I thank my hon. Friend for his work on this issue as one of my predecessors; I know that he was as keen as I am to ensure that full and fair compensation is paid to all individuals. As I said, there is no limit to the amount of compensation that we will set aside to ensure that people are compensated properly for this horrendous scandal.
In the week that we heard that more than 250 postmasters whose lives and reputations were damaged by Post Office Ltd died before they could get justice, yesterday we found another layer of Post Office Ltd’s organisational dysfunction. On 19 February, the Secretary of State informed the House of bullying accusations against Mr Staunton, only for us to find out yesterday that those accusations related to another individual entirely. Could I first ask the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect—not just for the manner in which he goes about his business with regard to the Horizon scandal—whether the Secretary of State misled the House by telling Members that Mr Staunton was under wider investigation for bullying? Secondly, will the Minister now respond positively to requests from the Scottish Government and the Northern Irish Executive to reconsider introducing legislation that could lead to a swift UK-wide exoneration for the postmasters affected?
To be clear, we terminated Mr Staunton’s role as chair of the Post Office not because of bullying accusations. There was an 80-page report, which he referred to yesterday, and which I have not read. He freely admitted in yesterday’s evidence session that he was named in that report. To what extent, I do not—[Interruption.] Well, that is what Mr Staunton said; he said that it was to a very minor extent. I do not know that, I do not think the hon. Gentleman knows that, and I think we should wait for the investigation to conclude before we make a judgment on that. The point was not about the allegation itself; the point was that, as Mr Staunton admitted yesterday, he interfered with the investigation. That is unacceptable, and if we had not acted in the way that we did, I think that the hon. Gentleman and others would be calling us to account for why we did not act when somebody had tried to suspend or interfere with an investigation into his own conduct.
I am aware of the Scottish and Northern Irish Governments’ position on legislation. Of course we will continue to discuss that with them. There are some separate devolved issues around the judicial systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is the reason we have done it differently. We are happy to continue our dialogue on it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Mr Hosie. On behalf of my party, I very much welcome the statutory instrument. It is important to recognise that we are broadly congratulatory on the greater flexibilities, but I will mark a waypoint on the public record about how far the UK still lags behind other jurisdictions.
I will give two examples across the North sea. On the length of parental leave, Norway allows 49 weeks of parental leave, with 15 weeks reserved for each parent. Sweden allows 480 days of parental leave, with each parent, if there are two, allowed 240 of those days. While we recognise the flexibility that this legislation will bring, let us not forget how far behind many other prosperous northern European societies we are. With that said, anything that makes it easier to take paternity leave and encourages its uptake must be a good thing. To that extent, we very much welcome the flexibility brought by the legislation on the timing of the leave, the notice required to be given in order to take up that leave and the flexibility in how it is taken.
To speak personally as a father of two, when I took some parental leave after the birth of my first child, the first week certainly was not terribly restful, and getting back to work was actually a blessed relief in many respects. The poor girl was tongue-tied. That was not noticed in the hospital, and feeding her became far more of a challenge that it ought to have been, which was to her great detriment. However, having flexibilities in the legislation might have helped us to navigate that. At the time, I was a local authority councillor; I had a great deal more flexibility than many other people—certainly many other fathers—in how I could manage my workload to balance home life and get as much of those precious early few weeks with both my children after they were born as I could. I certainly benefited from that, and I hope that as a family unit we all benefit from it going forward. As the Minister said, there is a considerable body of evidence showing that when fathers are involved in caring for their children and in their upbringing, a range of better outcomes result across the course of everyone’s lives.
I will veer off momentarily to say how important this legislation is in tackling gender inequalities. At Prime Minister’s questions on International Women’s Day, I highlighted a report by the pension firm Scottish Widows that showed that women were retiring with a pension pot worth £123,000 less on average than men. Further, a woman aged 25 today would be on track to retire with a pension pot £100,000 less than her male counterpart.
