House of Commons
Monday 26 June 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have a short statement to make covering three separate matters.
The House was informed before the general election that, following the shocking attack on Westminster bridge and these Houses of Parliament in March, the Lord Speaker and I commissioned an external independent review of how the perimeter of the parliamentary estate, including outbuildings, is secured and protected. At the same time, the Clerks of both Houses commissioned an externally-led review of the lessons learned from the operation inside Parliament of the incident management framework. The report of the first review has now been received and formal delivery of the second is imminent. Both will be carefully considered. I can assure the House that appropriate action will be taken swiftly and decisively.
As colleagues will be aware, Parliament’s IT service was subjected to a sustained and determined cyber-attack over the weekend. Parliament has robust measures in place to protect all of our accounts and systems. In order to protect our core network and systems, it was necessary temporarily to restrict remote access to the network, which meant that some colleagues were unable to access their email accounts. Good progress is being made in restoring remote access. Constituency offices have been given priority so that our critical work in constituencies can continue.
Parliament’s first priority has been to ensure that the business of both Houses can continue. It is self-evident that this has been achieved, and I am sure colleagues will join me in thanking all of those parliamentary staff who have worked intensively over the past few days to ensure that our parliamentary democracy can operate freely.
On Thursday last, I informed the House about arrangements for the election of Deputy Speakers. Nominations are due tomorrow and the ballot will be held on Wednesday morning. I thought it would be helpful to all Members if I informed the House now, rather than late tomorrow afternoon when nominations close, that I have decided, after consultation with the Clerks and in the light of technical advice from the Electoral Reform Society, which is the House’s adviser on ballots, that if—and I stress if—there is only one candidate from the Conservative side of the House and there are more than two candidates from the other side, the name of the sole Conservative candidate will not be on the ballot paper and will be declared in due course as elected as First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, in much the same way as happens when there is an unopposed candidate for the Chair of a Select Committee.
I hope that this will help Members in all parts of the House to deal with the perceived complexities of the single transferable vote system to which we are bound by the Standing Orders. If—I recognise that this is in the realms of conjecture—colleagues are in any way puzzled by its operation, they are welcome to seek advice from the Public Bill Office, the Library or, indeed, Wikipedia.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council, and on the proposals we are publishing today, which, on a reciprocal basis, seek to give reassurance and certainty to EU citizens who have made their homes and lives in our country.
This Council followed the formal start of the negotiations for the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU, as well as marking the first anniversary of the referendum that led to that decision. In that referendum, the British people chose to take back control of our laws, our money and our borders, to restore supremacy to this Parliament, and to reclaim our sense of national self-determination, and this Government will fulfil the democratic will of the British people.
But the referendum was not a vote to turn our backs on our friends and neighbours. Indeed, as we become ever more internationalist in our outlook, and as we build the global Britain we want to see, we will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with all the member states of the European Union. We want to work with one another to ensure that we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through our continued friendship. We want to buy each other’s goods and services and trade as freely as possible. We will continue to celebrate and defend the liberal democratic values that we share, and to project those values that are the foundation of our freedoms and our way of life. In short, we want to build what I have described as a new, deep and special partnership between a confident, self-governing, global Britain and all our friends and allies in the European Union.
That is the positive and constructive spirit in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union began the formal negotiations last week, and it is the same spirit in which the United Kingdom made a full contribution to all the issues at this Council, including on security, migration, climate change and trade.
On security, I thanked our European partners for their condolences and for their resolve in standing with us following the appalling terrorist attacks that the UK has suffered in recent weeks. These attacks have seen citizens from across Europe tragically killed and injured, but they have also seen our citizens standing together in some of the most inspiring ways. At London Bridge, we saw a Spanish banker tragically killed as he rushed to the aid of a woman being attacked. We saw a Romanian baker fighting off the terrorists and giving shelter to Londoners in his bakery. These moments of heroism show that such attacks on our way of life, far from dividing us, will only ever serve to strengthen our shared unity and resolve.
But these attacks also show that we need to respond to a new trend in the threat we face, as terrorism breeds terrorism and perpetrators are inspired to attack by copying one another using the crudest of means. Therefore, building on the bilateral agreement I reached with President Macron earlier this month, at this Council I argued that we must come together to defeat the hateful and extremist ideologies that inspire these attacks, and to stop the internet being used as a safe space for extremists. When one third of all links to Daesh propaganda are shared within the first hour of release, it is not enough for technology companies to respond reactively to extremist content on their platforms. The Council therefore agreed to put pressure on these companies to do more to remove this content automatically, and also to ensure that law-enforcement agencies can access encrypted data. That was a significant step forward. We will continue to work together with our European partners to combat this evil, to defend our values and to keep our citizens safe.
Let me turn to other issues. On migration, the Council recommitted to the comprehensive approach that the UK has advocated, dealing with the drivers of migration while also doing more to stem the flow. At the summit I confirmed a new UK commitment of £75 million to meet urgent humanitarian needs in the central Mediterranean, while also facilitating voluntary returns of migrants making these treacherous journeys.
On trade, as the UK leaves the European Union we will be forging trade deals around the world with old friends and new allies alike, but that will not undermine the EU’s trade agenda; it is not even in competition with it. Therefore, for as long as we remain part of the EU, we will continue to press for an ambitious trade agenda that can deliver jobs and growth across the continent. That is what I did at this Council, where there was a particular focus on the work towards deals with Japan, Mexico and the Mercosur bloc of South American countries.
On climate change, the Council reaffirmed the commitment of all member states to fully implement the Paris agreement. The UK has already reaffirmed its own commitment, and I have expressed my disappointment to President Trump that he has taken a different decision. We will continue to make the case to our American allies to think again.
Turning to citizens’ rights, EU citizens make an invaluable contribution to our United Kingdom: to our economy, our public services and our everyday lives. They are an integral part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of our country, and I have always been clear that I want to protect their rights. That is why I initially sought an agreement on this before we triggered article 50, and it is why I am making it an immediate priority at the beginning of the negotiations.
But that agreement must be reciprocal because we must protect the rights of UK citizens living in EU member states, too. At the Council, I set out some of the principles that I believe should underlie that reciprocal agreement, and there was a very positive response from individual leaders and a strong sense of mutual good will in trying to reach such an agreement as soon as possible. So today we are publishing detailed proposals to do exactly that. Let me set out the key points for the House.
First, we want certainty. I know that there has been some anxiety about what would happen to EU citizens at the point we leave the European Union. Today I want to put that anxiety to rest. I want to completely reassure people that under these plans no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU. We want you to stay.
Second, any EU citizen in the UK with five years’ continuous residence at a specified cut-off date will be granted settled status. They will be treated as if they were UK citizens for healthcare, education, benefits and pensions, while any EU citizens with less than five years’ residence, who have arrived before the specified cut-off date, will be able to stay until they have the five years’ residence and apply for UK settled status.
Third, the specified cut-off date will be the subject of discussions, but it will be no earlier than the date on which we triggered article 50 and no later than the date on which we leave the EU. Fourth, no families will be split up. Family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen here before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years. After the UK has left the European Union, EU citizens with settled status will be able to bring family members from overseas on the same terms as British nationals.
Fifth, there will be no cliff edge: there will be a grace period of up to two years to allow people to regularise their status. Those EU citizens who arrived in the UK after the specified cut-off date will be allowed to remain in the UK for at least a temporary period, and may still become eligible to settle permanently. Sixth, the system of registration that citizens go through will be as streamlined and light-touch as possible, and we intend to remove some of the technical requirements currently needed to obtain permanent residence under EU rules. For example, we will not require anyone to demonstrate that they have held comprehensive sickness insurance.
Seventh, we expect this offer to be extended on a reciprocal basis to nationals of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, and the reciprocal agreement on citizens’ rights will apply to the entire United Kingdom and Gibraltar. Eighth, this is all without prejudice to the common travel area arrangements that exist between the UK and Ireland. We will preserve the freedoms that UK and Irish nationals currently enjoy in each other’s states, and Irish citizens will not need to apply for permanent residence to protect these entitlements.
Finally, the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK state pension and provide associated healthcare cover within the EU. We will continue to protect the export of other benefits and associated healthcare cover, where the individual is in receipt of those benefits on the specified cut-off date. Subject to negotiations, we want to continue participating in the European health insurance card scheme, so that UK card holders could continue to benefit from free or reduced-cost healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU, and vice-versa for EU card holders visiting the UK.
This is a fair and serious offer. Our obligations in the withdrawal treaty with the EU will be binding on the UK as a matter of international law. We will incorporate commitments into UK law guaranteeing that we will stand firmly by our part of the deal. Our offer will give those 3 million EU citizens in the UK certainty about the future of their lives, and a reciprocal agreement will provide the same certainty for the more than 1 million UK citizens who are living in the European Union.
One year on from that momentous decision to leave the European Union, let us remember what we are seeking to achieve with these negotiations. We are withdrawing from a system of treaties and bureaucracy that does not work for us, but we are not withdrawing from the values and solidarity that we share with our European neighbours.
As a confident, outward-looking and self-governing nation, we know that it is not just our past that is entwined in the fortunes of our friends and neighbours; it is our future, too. That is why we want this new, deep and special partnership, and it is why we approach these negotiations with optimism. A good deal for Britain and a good deal for Europe are not competing alternatives; they are the best single path to a brighter future for all our children and grandchildren. That, I believe, is the future that the British people voted for, and that is the future that I want us to secure. I commend this statement to the House.
Mr Speaker, may I join you in thanking all staff of the House of Commons for all the work they did over the weekend to ensure that our electronic systems are safe? I would be grateful if you passed that message on to staff.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement. Sixty-eight days ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and asked the country to give her a strong mandate to negotiate Brexit. She offered little by way of strategy or plan, but more by way of hollow soundbites and grandstanding. For the past six months, the Prime Minister has stuck to her mantra—
“no deal is better than a bad deal”—
and continued with her threat to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven aimed at undercutting the European Union by ripping up regulation, hacking back public services and leading a race to the bottom in pay and conditions. Well, the British people saw through that rhetoric and the threats and, instead of giving the Prime Minister the mandate she wanted, they rejected in large numbers the deregulated low-wage future that the Conservative party has in mind for this country.
The Prime Minister wanted a landslide and she lost her majority. Now, her mandate is in tatters, but she still insists she is the best person to get a good deal for Britain, and incredibly believes that she is the best person to strike a deal with the very people she spent the past six months threatening and hectoring. The truth is that this country needs a new approach to Brexit that a Tory Government simply cannot deliver. They are taking Britain down a reckless path, prepared to put jobs and living standards at risk just for the Prime Minister to maintain support within her party and to keep her Government in office.
