Skip to main content


Volume 620: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2017

As the response from the whole House showed, we all indeed welcome the Speaker of the Burmese Parliament and his colleagues to see our deliberations today.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to the friends and family of the police officer who was shot in Belfast over the weekend. The Police Service of Northern Ireland does a superb job in keeping us safe and secure, and has our fullest support.

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. Later this week, I will travel to the United States for talks with President Trump.

I join the Prime Minister in sending good wishes to the police officer who was shot in Belfast.

They are the best drivers of social mobility, and 99% of them are rated good or outstanding, while 65% of their places are in the most deprived areas of this country, so why is the Prime Minister introducing cuts that threaten the very existence of maintained nursery schools? Is it not true that when it comes to social mobility, her actions speak far louder than her words?

I want to ensure, and this Government want to ensure, good-quality education at every age and every stage for children in this country. That is why we are looking at improving the number of good school places. The hon. Lady talks about my record speaking louder than words, so let me point out that I was very proud as chairman of an education authority in London in the 1990s to introduce nursery school places for every three and four-year-old whose parent wanted them.

Q2. The Prime Minister laid out a clear and bold plan for Brexit in her speech last week. Hon. Members quite rightly want an opportunity to scrutinise the plan. Does the Prime Minister agree that the best way of facilitating that scrutiny would be a Government White Paper laying out our vision for a global Britain based on free trade in goods and services that will be to the benefit of us and other European countries? (908364)

My hon. Friend raises the question of parliamentary scrutiny. I have made clear, as have senior Ministers, that we will ensure that Parliament has every opportunity to carry out such scrutiny as we go through this process. I set out that bold plan for a global Britain last week. I recognise that there is an appetite in the House to see it set out in a White Paper—I have heard my hon. Friend’s question, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) asked a question in the same vein last week—and I can confirm that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published for the House.

I join the Prime Minister in expressing the condolences of, I am sure, the whole House to the family of the police officer who lost his life over the weekend in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister has wasted 80 days between the original judgment and the appeal. She has finally admitted today, after pressure from all sides, that there will be a White Paper. May we know when that White Paper will be available to us, and why it is taking so long for us to get it?

The right hon. Gentleman asked for debates. I made very clear that there would always be debates in the House, and there have been and will continue to be. He asked for votes. There have been votes in the House; the House voted overwhelmingly for the Government to trigger article 50 before the end of March this year. He asked for a plan. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), I have set out a clear plan for a bold future for Britain. He and others asked for a White Paper, and I have made clear that there will be a White Paper.

What I am also clear about is that the right hon. Gentleman always asks about process—about the means to an end. The Government and I are focusing on the outcomes. We are focusing on a truly global Britain, building a stronger future for this country, the right deal for Britain, and Britain out of the European Union.

My question was not complicated. I simply asked when the White Paper would come out. Will it be published before or at the same time as the Bill that is apparently about to be published?

Last week I asked the Prime Minister repeatedly to clarify whether her Government were prepared to pay to secure tariff-free access to the single European market. She repeatedly refused to answer the question, so I will ask her again. Are her Government ruling out paying a fee for tariff-free access to the single market or the bespoke customs union to which she also referred in her speech?

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the issue of timing. There are actually two separate issues. The House has voted overwhelmingly that article 50 should be triggered before the end of March 2017. Following the Supreme Court judgment, a Bill will be provided for the House, and there will be proper debates on it in the Chamber and in another place. There is then the separate question of the publication of the plan that I have set out, a bold vision for Britain for the future. I will do that in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman knows that one of our objectives is the best possible free trade with the European Union, and that is what we will be out there negotiating for.

Some of this is very worrying for many Members, but, more important, it is worrying for many other people. For example, the chief executive of Nissan was given assurances by the Prime Minister’s Business Secretary about future trade arrangements with Europe, but now says that Nissan will

“have to re-evaluate the situation”

in relation to its investments in Britain.

The Prime Minister is threatening the EU that unless it gives in to her demands she will turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe. Labour Members are very well aware of the consequences that that would have—the damage that it would do to jobs and living standards, and to our public services. Is the Prime Minister now going to rule out the bargain basement threat that she made in her speech at Lancaster House?