There is no doubt that a whole range of reasons that contribute to that, including discrimination and attitudes in the workplace, a large part of which come back to the differences that emerge after people go on to start a family. Anything that recalibrates attitudes and which not just allows but encourages men to play a more active role in the upbringing of their children, in particular to get involved at that early stage, hopefully breeding good habits that go on as their children grow up, has to be a good thing.
There is no single measure that will tackle that gender inequality, particularly that gap. Rather, a series of small measures such as this one will start to make the difference. I very much welcome the flexibilities in the regulations, but we need to remember that there are other places that are doing this much better than us in the overall amount of leave for parents of whatever gender, and I firmly believe that we should aspire to improve that as well.
First, let me say that we on the SNP Benches are also not looking to divide the House. I thought that I might get the opportunity to pre-empt the jibe that is often made about how my party is against trade deals, but the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) got there first. I saw that those on the Labour Front Bench also took a sideswipe with their rather nonsensical jibe. I freely admit that we have yet to find a deal signed by this Government that we are happy to support. Fundamentally—I say this again—we are in favour of good trade deals and we are not in favour of poor trade deals. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Totnes is very, very excitable. For the purposes of Hansard,he is asking me to name one, but the sad fact is that I cannot name one that has been signed by this Government. Trying to help those on the Treasury Bench and Back Benchers understand the difference feels a bit like Father Ted trying to explain to Father Dougal the difference between cows that are small and cows that are far away.
In common with the shadow Minister, we are not saying that there cannot be some advantages of the CPTPP deal, but what we could not be clearer about is that, taken in their totality, all the trade deals signed to date—or even those that could have been signed had negotiations not failed to get off the starting block, or those that have hit the buffers in recent days—are a very poor substitute for the trade deals that we have left behind. In the manner in which it chose to leave the European Union, the UK managed not only to create trade borders with 27 other countries, but, unfathomably, to create one with itself, when it created a trade border down the middle of the Irish sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In the CPTPP, we have essentially swapped the four freedoms in Europe of goods, capital, services and people, in a market of half a billion people with a GDP of over £15 trillion, which was right on our doorstep and which already took over 40% of our exports, with a much lesser deal, with a combined economy of almost half the size, on the opposite side of the world, which currently takes only 8% of our exports. A great deal of growth would need to happen in that market—somewhat implausibly I have to say—even to come close to matching what has been left behind.
The economic benefits of joining the CPTPP are pretty small. I know the Government do not like these figures being repeated—which seems as good a reason as any to go on and repeat them—but the UK Government’s own impact assessment indicated the long-run increase in GDP would be £2 billion, or 0.06% of GDP. The OBR even had it as 0.04% in the long run. As John Maynard Keynes said:
“In the long run we are all dead.”
In a written answer to me dated 11 September last year, the then Minister of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), said that the impact assessment, where the £2 billion figure had come from, had
“been independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee”.
I went and had a look at what the Regulatory Policy Committee had to say in order to get an idea of what “the long run” might actually mean. The Committee’s document said:
“When compared to projected levels of GDP or trade in 2040 without the agreement, the FTA’s main impacts (based on central estimates and in 2021 prices) are that…UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to increase by £2.0 billion.”
What the Minister said in his reply will therefore be correct, just not for a further 16 years or so. In the meantime, we have a real, immediate drop of 4% in GDP resulting from Brexit, leaving our economy permanently driving with the handbrake on.
I understand that the Government intend to adhere to the Sewel convention on this occasion and will seek the legislative consent of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies for the Bill. The Government should do that for every piece of legislation that comes through this place, not just performatively whenever they are confident of getting a positive response. While the benefits of free trade are obvious, there is also an obvious benefit to having tariffs in place. Tariffs serve a purpose; they are not just about protectionism, as some would have it.
I was encouraged to hear the Secretary of State say that we would never compromise on animal welfare standards, but one sector where that is in real danger of happening is the egg production sector. I see the Minister for Trade Policy wrinkling his brow. He and I have had an exchange on this before. The sector is worth over £1 billion to the UK economy. Tariffs exist currently to protect the industry from imports from mass-producing jurisdictions such as India and Mexico, which have lower standards than we insist on for our domestic producers, and that our consumers rightly demand.
