The Secretary of State was asked—
As this is the Scottish questions immediately preceding Burns night on Wednesday 25 January, may I wish all those organising Burns suppers or other events in Scotland, across the UK, including here in this House of Commons, and around the world the very best? Robert Burns’ legacy is as relevant today as ever.
The UK Government are committed to a safe and secure transfer of the remaining welfare powers. The majority of welfare powers commenced in 2016, and the transfer of the remaining powers will be overseen by the joint ministerial working group on welfare, which will meet again next month.
My hon. Friend is right about that; the power for the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits in devolved areas came into force in the autumn, and it now has the power to shape that welfare system as it chooses. Some modest measures have already been announced, but it is time that we hear more about the proposals for a new welfare system. A consultation has been held and I look forward to hearing the Scottish Government’s response to it.
The fact that the UK Government plan to close half of Glasgow’s jobcentres without even knowing the number of affected people is a dereliction of duty. Will the Secretary of State commit to having a word with his Cabinet colleagues and getting those plans dropped?
I do understand the concerns that have been raised about jobcentre closures in Glasgow. I have spoken directly with my colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It is the Government’s determination to ensure that there will be no change to the level of service offered to the people of Glasgow. As the hon. Lady and other Glasgow Members will know, there is a public consultation for people who have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes, and it is open until 31 January. I encourage all those affected, and all hon. Members with constituencies affected, to take part in it.
That group has played an important part in establishing the links between the DWP and the Scottish Government. I have been in regular recent contact with Angela Constance, the relevant Minister in the Scottish Government, about their latest proposals on universal credit. Inevitably, the complexity of this area means that as the transfer takes place new issues arise that need to be dealt with. The joint ministerial working group is the ideal place to do that.
I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the family of Canon Kenyon Wright, who, sadly, passed away last week. He was a principled man whose legacy should serve as a reminder to all of us that when we work together it is possible to deliver the impossible.
This Tory Government are currently moving disabled people from the disability living allowance to personal independence payments, and it is estimated that the people of Scotland will lose out on £190 million a year as a result. If that was not bad enough, the Government did this a year ago but they withdrew the timetable and have not issued a new one. So can the Secretary of State please inform the House, and indeed the people of Scotland, when they can expect to lose out on this £190 million a year?
First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman back? He was missed at our last Scottish questions, although the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) entertained the House—I think I can say that. I knew Canon Kenyon Wright and he was indeed a very principled man, with strong personal conviction. He played a very important part in the constitutional convention that led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. As we have seen in the media, he is widely mourned.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) will know that disability benefits are to be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and the funding of those benefits was dealt with in the negotiations for the fiscal framework. It is now for the Scottish Government to come forward with their proposals for disability benefits in Scotland.
My hon. Friend makes a very relevant point. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) referred to personal independence payments, to which, I know, the Scottish Government are opposed, but I have no idea what they intend to replace them with, or on what timetable.
May I begin by joining colleagues in paying tribute to Canon Kenyon Wright? He not only played a significant role in helping to deliver devolution to Scotland but, of course, in 2014 supported a yes vote for Scottish independence.
The UK Government are planning to close half the jobcentres in Glasgow without even knowing the number of people who will be affected by such a radical change. Was the Secretary of State consulted in advance of the closures, and when did he show enough interest to find out which specific locations would face closure?
I have taken a very close interest in this issue and worked closely on it with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Scottish Government. The Government and I have never suggested that the procedures followed during the process have been perfect, but we have put forward a public consultation for people who are affected and will have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes. I encourage everyone involved to take part in the consultation.
The devolution of powers hangs very much together with the hard Brexit plans of the current Government. The Secretary of State has said that his role is
“to ensure Scotland gets the best possible deal and that deal involves clearly being part of the single market.”
Does he still believe that, or has he changed his mind after being told what he should say by his Tory bosses in London?
I do not recognise the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday as a hard Brexit plan. I do not think that the 500,000 Scottish National party voters who voted for Brexit will take kindly to being referred to as right-wing Tory Brexiteers. They were independently minded people in Scotland who voted for what they thought was the right thing for Scotland. It is absolutely clear, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, that we want to have access to the single market, and that is what the quote from me that the right hon. Gentleman just read out made clear. On the other hand, membership of the single market is a quite different thing, as Mike Russell and, privately, the Scottish Government accept.
