The Secretary of State was asked—
North-south Electricity Interconnector
Let me say at the outset what a privilege it is to have been appointed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers). She played a very important role and made a significant contribution, and I, for one, fully recognise that. I look forward to working with right hon. and hon. Members across the House to maintain that approach of continued political stability, greater economic prosperity, and safety and security, as part of a bright positive future for Northern Ireland.
I understand that the previous Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), met EirGrid, the electricity system operator across the island of Ireland, to discuss the proposals for a new interconnector. I hope that proposals to deliver a stronger, more secure and more competitive network in Northern Ireland can be progressed quickly.
May I start by welcoming the Secretary of State to his new position and welcoming all his colleagues? I look forward to working with them over the coming months. He will know the benefits that the interconnector would bring, not only to Northern Ireland, but to the Republic of Ireland. Our understanding is that Sinn Féin is one of the biggest objectors to this. Does he agree that that shows its lack of understanding of simple economics?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for warmly welcoming me to my post, and I felt this in a positive way when I was in Belfast on Monday. He raises the issue of the interconnector, as he has done on a number of occasions. This is being considered by the Northern Ireland Planning Appeals Commission—it is a decision for the Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive—but I reiterate that given the significant potential to help to reduce energy costs for Northern Ireland businesses, I would hope to see the project move forward as quickly as possible.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position and his very able partner, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who has been an outstanding Member of this House. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity, at this early stage, to make an assessment of the long-term future of the all-Ireland energy market in the light of the referendum result? Will the result alter that market in any way?
Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I certainly recognise the importance of the all-Ireland arrangements for electricity and for gas. In the continued negotiations and discussions on Northern Ireland and the UK being outside the European Union, that will be a core part of the issues we will be taking forward.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on their appointments, and thank the previous team for all the work they did for Northern Ireland. On an alternative electricity supply and the renewable heat initiative, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has told us that it may cost our block grant £140 million. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is an investigation as to what has happened?
Coming into this role, I recognise the issue of costs for electricity and power more generally, and its importance in the context of the Northern Ireland economy. Indeed, this is why I made the points I did about the electricity interconnector. I will look closely at the points the hon. Gentleman makes, and I look forward to discussing this and other issues with him and other colleagues in the months ahead.
I am determined to build on the progress this Government have made in delivering peace and prosperity to Northern Ireland. We have already taken significant steps to back businesses across the UK, including reducing corporation tax and bringing the Exporting is GREAT campaign to Northern Ireland in May.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and I join in the remarks made about his predecessor. Will he continue the Government’s work to ensure that the private sector continues to grow? In his discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive, will he emphasise the need to improve private sector investment, so that more jobs are created in Northern Ireland and more people can gain from prosperity?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the creation of jobs and prosperity. I am sure that he welcomes today’s figures, which show further falls in unemployment and the claimant count in Northern Ireland, and increased employment, underlining the important aspects that he highlights. Yes, I will certainly be discussing with the Executive the role that I have to play with regard to investment and how we promote further jobs, growth and opportunity.
Will the Secretary of State reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the devolution of corporation tax powers as set out in the Stormont House agreement? Does he agree that a vital part of that is that the Executive demonstrate that their finances are on a stable and long-term footing?
We do want the UK to stand out as a low-tax destination for business. We have already cut the rate of corporation tax from 28% to 20%, and we will cut it further. My hon. Friend makes the point about the devolution of corporation tax powers. They are subject to conditions around fiscal discipline and financial stability. We look forward to working with the Executive to achieve that and to see that that further devolution takes place.
May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State and to his ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), on their new positions? I look forward to working constructively with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office in the coming days. May I also pay tribute to the outgoing Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), who played an enormously positive and constructive role in Northern Ireland, and was instrumental in bringing about the “Fresh Start” and Stormont House agreements? We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to her.
I thank the Secretary of State for the discussions that he has already had with some of us and with the First Minister and the Executive Office. Can he spell out for the benefit of the House once again what he has already said publicly in Northern Ireland, which is why there is no question of a border poll in Northern Ireland?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome and indeed for the very warm comments that he made about my predecessor, which I wholly endorse. I have been quite straightforward about this issue of the border poll. The conditions are set out very clearly in relation to the Belfast agreement, and I have been very clear that those conditions have not been met.
