Ben Bradshaw

Working Hard for Exeter


Recent Activity

My latest Echo column, on the Commons inquiry into air pollution, is available to read online here.

December 17 Echo Column

My latest Echo column, on the Commons inquiry into air pollution, is available to read online here.

On Northern Ireland

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

If the Secretary of State is serious about wanting a solution in the national interest that commands majority support in Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom and this House—I am delighted to say that that would seem to include my own Front Benchers—why does he not bring to this House a motion, on a free vote, on staying in the customs union and the single market?

Mr Davis

We were elected on a manifesto that said that we would leave the customs union and single market—full stop.

On Jerusalem

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Q7. The recognition by Donald Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will do grave damage to the prospects for a just and lasting peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which has been British, and indeed American, foreign policy for decades. Was she consulted about that announcement, and, if so, what did she say? Will she, here and now, unequivocally and clearly condemn it? [902781]

The Prime Minister

I intend to speak to President Trump about this matter, but our position has not changed—as the right hon. Gentleman says, it has been a long-standing one. It is also a very clear one: the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states. We continue to support a two-state solution. We recognise the importance of Jerusalem and our position on that has not changed.

On pulse fishing

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

3. What steps his Department is taking to tackle pulse fishing in EU waters. [902792]

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice)

There are some concerns about the impact of pulse trawling on certain species of fish, in particular gadoids such as cod. Earlier this year, I asked the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to review the science on pulse trawling. The preliminary advice concludes that while the impact on the seabed is typically smaller than for traditional beam trawling, there are some detrimental effects on fish species such as cod. Once CEFAS has completed its work, we will decide what steps are required next.

Mr Bradshaw

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware, I am sure, of the concerns of fishers in parts of south-east England about the impact of Dutch electric pulse fishing on the stocks that, surprise surprise, move across national boundaries and are consequently shared. At the moment, we have a voice at the table and we can influence, alongside other, more conservation-minded northern European countries, policies such as that on electric pulse fishing. How will we exert the same influence if we leave the European Union?

On the EU Referendum

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

9. What assessment has been made of the adequacy of resources available to the Electoral Commission to undertake multiple investigations into the EU Referendum campaign. [902819]

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South)

The Electoral Commission has experience of undertaking multiple investigations and is confident that its resourcing for this year is sufficient. Nevertheless, it recognises that its workload in this area has increased. Early in 2018, the commission will be submitting its budget for the next financial year for scrutiny. It is for the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission to agree the estimate before its submission to Parliament.

Mr Bradshaw

I hope that the Speaker’s Committee will ensure that the Electoral Commission has all the resources it needs to do this important work. As well as investigating Russian interference, which the Electoral Commission’s chairman, John Holmes, confirmed it was doing yesterday, will my hon. Friend comment on ​whether the commission is examining whether there was any collusion between Vote Leave, Leave.EU, Labour Leave, BeLeave, the Democratic Unionist party and Veterans for Britain? Will she also comment on whether the role of the United States hedge fund billionaire, Robert Mercer, is being investigated?

Bridget Phillipson

I know that the commission has had useful and positive engagement with my right hon. Friend about these matters. Various investigations are under way, so it will not be possible to comment further, but I can assure him that once any investigations are complete, the commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate. The outcome of all investigations will be publicised on the Electoral Commission website in due course.

On Palestinian statehood

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Further to the Minister’s answer to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who asked, “If not now, when?”, the Minister will be aware that one of the most grievous consequences of this decision is the impact on Palestinian public opinion. More and more people are giving up on a two-state solution. With Britain’s particular historical ​responsibilities, is it not time to honour the overwhelming vote in this House back in 2014 and recognise Palestine as a state?

Alistair Burt

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I make frequent visits to the region—I was there recently—and yesterday I expressed to the Palestinian representative in London my views on the President of the United States’ anticipated speech. Recognition of the state of Palestine is not necessarily a consequence of what we heard yesterday. It is not tit for tat; it is more important than that. Accordingly, it should be a decision made by the United Kingdom at a time when we believe it is in the best interests of the process of peace. That is the view for now.

On the UK fishing industry

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

May I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) about marine safety organisations and fishermen’s welfare organisations? I am thinking particularly of the Fishermen’s Mission, in a year which, thankfully, has been one of the better ones in terms of fatalities at sea.