The cracks are already beginning to appear. While some in the Conservative party want to move towards Labour’s approach to Brexit, at least in terms of protecting jobs, trade and the economy, the hard-right voices in her Cabinet and on her Back Benches, are still determined to force Britain over a cliff edge. The Prime Minister needs to ignore them; she needs now to listen. So I ask her, as she has promised to restore supremacy to this Parliament, will she now be more transparent and involve it properly in the Brexit negotiation process? Will she now finally rule out the possibility of no deal being a viable option for the country? [Interruption.] The choice is hers.
The Prime Minister went to Brussels last week to make what she described as a “generous offer” to EU nationals in this country. The truth is that it is too little, too late. That could and should have been done a year ago when Labour put that very proposal to the House of Commons. By making an offer only after negotiations have begun, the Prime Minister has dragged the issue of citizens and families deep into the complex and delicate negotiations of our future trade relations with the European Union, which she herself has been willing to say may result in failure.
This is not a generous offer. This is confirmation that the Government are prepared to use people as bargaining chips. So can the Prime Minister now confirm what will happen to her offer to nationals in this country if no deal is reached? What happens to the rights of family reunion that EU citizens are currently entitled to? Does the Prime Minister envisage that the five-year period that EU nationals must accumulate here in Britain will be the same for British citizens who want to retain the right to live in other parts of the European Union? Were these proposals drawn up to take into account the impact on our public services, especially the national health service, where there is already great concern over falling numbers of nurses and doctors?
What makes this situation more remarkable is what we learned this weekend from the former Chancellor of the Exchequer—that immediately after last year’s referendum, the Government were willing to give assurances to EU nationals in this country. However, that was blocked in the Cabinet by the Prime Minister herself. This is people’s lives we are talking about—our neighbours, friends, husbands, wives and children. The Prime Minister clearly did not care about them then. Why should they believe she cares about them now?
The country needs a change of direction; people are tired of tough talk from a weak Government and a weak Prime Minister. The Government need to listen, put the national interest first and deliver a Brexit for the many, not the few—one that puts jobs, the economy and living standards first by building a new partnership with the European Union on the basis of common interests and common values, and one that protects living standards and promotes human rights through new trade deals throughout the world. That is what Labour would do.
The Prime Minister has no mandate at home and no mandate abroad. Is it not the case that it would only be a Labour Government who work for the whole country who could deliver a Brexit that works for all and protects those jobs and living standards that are at risk while this Government remain in office?
The right hon. Gentleman talked about a variety of issues. He talked about Parliament and transparency. We have been very clear that there will be a vote in this Parliament on the deal that has been negotiated with the European Union, and we expect that to take place before the European Parliament has an opportunity to vote on it. There will be many opportunities—in legislation and in other ways—in the coming weeks and months for Parliament to make its views known on these various matters.
Let me come on to the position that the right hon. Gentleman referred to in relation to workers’ rights. We are very clear, as I was in the objectives that I set out in the Lancaster House speech in January, and as I have continued to set out, in the article 50 letter and elsewhere, that we want to protect workers’ rights—indeed, we want to enhance workers’ rights.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about there being no plan. I set out our objectives in that Lancaster House speech and in the article 50 letter, and have continued to set out those objectives, whereas the Labour party has had seven plans on Brexit in nine months. We have members of the Labour party Front Bench—the shadow Home Secretary, the shadow Chief Secretary and the shadow Attorney General—who want to retain free movement. We have 35 Labour MPs who want to retain membership of the single market. Neither of those, as far as I am aware, were actually in the Labour party manifesto that people stood on at the last election.
Then we get on to the whole issue of the negotiations on EU citizens and their rights here in the United Kingdom. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I find it bizarre, if not worrying, that, in the position he holds, he is willing to stand in this House and say he has no care for UK citizens living in the European Union, because that is what he is saying. I said at an early stage that we wanted to address the EU citizens’ rights issue early. The European Union were clear that there was no negotiation before notification. It is one of the first issues that we are addressing after notification. They were clear it had to be undertaken on a reciprocal basis, and they were clear that, whatever the United Kingdom said, the European Union would still be arguing about its proposals in relation to the protection of rights for EU citizens. So people who say that we should not be dealing with this on a reciprocal basis simply do not understand what negotiations are about, because the other side will be negotiating on these issues.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the issue of no deal being better than a bad deal. I will tell him what I worry about in terms of a bad deal: I worry about those who appear to suggest in Europe that we should be punished in some sense for leaving the European Union, and I worry about those here—from what he says, I think the Leader of the Opposition is in this particular camp—who say we should take any deal, regardless of the bill and regardless of the circumstances. He would negotiate the worst deal with the biggest possible bill.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman talks about wanting a future relationship based on a partnership of shared values with trade deals across the world. That is exactly what I said in my statement, so I suggest he start supporting the Government on their Brexit arrangements.
Given Brexit and our vital red lines on the European Court, and the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, does my right hon. Friend agree that a reasonable framework to protect reciprocal citizens’ rights while making no concession at all on preserving our own Westminster jurisdiction and our own judicial sovereignty would be a tribunal system such as I outlined in the House last week which would be along similar lines to the EFTA Court and a parallel source of law agreement?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting proposal. Of course, we are looking at a variety of arrangements for the enforcement of agreements that we come to. In relation to the EU citizens’ rights, if these form part of the withdrawal treaty, they will be enshrined in international law. But we should also recognise that our courts are world-renowned—they are respected around the world—and what I want to see, and would expect, is that these citizens’ rights for EU citizens in the UK would be upheld and enforced by our courts in the same way as UK citizens’ rights are upheld and enforced by our courts.
With your forbearance, Mr Speaker, I will make some short remarks on the sad passing of Gordon Wilson, who was Member of Parliament for Dundee East from 1974 to 1987. I am sure that everyone in the House would wish to pass their condolences on to Gordon’s family. Those of us on the SNP Benches were honoured to have Gordon’s wisdom, wit and intelligence with us for many, many decades. Indeed, he spoke with me on Wednesday before I entered the Chamber to respond to the Queen’s Speech. He will be sadly missed by all of us, and particularly by those of us on these Benches.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of the Government’s plan for EU citizens. It was more than concerning to open the document designed to settle the lives of many of our EU citizens here to discover that it leaves many more questions than it provides answers. The Prime Minister went to Brussels last week and presented a plan for EU nationals. It fell short of expectations, with Dutch President Mark Rutte stating that there are
“thousands of questions to ask”
about the proposal. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Joint Ministerial Committee was consulted on the proposals she has published today? When will she honour the pledge of a united United Kingdom approach to Brexit and give Scotland a place at the table in negotiations? Has the Prime Minister costed the plan for EU nationals, which she presented to the EU 27 last week, and when will the costings be laid before the House? Will she confirm that EU citizens in Scotland will not have to fill out the 85-page paper form for residency?
In the early hours after the EU referendum result, Scotland’s First Minister called loud and clear for the Prime Minister to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens’ rights. It is therefore shocking to learn in the Evening Standard that the then Prime Minister had pledged to do just that, but the current Prime Minister blocked the plan. Does the Prime Minister accept she was wrong, and will she now do the right and honourable thing and reassure thousands of concerned EU nationals living in the UK today by unilaterally guaranteeing their rights? We created these circumstances; we should be showing leadership.
We welcome the EU summit conclusions, especially those on jobs, growth and competitiveness. The SNP Government were the first Government in the UK to publish a plan for Brexit—we put the single market at the heart of that—and we call again on the Prime Minister to keep the UK in the single market to protect thousands of jobs in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Additional summit conclusions on the Paris agreement are a very welcome step in ensuring that the agreement is implemented following the US withdrawal last month. The Prime Minister must tell the House what the UK’s next steps will be in implementing the agreement in co-operation with our EU friends and neighbours.
I welcome the announcement today of the uprating of pensions for those living in the EU, but will the Prime Minister extend that to pensioners living in other parts of the world who currently do not benefit from uprating?
Finally, on behalf of those on the SNP Benches, I send best wishes to the Estonian President ahead of the European Estonian presidency taking over on 1 July, and give thanks to the Maltese presidency which is coming to an end this week.
First, may I join the hon. Gentleman in passing condolences to the family and friends of Gordon Wilson? I am sorry to hear of his passing.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of issues. I reiterate the point about the process of application. He referred to the 85-page application paper. As I said in my statement, the Home Office is working to introduce a streamlined, light-touch approach so that people will not have to apply on an 85-page paper.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the story in the Evening Standard. I have to say that that is not my recollection. What we are doing today is setting out what I believe is a fair and serious offer to EU citizens staying here in the United Kingdom, but we want to have a care—I repeat the point I made to the Leader of the Opposition—for those UK citizens living in the European Union.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that during the Scottish independence referendum the First Minister told EU nationals that, if an independent Scotland were not allowed to rejoin the EU,
“they would lose the right to stay here.”
We are not saying that to EU nationals here in the United Kingdom. We are saying, “We want you to stay and this paper is the basis on which we will ensure that you can stay, and nobody will be forced to leave.”
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her policy, which will bring many benefits to the UK and the rest of the EU. Can she tell the House a little more about how far we can go in negotiating free trade agreements with non-EU countries before we leave, and when we will learn how we can spend all the money we are going to save?
As my right hon. Friend will know, we proposed during the election campaign that some of the money that is returned be spent in a shared prosperity fund in the United Kingdom, which will seek to deal with and remove the disparities within regions and nations and between the parts of the United Kingdom.
On trade deals for the rest of the world, of course legally we cannot sign up to free trade agreements with other parties until we are no longer members of the European Union, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is doing much work with other countries around the world, such as India and America, to see what trade benefits we can achieve, before we leave the European Union, by removing some of the barriers that currently exist to trade between our countries.
The Prime Minister will be aware that EU citizens living and working here are particularly concerned about the status of their children. Can she confirm that a young person of EU parents who has lived in Britain for four years, who is currently studying at a university elsewhere in the EU and who will be over the age of 18 when she returns will be able automatically to return to her parents, and will her parents be required to meet an income threshold?
Yes, that individual would be allowed to return to the United Kingdom. If EU citizens who are living here at the time at which we leave have lived here before the specified cut-off date and have five years’ residence, they will get their settled status. If they have less than five years’ residence before the cut-off date, they will be able to stay to build up that five years’ residence for settled status. For any new people coming afresh to the United Kingdom after we leave the European Union, we will set out those immigration rules in due course and a Bill will go through Parliament, which will enable the right hon. Gentleman to contribute.
May I urge the Prime Minister to settle this issue as part of an interim deal with the EU, so that those affected do not have to wait for the conclusions of the negotiations?
I would very much like us to be able to do that by dealing with this at an early stage in the negotiations and by recognising that we all want to ensure that we give people reassurance and that they are no longer anxious about their future. I hope that the European Union will see the benefits of that and that we will be able to address this at an earlier stage than at the end of the negotiations.
The Prime Minister needs to reassure Members of the European Parliament. I was in Brussels last week and heard petitioners from this country and others talk about their concerns. When I previously asked the Prime Minister whether she would address the European Parliament, she said that she was waiting for an invitation. She must know, however, that she does need an invitation; she can volunteer to address a plenary session of the European Parliament. Will she do that?