I regularly meet Cabinet colleagues to discuss a wide range of matters. I recently met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss a number of issues relating to the Scottish agriculture sector, and will continue to do so.
Last year, the farming Minister told us that there would be an £18 billion Brexit dividend. He said that farmers would continue to get
“as much support—or perhaps even more”
after Brexit. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be unacceptable if funding to Scottish agriculture was cut after 2020?
There is no suggestion that funding to Scottish agriculture will be cut, but there is the opportunity to move forward from the constraints of the common agricultural policy, which farmers throughout Scotland have often complained about. We need to seize this opportunity to reshape the support for farming to make it more effective, but to continue to sustain those areas of Scottish farming that need sustaining.
My right hon. Friend is aware that my family are extensive farmers in the Scottish borders. Does he not agree that Brexit presents the United Kingdom with a magnificent opportunity to fashion an agriculture policy that is required not by French farmers, but by British farmers, and will he assure the House that hill farmers in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom will be given proper consideration?
I can absolutely give that undertaking. I hope that, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, we can move forward to shape a new basis of support for Scottish agriculture, especially for those who farm in less-favoured areas. There have been multiple complaints about the operation of the common agricultural policy and its need to take into account farming practices across the continent. We now have the opportunity to have our own support mechanism and we need to work to shape it.
Almost two thirds of the UK’s agriculture exports are to the EU. After what we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday, there is an increasing possibility that we could revert to World Trade Organisation trade rules on exit from the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree with the NFU Scotland, which says that the potential for 20% tariffs as a result of WTO trade rules will be increasingly damaging for the profitability of Scottish agriculture?
The Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that her objective is to achieve the best possible access to the single market, with the minimum of barriers and tariffs. That will be to the benefit of Scottish agriculture. Scottish farmers see the opportunity that leaving the EU provides them, and I am sure that they will seize it and that we will be able to provide the environment in which they will succeed.
The Scottish Government will take on their first major new tax power from the Scotland Act 2016 in April, enabling them to set rates and thresholds of income tax. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended a Joint Exchequer Committee with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance in November. They discussed ongoing work, and there are regular ongoing discussions.
The Prime Minister says that she wants income tax rates on hard-working British people to be as low as possible. Should Nicola Sturgeon be sufficiently brave or bonkers to increase the rate of taxation on hard-working Scottish people, what economic impact would that have on Scotland?
Again we have heard erroneous claims that Scotland is somehow the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. In actual fact, the average cost of a band D council tax property in Scotland is lower than in England. Will the Minister now welcome the Scottish Government’s approach to council tax policy in Scotland?
I may not like the Scottish Government’s plans to make Scotland a higher-tax nation, but that is up to them. What they will have to do is explain to the people of Scotland why they are having to pay more tax than their friends and families who have the same jobs south of the border.
In a week when the chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland has warned that the NHS in Scotland is “at breaking point”, is the Minister as surprised as I am that the so-called progressive SNP Government in Holyrood consistently refuse to use the powers afforded them to protect the NHS in Scotland?
Migrants from outside and within the UK make a significant contribution to Scotland—to its economy, of course, but also to its society and wellbeing. The Government will always welcome the brightest and the best who have come here to work.
We know that about 180,000 EU nationals make a hugely valuable contribution to the Scottish economy and that Governments such as Canada’s and Australia’s successfully apply different immigration rules to different parts of their countries. Going beyond warm words, will the Secretary of State listen carefully to proposals for a different arrangement for Scotland, allowing EU citizens freedom to continue to come and live and work there, benefiting us all?
I will always look at evidence-based proposals; that is our commitment, for example, in relation to the Scottish Government’s paper produced just before Christmas. However, it was clear within the settlement agreed under the Smith commission that immigration would remain a reserved power.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems that Scotland will face under the SNP Government is the flight of individuals from high taxes, who will have to be replaced with further immigrants, as well as the fact that businesses will fly down to London rather than be in Scotland?
