3.7 pm

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): The other day at about 8 o’clock, I found myself heading back from the mother of Parliaments, which is—I still pinch myself—my workplace. I was heading from tube to road with a neighbour of mine from a few doors away, who said, “Late night at work, was it?” I was not fast enough to say no, this was an early night; as all Members know, it can be a lot later than that on a Monday.

Last night I did not even see my 11-year-old, who started high school this year. All the parenting guidebooks would say that that is a crucial time to be with one’s child. Until we get elected to this place, we do not really know what goes on in here. I have been here for six months and I am still acclimatising. We do not know what time we will get away until the day itself, and that unpredictability is part of the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) so persuasively highlighted.

To those on the outside, a debate such as this, as the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) mentioned, will not get a lot of sympathy. We are seen as overpaid and all the rest of it, but, after six months here, I have worked out that this place is many things. It is awesome in the true sense of that word: awe-inspiring. It is traditional and humbling, but one thing it is definitely not is family-friendly, so I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate today.

A Mumsnet survey from 2011 found that 91% of MPs would not describe their job as family-friendly. One of the early visits that I hosted here was for a school party from Ellen Wilkinson school in West Acton; I am proud that my constituency has a school named after a woman Labour MP who led the Jarrow march. In the Q&A bit afterwards, one of the girls said to me, “Why are there so few women MPs?” Partly, we take that for granted when we are on the inside, and my hon. Friend highlighted well the inside/outside divide on these issues. In my reply, I cited the family-unfriendly hours. On Mondays, I have been getting away at half-past midnight—and I am always the first person to leg it. Even when I was heading home at eight o’clock, and my neighbour thought it was late, I had been trying to get away quickly.

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The Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation talked of the

“inflexible and unwelcoming attitude of the House towards families”.

That should not be so. However, as my hon. Friend said, we need reform on many levels. We need to be a modern Parliament, to reflect the communities we seek to serve; otherwise, we will have an ever-narrowing talent pool, and the big fish in that small pond will be self-replicating professional politicians. My hon. Friend mentioned that the Labour party’s previous leader—indeed, the three party leaders at the general election—had done nothing other than work for head office; they were backroom boys who had become leader. We need people from outside who have had other adult workplace experience and can bring in fresh thinking.

How would we define the average family in the UK today? The definition would have to take into account 2 million single parents. Gingerbread remarks that, contrary to media reports,

“these days, bringing up children on your own is actually a very normal part of family life in the UK.”

One in four dependent households is now a single-parent family. As a parent, every working mother constantly feels guilt about where their loyalties lie. If they work in a place such as this, that is magnified and multiplied severalfold, and that is even truer if they are a single parent. Flexibility in the workplace has been legislated for, but it seems not to apply to this place. Wherever people work, flexibility has a stigma attached to it, and they are made to feel embarrassed about even asking for flexible arrangements. However, that is even truer in the House. Gingerbread states that 57% of single parents work and that their average age is 38, contrary to the Daily Mail stereotype of their being feckless, teenage, brown-faced people.

All the research shows that mums are under-represented in this place, and single mums even more so. It takes a certain type of person to be an MP—we have to be shameless exhibitionists and a bit megalomaniac, and we must have a sense of public service and an ability to adapt. If all those things stifle diversity, that is a bad thing. We have to balance all these things.

To some extent—we heard this from the right hon. Member for Chelmsford—the idea that we have always done things this way—

Fabian Hamilton (in the Chair): Order. I am sorry, but you are out of time.

Dr Huq: Really? There is so much more I could have said.

Fabian Hamilton (in the Chair): There always is. I call Alison Thewliss.

3.12 pm

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Hamilton. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for bringing this important issue to the House. I am glad to have had the opportunity to participate in a number of debates on issues—whether tampons, breastfeeding or whatever—that are particularly important to women across the country.

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It is perhaps difficult to ascertain how family-friendly the House is, but I have been able to bring my children down once in the six months I have been here, and that was during recess.

Neil Gray: I have shared that experience. I have not been able to bring my one-year-old down terribly often. Part of the problem is that, although there is a nursery here, it does not have a crèche facility. Children have to use it full time. Does my hon. Friend agree that looking at that issue could help?

Alison Thewliss: Yes, absolutely. There are 40 places in that nursery facility—it is a nursery, not a crèche, and there is no drop-in. I went to inquire whether it might be possible to bring my children down during the Scottish summer holidays, and it was not. Another limitation is that the nursery is for children up to the age of five; if they are older than that, there is nowhere they can go.

It is unfair of us to ask members of our or the building’s staff to look after our children while we nip off to vote. That is not what they are here to do; they are here to do their job, and childcare does not form part of that—I think we would also find that was true if we looked at their IPSA job descriptions. The nursery is also incredibly expensive, so it is not accessible to the vast number of staff in this building. In addition, there are only 40 places. Given the number of women and family members who serve this building, that is woefully short of what is required.

I was glad that the hon. Lady mentioned the staff in this building, whether they work for Hansard, serve food or work as cleaners. They are required to work when we are required to work, and that is also not family-friendly for them. Indeed, it is even truer for them, because they do not get the benefit of the expenses that we get as part of our duties in the House. We need to be mindful of them and of the family-unfriendliness of the House to the wider staff population.

I want to mention breastfeeding because the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) mentioned it. As far as I am concerned, the appropriate time and place to feed a baby is when it is hungry, regardless of when and where that may be. I have breastfed at Hampden Park in the middle of a football crowd, at bus stops and anywhere else my baby has been hungry. As a Glasgow city councillor, I breastfed my child in meetings, including committee meetings, and nobody had a problem with that. My baby was happy, it was not crying and it was not disruptive, because it was being fed. That was true of both my children. That issue needs to be better understood.

There is also an issue about the culture in this building and the way people behave. As far as the young researchers who come here are concerned, that is perhaps the way things have always been. However, I was at a reception earlier, and there was wine on the table. That was a lunch time. Is that really appropriate? Is the culture we want to encourage in this building that people go for a glass of wine at lunch time or at a dinner reception, or that people stay late and go to the bars between votes? That is not a family-friendly culture either, and it is not a good place for the building where laws are made to be. We perhaps need to consider that as well.

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) raised the issue of sharing positions. There are issues around that, and we are elected to serve, so we

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need to do that. However, I believe the French Parliament has the “suppléant” system, under which those who are elected have someone who follows on behind them. If they become a Minister, that person steps in to cover their constituency duties. We could perhaps look at that example of something another Parliament does as one potential model, although it is not the exact model, because we are talking about something different.

Mrs Miller: I have been reflecting on what the hon. Lady has been saying. Many of the working parents listening to the debate will not be able to take their children, including those who require breastfeeding, into work. Does she agree that, by making this place more family-friendly in the first place, the requirement for us to bring children into work would be less acute? I speak as a mum of three, who came into the House in 2005, when my youngest was three, so I have lived the experiences she has talked about.

Alison Thewliss: We could set an example as a workplace where children are seen as part of the wider family of the people who work here. For me as a parent, it would be ideal if all workplaces, if necessary, had some way of ensuring children are looked after. That might involve flexible working hours, and there are many workplaces where people can have flexible hours and where that is encouraged. We need to think about the message this place sends out and the way we do our business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts talked a little about the way the Scottish Parliament works and its debates are conducted. There are stricter time limits there. Members might say that that would mean they did not get to say all they wanted to say in a debate, but it does encourage people to be a bit more focused. For example, we would not have the situation we had during the debate on the Scotland Bill last night, when somebody without a great specific interest in the issue talked for nearly half an hour, eating up all the time for debate. The Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament would take a much stricter line on such behaviour, and that is perhaps something we could look at. In the interests of greater efficiency in debates, it would also be helpful to know the business further ahead of time, because we do not get the opportunity to plan for it. When things come up at the very last minute, as they often do, we are forced to rush from one place to another to try to be there for debates.

Having said that, I do not want to take up everybody else’s time in the debate, so I will leave it at that. I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley again for raising this important issue.

3.19 pm

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for securing this wonderful debate. The contributions have been of high quality, and I hope that Professor Childs’s inquiry will make substantive proposals on where the reform process should go next.

I want to share a few reflections on my experience as the mum of two children under five. I passionately agree with sentiments that have been expressed about the need for this place to reflect the country. If we do not look like the country and offer working practices

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that appeal to it, we will never attract the talent and diversity we need or truly represent the United Kingdom. That, for me, is at the heart of the debate.

I pay tribute to past Members, and some who are still in this place, including you, Mr Hamilton, for their hard work and the hard-fought battles they have won. They have made Parliament a far more family-friendly place than it would have been 20 years ago, and certainly 50 years ago. I benefit from that work, but we cannot stop at where we are, and we certainly cannot go back. These debates and the work of Professor Childs are important to make the House of Commons a beacon of best practice. We should be ahead of the game, not behind the curve, which is where I feel that we currently are. After five months here, it does not feel like a very family-friendly place.

Sir Simon Burns: I agree with the hon. Lady, but how can we avoid the trap that when we set an example, we will get things that many people in other workplaces will not get, so the changes will be seen just as Members of Parliament looking after their own and getting privileges, for want of a better word, that other people will never get?

Jo Cox: That is a great intervention. First, we are behind the curve compared with working practice in much of industry, and the charitable and public sectors, and that is a problem. Secondly, if we act differently and change the culture and working practices here, we can change how others operate. We should do that, because we are here to change and improve the United Kingdom.

Women are already under-represented here, but women with children are even less well represented. Research in 2012 found that 45% of male Members of Parliament had children compared with 28% of women. I do not think that parents of any background are attracted to this place, and that is a problem.

My experience of being a parent—I think that this is true for men and women—is that I have changed beyond measure. I understand how hard it is to be a parent, and to balance trying to earn an income and to be a good mum with caring responsibilities for elderly relatives. Such experiences will make people in this place better law makers, so we must attract women, and both women and men who are parents. I want to be the Member of Parliament for my home town in Yorkshire, but I also want to be a mum, and I do not think anyone in this place should have to make a choice about that. It should be possible to be both, but currently it is quite hard to get it right. I share the sentiments that have been expressed about that situation.

All of us who are Members of Parliament knew the working deal when we applied for the job. People come here with their eyes open, but I had not realised quite how hard things would be. I am desperate to encourage people to apply for this job, but we must make it more appealing. The experience has been quite hard—getting home after midnight and not seeing the kids for four or five nights in a week is tough. The unpredictability of the business of the House is a challenge. I have probably spent five hours in the past couple of weeks trying to organise childcare because there were changes affecting votes and business, and whether something was on or off the Whip. That was such a headache, and while I

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know that every working parent in the country has headaches, I do not think that we need to do things in that way. We can be much more effective.