I expect us to get a good deal for trading relationships with the European Union, but I am also clear that this Government will not sign up to a bad deal for the United Kingdom. As for the threats that the right hon. Gentleman claims might happen—he often uses those phrases and talks about workers’ rights—perhaps he should listen to his former colleague in this House, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who today said,

“to give credit to the Government…I don’t think they want to weaken workers’ rights”,

and goes on to say,

“I’ve seen no evidence from the conversations I’ve had with senior members of the Government that that’s their aspiration or their intention or something they want to do. Which is good.”

As usual with Labour, the right hand is not talking to the far-left.

The evidence of what the Tory party and this Government really think about workers’ rights was there for all to see yesterday: a private Member’s Bill under the ten-minute rule by a Tory MP to tear up parts of the International Labour Organisation convention, talking down the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) to protect European workers’ rights that have been obtained in this country. That is the real agenda of the Tory party.

What the Prime Minister is doing is petulantly aiming a threat at our public services with her threats about a bargain basement Britain. Is her priority our struggling NHS, those denied social care, and children having their school funding cut, or is it once again further cuts in big business taxation to make the rich even better off?

I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that I have been very clear that this Government will protect workers’ rights; indeed, we have a review of modern employment law to ensure all employment legislation is keeping up with the modern labour market. One of the objectives I set out in my plan for our negotiating objectives was to protect workers’ rights.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about threats to public services. I will tell him what the threat to public services would be: a Labour Government borrowing £500 billion extra. That would destroy our economy and mean no funding for our public services.

The threat to workers’ rights is there every day: 6 million people earning less than the living wage; and many people—nearly 1 million—on zero-hours contracts with no protection being offered by this Government. What they are doing is offering once again the bargain basement alternative.

Will the Prime Minister also take this opportunity today to congratulate the 100,000 people who marched in Britain last weekend to highlight women’s rights after President Trump’s inauguration, and to express their concerns about his misogyny? Many have concerns that in the Prime Minister’s forthcoming meeting with President Trump she will be prepared to offer up for sacrifice the opportunity for American companies to come in and take over parts of our NHS or our public services. Will she assure the House that in any trade deal none of those things will be offered up as a bargaining chip?

I again point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is this Government who have introduced the national living wage and this Government who have made changes to zero-hours contracts.

On the issue of my visit to the United States of America, I am pleased that I am able to meet President Trump so early in his Administration. That is a sign of the strength of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America—a special relationship on which he and I intend to build. But I also say to the Leader of the Opposition that I am not afraid to speak frankly to a President of the United States; I am able to do that because we have that special relationship—a special relationship that the right hon. Gentleman would never have with the United States.

We would never allow Britain to be sold off on the cheap. How confident is the Prime Minister of getting a good deal for “global Britain” from a President who says he wants to put America first, buy American and build a wall between his country and Mexico?

Article 50 was not about a court judgment against the Government. What it signified was the bad judgment of this Government: the bad judgment of prioritising corporate tax cuts over investment in national health and social care; the bad judgment of threatening European partners while offering a blank cheque to President Trump; and the bad judgment of wanting to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven. So will the Prime Minister offer some clarity and certainty and withdraw the threats to destroy the social structure of this country by turning us into the bargain basement she clearly threatens?

We will be out around the world with the EU, America and other countries negotiating good free trade deals for this country that will bring prosperity to this country. The right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about Brexit, but I have to say to him that he is the leader of his party and he cannot even agree with his shadow Chancellor about Brexit. The shadow Chancellor cannot agree with the shadow Brexit Secretary, the shadow Brexit secretary disagrees with the shadow Home Secretary, and the shadow Home Secretary has to ring up the leader and tell him to change his mind. He talks about us standing up for Britain; they cannot speak for themselves and they will never speak for Britain.

Q3. On 27 December, another young woman lost her life driving through the west country on the A303. In the past decade, more than 1,000 people have been killed or injured on that road. For 40 years, Governments have promised to dual the lethal parts of the road where two lanes become three or three lanes become two, with no central reservation. The queues on the road are also legendary. I know that the Government are committed to an upgrade, but will the Prime Minister assure us that the proposed tunnel beneath Stonehenge will not hold up essential work elsewhere, and that we will soon see cones on the road and spades in the ground? (908365)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and he is absolutely right to do that. I can assure him that we are working generally to improve the safety of our roads. He refers specifically to the issue of the A303 and to the tragic incident that happened on 27 December. We have committed to creating a dual carriageway on the A303 from the M3 to the M5. I understand that Highways England has recently launched a consultation into the route under Stonehenge, and my hon. Friend will want to look closely at that issue. This is all part of our £2 billion investment in road improvements that will improve connections in the south-west, but I can assure him that we have road safety at the forefront of our mind.