The Minister responded, again not inaccurately, that the UK does not import many eggs. Well, eggs are quite fragile. It is difficult enough sometimes to transport them from the shops back to our kitchens intact, let alone right around the world—but of course the egg products that we are talking about are liquefied or even powdered egg products, which once put into a shipping container can be transported around the world at comparatively very low cost. It would not require a huge amount of displacement in the market to get a foothold if those products were allowed in under the terms of the CPTPP. Let us be under no illusions: for all that it is a £1 billion domestic industry, once egg producers are gone, they are gone and they are not coming back, so there is a real risk of harm and of our standards being undermined whatever level we choose to set them at domestically, because the tariff that was there to maintain a block on imports that did not meet those standards will effectively have been taken away.
I am not sure that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) quite understands what is about to happen with the border target operating model that fits alongside the legislation. A health check certificate and a consignment charge will be required for eggs and egg products imported from Europe, with no equivalent health check or standard required for eggs imported from CPTPP countries, thus creating an imbalance and making the scenario that the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) is talking about more likely, because of the way in which eggs are produced in this country in collaboration with Europe.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. One of the ironies here is that because our borders will no longer be protected by food import checks at Rotterdam, there has basically been a free-for-all in terms of the standard of products that can come in. I welcome the fact that there will be checks in order to protect our biosphere, but that comes at a financial cost that will hit consumers hard at a time when food inflation remains high and we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis. That is just one example of the red tape that we were told would be cut by Brexit not being cut sideways; it has been cut lengthways, creating far more of the stuff.
Moving away from eggs, which I do not think will be the major export from Malaysia or other far-eastern members of the trans-Pacific partnership, let us look at the opportunities for Scotland. In the last year or so there have been bumper sales of Scottish whisky. Whisky sales in Singapore are up by some £90 million, and in Malaysia they are up over £30 million. The opportunities arising from being able to export tariff-free to Malaysia will mean a substantial increase in our single most important food and beverage export. Does the hon. Member agree that we should not underestimate the opportunities for Scotland in all this?
My point about eggs—I will stay on this subject for a bit—related to India and Mexico, which are major producers. Of course Scottish MPs are interested in good trade outcomes for Scotland, but we look to trade more than just whisky. While any increase in our share of the international spirits market is welcome, it would have done us much more good if the Government with control over domestic duties had not whacked an 11.1% increase in duty on that product last year. I say as gently as I can to the hon. Member that it is not just tariffs that are significant; many jurisdictions take their cue for the taxes levied on a product from the duty set in this country. I contend that we set a very bad example—I hope that he might agree—when whisky is taxed so highly in comparison with other alcohol products in the UK domestic market. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I did not quite catch that. I invite the hon. Member to intervene on me, if he wishes to make a point.
I was just making the point that taxation raised here is spent on important issues in the United Kingdom. That of course includes, under the Barnett formula, significant subsidies by the English of Scotland.
What a load of absolute codswallop. It may have escaped the hon. Member’s notice that every part of the UK is in deficit. I do not think that a single part of the UK, perhaps not even London or the south-east, raises more in taxation than it receives in public expenditure, so can he please park the patronising trope about England subsidising everywhere else? Scotland creates one of the highest levels of gross value added of any part of the UK outside the vortex of London and the south-east, which suck in every aspect of capital and talent.
In the spirit of trying to bring the debate back to the fantastic opportunities for Scotland, as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Brunei, I was delighted to go to Aberdeen to meet a number of Scottish companies in the incredibly important business of decommissioning and renewal in the oil and gas industry. Brunei has signed a deal worth, I think, £350 million with Scottish business. That is not subject to any controversy.
May I also say that the hon. Member’s contribution to this place is incredibly useful? It is a very good symbol of why members of the SNP and Scottish Members of Parliament are so valuable to the Union, and to debates such as this in the British Parliament. Long may you be welcome here in Britain.