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will be meeting some MEPs later today to talk about the proposals we have put forward. I have been in discussions with President Tajani about the possibility of my going over to speak to the European Parliament, and we are looking at the basis and a timetable on which that should happen.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the principal reasons why the British people voted to leave the EU was to reassert the supremacy of this Parliament and the UK courts? Will she confirm that, when we do leave, that will be the position for all citizens resident in the UK, no matter from where they came?
Yes, I can confirm that. One of the key differences between the proposals we have put forward and those of the European Union is that it wants the European Court of Justice to continue to have jurisdiction over EU citizens, even after we have left the European Union. I think people were very clear that they did not want the ECJ to have jurisdiction here in the UK. I believe that we have fine courts in this country. They will be able to uphold EU citizens’ rights, just as they uphold UK citizens’ rights.
The Prime Minister did not answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). If there are French parents whose 19-year-old daughter is studying in Paris and they have been living here for more than five years, will that daughter be able to return to live with them here without them having to pass the income threshold? If those parents have been living here for fewer than five years, will they still have all the same rights as if they had been living here for more than five years?
Yes: if the parents have been living here for the five years, their daughter will be able to return to the United Kingdom on the same basis that she would today. So there will be no new rules that would apply. If they have been living here for fewer than five years, they will be able to accrue the five-year status so that they go to exactly the same position with that settled status.
The Leader of the Opposition alleged that many Conservative Members were coming over to Labour’s way of thinking. Just in case I were tempted, does anyone have any idea what that is?
My right hon. Friend is always known for his plain speaking and he has put the point in a rather plainer way than I did in response to the Leader of the Opposition.
Paragraph 6 of the summit’s conclusions refers to “peace and stability” in the world. Was there an opportunity to discuss the situation in Yemen, where 10,000 people have been killed, where the cholera epidemic has reached a fifth of a million people, and where the Saudis and Qataris are now refusing to speak to each other? Surely if there is a role for the EU at the present time, it is to work with the United Kingdom, which holds the pen on Yemen, to try to bring peace to Yemen.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the serious issue of the situation that exists in Yemen. That has been a matter of concern for some time and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a growing issue. I am pleased that the United Kingdom has been able to provide some support. Of course, there are issues about ensuring that that support actually gets through to the people who need it.
I will be open with the right hon. Gentleman: there was not a discussion on Yemen specifically at this European Council, but we will continue to work with other member states of the European Union and through our role on the Security Council of the United Nations to try to find a solution, so that we can see a reduction in the humanitarian problems in Yemen and bring peace and stability to that country.
The Prime Minister has been attempting to resolve the status of EU citizens since well before the triggering of article 50. What more can EU citizens residing in the UK do to put pressure on whoever is standing in the way of an agreement to resolve this issue, which is causing so much heartache to so many people?
My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The message has to go across in the negotiations that this is a really important issue. It is about people’s futures, and we want to ensure that we remove anxiety and give people reassurance. When I speak to other leaders within Europe, that is the message I get from them, but we need to ensure that the working group that has been set up under the negotiations recognises that and does its work as quickly as possible.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the only way to reassure the 3 million EU citizens who work in, but are starting to leave, our hospitals, schools, care homes and businesses, as well as UK citizens in the EU, is for her immediately and unconditionally to grant full rights to EU citizens in the UK—no ifs, no buts? Anything less will leave them thinking that they are nothing more than a bargaining chip in a crude and cruel game of call my bluff initiated by the Brexiteers sitting next to her.
We are making clear in the document we have set out today the basis on which we believe a reciprocal arrangement can be made, but we are also making it clear to EU citizens here in the UK that nobody is being asked to leave the United Kingdom. That is one of the most important messages that we can give to people here, because there has been that anxiety. This is a serious offer, and nobody is being asked to leave the United Kingdom.
I strongly welcome the offer to EU nationals that the Prime Minister is making today and the spirit of generosity and pragmatism with which she makes it. Does she agree that carrying forward that same spirit into the negotiations about the rights of future EU workers gives us the best chance of protecting our own economic interests and securing the comprehensive trade deal that we all want to see?
My right hon. Friend is right. We want to work in a positive and constructive spirit, because it is in the interests of both sides—the UK and the European Union—to ensure that we get the right offer for EU citizens here and UK citizens in the EU, and also that we get the comprehensive trade deal we want, which will be to not just our benefit but that of the other member states.
I certainly want the dilemma that EU nationals working and living here are facing to be put to bed so that they can plan for their future, but I also know that my constituents who voted leave wanted the reform of free movement. Will the Prime Minister pledge today to ensure that more of my constituents will be trained to fill any vacancies in both the public and private sectors created by the reform of freedom of movement? If the answer to that is yes, will she commit to come back to the House to explain just how we will do that?
I thank the right hon. Lady for the references she makes and I can give her the assurance. It is absolutely crucial for this country that we ensure that young people are given the skills and training that they need to take up the vacancies and jobs of not only today but the future. That is why we will be reforming technical education. We will introduce changes to ensure we have proper technical education in this country for what I believe will be the first time. Alongside that, we have an industrial strategy that is about spreading prosperity across the country and ensuring that those job opportunities are available.
I commend the Prime Minister for the generous offer that she set out, and I hope that we will see an offer that will also benefit British citizens. I was pleased that, in reply to questions from Opposition Members, she said that EU nationals will get the same rights as British citizens but not better rights than British citizens. Will she take full opportunity of using the process to ensure that EU nationals who sadly have come to this country and abused our hospitality by committing crimes can be removed from our country?
My right hon. Friend knows very well from one of his previous roles the issue of those who have come to this country and abused, through their criminality, the rights they have been given. I certainly will ensure that we can take action to remove serious and persistent criminals from the UK.
How can the cut-off date be earlier than the date we leave the European Union, given that EU citizens are living and working here legally at the moment and that the rights and obligations we have as members continue up until the day we leave, even through the article 50 negotiation process?
The rights that we have set out and the specified date are about the point at which people are able to qualify for settled status here in the United Kingdom. Of course, as we are members of the European Union, the arrangements that have always existed for us and for those here will continue, but for those who are getting settled status and wish to retain it for the future, the cut-off date is pertinent, and that will be a matter for negotiation.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister chose, exceptionally, to raise this extremely important issue in the Council, but will she confirm that in future all the threads of the negotiations will pass through the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, therefore bringing the negotiation together, in the same way in which the European Council is standing behind Mr Barnier?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is looking at all those threads, which he is going to pull together. We are very clear that at different stages as we go through the negotiations—in the working groups and so forth—a whole variety of people will be involved, but as we saw last Monday, when my right hon. Friend went to the start of the negotiations opposite Michel Barnier, the status and position that he holds is very clear.
The Prime Minister does not seem to understand that the election has changed everything and that her extreme, damaging Brexit is dead, so why is she making an offer that, as it affects British nationals living on the continent and EU nationals here, is far less generous than the offer that the EU made to us just two weeks ago?
There is no “extreme Brexit” that we have been talking about. There is no hard Brexit and there is no soft Brexit; what we want is the right deal for the United Kingdom. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that over 80% of people who voted in the recent election voted for parties that were committed to taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union. We have made a fair and serious offer; I believe it is a generous offer. There is one way in which it is different from the offer that the European Union has made, and that is in relation to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. When people voted in the referendum last year, they voted to ensure that we stopped the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice here in the UK.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the comprehensive offer that she has made to secure the rights of EU citizens in our country, in a bid also to secure the rights of UK citizens in the EU. The next time she meets the Heads of Government in the European Union, can she explain to them that there are rather a lot of remainers in this country who would prefer the Leader of the Opposition to become Prime Minister, but that he says that he would scrap our nuclear weapons in six months, removing part of Europe’s vital defensive shield provided through NATO? Will she make clear the danger of that to them?
That was very tangentially related to the matters on which the Prime Minister is reporting to us, but we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what I think I will charitably call a cerebral meander.
Of course, Mr Speaker, the European Council did touch on defence issues as well, so it is possible for me to report to my hon. Friend that I did indeed address the importance of the United Kingdom continuing to maintain its defence relationship with other countries in Europe. Our relationship through NATO is very important. Obviously, because of our nuclear deterrent, we are one of the key safeguards of the security and safety of Europe.
The Prime Minister keeps talking about the need for reciprocity, so will she tell the House why she chose not simply to reciprocate the genuinely fair and generous proposal made by the European Commission back in April, which would have guaranteed the existing rights of the 1.2 million UK citizens living elsewhere in EU? That would have saved a lot of time, built up good will instead of ill will, and got the negotiations off to a much better start.
I think I have pointed out that there are some differences between the two proposals put forward by us and the European Union, through the European Commission. One of the key differences was the suggestion from the European Commission that after we have left the European Union, there should be two classes of citizens here in the UK: UK citizens, whose rights would be guaranteed by the UK courts; and EU citizens, whose rights would be guaranteed by the European Court of Justice. I do not believe that that is right. I believe that all citizens should have their rights guaranteed through our courts.
Does the Prime Minister agree that no reasonable person could oppose what she has proposed? The only people who do never wanted us to leave in the first place. The idea that a foreign court should rule on the rights of people living here is akin to the outdated colonial approach taken towards China in the unequal treaties of the 19th century.
I always bow to my hon. Friend’s historical knowledge in the references that he makes, but the point is clear: what we want to see when we leave the European Union is that citizens here in the UK have their rights guaranteed and enforced by UK courts.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was present himself at the signing of the said treaties. We do not know; we will leave it to speculation.
Did the Prime Minister have an opportunity to speak to the President of Cyprus and express her support for the settlement talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, which are due to recommence in Switzerland on Wednesday?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place in the Chamber. I did indeed have a bilateral discussion with the President of Cyprus about those talks, and about our hope and expectation because they have come so far. I think that both President Anastasiades and Mr Akinci have taken the discussions to a point that is far closer to a resolution than we have ever seen before, and I hope that we shall be able to take it over the line in the talks that will start in Geneva later this month. The UK, as a co-guarantor, stands ready to play its part in that.
When EU leaders say that they want EU laws to prevail over their citizens in the UK, what they are effectively saying is that they do not trust our judicial system. When the Prime Minister next meets her EU counterparts, may I suggest that she gently reminds them that many of the companies in their own countries—the companies that drive their economies—actually use English and Welsh contract law, which is enforced in our courts by our judges, and the reason why they use English and Welsh law is that, globally, our judicial system commands greater respect than the judicial systems of Germany, France, Italy and so on?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and the nub of it is that our courts are respected around the world. As he says, people choose to use our law because they respect our courts, and they also respect the validity of our law. It is important that citizens in the UK are under the jurisdiction of our courts.