I do not know whether you have had an opportunity to watch the wonderful BBC series “Blue Planet II”, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you have, you will have been inspired and moved by the wondrousness of our marine environment, but also by its vulnerability and fragility. While environmental degradation on land is visible to us—we see forests and species disappear, and we see desertification—what has been happening in our oceans for far too long has remained invisible to all except a dedicated band of marine scientists and divers, but now, thanks to that fantastic programme, it is there for all of us to see.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab)

When my right hon. Friend watched that programme, was he as concerned as I was by the amount of plastic being ingested by some of the marine life that later goes into our food chain?

Mr Bradshaw

Indeed I was. Thankfully, plastics are one of the more visible aspects of marine pollution, because we see them washed up on our beaches and the Government are taking action, but a great deal else that goes on is still invisible.

There is another big difference between land-based and sea-based environmental degradation. The sea is a place where the ancient human activity of hunting and gathering continues, and continues apace. As has just been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), other human activity, such as the use of plastics, has its impacts, but much of it is invisible. Man-made climate change is leading to ​the warming and acidification of our oceans, with yet unknown consequences. It does not affect just marine life—including fish, as an edible resource—but the roles that the oceans themselves play in regulating our climate, our oxygen levels, and basically everything that makes human life on earth possible.

For most of human history, oceans and fish were simply plundered. That did not matter when there were relatively few human beings and fishing technology was relatively antiquated, but in the last 100 years or so, population growth and technological progress have completely changed that equation, with, in some instances, devastating consequences. We all know the story of the near-eradication of bluefin tuna, turtles, cod off the north-east coast of the United States, and, in our own case, cod in the North sea. However, things have changed. Because of what was going on in the early noughties, politicians began to take notice and take action. There was collective endeavour, and it has worked. North sea cod has made a fantastic recovery, thanks to the difficult measures and decisions that I took as a fisheries Minister, which were massively criticised by the fishing industry at the time. There has even been progress on the high seas, which is much more difficult because of the lack of an international legal framework.

As anyone—I hope—can appreciate, managing our seas and fish stocks sustainably demands that countries work together. As has been said so often during our debates over the years, fish do not respect national borders; they swim about. Unlike the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, I have real concerns about the potential of Brexit to reverse the welcome progress that we have seen in the last 15 or 20 years. Let us be honest: the status quo is not a disaster. The hon. Lady herself spoke of recommendations for increased catches at this year’s meeting of the Council of Ministers. I wonder why that is the case. My local ports, Brixham and Plymouth, have just reported their best years in terms of the value of their catches. Species such as cuttlefish are doing incredibly well, and are being exported straight to markets in Italy, France and Spain. Our crab and lobster are also valuable exports.

Mrs Sheryll Murray

Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously saying that British fishermen want to stay in the common fisheries policy?

Mr Bradshaw

Some do, but they tend to be quiet, because they are shouted down by Members of Parliament like the hon. Lady. If she has honest conversations with sensible fishermen who care about the long-term sustainability of their stocks, she will find that not all of them share her views, and it would be inaccurate to suggest that they do.

As I was saying, some of our most valuable catches—and we in the south-west have enjoyed a record year in that regard—are exported straight to the markets of the European Union, tariff-free, while we are in the common fisheries policy. As a nation, we also depend on imports for 80% of what we consume, because of our taste for cod and haddock. So what will happen in the event of a bad deal or no deal, in terms of tariffs on these vital exports and the vital imports on which our producing and processing sector depend, and about which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby will speak later?​
The Brexiteers have sold the idea that if we leave the EU and unilaterally declare these marvellous limits, our fishers will suddenly get all these extra fish and massively increased quotas, and our boats, which currently fish in other people’s waters, will be able to carry on regardless, and our vital exports will be completely unaffected. Like so many of the promises made by these modern-day wreckers, this is a cruel deception on our fishers and their communities. We need only look at the problems we have had this week with the Irish land border; imagine what will happen if, as the Brexiteers are proposing, the UK suddenly and unilaterally moves the international marine borders, and, in effect, declares fish wars on all our neighbours, excluding them from fishing grounds they have fished for hundreds of years and stealing the quota they consider legally theirs. It is a recipe for mayhem.

It is also a recipe for environmental disaster. We know from fisheries management all around the world that if international and supranational co-operation and collaboration break down, it is the fish and the marine environment that pay the price. The second cruel deception being played out is that the Government are likely to make fisheries a priority. We need only look at its value to our economy, compared with financial services, pharma and others. Are our Government honestly going to pick a political fight for fisheries, when all these other sectors are worth more to our economy? It is a cruel deception.

