what the Government are doing at present is making our job easier. I acknowledge that this is something the UK did well, but they are taking something the UK did well and excelled at in international development and international aid, and replacing it with something smaller, meaner, more politicised and less effective on the ground.

What we are seeing post Brexit is breathless rhetoric about global Britain, but the reality on the ground is that we are seeing retreat and diminishing horizons. The cuts to the aid budget, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) outlined in a very powerful speech, are a betrayal of trust and a breach of trust—a betrayal of a manifesto promise, but worse than that, a betrayal of the poorest in the world. This is at a time when they are dealing with covid too, so to claim covid as the excuse or the political cover for this act of betrayal is a desperate act of cynicism.

The UK does remain a significant donor of aid—of course it does—but on top of the cuts that we oppose, we are equally concerned about the politicisation and diminished effectiveness of the remaining spend, because of the changes of priorities we have seen. We are seeing in greater and greater detail where the cuts are actually falling, and it tends to be on the programmes that do most good and effect most change overseas, so we object to this policy and we oppose this policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) is going to focus on the cuts to aid in his remarks, so I will focus in mine on the British Council.

It may seem counterintuitive for an SNP politician to praise and defend the British Council, but I will, and I will gladly. I am a big fan of the British Council’s work. I have myself used its services over the years in overseas engagement. In Scotland, as an independent state, we will create something along those lines because we take cultural diplomacy seriously, and we will have an opportunity as an independent state to market our presence in the world as well. The British Council is in crisis, partly of course, as we have heard, because of covid, but in a more fundamental way, I believe, because of the political interference that I mentioned earlier.

The British Council has a funding shortfall, and that has been partially addressed by the Government, which is to be welcomed of course, but that support has come at a significant cost to the effectiveness of the organisation. It has concerned us for some time, but in a letter of 24 June, the Minister for Asia, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), has confirmed 20 office closures. They are closing offices in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, the US and Uruguay; grant in aid activity will cease in Namibia, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile and New Zealand; and a hub and spoke model— I hope that came from an expensive management consultant—or, essentially, a remote control model will be implemented for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Malta, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland. The letter goes on to outline other ways in which I believe the organisation will be politicised to align better with the aims of the UK Government, rather than for the betterment of the world as a whole.

Taken together, I cannot see these changes as anything other than a retreat. Hon. Members might disagree, but I cannot see how shutting 20 offices increases the outreach of an organisation. Nothing says “engaging with the world” like closing offices down, closing doors and saying, “We will deal with you by fax or Zoom.” It is a perfect microcosm of post-Brexit Britain: scaling back on the granular, in-country effectiveness of the organisations promoting real change overseas, and focusing instead on gimmicks and baubles for domestic consumption. I am afraid that no amount of prime ministerial planes, royal yachts, or bluster and bombast can disguise the diminishment that is occurring under this UK Government.

It is not our agenda—I think Scotland can do this better—but, as a friendly neighbour of the UK, I do not want to see the UK make a mistake. I do not want to see the UK walk away from the world’s poorest, and I do not want to see Scottish taxes spent on yachts and planes when the global south needs us more than ever, so I hope that the UK Government will change course.

15:31
Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con) [V]
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I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who chairs the International Development Committee, for securing this debate. I concur with practically every single speech that we have heard today and agree with almost everything that everybody has said.

I am particularly concerned that, despite girls’ education being a stated priority of the Prime Minister, the overall budget for it is estimated to have been cut by at least 40% in 2021-22 compared with 2019. He wants 12 years of quality education for girls. I am not sure how that is going to happen, because it is estimated that 700,000 fewer girls will be supported by UK aid for education between 2019 and 2022 compared with between 2015 and 2018.

Additionally, in April 2021 the United Nations Population Fund—the UNFPA—announced that the UK Government would be reducing their contributions to the UNFPA supplies programme, which is responsible for 40% of the world’s contraceptives, by 85%. Without contraception, many of those girls will not be able to go to school. UNFPA executive director Dr Natalia Kanem described the cut as

“devastating for women and girls and their families across the world.”

I agree. The funds that the UK has cut would have prevented around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions. Yesterday in the International Development Committee, we heard that in Pakistan alone more than 30,000 unwanted pregnancies would arise, and more than 8,000 illegal and unsafe abortions would be undertaken—rather than by Marie Stopes, which has been operating in that field for many years.