I note that the Prime Minister intends to do away with the technical requirement for comprehensive sickness insurance once a reciprocal arrangement has been reached, but people such as my Lithuanian constituent Diementa McDuff are suffering as a result of that requirement at present. Despite having been in Scotland for more than five years, she cannot secure permanent residency because she does not have comprehensive sickness insurance. During the last Parliament, the Exiting the European Union Committee heard evidence that no such insurance product actually exists. Will the Prime Minister do away with that requirement here and now? It is a technical nonsense because these people are using the national health service anyway.
The requirement for comprehensive sickness insurance is an EU requirement, and as long as we are members of the EU, it will continue to be there. Once we leave, we can indeed remove it.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to maintaining the “anything but arms” free trade relationship with the least developed countries. Will she say a little more about the Government’s intention to extend free and fair trade to developing countries which are not necessarily on the “least developed countries” list, but which have historically been penalised by the EU’s tariff arrangements?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are looking for a wide range of trade deals with countries around the world when we leave the European Union. I think that those trade deals are important because they bring prosperity, growth and jobs here to the UK, and also because it is free trade that has lifted millions out of poverty around the world. Ensuring that those free trade deals are in place has huge advantages for not just the least developed countries but others, and their citizens, and that will enable us to see growth, jobs and prosperity spread more widely than they are today.
Will the Prime Minister tell us what discussions took place on co-operation against terrorism? Was there any reference to what happened on the streets of London just over a week ago on al-Quds day, when demonstrators were allowed to shout out blaming Zionists for the Grenfell Tower fire and castigating rabbis and synagogues?
There was a significant discussion on counter-terrorism and the need for us to co-operate in dealing with this issue. We focused, as I said in my statement, on issues around the internet and on the way in which it is used to promulgate hateful propaganda and to allow terrorists to plan and to have a safe space. We are united in our wish and our determination to take action with the tech companies to ensure that this cannot happen in the future. On the hon. Lady’s last point, I would simply say that across the whole House we are clear that there is no place for hate crime or hate speech in this country.
Some 3.2 million EU citizens currently choose to live, work and make their lives in this country. They are well aware that we are leaving the European Union. What does my right hon. Friend believe that that says about their perception of our country’s prospects post-Brexit, and what does it say about Opposition Members when millions of EU citizens have more confidence in our country than they do?
I think that it shows what a great place the United Kingdom is to live and work in, and what great opportunities we have for the future. I am very pleased that those 3.2 million EU citizens have confidence in our country and want to stay here.
In her statement, the Prime Minister talked about the drivers of migration, which include climate change, conflicts and extreme poverty. As a country, we have a proud record on international development. Does she agree that as this process moves forward, it is vital that we continue to co-operate closely with other EU countries to tackle extreme poverty, especially in Africa?
Indeed it is, and I am pleased that we as a country have been able to play our part in dealing with that. As an example, the Somalia conference that we hosted some weeks ago brought together countries from around the world to find ways in which we can continue to support Somalia, which people have been choosing to leave to come to Europe, and to provide greater stability and economic opportunity in that country. The UK has been at the forefront of the compact that we have with Ethiopia to provide economic and job opportunities for people who might otherwise try to migrate to Europe. We will continue to work with our European allies on this.
Does the Prime Minister believe that our new relationship with Europe will enable us to reduce further the significant numbers of European Union nationals in our prisons, which would give further headroom for our hard-pressed prison officers to carry out the vital rehabilitation work that they do so well?
Yes, indeed. We want to ensure that we are able to continue to transfer prisoners from the United Kingdom to their homes states in the European Union, but we also want to ensure that we are able to remove serious and persistent criminals from the United Kingdom, and we will do that.
I should like to ask my right hon. and even closer Friend the Prime Minister what reassurance she can give to the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland—particularly its producers and processors—about the rights of workers that will be required so that we can benefit from the increase in trade that that sector will undoubtedly get as a result of Brexit? Will this be marshalled by a work permit system and, if so, will it be capped in Northern Ireland?
The rules that we will set for people coming into the United Kingdom from the European Union, once we have left it—that is, those who are not already here—will be set out in the new immigration Bill that we will bring to the House following the repeal Bill. I fully recognise the importance of the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland, and that was made clear to me during several visits I have made there in recent months. We want to ensure that, once we have left the European Union, we see greater opportunities for the agri-food sector not only in Northern Ireland but across the whole United Kingdom, which will bring jobs, and greater growth and prosperity.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the typically warm and constructive response from Mr Juncker to these welcome proposals reinforces the need for her to work ever closer with the European Heads of Government to compensate for the vested interests of the EU institutions?
As I said in my statement, the responses received from individual leaders in the European Union were positive to the proposals that we were putting forward. I can cite the Prime Minister of Poland’s positive response to what was said, for example. I think my hon. Friend makes an interesting point.
To follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), the Prime Minister’s new governing partner, the Democratic Unionist Party, said in its manifesto that it would seek to deliver a “frictionless border” with the Republic of Ireland and a
“comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union”.
Is it not the case that neither of those objectives can be secured if we leave the European Union without a deal?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the desires to bring about a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and to have a comprehensive free trade deal are exactly what the Government are pursuing. That is what was said in my Lancaster House speech, and we are doing it. I met the incoming Taoiseach last week and discussed how we can work with the Irish Government to ensure that we can deliver just that.
Violent ideologies from far-right Islamists are increasingly appearing online. Will my right hon. Friend provide some more information on what was agreed at the Council on tackling, fining or holding accountable internet companies that carry extremist content or those that are platforms for grooming?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. With extremism that leads to terrorism, whatever the source, we see that people are trying to divide us in this country. That is why the response to all the terrorist attacks that have taken place in recent months—there being different reasons for those attacks having taken place, of course—has been one of unity and unity of purpose of British citizens to ensure that we drive out this hatred from our country. That is so important. In the discussions, we focused on the internet and in particular the industry-led forum, the setting up of which we and others have been discussing with tech companies. We want to see automatic technological solutions for the removal of material from the internet, because at the moment the process of removing extremist material is too slow and allows too many minds to be infiltrated before it is taken down. We want to see the automatic removal of that material.
The Prime Minister has made clear her hostility to the European Court of Justice. What will happen to British citizens living in other EU countries if they are not protected by the Court? Will they become citizens of nowhere?
As regards the jurisdiction of courts in the United Kingdom, I have made it clear that we should not be subject to the European Court of Justice and that EU citizens’ rights here should be protected in a different way. I believe that one of the things that people voted for when they voted to leave the European Union was for the ECJ not to have jurisdiction here in the United Kingdom.
I think the whole country will welcome the agreement that the Conservative and Unionist party has made with the DUP. The Prime Minister’s statement referred to the Brexit dividend of over £10 billion that we will save when we are not in the European superstate, and I welcome the half a billion pounds a year going to Northern Ireland. Is that the sort of funding that the Prime Minister thinks will happen in the rest of the United Kingdom?
I can say that we have to look at how we are going to use the money that we will no longer be sending to the European Union. People voted for us not to be sending vast sums of money to the EU every year, and we will have to look at how we use that money. One suggestion that has already been proposed by the Government is the concept of a shared prosperity fund to remove the disparities between different parts of the UK.
Did the Prime Minister have a chance at the European Council to discuss transitional funding arrangements for Wales? She will surely have to have something to say to the people of Wales, who now feel they are being treated as second-class citizens in the United Kingdom. She can magic up billions for Northern Ireland and yet will not give a guarantee on future funding for Wales.
We have already been very clear on various aspects of European Union funding for farmers, and on the guarantees we have over a period of years, but we want to make sure that, when money comes back from the European Union—money that we no longer give to the European Union—we are able to spend it as effectively as possible in driving improvements across the whole United Kingdom.
Before I came to this place, I used to teach effective negotiation skills. Through the Prime Minister, may I invite the Leader of the Opposition to a free trial period?
My hon. Friend makes a most generous offer, though I suspect the first thing he will have to do is explain to the Leader of the Opposition what a negotiation actually is.
I continue the efforts of my right hon. Friends the Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) in trying to understand what this will mean for our EU constituents resident here in the UK and their family members. Can the Prime Minister confirm that, under her rules, a Polish nurse on a band 5 salary of under £22,000, who therefore will not meet the income threshold required under the current rules, will not be able to bring her child and partner over to the UK; and that a French teaching assistant on under £17,000 will not be able to bring an elderly relative to the UK? If so, what impact does she think that will have on our public services?
I repeat what I said earlier. For those EU citizens who are here and who qualify for settled status—either because they already have five years’ residence or because they were here before the cut-off date and are able to build up the qualification for settled status—there will be no extra requirements to enable them to bring family members into the United Kingdom. We are not going to be splitting up those families.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s very clear assurances that, under Brexit, no families will be split up and that there will be no cliff edges for regularising their status. I also welcome the healthcare and pension arrangements. But the impact of Brexit on British businesses that employ EU workers simply cannot be overestimated, especially in the food, drink, farming and health industries in places such as Taunton Deane, so what reassurances can she give British businesses that employ EU citizens?
First, I emphasise again that there will be no cliff edges and that people will be able to bring family members here. We are not talking about splitting up families, which is a very important message. Once we have left the European Union, we will of course be putting immigration rules in place, but in doing so we will recognise, as we already do with people who come here from outside the European Union, the need to ensure that our economy can access the skills it needs, particularly in shortage occupations. We also want to ensure that people here in the United Kingdom are trained to take those jobs, hence the very important moves the Government are making on technical education.
The Prime Minister said earlier that no families would be split up, but she said during the general election campaign that she intended to cut net migration to this country to the tens of thousands. Well, there is a problem here, because last year 136,787 people came to this country through the family route. If she is to meet her pledge, she is going to split families up, isn’t she?
Let me be very clear: EU citizens who qualify for settled status will be able to bring family members into the United Kingdom without any extra requirements.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that Britain will become more internationalist after we leave the European Union. With that prospect in mind, could she give further details of her Government’s discussions with non-EU countries?
I am very happy to say that we have already had a number of productive engagements on the issue of future trade with countries across the world, notably with India and America, but with other countries, too. We have had discussions with Australia, New Zealand, China and other countries across the world. There are real opportunities for the UK once we leave the European Union, and we will be making every effort to ensure that we take those opportunities.
The Prime Minister’s offer is a step in the right direction, but it is long overdue. As a former Home Secretary, she will know that it is impossible both to grant the rights she proposes to 3.2 million EU citizens and to fulfil her target of reducing net migration to tens of thousands. Can she confirm today that she has set aside this fanciful target and is going to propose instead to follow the Chancellor’s advice about a Brexit that is rich in jobs?
We all want to ensure that the deal we come to with the European Union will ensure that we have the comprehensive free trade agreement that sees growth, prosperity and jobs here in the UK. That is the aim, but also we will be able to see jobs being brought here as a result of the trade arrangements we will be making around the rest of the world.