We seemed to be being pulled back to the topic, but now I am being tempted to go off down another rabbit hole. While I thank the hon. Member for his generous comments, I know exactly what side my bread is buttered on. I am a long-standing supporter of Scottish independence because I have a simple belief that the best people to run Scotland and make decisions about Scotland are those who have chosen to make their life there. With all due respect to this place and its traditions, I think that we could do a far better job from the Parliament in Edinburgh.
I will get back to the purpose of the debate, as entertaining as that no doubt was for all concerned. The SNP retains concerns about the ability to apply investor-state dispute settlements under the CPTPP. A deal for Canada has, for now at least, hit the buffers, but it was concerning that there was no indication from the Government of any side letters about investor-state dispute settlements similar to those applied in respect of the FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. There is real concern that investor-state dispute settlements could have an impact on standards and decisions taken here.
We firmly believe that trade deals done right can channel and create potential to support decent jobs and raise standards, not just domestically but globally. It is therefore worrying that the ethos of the CPTPP means effectively abandoning the precautionary principle, which places the burden of proof on the producer to show that a product is safe. Instead, the burden will be on the regulator to prove that something is a danger before action can be taken. That can only act as a downward pressure on standards. The committee on regulatory coherence will no doubt also become a focus for this issue, whether we are talking about antibiotics in agriculture, the impact of decisions on deforestation, or something as iconic as palm oil; we have already agreed a 12% tariff on imports from Malaysia, irrespective of the impact that that would have.
We have further concerns about the impact on workers’ rights and domestic conditions. There is the risk of being undermined by lower costs elsewhere, resulting from lower standards on labour rights and obligations, or lower regulatory standards more broadly. We are concerned about the impact that that could have on our public services, and our ability to set domestic laws and regulations could come under challenge, either from the economic forces that are unleashed or through the ISDS mechanism.
All things considered, the Government have made a blustery and boosterish contribution, while being very blasé about and dismissive of the concerns raised. As I said earlier, the SNP will not seek to divide the House on the Bill this evening, but we certainly look forward to exploring all those issues further in Committee.
Surely if ever there was a time to consider removing Mr Staunton from his post, it was after it emerged last year that bonuses were being paid to Post Office executives simply for doing what I think we would all expect them to: co-operating fully with the Horizon inquiry. I think that people will be forgiven for having the suspicion that, when it comes to Horizon, Ministers have been a bit like the Japanese moon lander, suddenly bursting to life as soon as a bit of light is shone on them, in this case by an ITV programme.
I have two questions. First, Fujitsu’s representatives told the Business and Trade Committee a fortnight ago that Fujitsu had a “moral obligation” to contribute to the financial redress for the victims. Has the Secretary of State had any discussions yet with Fujitsu about how and when that might happen, as well as about the size of the contribution that it might make? Secondly, with regard to the continued unexplained shortfalls in Horizon, will the Government commit to revealing how much in excess the Post Office claimed back from staff, resorting to forensic accountancy if required?
The bonuses were returned voluntarily by anybody who received them for that sub-metric, and the chief executive returned his bonuses from across the entire inquiry.
On the point about the Government picking up the pace because of the ITV drama, I would say a couple of things. We were putting a number of measures in place already. We had put in place the Horizon compensation advisory board, which has Lord Arbuthnot as one of its key members. A fixed-sum award was introduced last autumn. We were looking at advice on overturning convictions. Things were happening at pace in this area prior to the dramatisation, but of course we are public servants and members of the public. Of course we want to expedite things, and the impetus behind them is at a raised level because of the public outcry.
Conversations are ongoing with Fujitsu. In my view, the best point to negotiate is when we have all the evidence at our disposal, which will not be until the inquiry concludes. We welcome the fact that the company has taken and accepted some moral responsibility to contribute towards the compensation and we will take it at its word, but negotiating at the right point is the right way to deal with that.
The question of any excess moneys that came back from postmasters effectively into Post Office accounts is an important one, which we are asking now, and we hope to get answers in the near future.
