The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Common Travel Area
Before I answer, I would remind the House that this is the final Northern Ireland questions before the Assembly election on 2 March. These are critical elections for the future of Northern Ireland, and I would urge the parties to conduct the campaign in a manner that allows for the speediest return to partnership government. Only power-sharing government will deliver the political stability that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see, and which remains the priority for this Government to secure.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, maintaining the common travel area is one of the Government’s 12 priorities in negotiating exit from the EU. It is the Government’s intention to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the common travel area while protecting the integrity of the UK’s immigration system.
A hard border would be disastrous for communities that live along that border, especially in economic terms. What assurances can the Secretary of State offer that the common travel area will be top of the agenda in any Brexit negotiations? Will it be more important than restricting the freedom of movement elsewhere in the UK, for instance? Will Ministers assure us that the common travel area is part of any trade deal done with the European Union?
I have already indicated the priority that is given to securing the common travel area. This is a very strong commitment that this Government have given, and a point that I have underlined on many occasions. It is also a shared intent with ourselves, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. It is therefore with that approach, and with that shared will, that we look to the negotiations ahead, getting the common travel area secured and seeing that frictionless border that is equally important to the politics and life of Northern Ireland.
As I have said, the priority, as set out in the 12 points that the Prime Minister made in her speech, was securing the common travel area. That has served us over so many years, dating back to the 1920s. We believe that it is really important that we seek to attain that, as well as getting frictionless trade in goods, which is also a key priority.
I welcome the Government’s determination to maintain the common travel area across our islands. Does the Secretary of State agree that the friendly relations it symbolises could only be strengthened by the Republic joining the Commonwealth as an associate member, as suggested by Senator Frank Feighan during his visit to the House yesterday?
Obviously that is a matter for the Irish Government, but the point that my hon. Friend makes about strong, friendly relationships between ourselves and the Irish Government is well made. It was with that intent, and with that theme, that the Prime Minister met the Taoiseach earlier this week and underlined the importance of continuing to work together to get the best outcome for Northern Ireland and for the island of Ireland.
The European Union and member states recognise the significance of Northern Ireland, and the significance of the politics on the island of Ireland. Indeed, we have seen investment and political engagement from within the European Union. We will continue to underline that in the negotiations ahead, and that is why I remain positive that we can secure a good deal for Northern Ireland within the UK but outside the EU.
There is broad alignment of policy in relation to the Republic of Ireland and the UK. That has been part of the bedrock of the common travel area and its existence over many years. Indeed, it is an aspect of how we have sought to create new visa issues in relation to China that have allowed travel to Ireland and also to the United Kingdom, and how co-operation between ourselves and the Irish Government is very good.
As I have indicated to the House this morning, we are committed to securing the common travel area and, yes, we are also committed to dealing with issues of immigration, which were at the forefront of the campaign. The Home Office is working on the detail of a new immigration policy that I am sure will be a matter of debate in the House in future.
The Government have rightly sought to identify the issues that affect different regions and sectors of the economy and to build those into their negotiating position. Regardless of the common travel area, can the Secretary of State assure us that all parts of the United Kingdom will leave the EU on an equal basis and that no special arrangements, different conditions or special circumstances will be afforded to Northern Ireland that would weaken our position within the United Kingdom and treat us differently from other parts of it?
As a Government, we are very clear about the strengths of the Union and how that matters to us all. The approach that we take is based on getting the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. Yes, there will be some specific factors in Northern Ireland of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware––we have talked about the border and there are other issues as well––but our approach is with that intent and focus. Therefore concepts of special status are the wrong approach. It is rather about looking at special factors and special circumstances and dealing with them effectively.