May I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for confirming, once more, that the Conservatives will fulfil the delivery of the referendum result of control of our laws, borders and money? Will she give due assurance that any pressure to allow the European Court of Justice any role on immigration or the future indefinite leave to remain status of EU citizens in this country will be flatly opposed?
I give my hon. Friend the assurance that, as I said earlier, we believe that assuring the rights of EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom should be done through our courts, not through the ECJ. I will just reiterate the point I made: when many people voted to leave the European Union, one of the things they wanted to ensure was that the ECJ no longer had jurisdiction here in the UK.
Many of us who did not want this country of ours to leave the European Union took that view partly because we believed that leaving would make us more vulnerable and Europe less stable. Will the Prime Minister assure me that discussions took place at the European Council on the security implications of where we are now in Europe, given the increasing threat from Russia, both militarily and in terms of other activities it seems to be getting up to these days?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a particular set of discussions related to the activities of Russia and the EU’s response; the UK has been one of the countries leading on the requirements in relation to that. We remain clear that the sanctions must stay until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented in relation to the activity Russia has undertaken in Ukraine. We also discussed other security and defence issues, and I was able to reassure the other Heads of State and Government that the UK will retain its role in helping to ensure the security and safety of the European Union. We want to continue to have a defence and security partnership with our European allies.
May I return to the Prime Minister’s welcome comments about the discussions on social media companies hosting hate material? We have led the way in this country on requiring employers proactively to make checks on the legality of prospective employees, landlords to check on prospective tenants and banks to check for money laundering. No such requirements or fines are in place for social media companies, so will she now urgently set down a timeline, minimum requirements and the real prospect of significant and meaningful fines for social media companies that continue to act irresponsibly?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is precisely because we want to see those companies acting with greater responsibility in this area that we have been discussing with them this industry-led forum for the automatic take-down of material from the internet and that we have galvanised support, not just in the G7, as I did earlier this month, but in the EU Council last Friday. This was international support to ensure that we can put collective pressure on the companies to ensure that they are not carrying this material and that we see the importance and significance of taking this action. We have also discussed the fact that although the first step will be discussions with the companies about what they can do themselves, there is the prospect of legislation if that fails.
Several hon. Members rose—
I call Darren Jones. [Interruption.] He was here a moment ago. I call Mr David Hanson.
Will the Prime Minister assure the House that she has made progress on securing our membership of the European arrest warrant, Eurojust and Europol as part of her discussions? In passing, will she also tell me that the UK Government do know when European citizens enter the United Kingdom?
As regards Eurojust, Europol and the European arrest warrant, those will be matters for the negotiations, but I have made it very clear that we want to retain our security co-operation, not just on counter-terrorism matters but on matters relating to crime.
When we triggered article 50, it was very clear that a new immigration regime would be required. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was therefore entirely sensible and appropriate to discuss the cut-off date with the EU Commission?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. New immigration rules will be brought in in the UK for those people who move from the EU to the UK after we have left. It is entirely right and sensible that, in part of the negotiations, we discuss the cut-off date for EU citizens who are here.
I represent many EU citizens who are fearful and indeed tearful about their future prospects, so I welcome some of the clarity that the Prime Minister has brought to the matter. She talks about a streamlined system for applying for status, but many people worry about how they will pay the costs for an entire family to go through the process in short order. Can she give us an indication of what those costs might be and reassure them?
The Home Office will be looking very carefully at ensuring that the costs are reasonable. It wants to ensure that the streamlined system, which will be a light-touch process, will be easy for people to access and that it will therefore be easy for them to regularise their status.
It is very important to our economy that business continues to invest and that there are no cliff-edge changes to our trading relationships. As well as seeking a fair deal on exit and a new trade deal, will the Prime Minister seek a two or three-year transitional period to give business a total of up to five years to prepare for the future?
Once we know the basis of our future relationship with the EU, it will be important to recognise that not just business but Government as well may need to have an implementation period when they are able to make the necessary adjustments. How long that period will be will depend on what the new relationship is, and will therefore be part of the discussions that take place during the negotiations.
With tens of thousands of Scottish jobs at risk, will the Prime Minister listen to her Chancellor’s warnings and protect our place in the single market?
As regards Scottish jobs, the most important single market is that of the United Kingdom.
Was the Prime Minister able to convey to her European counterparts in the Council the fact that, in the general election earlier this month, 589 Members of this House were elected on a promise to deliver a comprehensive Brexit?
Yes, I was very clear about the view of the electorate and about the position taken in the election by the Government and the majority of people who have come into this House, which was to deliver on the will of the British people as expressed in the referendum.
The Prime Minister said at the beginning of her statement that she wished the UK and the EU to trade as freely as possible in both goods and services. Can she confirm to the House whether any time was spent on developing proposals for the UK to remain both in the single market and the customs union?
We want to ensure that we have a good, frictionless access to the single market that is as tariff-free as possible. That is what we mean when we talk about a comprehensive free trade agreement, and that comprehensive free trade agreement will be part of the negotiations.
European Union citizens in my constituency of Gloucester and their employers, notably the NHS, our university and many businesses, will greatly appreciate the clarity in the Prime Minister’s statement today. Will she give us an idea of whether an agreement on this crucial issue, which affects so many citizens here and in Europe, might be possible before agreement on other issues, and if so, when?
I am pleased that this issue is one of the first to be addressed in the negotiations. I hope and believe that there is goodwill on both sides to recognise the importance of this issue for citizens both here and in the remaining 27 European Union member states. I cannot give a timeline, because, obviously, there are aspects that still need to be negotiated, and the European Union has said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. I hope that we will be able to give final reassurance to citizens at an earlier stage.
The Prime Minister has said that she wants to see the removal of serious and persistent criminals from the UK, and I am sure that we would all agree with that. Will she say a little bit more about how she intends to do that, bearing in mind that she failed to do it in the six or seven years when she was Home Secretary?
I have to say to the hon. Lady that her portrayal of what happened during the time that I was Home Secretary, and indeed since, is not correct. A significant number of persistent and serious criminals were removed from the United Kingdom. The basis on which it is possible to do that for people who are here as European Union citizens of course is subject to slightly different rules than that for others, and once we are out of the European Union we will be able to adjust that.
My constituency has proportionately more EU nationals than any other in the country in respect of how recently they have arrived. I know that they, like me, will warmly welcome the statement, which provides real clarity and which, I hope, will be concluded, as my right hon. Friend has said, earlier than the end of this deal. On social media, may I remind her that not that long ago internet companies were saying that the removal of child sex abuse images automatically was simply impossible? Now, it happens routinely. Extremist material is harder, but does she agree that it can be done?
My hon. Friend makes an important point in drawing that comparison. It did take a while, and hard work, to get the tech companies to the position where they would take the action they have done on child sexual abuse images on the internet. I believe we can do the same with extremism, and that is what we are encouraging them to do.
Hello, Prime Minister.
At the Council, did the Prime Minister manage to raise the issue of the Erasmus+ programme and our continuing work in it? In particular, the deadline for the Erasmus+ grants is October. It takes six months for those grants to be awarded, and another year sometimes for them to be enacted. Will she ensure that any academic, student or young person who is awarded an Erasmus programme is able to come here without additional visa burdens?
While we are still within the European Union, the current arrangements and the opportunities to apply still apply to the United Kingdom. We have been able to give some certainty over certain programmes and their continuation after we leave the European Union, but even after we have left there will be options for us to find ways in which we can contribute and participate in such programmes.
We all warmly welcome the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr Russell-Moyle) to the Chamber and to our deliberations.
I have just returned from the Netherlands with a delegation from the Lords and Commons. On the Dutch Binnenhof tour, I had the opportunity, among other things, to speak to British nationals living and working in the Netherlands. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give to them and to other British nationals living and working across the EU that their rights will be protected, alongside EU rights for those living here?
The best assurance I can give to those British citizens living in the Netherlands and elsewhere in the European Union is that we have set out a fair deal—a fair offer—to those EU citizens living here, but we are very clear that this must be reciprocal and that those British citizens must have their rights protected as well, and we will continue to argue for that.
The Prime Minister mentioned the trade deal between Japan and the EU. She will be aware from leaked documents this weekend that a lot of people are concerned that there is no mention of environmental protections—for example, tackling Japan’s illegal timber trade or whaling—in the draft agreement. Does she think that those protections should be in there and what does this say about the agreements that we will be negotiating when we leave the EU?
Obviously, there is still further discussion taking place between the European Union and Japan in relation to that trade deal. Once we have left the European Union and are able to set up such agreements ourselves—Japan is another of the countries we have been talking to—it will be up to us, as part of the negotiations for that trade deal, to set the conditions for that trade agreement.
Returning to the issue of online content, will the Prime Minister confirm whether the Government would be willing to enact legislation should the internet companies not make sufficient progress with the removal of inappropriate content?
We are certainly willing to consider legislation; this matter is so important. I believe that, with the international pressure and co-operation that we are now building, we will be able to put pressure on the tech companies such that they do this themselves, but we should not rule any option out.
I do not know whether it is in order to blow a raspberry in this House, but that was the reaction of constituents—EU nationals—whom I met at the Partick language hub in my constituency on Saturday, when they heard about the reports of this deal. I wonder how many EU nationals the Prime Minister met or consulted in drawing up the proposal she has presented today.
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that, like other Members of the House, I have met people in my constituency who are employers of EU nationals concerned about this and people who are EU nationals who are concerned about their position. The detail had not been published at the weekend, but I suggest that he take the detail to his constituents and enable them to see for themselves the fair and serious offer we are making.
I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister refer earlier to our manifesto commitment to create a UK shared prosperity fund. Even though it was not specifically mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, will she confirm that the Government are committed to bringing forward such a fund to replace the EU structural funding that has been so important to places such as Cornwall?
We want to ensure that when we are no longer sending these huge sums of money to the European Union every year, some of the money that is available can be used in that way. There is a real need to ensure that we do that as effectively as possible so that the money has the maximum impact across all parts of the United Kingdom.
I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware of the problems already faced by our universities and research sectors because of these uncertainties. What discussions did she have at the Council with other leaders about dealing with these challenges, and will she take the opportunity today to say whether she wants us to stay within the Horizon 2020 programme?
A number of the programmes and projects that the UK has been part of and benefited from will be part of the negotiations. What I am very clear about—we have made this point consistently with EU circles—is that while we are still in the European Union we should have the same ability to apply to be part of programmes as has been the case previously. One of my concerns is that in some areas, such as university research, I am hearing some anecdotes that universities are finding it harder because of our future. As long as we are in the European Union, we should be able to apply on exactly the same basis as we always have.
Several hon. Members rose—
What a rich assortment of distinction. I call Joan Ryan.
The European arrest warrant and its extradition orders have proved a very effective means by which we have seen speedy justice for those who have committed a crime and for victims who want a speedy outcome. What does the Prime Minister envisage as the future of the European arrest warrant? Has she yet discussed that at any point? If not, when does she think it will be discussed?