I would like to give the Minister another chance, because that was pretty dismal stuff even by his standards. India has one of the poorest human rights records in the world when it comes to child labour. To give the Minister an opportunity to get us to a position where we could potentially support a deal, will he explain how Ministers and the Government are engaging with negotiators in India to tackle child labour there and to ensure that the United Kingdom does not become complicit in that exploitation?
Of course the UK has a very proud record on labour standards and on raising these issues with counterparts at all levels. Lord Ahmad was in India just a couple of weeks ago raising specific human rights issues, including a case that the SNP has raised frequently. The Government are proud of our record on labour protections and have been clear that an FTA with India does not come at the expense of labour standards. But may I refer the hon. Gentleman back to the rhetorical question: when will the SNP ever support a trade deal with anybody?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this afternoon, Ms Harris. The instrument before us repeals a measure that allowed employers of au pairs, nannies, carers and companions an exemption from the requirement to pay the national minimum wage. It immediately begs the question of why they were allowed not to. It has also had the effect of excluding some domestic workers, particularly those from overseas, from the protections that the national minimum wage is designed to offer.
On that basis, the SNP thoroughly support this instrument. The exemption in the national minimum wage legislation always carried the risk of leaving people being exploited. As the Minister has outlined, the Low Pay Commission recommended in October 2021 that it be repealed following the decision of an earlier employment tribunal. In our view, making this amendment is absolutely the right thing to do. Fundamentally, paying people a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work is a cornerstone of a fair society. This instrument sets a clear requirement and expectation of what has to be done. That is very much to be welcomed.
As the shadow Minister and the right hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire have said, many of the workers affected by this instrument are likely to be in quite vulnerable, potentially precarious situations. They may not know about what we are discussing today and the effects it has. They may not know how to assert their rights in future once it is passed. They are therefore at risk of continued exploitation. I welcome the assurances given by the Minister about how that issue can kept in mind and monitored, but I find much merit in what the shadow Minister has called for: a public information campaign so that as many people as possible can know about what is happening today, whether it is their own rights or the rights of others, and so that employers know what their responsibilities are to their workers who are affected. With that in mind, we are very happy to support the measure.
How strange the change from minor to major in that response. Financial transparency and accountability are essential components of economic stability. For three years now, the Government have been promising legislation and improved checks on company finances, but they have repeatedly failed to deliver. How can the Minister justify leaving the audit and governance Bill out of the King’s Speech, when it is supported by businesses, regulators and auditors alike?
We work very closely with the Financial Reporting Council. No one can deny that the FRC has changed its approach completely and is now a much more effective regulator. Sir Jon Thompson did a fantastic job when he was there, and the current chief executive, Richard Moriarty, and chair, Jan du Plessis, are following his work. We are confident that the FRC can make sure that the UK’s corporate regime works effectively, without tying businesses up in red tape.
We are ready to have a free trade agreement with the US, but it is not undertaking free trade agreements with any country. That is, of course, disappointing, but it knows that we stand ready. That is why we have the state MOU programme. The latest figures show that UK-US trade has reached £310 billion. We are the biggest investor in Florida. I was pleased to meet Governor DeSantis earlier this month, and I also met the California Governor, Gavin Newsom, who wanted to be even faster in signing an MOU with the UK. They believe that this country has a lot of opportunity, and they want to do business with us.
Import tariffs on egg products allow us to recognise the higher cost of UK egg production because of safety, welfare and environmental considerations. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that eggs and egg products will be afforded sensitive product status by the UK in future free trade agreement negotiations, and that import tariffs will remain in place on those products?
It is difficult to comment on tariffs in live negotiations, but I would say two things to the hon. Gentleman: first, this country imports very few eggs from abroad, and secondly, anything that happens with imported eggs would not change our standards on food imports, food safety and animal welfare in this country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliott. As the Minister said, my party did not support the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. The powers that ought to have gone to devolved Governments in the aftermath of Brexit —which, again, we did not support—seem to have found themselves stuck in Westminster, largely due to the Act. Many of our fears have been borne out in the way that the Act has operated, particularly with regard to how the UK Government have used it to interfere utterly unjustifiably in things such as a simple deposit return scheme. That is not how we would wish an internal market to work, and the Act has not helped in that respect.