I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) about not having a crèche here. My kids are regularly dragged here, and then I have to ask a member of staff to look after them when I run in to vote. If there were a nice place for them to go where they had mates and toys, that would be such a relief for me. I think we can be flexible about breastfeeding. I breastfed on demand for four years, probably, and it is doable. It is possible to be discreet about it; there is no need to be overt. Lots of places of work offer that opportunity. We should take on the popular press if it is critical and say, “This is what women do; get over it.” It is good for children, so we should advocate it.

More efficient management of business would be a good thing. I agree that there could be shorter time limits on interventions and speeches, and that points could be made much more effectively and business could be more efficient. The European Parliament also does that. We should look to the best practice in other Parliaments, as well as in industry and the charitable sector, which are ahead of us. I welcome the debate and Professor Childs’s work.

Fabian Hamilton (in the Chair): If the next speaker is brief, we can fit in another.

3.25 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hamilton. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing this important debate. I stand with her against the abuse that was directed towards her recently and praise her courage in standing up to bullies. She is a great example.

As part of being more family-friendly, MPs should be able to be good employers to their staff who have roles as family members and carers. It is vital for MPs to be good employers and to set an example, but the opportunity to do that is being denied to us in a number of ways. MPs’ staff take on a heavy workload with many stresses to support our work. Sometimes they are as stressed as we are, and they are also husbands, wives, daughters, sons and parents, with the responsibilities and occasional emergencies associated with that. A couple of years ago a staff member of mine suddenly needed compassionate or carer’s leave because of a family medical emergency. Of course she took the leave—I told her to take it—but as she was a vital member of my team dealing with case work, I needed to cover her role. I was appalled to learn from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that our staff contracts do not cover compassionate or caring leave.

MPs should be able to be good employers and to offer leave to carers. As my hon. Friend said, how can we talk to big business about what it should do if we do not hold ourselves up as a good example? At a recent meeting on carer’s leave, I heard of the good example set by Centrica, which won a best for carers and eldercare award from Carers UK for its excellent policies. It rightly believes that supporting carers reduces turnover

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and cuts recruitment and training costs. It also has an employee-led carers network. MPs should be able to support the carers among their staff, and IPSA’s policy should allow for carer’s leave. We used to be able to give such leave before IPSA changed that—the old contracts allowed it.

I hope that the House will raise that matter with IPSA and ensure that we can offer what a caring employer should be able to do for its staff who are carers. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to include that issue alongside the many others that she has been asked to think about, and to help to ensure that it is put to IPSA.

3.28 pm

Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab): I am fairly new to the House, having replaced Dame Dawn Primarolo, who came to the House in 1987 as a young woman with a young child. That was unusual at the time, when there were only 44 women MPs. I know from the work she did and led, and the work of the all-party group on women in Parliament, how much progress has been made. I am certainly a beneficiary of that, including in my constituency, which selected another woman, with three dependent children of school age. I hope to follow my predecessor’s example and am delighted to be part of the debate.

I am the mother of three boys aged 16, 13 and 10. I understand that it is quite unusual to turn up here with children already at school. I agree that one of the great things about joining this place has been the reaction among families in Bristol. My children’s friends, and the teachers and support staff from their schools, have stopped them in the street—it is quite emotional—to say, “Isn’t it fantastic what your mum is doing?” Local journalists have said to me on the side, quietly, “How are you going to manage it? That’s quite impressive.” The reaction from wider society to a woman joining Parliament at this stage with growing children has been a real shock to me. It has been a pleasure to take responsibility for making it easier and to say to people, “Actually, a lot of people leave home during the week to do their job.”

Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way when time is short. I concur with all the comments made about family-friendliness with regard to children, but looking at it from another angle, does my hon. Friend agree that MPs who are carers of other family members also need time to talk and for family time at the end of the day? For instance, my husband was very ill with cancer last year and needed attention. He does not need a crèche in this place, but other family members certainly have needs.

Karin Smyth: I absolutely agree. I will come on to make a similar point about looking after older people.

From the mouths of babes: in the summer, my 10-year-old said to me that a boy in his class told him that he does not see his dad in the morning because he leaves Bristol before he gets up, that he gets back from work late, at 10 o’clock, and that he is away at work five days a week. I have generally been able to get home on a Thursday to pick up my 10-year-old, so I take the point made by others that some people have it worse than many of us. We are sometimes able to flex our working days and to plan around our home life. I think my little

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10-year-old suddenly thought to himself, “I’m a bit better off than many others.”

I said that I was going to mention caring for older people. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) made a good point about caring for spouses and other family members. That is very important, especially for people in their 50s and 60s.

I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) about the culture here, particularly on a Wednesday, when there is a noticeable difference in the number of photographers, journalists and lobby groups—particularly young men—in this place. That reflects the fact that family-friendliness is about not only MPs and perceptions of privilege, but the wider political culture in which we operate. I praise our journalists, photographers, lobbyists and so on for their work, and I hope that by having this debate, we lend some support to that wider movement.

There are lessons to be learned from the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments about the predictability of the agenda. As the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) said, we should commend political parties. It was only through all-women shortlists that the Labour party was able to force itself to take the issue seriously and to build a weight of numbers. The Conservative A-list has also helped. We must welcome the number of women who have come into Parliament as Scottish National party Members. There is a good opportunity for Parliament to lead on this issue.

Several hon. Members rose

Fabian Hamilton (in the Chair): Order. According to my calculations, each of the Front-Bench speakers has about nine minutes.

3.32 pm

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hamilton. I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), my Select Committee colleague and fellow feminist, for securing this debate.

This building—this institution—was not built with women or families in mind. I direct Members’ attention to the Lady Members’ Room, to which I was introduced in my first week here. It appears to be a place with comfortable chairs that harks back to the days when women were expected to iron and adorn themselves with doilies—lovely, I am sure, but I am quite confident that that would not be seen in the men’s rooms.

This House ought to consider the reality that there are currently more male MPs than there have ever been female MPs. That is an astounding statistic and things cannot continue like this. What does that say to women and girls? What will the gradual effect be on the idea of women in powerful positions in the world? We must educate women and girls, and also men and boys, and show that this place is representative of society as a whole, but we can do that only when it becomes so.

Barbara Keeley: One morning I found an SNP MP ironing in the Lady Members’ Room, so the hon. Lady is quite right.

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Angela Crawley: We all need to iron; it is not gender-specific.

What message does this place send to young people wishing to start families? It is, “Politics is not for you.” This place will be representative of only certain sections of society if we dismiss the role of parenting or undermine it by indicating that the House is only for the big boys or people who can, as the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) said, get out of their beds earlier or travel down the night before. Those attitudes, and many like them, are the very reason—

Sir Simon Burns: I do not want the hon. Lady to misrepresent what I said. I was talking about how the hours on a Monday could involve us starting from 11.30 am, as we do on Tuesday and Wednesday. It is self-evident that in order to go to work on Monday morning, Members who are not based in London would either have to come down to London the night before, which is not very family-friendly, or to get up early on Monday morning. That is just a fact of life.

Angela Crawley: I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, but I do not need a lecture on the geography of this country and how difficult it is for Members from rural and urban communities to get here.

Sir Simon Burns: But you do on being accurate.

Angela Crawley: I will continue. The right hon. Gentleman’s attitude only reaffirms the need for this debate.

To be clear, this is not about questioning the commitment of female Members—or, indeed, any Members—to their jobs. When will this place begin to advocate a greater emphasis on shared parenting or consider additional caring responsibilities?

My colleagues on the Women and Equalities Committee will be all too familiar with my ability to champion Scotland as a beacon, and this is an area in which there has been more progress than in the House of Commons. The Scottish Parliament sits until 5 pm each day, whereas this House can sit as late as 11 pm, or continue for even longer. Voting in the Scottish Parliament takes seconds, while voting in this House can take anything up to 20 minutes. The Scottish Parliament has a crèche that is open until the close of business, and it sits for three days a week, allowing Members two days in their constituency properly to fulfil their roles. The Scottish Government have one of the first gender-balanced Cabinets in the world. All three party leaders in Scotland are female. None of them were backroom boys, and I am sure that they would not like to be known as such, although I am not suggesting that that was what the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) meant. Thirty-five per cent. of Members of the Scottish Parliament are female, and the SNP will go into the Holyrood elections with more female candidates than ever before.

When will this place begin to consider the long-term, sustained impact of juggling professional and personal commitments? How have the strongest relationships surpassed many of the challenges that the job entails? How do we continue as a family-friendly, positive working environment? When will this House consider the reality behind the rhetoric? On gender-balanced Cabinets, smashing the gender pay gap, reducing inequalities and dealing with maternity discrimination, is this place really setting the standard? Let us get this House in order first.

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If we present everyone with the reality of long hours, arduous travel and endless hours of debating, the House may never progress. This House must be more family-friendly, diverse and progressive. Most importantly, it must also be representative, so let us get this House in order.

3.37 pm

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hamilton. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing this important debate and thank her for her excellent contribution.

Last night, I left the House at about 10.40 pm, after votes. I understand that that is decidedly early for this place, but it is even earlier than the leaving times of the Doorkeepers, the catering staff, librarians and all the other staff on the parliamentary estate who work around the operations of the political business of the day. The reality is that, when parliamentary life is so unpredictable, neither staff nor MPs can easily plan their real lives outside this place. The concept of family-friendliness is often seen in narrow terms—that it is the women MPs who have children who want a system to suit them. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) said we should have a people-friendly Parliament. We should have a system that suits as many people as possible and that suits their lives as much as possible, and that includes the staff who work here as much as the MPs, the men as much as the women, and those with family caring responsibilities other than children.

Making parliament more family friendly is a crucial step towards achieving equal representation for women in politics, which, unfortunately, we are far from achieving. In 2015, only 29% of Members of Parliament are female. The UK is doing worse on female representation than Uganda, Zimbabwe and many of our European neighbours. The good news is that we have increased the number of female MPs since the election in May, and we have now overtaken Afghanistan—just.

Equally important to this debate is the motherhood gap in the House of Commons. That is to say, female MPs are significantly less likely than our male colleagues to have children. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) transposed the figures a little, but the studies conducted during the previous Parliament showed that although only 28% of male MPs had no children, the figure for women was much higher—45%—which suggests that women view the life of an MP as incompatible with caring for a child. The system is geared towards the traditional view that parliamentarians are men with a wife at home to look after the children. There is no consideration of modern families that do not fit that outdated concept. The same goes for staff in this place. Are single parents, new parents and carers less likely to consider working on the parliamentary estate as a career when the system is so unpredictable? I do not know; perhaps the Minister does.