I have two further points. First, I ask the Minister to make bass a recreational stock, as Ireland has done, with huge success. I also ask the Minister to keep a place at that negotiating table, and when he goes to Brussels later this month, I ask him to stick with the science: stick with the evidence, and think about the fish and their future, and a healthy future for our fishing industry.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for initiating it. I know of her great experience in the fishing industry. As she, above all others, will know from her personal loss from fishing, safety at sea is paramount. I pay tribute to her.

We look forward to our very able fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), going to the December Council and coming back full of fish, and making sure that we have sufficient quota for our fishermen, because there is the science now to be able to say that for most quotaed species there are enough there for our fishermen to catch.

I am amazed that the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is so pessimistic about the common fisheries policy. Whether we were a Brexiteer or a remainer, I think we can all accept that the one section of society that got well and truly stitched up when we first went into the common market was the fishing industry, because it put forward quotas that were reasonably accurate, while others put forward quotas that were not, and we landed up with a very small supply of what were potentially our own fish.

Mr Bradshaw

I completely agree: I think we were stuffed —if that is parliamentary language—when we joined. But I am not pessimistic about the common fisheries policy; ​I am realistic, and the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that in the last 15 to 20 years, since we undertook these reforms, the picture has been improving.

Neil Parish

I accept that there have been improvements to the common fisheries policy, but there were many improvements to be made. We are getting on now to having discards banned from the common fisheries policy, which we as a nation can work on much better. We can also use a fishing management system similar to the Norwegians, where we can shut down an overfished area very quickly; they can do it within a day, whereas it is impossible to move that fast when there are 27 countries trying to come to an agreement. There are great opportunities to be had. There is no doubt—there are figures to prove it—that the European fishing vessels take from our waters some £530 million-worth of fish and we take about £110 million-worth of fish from their waters, so whichever way we look at it, there will be benefits for our fishermen.

On UK fishing

Mr Bradshaw

Do those potential obstacles to the frictionless trade my hon. Friend talks about include the loss of regulatory alignment, which is the topic of the week?

Melanie Onn

Yes. I will come on to regulatory alignment and the variance thereof.

I want to talk briefly about Norway, because it has been mentioned in the debate, and it is often cited as an example of how Britain’s fisheries sector could thrive outside the common fisheries policy. However, what is not mentioned is the effect Norway’s position has had on its seafood processing sector. By opting out of the CFP, Norway has had to accept losing market access in fisheries. According to the CBI, this trade-off has seen the majority of its seafood processing sector relocate to the EU, with Britain being a substantial winner from that situation. Under that agreement, Norway can sell fresh fish to EU countries with a minimal 2% tariff, but with 13% on processed fish.

Similarly, while we can currently buy fish from Norway and Iceland tariff-free, that may not be the case in just over a year’s time. The Minister must fight to ensure that this is not the outcome waiting for Britain after we leave the EU. It would be absolutely catastrophic for jobs and industry in Grimsby.

Mr Bradshaw

And more expensive fish and chips.

Melanie Onn

And more expensive fish and chips, as my right hon. Friend says from a sedentary position.

I met the Minister with a delegation from Grimsby’s seafood processing sector last month to discuss ways to ensure that our ports and industry could continue to grow post-Brexit, so I recognise that this issue is on his agenda. However, perhaps he could just update the House on what work he is doing to prepare the sector for the changes coming down the line.

On the NHS

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The Minister quoted selectively from the chief executive of NHS Improvement, who also made it absolutely clear he did not think the NHS has enough money overall. In the real world, ​as opposed to the fantasy world inhabited by Conservative Ministers, Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, has repeatedly told the Health Committee that the NHS cannot do what the Government are asking it to do with the current money. Is it not clear that there will be no £350 million a week extra for the NHS? There will be less, because of the impact of Brexit and the economic incompetence of this Conservative Government.

Mr Dunne

I was actually quoting the chief executive of NHS Improvement.

On the Single Market and Customs Union

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will get a lot of support from the Labour Benches if his amendment is pressed to a vote. To be fair to our Front Benchers, they have made it clear that they think the option of staying in the single market and the customs union should remain on the table after the transition. The right hon. Gentleman was not quite fair in his description of our Front-Bench policy as I understand it.

Commons Interventions December 17

On Northern Ireland Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)If the Secretary of State is serious about wanting a solution in the national interest that commands majority support in Northern Ireland, the...