The reason why they have not been met is that the overwhelming majority of people in both communities in Northern Ireland want to remain part of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State recognise the irony and the illogicality of those who are talking so much doom and gloom about Northern Ireland and the UK post the Brexit referendum, when their main policy—their main raison d’être—is to drag us out of the United Kingdom, which would be the most financially catastrophic and politically demoralising thing that is possible to imagine?
Let me underline the comments made by the Prime Minister about the very special bond that binds the peoples and nations of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a very simple message. Now is the time to come together and to work together to secure that bright positive future for Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom outside the European Union.
On behalf of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, may I welcome the new ministerial team and indeed the shadow Secretary of State to their positions? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who was the former Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), who really has carried out an enormous amount of work in Northern Ireland.
May I ask the Secretary of State about south-east England airport connectivity, which is very important to the economy of Northern Ireland? Could he have a word with his Cabinet colleagues and speed up the decision on airport capacity in the south-east of England?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. Indeed, I very much look forward to working with the Select Committee. I note that he is tempting me into a broader area of policy in relation to airport capacity. He will know that the previous Transport Secretary made a clear statement on the timing of that, and, obviously, the matter requires further consideration.
May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary of State on their appointments? Has the Secretary of State and his officials, working with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, made any calculation of the economic damage to Northern Ireland as a result of the vote to leave the European Union when the people voted to remain?
I certainly recognise that there were differences of view on the EU referendum, as there were across the rest of the United Kingdom. Our focus now needs to be on what Northern Ireland can be, and on what we can achieve in terms of trade, jobs and new opportunities. It is precisely that positive agenda that I intend to take forward.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to his position, and also commend the former Secretary of State for her hard work on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. Austerity has hit all of us hard, but Northern Ireland has special circumstances which make the impact even harder. Will the Government now consider reversing the austerity measures so that Northern Ireland’s economy can recover from the damage done?
I thank the hon. Lady for her warm words of welcome. Again, I underline the figures that we have seen today, showing further falls in unemployment. It is right that we have a strong, stable economy, and that we continue to look outwards. I point the hon. Lady to the fact that the total value of goods exported from Northern Ireland over the past year has increased by 9%—a figure which outperforms the rest of the UK.
I, too, welcome the new Secretary of State and his Minister to their posts, and assure him that we on the Labour Benches will do everything we can to carry on the bipartisan approach, doing the best we can for the people of Northern Ireland. I also thank my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). Everyone I have met in Northern Ireland asked me to thank him for his work.
For years the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy has been promoted by the Government, and intrinsic to this has been a push to reduce corporation tax, but in recent discussions that I have had with businesses in Northern Ireland, they have told me that it is much more important to address the huge skills gap in Northern Ireland, where far too many young people are leaving school unable to read and write properly. What will the Secretary of State do to help the people of Northern Ireland to bridge that gap?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. I certainly want to continue the bipartisan relationship. He highlights the issue of skills. I absolutely recognise that and will work with the Northern Ireland Executive on apprenticeships and on creating jobs and opportunities for young people, to give them the best possible advantages.
May I suggest to the Secretary of State that for his summer reading this month, he looks into a number of reports—the report recently produced by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the referendum, the report from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association on its economic plan, and crucially the report from the Economic and Social Research Institute that was produced for the Irish Government in November last year to show that the trade deficit between the north and the south following Brexit could fall by at least 20%? Will he come back to the House in the autumn and tell us why his predecessor and the Northern Ireland Office were so badly prepared for Brexit?
I am always grateful for recommendations for summer reading and I will add the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions to my list. It is important to recognise that exports from Northern Ireland to the United States increased by more than 80%, and also increased to Canada and Germany. We will certainly promote that positive outlook for Northern Ireland.
The joint agency task force, created under the “Fresh Start” agreement, is tackling cross-border crime in Northern Ireland. The task force has completed a strategic assessment to identify priorities and is co-ordinating joint law enforcement operations against the criminals involved.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. I am sure his previous experience as Security Minister will stand him in good stead. Does he agree that in this pending Brexit world, closer co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana is more important than ever? What plans does he have to make that happen?
I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments on the need for good cross-border working relationships between the PSNI and Garda Siochana. I have already had a conversation with Frances Fitzgerald, the Irish Justice Minister, to underline that. We have very good relationships and I want to see them continue.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. Does he agree that tackling cross-border crime involves tackling paramilitarism? Has he had a chance to look at the report published by Stormont yesterday with respect to action, in particular, to consider what may be done about decommissioning residual paramilitary weapons? How is that going to happen?