The Government have worked hard to present themselves as a modern, representative, “UK now” Government, but failing to take seriously such inherent issues in the system, which present themselves again and again, leaves our great Parliament looking more stuck in the dark ages than the gothic arches under which we sit. This

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matters, because a House of Commons that is truly representative of the population of the United Kingdom will be more attuned to the needs of the public. For example, it was following a surge in the number of women MPs entering Parliament 20 years ago that the gender pay gap started to be properly measured and began to close. Similarly, some of the issues that most desperately need addressing today are those that parents are acutely conscious of, such as the need for affordable childcare and the need to ensure that the housing market works for our children’s generation.

I thank all hon. Members who spoke today—particularly those who shared their personal experiences of how difficult the House can be for Members with children. I know that there is only a small sample of Members here today, but in a survey conducted by Mumsnet, which another colleague spoke about earlier, two thirds of MPs said that their job has a negative impact on their family life. One MP surveyed said:

“I have a two-year-old daughter and no-one cares if I don’t see her.”

Another senior MP said:

“I never saw my children grow up and I’ll regret this to the day I die.”

I think that is a terrible indictment of a modern working environment.

A number of excellent points have been made by colleagues today about how Parliament is failing to be family-friendly. If, as the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said, councils can make accommodation to allow new mums to bring their babies into the chamber and, as has been mentioned, the European Parliament allows elected Members to breastfeed babies during debates, is it not time for this place to open itself up to a 21st-century way of working, rather than hide behind Victorian values?

Hon. Members said that the tabloid media might seek to undermine breastfeeding parents in this place. If breastfeeding continues to be viewed as the exception rather than the rule and does not become commonplace then, yes, it is open to ridicule.

Karin Smyth: It is not just about elected institutions. I served as a non-executive director of a primary care trust 10 years ago, and I was able to bring my young child along to health authority meetings and breastfeed without any fear of anything going wrong. A wide range of other bodies also manage to do the same.

Melanie Onn: There is nothing more to add to that; it is the perfect example of how it can work in different environments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley kindly credited me for proposing that parliamentary recesses coincide with the school holidays, but I do not think I was the first to propose that. We need to take a long, hard look at how we operate. It is ludicrous that we are about to go on recess, but half term was two weeks ago. I am not going to see my son for an extended period. I have been reduced to being a parent for three nights a week, which does not feel very satisfactory. As other hon. Members said, Scottish schools’ summer holiday periods coincide with just two weeks of parliamentary recess. Giving greater consideration to planning our sitting days around term times would

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greatly benefit not just MPs but House staff, but that does not seem to be forthcoming. The Government still have not announced the House’s recess dates for Easter, which is just four months away. Will the Minister tell us whether there is any justification for that, other than tradition?

This is not just a legislative Chamber but a workplace and, I think, a museum. We welcome visitors from around the world to view the Palace. We invite constituents, businesses and charities to meet us, so where are the signs for the baby changing facilities? Where are the designated areas for breastfeeding? We should be leading by example and showing what a modern working environment can be. How can we lecture employers on flexible working and childcare provision if we cannot get it right ourselves and do not even seem to be trying?

Professor Sarah Childs from the University of Bristol, who is here today, has been appointed to carry out an independent assessment of gender inequality in Parliament. When I last asked the Minister about what changes are being planned to make Parliament more family friendly, she just said that the Procedure Committee had looked at sitting hours and decided not to make further changes. In this debate, we have heard that there is a wide range of other issues that we should consider in the round. I hope the Minister agrees that, once the report is published, it is right and proper to have a debate in the Commons Chamber in Government time so we can properly debate its findings.

3.46 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Dr Thérèse Coffey): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hamilton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing this debate. Just six months into being a Member of Parliament, she has certainly made an impression on the House. She is right to say that this is not a partisan issue. I know she is a busy lady. She sits on the Women and Equalities Committee, and she is also a member of the Backbench Business Committee, which I believe is meeting at the same time as this debate, so she has had to sacrifice her presence there to be here. In its previous sitting, it seems that there was a minor fracas about international men’s day, which continued on “Daily Politics”. When I saw it, I wondered whether it had become a parliamentary version of “Snog Marry Avoid?” I do not expect her to say which it is.

Jess Phillips: Snog! [Laughter.]

Dr Coffey: The hon. Lady widened the debate beyond MPs to the demands on all staff—particularly House staff. I pay tribute to all staff who help us in our roles as Members of Parliament. This issue matters to the House. Perhaps I should encourage the House of Commons authorities to make more widely known what happens in relation to flexible working, nurseries, childcare schemes in our unusual summer holidays, career breaks and so on. That information is useful, and I will ask the House authorities to extend it further and especially to new Members.

We should also recognise that we are employers in our own right, so we must be role models when we work with our staff. I tell my team off—I do not know whether they are watching—if they work later than a

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certain hour. I give them notice and tell them that if they keep doing it, I will have their keys removed and kick them out at a certain time. It matters that we are role models, as has been said many times already in this debate.

We are unique in a certain respect: although we should and do represent wider society, we are the masters and mistresses of our own destiny from the day we are elected until we put ourselves forward for re-election. We should consider how we perform our roles as parliamentarians. The issue is not about being superwoman or superman, but being conscious that we are representing people when we are in the Chamber, when we scrutinise legislation, when we become Ministers and when we work in our constituencies. Our party leaders expect us to be here to vote on important matters, but, as we have discussed in previous years, to some extent we can work with the usual channels to ensure we have a sensible, proactive family life. Although I do not have children, I believe that such accommodations are often willingly made.

Neil Gray: I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), who said that things were more difficult in the past. Thank goodness for technology. Those of us who are parents are able to use FaceTime, Skype and what have you to keep in touch with our children. Would it not be more appropriate for this House to use technology to enable us to work more effectively as representatives, rather than use technology as parents?

Dr Coffey: The House is using technology more and more, but the hon. Gentleman may want it to go further. I passed a colleague other day who was on FaceTime celebrating with their daughter the opening of her birthday presents. It was a sweet and charming moment and is something that simply was not available until recently.

I am conscious that I have to give some time to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, so I will try to get through a few of the issues raised in the debate. Quite a lot has been said about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and people’s demands. It is important to ensure that the public understand that decisions about pay, pensions and expenses are made by IPSA, which puts its schemes out for consultation. It is statutorily obliged in the first year of a Parliament to undertake a specific review, to which I strongly urge Members to respond.

I made personal representations in the previous Parliament about colleagues who live on the fringes of London and yet have to dash for the train rather than participate in Adjournment debates, for example. The challenge of maintaining a family while working here and in the constituency is well known, and IPSA has changed following the initial backlash after the 2009 expenses issues. Beginning with a strict regime, I believe that it has made a bit of a journey and I encourage it to consider such matters more.

Specific issues were raised by, among others, the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and I will take them up with IPSA. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley made a particularly useful suggestion about changing how IPSA reports on childcare. On media responsibility and how expenses are reported,

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I often say that I claim the expenses necessary in order for me to fulfil my role to my constituents, and my newspaper has finally got that fact.

On timetabling, the hon. Lady suggested that she would probably sit for longer in order to spend less time here. There was an active debate in 2012, about which I had a brief conversation with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), about the fact that the Select Committee on Procedure considered the matter in the previous Parliament. Sitting hours are very much a matter for the House, and the Procedure Committee is the right avenue to re-explore them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) referred to the idea of an earlier start on a Monday, but I am conscious of the fact that people come from the four corners of the United Kingdom and that Sunday as a special family day is important for them. That is a strong argument and is why the House voted unanimously in 2012 to keep the later Monday start, while protecting the current eight and a half hours of sitting time.

On the other Parliaments in the UK, which sit for three days and then have two constituency or family days, I suggest to the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) and the others who made that point that I find amazing what we manage to squeeze into four or four and a half days. There is then the suggestion that the House should sit for more weeks, but I am unsure whether that would lead to the right balance. The way that the parliamentary timetable has evolved allows people to be here for three days a week in most weeks if that that is what they choose to do; the issue is about judging what is best for oneself.

It is important to stress that a recess is not a holiday. Many people use recesses to undertake constituency work, and it is not right to suggest that we are not in touch with our constituents if we are not in our constituencies on a Friday as we have decided to be here for a private Member’s Bill. I have always felt that if Parliament is sitting, the reasons for my being here and not necessarily in my constituency are valid.

On knowing about business slightly further ahead of time, I do not have the Chief Whip’s understanding of exactly what is happening in both Houses, but we do, to be fair, try to give two weeks’ notice of the business being conducted. Some of that is because the timetabling at our end depends on what is happening in other House, and the relationship is not always easy to predict far in advance, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley may recognise following recent debates in the other place.

The decision in the previous Parliament to switch the Tuesday sitting hours from 2.30 pm to 11.30 am was close and was made on the basis of a majority of only 15. There is a strong view that what might work for people who are based in London does not necessarily work for people based elsewhere, and that debate may continue in this Parliament.

On voting, it is important that we keep debates with votes. I understand that the Speaker, in conjunction with the Chief Whips of each party, has made arrangements regarding young children going into the Division Lobbies. I am not aware of any issues. Regarding time limits on speeches, I do not like the Scottish or European Parliaments’ way of allocating

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time to parties, because it really impacts on the opportunities for Members from smaller parties to contribute to debates.

Melanie Onn: Will the Minister give way?

Dr Coffey: I will have to sit down in one minute’s time, but I will give way briefly.

Melanie Onn: I am grateful. The problem with the Speaker and the Whips making arrangements is that there are no hard and fast rules. Unless such things are laid down, it is not always clear how people can seek to make this place work better for them.

Dr Coffey: I will ensure that I speak to the Opposition Whips so that they have a session with their MPs to discuss the matter, as has already happened on our side.

Moving on to breastfeeding, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford referred to the Betty Boothroyd test, which I believe still stands. We may talk about it being the 21st century, but this is a workplace and it is not something that people enjoy wider than that. I do not believe that there is a big view in the House to make the shift at this time.

Probably the most difficult issue is that of recesses, school holidays and so on. I have done quite a lot of work on this and noted that the Scottish and Northern Irish seem to follow similar holiday patterns and the English and Welsh follow theirs. I cannot go into too much detail now as time is against me, but the business managers are listening. Some 10% of MPs are significantly disrupted by this matter, and it so happens that there was a three-week overlap this summer between the end of the recess and the beginning of Scottish schools restarting. That is something that we will consider carefully. Conferences tend to be booked five years in advance, and I understand that conversations are under way to try to see what we can do in the next Parliament.

