A week in review (4th June - 7th June)
The parliamentary review of the week
Monday was no slow start for parliament this week. The Home Office, no stranger to controversy recently, faced a tough session of questions from the House. Sajid Javid, whose new role as Home Secretary is supposed to mark a shift away from the oft-alleged “hostile environment”, answered the first question from Jo Stevens: “[Will he] take steps to expand the scope of the refugee family reunion rules?” In response to this, Javid attempted to reassure the House that the government is looking closely at private members’ bills which might offer better solutions to this on-going issue, although he also offered a defence of current policy by saying some 25,000 children and partners have enjoyed a legal route citizenship over the last five years.
Addressing Caroline Nokes (minister for immigration) Kate Green asked for an assessment on the adequacy on the process for non-UK EU citizens to achieved settled status – to which Nokes responded that, in the future, three criteria will have to be met in this regard: proof of identity, proof of residency and proof that they constitute no threat to the UK.
- Trump imposes tariffs on world, prompting talk of potential trade war
- Chris Grayling claims rail sector is failing its passengers and that they must improve.
- Chris Grayling assures stakeholders in Heathrow's expansion that their interests will be protected
- PM faces further attacks over divisions within the Cabinet regarding Brexit negotiations
Javid also had to answer for the recent rise in knife crime. He told the House that, in addition to the serious violence strategy, the government will be: engaging in a national media campaign; providing extra funding; and putting forward an offensive weapons bill.
Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs also required a statement from the government. Speaking on this was the secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox. On behalf of the government and in tandem with European partners, he expressed sorrow over the United States’ decision to impose a tariff of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium. In short, the response to this is to look at: imposing potential tariffs on US goods; safeguarding measures for EU steel/aluminium industries; and submitting an appeal to WTO on the legitimacy of the US tariffs. The fear here is that this could degenerate into a trade war – something that Liam Fox says the government is hoping to avoid.
Chris Grayling also made a ministerial statement on the status of GTR and Northern rail services. He declared that: “[These timetable changes have] resulted instead in unacceptable disruption for the passengers who rely on these services”; and that, “the rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves”. The solution, Grayling says, is not governmental; responsibility instead resides with the industry. The government has nudged and implored the rail industry to fix this, and – to this end – comapnies have pledged to commit extra staffing and trains to the affected lines. With that said, there will also be investment to the tune of hundreds of millions in northern rail infrastructure more generally.
The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves". - Chris Grayling
Tuesday was initiated with a session of oral questions put to the justice minister, David Gauke. Two questions invited most discussion in this session. Firstly, Grahame Morris asked what steps the government is taking to help offenders find housing and get on benefits. David Gauke reassured the House that inter-departmental efforts were being made to help offenders turn the lives around, including in terms of housing and benefits.
Eddie Hughes then asked what the government is doing to reform the youth justice system. Answering in this regard was Phillip Lee, a justice under-secretary, saying that his department is: increasing the number of frontline staff at youth offending institutions; introducing enhanced support units; and procuring ‘secure schools’ within which offending youths and especially difficult children will be given extra attention.
For the second consecutive day, Chris Grayling made yet another ministerial statement – this time on the Airports National Policy Statement; more specifically, Heathrow’s proposed new runway. In this, he addressed major concerns raised by local stakeholders, principally that of noise pollution. In light of this, Grayling said that his department intended to deliver – for the first time ever – a six-and-a-half-hour ban on night flights. On a national level, concerns have also been raised about the extent to which the public will finance Heathrow’s new runway. Grayling claimed that, in this respect, the public will pay nothing; this new project will be an entirely private initiative in terms of funding.
A later ministerial statement then came from Matthew Hancock discussing two major media mergers. Regarding the merger between Comcast and Sky, Hancock echoed his previous statement that this case did not sufficiently meet the threshold for a matter of public interest, and that therefore the government will not intervene. In the case of Fox’s proposed acquisition of Sky, however, this did meet the threshold (on account of media plurality), meaning that the government is laying out criteria to which the two companies must conform. Presumably, this will take the form of having the Murdoch family trust agreeing to Ofcom’s standards of neutrality and viewpoint diversity. The precise form it will take is, as of yet, still a matter under consultation.
As one is accustomed to expect, Wednesday’s most important session was PMQs, whose subject matter can be followed at length via our live coverage Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/theparlreview/status/1004319159625371648
Prior to this, though, were questions relating to Scotland. The most discussed subject in this session was the likely effect of Brexit on Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, responded to an assessment request by saying, “The Government are undertaking a wide range of ongoing analyses in support of our EU negotiations and preparations”. One might take this as a sign that there is not yet in existence an exhaustive assessment to this effect. However, Mundell did say that Scotland is likely to see an increase in the number of jobs in the fishing sector after leaving the European Union.
Opposition Day debates covered two topics: the retail sector and rural crime. On the former, members of the opposition claimed that the retail sector was facing a squeeze in terms of wages and in terms of employment figures. Rebecca Long-Bailey told the House that, in the first three months of 2018, 21,000 jobs had been lost in the retail sector. As a consequence of this, she asked the government to set out a strategy for this hugely important sector of the UK economy.
The Government are undertaking a wide range of ongoing analyses in support of our EU negotiations and preparations". - David Mundell
Louise Haigh then commented on the problem of public services relating to crime in rural areas. The problem, it is alleged, is that services in rural areas are not at parity with those in more urban areas. She further noted that, in 2015, £42.5 million of damages were caused as a result of crime in rural areas. The call: government should look into this area to determine causes and possible solutions.
Three sessions of note occurred in parliament on Thursday. The first was a session of oral questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Alistair Carmichael accused the government of having no concrete strategy for the agricultural sector post-Brexit. Minister of state, George Eustice, fought back by claiming a proactive effort has already been made in the form of a now-published 44,000-response consultation – with a view to improving the sector in terms of profitability and product quality.
The department was also questioned on the provisions in place for protecting against floods. David Rutley, under-secretary, responded: “The Government are investing £2.6 billion to better protect the country from flooding. This includes a programme of more than 1,500 flood defence schemes, which will better protect 300,000 homes by 2021. The programme will deliver £30 billion of economic benefit for the next 50 years and is projected to reduce overall flood risk to the economy by 5% by 2021”.
Deidre Brock asked what the government will do, after Brexit, to maintain high environmental standards. Michael Gove seemed to hint that the EU already had in place excellent standards that the UK will emulate, but that further consultations will also take place to augment and alter existing regulations.
Later came an Urgent Question from Justine Greening on the topic of Heathrow’s new runway, asking what tax payer liabilities will exist as a result. Jesse Norman, after commending Greening’s fierce advocacy on the topic, assured her emphatically that no tax payer liability results from the government’s agreement with Heathrow.
Finally, an Urgent question by Stella Creasy asked the Northern Ireland secretary whether, following the Supreme Court’s decision, “sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 are incompatible with articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European convention on human rights”. These relate to a Victorian-era abortion law that makes a felony of a woman trying to procure her own abortion. Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that this was a complex and deeply senstive issue and that the Supreme Court had not yet made a formal declaration. Further consultations were required before concrete action took place, said Karen.