On Brexit Impact Assessments

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The Minister says that there is nothing of significance in these documents and that they do not measure any impact. One might ask: what is the point of them, on the biggest single issue facing our country in our lifetimes? On the timing, Mr Speaker, you were very clear last week after the vote. You talked about days, not weeks, and there was also a discussion of Ministers being in contempt of Parliament. Perhaps you might like to remind the Minister what the potential sanctions are for a Minister who is found to be in contempt of Parliament.

Mr Baker

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has put the words “nothing of significance” in my mouth. I do not think that I have ever said that. We are saying to the House that this sectoral analysis does not contain quantitative projections of impact. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s final question, I think that is a matter for you, Mr Speaker.

On Israel Meetings

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The Minister read out an incredibly long list of meetings that the Secretary of State held in Israel on what I thought was supposed to be a family holiday. Did she have any meetings with the Palestinian side? The Minister will, as middle east Minister, appreciate the importance of a wholly balanced approach to the middle east peace process and not a one-sided one. If she is in the air now, she could have delayed her departure, couldn’t she, and shown some courtesy to this House. It is very difficult for us to know, Mr Speaker, whether the Secretary of State for International Development or the Foreign Secretary has the worse relationship with accuracy. If we had a Prime Minister who was not so weak, both would have been sacked.

Alistair Burt

The Secretary of State says, in her very full statement yesterday, that she was on a family holiday between 13 and 25 August, which is 12 days. She took two days out of that holiday to have a series of meetings with Israeli politicians and political people, and a number of different charities, including, as I said earlier, Save a Child’s Heart, which works with Palestinian children as well as Israeli children. The list of meetings has been published. I do not see that she specifically had a set of meetings with those representing Palestinian interests, but of course she has met those on other occasions. It is a full disclosure of work. She had two days off in the middle of a holiday. I suspect that is not particularly unusual for Ministers, who sometimes do other things. But you would, of course, let the Foreign Office know in advance, which my right hon. Friend did not, and that was the error for which she has apologised. The meetings were really pertinent to her work, to our work and to British interests.

On Russia

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

While the Secretary of State is correcting inaccurate statements he made to the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, would he care to correct the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) when he said he had seen no evidence of Russian meddling in the EU referendum?

Boris Johnson

The answer to that is no.

On Professor Mifsud

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

While the right hon. Gentleman is in the business of correcting the record, will he correct his statement from last week that he had never met Joseph Mifsud, the UK-based so-called academic at the centre of the Trump-Putin collusion allegations, given the publication in the newspapers yesterday of a photograph of just such a meeting?

​Mr Speaker

Order. There is all sorts of flailing and waving about. It is not statesmanlike and the source from which it emanates is a source from which I usually expect the most statesmanlike conduct. The right hon. Gentleman’s question suffers from the disadvantage that it is not even adjacent to—does not even hover over, does not buzz around—the urgent question that has been posed, so he will have to pursue other opportunities to favour the House with his thoughts, or to seek to extricate from the mind of the Foreign Secretary his own. On that point, we will leave it there for now.

On the NHS workforce crisis

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

All four witnesses who gave evidence to the Health Committee inquiry into the current workforce crisis last week described the current situation as “unprecedented”. Janet Davies, the head of the Royal College of Nursing, said that if Brexit happened, it would be devastating. Does the Secretary of State accept that if there is no deal next month on the rights of EU nationals, the current stream of EU workers leaving our NHS and social care system will become a flood?

Mr Hunt

With respect, I do not think it helps to reassure the brilliant NHS professionals from the EU who are working in the system when the right hon. Gentleman asks questions like that. The reality is that those people are staying in the NHS, and I take every opportunity to ensure that they feel welcome. I try to stress how important they are, and how the NHS would fall over without them. The Government continue to make every possible effort to secure a deal for their future, which we are very confident that we will achieve.

On the Intelligence and Security Committee

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I am delighted to welcome the long overdue reconstitution of this Committee and wish it well with its work. It is nice to see at least two of its members in the Chamber this evening.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)


Mr Bradshaw

I do beg my hon. Friend’s pardon.

I hope that one of the Committee’s early inquiries will be into Russian interference in the UK. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have been raising questions about this for the past year, during which the evidence of Russian interference in the American presidential election became credible and compelling. Until recently, the UK Government gave every impression of not wanting to talk about it, but mounting evidence on both sides of the Atlantic of covert Russian propaganda and social media activity, and the role of dark money in our democracy, makes it imperative that the Intelligence and Security Committee looks at this as a matter of urgency. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has already launched an inquiry and the Electoral Commission is conducting investigations into Russian-backed interference in the referendum, including with regard to social media and the funding of the pro-Brexit campaign and its main financial backer, Arron Banks.