I am not sure that I have been able to cover quite everything. I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley on job sharing, which would be very difficult. On maternity and parental leave, however, the coalition Government brought in the concept of shared parental leave. We are masters and mistresses of our own destiny, so it is up to us to decide how we address that, but it has always been more than well accommodated by Government. I am sure that the House will continue have further debates on this and other matters, and I appreciate Members’ representations today.

3.58 pm

Jess Phillips: I thank all hon. Members who gave their views today. I welcome some of the Deputy Leader of the House’s assertions, in particular around the limited holiday possibilities for the Scottish representatives. The debate will not go away today; it will continue year in, year out. For every push back from the Government Benches, we need to ask ourselves, “Why?” Nobody has died. My mother always used to say to me, “Nothing bad happened if nobody lost an eye,” which did not help me when my son went to have an eye operation. There always seems to be push back on why these things cannot happen.

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Dr Coffey: The Government would love to control every minute of parliamentary time, which would be bad for Parliament and for the country. Flexibility is often to the benefit of the Opposition.

Jess Phillips: I recognise that the Government are not alone in controlling what happens here, but this place is not representative at the moment. That is a simple fact. All of today’s speeches from people with caring responsibilities, be that for their children or elderly relatives or partners who may have been unwell, make that perfectly clear. When I leave this place, I want to see 50:50 representation of women and men.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

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Barnett Floor (Wales)

[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

4 pm

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered a Barnett floor for Wales.

It is a privilege to have secured my first Westminster Hall debate, which is on an important topic affecting funding for Wales in general and my constituents in particular. We all know how difficult the funding settlements have been in recent years. The Welsh Government have faced great funding challenges, and local councils, including my own Torfaen County Borough Council, are struggling to make ends meet and doing their best to protect front-line services when less and less money is coming from Westminster.

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the losses that local authorities have experienced and will continue to experience. In 2014-15, Neath Port Talbot’s budget was cut by £17 million. It has been predicted that, from April 2016, Neath Port Talbot will lose £18 million or possibly more, depending on the autumn statement. Public services have already been cut severely—

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. Please make an intervention not a speech.

Christina Rees: I am simply making the point that we should not suffer from the Barnett formula.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Neath Port Talbot example further illustrates and reinforces the point that I made about Torfaen.

The debate deals with an aspect of Westminster funding, the so-called Barnett floor. As Members are aware, Joel—later Lord—Barnett introduced the Barnett formula in 1978, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in the context of the devolution debate of that era. He did not originally intend that it should become a permanent feature, yet here, some 37 years later, it still governs the Wales-Westminster fiscal relationship.

More recently, in 2009, the interim report of the Holtham commission, “Funding devolved government in Wales: Barnett and beyond”, was published. It suggested that Wales was underfunded.

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite the 2009 Holtham report suggesting the implementation of a floor, it is frustrating that six years later we have still not seen it happen?

Nick Thomas-Symonds: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I will come to that in a moment.

The report suggested that Wales was underfunded by £300 million a year compared with how much English regions would receive were the Barnett formula applied to them. In 2010, when the final Holtham report, “Fairness and accountability: a new funding settlement for Wales”, was published, the underfunding gap was even wider, at about £400 million a year, using a needs-based formula.

As my hon. Friend has just pointed out, to prevent a further decline in relative funding per head for Wales, the Holtham interim report had called for a Barnett floor as a temporary solution until a new needs-based formula could be agreed.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): May I take my hon. Friend’s thoughts back to 2008, when I was a Wales Office Minister? The budget for Wales had gone up from £7 billion to £14 billion; by the time we left office, it was £16 billion. It has now decreased significantly. Any false arguments over additional tax-raising powers are nothing compared with the fact that we now need the Barnett floor. When Labour was in government, it was Barnett-plus; we now need a Barnett floor.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Record investment in public services in Wales was made under the Labour Government. Indeed, the Conservatives were so impressed that in September 2007 the then shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer—now Chancellor—adopted our spending plans for the next couple of years. That is how impressed they were, although these days they seem to be taking a different view of that record investment.

The Barnett floor works by multiplying positive funding increments to Wales not only by the comparability factor and population share, but by a further percentage increment. The qualifier is that the formula is not intended to work in reverse, with negative funding increments, because that would simply widen the underfunding gap.

In October 2010, the National Assembly for Wales unanimously endorsed a motion for the implementation of a funding floor, to be followed by wider funding reform. Nevertheless, the coalition Government of 2010 to 2015 did not deliver.

Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should be acting with greater urgency on implementing the funding floor, given the Holtham commission statement that Wales could be underfunded by between £5.3 billion and £8.5 billion over the 10 years to 2020? Does he also agree that the Government’s lack of action on the matter suggests a lack of interest in achieving a funding floor and fairer funding for Wales?

Nick Thomas-Symonds: I agree entirely. The matter is urgent, but we are concerned about the Government’s lack of interest. The coalition’s programme for government in the previous Parliament stated that the priority was to reduce the deficit and that changes to the system could await stabilisation of the public finances, although why exactly the coalition Government were incapable of paying sufficient attention to Wales to deal with the issue—or even to start dealing with it—remains entirely unclear.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Given that the Barnett formula has been in question since 1978, why did the hon. Gentleman’s party not rectify the Welsh funding shortfall while it was in government?

Nick Thomas-Symonds: I repeat to the hon. Lady a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies): in 1997 to 2010, we had what he called “Barnett-plus”, which was record investment in public services in Wales, to the benefit of both my constituents and hers.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I had the privilege of succeeding my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore as a Wales Office Minister and I held that post in the

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run-up to the 2010 general election. One of the things that we were proud of was the firm commitment in our manifesto to address that very issue.—Unfortunately, we lost the election.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: My hon. Friend makes a good point. In 2015, we also had a manifesto commitment on the Barnett floor; but unfortunately, we were again not in government after the election.

In 2012, consideration was given to how Wales’s share of future funding would not fall again when public expenditure started to rise—the so-called “Barnett squeeze”. In the autumn of that year, the UK Government formally agreed that there was a squeeze and that such convergence had taken place. They said that they would review the position at each spending review, to assess whether it would recur, and address the issue. Alas, I am afraid that they did not.

On 8 July, the Government’s lack of interest in Wales was perhaps summed up in the Chancellor’s Budget speech. In one short reference, he said:

“In Wales, we are honouring our commitments to a funding floor and to more devolution there, and investing in important new infrastructure such as the M4 and the Great Western line.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 329.]

That promise came five years after the Assembly had voted unanimously on the matter—five years later. Put simply, the people of Wales have waited long enough for the UK Government to deliver.

Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman warmly on his first Westminster Hall debate. I am sympathetic to fairer funding for Wales in a needs-based system, but should not any adjustment or floor to make things fair come from the financial settlement of any country that has gained under the current, outdated Barnett formula?

Nick Thomas-Symonds: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, during this Parliament, we have an opportunity to debate all such matters. The Scotland Bill continued its passage through the House only yesterday. This is the time to look at fair funding throughout the United Kingdom.

I ask the Minister to answer some specific questions. First, the Secretary of State for Wales said in the spring that the Government would deliver on a Barnett floor by the autumn. I would be grateful if the Minister gave us a more exact timescale, given that we are already into November.

Will the Minister confirm whether the proposals on the Barnett floor will be as proposed by the Holtham commission? Will he update us on what the indexation figure is likely to be? I hope that he will give us a cast-iron guarantee that the Holtham recommendation on a Barnett floor will be implemented in full before any further debate on fair funding for Wales. In this Parliament, as I said a moment ago, the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill provide an ideal opportunity for such a debate to take place.

On Second Reading of the Scotland Bill on 8 June, I said that the Government must not see the different nations of the United Kingdom entirely in isolation; they must look at changes across the board and how they impact on each other. That said, the devolution settlement has become a central part of our constitution

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and we should not forget the positive benefits that devolution has brought since Labour introduced it in 1999.

The great socialist thinker, R. H. Tawney, thought that dispersal of power was best because

“It makes people more accessible to each other than a system where power is highly centralised and society is a tapestry of authoritarian links”.

That notion of accessibility, with decisions being made closest to the people they affect, has a modern resonance. He also said:

“The only sound test, in the first place, of a political system, is its practical effect on the lives of human beings”.

That is absolutely right and that is why today’s debate is so important.

The idea of a Barnett floor is not an abstract notion; it is a practical step that could make a difference to people’s lives and the services that they rely on. It has a short and medium-term aspect. I accept that it has less impact in a declining budget, but the principle should be implemented as soon as possible for its impact on positive increments. Put simply, the Government should act, and act now.

4.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, for what I think is the first time. I congratulate the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) on securing the important debate, particularly as it is his first Westminster Hall debate. We have had an interesting discussion and I am grateful to the hon. Members for Neath (Christina Rees), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), for Caerphilly (Wayne David) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) for their contributions. I will do my best to answer all the points made.

I want to underline that the Government remain committed to delivering the St David’s day Command Paper, which will create a stronger, clearer and fairer devolution settlement for Wales. That, of course, includes the funding floor that the hon. Member for Torfaen and others have called for. The St David’s day agreement led to the draft Wales Bill, which was published on 20 October and is being considered as we speak.

The Bill will build a stronger Wales in a strong United Kingdom by devolving important powers over energy, transport and local government and Assembly elections. It will also make devolution work better, as the Assembly and the Welsh Government will be clear about the powers they have and the challenges to which they need to be able to respond.

I reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the introduction of a funding floor alongside the next spending review. It is worth clarifying the current positon of funding, which is an ever-dynamic environment. The Holtham commission’s report, to which the hon. Member for Torfaen and others referred, was established by the Welsh Government to analyse the relative level of needs in Wales compared with England in 2009 and 2010.

The work by Professor Holtham and his commission has had a significant impact on informing the debate in Wales and I pay tribute to him for his work. The report set out a range from 114% to 117% of comparable

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English funding per head in which it thought that funding for the Welsh Government would be “fair.”

The report also highlighted that the relative levels of funding provided to the Welsh Government had converged towards the average level of funding for comparable activities in England since the start of devolution. It was therefore interesting to hear the hon. Member for Ogmore talk about the increase in the Welsh block grant from £7 billion to £14 billion, because relative funding for Wales in that period deteriorated. It was from the commission’s range that the Welsh Government claimed that they were underfunded by £300 million back in 2010.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: On the Barnett squeeze, the coalition Government conceded that that had happened in 2012. Why has nothing been done in three years?

Alun Cairns: I will come to that point in a moment, but it is worth remembering that the Command Paper, which was agreed by all parties, was published earlier this year and that committed specifically to acting within the next spending review period. As I said, the Barnett floor and spending commitments for Wales will be published alongside that.