I find it surprising that the Scottish Government always seem to fail to acknowledge that they have very significant powers to attract people to Scotland. At the moment, about 4% of migrants who come to the United Kingdom go to Scotland. Clearly, more needs to be done to encourage people to come to Scotland, and the Scottish Government need to address that. Making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is not, in my view, the way to do it.
I associate myself and my party with the expressions of condolence about the late Canon Kenyon Wright—a truly lovely man, for whom it was once my privilege to act as election agent, albeit unsuccessfully.
Will the Secretary of State explain to the Home Secretary the importance of non-EU nationals in making up the crews of many fishing boats, especially in the white fish sector, that operate out of Scottish ports?
The UK Government have spearheaded these deals, which will be transformative for the cities of Scotland. The city regions are engines of economic growth, so they will drive forward Scotland’s economy, which means more jobs and a secure future. That is why I am so pleased that the Government have now committed to a city deal for every one of Scotland’s seven city regions.
The borderlands initiative is an innovative proposal that seeks to bring together Dumfries and Galloway Council, Scottish Borders Council, Carlisle City Council and other councils in the north of England to recognise the significant economic area that crosses the border. I am delighted to give my support to that proposal.
As well as city deals, the Secretary of State will be aware that the Ayrshire growth deal has been submitted to the Scottish Government. In yesterday’s Treasury questions, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury wrongly said that it is for the Scottish Government to advance that deal. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Treasury colleagues about supporting the Ayrshire growth deal?
May I first welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), has secured an Adjournment debate tomorrow that will focus specifically on the Ayrshire regional growth deal? I have met the councils and I want that deal to receive support from the UK Government in the way that is most appropriate to make it happen.
Exiting the EU
Mr Speaker, I noted that in congratulating Andy Murray, you did not display the usual exuberance that you have demonstrated in support of him and the rest of the British team at Davis cup matches.
The UK Government have taken a number of measures to support Scotland’s economy, including by committing to city deals for each of Scotland’s cities, as I just said, and providing an additional £800 million for the Scottish Government’s capital budget through to 2021. Leaving the EU opens up real opportunities for Scotland and we must always remember that the UK market is worth more than four times as much to Scotland as the EU single market.
Adam Smith gave us the theory of modern capitalist economics and William Gladstone put it into practice. Would not those two fine Scotsmen be delighted by the opportunity that Brexit offers to ditch the socialist protectionism of the Scottish Government, and to implement the free trade and free markets that made the country such a powerhouse in the 19th century?
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a robust case for the benefits of leaving the European Union. Perhaps to his list of posthumous figures from Scottish history I could add David Hume, whose essay “Of the Balance of Trade” predates “The Wealth of Nations” and provides an effective rebuttal to the so-called jealous fear of free trade among merchants at the time.
A hard Brexit outside the single market threatens to cost Scotland 80,000 jobs over a decade and to cost people an average of £2,000 in wages. What action will the Secretary of State personally take to keep Scotland in the single market, even if the rest of the UK leaves?
It is absolutely clear that Scotland cannot be a member of the single market if it is not a member of the EU, and the United Kingdom will not be a member of the EU. The Scottish Government accept that proposition. What is important is access to the single market and, as the Prime Minister set out yesterday, we aim to achieve the best possible access to that market.
My hon. Friend may be aware that today, in relation to labour market statistics, unemployment is up in Scotland, employment is down, and economic activity is also down. I am in no doubt that the uncertainty caused by the constant reference to an independence referendum is having an impact on the Scottish economy.
An important part of the Scottish economy is the rural economy, particularly crofting. Yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what exactly, after her careful thinking and planning, would happen to crofting after 2020. The Secretary of State for Scotland set out earlier that he thought that there would be no cuts to funding. Is it the case that we will we see no cuts at all to agricultural support in Scotland post-2020? Will he confirm what he alluded to earlier?
The hon. Gentleman has already heard me answer that question. I have set out that leaving the common agricultural policy is an opportunity. The common agricultural policy has not suited Scotland, particularly those farming in less favoured areas. We now have an opportunity to do something different—we should seize it.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Thousands of babies who are born each year are damaged for life by alcohol consumed in pregnancy. Patients affected by alcohol put immense pressure on the national health service, and alcohol is a primary factor in domestic violence and attacks on women. Does the Prime Minister recognise the seriousness of the country’s alcohol problems—the damage to lives and the billions in costs to the public purse—and will she instruct her Government now to address these problems effectively and as a matter of urgency?