The American investigation into alleged collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, led by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, has also now reached Britain. The FBI has named Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, as a person of interest, and Mueller has indicted a former Trump campaign operative, George Papadopoulos, who had meetings in London with a UK-based academic, Josef Mifsud, to discuss the latter obtaining dirt on Hilary Clinton from the Kremlin. We know that Mr Papadopoulos has had access to British Ministers, and that Professor Mifsud has met the Foreign Secretary, although that was at first denied.

While it is imperative that the Government and its agencies give the fullest help and co-operation to the Culture Committee, the Electoral Commission and the Mueller investigations—although I know this is not his area of responsibility, I would be grateful if the Minister could assure the House that that will be the case, especially as I have been told that the Mueller team was ​in London recently and was not happy with the co-operation it was receiving from the UK authorities—it is the Intelligence and Security Committee that has much freer and direct access to our intelligence and security services and can question them directly. That is why its reconstitution is so important.

Despite the mounting evidence of recent months, the Foreign Secretary was still insisting last week that he had seen no evidence of Russian interference, but on Monday the Prime Minister said, or at least implied, something very different in her Mansion House speech. She excoriated the Putin regime for hacking, interfering in elections, and spreading fake news to sow discord in western democracies and threaten our international order.

It would be helpful to the Houses of Parliament and the country as a whole if the Government would end this confusion now. Is Britain among the countries that the Prime Minister had in mind when she made her speech? Indeed, it would be rather odd, given the uniquely disruptive impact of the Brexit vote and Putin’s well publicised desire for it, if Britain alone were immune from the Kremlin’s intentions. If the Government will not clear this up, I hope the ISC will. I hope that the ISC will also use its good offices to ensure that the Government and all their agencies give every assistance necessary to the other UK bodies investigating these matters and to Robert Mueller’s team.

Additionally, I urge the ISC to include the issue of dark money and the role of think-tanks in any of its deliberations on this matter. We know that more than £400,000 was donated during the EU referendum to the Democratic Unionist party by the Constitutional Research Council. The CRC has also given money to hard Brexit-supporting MPs, including the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). It was reported last week that the fine the Electoral Commission imposed as a result of the DUP donation resulted from a failure to disclose its source. That is not acceptable.

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend is making a brilliant and forensic speech, and he is to be commended by us all for pursuing this matter over the past year. Does he agree that a priority for the ISC should be to get to the bottom of whether foreign money was donated to the election campaigns and to the referendum campaign? A gap in the law means that the Electoral Commission is not empowered to investigate foreign actors and foreign money, and their influence on our democracy and this House.

Mr Bradshaw

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. Our legal framework is completely outdated for meeting the challenges that we face.

There is a further issue that I hope the Government will address. They have promised to close the loophole in Northern Ireland, where political donations remain secret for historical reasons, but that is completely unacceptable. It is quite clear that Northern Ireland has recently been used as a channel for such donations. The Government, to their credit, have said that they will change the law. Every single party in Northern Ireland— ​except the DUP, I think—believes that such a change should be retrospective. That would allow us to go back to the time of the referendum so that we would know where the money came from, and we could have full confidence in the integrity of our political and democratic process.

I also urge the ISC to look at the Legatum Institute, its relationship with the Government, and the background of its founder and main funder, Christopher Chandler. It should also consider the activities and funding of political organisations such as Conservative Friends of Russia, now renamed as the Westminster Russia Forum.

I come now to my final and perhaps most important point: the relationship between our intelligence and security services and those of our closest ally, America; and the relationship of each with their respective Government. President Trump is at war with his intelligence community. He has made it abundantly clear that he would sooner believe Putin than his own intelligence and security professionals. That is shocking, but it would be even more worrying for us if that breakdown in relations were mirrored here and had a negative impact on the vital work of our agencies and the extent of their co-operation with their US counterparts.

When the news website BuzzFeed ran a series of articles recently about unexplained Russia-related deaths in Britain, its head of investigations, Heidi Blake, was inundated with American intelligence sources complaining that they did not think their British counterparts were taking these incidents seriously. If that is true, it is extremely worrying.

Until recently, British Ministers have gone out of their way to avoid talking about Russian interference. They might have been worried about doing anything that might cast doubt on the legitimacy of the EU referendum result or embarrass President Trump, from whom they hope to get a trade deal to save them from the Brexit disaster.