At the outset, may I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work? He and I have obviously had a number of discussions on issues of crime and security over many, many years. I welcome the publication of the Northern Ireland Executive’s action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime. This represents another significant milestone in terms of the commitment set out in the “Fresh Start” agreement. It provides a positive basis on which we can now move forward, and I look forward to the more detailed action plan, which will be published shortly.
May I warmly associate myself with the comments made by so many other people? I note that this is now my sixth opposite number facing me—it is almost as if I am being used as a training aid for young, thrusting Tories.
Last week, when my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and I met Chief Constable George Hamilton, he expressed his grave concern about the implications for the European arrest warrant post-Brexit and the desire not to go back to the old extradition methods. What assurance can the Secretary of State give us that the European arrest warrant can survive post-Brexit?
I am always grateful to continue the interplay between myself and the hon. Gentleman in so many different ways. He makes a serious and important point about the European arrest warrant—something I was very conscious of in my previous role at the Home Office. I see this as a core part of the negotiations that the Home Secretary and others will be taking forward, recognising the huge benefit to the UK—and to Northern Ireland—of having those extradition arrangements under the European arrest warrant.
I have already highlighted the work of the joint agency taskforce. It is a question of all the law enforcement agencies working together to identify the organised criminal groups. That is precisely the activity that is intended. Equally, I recognise the work that the National Crime Agency does more broadly, which absolutely helps to support this.
In Northern Ireland recently, incidents have increased and severe violence has been used at cross-border posts. Organised crime gangs and criminal networks outside of the islands are involved. Does the Minister recognise that the increase in crime needs to be top of the agenda in any forthcoming Brexit talks?
As I have already indicated, I do see the whole issue of safety and security as a priority. That requires good working relationships between the PSNI and the Garda Siochana. I had a meeting with Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris in Belfast earlier this week to discuss those very issues, and this certainly is a matter that I regard as a priority in moving forward with my role.
Security Situation: Trade
May I begin by recognising the enormous contribution of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace)? I wish him well in his new role. I am determined to build on the progress this Government have made in delivering peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. This Government have already taken bold steps to back businesses across the UK, including reducing corporation tax and bringing the Exporting is GREAT campaign to Northern Ireland.
I, too, welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box—he was an excellent member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. On trade and crime, he will know that there has been a hangover of paramilitary crime affecting trade along the border. There has been a complete delay in dealing with fuel fraud. Will he agree to meet me and the hon. Members for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), and to bring along Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs officials to boot, to allow us to discuss this issue and resolve it once and for all?
10. Following the recent threat increase, will my hon. Friend assure the House that he remains absolutely committed to ensuring that our security agencies, police and others have the equipment to deal with any threats they might face? (905918)
The Government want to make sure that Northern Ireland voters can benefit from the introduction of digital registration. This new technology also provides an opportunity for the chief electoral officer to examine how electoral services can be delivered more effectively.
I, too, welcome the Minister and the Secretary of State to their place and thank the former team. Does the Minister accept that there may be some difficulties with online registration that are particular to Northern Ireland and not to other parts of the United Kingdom?
The issue of flags in Northern Ireland is sensitive and complex. Any change in existing arrangements would require cross-community support. The Stormont House agreement included a commitment to a commission on flags, identity, culture and tradition, and that was established in June.
During the consultation process on electoral services, will both the Minister and the Electoral Office ensure that accessibility is a top priority, so that local people outside Belfast can have access through their local electoral offices for registration and photographic ID purposes?
The key thing to say about the issue of digital registration is that it is not replacing the old system. The existing system will stay in place and there is an opportunity to contribute on the issues relating to rural communities in particular, which I know many Members from Northern Ireland are concerned about.
Republic of Ireland: Discussions post-EU Referendum
I congratulate the Secretary of State and his team. There is not one politician with an ounce of sense who suggests that a hard border would be of benefit to either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, but some are suggesting a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State take this early opportunity to rule out such a nonsensical and dangerous proposal?
The issue of the common travel area and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is absolutely at the forefront of my agenda. I recognise, as do the Irish Government, the real benefits of the common travel area. It is about not just the movement of people, but goods and services. I certainly do not want to see a return to the borders of the past, which is why I will engage with colleagues across Government, as well as the Irish Government, to get the best possible outcome for Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I extend my courtesies to the new ministerial team.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the concern is to avoid not just the creation of new border posts, but the unnecessary and unhelpful borderism that the separation of north and south—of non-EU and EU—would entail? The new Immigration Minister gave an example of borderism yesterday when he boasted of his pre-Brexit bout of borderism with the HGV levy on cross-border trucks.