I can certainly say to the hon. Gentleman that I recognise the problems that alcohol causes. He particularly referenced not just problems for pregnant women, but the part that alcohol often plays in domestic violence and abuse. That was why, when I was Home Secretary, we produced an alcohol strategy and worked on the issue of alcohol. The Government continue to recognise the importance of this issue and to work on it.
My hon. Friend makes two important points. First, I am very pleased to join him in paying tribute to the dedication and hard work of all those who work in our national health service. Secondly, he is right to point out that if somebody misses an appointment, that is a cost to the NHS. There are a number of ways in which this is being dealt with. Some hospitals send out text messages that not only remind people of their appointment, but tell them how much it costs if they miss it.
Yesterday the Prime Minister snubbed Parliament and snubbed the Brexit Committee’s recommendation to bring forward a White Paper, while at the same time describing the referendum as
“a vote to restore…our parliamentary democracy”.
This is about our jobs, living standards and future prosperity; why will it not be scrutinised by this House?
What I did yesterday was to set out a plan for a global Britain. I set out a plan that will put the divisions of last year behind us, and that shows a vision for a stronger, fairer, more united, more outward-looking, prosperous, tolerant, independent and truly global Britain. It was a vision that will shape a stronger future and build a better Britain.
Restoring parliamentary democracy while sidelining Parliament—it is not so much the Iron Lady as the Irony Lady.
Yesterday the Prime Minister finally provided some detail. May I urge her to stop her threats of a bargain basement Brexit—a low-pay tax haven on the shores of Europe? It would not necessarily damage the EU, but it would certainly damage this country, businesses, jobs and public services. She demeans herself, her office and our country’s standing by making such threats.
What I set out yesterday was a plan for a global Britain, bringing prosperity to this country and jobs to people, and spreading economic growth across the country. Yesterday we learned a little more of the right hon. Gentleman’s thinking on this issue. He said:
“She has said, ‘leave the single market,’ but at the same time says she wants to have access to the single market. I’m not quite sure how that’s going to go down in Europe. I think we have to have a deal that ensures we have access to the market.”
I’ve got a plan; he doesn’t have a clue.
The Prime Minister was the one who made the threat about slashing corporation tax. If we reduce corporation tax to the lowest common denominator, this country loses £120 billion in revenue. How, then, do we fund public services?
Last year the Prime Minister said that leaving the single market could make trade deals “considerably harder” and that
“while we could certainly negotiate our own trade agreements, there would be no guarantee that they would be on terms as good as those we enjoy now”,
but yesterday she offered us only vague guarantees. Does she now disagree with herself?
The right hon. Gentleman might also have noticed that when I spoke in the remain campaign, I said that if we voted to leave the European Union, the sky would not fall in. Look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the future of the economy. I want us to be an outward-looking nation trading around the world, and bringing prosperity and jobs into the United Kingdom. The one thing that would be bad for the economy is the answers that the right hon. Gentleman has. He wants a cap on wages, no control on immigration and to borrow an extra £500 billion. That would not lead to prosperity; it would lead to no jobs, no wages and no skills.
The Chancellor said after the referendum that to lose single market access would be “catastrophic”. A few days later, the Health Secretary said:
“The first part of the plan must be clarity that we will remain in the single market”.
The Prime Minister said something about “frictionless” access to the single market and a bespoke customs union deal. Could she give us a little bit of certainty and clarity about this? Has she ruled out paying any kind of fee to achieve access to what she describes as a “frictionless” market?
Access to the single market was exactly what I was talking about yesterday in my speech. One of the key objectives is that we negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union that gives us the widest possible access for trading with, and operating within, the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about frictionless access. Actually, this was a separate point about frictionless borders in relation to the customs issue—a very important issue for us regarding the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Taoiseach and I, and all parties, are absolutely on a single page about this. We want to ensure that we have the best possible arrangement that does not lead to the borders of the past for Northern Ireland.