May I agree with the Secretary of State in that we are very impressed with the strength of the Union, too––that is, the European Union? Beyond the common travel area, there appears to be a significant gap between the wishful thinking and the reality of movement of goods. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect of exiting the customs union on the movement of goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
As the hon. Gentleman will have seen, the Prime Minister’s speech underlined the clear desire of the Government in the negotiations ahead to get the best possible trading arrangements with the European Union and therefore we are reflecting on how we do that, whether that is some form of membership of a customs union or a bespoke customs agreement. He should be intent on our desire to get that deal and to see a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
I welcome the comments of the Secretary of State on having an election that produces parties that want to work together, because that is exactly what we want. When it comes to the common travel area, have we looked at the legal implications, not just within other Departments but in how it is respected by Europe itself? Does it really exist there? Do they see it as a law that stands in place?
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the ability for the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom to make arrangements in relation to the common travel area has been recognised in previous EU agreements. It is therefore that approach that we take in securing the future of the common travel area and underlining its importance to our European partners. I am positive that we can do that.
The economy in Northern Ireland continues to grow. Since 2010, there are 54,000 more people in work and, over the year, the employment rate has increased and the claimant count has now fallen for the ninth consecutive month. The Government are committed to working with the Northern Ireland parties to bring about political stability. This is key to bringing further growth and investment to Northern Ireland.
Some 33.4% of all exports from Northern Ireland go south across the border and 54.7% go to the EU. Leaving the EU will affect Northern Ireland more than any other region in the UK. The previous answer was pretty vague, so what specific steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that those exports are protected in order to protect inward investment?
Does the Minister agree that news from Northern Ireland is seen, read and heard across the world? Is it not important, therefore, that the institutions get up and running again straight after the forthcoming elections to give confidence to potential investors right across the world that Northern Ireland is, indeed, a great place to invest?
My hon. Friend, who is very wise on Northern Ireland issues and makes a massive contribution, is right. We can do much from Westminster, but it is the parties in Northern Ireland that need to take responsibility, come together and guide the economic growth that is so needed in Northern Ireland.
As the Secretary of State noted, there is an Assembly election that will be followed by negotiations on ministerial responsibilities, all in uncertain times. Can the Minister offer any assurances that austerity will not be the rock upon which peace founders? Will the funding for legacy issues be guaranteed in the new Assembly, and will funding for other policy imperatives be eased? Will he ensure that the Assembly can function properly in financial terms?
The Government are committed to developing an economy that works for everybody in the United Kingdom. We are implementing an industrial strategy, which has a massive part to play in Northern Ireland. I welcome the consultation that has been launched, which includes Northern Ireland. The economy in Northern Ireland is strong. There is a desire between the UK Government and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that we have a constructive and positive relationship in the future.
The Government believe that reducing the rate of corporation tax to 12.5% in Northern Ireland could bring significant benefits for jobs, investment and growth. I hope that we can return to the wider progress we have proposed on this issue following the Assembly election and the formation of a new Executive.
Does the Minister accept that, with unemployment in Northern Ireland at its lowest level since 2008 and Northern Ireland posting the highest increase in exports of any region of the United Kingdom last year, the Executive were making substantial progress in improving the economy of Northern Ireland over the previous two years?
I recognise all those statistics. It is important that we constantly reiterate the positive position that Northern Ireland is in. Like me, Members of this House and the people of Northern Ireland want the Assembly to come back together and offer guidance and leadership to make sure that we grow the economy.
Those of us on the Democratic Unionist Benches certainly share that aspiration. We want to see devolution up and running, and we want to see jobs and investment. The Minister will understand our frustration and the frustration—and, indeed, anger—of the people of Northern Ireland that the good progress we were making has been put in peril, as have jobs and investment, as a result of Sinn Féin’s decision to collapse the Executive and cause an unnecessary election. Will he commit to work, over the coming weeks and months, with those of us who are in this House to improve the situation for people’s jobs and investment into Northern Ireland?
I am not going to get involved in the politics of Northern Ireland and why the Executive fell down. What is important is that the people of Northern Ireland want leadership from their politicians in Northern Ireland. What I can promise the right hon. Gentleman is that the Secretary of State and I will do everything to make sure that we have a strong Assembly that offers leadership in Northern Ireland.