May I begin by wishing everybody a happy Burns day, and by extending congratulations to The Scotsman newspaper, which is celebrating its bicentenary today?

Yesterday, the Government lost in the Supreme Court, and today we have had a welcome U-turn on a White Paper on Brexit. In the spirit of progress for Parliament, and in advance of her meeting President Trump, will the Prime Minister tell Parliament what she wants to achieve in a UK-US trade deal?

First, I join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing a happy Burns day to everybody and in recognising the bicentenary of The Scotsman. I am sure everybody in the House will join me in that. He asks what we want to achieve in our arrangements with the United States. It is very simple: we want to achieve an arrangement that ensures that the interests of the United Kingdom are put first, and that is what I will be doing. We want to see trade arrangements with the United States, and with other parts of the world, that can increase our trade and bring prosperity and growth to the United Kingdom. Then, my aim for this Government is to ensure that the economy works for everyone in every part of the United Kingdom.

The European Union, which we are still part of, has among the highest food safety standards anywhere in the world, and we are proud on our continent to have public national health systems. The United States, on the other hand, is keen to have health systems that are fully open to private competition and it wants to export genetically modified organisms, beef raised using growth hormones and chicken meat washed with chlorinated water. Will the Prime Minister tell President Trump that she is not prepared to lower our food and safety standards or to open our health systems up for privatisation? Or does she believe that that is a price worth paying for a UK-US trade deal?

We will be looking for a UK-US trade deal that improves trade between our two countries, that will bring prosperity and growth to this country and that will ensure that we can bring jobs to this country as well. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, in doing that, we will put UK interests and UK values first.

Q4. Historic per capita spending in our regions, including Yorkshire, when compared with London is up to 40% lower for our local authorities, up to 50% lower for our schools and up to 60% lower for our transport projects. Does the Prime Minister agree that, if we want to build a country that works for everyone, we need a fair funding deal that works for everyone? (908366)

I recognise the issues that my hon. Friend has raised, and I can assure him that our commitment in relation to the northern parts of England, including Yorkshire, is absolutely clear. We want to back business growth right across the north, and we are backing the northern powerhouse to help the great cities and towns of the north to pool their strengths and take on the world. Yorkshire local enterprise partnerships have received an additional £156 million in Government funding this week, and we are spending a record £13 billion on transport across the north. As a result, there are more people in work in Yorkshire and the Humber than ever before, and the employment rate is at a record high. That is good news for people in the region and good news for our economy as a whole.

Q5. The European Medicines Agency provides a single drug licensing system for 500 million people and results in the UK having drugs licensed six to 12 months ahead of countries like Canada and Australia. Yesterday, the Health Secretary stated that the UK will not be in the EMA, so can the Prime Minister confirm this and explain how she will prevent delayed drug access for UK patients? (908367)

There are a number of organisations that we are part of as members of the European Union. As part of the work that we are doing to look at the United Kingdom’s future after we leave the European Union, we are looking at the arrangements we can put in place in relation to those issues. The pharmaceutical industry in this country is a very important part of our economy, and the ability of people to access these new drugs is also important. I assure the hon. Lady that we are looking seriously at this and will ensure that we have the arrangements that we need.

Q7. Too few British entrepreneurs are connecting with the capital they need to start and grow. As part of her industrial strategy, which will be looking at access to capital, will the Prime Minister order a review of the enterprise investment scheme and the seed enterprise investment scheme in the hope that they can be simplified, helping to create the large pools of buccaneering capital that British industry needs? (908369)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. He has long been a champion of entrepreneurship in this country, and I can tell him that in the industrial strategy we are committed to providing the best environment for business. The Treasury has established a patient capital review, for example, with a panel chaired by Sir Damon Buffini to look at the barriers that exist to long-term investment. We are also increasing investment in venture capital by the British Business Bank by £400 million, and that will unlock £1 billion of new finance. The Treasury is going to be publishing a consultation in the spring examining these issues, and I am sure my hon. Friend will wish to contribute and respond to that.