I feel as if this whole budget process has been flawed. Much of what has happened has been, “Well, I don’t think we need to bother with that”, “No, we won’t worry about that” and “Let’s just reduce this”. To ensure that these cuts to aid do not further impact the world’s most marginalised communities, I urge the Government immediately to confirm that the ODA budget will return to 0.7% of GNI in the next financial year. They also need to publish a gendered equality impact assessment of the cuts to ensure that gender equality is not further reversed.

The decision will equate to about £4 billion of cuts from 2020 aid levels, which is huge for developing countries. Women and girls suffer disproportionately from funding reductions in critical sectors, which will result in an estimated 20 million women and girls who will not be reached by programmes. Some 2 million fewer women will be supported by humanitarian assistance, and 8 million fewer women and girls will be supported by nutrition interventions. We know that nutrition interventions help to stop stunting and help people in developing countries have fewer problems with malnutrition than they have already, so we need to restore funding for nutrition. My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) talked about nutrition and the fact that agencies have to decide if they are going to feed the starving or the hungry, which is not acceptable in this day and age.

What is really shocking is that in a global pandemic the amount of money being cut means an estimated 9 million fewer women will be supported to access clean water and sanitation. We all know that we have been urged to wash our hands, to be much cleaner and to worry about hygiene, but we are going to prevent 9 million women from accessing clean water and sanitation.

Government officials estimate that bilateral funding for water, sanitation and hygiene programmes will be cut by 80% from the £176 million spent in 2019. A 64% cut in WASH spending overall is predicted. At present, budgeted activities for WASH this year are 47% less than in 2019-20. During a pandemic it is essential that more washing facilities are available and hygiene levels are higher than they have been before. These cuts will put women’s and girls’ lives at risk and threaten to undo progress towards gender equality at a time when the pandemic has already rolled back women’s and girls’ rights by a generation.

We have heard about 12 years of quality education for girls. The recent G7 girls’ education pledge committed to support 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls to read by the age of 10 by 2026, but, despite that, aid cuts to education programmes that target gender equality have been higher than to those that do not. The overall aid budget for girls’ education is estimated to have been cut by at least 40% in 2021-22, compared with in 2019. It is estimated that 700,000 fewer girls will be supported by UK aid for education between 2019 and 2022, compared with in 2015 and 2018. Ironically, the first confirmed programme to be cut was a £12.5 million girls’ education programme called “Investing in Adolescent Girls in Rwanda”, a country in which we as the Conservative party have worked extensively. That programme had planned to support 200,000 11-year-olds over eight years.

Girls’ education programmes are vital because investing in girls during adolescence has profound effects on their own future wellbeing, including delaying marriage; reducing the risk of HIV/AIDS; increasing family income; lowering eventual fertility; improving survival rates, health indicators and education outcomes for future children; increasing women’s power in the household and political arenas; and, very importantly, lowering rates of domestic violence. What will happen to the girls and their futures now?

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The hon. Lady has significantly exceeded her time. I am afraid I have to stop her. I give quite a lot of leeway, but perhaps the clock is not working on the hon. Lady’s device.

15:38
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab) [V]
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As this is the second time I have spoken on this topic recently, I do not want to repeat everything I said first time around, other than that I still believe that it is morally reprehensible that the Government have reneged on their commitment to spend 0.7% on aid and are prepared to override by backdoor means the will of the House, which voted in 2015 for that commitment to be enshrined in law.

The global pandemic has been used as an excuse for these cuts, but we are the only G7 country that has resorted to such measures. We know that there is an underlying agenda and it is not just because of the pandemic. It has been evident for some years that many on the Government Benches have been trying to undermine the case for aid spending for a long time, either because they do not believe that helping those in extreme poverty around the world should be a priority or because they believe that voters do not believe that. Until now, that agenda has been a matter of some subterfuge, but with the spending review of 2020 it burst out into the open. Of course, not all Government Members think in the way I have described, and I am pleased that by virtue of this estimates debate we have had the second opportunity this month for them—including the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—to make that very clear.

When we talk about reducing 0.7% to 0.5%, it may sound like small numbers, but the reality is that £5 billion has been cut from our aid spending since 2019. The Government have tried to mask the impact of the cuts by combining previous DFID budget subheadings into a single line in the estimates, strategic priorities and other programme spending, but they cannot hide what the headline numbers say: both capital and resource spending under that subheading have been drastically slashed. Although we have not had transparency from the Government, we have heard today and in the debate earlier this month about the impact the cuts will have on our overseas aid programmes in respect of health, education, livelihoods, gender equality, water sanitation and much more. We should be talking about not the impact on programmes but the impact on people. There are real people out there who will not get the healthcare, education or family planning that they need, who will go to bed hungry each day, and who will die, because of the Government’s decision.