May I start by asking the House to accept the Labour leader’s heartfelt apologies for his mistaken statement last week, when he said that a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland had been killed? I am sure the House will agree that we all want to see the officer make good progress. We wish him and his family well.
There is no doubt that political instability worries businesses, but a much bigger day-to-day threat is the burden placed on business by the crushing cost of energy in Northern Ireland. Electricity generators are charging customers 58% more than the EU average, while pulling in gross profits of €900 million a year. Will the Secretary of State meet the energy regulator urgently to impress on it the need to rein in these fat cat profiteers?
Article 50: Northern Ireland Assembly
We are determined that Northern Ireland’s voice will be heard. All the devolved Administrations will be fully engaged in the process of preparing to leave the European Union. We will continue to consult the devolved Administrations, including through the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations).
Membership of the single market is obviously critical to Northern Ireland. Given the commitment to the common travel area, will the Minister tell us what blockages, apart from political ones, remain to Scotland and Northern Ireland remaining part of the single market?
I agree that Northern Ireland is a great place to do business. There are some amazing companies, entrepreneurs and businesses there. That is why we want to see Northern Ireland continue to grow and flourish and have an Executive in place at the earliest opportunity.
We continue to have meetings with our community sector roundtable, and only last week I met representatives of the business community through my business advisory group. I am very clear about continuing to listen intently to views across Northern Ireland to help inform our approach as we look to the negotiations ahead with the EU.
Sinn Féin’s decision unilaterally to collapse the Northern Ireland Executive means that they have excluded themselves from any discussions on article 50. Will the Secretary of State, along with the Brexit Secretary, continue to work closely with members of the Northern Ireland parties that attend this House, to ensure that our voice is heard deeply and fully in that important matter?
The Joint Ministerial Committee met earlier this week in plenary session, and I was pleased to see representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive. We want that to continue. Obviously, in the House, I will continue to listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members to ensure that we carefully reflect Northern Ireland’s voice.
Although the foul, mephitic fug of Brexit has cast the land into shadow, life must go on. Further to the Secretary of State’s comments, he will accept that the JMC is currently the main body for consultation with the devolved institutions. Yet this body has no authority, no Standing Orders and no fixed rules. Will the Secretary of State commit to formalising the role of the JMC, the crucial body during the negotiations in these dark days?
The Joint Ministerial Committee operates between each of the different nations of the UK and regulates those arrangements. We see it playing an important role, not only now, but in the future, with European negotiations being part of that, in seeking to ensure that the voice of the devolved Administrations is heard loud and clear and to get the best arrangements for all parts of the UK.
I know that the House will join me in condemning the despicable shooting of a police officer in north Belfast on Sunday 22 January. Our thoughts are with the injured officer, who remains in hospital, his family and colleagues.
My officials and I have regular discussions with the Justice Minister, the Chief Constable, and partners as we work to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure.
My right hon. Friend will have the support of the whole House when he speaks so warmly of the police officer who was so brutally attacked only recently. I know the Secretary of State is working closely with the intelligence services, the military and the police to ensure security in the region. Will he please tell me a little more about what he is doing to take forward the security of an important part of the United Kingdom?
I commend the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Security Service and other agencies to keep Northern Ireland safe. The level of threat in Northern Ireland is severe, as that appalling incident underlines. I will continue to work with all partners to secure the safe Northern Ireland we want. I spoke to the Chief Constable on that issue only this morning. [Interruption.]
I agree entirely with a number of the points the hon. Gentleman has made. This was an utterly despicable act and an attack on the whole community, and should be seen as such. The Chief Constable has made those points about people feeling confident in coming forward. There is an ongoing investigation—it is very live—and we are looking through our approach to confronting paramilitarism to see that people have confidence to come forward to give evidence. That is clearly work that needs to continue.
My hon. Friend will wish to know that we have a severe level of threat in Northern Ireland from terrorism. The appalling attack we saw on a young, brave police officer just in the past fortnight underlines the nature of that threat and the fact that there are those in Northern Ireland who would wish to commit acts of violence against the police, members of our armed forces and prison officers. We must be vigilant against that threat.