The £300 million spoken about compared with a budget of roughly £15 billion. It is also worth noting that when Holtham reported, there was total identifiable spending in Wales of approximately £29 billion.

A lot has changed since 2010, both financially and politically. A joint statement in 2012 by both Governments recognised the resonance of this issue in Wales. In particular, it recognised the Welsh Government’s concerns that their funding would converge further towards English levels. However, joint work with the Welsh Government at the previous spending review confirmed that funding is not forecast to converge during the period to 2015-16. That refutes the points made by several Opposition Members; that was joint work agreed with the Welsh Government. Furthermore, Holtham’s logic also illustrated that the relative level of funding per head had risen, or diverged to use the technical term, and it is now in the range that the commission regarded as fair.

Liz Saville Roberts: None the less, the Minister cannot ignore the 78% of 10,000 people responding to a YouGov poll who said that Wales should be funded to the equivalent level of Scotland, which would bring in an extra £1.2 billion.

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but Scotland’s devolution settlement, and therefore its financial settlement, is naturally different. However, I pay tribute to her for her earlier point, when she asked why Labour did not act in its 13 years in government, when there was a greater divergence between the relative funding in Wales and England, and Wales was getting worse off.

Craig Williams (Cardiff North) (Con): I apologise for joining the debate late and I commend the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) for introducing it. Given Labour’s 13 years of inaction on this issue and the clear commitment the Chancellor has made to dealing with it, may I ask the Minister what the Labour party’s position is on the Barnett funding floor and the Barnett formula in general? I thought that the Leader of the Opposition wanted to tear it up.

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Alun Cairns: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I smiled as various points were being made in the Chamber that underlined not only the inaction during that period of Labour Administration, but the differing messages that are coming from Labour in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: On the first point, given the intervention from the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) and the Minister’s response, I assume that they are now praising the last Labour Government’s investment and not trying to make out that it was our spending that caused the crash. On the second point, it is quite clear that we see the Barnett floor as a useful first step towards a needs-based solution in the future. There is no inconsistency in that.

Alun Cairns: The position has already moved since the hon. Gentleman’s first contribution to this debate.

To make some progress on the specific points raised, a lot of questions were asked about the timing. I remind hon. Members that earlier this year in the St David’s day Command Paper we committed, for the very first time, to introducing a floor to the level of relative funding provided to the Welsh Government, alongside the spending review. This Conservative Government made that historic commitment and we absolutely stand by it. On the question of urgency, we stand by what we said before the election and will deliver that.

The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has admitted that when the Labour party was last in power and he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury he knew that the Barnett formula

“wasn’t fair to Wales and there would need to be changes”,

yet Labour did absolutely nothing about it. I will not accept any crocodile tears from Opposition Members. Although the right hon. Member for Leigh has since made that explicit comment, no action was taken in that whole period other than a diverging funding settlement for Wales relative to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): It strikes me when listening to the Minister that I am not sure whether we are extravagant spenders or penny-pinching individuals. Whichever it is, the money went up from £7 billion to £16 billion, and that does not sound like either to me. Will the Minister answer one point he has not yet answered: does he not agree with Holtham that Wales is underfunded to the tune of £300 million a year?

Alun Cairns: The figures of £7 billion to £16 billion have been repeated time and again, but Holtham identified that during that period Wales’s relative position was worse. As I have said, the changes made over the past five years have put current spending in Wales within the Holtham range, as acknowledged by the Welsh Government.

Carolyn Harris: Will the Minister assure this Chamber that Wales will not be further disadvantaged in the upcoming spending review?

Alun Cairns: The spending review is a matter for the Chancellor. We, as a Conservative Government, are delivering on our commitment to introduce the Barnett

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floor, as we have announced, alongside the spending review. That commitment was repeated in our manifesto and the floor will be introduced, as announced.

Wayne David: The operation of the Barnett formula and the Barnett floor is complicated, but does the Minister accept—this is fundamental to our whole discussion—that at a time of falling public expenditure, when cuts are being made, the Barnett floor is not really an issue? It is only an issue at a time of increasing public expenditure. It is relatively easy for the Government to introduce the Barnett floor now, and I suggest they should, but its real impact will be in the future, when expenditure increases.

Alun Cairns: I find it a bit rich that the hon. Gentleman is complaining that a Barnett floor has yet to be introduced when we are committed to introducing it. We said we would do it last March and in our manifesto, and we will introduce it alongside the next spending review. When he was part of an Administration, although Wales’s relative position was deteriorating, absolutely nothing was done to introduce a Barnett floor.

Hon. Members will be aware that since 2010 significant commitments have been made, beyond the Barnett formula, to back the Welsh economy. Those include a commitment to fund and upgrade the great western main line through to Swansea and a significant contribution to the cost of the upgrade and electrification of the valley lines, reinforcing the UK Government’s support for improving infrastructure in Wales. Two years ago, the Welsh Government were given early access to capital borrowing powers to use for M4 improvements.

Craig Williams: That is a very interesting point. Not only have we promised the funding floor—and we will deliver it—but we have given the Welsh Government access to borrow money to fix a horrendous problem in south Wales, namely the M4 congestion, by delivering an M4 relief road, yet they are still dithering.

Alun Cairns: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I can hardly speak to business people or people who travel the border regularly without their complaining about the delays around Newport. We urge the Welsh Government to take the strongest action possible to complete the job of bridging the M4 around the south of Newport.

A new prison is being built in Wrexham, in a £212 million project supporting over 1,000 jobs. Through tax devolution we are empowering the Welsh Government with further levers to support and encourage the growth of the Welsh economy. Business rates have now been fully devolved, something I hope Opposition Members will acknowledge. Stamp duty and landfill tax will be devolved in 2018, as has already been committed to.

We would like progress on the devolution of a portion of income tax, as specified in the Wales Act 2014. Tax devolution will make the Welsh Government responsible for raising more of the money that they spend. Excluding Welsh rates of income tax, the Assembly will be responsible for approximately 10% of all taxes collected in Wales. The introduction of the Welsh rate of income tax would make the Assembly responsible for twice as much, or approximately another £2 billion in revenue. The Government will implement

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the commitments of the St David’s day Command Paper to build a stronger, clearer and fairer devolution settlement for Wales.

Jonathan Lord: I welcome everything the Minister is saying, but, to return to the Barnett floor, may I ask for an assurance that English taxpayers will not be disadvantaged by any adjustments or Barnett floor, and that any money to accommodate a Barnett floor will come from countries that get more than their fair share on a needs basis?

Alun Cairns: The specifics on that point will be outlined in the comprehensive spending review by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the Minister give way?

Alun Cairns: With the greatest respect, I need to make some progress in the limited time remaining.

Last month, we published the draft Wales Bill, a key part of providing a clearer devolution settlement. We all want a funding floor for Wales, and it is right that that is accompanied by the devolution of income tax powers, because, by raising more of the money they spend, the Assembly Government will be more accountable to the people of Wales. Since 2010, Wales has recorded the fastest growth per head in the UK outside London, demonstrating the dynamism of the funding and spending position. Wales had the joint fastest growth of all the regions and devolved nations in 2013, with gross value added growing by 3.4%, well ahead of the figure for the UK. It is now time to move the debate forward and encourage the Welsh Government to use both the powers they already have and the new ones they are gaining to drive further growth in the Welsh economy.

Some specific points were raised on funding for local authorities. That is a matter for the Welsh Government—they decide how much money should be distributed to local authorities. I know that many in my constituency complain about how the cake is sliced in Wales, but that is the responsibility of the Welsh Government and it would be improper were this Government to intervene in those sorts of issues.

I underline that this Government are absolutely committed to introducing the funding floor as stated in the St David’s day agreement. We will introduce it as part of and alongside the comprehensive spending review.

Question put and agreed to.

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Renegotiation of EU Membership (Devolved Administrations)

4.30 pm

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the role of devolved administrations in UK renegotiation of EU membership.

This is the first time I have had the opportunity to lead a Westminster Hall debate—and the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. It is good to see the Minister again. I know he will have had a long day, but I am sure he is as delighted to see me again as I am to see him. The debate is timely; it is fortuitous that it has come about on a day when a great deal of attention has been paid to European Union renegotiation. I am sure the Prime Minister wrote his letter just in time for our debate. I was pleased to see it.

EU renegotiation will have a significant impact on all parts of the United Kingdom. We often forget in this place that the impact of EU laws does not begin and end in this House or in London; it goes out to all parts of the United Kingdom, not least the devolved Administrations. As I mentioned in the main Chamber earlier today, Scottish National party Members think there has been a sore lack of formal consultation. I am glad that the Minister spoke to Fiona Hyslop earlier today and that there is some merit in these Westminster Hall debates—they can prompt such things—but we need more in the way of formal consultation.

What a difference a year makes! Just last year, the Prime Minister told us that independence would risk Scotland’s place in the European Union, and now here we are, closer to exit than ever before. Having reflected briefly on that debate today, let me say that the Minister has his work cut out in keeping his allies on the Conservative Back Benches on side.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate about the UK’s possible exit from the European Union. There is a potential impact on businesses within the devolved regions. Is he aware that we, in Northern Ireland, are in a unique position because we have a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain within the European Union?

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. Please keep interventions short.

Ms Ritchie: There is also an impact in terms of the euro exchange rate mechanism. Does the hon. Gentleman have any comments on that?

Stephen Gethins: I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. I want to talk today about all devolved Administrations, not only Scotland. I am particularly pleased to see Members here from Northern Ireland, Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Renegotiation will have a significant impact in Northern Ireland, not least given the particular situation of its land border with Ireland and the large number of jobs that depend on EU membership. That is why I am particularly keen for the UK Government to tell us what they will do to consult with Northern Irish Ministers and Welsh Ministers, not only Ministers in Scotland. The hon. Lady raises a valid point.

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There is a key issue here: mutual respect. We should have mutual respect for all democratically elected Governments. The lack of a formal consultation so far has been nothing short of a democratic disgrace, especially given the significant impact that renegotiation will have. The first question I pose to the Minister is not about the consultation that has taken place. What formal consultation process—not a phone call—will there be as we take the Prime Minister’s letter today forward?

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): As a former special adviser who had the privilege of attending Joint Ministerial Committee meetings on Europe and enjoyed the contributions from Fiona Hyslop as a braveheart for Scotland, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that, as a formal structure, is perfunctory? It meets on a three-monthly or four-monthly basis, and no meaningful engagement can take place in that timetabled way when negotiations are proceeding.

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, as a former special adviser—a noble trade—who has taken part in Joint Ministerial Committee meetings. It is good that the Minister said today that this will be top of the agenda, but it is just not enough, given the immediacy. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point indeed.