Saving people’s lives and lifting them out of extreme poverty, particularly in the wake of a pandemic that has had a huge impact in less-developed countries, absolutely must be a priority, but submissions to the International Development Committee’s inquiry show that aid cuts have also harmed numerous environmental charities. Climate Action Network said that there was a lot of uncertainty, with the organisation not knowing where the cuts to climate and environmental programmes were going to fall. Yet it looks as if CDC Group, with its £700 million fossil fuel portfolio—which Tearfund highlighted in its submission to the Committee—will be unaffected. That shows completely the wrong priorities from the Government in the run-up to COP26.

Another charity, Temwa, had a project ready to go in Malawi to fund more sustainable farming practices, only for the Government to axe a £250,000 grant at the very last minute. I have been to Malawi and seen the long-entrenched poverty there. Of all the countries I have visited, it was the one that it seemed most difficult to help. It is not a country that is rich in natural resources and it does not have many routes out of poverty. I have been to Kenya and Rwanda with the all-party group on agriculture and food for development and seen at first hand just how much difference agricultural programmes can make with even small-scale funding, so £250,000 in Malawi could be absolutely transformative.

MPs have been contacted by the Galapagos Conservation Trust, which says that grants to the trust to conduct research on the prevention and removal of plastic waste were cut by 64% this year, and that funding for future years is not guaranteed. Fifty jobs are now at stake. Each year, 1 million tonnes of plastic waste leak into the ocean from the Pacific coastline of central and south America, and without action that amount will double by 2025, threatening an area where more than 20% of unique marine species live.

I refuse to believe that the people in this country do not want the UK Government to take action to stop plastic pollution on the horrendous scale I just described, or to help Malawi to improve its farming sector. I refuse to believe that people are happy to support cuts that will deny people in developing countries vaccines, maternal healthcare, family planning services and education for all. I just do not believe that this country is like that. I hope the Government will realise that, too, and restore spending to where it should be.

15:43
Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure and privilege to speak in this debate, but it is actually quite painful as well, because none of us want to see a cut in the assistance that we give to other countries that are less well-favoured than we are.

This debate covers pages 183 to 196 of a meaty document that runs to 680 pages, and we have mainly focused—and correctly so—on international development. Other elements of the document will sadly be glossed over in our enthusiasm to debate this particular issue, but it is right that we should do so.

To those who have contributed so far, who I think have all been critical of the decision to go to 0.5%, I say that we should never make the excellent the enemy of the good. We should celebrate the good that UK aid does. An important point to make is that what the Government are charged to decide upon has real-life consequences, no question about it. If that were not so, we would be wasting billions of pounds every year, and manifestly we are not. The question is: how much should we be spending on international development in the longer term? If we are arguing for a reduction of £4.5 billion for this year but we are doing £4.5 billion of good work, perhaps we should be spending more in the future, rather than less, That point has been made by only one contributor today, from the Scottish National party.

I am not advocating that, because we have to make a judgment about what is a proper amount of our national income to spend on international development. Notwithstanding all the polling data cited today, when I am uncertain I have to listen to my constituents. I did so the last time I significantly rebelled against my own party, which was in 2003, over the Iraq war, and I would do so on an issue such as this. The message I get from my constituents on this issue—perhaps they dramatically differ from those in Chesham and Amersham, but I have no way of telling—is that this is something they are relaxed about, at best, on public spending. I get it in the neck for spending on education, healthcare, law and order, and all of those issues time and again. When I say, “Where are you going to find the money?”, nine times out of 10 the response, “International development” comes back at me. I have to justify this spend, because I do believe, as a former Minister in the then Department for International Development, in what this money is able to achieve. But we have to take the public with us, which is one reason why I was pleased about the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID. As a joint Minister at the time, I was very pleased to see those two Departments joined up because it seemed to me that that was one way of convincing the public that the international development work this Government do also achieves foreign policy goals; I see no problem with that at all, and neither do the overwhelming majority of other countries, particularly European countries, which do not separate the two functions.

I also welcome the fact that this move is temporary. I will be supporting the Government on this, but that is conditional on this being temporary. When that pledge was made, the UK economy and the prospects were not looking very good at all. I am happy to say that they have brightened up significantly since then,

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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How temporary is “temporary”?