I hope the ISC, now that it will finally be reconstituted, will be able to reassure itself and this Parliament that our intelligence and security services continue to act freely within the law, unhampered by any narrow political concerns of Ministers, and that their vital co-operation with their US counterparts has not been affected by the breakdown between the latter and their President. This issue goes to the heart of the security and integrity of our democracy and political system, and I wish the members of the Committee well in their important work ahead.

On the Customs Union and Single Market

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The main issues dividing the House at this stage in the Brexit negotiations are our continued membership of the customs union and of the single market. Ministers say constantly that they do not want to reveal anything that could weaken their negotiating hand, but the Government have made their position clear and the European Union has accepted that the Government want a hard Brexit, so why would it damage the Government’s negotiating position to put that information out? Can the Minister confirm that the information in the edited documents will help Members to reach a view on whether we should stay in the customs union and the single market?

Mr Walker

I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that the information in the edited documents will be valuable to the House, but it is wrong to describe them as “edited documents”. I would describe them as comprehensive sectoral analyses that the Government have provided for the Select Committee and will be providing, on a confidential basis, to the House.

In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s question about the customs union and the single market, I remind him that he, like I, stood on a manifesto that said that we will respect the referendum result and confirmed that the UK will be leaving the customs union and the single market.

On the Great Western franchise

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I echo the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) about the idea of breaking up the great western franchise because of the loss of ability to cross-subsidise from the more profit-making parts of the region to the more expensive parts in the far south-west. Exactly how much extra taxpayers’ money is he handing over to Stagecoach as a result of the Government’s botched and ideologically driven reprivatisation of what was a perfectly good and profitable publicly owned company?

Chris Grayling

The answer is that at this stage we have not yet reached final arrangements. My intention is not to hand over money, but to get the railway line in a preparation stage for the establishment of the east coast partnership. With regard to the great western franchise, this is genuinely a consultation. There are two options: we could continue with the great western franchise as it is, or we could create a second franchise that is focused on the south-west. I have heard both arguments. I am committed to having more accountability and better transport in and around the south-west, which is why we are finally dualling the A303, for example. This is a genuinely open consultation and I want to hear views about it.

Commons Interventions November 17

On Brexit Impact Assessments Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)The Minister says that there is nothing of significance in these documents and that they do not measure any impact. One might...

I recently wrote for the Huffington Post on the Mueller investigation. You can read this online here.

Huffington Post Piece

I recently wrote for the Huffington Post on the Mueller investigation. You can read this online here.

On Russia

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Did the EU Council discuss Russia, and in that context have the UK Government or their agencies been asked for help or information by the American congressional team or US special counsel Robert Mueller, who are investigating alleged Russian subversion of the US presidential election?

The Prime Minister

As it happens, on this occasion, Russia was not one of the subjects on the agenda of the European Union council. As I say, we did discuss a number of foreign policy issues—North Korea and Turkey were on the agenda—but Russia was not.

On South West Rail

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on securing this debate on an issue that is hugely important not only to his constituency, but to all our constituencies in the region.

I have some sympathy for the Minister. As a Transport Minister I am sure he would love to have extra money from the Treasury to invest in all our schemes and in the railway network more generally. However, I am afraid that he, like successive Transport Ministers, is a victim of what I call Treasury orthodoxy. I want to encourage a debate, perhaps within the governing party as we move towards the Budget, on the arguments we have made about productivity. We have had an absolutely appalling productivity record in this country in recent years. It is one of the worst in Europe and has got worse since the 2008 global financial crisis and since the European referendum.

I think there is general consensus in this debating Chamber that we should improve productivity in a number of ways, including investing in education and skills and in infrastructure. We have had an incredible opportunity in the past few years since the global financial crash of record low long-term interest rates. There is an absolute opportunity to invest big-time in infrastructure for the future of our economy and our productivity. With the storm clouds of Brexit gathering and with the uncertainty that that is causing in our economy, it is even more critical now, before interest rates go up, that the people having discussions, particularly in the governing party, win that debate with the Treasury, because we are running out of time to secure meaningful investment in our infrastructure.

I completely support what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said about the discrepancy between comparative spends up and down the country. I saw an even more graphic map than the one he referred to in which the south-west was not even featured because the amount of spend per head was so low. The map was produced by an organisation called Statista and was published in the Financial Times earlier this year. It showed us at the bottom of the regional list for infrastructure spend. I do not think there is any debate in this Chamber as to whether we have come off badly in terms of spend in our railway and infrastructure in general.