As I indicated earlier to the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), those issues will be part of the negotiations. But I am bound to point out that I stood at this Dispatch Box as Home Secretary and argued for the United Kingdom to remain in the European arrest warrant, during a debate in which the Labour party was trying to stop us getting the legislation through.
Order. Members are chuntering “It’s true” and “It’s not true” from a sedentary position. It is all very well, but it is rather unfair to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who wishes to unburden herself of a series of important thoughts that the nation should hear.
Every week in my surgery I see constituents who are already worn down by the incompetence, intransigence and unkindness of the Home Office. What steps will the Prime Minister take to give the Home Office adequate funding to deal with all the additional EU nationals who will now need to be processed?
The Home Office is well able to deal with the issues that it will be addressing, and it will be ensuring, as I indicated in an earlier response, that the process that people will go through will be streamlined and light-touch.
I recently visited a manufacturer in my constituency that exports to the EU. It informed me that it now has to include the risks of Brexit in its export contracts. What advice does the Prime Minister have for manufacturers, such as those in my constituency, that today have to assess the risk that they might end up paying tariffs after we leave the EU?
What I say to those manufacturers is that I hope they will work with the Government to ensure that we understand the needs of every part of industry in this country as we go forward into the negotiation on the comprehensive free trade agreement. We want to see a tariff-free ability to trade with the European Union, and we will be considering the views and interests of British industry as we do that.
The Prime Minister has twice this afternoon responded to questions about the skills challenges that will be created as a result of the reform of freedom of movement by referring to the reform of technical education, but of course the economy will have much greater needs, such as new dentists, doctors, vets and other professionals. On that basis, will she guarantee the funding necessary to ensure that our schools, colleges and universities will be able to meet the skills challenges of a post-Brexit world?
I have been very clear that we do need to meet those skills challenges; that is why we are bringing in the reforms. The hon. Lady refers to issues within the national health service, but one of the important steps that the Government have taken is to remove the caps on the number of people who can train as staff in the national health service.
My question relates to that posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). If the Prime Minister truly is concerned about the future of British science and European funding, why is there no mention of British science and European funding in this statement, any of the Brexit Bills or the Queen’s Speech?
I suggest that the hon. Lady look at the 12 objectives set out in my Lancaster House speech in January for a negotiated deal with the European Union. We specifically referred to science and innovation.
Much play has been made this afternoon about the supremacy of this place in terms of the repatriation of powers from the European Union, yet there has been no consideration of how the whole governance and structure of the United Kingdom is to be developed, post-Brexit. Will the Government give any consideration to a concurrent constitutional convention that would consider how stable and sustainable governance and distribution of power across the United Kingdom is considered after the Brexit process, including the possibility of a federal UK?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place; I did not welcome one or two other new hon. Members who have stood up, so I apologise to them for that. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the best way of ensuring good governance and stability across the United Kingdom is maintaining the United Kingdom.
I, too, welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), who has just served up an interesting hors d’oeuvre. We look forward to his main course before very long.
There are two excellent universities in York, but they are already challenged by the recruitment and retention of EU staff. Researchers and academics need to move seamlessly between UK and EU universities. How will they accrue their settled status under the Prime Minister’s new rules?
I suggest that the hon. Lady look at the proposals set out today, which make clear the basis on which people are able get their guaranteed settled status here in the United Kingdom. That will cover people from all walks of life. We want EU citizens who are here to stay. We are not talking about forcing anybody to leave the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister has fielded without really answering a number of questions about the longer-term rights of EU nationals to bring their families over here should the need arise in future. Can she now answer the question categorically? Will she give an absolute guarantee that the minimum income requirement that is obstructing so many family reunions for non-EU nationals will never under any circumstances be imposed on any EU national in the United Kingdom?
EU nationals who have been here for five years and have the five years’ residence will quality for settled status. EU nationals who have been here for fewer than five years will be given an opportunity to qualify for that settled status—to stay for those five years in order to qualify. No extra requirements will be imposed on those EU nationals in relation to bringing family members into the United Kingdom. Once we have left the European Union, we will be establishing within the immigration rules the arrangements for EU nationals who then move into the United Kingdom. They will have the same status as those moving here from outside the European Union.
As part of her recent little tour around Labour-held seats across the country, the Prime Minister stopped for a photograph at a farm in my constituency. Why was there no mention of agriculture in today’s statement?
What I was reporting on were the subjects discussed at the European Council on Friday. I reported faithfully on those subjects.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that she was aware of the details in the document on EU nationals wanting to remain in the UK when, during the general election, she promised to cut immigration to the tens of thousands? Are the two compatible?
Yes. In the document, we are talking about the rights of EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom. We are making a fair and serious offer that nobody will be forced to leave the United Kingdom and that families will not be split up. We want people to stay, and this is the document that will enable them to do so.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on details of the agreement reached today between the Conservative and Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party, under which the DUP will support the Government on a confidence and supply basis.
Having won the most votes and the largest number of seats in the general election on 8 June by a significant margin, only the Conservative party has the ability and legitimacy to lead the Government our country needs. This agreement delivers the certainty we need in the United Kingdom’s national interest at this crucial time. The agreement means that the DUP will support the Government on votes on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget, and legislation relating to our exit from the European Union and national security. It will ensure that we can govern in the national interest, strengthening and enhancing the Union, keeping our country safe, delivering prosperity for all and securing a departure from the European Union that benefits all parts of the United Kingdom. To support the agreement, the Government will chair a co-ordination committee involving both parties.
As Members of this House are well aware and as our manifesto made clear, the Conservative party has never been neutral in expressing its support for the Union. As this agreement states, Her Majesty’s Government remain fully committed to the Belfast agreement and its successors. This means that we will continue to govern in the interests of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland. These confidence and supply arrangements in no way affect our steadfast commitment to the re-establishment of an inclusive Northern Ireland Executive by this Thursday. The Government will do everything in their power, working alongside the Irish Government, to bring the talks process to a successful conclusion in the short time that remains.
Both the Government and the DUP recognise the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland’s history, and the effect this has had on its economy and on people from all parts of the community. The Government are resolute in their determination to deliver for the whole of the United Kingdom. In recognition of our commitment to support growth across all parts of the United Kingdom, we have agreed to provide additional support for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope this part of the agreement will play a positive role in the efforts to re-establish devolved government. Funding would go to a restored Northern Ireland Executive in the same way that the £2.5 billion of financial support and flexibility was made available to that Executive through the 2014 Stormont House agreement and the 2015 “Fresh Start” agreement.
The Government support further co-operation with the Northern Ireland Executive on infrastructure development in Northern Ireland. The UK Government will allocate £200 million a year for two years. The Government and previous Executives have recognised the integral part digital infrastructure plays in opening up new opportunities for growth and connectivity for businesses and consumers. We will therefore contribute £75 million a year for two years to help provide ultrafast broadband for Northern Ireland, just as we have made funding available for this purpose in communities across the United Kingdom.
The UK Government are committed to working with the Executive and others to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals across Northern Ireland to boost investment and help to unlock the full potential of Northern Ireland. This is the sort of targeted, positive intervention the UK Government can make across the UK. It builds on the success of existing deals such as those in Glasgow, Cardiff and Swansea. Since 2014, the UK Government have committed to more than £l billion-worth of investment in Scotland and Wales through this programme along with other projects. This is a continuation of our determination to be a Government for the whole of the UK.
To target pockets of severe deprivation so that all can benefit from growth and prosperity, the UK Government will also provide £20 million a year for five years to the Northern Ireland Executive. We will also ensure that all parts of the UK are properly reflected in the future UK shared prosperity fund as we exit the European Union.
As our manifesto made clear, we are also increasing our commitment to investment in public services across the UK. That is why we have pledged a minimum of £8 billion in additional NHS funding in real terms over the next five years; it is also why we have pledged to increase funding in real terms per head in every year. Our spending on the NHS in England is also translated into extra spending in Scotland and Wales through the Barnett formula. How that is spent is, of course, a matter for the Scottish and Welsh Governments.
To address immediate priorities in Northern Ireland, the UK Government will also allocate an additional £50 million per year for two years to enable the Executive to address pressures in health and education. Recognising the priority given by the Executive to securing a modern, sustainable health service in Northern Ireland, the UK Government will allocate £100 million per year for two years to support the Northern Ireland Executive’s priority of health service transformation.
The Government and the Executive also agree on the importance of support for mental health, particularly recognising the historical impact of Northern Ireland’s past on its communities. [Interruption.] I am glad the shadow Foreign Secretary finds mental health in Northern Ireland amusing—I find that slightly surprising. The UK Government will provide £10 million per year for five years to support the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver this measure.
Our general election manifesto made clear that there would be no change in the pensions triple lock before 2020. As part of this agreement, both parties have agreed there will be no change to the triple lock for the duration of this Parliament. We further agreed that there will be no change to the universal nature of the winter fuel payment. The Prime Minister said we would listen to what people said during the election campaign, and this is an example of our doing so.
As the party with the most seats at the general election, the Conservative party had a duty to form a Government. It is right that we talk to other parties to seek to ensure that the Government can provide the confidence the country needs at this crucial time. I commend this statement to the House.
This is a shabby and a reckless deal, which it has taken the Government at least £1 billion pounds to buy, and whose true cost for the future of peace in Northern Ireland could be infinitely higher. The Good Friday agreement is rightly seen across the world as a model for other countries seeking to end conflict, but it is also fragile and relies above all on trust, good faith and the impartiality of the British Government. For the Government to put such an agreement in jeopardy just to prop up this dismal Prime Minister is nothing short of a disgrace. So can I ask the First Secretary what legal advice the Government have received on whether today’s agreement is compatible with their legal obligations under the Good Friday agreement and whether he will publish that advice today?
I will not waste time discussing the so-called policy agreement set out today; after all, it was not the DUP who forced this Government to ditch their plans to hit pensioners’ income—the British people did that on 8 June. No, this agreement is all about the money, so let me first ask the First Secretary for some clarity on the funding. First, how much extra funding will go to support infrastructure, broadband, health and education and tackle deprivation in the rest of the United Kingdom? No one would begrudge the £1 billion extra support in those areas for Northern Ireland, but in Scotland, Wales and the English regions, the needs are just as great, so when will the rest of the country get its share?
Secondly, the agreement says there will be a consultation on reducing VAT on tourism in Northern Ireland. Just a year ago, the current Minister of State with responsibility for security told the House the Government had concluded that the costs of such a VAT cut outweighed the benefits and that it was not something the Government were going to consider. So what has made the Government change their mind? In the light of his commitment to be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom, will he extend this consultation to all parts of the UK, seeking to support their tourism and hospitality industries, and if not, why is he not including the likes of Blackpool, Margate or Colwyn Bay?