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison
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One year is temporary; that is the pledge that has been made. I think that is a perfectly reasonable commitment to hold Ministers to. It could be that there is something else around the corner that can be interpreted as force majeure, as set out in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, but in the absence of that my belief is that this, as a temporary measure—one year—is acceptable. I do not like it—I loathe it and I accept my responsibility for some of the consequences—but it seems to me to be reasonable.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)
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Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that this temporary cut will have lifelong consequences and life-ending consequences for the people we have it for?

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison
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Yes, I do. Anybody who comes here thinking that somehow this is not going to have real-life consequences is delusional, and I made that point in my opening remarks. Otherwise, we would be wasting billions of pounds every year in the money that we have talked about—£4.5 billion in this case. I have never said we waste money on the good works that we do, although others take a different view for some of the fine detail. I believe it is good—it does good things, and we should be proud of and celebrate that. In supporting the Government on this measure, however, I have to accept my part of the responsibility for the fact that it will have real-life consequences.

I also welcome the Government’s focus on their seven priorities outlined in the integrated review, and I very much support its emphasis on Africa, which is absolutely right. Contained within it is an admission that going forward we cannot do everything and that as a middle-ranking country we now need to focus on what we do well. I urge Ministers to be very careful about the Daily Mail test in respect of the reputation of international development. Some legations abroad are tempted, with small pots of money available to ambassadors, to do what they think look like good projects on the ground. It is usually those projects, in my experience, that bring the whole thing into disrepute, and it is not worth the candle because it profoundly influences the views the public take of international development. It completely trashes the undoubtedly fantastic work done with the money that we allocate to international development, and it removes public support for international development, making it very difficult on the doorstep. To ensure that that does not happen, we need to take oversight.

We need to look again at the OECD straitjacket. I touched on some of this in my intervention on Lebanon. In my first-hand experience, we do great stuff on things that are not currently ODA-able, and we need to ensure that is, in some way, counted.

I praise the Government for their leadership on vaccines and COVAX, which is the issue of the moment, but I also sound a cautionary note. There is no point wheelbarrowing vaccines to countries that do not have adequate healthcare systems to deliver them. I do not want to see our vaccines simply used to vaccinate the elite in capital and regional cities. We need to be careful of that. What will the Minister do to improve those systems and the logistics behind them, perhaps using some of our very good assets such as armed forces medics and logisticians—I refer to my interest, as laid out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—because it seems there is a real role for them to play?

I support the comments made by the British Council. We do not do cultural imperialism, as several hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned. We get very close to it, but we do not have an Institut Français and we do not do Francophonie. We should be robust in defence of our values, as inculcated in the British Council.

I emphasise the importance of the English language, which is one of the best weapons and ambassadors we have. We do not own it. It is not exclusively our language any more, but we are its custodians, and the British Council propagates it in a way that cannot possibly fulfil the demand.

I hope very much that the loans extended to the British Council by the FCDO can become grants, which would be helpful and would enable it to do the great work it does, particularly on the English language.

15:51
Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), although I respectfully disagree on some issues, particularly the focus on polling. On an issue this serious, leadership is about doing what is right not just what is popular. There are political points in my speech, because this is a political issue.

Poverty is a political choice, and cutting aid to the world’s poorest at this time is a very poor political choice. The last Labour Government’s commitment to the world’s poorest is one of our proudest achievements. On this side of the House, we have more that unites us than divides us, and this is something on which we can say we are truly united.

What we have is a divided Government who cannot decide whether charity begins at home or they want to build a global Britain. It is a totally incoherent position. I completely agree that we should be doing more to look after the poorest in our own country, so let us never forget that this is the Government who were so embarrassed by their record of increasing child poverty in our own country that they once tried to abolish its very definition in law.

Those pushing this cut tell us that charity begins at home, so why are they content with over 7,000 children living in poverty in Luton North? If charity really begins at home, why was the Conservative party, during the pandemic, okay with sending a single cheese slice, a few bits of ham and a couple of slices of bread and calling it a week’s worth of food for a child? And if charity really begins at home, why are we allowing as many as 3,500 veterans in Britain today, people who fought for our country, to go without a home? Is that really looking after our own?

Let us never forget what looking after our own has looked like under the Conservatives over the past 11 years. Let us never let the Tories forget that that is their record when they say they want to cut aid to the most vulnerable people in our world.