I must express my concern to the Minister that some of the money that has been allocated has not been spent well by Network Rail. It has a terrible record of cost overruns, and we are all paying the price with the fiasco of the cost overrun to the electrification of the mainline ​from Paddington to south Wales, which is having a knock-on effect on all of our schemes. Network Rail told us in a session earlier today that work on the Cowley Bridge flood defences—let us not forget that Cowley Bridge goes back even longer than Dawlish; we lost the line at Cowley Bridge twice in the three years running up to Dawlish, which cut our region off as well—is going to start, but only on the culverts, which are to protect Cowley Bridge next spring. As the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) said, there is no funding allocated at the moment for the much more important work on the weir or for the upstream work on the Hele and Bradninch section of the lines, which are the important bits of the flood defence. As we enter into our winter of storms and heavy rains, we face another risk that the line will flood there and in other places.

We were also told that Network Rail has increased its assessment of the risk of a failure at the Dawlish line owing to heavy rain and/or storms to one in every three years. This matter is absolutely urgent. Our region cannot afford to suffer the disruptions that we have had in recent years, which have done so much damage to our economy. I hope the Minister will go away and have gentle words with the Treasury and with Network Rail about its performance on cost control so that we get the schemes delivered on budget and on time.

New stations are vital. Exeter is a bit like a mini-Bristol. The urban rail services in my city are incredibly important for moving people around, particularly at commuting times. We need more regular services; we need trains to stop at more stations; and we need new stations. Again, station builds are running behind time.

Rebecca Pow

The right hon. Gentleman is making a passionate case. The Government committed to £4.6 million to transform our railway station in Taunton. We are still waiting for one spade to go into the ground. I understand exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is saying: we need the promised services to be delivered. Will the Minister report on how that is going, because GWR and Network Rail still have not got on with it?

Mr Bradshaw

There is hardly a station that has been built and opened that has not overrun on cost. I was about to refer to the station in Marsh Barton, a very important industrial estate in my constituency. It was supposed to happen this year and we now understand no date at all has been fixed for it, which indicates that no money has been allocated for it, which is really disappointing not only for those who live and work in Exeter, but for those who commute in from outside.

On rolling stock, it was terribly unfortunate to hear about the initial trip of the new high-speed train serving our region. We understand from Great Western that it was unlucky. All the other trains that travelled that day were fine, but will the Minister assure us that when we get these long-awaited trains they will not pour water over people, they will work, will not break down and will be reliable? I also have a concern about the design for our luggage demands. Our trains were built in an age when suitcases were not the size of wheelie bins—people did not used to be able to carry those huge great cases—but I am worried that, having lost the guards ​van, and as a regular cyclist who puts my bike on the train, we will see conflicts between the people who regularly put their bikes on trains and people who need luggage space. If that becomes a problem, that is not only a problem for passengers, but for the staff who have to resolve the disputes.

Let us not neglect the Waterloo line, an important substitute line. It is a replacement line and an additional line for our region. It could be so much better if we had a few more passing places. That would allow swifter journeys and would service more stops, including places such as Pinhoe in my constituency. My basic plea to the Minister and to Opposition Members is to keep fighting the battle against Treasury orthodoxy and keep fighting for a fair deal for our region.

On Syria

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Some Members of this House received and continue to receive considerable abuse for the decision we took back in November 2015 ​to support the extension of the RAF mission to Syria. Does the liberation of Raqqa and this considerable setback to Daesh not show that we were absolutely right?

Alistair Burt

Yes, in a word. We have been learning over time the consequences of not taking action. We have all learned that there are consequences of action and of inaction, and sometimes the choices are impossible. But it is perfectly clear that decisions not to do anything will almost inevitably result in a situation becoming worse and steadily more difficult for those involved. The right decisions have to be taken on intervention or not, but the decision of the House to support David Cameron’s determination to take action in Syria was the right one.

On Fisheries

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

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11. Whether the rules of the common fisheries policy will apply to the UK during any transition period in the event that the UK leaves the EU.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice)

As the Prime Minister made clear to the House on 11 October, when we leave the European Union we will leave the common fisheries policy, and we leave the EU in March 2019. However, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will bring across current ​EU legislation to provide continuity on the day we leave. In the context of fisheries, that will include the body of technical conservation regulations currently set by the EU.

Mr Bradshaw

That is very interesting: we will not have a voice at the table but we will have to abide by all the CFP rules. Can the Minister give an assurance to our industry, which exports more than 80% of what it catches straight to the rest of Europe, that it will not face any tariffs or other barriers during or after that transition period?