I say to the Minister that he can win friends and influence people, should he just liaise with his colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. We can look to Richard Lochhead, Europe’s longest-serving fisheries Minister, who has been making the case for farmers and fishermen, Aileen McLeod, who has been promoting Scotland’s world-class climate change action, or Roseanna Cunningham, who has been championing the European Alliance for Apprenticeships.

The EU matters to the devolved Administrations, and the agenda driven by the UK Independence party and Conservative Back Benchers just does not cut it. I will give the Minister a little point of information: UKIP has never saved its deposit in a parliamentary election in Scotland. That will gladden his heart; UKIP is almost as unpopular in Scotland as the Conservatives are.

Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. By the sound of it, he is not in favour of a referendum, but surely it is about time the British people had a say—and it is the British people. It is not just the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments or just the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh people; it is the English people too. This is a reserved matter, and surely it is right that it is taken on a whole-UK basis.

Stephen Gethins: Let me give the hon. Gentleman another point of information: the Scottish National party stood on a platform of not having a referendum. We won the election in Scotland—you didn’t. You had the worst election result since 1865. Unlike a number of other parties here, we are quite keen on maintaining our manifesto commitments, so we stuck to them. However, the referendum is taking place, and I will come to that in a minute because we have a few things you might want to listen to.

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Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. Can I make the point that no Member in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall is referred to as “you”? Thank you.

Stephen Gethins: Thank you. My apologies, Ms Dorries.

The Scottish Government set out renegotiation priorities in their agenda for EU reform, which I make Members aware of once again. I also refer Members to a speech made in June 2015 by Scotland’s First Minister, in which she looked at areas such as more local decision making on health, for example. The fact that the Scottish Government were not able to act on minimum pricing for alcohol was a disgrace: the democratically elected Scottish Government saw it as a particular priority to tackle a particular Scottish public health issue. The First Minister also looked at a single market in energy and digital services—especially our renewables industry, which has taken such a battering recently—and more local discretion in implementing regulation.

As part of our renegotiation, we need to look at how the devolved Administrations work and co-operate with member states. A few years ago, under the previous Labour Administration, a memo was leaked that showed devolved Ministers were not having an impact. In fact, one of them was being sent to the salle d’écoute—for Members whose French is not quite up to scratch, that is the listening room—which is no place for a Minister who oversaw areas such as agriculture and fisheries. Europe matters to the devolved Administrations. It matters in Northern Ireland, as we have heard, given the long land border and the ramifications for the Good Friday agreement and the common travel area. In Wales, up to 200,000 jobs are said to depend on EU membership.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for being gracious in giving way again. Is he aware that my local council in Northern Ireland—Newry, Mourne and Down—held a significant conference two weeks ago, which was addressed by the shadow Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), on that very point? [Interruption.]

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. There is a Division in the House. We will suspend the sitting until after the last Division, as we do not know how many there will be. Could Members make their way back here as soon as possible? Thank you.

4.38 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.47 pm

On resuming

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): As a result of the Division, this debate will now continue until 17.40. Four people have applied to speak after Mr Gethins has finished, so I am going to impose a voluntary time limit of five minutes per speech. If people adhere to that, the Minister and Mr Gethins will have adequate time to respond, but, of course, that is entirely up to you.

Stephen Gethins: Thank you, Ms Dorries. Before we went into the Division, I was talking about areas that the Scottish Government have identified where there could be reform, and a lot of that focused on areas for

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reform where powers could come back. I will come back to this point later, but if there are powers to come back, and if those powers directly relate to the responsibilities of the devolved Administrations, I hope that they will not be devolved back from Brussels just to reside in London and that there will be further devolution to reflect that.

On renegotiation, we often talk about less Europe, but maybe we should sometimes talk about more Europe. The Scottish Government have gone further than elsewhere in the United Kingdom on areas such as climate change or our energy union, where maybe we should be looking at more powers. We could also be looking at more powers in areas of security policy. No one country can possibly deal with the refugee crisis on its own, and the Scottish Government have already set out their willingness to work with European partners and the UK Government to take more refugees.

Let me recap why Europe matters for the devolved Administrations. There are big issues that affect us all in areas such as agriculture policy, fisheries, energy, investment and transport—devolved areas where the EU has a big role and the devolved Administrations have direct responsibility. I have mentioned Northern Ireland. In Wales, up to 200,000 jobs are said to be dependent on EU membership. Even the Isle of Man has a relationship with the EU through the UK as set out in protocol 3 to the UK’s Act of Accession. That is worth bearing in mind.

Key areas for Scotland are set out above, but we often hear about sovereignty. I will read a quote from Professor Douglas-Scott of the university of Oxford and would like the Minister to bear it in mind:

“A UK exit from the EU does not save UK sovereignty. The Claim of Right for Scotland 1989 entrenched the fundamental principle that ‘the people are sovereign’ and that the people have ‘the sovereign right to self-determination and to choose freely the form in which their state is to be constituted’.”

Professor Douglas-Scott’s argument is that

“Therefore, any UK exit of the EU against Scotland’s wishes will create a constitutional crisis rather than save the UK’s sovereignty.”

I leave that with the House to consider.

The hon. Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord), who has not been able to return from the vote yet, referred to the referendum. We were a little disappointed with the European Union Referendum Bill. We wanted to see whether there would be a referendum and we obviously voted against that—that was in our manifesto—but if there is to be a referendum, we want EU citizens and 16 and 17-year-olds to be engaged.

In Dublin yesterday, Fiona Hyslop highlighted the fact that 173,000 EU nationals make their home in Scotland. They made an invaluable contribution to the Scottish independence referendum and make an invaluable contribution to Scotland’s day-to-day life. We want them also to be involved. We want a positive campaign that puts forward a positive vision for Scotland. That is why I was a little concerned about some of the language from the Minister’s Back Benchers on some of these issues.

As we have heard from other hon. Members, Scotland and the other devolved Administrations reap the economic benefits of membership in exports, jobs and so on, but those benefits are not just economic. As Fiona Hyslop

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said in Dublin last night, solidarity, social protection and mutual support must underpin a modern Europe and we want Scotland to be a part of a progressive European Union with European citizens—despite what we said in the referendum last year, we are all still European citizens—at the heart of decision making. The Scottish Government are committed to making the positive case for reform and I have set that out a little.

I do not want to take up too much time because I know that other hon. Members want to come in, but I want to pose some questions for the Minister to answer in his response. Will he set out the formal role for devolved Administrations in the renegotiations—the formal role; I am not talking about an ad hoc role over the phone? We want to hear about a formal role in the same way as the Prime Minister said today that there should be a formal role for other capitals.

Will the Minister comment on the Scottish Government’s priorities in Scotland’s agenda for EU reform? In future, will devolved Administrations be consulted as a matter of course on decisions that affect them and are made at EU level if we remain part of it? This is not just about changing the EU’s relationship, but perhaps about changing the way we, as a member state, interact. I would like a much more formal role for the devolved Administrations.

In the past, we have seen civil servants or Ministers with no direct responsibility for an issue, such as the Minister for bees, leading fisheries negotiations when the Scottish Minister was present. Will the Minister look again at where Ministers from the devolved Administrations can take a lead, with particular reference to fisheries and agriculture?

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): My hon. Friend makes a particularly good point on fisheries, given that the Faroese fisheries Minister—a Minister for 50,000 people—is in a quad situation because he deals with Iceland, Norway and the entire EU. The Faroese fisheries Minister is in a far more powerful position not only than the Scottish Minister but the one based here at Westminster. There needs to be some understanding of the context of fisheries in Scotland, which has the majority of the EU fisheries.

Stephen Gethins: My hon. Friend makes a particularly good point. I referred to Richard Lochhead, the fisheries Minister in Scotland who is responsible for around 70% of the fishing industry. He had to sit behind the Minister for bees and an unelected civil servant during common fisheries policy negotiations. Will the Minister deal with that situation when he responds?

In his statement today, the Prime Minister rightly highlighted the Dutch quote:

“Europe where necessary, national where possible.”

If powers are to be devolved from Brussels and back to London, will they, when appropriate, be devolved back to the devolved Administrations where they have responsibility? Will the Minister give that commitment today?

Mr MacNeil: On the Dutch quote, one of the problems in Scotland is that we have a middle man in London and we cannot go directly to Brussels.

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Stephen Gethins: Again, my hon. Friend makes a valid point about Edinburgh having to do its business with Brussels through the middle man of London. While we are where we are and the United Kingdom is a member state, it is in the interests of everyone across the House to make sure that this relationship works as effectively as possible.

Will the Minister respond to my questions? Will he also reflect on the fact that although he may not have many friends on his Back Benches, he has many potential friends in the devolved Administrations? The saltire is the only flag that flies on Scotland House on Robert Schumanplein at the very heart of Brussels. We are in there making friends and influencing. The Prime Minister is struggling with that, but I am sure the devolved Administrations will reach out that hand of friendship.

4.56 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) for bringing this important matter to the Chamber for our consideration. My flag, the Union flag, is also flying in Brussels and I am proud of that. I say that for the record.

Mr MacNeil: There could be confusion.

Jim Shannon: Not for me. There is no confusion whatsoever.

We are aware that at Chatham House this morning the Prime Minister outlined his objectives for renegotiation. I am sure his attempts to renegotiate will be followed closely by hon. Members and many members of the public. How much and what the Prime Minister can achieve is one question; how that will that link up with the regions is the other. We wait with bated breath, as the hon. Member for North East Fife said.

This is a truly monumental stage in our country’s history. The questions are: do we stay in the European Union and what will that relationship look like; or do we leave altogether? I come from a region with a devolved institution, so this debate is of much interest to me, my party and my constituents. I am sure that many of them, and indeed the constituents of colleagues across the Province and the whole UK, are keen to hear what will be said, and to see how the debate will unfold between now and the referendum.

Opinion on the UK’s membership of the EU is divided within Northern Ireland, as it is in most places. There are positives and negatives, and the subject is a hotbed of debate. As a region that has emerged from conflict, Northern Ireland has seen the beneficial aspects of EU membership, with extra funding for peace projects that seek to help with the conflict transformation within Northern Irish society. The EU enabled us to come from conflict to conciliation and from war to peace, so we are grateful for its contribution. However, as in other British regions, there are negative aspects of membership, and we have seen our EU membership devastate traditional industries such as fishing.

Membership has had an indisputable impact on Northern Ireland, for better or for worse, and it is imperative that the Province is taken into account. Giving our devolved

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institutions—not just in Northern Ireland—a say in the renegotiation process would be a positive step because it would ensure that regionally sensitive issues could be taken into account and that any outcomes of the renegotiation could be tailored to best fit the devolved regions’ needs.