The Government are not just on morally dangerous ground, they have seriously misjudged the British people on this issue. When people in Luton North, and I am sure in all our constituencies, saw that children were going without food, laptops or school uniforms during the covid crisis, they clubbed together. We do not turn our backs on people in their hour of need. The patronising attitude, frankly, of Ministers cutting aid because they think it is popular in Labour heartlands or goes down well with certain media outlets, is completely mismatched with my experience of people in our country. I see people banding together to raise money and giving to people and causes both in our own communities and when disasters happen on the other side of the world.

I wholeheartedly agree with Gordon Brown when he says that the decision to gut the UK aid budget is a life or death situation for so many people across the world. Our collective aim should be to end the wars, the climate change, the poverty and the tyranny that leave people across the world poorer and in search of safety, but when we see the Government failing on our global commitments, taking a step back and lowering our standing on the world stage, our collective aims grow so much more difficult to achieve. Until we have a Prime Minister with a sense of moral and collective responsibility, and until we have a Government who truly live up to the promise of a global Britain—where we are all proud of taking our obligations and responsibilities seriously and standing tall on the world stage again—the least we can do is give our fair share of international aid.

If we are to end the cycle of dangerous new variants entering this country, we need to provide the support and the vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable. None of us is protected until we all are. That applies not just during the pandemic and to vaccines, but to general health, too: sanitation, safety and education, particularly for women and girls. As a country that wants to stand proud at home and abroad, we have a moral obligation to the world’s poorest. We should leave this global pandemic even more connected and even more committed to seeing every corner of this world safe and thriving, not less.

15:56
Kenny MacAskill Portrait Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) (Alba)
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First of all, and rather unusually, I pay tribute to some Members on the Government Benches. They have kept the flame alive, if I can put it that way, of the 0.7% share that should be paid. It is never easy to speak out as a Member of the governing party. I have been in that position. It would be churlish to say that it is down to patronage or threats. Ultimately, it is about loyalty to a cause that you stand by, so I pay tribute to those Members who have spoken out against their own Administration and, in respect of their own principles, have supported what was not just principle but a manifesto commitment. It cannot have been easy, but they have the power to change. We Opposition Members have the power to protest and to hold to account, but the fundamental change required cannot come today. That must come from those on the Government Benches. I encourage them to keep the faith, and I pay tribute to the efforts they have made to date. It is essential for the reasons that others have mentioned: it is a moral necessity; it is an economic imperative; and it is a health and wellbeing requirement, not just for ourselves but for the entire world.

Only a few weeks after the Prime Minister’s trumpeting of this issue at the G7 summit, it appears that we are going into reverse. I accept that there is a logic and a rationale in what the Government argue. The 0.7% commitment is met by only two countries—Denmark and France, if memory serves—but that does not mean that we should seek to follow those other countries. This is a time to take a lead, because it is a necessity not only for others, as has been said by almost every speaker, but for ourselves. I ask the Government to stick to the principles that were stood on and supported by all parties in the last election, and that remain in their manifesto.

Of course, it is in our own economic interest. There are those who trumpet Brexit as part of a new global Britain of free trade around the world. Let us remember that there can only be free trade if we can stimulate demand. If countries are too poor to be able to buy our goods and services, then we cannot generate the work here. We have to use some Keynesian logic and economics to ensure that they have the resource available to acquire things from us; and we must support, as many Members have said, measures to address starvation, flooding and all the dangers that too often blight so many lands. We will benefit economically from giving aid and we will face consequences if we do not, so it is in our own interests.

It is, however, also primarily a moral necessity. It is an unfair world. The opulence in this House, and most especially in the House just along the corridor, confirms the wealth that has been generated over many years. We see it north and south of the border; we see it in every city. We have benefited from it over many years. Of course, in those years, people have worked hard and have shown endeavour and risk, but let us also remember that one reason we have this wealth here—not just in this city, but in Glasgow, Edinburgh and across the whole of this country—is that we have exploited; we have enforced deals on colonies and on other nations. We have taken from them. We made sure that we stripped them of their natural resources and that they had to buy the product that was created from ourselves.

Giving development aid is not simply about charity; it is about taking responsibility for actions that this country participated in, along with others in the developed world. We did it, the French did it, the Dutch did it, the Belgians did it and on it went. The western and developed world accrued their wealth at the expense of what is now the developing world, because we took from them and insisted that we benefited from their natural resources. This is not about giving charity; this is about their right. It is our obligation to give back and to try to provide that fairness.