May I join in the condemnation of the deplorable attack on the police officer? May I also use this occasion to pay a quick tribute to my constituent and opponent, and now fellow former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, for the calibre and tenure of his service in our democratic institutions? I wish him well in his personal battle.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that, in meeting Executive Ministers, he would be meeting Ministers who have taken a pledge to uphold the rule of law, based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts? Will he meet that same benchmark and remove the comments he has previously made—
I am very clear on upholding the rule of law and seeing that we support our agencies, which have that independence to pursue evidence where they see it. Indeed, there is a very live ongoing investigation to get to the bottom of that appalling act and hold those responsible to account—it was an appalling act against a brave PSNI officer who was doing his duty, upholding the law and protecting the community.
There are important issues that need to be examined and addressed in relation to the criminal justice system. Bail is one part of that, as are sentencing and the time it takes for cases to proceed. We will continue to work with the Executive to see that progress can be made.
Thank you; that is very kind of you, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful indeed.
In dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State will recognise how important it is that the Northern Ireland Office sends a very clear message that the rule of law prevails in Northern Ireland, so will he kindly take this opportunity to put on the record his full confidence in the independence and integrity of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, and indeed the Director of Public Prosecutions?
I am very happy to do so in very clear and unequivocal terms: it is essential that we uphold the rule of law without fear or favour, and I absolutely support the work of the police and all those who are responsible for taking that forward and seeing that those who are committing the acts that we are discussing this morning are held to account and brought to justice.
On Monday, I met a woman whose mother was killed 46 years ago and who asked me to ask the Secretary of State whether he understood that there can be no real peace unless we deal with the past. To that end and as a start, will the right hon. Gentleman commit to raise with the Irish Government the need to ensure the fullest possible public access to the papers relating to the Kingsmill murders and to deliver an effective route by which the families of those who lost loved ones at Ballymurphy can reach some form of closure?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and his message about the raw pain and emotion that continue to be felt by so many of those who were affected by the troubles is one that I equally recognise. It is important that we can make progress in relation to the Stormont House legacy bodies. We will continue to make representations to the Irish Government on a range of issues, and I note the specific point that he raises with me this morning.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering our condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives and were injured in the gun attack in Quebec City on Sunday, and in paying tribute to our former colleague Tam Dalyell, who died last Friday. He was an outstanding parliamentarian, and I am sure that all our thoughts are with his friends and family.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I associate myself with the remarks made by the Prime Minister and the tribute paid to the victims in Canada and to the family of Tam Dalyell.
North Devon is quite rightly concerned that the current review of health services across the county may result in the loss of some acute services at our hospital in Barnstaple. For some residents, the nearest alternative could be three hours away. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will listen carefully to those concerns, because I want to be able to say to North Devon that we are the party of the NHS?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I can reassure him that this Government are absolutely committed to ensuring the best possible healthcare for patients right across the country. I recognise that concerns have been expressed locally about the North Devon district hospital. I understand that there are no specific proposals at the moment, but I know that the input of local communities will remain crucial throughout the process, and I can assure him that of course it is this party in government that is putting the extra funding into the NHS and showing how we value it.
I join the Prime Minister in offering condolences to all those who died in the horrific attack, fuelled by hate, in Quebec, and we should send our solidarity to everyone in Canada on this sad occasion.
May I also associate myself with the Prime Minister’s tribute to the former Member for West Lothian, and later Linlithgow, Tam Dalyell? A Labour MP and former Father of the House, he doggedly fought to expose official wrongdoing and cover-ups, from the miners strike to Iraq. I am sure the Prime Minister would agree that Tam’s scrutiny and contributions made this House a better place, and may I recommend to all Members his autobiography “The Importance of Being Awkward”? [Interruption.] And I am quite happy to offer my copy to the Secretary of State for Brexit to have a good read of it. I am sure that he has probably already read it.