Thirdly, and most importantly, can the First Secretary tell us this: where is the extra £1 billion announced today going to come from? During the election he was fond of telling interviewers that there was no magic money tree. So what has happened today? Has he found the key to the secret garden, or is the truth that like everything else that this Government say and do, it can all be ditched if it helps them to hang on to power—no matter who the bedfellows, no matter what the manifesto said, no matter where the money comes from, no matter the unfairness for the rest of Britain, and no matter the consequences for peace? That is no way to lead a Government, and it is definitely no way to run a country.
Let me deal with some of the detailed points that the right hon. Lady has made. She seems to think that providing more money for Northern Ireland health and education, and broadband and other parts of infrastructure, in some way makes it less likely that an Executive will be formed. I can assure her that it makes it more likely that an Executive will be formed. She asked about infrastructure help for the rest of the country. I am happy to repeat some of the things I said in my statement and add to them. We are pledged to provide £8 billion of new money for the health service and £4 billion for education, and we have an overall infrastructure fund of £23 billion, so the rest of the country absolutely will share in the advance in infrastructure spending that we have promised.
The right hon. Lady asks, of course, about how we can afford this. We can afford this because we have a strong economy after seven years of Conservative Government. It takes some nerve for a party that had tens of billions of pounds of unfunded commitments at the election to complain about targeted infrastructure spending and spending specifically designed to help some of the most deprived communities in this country. Labour also had a pledge to nationalise half of British industry and said that it was not going to cost any money because although it would borrow the money, it did not count as borrowing because it would pay it back out of the profits of the industry. I have two things to say to the right hon. Lady: first, if you borrow money it is still borrowing; and secondly, after six months of a Labour Government running an industry there would not be any profits to pay back any of the borrowing.
The right hon. Lady is fundamentally wrong that this does not help, in what is a hugely important week for Northern Ireland, to try to make sure that we restore proper devolved democratic government to Northern Ireland. I think that helping the Executive to be set up will be one of the great achievements of this week. What she has missed is that this extra support—this extra money—goes to all communities in Northern Ireland, run by the Northern Ireland Executive, so that people from all political traditions—all communities—will benefit from it. I would have thought, frankly, that she would welcome that.
Several hon. Members rose—
The good doctor—Dr Julian Lewis.
In the discussions with the Democratic Unionists, did my right hon. Friend make any progress on the question of protection for former service personnel who still face the possibility of prosecution many years after fatal incidents in the period of the troubles?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. The answer is yes. We seek to ensure proper fairness in the issue he raises and other legacy issues. I am sure that the agreement that comes out of our talks with the DUP will help advance a balanced and fair solution to those issues.
This is quite simply a pathetic, grubby little deal demonstrating all the worst excesses of pork barrel politics, designed to prop up a Government without a majority and increasingly without any credibility whatsoever. We now know that £1.5 billion is the price that this country will have to pay to keep this shambolic Government in power. The Government warned of a “coalition of chaos”, but this is much, much worse than that, as the social conservatives in the DUP exact their price from the Government.
This deal is not subject to the normal allocation of funds across the UK, and it will be delivered at the expense of all the other nations of the UK. Only 24 hours ago the Secretary of State for Scotland was categorically assuring us that Scotland would be in line for full Barnett consequentials as a result of the DUP deal. Either he was inadvertently misleading the Scots people, or he is so completely out of the loop that he has no idea what is going on, because we now know that Scotland will get nothing—zero, zilch—out of this deal.
What representations has the First Secretary received from the Scotland Office or from any of the new Scottish Members of Parliament who laughably said that they would stand up for Scotland? If the Barnett formula is to be bypassed, what is Scotland going to get out of this? Why has the Barnett formula been bypassed by this deal? This is a huge test for the new Scottish Tory Members of Parliament. They can either stand up for Scotland and Scotland’s funding interests, or stand behind this chaotic Government and their new best friends.
The hon. Gentleman is so far wide of the mark that it is almost laughable. He says that this comes from the block grant and specifically says that it is outside the Barnett formula. Let me give him some facts about what is happening in Scotland: a city deal for Glasgow, outside the Barnett formula, of £500 million; a city deal for Aberdeen, outside the Barnett formula, of £125 million; and a city deal for Inverness, outside the Barnett formula, of £53 million. Would he like me to go on? There is £5 million for the V&A in Dundee, outside the Barnett formula, £5 million for the Glasgow School of Art and £5 million for the Helensburgh waterfront. Huge amounts of money are going to Scotland from outside as well as inside the Barnett formula. If the Scottish National party does not recognise that, I suggest that its Members go back to their constituencies and find out what is happening in Scotland.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, but sadly some have used it to suggest, rather opportunistically, that this means that the Government have changed their policies on equality matters, particularly equal marriage and access to abortion. Perhaps he could use this opportunity to update the House on those issues.
I am extremely happy to reassure my right hon. Friend and, indeed, colleagues on both sides of the House that this deal has no impact on those sorts of issues, particularly equal marriage. The agreement covers financial deals, Brexit legislation, security legislation and the Queen’s Speech. My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen in the Queen’s Speech the Government’s recommitment to equality across all grounds, and that commitment is as strong today as it ever has been.
Further to that point, will the Government now use this to deal with the huge anomaly whereby Northern Ireland women are expected to be charged for abortions in NHS hospitals in Great Britain? Does the First Secretary agree that that is hugely unfair on women from Northern Ireland who travel to England, Scotland or Wales for an abortion, and that it is unjust for women’s rights?
I appreciate the strength of the right hon. Lady’s convictions. The issue comes under the heading of a health matter and is therefore devolved to Northern Ireland. It is for people in Northern Ireland to decide such issues. It is the logic of devolution that such issues should be decided in the devolved authorities, just as health matters are decided by the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Given that we all, I assume, hope that Northern Ireland should have a devolved Executive, it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide these matters.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his personal commitment to ensuring that the imbalances and inequalities that exist in all parts of the United Kingdom are tackled effectively by this Government. Will he say a bit more about how the UK prosperity fund will be used to raise economic output in the poorest parts of the United Kingdom? I encourage him to keep an open mind to some of the ideas that his Welsh colleagues might have for further investment.
I am very happy that my right hon. Friend brings up the UK prosperity fund, which we will introduce once Brexit has been completed. Its purpose is precisely to help disadvantaged communities across the whole of the United Kingdom. It is meant to replace the money that has gone to some of our deprived communities through European institutions. I know, for instance, that communities in Cornwall have benefited in that way. Absolutely, communities in Wales, as well as in Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of England, such as the north-east, may well benefit from the UK prosperity fund. I am always open to creative ideas from any part of the UK about how best to spend that sort of money.
Let me explain to the Minister why there is concern on this side of the House about these women from Northern Ireland. This is not a devolved matter; it is about when they come to our shores as UK taxpayers and their ability to use UK services. I note that the official agreement says that the Government and the DUP are committed
“to providing health services which meet the needs of everyone, no matter who they are or where they live.”
It does not seem like that when it comes to these women. Will the Minister confirm whether the question of their access to abortion in England, or the fact that Northern Irish laws on abortion have been found to violate the UK’s human rights responsibilities, were discussed as part of the negotiations? Did the Government make any commitment to the DUP about when this matter comes to the House? Are Northern Irish women simply expected to pay the price of what feels like a forced marriage?
I am happy to assure the hon. Lady and the House that the agreement is what is set out. There are no private or side agreements attached to it—it is completely open. Again, I appreciate the strength of feeling she brings to this matter. It is clearly a political discussion she may wish to bring about in Northern Ireland when we have a devolved Executive there.
I welcome the Government’s funding for city deals in Northern Ireland and urge them to continue their focus on foreign direct investment into the Province.
My hon. Friend makes the good point that foreign direct investment is extremely helpful to the Northern Ireland economy, as it is to the UK economy as a whole. It is absolutely the case that we wish to better utilise our embassies and high commissions around the world not just to boost exports, which is traditionally regarded as one of their important roles, but to help foreign direct investment, particularly into those parts of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, that would most benefit from it.
I thank the First Secretary for advance sight of his statement. My first thought on seeing it was that the Government had scraped the bottom of the pork barrel in reaching an agreement, but I suspect he will learn in the months to come that there is probably no bottom to that particular barrel.
The Government cannot be blind to the fact that this agreement places in jeopardy their role under the Good Friday agreement. That agreement can be secured only if the Government commit to transparency—not just today, but at every step of the way for as long as this agreement lasts. Will we get that transparency?
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this agreement hinders the formation of a new Executive and, therefore, the implementation of the Good Friday agreement. I think that this agreement will help the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement. Since the confidence and supply agreement entails support from the Democratic Unionist party for the key areas of the Government’s programme in this House, the transparency will come when he observes people going through the Division Lobbies in a public way, as they traditionally do.
In welcoming the additional votes that the DUP brings, may I criticise the Government for not being bold enough? As Labour Front Benchers move to the Back Benches, and its Back Benchers move to the Front Bench, a lot of Labour Members are left disaffected, as a number of them do not identify themselves as Leninists or Marxists—and many not even as socialists. Could we send out a warm offer to those discontented Opposition Members to vote with us in the Lobby to deliver this Queen’s Speech?
My hon. Friend makes a shrewd point. I would indeed extend that invitation. To be entirely serious, there will be large parts of the Queen’s Speech—for instance on economic regeneration and issues such as mental health—on which I genuinely hope that we will get support from all parts of the House. There are many issues to which partisan politics will not necessarily apply, some of which are included in the Bills in the Queen’s Speech, and I look forward to men and women of good will from all parts of the House supporting those Bills.
May I warmly welcome the First Secretary of State’s statement? This is a good agreement for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and it is a good agreement for all the people of Northern Ireland. All the money that has been outlined, particularly that for mental health and hard-to-reach areas, is for every section of the community in Northern Ireland. This is a deal that delivers for all the people of Northern Ireland.
We commit to transparency—we are very open to that. Some day, I like to think we might publish all the correspondence and conversations we had in 2010 with Labour Front Benchers, and in 2015 with Labour Front Benchers and indeed also the Scottish National party, because some of the faux outrage we have heard is hypocrisy of the highest order.
We look forward to working with the Government over the next five years to deliver a strengthened Union of the United Kingdom, to deliver Brexit, to deliver prosperity to all parts of the United Kingdom and, most of all, to protect and defend our country at home and abroad.
I, of course, welcome completely my right hon. Friend’s words. He and I have spent more time together over the past few weeks than has been our wont in the past, and I assure him that it has been a life-enhancing experience at all times. I very much welcome the support of him and his colleagues so that we can, as he says, strengthen the Union and the economy in all parts of the country, get a Brexit deal that works for the whole country, and provide a confident Government for the next five years.
May I welcome what my right hon. Friend has set out? The most important thing that he mentioned in his statement was getting the devolved institutions back up and running. If this deal, together with the money that was promised under the previous agreements, can help that, it is to be welcomed. That will strengthen the United Kingdom and the partnership of all the countries within it. I welcome what both he and the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) said.