I certainly recognise the various points the hon. Gentleman has made. Border issues are significant both for the movement of people and for goods and services, and that is intrinsic to the overall arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is why I have made a very clear commitment in all my statements to ensuring that we do not return to the arrangements of the past, and that is precisely what will remain a priority for me in my role.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in welcoming today’s employment figures, which show employment at another record high, the lowest unemployment rate in over a decade and wages rising.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today. This afternoon, I will travel to Berlin to meet Chancellor Merkel to discuss how we implement the decision that the British people took in the referendum, and I expect we will also cover a number of other pressing international issues. Tomorrow, I will visit Paris for similar discussions with President Hollande.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister to her place. Given her unwavering commitment to delivering economic stability and national security in our United Kingdom’s interest, does she welcome Monday’s emphatic vote in this House for the Trident successor programme, and will she ensure that economic stability and national security remain the guiding principles of her premiership?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I join him in enthusiastically welcoming the vote taken in this House on Monday evening to renew our nuclear deterrent. I think that vote showed the commitment of this House: it showed that we have not only committed to our own national security, but considered the security of European and NATO allies. We can now get on with the essential job of renewing our nuclear deterrent. May I thank the 140 Labour Members of Parliament who put the national interest first and voted to renew the nuclear deterrent?
May I welcome the right hon. Lady to her first Prime Minister’s Question Time, and congratulate her on her appointment and on becoming the country’s second woman Prime Minister? I hope that she will agree with me that Prime Minister’s Question Time in this House should be an opportunity to debate seriously the issues that face our country and our place in the world.
On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister talked very eloquently about “fighting…burning injustice”, yet her last act as Home Secretary was to shunt the Orgreave inquiry into the long grass. The Advocate General told the House of Lords:
“The IPCC told Home Office officials that if it announced any action to set up an inquiry or other investigation relating to Orgreave, it would have an impact on the Hillsborough investigation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 2016; Vol. 774, c. 216.]
The Independent Police Complaints Commission disputes that account. I hope Parliament was not misled. Will the Prime Minister now proceed with a full public inquiry into the terrible events at Orgreave?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the welcome he has given me. He referred to me as the second woman Prime Minister. In my years in the House, I have long heard the Labour party asking what the Conservative party does for women. Well—it just keeps making us Prime Minister.
I welcome the comments the right hon. Gentleman made about Prime Minister’s questions. We do debate serious issues at Prime Minister’s questions. I look forward to the exchanges he and I will have, and I hope that we will be having those exchanges over the Dispatch Box for many years to come.
As regards the Orgreave inquiry, I think the shadow Home Secretary has an urgent question on that this afternoon, to which the Home Secretary will be responding.
The new Prime Minister also said on the steps of Downing Street:
“If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”
In 1998, more than half of working households of people aged 16 to 34 were buying their own homes. Today, the figure is 25% and the Resolution Foundation suggests it will fall to 10% in the next nine years. What figure has the Prime Minister set herself for home ownership among young people?
I notice the timeline that the right hon. Gentleman referred to. He might have forgotten that during that period we had 13 years of a Labour Government—a Labour Government who had a very bad record on house building. It is this Government who will change that and this Government who are putting more into building more homes to ensure that young people have a better opportunity to get on the housing ladder. That is why we are a Government who will govern for everyone in this country.
That Labour Government put a decent homes standard in place in every part of this country. I am not sure that—[Interruption.] I am not sure that starter homes at £450,000 for young people earning 7% less than their parents’ generation represent a good prospect for people owning their own homes.
The Prime Minister is rightly concerned that:
“If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly…than if you’re white.”
Before appointing her new Foreign Secretary, did she discuss with him his description of black people as “piccaninnies” and ask why he had questioned the motives of US President Obama on the basis of his “part-Kenyan” heritage?
The right hon. Gentleman started his question by making reference to the issue of starter homes and the upper limit in London of £450,000. I have sat on these Benches and heard him raise that with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) on a number of occasions when he was Prime Minister. Can I just explain this to the Leader of the Opposition? If he looks at house prices across the country, he will see that they vary. In Liverpool, the average house price is just over £116,000. In London, the average house price is just over £676,000. That is why we have a higher limit for starter homes in London. If he objects to that, he needs to tell his constituents why he is against their having opportunities to get on the housing ladder.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the remarks I made. It is correct that if you are black, you will be treated more harshly in the criminal justice system. That is exactly why, as Home Secretary, I dealt with the issue of stop and search. I was concerned to make sure that nobody should be stopped and searched on the streets of this country because of the colour of their skin. I did that as a Conservative; in 13 years, Labour did nothing on it.