At last week’s Prime Minister Question Time, the Prime Minister told the House:
“I am not afraid to speak frankly to a President of the United States”.—[Official Report, 25 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 288.]
First, let me say that I was not aware of Tam Dalyell’s book “The Importance of Being Awkward”, but given the number of resignations that the right hon. Gentleman has had from his Front Bench, I suspect that some of his colleagues have indeed read it.
I am pleased to say to the right hon. Gentleman that when I visited the United States, I was able to build on the relationship that we have with our most important ally and get some very significant commitments from President Trump. Crucial among those was a 100% commitment to NATO—NATO which keeps us safe and keeps Europe safe too.
Downing Street has not denied that the Prime Minister was told by the White House that the Executive order on travel to the US was imminent, so let us be clear: was the Prime Minister told about the ban during her visit, and did she try to persuade President Trump otherwise?
On the policy that President Trump has introduced, this Government are clear that it is wrong. We would not do it. In six years as Home Secretary, I never introduced such a policy. We believe it is divisive and wrong. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking me whether I had advance notice of the ban on refugees, the answer is no. If he is asking me if I had advance notice that the Executive order could affect British citizens, the answer is no. If he is asking if I had advance notice of the travel restrictions, the answer is, we all did, because President Trump said in his election campaign that he was going to do this. The question is how to respond. The job of Government is not to chase the headlines; the job of Government is not to take to the streets in protest; the job of Government is to protect the interests of British citizens, and that is exactly what we did.
I have made it very clear that we believe that this policy is divisive and wrong, and that it is not a policy that we would introduce. I have also made it very clear when asked about this that this Government have a very different approach to these issues. On refugees, this Government have a proud record of the support that we have given to them, and long may it continue.
The Prime Minister said:
“The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.”
But surely it is the responsibility of all of us to defend the 1951 refugee convention, which commits this country, the United States and 142 other states to accept refugees without regard to their
“race, religion or country of origin.”
President Trump has breached that convention. Why did she not speak out?
First, I have made absolutely clear what the Government’s view on this policy is. Secondly, as I have just said, this Government and this country have a proud record on how we welcome refugees. In recent years, we have introduced a very particular scheme to ensure that particularly vulnerable refugees in Syria can be brought to this country, and something like 10,000 Syrian refugees have come to this country since the conflict began. We are also the second biggest bilateral donor, helping and supporting refugees in the region. That is what we are doing. I have said that the US policy is wrong. We will take a different view, and we will continue to welcome refugees to this country.
I also wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue and received her reply this morning. I hold in my hand her piece of paper. She makes no mention of the refugee convention and does not condemn US action in that respect.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister to assure the House that she would not offer up our national health service as a “bargaining chip” in any US trade deal. She gave no answer. She also refused to rule it out when asked in the US, so let me ask her a third time: will she rule out opening up our national health service to private US healthcare companies—yes or no?
I hope that that includes not having US healthcare companies coming in to run any part of our national health service.
President Trump has torn up international agreements on refugees. He has threatened to dump international agreements on climate change. He has praised the use of torture. He has incited hatred against Muslims. He has directly attacked women’s rights. Just what more does he have to do before the Prime Minister will listen to the 1.8 million people who have already called for his state visit invitation to be withdrawn?
The right hon. Gentleman’s foreign policy is to object to and insult the democratically elected Head of State of our most important ally. Let us see what he would have achieved in the last week. Would he have been able to protect British citizens from the impact of the Executive order? No. Would he have been able to lay the foundations of a trade deal? No. Would he have got a 100% commitment to NATO? No. That is what Labour has to offer this country—less protection for British citizens, less prosperity, less safety. He can lead a protest; I am leading a country.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming an extremely important change in the law. We committed to it in our manifesto and have now delivered on it. Passing Turing’s law has been a long-standing commitment for the Government. It is momentous and takes action to right the wrongs of the past. Like my hon. Friend, I certainly encourage those still alive to apply to the Home Office to have their offences disregarded.