Q6. Four-and-a-half years ago, my constituents Chris and Lydia Leek were on a family holiday on the Greek island of Zante when their son, Jamie, was hit and killed by a speeding motorbike—it was his ninth birthday. The rider was convicted but has appealed against his sentence and, to date, remains a free man. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet Chris and Lydia to discuss how they can finally secure justice for Jamie? (908368)

I am very happy to look at the tragic case that the hon. Lady describes. Our thoughts must be with Chris and Lydia at the terrible loss they experienced. As to the issue of what is happening in terms of the Greek criminal justice system, of course that is a matter for the Greek authorities, but I will look seriously at this case and see if there is anything that the Foreign Office can do.

President Trump has repeatedly said that he will bring back torture as an instrument of policy. When she sees him on Friday, will the Prime Minister make it clear that in no circumstances will she permit Britain to be dragged into facilitating that torture, as we were after 11 September?

I assure my right hon. Friend that our position on torture is clear: we do not sanction torture and do not get involved in it. That will continue to be our position.

Q8. Seventy per cent. of my constituents voted remain, 15% are citizens of other EU countries, and almost all do not trust the Prime Minister’s Government to negotiate a deal that secures the future prosperity of London and the UK. Will she give this House a veto on the deal that she does, or will she put the deal to a referendum of the British people? (908370)

People voted differently across the country. Parts of the country voted to remain and parts of the country voted to leave. What we do now is unite behind the result of the vote that took place. We come together as a country, we go out there, we make a success of this, and we ensure that we build a truly global Britain that will bring jobs to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and for his constituents.

This week, Milton Keynes celebrates its 50th birthday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We have been the most successful of new cities and have one of the highest rates of economic growth. Does the Prime Minister agree that Milton Keynes has a great future and will be central to delivering this Government’s ambitions?

I join my hon. Friend in marking Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday. I understand that he has secured a Westminster Hall debate on the subject later today, so I congratulate him on that. Milton Keynes is a great example of what can be achieved with a clear plan and strong local leadership. We are providing additional funding for the east-west rail project, which he supported through his chairing of the east-west rail all-party parliamentary group, and the Oxford to Cambridge expressway road scheme. We will see a country that works for everyone. Milton Keynes has had a great 50 years, but I am sure that it will have a great future as well.

Q9. Last week, a freight train from China arrived in Barking after using the channel tunnel, demonstrating the massive potential of rail freight. However, continental rail wagons and lorry trailers on trains cannot be accommodated on Britain’s historic rail network because its loading gauge is too small. Will the Prime Minister therefore consider giving positive support to the GB freight route scheme, which will provide a large-gauge freight line linking all the nations and regions of Britain both to each other and to Europe and Asia? It would take 5 million lorry journeys off Britain’s roads every year. (908371)

The hon. Gentleman raises the difference in gauges on railways here and on the continent, which has obviously been an issue for some considerable time. We want to encourage rail freight, we have been encouraging it, and we will continue to do so.

The Ministry of Cake in Taunton, a company with a turnover of £30 million, has recently been bought by a French company called Mademoiselle Desserts. The Ministry of Cake trades across Europe and into China. Does the Prime Minister agree that that demonstrates confidence in our economy—in that a European company has bought into it—that we can unlock global trade and that the south-west is a terrific place to do business?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The investment of a French company into the company in her constituency shows people’s confidence in the future of our economy, the fundamental strengths of our economy and that we can unlock global trade. Of course, the south-west is a very good place to do business.

Q10. Robert Burns once spoke that whatever damages society, or any least part of it, “this is my measure of iniquity.”Does the Prime Minister agree that that description applies perfectly to the detained fast track system, recently found to be illegal by British courts, under which 10,000 asylum seekers were denied a fair trial, some of whom were probably illegally deported to face death and torture? (908372)

The issue of the detained fast track system in the asylum system is one that I obviously looked at when I was Home Secretary, and we made a number of changes to how we operated it. However, it is built on a simple principle: if somebody’s case for asylum is such that they are almost certain to be refused that asylum, we want to ensure that they can be removed from the country as quickly as possible, hence the detained fast track system.

Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assist in efforts to get an enterprise zone in my constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale as part of the industrial strategy? It turns out that the Labour council and county council are talking about an enterprise zone-esque project in the area but have not applied for any funding whatsoever. Will she please assist me in this endeavour?

I know what a champion for Morecambe and Lunesdale my hon. Friend is and has been as a Member of Parliament, and I am sure that the Chancellor and the Business Secretary will look at the issue he has raised. I should also say how sad it is that Labour councils are not willing to put forward proposals to increase the prosperity and economic growth in their areas.