My question was actually about the language used by the Foreign Secretary.
Earlier this week, the new Chancellor abandoned the Government’s budget surplus target, which Labour has long called for. The Prime Minister’s Government are already missing their targets on debt, the deficit, the welfare cap and productivity. Six years of Government austerity have failed. The long-term economic plan is clearly dead. Is there a new one?
It is the long-term economic plan that has delivered the record level of employment that we see today. Perhaps I could put the right hon. Gentleman straight. We have not abandoned the intention to move to a surplus. What I have said is that we will not target that at the end of this Parliament. He uses the language of austerity; I call it living within our means. He talks about austerity, but actually it is about not saddling our children and grandchildren with significant debts in the years to come. It is not about austerity; it is about ensuring that we have an economy that works for everyone.
Jobless claims have risen for the fourth month in a row and welfare claims have risen as well. Austerity actually means people being poorer, services being cut and local facilities being closed. In her speech on the steps of Downing Street the Prime Minister also addressed insecure workers, saying:
“You have a job but you don’t always have job security.”
Does that mean that those people who are worried about their future in work—[Interruption.] I am talking of the people who sent us here to serve them. Does that mean that she is proposing to scrap employment tribunal fees, repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and ban zero-hours contracts, as more than a dozen European nations have done already? That would help to give greater job security to many very worried people in this country.
Again, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that yes, I said that on the steps of Downing Street, because it is very important that here in this House we consider not only what might be called the more obvious injustices, but life for those people who are in work and struggling to make ends meet. That is essential, and the Government have raised the threshold at which people start to pay income tax, for example. It is also about making sure that we have more well-paid jobs in this country, which the Government are also doing.
I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the situation of some workers who might have job insecurity and potentially unscrupulous bosses. I suspect that many Members on the Opposition Benches might be familiar with an unscrupulous boss—a boss who does not listen to his workers, a boss who requires some of his workers to double their workload and maybe even a boss who exploits the rules to further his own career. Remind him of anybody?
We are sent here to represent people. Many people in this country are struggling with low wages and insecure jobs—[Hon. Members: “You!”] I know this is very funny for all the Conservative Members, but I do not suppose there are too many Conservative MPs who have to go to a food bank to supplement the food on their family’s table every week. We should reflect on that.
The Prime Minister highlighted the failures of her predecessor on social justice, home ownership, education and the cost of living. Some might say that, as a Cabinet Minister, she too was responsible for those. She empathised with working people, saying:
“I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle.”
Yesterday a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that two thirds of children living in poverty in Britain have at least one parent in work. What, other than warm words, is she going to offer those families and those children, who are often hungry and very insecure in their way of living? Is it not our duty to offer some hope and security to them?
Yes it is, and we are concerned about those people, but the answer is not the Labour party’s unlimited, uncapped welfare for people. The answer for people who are in work and struggling and for those who want to get into work is to have a strong economy that delivers jobs, and well-paid jobs in particular. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that on the Government Benches we are focused on building a country that works for everyone. That means an economy that ensures that everyone can benefit from the nation’s wealth, a society where everyone gets the opportunities they deserve and a democracy that everyone can have faith in.
Finally, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Labour party may be about to spend several months fighting and tearing itself apart; the Conservative party will be spending those months bringing this country back together.
Q4. I agree with the Prime Minister. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] We are leaving the EU and we are going to make a success of it, so will she make my day special by saying that she is prepared to reject staying in the single regulated market and to offer instead to our friends in Europe a free trade deal that is very much in their interests? Let us take back control. (905972)
I am tempted to say that I probably ought to sit down and enjoy that for the rest of the day. My hon. Friend has made my day, and I hope that I can make his day by wishing him a very happy birthday. I assure him that as we look at the result of the referendum, I am very clear that Brexit does mean Brexit, and as he says, we will make a success of it. In negotiating the deal, we need to ensure that we listen to what people have said about the need for controls on free movement, and that we also negotiate the right and best deal for trade in goods and services for the British people.