We on the SNP Benches associate ourselves with all the comments thus far about the tragic deaths in Quebec City and about the passing of Tam Dalyell. Respect for him was held across the political parties and he served with great distinction for more than 40 years.
The Prime Minister had a successful international visit this last week—to Ireland. She spoke publicly about her commitment—this is important—not to have a hard border on these islands, to the continuation of free movement of peoples on these islands and to protect and enhance trade. Given that people will be watching this not just in Britain but in Ireland, will she take this opportunity to explain how she will deliver those sensible, important outcomes?
Those are absolutely the outcomes that we want to see. I was very pleased to meet the Taoiseach and to discuss with him the joint intent that both his Government and mine have to ensure that we do not see a return to the borders of the past in Northern Ireland. We focus on the land border that is between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Of course, the issue of movements from Ireland affects other places as well; it affects ports in Wales and Stranraer. Therefore, it is an important issue for us and we have agreed the work that we are going to do together to deliver what I believe will be as frictionless a border as possible. Also, one of the objectives that I set out in my plan for our negotiating objectives is to retain the common travel area.
We on the SNP Benches very much welcome what the Prime Minister has just said on all those issues. Of course, we also welcome the intensifying of negotiations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations ahead of triggering article 50. The Prime Minister has very helpfully explained that it is perfectly possible for parts of these islands to be in the single market, without hard borders, with free movement of people, while at the same time protecting and enhancing trade with one another. That is very, very welcome, so will she give a commitment to work with the Irish Government and a commitment to work with the Scottish Government to deliver all those things—or will we just have to get on with it ourselves?
First, the right hon. Gentleman is right that following the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary on Monday morning, we agreed to intensify discussion on issues related to the bringing back of powers from Brussels and where those powers should lie within the UK—to intensify that in the run-up to the triggering of article 50 and beyond the triggering of article 50.
On the other question, the right hon. Gentleman really should listen to the answers that are given, because he is trying to imply something that is not there. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Yes. We are very clear that we want to see a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but I am also clear that one of the objectives of our negotiation is to see as frictionless a border as possible between the UK and the rest of the European Union. Of course, if he is so worried about having a frictionless border between Scotland and countries in the EU, he should not want to take Scotland out of the EU by wanting to see it independent. [Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about EU nationals. I would like to confirm my intention and expectation that we will be able to offer that reassurance to EU nationals living in the UK, but I also want to see reassurance offered to UK nationals living in the EU. I hope and will be working to try to ensure that this is an issue we can deal with at a very early stage in the negotiations. It was one of the objectives I set out in the plan. It will be referenced in the White Paper and I can inform my right hon. Friend and the House that that White Paper will be published tomorrow.
I will tell you what standing up for British values is. I and this Government introduced the first Modern Slavery Act in this country. I have ensured that stop and search has reduced, because I do not believe that anyone on the streets of this country should be stopped and searched because of the colour of their skin, and I ensured justice for the families of Hillsborough.
I thank my right hon. Friend for pointing that out. It is absolutely right that the House should be aware of the discrimination around the world and of that ban, particularly for those who are Israeli citizens. We are consistent: we do not agree with that approach and it is not one that we will take. I wait for the day when the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) stands up and condemns it too.
On the issue of those who are known as the WASPI campaign, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that, as I am sure he knows, we committed more than £1 billion to lessen the impact on those worst affected, so no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months. There is a wider point: we need to be realistic when considering pension ages about the fact that people are living longer. If we want to carry on having an affordable and sustainable pension system, we need to equalise the state pension age for men and women faster and to bring forward the rise.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of transport links for economic growth. I understand that digital signalling could increase capacity on commuter trains by up to 40%, hence the investment of £450 million for trials over the coming years to which he rightly refers. I know that the Department for Transport is considering where those trials should take place, but we certainly recognise that the great eastern main line is one area that could benefit from those improvements.