George Eustice

We are seeking a comprehensive free trade agreement and trade would continue as usual during the transition period. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that we would not have a seat at the table. He is familiar with fisheries negotiations and knows that they are annual events, whether we are negotiating with EU member states at December Council, with EU-Norway or at coastal states meetings. We will become an independent coastal state on the day we leave the European Union in March 2019.

On Same Sex Marriage

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

8. What recent discussions Church of England bishops have had on allowing parishes to hold ceremonies to celebrate same-sex marriages.

Dame Caroline Spelman

The Church’s doctrine, as set out in canon law and as explicitly recognised by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, is that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. As hon. Members will be aware, a resolution was passed over the weekend by the synod in Hereford. That motion will go to the General Synod and will be considered by its business committee for debate.

Mr Bradshaw

Given that many Anglican churches, including my wonderful cathedral in Exeter, already perform ceremonies to celebrate same-sex marriages, would it not be better for the Church just to get on with it and for bishops to make an announcement, rather than carrying on with what is in effect an institutionalised hypocrisy?

​Dame Caroline Spelman

Obviously it is open to the right hon. Gentleman’s diocese to follow the same process that the Hereford diocese has just undertaken, but the Church is active in this area with two initiatives. A pastoral advisory group has been set up—led by the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman—to work on the development of pastoral practice within the Church’s existing teaching, and a major teaching document is being produced on marriage and sexuality.

On Brexit

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Sorry, but the answer is not good enough. This is a critical question. The Secretary of State says that if the House votes against the deal, which could be a bad one, the Government will move ahead without a deal. Does that mean that the only choice is to crash out on to World Trade Organisation terms, which would be an absolute disaster for our country, or does it leave open the option of the Government continuing to negotiate, seeking more time or even staying in on current terms?

Mr Davis

What I was saying was exactly in answer to the question; it was what was given as an undertaking by the Minister in the article 50 debate.

On Russia and the US election

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House can answer a question the Prime Minister failed to answer when I asked her on Monday, or ensure that I get a written answer: have the Government or their agencies received any requests from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, or the congressional investigators in the United States for help or information in connection with their inquiry into Russian subversion of the American presidential election?

Andrea Leadsom

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to write to me on this, I will see whether I can get him an answer.

On the Mueller investigation

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any indication from the Government on whether they intend coming to this House to make a statement about the British connection in the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian subversion of the American presidential election, and in particular, the apparent role of an academic, a Professor Mifsud, who met in London more than once, we understand, George Papadopolous, who has already pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI in connection with Russian help in the presidential election?

Mr Speaker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his notice a few moments ago of his intention to raise it. The short answer is that I have received no indication from any Government Minister of an intention to come to the House to make a statement on that matter. However, not being unconscious of the indefatigability of the right hon. Gentleman, I am confident that if the matter is not brought to the House, he will try to ensure, by one means or t’other, that it is.

On the Mueller Investigation

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Given today’s news that the Electoral Commission is investigating Arron Banks, the main financial backer of Brexit, and given the significant British connections being uncovered by the American Department of Justice’s special counsel Robert Mueller in investigating Russian interference in the US presidential election, will the Prime Minister assure me that the UK Government and all their agencies are co-operating fully with the Mueller investigation or will do so if asked?

The Prime Minister

We take very seriously issues of Russian intervention, or Russian attempts to intervene in electoral processes or the democratic processes of any country, as we would with any other states involved in trying to intervene in elections. We do, of course, work closely with our United States partners. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as part of that relationship, we co-operate with them when required.

On the NHS and Brexit

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

My right hon. and learned Friend may also be interested to know that when the Health Committee asked the Health Secretary yesterday whether he had read the four reports of great relevance to the NHS and public health, he seemed rather unsure. Given the huge negative impact that Brexit will have, particularly on our NHS workforce, is it not extraordinary that the Health Secretary cannot remember if he has even read the reports?

Keir Starmer

If the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was right in his evidence to the Brexit Select Committee, it appears that the Health Secretary has not read the reports because he has not had them.

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was asked by the Brexit Select Committee whether the reports had been passed to the Scottish Government. In reply to a question from the SNP spokesperson, the Secretary of State said that he did not know whether they had been shared with the Scottish Government. These reports, which are in lockdown and cannot be seen and not a word of which can be disclosed, have not been read by the Cabinet, and nobody knows whether they have been disclosed to the Scottish Government, yet nothing can be made available to this House.

Commons Interventions October and November

On Russia Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab) Did the EU Council discuss Russia, and in that context have the UK Government or their agencies been asked for help or information...

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