When the Minister replied to my question earlier today about the fishing sector, his response was along the lines that the localised control that we hope to have would come through the common fisheries policy. I respect the Minister, as he knows, but we might disagree about how that will happen on the ground. I represent the village of Portavogie and the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), who has just left the Chamber, represents Ardglass and Kilkeel. We are not convinced that the renegotiation on the common fisheries policy will provide the localised control that is necessary. We want local people to have control—we said that earlier and I say it again now. The bureaucracy and red tape, and the loss of fishing boats, jobs and quota, are all having an impact on the fishing industry.

The farming industry is affected as well. I personally live in a rural community, and although the Strangford constituency contains a port, it is also the milk centre of Northern Ireland. We have large numbers of dairymen who look after pedigree herds. We do not see the flexibility from Europe that would make things easier for us.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point that can be expanded further. If the Prime Minister was serious about European renegotiation, he might have opened some sort of consultation across the country to find out what people wanted. What he really wants is four or five points to spin in a newspaper headline prior to a referendum. There is no depth and no thought in what the Prime Minister is doing. He should have gone to consult the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, whether they be fishermen or dairy farmers.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Farmers are not convinced that their future is necessarily within Europe, so the Prime Minister has a job to do to convince them of that. I understand that if the money that we put into the EU was taken out again, we could still help the farming communities and give the assistance that is needed. Perhaps that shows that there is a story to be told.

I make the observation that about 13,000 people from outside the United Kingdom, but within the EU, are in receipt of state benefits in Northern Ireland. The proportion is considerably above the average for those born within Northern Ireland and, indeed, the entire United Kingdom. I am not seeking to demonise anyone, but I believe that that is evidence that illustrates that this issue is having just as much impact on Northern Ireland as it is on Essex, Cardiff, Sheffield or Aberdeen. Consequently, I believe that we should have at least a consultative role in the renegotiation of our EU membership.

I hope that hon. Members will take my comments on board and that the Minister will respond. I look forward also to hearing from the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). The EU is a thorny subject. There may be division on it

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in the House, but one thing on which we are united is in wanting input into the process.

5.2 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing his first Westminster Hall debate. As he said, it is timely that it has occurred on the same day as a ministerial statement on renegotiation and, indeed, on the same day as the Minister was able to have a phone call with his counterpart in the Scottish Government. It would have been very disappointing to come to Westminster Hall to find that there had been no consultation or discussion with the Scottish Government or other devolved Administrations.

The Prime Minister has been at pains to demonstrate how determined and wide ranging his renegotiation strategy has been. He has been jet-setting across Europe to meet almost anyone who will listen to him, forging interesting alliances in the process, but there has been scant evidence of communication, let alone negotiation, with his most important European allies of all—the constituent nations of the UK.

The Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk that was published today states:

“I want to enhance the role of national parliaments, by proposing a new arrangement where groups of national parliaments, acting together, can stop unwanted legislative proposals.”

Well, Ms Dorries, Scotland has a Parliament, and Wales and Northern Ireland have Assemblies. Surely they should be working with the UK Parliament and Government to protect and enhance our position in the European Union. During the referendum in Scotland, as my hon. Friend said, Westminster politicians, led by the Prime Minister, were falling over themselves to tell us that we should lead the UK, not leave the UK, and that Scotland’s only hope of remaining in the European Union was to remain in the United Kingdom. Now it seems that both those propositions were without foundation. Scotland’s membership of the European Union is now at far greater risk, and its opportunity to minimise that risk by being an equal partner in the renegotiation process is also threatened by the lack of consultation with the UK Government to date.

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the range of questions raised by my hon. Friend, especially with regard to a formal process. In June, the First Minister called for a distinctive forum in which the views of the devolved Assemblies could be heard in the renegotiation process, so I hope that the Minister will tell us about progress on that.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Prime Minister has now held talks with every single constituent member of the EU, but that nine of those member states have smaller populations than that of Scotland?

Patrick Grady: It does not surprise me at all to hear that. I look forward to seeing the photographs of the Prime Minister. He met the Scottish First Minister to negotiate the Edinburgh agreement in advance of the independence referendum, so I hope that he will sit down with his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to—

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Mr MacNeil: The respect agenda.

Patrick Grady: Exactly: to show us respect—the respect agenda—and to forge a platform on which we can all campaign for the UK to remain in the European Union.

The Minister said earlier in the main Chamber that he had spoken to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs this morning, so he will no doubt be aware of the speech that she made on Monday, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife also referred. That speech laid out the value of EU membership to Scotland, and not just the economic benefits, although they include more than €18 billion of exports and more than 300,000 jobs, but, as we have heard, the solidarity, social protection and support that EU membership has brought to these islands over the decades and the peace that it has brought to the continent throughout its history. In the same speech, she laid out areas in which reform is needed: competitiveness, regulation, climate change and energy. Above all, she spoke about the need to tackle the growing disconnect between individual citizens and the institutions of the European Union.

Too often these days, the European Union is used, especially by this Government, as a useful scapegoat—a useful source of blame for, or disassociation from, policies or practices that people do not like. However, that is a very dangerous game for the Government to play. When it is combined with increasing brinkmanship in the renegotiation process, the Prime Minister and the Government risk provoking a backlash among the wider public. If the Government are not careful, as they were warned in the Chamber today, they risk turning the referendum into a vote on the popularity of the Government, or even the Prime Minister himself, in which case there is a danger that a genuine debate about the importance of the EU to people’s lives will become a surrogate Tory party leadership contest, and voters could opt to leave simply to express their dissatisfaction with the current political leadership. If there is a differential between the result of that kind of vote in traditional Tory heartlands and the rest of the UK, we really will be in uncharted constitutional territory.

We usually talk about a large English majority to leave trumping a Scottish majority to stay and, as we have heard, a UK vote to leave while Scotland voted to stay would certainly violate the Scottish claim of a right to popular sovereignty, but as I said to the Minister in the Chamber today, what if a narrow English majority to leave is trumped by the votes of the other constituent nations to stay? That also takes us into uncharted constitutional territory, and I doubt that many Government Back Benchers would be happy with that kind of result. The answer is to put in place the kind of double majority that the SNP has called for consistently since we got here. The principle of a double majority is good enough for the House of Commons on the question of English votes for English laws, so I am completely unclear about why it is not good enough for this referendum.

The European Union Referendum Bill is in the House of Lords, and the Government are determined to give all those Lords a vote in the referendum. That is very important, because those 800 votes could swing the result. The Government are disfranchising European citizens and 16 and 17-year-olds, but the Lords are to have a vote in the referendum. Why not take the opportunity

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to put in place the double majority and the other things for which the SNP has been calling since the general election?

I hope that the Minister will see today’s debate as an opportunity to signal his intent to work constructively with the devolved Administrations on the EU negotiations and the case for continued EU membership. As my hon. Friend said, if the questions in the House are anything to go by, the Government will need friends and allies, and they are having difficulty finding them on their own Back Benches. I have no doubt that the devolved Administrations want to work for a positive outcome in the referendum. That means getting a positive outcome from the negotiation process, which in turn means ensuring that the devolved Administrations are heard, because they represent the most important stakeholders in this process—the voters of those constituent countries.

5.9 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing his first Westminster Hall debate. I was pleased that he scotched the rumour—forgive the pun—that there was some sort of collaboration between him and the Government regarding this debate. I was glad that he clarified that it is a mere coincidence that the debate is being held on the same day as the Prime Minister’s letter to the President of the European Council has been published.

Consultation is vital. There must be consultation based on mutual respect for devolution as a reality, and for the institutions of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Welsh Assembly. I am slightly concerned, however, about the Scottish National party’s emphasis on the constitution yet again with regard to this issue. Rather than the constitutional relationship, most people in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are concerned about bread-and-butter issues.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Wayne David: No, I will not give way. I know that my constituents are not really interested in where, or at what level of government, power resides. They are interested in the quality of their lives, and how the European Union does or does not impact on their lives. Another concern is that the SNP is apparently demanding that it be taken into account and be part of the United Kingdom’s renegotiation process.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Wayne David: No, I will not give way. My time is limited, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

My concern is that while the SNP says that it wants to be part of the United Kingdom Government’s renegotiation process, the reality is that the party is yet again giving credence to the Tory Government here in Westminster to which it claims to be implacably opposed. In practical terms, it wants to sidle up to the Government and get as close as it possibly can. We saw that in the

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debate last night with the collaboration between the SNP and the Conservative Government on the reactionary proposal about abortion rights—

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Wayne David: No, I will make my point. The proposal that abortion rights should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament is a totally reactionary measure, and it shows the true reactionary nature of the SNP that it wants to sidle up as close as possible to this Tory Government. We are not seeing the SNP demanding that workers’ rights be maintained. The previous speakers made hardly any reference at all to workers’ right—they are not concerned about workers’ rights.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Wayne David: No. I told the hon. Gentleman that I would not give way—[Interruption.]

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. Mr MacNeil, there has been an indication that you will not be allowed to intervene, so please keep some order.

Wayne David: Thank you, Ms Dorries. We are getting used to heckling and barracking from SNP Members. They cannot win the argument, so they try to shout people down and interrupt. That is their style of politics up there. That is, sadly, what nationalism is all about. It is infecting the United Kingdom as well, which is a great shame.

The SNP is today apparently giving credence to the Conservative Government. I believe firmly that this so-called negotiation is an absolute sham. We heard from the Prime Minister in his letter that he sincerely hopes, with all his heart and soul, that he will be in a position to advocate Britain remaining inside the European Union. To ensure that he is able to do that, he will have a superficial façade of a renegotiation to allow him to justify Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union. The SNP should realise that, so why does it want to be part and parcel of that process?

The SNP should be adopting a principled position of arguing in favour of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. It knows that that is in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole, and of the Scottish people. At the same time, it should have a long-term perspective on the sorts of radical changes we need inside the European Union. Successful negotiation, if it is to be done properly, cannot be carried out in a matter of weeks or even months. Renegotiation has to be a long-term process, and we have to work with people and to make allies. The Scottish nation cannot stand in splendid isolation; it has to work with other people.

When we come to the referendum, the Labour party will certainly put forward its own campaign, and I imagine that the SNP will do the same. I hope to goodness that the SNP campaigns in favour of our continued membership of the European Union, but I cannot be absolutely certain that that will be the case. The SNP must abandon its inward-looking nationalism for once and work with others across the United Kingdom to make sure that we have a coherent and strong message in support of a yes vote throughout the whole United Kingdom.

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5.14 pm

Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing the debate and making it possible for us to take part.