The hon. Gentleman says that they are not doing it. In this Chamber today my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and I have both encouraged people to come forward and make that application, and that is a message that we should all put out.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should never forget that America is our most important ally. Our relationship is long standing and American men and women served and died alongside UK men and women in two world wars to protect our security and the security of Europe. If we were not able to have that relationship and to see that commitment to NATO, in particular, we would leave this country and Europe less safe.
First, the hon. Lady should recognise that Turkey is an important country in relation both to our security and the issue of migration into Turkey and potentially into Europe. She will also recognise that Turkey has, and continues to host, 3 million refugees from Syria, and I commended the Turkish Government on the welcome they have given them. I suggest that she should just have looked at the press conference I gave after my discussions with President Erdogan and Prime Minister Yildirim, in which I made it clear that we had condemned the coup but expected the Turkish Government to support their democratic institutions, international human rights and the rule of law.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I know he is fully engaged with that. He is right that commitments were made at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, when all our NATO allies committed to spending 2% of their GDP on defence within a decade. We have seen progress, but I agree with President Trump that many allies need to go further. I can assure my hon. Friend that I and other Ministers across Government raise the issue regularly with our allies and partners and will continue to do so.
I can assure the hon. Lady that this Government take the issue of air quality very seriously. A lot of work has been done. Since 2011 more than £2 billion has been committed to enable, for example, bus operators to upgrade their fleets, and to ensure that changes are made to reduce pollution from vehicles such as refuse trucks and fire engines. We do recognise, however, that more needs to be done. We have seen a reduction in nitrous oxide from some 17% in recent years, but we will bring forward proposals to ensure that we can maintain the air quality that we all want to see.
Will my right hon. Friend show her support for “Brighter Berkshire”, the campaign as part of the 2017 year of mental health? Will she give her continued commitment to ensuring that we have parity between mental health and physical health in this country?
I am very happy to endorse the campaign to which my hon. Friend refers. It is important that we continue to raise awareness of the issues around mental health. The fact the Government have committed to the parity of esteem between mental and physical health is important. There is more for us to do on mental health, and I have already set out some steps that we want to take. I commend all those, however, who are working to raise the issue of mental health and provide support to those with mental health problems.
The Government have taken a number of steps to increase the funding available for local authorities to provide for social care. It is also important that we ensure that best practice is developed and put into place across the country. In some parts of the country the record on social care and the interaction with hospitals is better than in others, but the longer-term issue is for us to ensure that we have a sustainable system for delivering social care for people in this country. The Labour party ducked that issue for 13 years. We are addressing it.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the whole team at Morley Academy on receiving the award, which I think shows the work that the GORSE Academies Trust is doing to drive up excellence and improve outcomes for pupils. We are determined to drive up standards in schools to ensure that more children have good school places—a good school place for every child—so that they can all reach the sort of level we see at Morley Academy.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Many Members of this House have expressed concern about what happened at BHS and the attitude and approach taken by Philip Green. Whether a knighthood should be taken away from someone is a matter for the relevant committee—I have forgotten the name—which will be examining the case; I understand that it is waiting for the investigations to be completed. This is a matter for an independent committee and it is up to the committee how it looks into it.
Tonight, there will be an historic vote in this place, a vote that I thought I would not see in my political lifetime: the British Parliament voting to withdraw from the European Union under the excellent leadership of the Prime Minister. Is my right hon. Friend surprised that Opposition Members who demand time to discuss the matter and debate it—namely, the Liberal Democrats—did not even bother to turn up last night? The Government Benches were packed, the Scottish National party Benches were packed, the Democratic Unionist party Members were here, and there were some Labour Members. Is that not surprising?
Throughout my political career I have fought Liberal Democrats, and nothing that they do ever surprises me, but I join my hon. Friend in commending the Bill before the House. This House has a very simple decision to take. We gave the right of judgment on this matter to the British people, and they made their choice: they want to leave the EU. The question every Member must ask themselves as they go through the Lobby tonight is: do they trust the people?
Where were you?
The Prime Minister will return at some point with a deal with Europe that our people will have to live with for decades to come, especially our young people, 73% of whom voted to remain. Nobody knows what that deal will look like, but someone will get to agree it. Should it be her Government, should it be this Parliament, or should it be—as I believe it should—the British people?