The question was: will we have to pay for access to the market or not? The Prime Minister has not given an answer to that.
Yesterday the Prime Minister set out a wish list on immigration, referring to skills shortages and high-skill migration. Does she now disagree with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who told an employers’ conference, “Don’t worry. You can still have cheap EU labour after we leave the European Union”?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about access. Yes, the whole point is that we will negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union that is about the best possible access for British business to operate in European Union member states and for European businesses to operate here in the United Kingdom. It is about sitting down and negotiating the best possible deal for the United Kingdom. That is what I am committed to, and it is what the Government are going to deliver.
My question was about how much we are going to have to pay to have access to the market—still no answer.
Yesterday the Prime Minister talked about the pressure put on public services by migration. May I just remind her—the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) referred to this earlier—that at the moment there are 55,000 EU citizens working in our national health service, helping to treat all the people of this country? There are 80,000 care workers helping our—mainly elderly—people and there are 5,000 teachers educating our children. The real pressure on public services comes from a Government who slashed billions from the social care budget, who are cutting the schools budget, and who are closing A&E departments, walk-in centres and Sure Start centres. Instead of threatening to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven, let us welcome those who contribute to our public services and fund those public services properly so that we have the fully functioning NHS that we all need and deserve.
I made it clear yesterday that we value those who have come to the United Kingdom and contribute to our economy and society. There will still be people coming to the United Kingdom from the European Union when we leave the EU. The crucial issue is that it is this Government who will be making decisions about our immigration system for people from the European Union. Yet again, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is indeed a difference between us—it is very simple. When I look at the issue of Brexit—or, indeed, at any other issue, such as the national health service or social care—I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It is called leadership; he should try it sometime.
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Lincoln City on their victory last night. I think it was a fitting tribute to Graham Taylor that they won that match.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I have indeed highlighted the issue of particularly white working-class boys, who are the group in society least likely to go to university. We are committed to making sure that every child gets the opportunity to fulfil their potential. That is about ensuring that apprenticeships are as accessible as possible. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the proportion of apprenticeships started by males has increased this year to almost 50%, and also that universities expect to spend more than £800 million this year on improving access and success for disadvantaged students. We want everybody to achieve their potential, whatever their background and whatever their gender.
Shortly after the Prime Minister confirmed that she wants to take the UK out of the single European market, the Scottish Parliament voted by a large cross-party majority to remain in the single European market, just as a large majority of people in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. The Prime Minister said that Scotland is an equal partner in the United Kingdom. Does she still believe this is true or is she just stringing the people of Scotland along?
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to my speech yesterday, in which I reiterated my commitment to work with the devolved Administrations to ensure their voice is heard and their interests are taken into account as we proceed along the path of negotiating our exit from the European Union. I specifically referenced the Scotland plan. I understand that the Welsh Government will be producing a plan for Wales for us to look at, too. The Scotland plan will, I believe, be considered tomorrow by the Joint Ministerial Committee on European negotiations. We will be looking at it seriously and working with the Scottish Government on the proposals they bring forward.
Scotland’s leading economic forecaster says that real wages will fall—[Interruption.] We have Tories jeering and cheering when the forecast for people’s income is that it is likely to drop by £2,000 and that 80,000 people may lose their jobs in Scotland as a result of the Prime Minister’s hard Tory Brexit plan. Does the Prime Minister believe that this is a price worth paying for her “Little Britain” Brexit?
I repeat what I said earlier: we will work to ensure we get the best possible deal in terms of access to the single market, and continue to co-operate in partnership with the remaining 27 member states of the European Union. The right hon. Gentleman once again talks about the possibility of a negative impact on Scotland if Scotland were not part of the single market. His party is dedicated to taking Scotland out of the single market by taking it out of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am pleased to say that the Government have already taken some action on executive pay: giving shareholders the power to veto pay policies, forcing companies to disclose the pay of their board directors and introducing tough transparency measures for banks. I want to build on that, which is why we published a Green Paper on how to strengthen shareholders’ influence over executive pay and introduced greater transparency. I look forward to receiving representations from my hon. Friend on this issue.