May I extend my congratulations to the Prime Minister on her first outing at Prime Minister’s questions, ahead of her travels to Berlin? The German Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has already confirmed how Scotland is able to remain in the European Union. Did the Prime Minister discuss that when she met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh, and will she do everything to ensure that remain means remain for Scotland?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, for his comments in Monday’s debate, and for his recognition of support for my husband Philip. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we all rely on support from those around us to do our jobs, and we should never forget that. I did discuss arrangements in relation to the negotiations for the United Kingdom leaving the EU with the First Minister, and I was very pleased that my first trip was a trip to Scotland and that I was able to do that so early in my premiership. As I have been clear, the Union is very important to me. I was also clear with the First Minister that I think that some of the ideas being put forward are impracticable, but I am willing to listen to options that are brought forward, and we will be engaging fully with all the devolved Administrations.
Germany has the highest level of support of any continental European country for Scotland remaining in the European Union. Will the Prime Minister thank Chancellor Merkel for the interest of the members of her Government and of the Bundestag in having Scotland remain within the EU? Will she assure the Chancellor and other Heads of State and Government that we in Scotland will do everything—everything—that is necessary for us to remain in the EU?
The right hon. Gentleman has taken that line for some time—he took it with my predecessor—but I find it a little confusing, given that only two years ago in the Scottish referendum, the Scottish National party was campaigning for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, which would have meant leaving the European Union.
Q6. We all stand with the people of France, and particularly Nice, following the appalling terrorist act there last week. Will the Prime Minister update the House on how the security collaboration between our two countries can help to prevent such attacks in future, and will she reassure the French people that although we are leaving the European Union, the close links between our two countries will remain steadfast? (905975)
My hon. Friend raises an important topic, and as has been said in this House before, our thoughts are with all the people of France after the appalling attack that took place in Nice last week. We continue to work with the French authorities in the aftermath of that attack, and my hon. Friend is right to say that we must continue our security co-operation with France and other European countries. We will not be cowed by terrorists; we both face the same threats, and we need to work together to defeat those threats. I absolutely confirm that, yes, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but the United Kingdom is not leaving Europe and our co-operation will continue.
Q2. I welcome the Prime Minister to her place and I wish her well in healing the country in the months and years to come—after all, it is she and her colleagues who so bitterly divided it. I also thank her for her wholehearted support for and endorsement of official Labour party policy on Trident. It is such a refreshing change to hear that from the Dispatch Box. As a type 1 diabetic and a father and uncle to children with type 1 diabetes, and on behalf of 500,000 people in this country, 30,000 of them children, may I thank the Prime Minister for the example she has shown in demonstrating without doubt that diabetes does not hold us back in any way whatsoever? There is no doubt that the Prime Minister’s predecessor left the NHS in a much worse condition than he found it. Will the Prime Minister visit West Cumberland hospital in my constituency, honour the promises made by the previous Prime Minister, and stop her Government cutting services there further? (905970)
The hon. Gentleman refers to divisions on the Conservative Benches. I have to say: which party was it that took three weeks to decide who its unity candidate should be? It is the Labour party that is divided.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks on type 1 diabetes. There are many youngsters out there, from tiny tots to teenagers, living with type 1 diabetes. It is important that we send a message to them that their future is not limited: they can do whatever they want.
The hon. Gentleman is the first hon. Member at Prime Minister’s questions to invite me to his constituency. I will, of course, look very closely at all invitations I receive. It is important that decisions about the construct of local NHS services are taken at a local level by the NHS. He made a point about the agreement in the official policy of the Conservative party and the Labour party on Trident. I simply remind him that where we did disagree at the election was that the Conservative party agreed to put in the money that was necessary for the NHS. The Labour party refused to commit to that.
Q7. Extremism takes many forms, from the atrocity in Nice to the violent murder of Qandeel Baloch by her own brother in Pakistan. That murder was justified as an “honour killing”. There have been 11,000 incidents of self-styled honour crimes in the UK in the past five years. Does the Prime Minister agree that such crimes are in fact acts of terror, not honour? Will she therefore direct her new Government to choose to lead and end the use of the word “honour” to describe these vile acts in order to stop giving any legitimacy to the idea that women are the property of men? (905976)
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue, one that I think resonates across the whole House. She is absolutely right: extremism does take many forms. That is why, in the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, we are looking very widely across the breadth of issues of extremism, including tackling the root causes of some practices within communities, such as so-called honour-based violence. I absolutely agree with her that there is absolutely no honour in so-called honour-based violence. It is violence and a criminal act, pure and simple.