The Government talk about a levelling-up agenda, and they are right; there has to be a levelling-up agenda not simply in the north of England, but, indeed, across the border between Scotland and England. Fundamentally, though, there has to be a levelling up across this globe between the northern and southern hemispheres. The wrong and the poverty that exist, which manifest themselves in the UK in the north-south divide, exist on planet Earth in a north-south divide and it is our obligation and a necessity that we take action to reverse that.

This is also about health and wellbeing. Some statistics I saw yesterday showed that 85% of shots or vaccinations have been carried out in upper and middle-income tier countries. A total of 0.3%—not even 0.7%—has been carried out in lower-income countries. We have already seen what has happened with the delta variant. If we want to make sure that we do not face a further variant that will not be dealt with by our vaccines—as epidemiologists fear—then we must take steps to ensure that we support the health and welfare within those countries. That is why it is in our own interests to ensure that we provide that 0.7%.

Finally, in the short time that I have left, I want to comment on the position being taken on women and girls. That is fundamental. As a former Justice Secretary, I recall dealing with violence reduction. We made great progress in Scotland in tackling violence reduction. There is still a long way to go, but I say this because it is a microcosm. We were doing youth five-aside football at night to stop young men drinking and participating in gang violence and whatever. The lightbulb moment came for some police officers when they suddenly realised that they were keeping the lads out of trouble, but standing around waiting to speak to the lads were all the young teenage girls. The officers realised that if they did not deal with these teenage girls, they would be dealing with their children in 16 years’ time. Anybody who has seen the Justice Analytical Services’ correlation between youth offending, criminal offending and teenage pregnancies will know that it is stark. That is a microcosm. If we want to make these countries better, we must pour resources into women and children, as we do to make a fairer country in this land. As I have said, it is for these reasons—for our own economic wellbeing, for our moral purpose, and, equally, for our own health and wellbeing—that we have to have 0.7%.

16:03
David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
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It is a first for me to follow an Alba member in this Parliament. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) may have changed parties, but he has not changed his passionate delivery, and I thank him for that contribution. I thank, too, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), the Chair of the International Development Committee, for her part in bringing forward today’s important debate, although, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) made clear in her very forceful speech, it will not lead to a vote on the restoration of the 0.7%. I have made it very clear that I want to see that restoration.

It is vital that our aid budget, whatever it is, is spent efficiently and with maximum impact. That is why I find it inconceivable that the rumoured cut of 80% to the nutrition budget can be true. I say “rumoured” because of the difficulty in establishing the facts, as others have already set out.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on nutrition for growth, I have no doubt that the commitments to nutrition to date have achieved a great deal. Nutrition is like rocket fuel for our aid budget. Our interventions in health, education and emergency humanitarian response are all the more impactful when coupled with long-term interventions that improve nutrition. That is because children can develop healthy and robust immune systems only if they get the right nutrition. A strong immune system is the first line of defence against illness. It is essential for a healthy and productive life.

According to the World Health Organisation, 45% of all deaths among the under-fives are linked to malnutrition and, heartbreakingly, as a result of covid-19’s disruption to food systems, an estimated further 433 children are expected to die of malnutrition every single day. Malnutrition not only costs lives; it drives absence from school and reduces concentration, thereby preventing children from learning and reaching their full potential as adults, which perpetuates a cycle of poverty. As well as the impact this has on individuals, malnutrition prevents economic growth and, as a result, puts our own aid budget under even further strain. All of what this Government say they hope to achieve through the aid budget and the seven principles—be it girls’ education, women’s health or economic development—is enabled and enhanced through nutrition.

I recently chaired an APPG meeting with the aid watchdog, ICAI—the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. It reviewed the FCDO’s nutrition work and gave it a green/amber rating. Green ratings are very rare, but it said that the rating was more green than amber. That is because this work represents fantastic value for money, with every £1 invested yielding, on average, a £16 return. Our failure to sufficiently support nutrition comes at a cost of some $3.5 trillion, with some countries losing 11% of GDP each year to otherwise avoidable healthcare costs and reduced workforce productivity. As well as having exceeded its target of reaching 50 million people with nutrition interventions, the FCDO has a strong track record of reaching the most vulnerable people and delivering high-impact interventions based on evidence and science. I do not want to see that success thrown away.

In addition, ICAI praised the FCDO for raising global ambition for improving nutrition. By hosting the nutrition for growth summit in 2013, which mobilised over £17 billion for nutrition, and stepping up as a major donor to nutrition ourselves in the years since, the UK has developed unrivalled convening power and is able to catalyse funds for nutrition from other donors and domestic Governments. We must build on that influence, not take actions that diminish it.