The hon. Lady might recognise that the great repeal Bill will deal with a number of complex issues. At its heart will be the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. As we look at the Bill and at negotiating our way out of the European Union, we will need to look at the whole issue of reserved matters and devolved matters, but there are many aspects—[Interruption.]
Order. Members of the Scottish National party, led by the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) on the Front Bench, who is supposed to be a statesmanlike figure, should demonstrate some calm and reserve while they are being answered by the Prime Minister.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her delivery yesterday of an historic, definitive, pragmatic, outward-looking speech that saw the pound rise to its highest level in two years and the FTSE up today? Does she agree that the strong and prosperous UK she has planned would be a nightmare for the Leader of the Opposition and the EU ruling class?
I agree with my hon. Friend. A strong and prosperous Britain is exactly what we want to build as we leave the EU. It is only a pity that the Labour party seems uninterested in doing that, but wants to do the exact opposite and bring this economy down.
That is not quite an answer to whether she will visit the Rhondda. I hope she will; I am happy to accommodate her—I can do bacon and eggs. More importantly, I could take her to see the best brass band in the world, the Cory band, or, for that matter, I could take her to the local food bank, based in the closed-down Conservative club. Since 2010, the Government have closed the local courts, tax office, Department for Work and Pensions office and driving centre, and now they intend to close all the tax offices in Wales and centralise them in Cardiff. We in the valleys feel ignored by the Government. May I beg her to change direction and start putting Government offices in the small towns, villages and valleys of this country?
The last time I looked, Cardiff was actually in Wales—the hon. Gentleman says we are taking offices out of Wales and putting them in Cardiff. The whole point of what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is doing is to move from outdated offices to large, modern regional centres, which will make it possible to modernise its ways of working, make tax collection more efficient and actually improve its customer service.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s speech setting out a plan for global Britain. It clearly shows that those on the Government Benches are listening to the British people. Will she commend this approach to the council leaders now considering the Greater Manchester spatial framework consultation responses, as they need to listen to the people, give us better infrastructure and protect our green spaces?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and for raising this issue. I understand that the consultation on the spatial framework closed earlier this week and that there has been huge interest among local people. I echo his comment that it is absolutely right that local leaders should take into account all the representations made.
The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the fact that geography of course has an impact on these matters. He talks about living in the coldest and windiest places, and obviously one interesting issue in Scotland is the opportunity for renewables there. I can tell him, however, that we are looking at making sure that energy markets in the UK are indeed working properly.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister has said that she will take the necessary action on air quality to deal with the 40,000 premature deaths it causes across our country every year. I know she believes in her Government leading by example, so will she make sure that all diesel cars are removed from the Government Car Service as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that improving air quality is a priority for the Government. We are determined to cut harmful emissions and have committed money since 2011 to supporting the take-up of low-emission vehicles. The Government Car Service is working to remove diesel vehicles from its fleet. It has so far replaced a quarter of its vehicles with petrol hybrid cars, and of course its work continues to remove those diesel vehicles.
I absolutely recognise the important issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It is precisely as we move out of the European Union that the United Kingdom will be more outward looking. We will look globally. We want to ensure that we continue to play our part in the United Nations and that the UN is able to do the job that everybody wants it to do. NATO has obviously been the most important bulwark when it comes to maintaining safety and security across the European continent. That is why we are continuing to support NATO. British troops are in Estonia, and British forces are in Poland and Romania, which shows our continuing commitment to NATO. The thrust of my speech yesterday was that we want a strong strategic partnership with the European Union. We want access to the single market through a free trade agreement, but we also want to continue to work with the EU on justice and security matters. Now is not a time to co-operate less; it is a time to co-operate more.
I am delighted at the third-round FA cup replay, in which Sutton United won 3-1 against Wimbledon. However, the pressing issue—what would make us really happy—is being able to get to work on a day-to-day basis. Does the Prime Minister share my cautious optimism that a return to talks by ASLEF and Southern can provide a long-lasting solution for hard-pressed commuters?