Q3. I, too, welcome the Prime Minister to her first Prime Minister’s Question Time. Will she listen to the headteachers of the excellent primary schools in my constituency? They tell me that the recent unprecedented changes to primary education, including the new SATs, have led to negative impacts on children’s learning outcomes. Will she urge the new Secretary of State to take those concerns forward, listen and make useful changes? (905971)
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. Getting education right is absolutely crucial if we are to ensure that people can take up the opportunities they deserve and have the aspiration to take up those opportunities. Obviously, my right hon. Friend the new Education Secretary will be looking across the board at the education provision that is in place. We have made some important changes already over the past six years that are improving the quality of education and mean that more children are receiving the quality of education they need. There is, of course, more for us to do and we will be looking to do that.
Q8. In my constituency, aerospace is of vital importance, with Rolls-Royce employing more than 1,000 people at sites in Barnoldswick. Aerospace is important not just to Pendle, however, but to the whole UK economy, so will the Prime Minister congratulate all the companies that attended the Farnborough airshow last week on the deals they signed, and does she agree that the nearly £100 billion of trade deals already done this year demonstrates that Britain is very much still open for business? (905977)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Britain is open for business, and I know what an important role the aerospace industry plays in his constituency, as he pointed out with his reference to Rolls-Royce, and in constituencies across the country. I also know of the importance of the Farnborough airshow. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) was telling me last night what a great airshow it was. The Government committed at Farnborough to providing a new £365 million fund for research and development to ensure we retain our leading position in the sector. As my hon. Friend also said, a significant number of trade deals have already been signed, which shows that Britain is open for business. I would encourage other companies to go out there and get that business.
Q5. I, too, welcome the right hon. Lady to her place. Newcastle airport was voted “best in Britain” this week, but the good news that it is really waiting for is a decision on Heathrow expansion. The Prime Minister knows that Britain needs to be open for business, so will she do better than dithering Dave and give us a decision without delay? (905973)
I have fond memories of Newcastle airport, from the time when I stood in the North West Durham constituency some years ago and made quite good use of the airport. It has changed and expanded rather since then. Our position on Heathrow has not changed. Obviously, there was the Howard Davies review, and further work has been done on the question of air quality around the proposals put forward. The Cabinet and the Government will take a decision, in the proper way, in due course.
Q12. Based on an analysis of the crime survey for England and Wales by the Children’s Society, it is estimated that 113 16 and 17-year-old girls in my constituency experienced a sexual offence in the past year. Given the progress made in tackling child sexual exploitation in the last few years, will my right hon. Friend outline whether the Government have plans to strengthen the protection for this particular vulnerable age group? (905981)
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We have seen recently the appalling circumstances in Rotherham in relation to child sexual exploitation, but as she has shown, in every constituency in the country, young people are being subjected to sexual offences of various sorts. That is why, since Rotherham, the Government have been working with all the appropriate agencies to ensure we put greater support in place. We have provided an extra £7 million of funding to ensure that victims of sexual abuse receive the right support, launched the whistleblowing helpline to help authorities to spot patterns of failure, and made child sexual abuse and exploitation a national threat, meaning that police authorities have a duty to collaborate on this terrible crime. In the coming months, we will also be strengthening our arrangements. We are all appalled by child sexual abuse, and we need to carry on making sure that we eradicate it.
Q9. In her first statement from the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister stated that she would lead a Government who would work for everyone. Since she became Prime Minister, I have tried unsuccessfully to get assurances on the continuation of the northern schools strategy and the £80 million set aside for it. Will she give me that commitment today so that children in Bradford and the north can have the same chances as those in London and the south? (905978)
It is important that we ensure that children across the country get the opportunities they deserve, and the quality of education they receive is an important part of that. The review launched in March by Sir Nick Weller will make recommendations to address this particular issue. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will look carefully at the result of that review and, in due course, make clear the Government’s response to its recommendations.
Q13. Growing up on a council estate, I found it tough coming out—as a Conservative. Difficult as it was, I understood then, as I do now, that it is only Conservative Governments that deliver real social mobility. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the Government’s job to fight for such opportunities for the people of Britain, because the Labour party are too busy fighting each other? (905982)
My hon. Friend puts it very well. If we look at the Conservative Benches, we see, as he said, Conservative Members of Parliament who were brought up in council houses and Conservative MPs brought up by single parent families, while the chairman of the Conservative party is a former miner. It is this party that is looking at opportunity for all. I am certainly very clear that the Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by the interests of everyone in this country. We are not entrenching the advantages of the privileged few in terms of opportunity, but extending opportunity to all.
