First, I join the hon. Lady in congratulating the Scottish Parliament on its first 20 years. It seems like that was only yesterday. It was obviously a while ago, but doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? I wish the Parliament much further success. I also congratulate all the new Members who made their maiden speeches this week. We heard some excellent contributions, and I wish them every success.
The hon. Lady talked about yesterday’s Opposition day debates. Let me say to all Members that we take incredibly seriously the issues underlying tuition fees and pay for public sector workers. As Members will know, there have been many statements, many briefings to the House—both written and oral—and many discussions about those subjects in recent months, during, for instance, urgent debates initiated by the Opposition, and business questions.
Yesterday there was an equal number of speakers on both sides of the House, and some excellent contributions were made. There is no doubt that we have engaged at every level. I should point out, however, that the Opposition’s intention yesterday was purely political. They will be well aware that the vote on their tuition fees proposal has no statutory effect. The regulations concerned are determined under the negative procedure. There is a 40-day period in which such a statutory instrument can be annulled, and that period expired. As the Opposition know, a debate was scheduled for
The hon. Lady asked about Committees. On Tuesday evening, the House voted for Committees to reflect the majority on the Floor of the House. Let me make clear to the hon. Lady, who did not seem to understand this point on Tuesday, that it is proposed that in an even-numbered Committee there will be parity. I think she was asking me to confirm that. That was set out clearly on the Order Paper, but unfortunately she does not seem to have noticed.
The hon. Lady asked how many statutory instruments would arise from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not possible to give a definitive number, because the volume of legislation will depend, for instance, on the outcome of negotiations, on policy decisions still to be made and agreed by the House, and on further work connected with how we introduce secondary legislation. However, as my right hon. Friends have said from the Front Bench, we are listening very carefully. We are hearing submissions from Members in all parts of the House about how we can ensure that secondary legislation is covered in an efficient and effective way. I can assure all Members that the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, which I chair and which looks at all legislation, has been assiduous in ensuring that statutory instruments are properly timetabled, properly ready for introduction, and prioritised. There will be more information about that in due course.
The hon. Lady asked about the United Nations report on disability. She will be aware that this country is spending £214 billion a year on welfare matters, including disability. It is spending more each year than at any time since 2010. We are absolutely committed to improving the situation for people with disabilities: more disabled people are getting into work than ever before, and we are doing all that we can to give them more rewarding opportunities.
The hon. Lady asked about the NHS. The Government, and all parties in the House, are fully committed to an NHS that is free at the point of delivery. No party takes a different approach. The Government are determined to ensure good value for taxpayers’ money, good improvements in NHS productivity, and fair pay and terms for our excellent public sector workers, but at the same time we are committed to an NHS that is free at the point of delivery, supporting all of us when we need it.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of farmers’ access to the single market. She will be aware that there is to be an agriculture Bill. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working very hard in his Department—as I did when I performed the role before him—to bring about positive outcomes for food and farming, a critical sector for which enormous opportunities are arising from Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The hon. Lady asked about the UK’s leaving the EU without a deal. As all Members would expect, the Government are looking at all eventualities. We fully intend to reach a fair, clear, broad-ranging free trade agreement with the EU, with collaboration across a number of areas to ensure that the clear and close special partnership of which the Prime Minister has spoken is our aspiration and, indeed, is achieved at the end of this negotiation.