As a former Wimbledon councillor, I am not sure that I quite share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend for the defeat of AFC Wimbledon. On the point about the train strikes, yes, I do; and I hope that those sitting around the table are going to ensure that an agreement will be reached to enable passengers to be able to get on with their lives and their jobs, and not suffer the misery that was brought about by the strike in the first place.
I might remind the hon. Lady that she and I sat on a council together where we tried to keep Wimbledon actually playing in Wimbledon, or at least in the borough of Merton rather than moving elsewhere.
On the point about GP services, GPs are part of the solution for the NHS in the future. That is why we have seen more GPs coming into the NHS and 5,000 more are being trained and will be in place by 2020. We want to ensure that GPs are open and providing services at times when the patients want to access them.
It was quite clear from the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday that she seeks to build a Brexit consensus and to bring our country back together. I thank her for that. To that end, and indeed to strengthen the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand, before article 50 is triggered, will she please at least consider publishing all those 12 objectives in a White Paper so that we can debate them here in this place on behalf of all our constituents?
I absolutely understand my right hon. Friend’s point about Parliament’s desire to be able to debate the objectives that I set out very clearly in my plan yesterday. One of the objectives and principles I set was about certainty and clarity. It continues to be the Government’s intention that we will provide clarity whenever it is possible, and we will ensure that, at appropriate times, both the public and Parliament are kept informed and are able properly to consider and scrutinise these issues.
There is pressure on social care. I have accepted and recognised that in the House. The Government have recognised it, and have provided additional funding through the Better Care Fund and the social care precept. This year Liverpool raised £2.8 million from the precept, and it will receive more than £48 million on top of that from the improved Better Care Fund by 2019-20. However, this is not just a question of money; it is a question of ensuring that we have a sustainable social care system for the future, and that is what the Government are working on.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for what she said yesterday, and not least for her constructive tone and constructive approach to the European Union and its future? That was in marked contrast to what we have heard from others over the years, from many different quarters in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that constructive tone will remain, as the best base for securing an agreement between us and the EU that is in our mutual interest? Will she also confirm that the default position of “no deal” will remain a default position, and that the Government will not be persuaded to make it their preferred option?
Absolutely. We want to get that good deal and we expect to be able to get that good deal, and, as my right hon. Friend says, it is through good will and a positive approach on both sides of the negotiations that we will achieve it.
I am very clear about the fact that the United Kingdom wants to see a continuing, strong European Union of 27 member states. We want a strong strategic partnership with that European Union, and, of course, we want to continue to work bilaterally with individual member states. I made that point to a number of European leaders yesterday when I spoke to them after my speech. I said that we wanted to approach this in a positive and optimistic fashion, because I believe that a deal that is good for the UK will be a deal that is good for the European Union.
I recognise that many people received a poor service from Concentrix. This is not the first time that that has been highlighted in the Chamber. It was not acceptable, and I apologise for the worry and distress that was caused to people. We have been very clear about the service operated by Concentrix. HMRC will learn the lessons from that contract, and it remains committed to providing a high-quality service. It will not use a private sector supplier to undertake tax credit error and fraud checks again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) mentioned the speech that the Prime Minister made yesterday. In that speech, she confirmed her commitment to parliamentary democracy, and I assume that she therefore accepts the long-standing convention that the Executive—the Government—are continuously accountable to the House for the policies that they are pursuing. Will she clarify whether she intends to make any further statements of policy intentions to the House, and whether she expects the House to have an opportunity to vote its approval for those policies earlier than two years from now, when the whole negotiation has been completed?
My right hon. and learned Friend has raised a matter that has also been raised not only by our right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), but by others as well. Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union spent two hours answering questions in the House, and there will be a further debate on matters relating to exiting the European Union later today. There have been a number of such debates already, dealing with issues that are part of the objectives that we have set.
We shall have to consider the result of the decision of the Supreme Court, which may, if it goes against the Government, require legislation. There will be an opportunity in the great repeal Bill to consider a number of issues relating to exiting the EU, but as for voting on the actual deal that we have, we cannot do so until we know what it is. That is why I said yesterday that Parliament would have a vote when we knew what the deal was.