The lack of legislative consent motions is largely academic. I say that for two main reasons. First, the UK Government have shown over the last few years—this one have, anyway—that even if they do not have a legislative consent motion, they will just go ahead anyway. Secondly, in this case, as the Minister said, there has been constructive engagement with the devolved Administrations, even if some issues remain. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that there has been constructive engagement.
I draw Members’ attention in particular to two areas—heat regulation and the exclusion of the education sector, particularly qualifications-awarding services—where the UK Government have recognised that there are sound policy objectives for having different regulatory approaches in different parts of the UK. I very much welcome that. Of course, it is well known and well understood that Scotland and the rest of the UK have different education and qualification systems, and—if I may be so bold as to say so, Ms Elliott—long may that remain so. Next time the Minister has the ear of the Prime Minister, who has been talking enthusiastically about his British baccalaureate, which he wishes to replace A-levels, he might wish to try to prevail on the Prime Minister to refer to it as what it is: an English baccalaureate. We will be keeping our system in Scotland, so long as the internal market Act does not get in the way of that.
As if the future stoking of inflation through extra Brexit red tape was not bad enough, businesses are already having to cope with uncertainty, the lack of a level playing field and the threat to our own food safety and security through the failure to introduce checks of our own. Given that Ministers were saying as recently as April that those checks will begin on 31 March, can the Minister explain how businesses are expected to get to grips with all this turmoil in Government policy given their tendency to keep kicking the can down the road over border checks?
Food inflation is a global issue: it is not a problem just here in the UK. Many factors influence food prices globally, notably energy costs. Global wholesale food prices have been falling since March and sometimes that can take time to reach consumers. In July, UK food inflation was just over 14%, down from 17%. The hon. Gentleman did not specify which issue he was touching on, but if it was to do with sanitary and phytosanitary controls for goods from the EU, that will be introduced and in place by 31 January 2024.
The Government could stop making existing global problems even worse when they apply to the UK—I was following up on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) about the cost of checks on imported food—but the only thing worse than bad border checks is no border checks at all. We are no longer imposing SPS checks on food coming in from the EU. Is the Minister proud that, under the guise of taking back control, she is part of a Government who have given away control instead?
It feels unnecessary to repeat this, but this Government seem willing to sign up to any trade deals. My party is in favour of good ones, and we are against poor ones, and that is why we oppose this deal. [Interruption.] The concerns that we have, despite the heckling from those on the Government Benches, about the lack of mechanisms to safeguard workers’ rights and about the potential impacts on domestic standards, particularly in the agrifoods sectors, do not go away with blustery repetition and flat contradiction, which seems to be the stock-in-trade in all that Government Front Benchers have to say about this deal.
The Secretary of State gets aerated whenever it is pointed out that the Government’s own figures show that GDP is estimated to increase by only 0.08% over the next 10 years as a result of the deal, at the same time as the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts a 4% hit to GDP through Brexit. Ministers have had an awful long time to find out what the figure actually is, if they do not believe that 0.08% figure. Without reference to vague opportunities, the number of middle-class consumers in the Pacific rim or the GDP of countries in the CPTPP, and without deviation, repetition or hesitation, what exactly will the impact be on UK GDP as a result of this deal?
Again, I am disappointed to see the hon. Gentleman talk negatively about a deal that will benefit Scotland as well as all other parts of the United Kingdom. It will add significant amounts. We estimate that in the long run, at least £2 billion a year will be added to the UK economy, including in his constituency. Perhaps he would like to welcome that, rather than be negative about it. Also, this is a growing area of the world. There are likely to be new members, so we anticipate considerable opportunities going forward. In Scotland, 547 businesses are already owned by CPTPP countries, employing more than 20,000 people in Scotland. Perhaps he would like to welcome that.