It is quite difficult to follow that, Mr Speaker, but back in the real world—[Laughter.]
In December 2015, my constituency suffered terrible flooding, especially in the town of Tadcaster. The damage became worse when the bridge collapsed, separating the town. Thankfully, the bridge will be reopened, hopefully this week. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all those who were involved in the restoration of the bridge and, most importantly, the residents of Tadcaster, who have had a terrible year?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in commending and thanking not only all those who worked so hard to restore the bridge at Tadcaster, but the people of Tadcaster, who have had to put up with disruption and inconvenience for such a long time. I am sure that those people will all welcome the return of the bridge, and we commend all those who have ensured that that has happened.
The news revealed yesterday that Toshiba is reviewing its investment in the Moorside nuclear power plant, which puts a huge question mark over not only 21,000 jobs in Cumbria but the future of our nation’s energy security. What will the Prime Minister do personally to ensure that the deal stays on track?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that both the Business Secretary and I have involvement in a number of deals and possible deals around the nuclear industry. We are keen to ensure that those jobs are brought to the United Kingdom and that such deals are kept on track. I assure him of the Government’s commitment.
This week the Danish drug firm Novo Nordisk invested £115 million in the UK to further research into type 2 diabetes. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming that investment as well as the academics and scientists involved, many of whom are from the EU and around the world and will appreciate the assurance she gave earlier? Will she also work with me to ensure that any innovations and new treatments get to patients as quickly as possible?
As my hon. Friend will probably understand, I recognise this issue particularly personally, although I am a type 1 diabetic rather than type 2. Any investment in diabetes research is to be welcomed, and when new solutions and support for diabetics are found, it is important that they get to people as quickly as possible. A significant number of people in this country suffer from type 2 diabetes, and the figures show that there is a great risk that the number will increase significantly in the coming years. We need to do all that we can not only to prevent people from becoming type 2 diabetics in the first place, but to support those who have that condition so that people suffer from fewer complications and are able to manage their lives.
Today is World Hijab Day. Will the Prime Minister join me in recognising the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab if they wish, without fear, and indeed the right of all women everywhere to wear what they want, when they want? Will she also commit to standing up for the right to refuge for men, women and children wherever they may be, regardless of their religion?
On the hon. Lady’s second point, it is absolutely the case that this country welcomes refuges to the United Kingdom, and we do so regardless of their religion—there is no question of discriminating on religion.
I am absolutely in line with the hon. Lady on her point about wearing the hijab. I believe that what a woman wears is a woman’s choice.
Russian armed forces regularly carry out large-scale exercises, including with nuclear-capable equipment, on the borders of eastern Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the American commitment to NATO is absolutely pivotal to protect the countries of eastern Europe from going the same way as eastern Ukraine?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The 100% commitment to NATO that President Trump has given is crucial to ensuring that we can provide for the security of this country and others in Europe, especially those in eastern Europe on the border with Russia. I noted that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) referred to the fact that the Governments of the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania had welcomed that 100% commitment. I am pleased to say that we are playing our part, as about 800 troops will be going to Poland and Estonia this year as a sign of NATO’s strength and our belief in keeping those countries free and democratic.
In 2015, my constituent Samia Shahid was lured to her death in Pakistan, where she was brutally raped and murdered. Will the Prime Minister join me in reiterating the commitment of this House and this country that we will not tolerate violence against women, and encourage the Pakistani Government to continue in their efforts to get justice for our British girl, Samia Shahid?
The hon. Lady raises a very tragic case, and our deepest sympathies are with Samia’s husband following her tragic death last year. We do not interfere in the legal processes of another country, but I understand from the Foreign Office that the Pakistani police have arrested two people and charged them with murder. The Foreign Office has provided assistance to Samia’s husband and will continue to do so. I am sure it will keep the hon. Lady informed, and I understand that the Home Secretary will meet the hon. Lady soon to discuss this issue.