I made the very simple point yesterday that this negotiation is not just about the United Kingdom; there will be others in the European Union who will be looking to ensure that the deal we get is good for the UK and good for the EU. But I have to say to the hon. Lady that if she in any sense thinks that continued membership of the common fisheries policy is what we should be looking for, that is certainly not the case, and it is certainly one of the things people voted against.
The people of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are again being confronted with the possible loss of emergency services in Stafford or Burton, when our acute hospitals are constantly under intense pressure. Does the Prime Minister agree with me, our hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and other local MPs that closing A&Es is no way to deal with increased real—not imagined—need?
The important issue is the level of service that is available to people in any particular local area. That is why the sustainability and transformation plans that are being considered and have been published are being taken into account and being considered at a local level, so that local clinicians and local people will be able to agree what is best in their particular area.
Just looking at the figures on what has happened in health in the hon. Gentleman’s area, I see that there are more doctors in his NHS foundation trust and significantly more nurses, but the—[Interruption.] I know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about and I am about to comment on it, but the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who is shouting from a sedentary position, might have recognised that he started off talking about the NHS, which is what I am also commenting on. [Interruption.]
Order. I am not going to allow an exchange across the Dispatch Box or across the House at this point. The Prime Minister was asked a question [Interruption.] Order. I require no help from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), which is of zilch value. The Prime Minister will answer, and she will be heard with courtesy, including by the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) asked me about pressures on the national health service. We are seeing more doctors and nurses in his Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and health funding in the hon. Gentleman’s area will be £3 billion this year, and that will be rising with a further £450 million by 2020-21.
As I have said in this House before, we are putting extra money into social care. We are giving local authorities the opportunity to raise more money and spend it on social care. But this is not just about more money; it is about ensuring best practice is spread throughout the country and it is about a long-term solution to sustainable social care for the future, an issue that has been ducked by Governments, including a Labour Government for 13 years.
On Friday the east coast of England faced the threat of a tidal surge that endangered tens of thousands of homes and thousands of lives. A simple change in the weather meant that flooding was averted, but will the Prime Minister join me in praising the response of the emergency services in planning ahead, involving the Army, the Coastguard, the fire and ambulance services and the police, to make sure that the best possible plans were made? Will she further join me in making sure that the public know that in future these warnings should always be taken seriously?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I am happy to join him in commending the action of all those in the emergency services, in our armed forces and in local authorities who worked so hard to ensure that this problem was dealt with. As he said, a change in the weather took place, but it is crucial that when these warnings are given, people recognise that they are given for the very good reason that there is concern about the danger that could take place. The efforts that were put in protected tens of thousands of properties, and I am pleased to see that we have learned from the work done on previous flooding incidents. The work between the emergency services, local services and the armed forces was much better co-ordinated than has perhaps been the case in the past, so we have been able to learn from the flooding in the past.
One of the objectives I set out in my speech yesterday was something I have said before about the guaranteeing of rights for EU citizens living here in the UK, but I also want to see the rights of UK citizens living in the 27 member states being guaranteed. I remain open, and I encourage others across Europe to agree with me that this is an issue we should look at as early as possible in order to give people the confidence and reassurance that the hon. Lady is looking for .
In supporting my right hon. Friend’s endeavours in facing the difficult challenges in social care and the national health service, may I invite her to endorse the concept and continuance of community hospitals in our market towns across the country? Those hospitals, including the Westminster Memorial hospital in Shaftesbury in my constituency, provide a vital piece of the jigsaw in our national health service.
I am sure that the Westminster Memorial hospital in Shaftesbury is providing good services for local people. The structure of local services is of course a matter for discussion at local level, and it is crucial that local clinicians and others agree that we have a safe and secure service for people and that they are provided with the NHS services that they need at the most appropriate level. I fully accept my hon. Friend’s point that we often think only about the major district general hospitals and acute hospitals when actually the NHS is made up of many different parts. We need to ensure that patients are being treated at the most appropriate level for their needs.
What we will be doing is negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union to get the best possible access for trade with the EU, but we also want to be able to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world. A number of countries have already expressed interest in doing that with us. We want to do that to open up new export markets being delivered for businesses here in the United Kingdom, including the sort of trade in Wales that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. On the question of customs with the European Union, we want an arrangement that will involve the most frictionless borders possible.