Q10. Whatever one’s politics, one cannot help but be inspired by last week’s image of the female Prime Minister of the UK meeting the female First Minister of Scotland. It sends a message to girls everywhere that they can achieve anything they want and nothing should be off limits to them. Does the Prime Minister agree that to do this, girls and women should be able to live free from gender-based violence and domestic abuse, and will she commit to supporting the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) and ratify the Istanbul convention? (905979)
It is an important symbol for girls and young women when they can see women in positions such as Prime Minister and First Minister of Scotland. I respect the First Minister; we had a very constructive first meeting. There were certain issues on which we disagree and will continue to disagree, but we will work practically and pragmatically together.
It is important to deal with the issues of gender violence and domestic violence against women and girls. That is why the Government have—I led this as Home Secretary—a strategy to deal with violence against women and girls, which is now being taken on by my right hon. Friend the new Home Secretary. We have a good record on what we have done, for example, putting into operation domestic violence protection orders and the new coercive control offence, but there is always more to do and we will be doing that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place, and if it is not too untoward to say, I declare it as game, set and match to her this afternoon. Last week, when I met local National Farmers Union representatives in North Dorset, they understood precisely what we were doing in delivering on Brexit, but were keen to ensure that the needs of agriculture and British farmers are front and centre in those discussions and that their interests are not neglected. May I invite my right hon. Friend to make that commitment today?
I am very happy to make the commitment that, as we look at the position we will take in the negotiations for the UK to leave the European Union, we will consult widely. I recognise that agriculture is a sector that is particularly affected by Brexit, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we will consult and listen to the views of farmers and others involved in the food industry and agricultural sector.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on becoming Prime Minister, and gently remind her of the conversation we had a few weeks ago when I said she was going to come through the middle and trounce the men standing for that position. I was right. I also said I was going to put some money on her, but I never got round to it —unfortunately, because the odds were very good at the time.
May I ask the Prime Minister a serious question about the younger generation, the millennials? So many of them in our country believe that they are citizens of Europe who have the ability to travel, to work and to be true Europeans. Will she soon give them her vision of how that reality as European citizens can be delivered even in the present circumstances?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I do indeed remember the conversation in which he said that I would, as he put it, “trounce the men”. I have to say, however, that the Conservative party came up with an all-woman shortlist, without being required to do so.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the younger generation. This is what I would say to them today. As I said a little earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), we are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be setting out our negotiating position on the relationship with the European Union when we leave. I would also say to the young people that the hon. Gentleman talks about that we should not limit their opportunities and their horizons by just looking at Europe. This country will make a success of Brexit, because we will be out there in the world as an outward-looking, expansive country, with opportunities around the globe.
May I warmly welcome the Prime Minister to her post? Unlike dithering Barry, I did place a bet on her becoming the next leader of our party. I apologise for the fact that my phone was obviously turned off when she was calling me to invite me to join her Government.
The reason the people of Yorkshire voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union was largely to do with immigration control. Can the Prime Minister reassure them that when we finally do leave the European Union, she will insist on keeping her original promise to bring the immigration figures down to the tens of thousands?
The vote that took place on 23 June sent a very clear message about immigration. It sent the clear message that people want control of free movement from the European Union, and that is precisely what we will ensure that we get in the negotiations that we will undertake. I also remain absolutely firm in my belief that we need to bring net migration down to sustainable levels, and the Government believe that that means tens of thousands. It will take some time to get there, but now, of course, there is the added aspect of the controls that we can bring in relation to people moving from the European Union.
You are all very, very kind.
May I, genuinely, warmly welcome the Prime Minister to her position? She has come a long way since we were on the hustings together in North West Durham, and she is no doubt reflecting on the fact that she is receiving more support in the Chamber than either of us received in Consett working men’s club.
There are reports today that the new Brexit unit will be hiring lawyers at a cost of £5,000 per head per day. May I ask whether the Prime Minister will be using the mythical £350 million to pay the legal fees, or is that still pencilled in for the NHS, as promised by her Cabinet colleagues who campaigned for Leave?
I think it absolutely right for us to create a new Department to focus on the work of negotiating the United Kingdom’s departure from the United Kingdom, and that Department will need the expertise that will enable it to undertake the negotiations.
I am very happy to remember the days that the hon. Gentleman and I spent campaigning in North West Durham at the time of a general election. Little did the voters of North West Durham know that the two unsuccessful candidates in that election would become leaders of two of the country’s political parties, although I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that my party is a little bit bigger than his.