I have a certain amount of déjà vu. A number of us took part in the debate on the Scotland Bill in the Chamber yesterday, where we were treated to a succession of MPs who represented English seats telling Scotland and the Scots what was good for us. Although I am delighted that our good friends across these islands have so much concern for the wellbeing of Scotland, the length of those speeches, and the fact that they often drifted to subjects that were closer to the speakers’ hearts than the subject matter of the debate, suggest that that was perhaps not their primary motivation. At times, I wondered whether Scotland would even get a mention in the midst of the discussion about English devolution, who did what in Parliament in the 1970s and Dicey’s theory of the constitution.

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. Ms Brock, although I appreciate your comments regarding yesterday’s debate, could you keep your remarks to the subject matter of today’s debate and not make the same mistake?

Deidre Brock: Of course, Ms Dorries. My point was that Scotland’s voice was being drowned out even in the midst of a debate about Scotland’s future. I am sure that that was not the intent, but it is a reflection of how politics and political discourse are very different here from the engagement that we see in the Scottish Parliament and throughout Scotland, despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David). The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made it quite clear that the same is true of Northern Ireland. I assume that the same is true of Wales, but the hon. Member for Caerphilly seems to prefer the Conservatives to negotiate on Wales’s behalf in Europe. Each institution has established its own ways of working, which affect the politics of the areas that it serves. In turn, that affects the politicians who operate in each area.

Mr MacNeil: My hon. Friend has mentioned the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who was not keen on debating or engaging with anybody at all. Did she find his speech, in which we were simultaneously accused of being isolationist and of cosying up to other people, strange? I could not understand which way he was going.

Deidre Brock: I have to agree with my hon. Friend.

Wayne David: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Deidre Brock: The hon. Gentleman is chancing his arm.

Wayne David: On a point of order, Ms Dorries. I have been accused of not taking interventions, but the hon. Lady will not take interventions from me.

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Mr David, sit down. That is not a point of order.

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Deidre Brock: Thank you, Ms Dorries. We have not only different ways of talking, but different priorities and different political and social aspirations, and the people we represent have different needs. Whatever the hon. Member for Caerphilly says, there is no common mindset across the UK driving the thinking on the EU; there are many. The Government have to recognise and salute that multifaceted approach to the debate in the EU negotiations. That is why the Scottish Government should be consulted at an early stage and throughout the process. The same is true of the Scottish Parliament, especially considering the proportional representation aspect of its elections. Equally, the people of Wales and Northern Ireland deserve to have their devolved institutions feeding into any consideration or reconsideration of any agreement that affects our trading and social links to such a depth and degree. Scotland needs immigration to drive economic growth, and that need does not sit so well with the implied resistance to immigration in the proposals that the Government are pushing, some of which seem to be supported by the loyal Opposition.

We have strong and strengthening devolved institutions representing the interests of a wide range of people from across the UK. A Government who were sure of themselves and sure of the future of the UK would surely feel no fear of consulting those institutions at every stage of the process and ensuring that their views were included in the proposals. It cannot be that the Government lack confidence, or that, as some have suggested, they have contempt for the devolved institutions. Neither can it be that there is no time for consultations with the devolved institutions, given that the Government have found time plenty of time to consult other Governments of European Union member states.

The Minister mentioned in answer to questions on his statement earlier today that he was always willing to listen and that he had had a phone call with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, this very morning. If that indicates a change in approach, it is very welcome. I understand that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, both recently expressed their concerns that they had not been involved enough in the production of the proposals published today. The Prime Minister has made it clear that his direction is towards the exit if his renegotiations are not welcomed. Might not it be a good idea for the Government at least to attempt to get the support of the devolved Administrations before going into the negotiating room?

Our European allies do not seem to be overly willing to reopen treaties or to give advantages to one member state that are not offered to all. With that before the Prime Minister and the Government, and the Eurosceptic brigade panting at the Prime Minister’s back, surely he could do with all the friends he can muster. It would be a mistake for him to try to sell the devolved Administrations a pig in a poke. Opening up and embracing the assistance that the devolved Administrations could offer is a better strategy. I certainly look forward to a far more collegiate approach from the Government in the coming months, and I look forward very much to hearing what the Minister has to say.

5.21 pm

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): I am pleased to sum up for the Scottish National party. I commend my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for

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North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), for securing the debate and for the eloquent way in which he presented the positive case that the SNP will continue to push for our continued membership of the EU.

The events of yesterday and today make me convinced of one thing and very unconvinced of another. I am convinced that in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time, Scotland will still be playing a full part as a member of the EU. I am increasingly convinced that it will not be doing so as a member of the United Kingdom. We may, in fact, see a reverse of the situation described by my hon. Friend. In the not-too-distant future, the United Kingdom’s negotiations with the EU may well have to be done through Scotland because we could be the only part of the current UK that is left in it.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) correctly highlighted the fact that the experts on matters such as fishing and agriculture are very often the people who work in those industries. If we do not listen to them from the very beginning of the process, we will get it wrong. The Prime Minister got it wrong by not even including those important economic drivers anywhere in his list of demands. Possibly, if he had spoken to the devolved Administrations earlier, he would have realised that he had to do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) presented the positive case and benefits of EU membership. If the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) had been listening, he would not have had to hope to goodness that the SNP was in favour of EU membership. Indeed, if he had spoken to the ambassadors of any one of the 21 EU member states who came to a reception in Portcullis House about a week ago, he would have heard that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife explained as clearly as possible that the SNP wants to remain in the EU because that is where Scotland’s future lies. The hon. Member for Caerphilly did his country one service because, having listened to him, I am convinced that he has significantly shortened the odds on Leanne Wood becoming First Minister of Wales next year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) highlighted the fact that there are very distinct views, not only on Europe, but on lots of other matters, across the nations that make up this Parliament and this Union. We only have to look at the fact that the devolved Governments are all held by different parties. No party leads the Government in any two of the four nations. Different parties won the general election in each of the four member states of this Parliament.

The separate identity of Northern Ireland is recognised by the fact that it has its own political parties. It does not operate with the same parties as we do. The parties that won the election in Northern Ireland do not exist to any great extent in other parts of the United Kingdom. Having said that, the parties that won the election in England and Wales are in serious danger of ceasing to exist in Scotland if they continue to present the kind of patronising, disrespectful, contemptuous view of our ancient nation that we have seen far too much of over the past couple of days.

The reason for this debate is that we want the Prime Minister’s negotiations to succeed, not because we like the Prime Minister or because we have ever had any

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intention of running a coalition with the Tories to persuade any nation how to vote on its own future, but because, if the Prime Minister fails—it looks increasingly likely that he will fail—we will go into a referendum based on a promised reform that has not been delivered. That referendum is likely not only to result in us being dragged out of the EU—





Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. Mr Grant, would you wind up your comments so that we can have a meaningful debate with comments from the Opposition and Government Front Benches?

Peter Grant: I will, Ms Dorries. My real concern is not only that a failure by the Prime Minister will lead to a vote to take the devolved Administrations out of the EU against our will, but that it might lead to a debate that is not about the benefits of EU membership but about an antipathy to immigration and an antipathy to anyone who was born outside these islands. It may become a referendum on the popularity of the Prime Minister, and that is a referendum that the Prime Minister cannot possibly win.

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Would you keep to five minutes please, Mr McFadden?

5.25 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): Indeed. Thank you, Ms Dorries. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am reminded of the words of the great Yogi Berra, who said:

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The Minister has certainly earned his ministerial stipend today. He took questions for an hour and a half to two hours earlier in the House and is now about to reply to this debate. I do not know if the Prime Minister is a generous man in personal terms but he certainly owes the Minister a drink for what he has been put through today. The only consolation for him is that his colleagues are not here for this debate as they were for the statement earlier. He is at least spared their unstinting support in the endeavours that the Government have set out today.

I do not know whether the debate is well timed or—possibly, more accurately—a few hours late. The horse has somewhat bolted on this. The Prime Minister has made his speech. The Minister has made his statement. The letter to the President of the European Council has been written. I do not propose to go over the exchange that we had earlier or the questions that we exchanged, except to add a point about the negotiation that was perhaps not covered so much in statement. We are seeing this through British eyes and the four demands have been put together by the Prime Minister and the Minister in that sense. The rest of Europe is coping with an unprecedented refugee crisis. An official from another member state said to me last week, “The trouble is that we are in two different movies.” That is one of the issues for the process.

The issue before us is the consultation and involvement of the devolved Administrations, which, of course, should be appropriately consulted and involved. Quite rightly, people have said that different issues are viewed in different ways in different parts of the UK. Not every issue has the same impact everywhere. I want to speak specifically about Northern Ireland because I attended

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the debate mentioned by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), which was organised by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council a couple of weeks ago.

We had an excellent debate about cross-border movement of people, movement of goods, business, trade and farm subsidies—the whole thing. The team for staying in the EU were me and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. I am pleased to say that a vote was taken by 300 or 400 people—mostly small businesspeople—at the end of the debate. The proposal to stay in was carried by 92% to 8%. I make no predictions or claims that that was necessarily a representative audience of everywhere in the UK, but the debate should go to every part of the UK. Every part should have the widest possible involvement. Ultimately, the question—all the things that have been raised about representation and so on—revolves around whether we view the situation through nationalist eyes. If we do, we will effectively see the UK as four member states. Those who are not nationalists will see it as one member state. We joined as one member state, we will have this referendum as one member state, and we will make the decision as one member state. The issue about appropriate consultation and involvement should be seen in that light.

5.29 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing this debate.

I, too, want to avoid reprising the greatest hits from today’s ministerial statement in the House, but it would be remiss of me if I did not start by putting it on the record that today the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council setting out four key areas on which he seeks reform: on sovereignty and subsidiarity; on competitiveness; on eurozone governance; and on migration and welfare. Anyone who examines the Prime Minister’s speech this morning or the text of his letter to Mr Tusk, which was released slightly later, will see that many areas in which we are seeking reform match the views often expressed by members of the devolved Governments of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Government have published their agenda for reform, which includes calls for greater focus on competitiveness; deepening the European single market, and particularly for the creation of a Europe-wide digital single market; and progress on an internal energy union. The United Kingdom Government have embodied all those things in their approach to European reform. Our proposals for smarter, less burdensome and less complex regulation will be particularly welcome in Northern Ireland, which is overwhelmingly a small and medium-sized enterprise economy.

If we look at previous economic reforms, we find that the EU-South Korea free trade agreement, for example, is worth up to £500 million a year to the British economy. That agreement is already bringing advantages to sectors such as whisky and financial services, which are important in Scotland and in the two other devolved parts of this country. The Scottish Government’s agenda for reform also mentioned a stronger role for national Parliaments and the need to secure a stronger focus at European level on subsidiarity and proportionality—those ideas are meant to be written into the DNA of the way in which the EU operates.