My right hon. Friend is right. To repeat a hugely important point, the money will go to all parts of Northern Ireland. It will benefit all communities in Northern Ireland, and that should be a significant step towards ensuring that we have a successful conclusion to these vital talks about the re-setting up of a devolved Executive, which I am sure that everyone in this House wants to see.
Is the Minister concerned that his performance today is likely to bring crude hypocrisy into some disrepute? The Government have just lost an election. They made themselves and the country more unstable and weaker than they were before. In order again to correct problems within the Tory party, they are using this crude bribe. Is not the answer today that MPs who represent Wales and Scotland have to put our countries first, and is not the result of this that the Government are making the United Kingdom more divided than ever?
The problem with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis is his starting point that our party lost the election. No, we did not; his party lost the election—it lost its third election in a row. We all know that Labour won more seats than most of its own Members thought it would—there are people sitting on the Labour Benches who assumed that they would be out of a job now. In the spirit of non-partisanship, I welcome them back to this House but, nevertheless, the idea that the Labour party won the election is a fantasy that I think is dying out even on the wilder shores of Momentum.
Given that the DUP’s well known hard-nosed negotiators have generally done deals for about £1 billion when they need arrangements from the United Kingdom Government, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the fabulous value for money that he has obtained in a confidence and supply arrangement that will last five years and deliver Brexit? That compares rather well with the arrangement in 2008, when for about the same amount of money the then Government got one vote on 42-day detention—we were joined in the Lobby by the current Leader of the Opposition, shadow Chancellor, shadow Foreign Secretary and shadow Home Secretary—only for it to be reversed in the House of Lords three months later. This deal therefore looks like spectacularly good value for money for the United Kingdom.
I think that I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am happy to agree with him that this is indeed a very good deal, not just for Northern Ireland but for the whole United Kingdom.
The Minister will be aware that the north-east of England is one of the poorest areas in the United Kingdom. We have not got a Barnett formula and the Government have only four or five MPs there—at least the last time I counted—so obviously we are going to get nowt, but is he giving our money away? Will we get what we are getting or are we going to get nowt?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to come and talk to us about a deal, I am sure that he, and indeed his constituents, would be very welcome. I can absolutely assure him that this does not involve diverting money from any of the various programmes that we use. Indeed, the UK prosperity fund will be able to help some parts of his area. He is more than welcome to keep an eye on that. As he knows, there are many city deals across England, and I am sure that the metro Mayor in Teesside will also do great things for that area. We are committed to all parts of the United Kingdom, including the part that the hon. Gentleman represents with such distinction.
I do not think that the First Secretary of State mentioned defence in his statement, but will he confirm what I think I have read elsewhere: the Democratic Unionist party and the Conservative party have agreed that we will spend a minimum of 2% on defence?
My hon. Friend is right. I am sorry; I did not read out the entire agreement because you might have objected to that, Mr Speaker, but he is absolutely right. One of the things on which the DUP and the Conservative party are completely united is making sure that we meet our NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. I hope my hon. Friend would also welcome the first sailing of the new aircraft carrier today, which shows that this party, and indeed the DUP, are very serious about defending our country.
May I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, for the fantastic family event on Saturday, when this Chamber was full of the sound of children and joy? You handled it with grace. I would encourage all Members to take a look at the coat of arms for our much loved Jo Cox and to enjoy the symbolism of mountains, the Thames, women’s suffrage and, of course, the Yorkshire rose.
Global goal 5, which we agreed to, states that there has to be reproductive rights for all women. Will the deal with the DUP mean that we have stopped our progress towards that goal, losing our position as one of the global leaders fighting for equality for all?
May I first associate myself with the hon. Lady’s very apposite remarks about the Jo Cox memorial? It was indeed very good to see it in this House on what was obviously a very sad anniversary.
In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, this is, as I said to her hon. Friends, a matter to be decided in Northern Ireland by Northern Ireland politicians and the people of Northern Ireland, and that is where she should be making her arguments.
I call Mr Andrew Bowie.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone from every nation and region of our United Kingdom is able to share in the proceeds of continued economic growth? As has already been mentioned, one way of doing that has been through the successful city deals, and my constituency has benefited greatly from the Aberdeen city deal. What will the Government do to boost investment in Northern Ireland and spread the benefits of such mechanisms?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He is completely right to point out the benefits of the investment that has been made in his constituency thanks to the Government’s strong economic progress over the past seven years, which enables us to afford regeneration and investment that those who would run the economy down would not be able to afford. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend, and indeed the people of Northern Ireland, that that same strength of the economy can and will be used to regenerate communities all over the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland.
I hope that I pronounced correctly the surname of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew C. Bowie). If I may be permitted, I hope even further that the hon. Gentleman is as devoted an admirer of the late and great David Bowie as I have been for the last 40 years.
Will the First Secretary of State confirm that, constitutionally, the extra money that he has announced today is for the Northern Ireland Assembly, not one particular party—great negotiators though I know its members to be? Will he confirm that the money has been agreed, and that its priorities have been agreed, by all parties that may form the Executive on Thursday?
As I have said a number of times during these exchanges, absolutely. This is money for Northern Ireland—for the whole of Northern Ireland. It is not for one party in Northern Ireland and it is not for one community in Northern Ireland. It is for the whole of Northern Ireland, and it will benefit every community in Northern Ireland. As I said to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), I am quite surprised that Labour Members are not welcoming this extra money, particularly that for disadvantaged communities in Northern Ireland. There was a time when the Labour party purported to care about disadvantaged communities.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that while much has been said in recent weeks about the importance of working with others across the aisle in the national interest, not everyone seems to like that in practice? Does he agree with the words of Ronald Reagan, I think, who said that someone you agree with 80% of the time is 80% friend and ally, not 20% enemy?
I confess that I had never heard that extremely good quotation before. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will use it shamelessly.
My hon. Friend is quite right. Having sat for four years in a coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats, I am happy to admit that there will be times when one has very strong disagreements with people in another party but can still work alongside them in the interests of the country as a whole. That is a duty that we should all take on board.
I am sure the First Secretary agrees that it is a rather remarkable day when the Labour party criticises investment in schools, investment in roads, investment in housing and investment in jobs on the grounds that that threatens the peace process. It really is bonkers to suggest that that is the case. Perhaps some Labour Front Benchers might now want to reflect on their past equivocation when it came to supporting the IRA, and the message that that sends to young people today in Northern Ireland who might be thinking about taking up arms in the future.
I am happy to agree with my right hon. Friend. It is clear that anything that aids investment, particularly for disadvantaged communities, ought to help to produce a more positive political atmosphere in Northern Ireland. I am sure that Labour Front Benchers heard his other thoughts with interest.
In welcoming this deal and the increased role of Northern Irish MPs in Westminster affairs, does the First Secretary agree that it is time to look again at the donations to the Northern Irish parties to ensure that they are consistent with the rules on the mainland, both in terms of transparency and of being sourced from outside the UK?
That is not part of the agreement, so it is not directly relevant to my statement today, but I am sure that the House will have heard my hon. Friend and will no doubt wish to discuss those matters further.
The First Secretary of State said that the funding would go to a restored Northern Ireland Executive. If the Northern Ireland Executive are not restored, will the money still go there, or not until the Executive are restored?
At this stage, with three days to go before the deadline, the sensible thing for me to point out is that the Conservative party is completely committed to getting the Executive re-established, as is the Democratic Unionist party. We both believe that decisions about the funding of public services in Northern Ireland should be taken by politicians in Northern Ireland. That is the logic of the devolution settlement that we have with the other countries in the United Kingdom, and that is the position we want to get back to in Northern Ireland as well.
Spreading infrastructure development, bringing stability to Government, delivering the Good Friday agreement and helping to implement a soft border with the Republic of Ireland are all good for Northern Ireland and for the United Kingdom. If none of that is welcome to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and his party, would my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government would be happy to receive back from the Scottish National party the moneys received for the Scottish city deals?
I rarely disagree with my hon. Friend, but I disagree with him on that point. I do not believe that the SNP speaks for Scotland on this matter. I am interested in the prosperity and future of the Scottish people, just as I am in the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is the logic of being a Unionist, and I will preserve that logic to the end.
Hospitals, schools and other public services in my constituency continue to face unprecedented cuts, so how do the Government justify finding £1.5 billion in order to achieve self-preservation? Is there any money on the magic money tree for the Dewsbury constituency?
As I have explained to the shadow First Secretary, this Government are committed to spending an extra £8 billion on the NHS in this Parliament, as well as an extra £4 billion on education and an extra £23 billion on infrastructure as a whole around the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope and expect that the people of Dewsbury will be able to benefit from that like everyone else.
Twenty per cent. more of my constituents voted Conservative in 2017 than did so at the previous opportunity. No one else will blow that trumpet, so I thought I should. Many of them did so because they were inspired by the vision for Brexit that was laid out by Theresa May. Can the First Secretary reassure me that this deal will strengthen Theresa May’s hand when it comes to Brexit and ensure that we can deliver control of our borders and our laws, as was promised at the general election?
Order. I think the hon. Gentleman was in election campaign mode for a moment there. I gently remind him that no hon. or right hon. Member should be named in this place—perhaps least of all the Prime Minister. It was to the Prime Minister that he was referring; no name is required.
First, I should praise the perspicacity of my hon. Friend’s constituents for massively increasing his vote at the recent election. I am happy to assure him that this deal does indeed make it clear that the vision of a Brexit that works for all parts of this country is reinforced and strengthened by the agreement that we are discussing today.
The Prime Minister and the DUP pride themselves on being champions of this supposedly precious Union. While the Prime Minister is busy bribing the DUP to stitch up the seams of this threadbare Administration, she continues to neglect the people of Wales and treats us like third-class citizens in this so-called family of equals. My party has always been at pains to prove that the Barnett formula is not fit for purpose, and the Government’s disregard for it today seems to indicate that they now agree. If this Government can hand out £1 billion to Northern Ireland in times of such austerity, I ask on the behalf of the people of Wales, “Where is the £1.7 billion which is now so evidently our right?”
I am happy to remind the hon. Lady that, under the new funding formula agreed last year, public spending in Wales is roughly £120 a head for every £100 a head spent in England, so the idea that this Government are in some way neglecting the people of Wales—my homeland—is wide of the mark. That figure arises from the Barnett formula and, on top of that, the two city deals involve funding of up to £540 million, which should release private sector investment totalling £4.7 billion. As the hon. Lady can see, the people of Wales are being well served by this Government.
Be in no doubt that this deal has everything to do with the Conservative party and absolutely nothing to do with the country. If it had anything to do with the country, the First Secretary would come to the Dispatch Box and tell me how much money Scotland will get as a result of this deal being signed.
Since this deal is about Northern Ireland, Scotland will benefit in the way that it has in the past. I am quite happy to repeat the figures that I repeated to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the SNP spokesman, but I would not want to embarrass him further. Scotland is doing extremely well out of city deals and other things, and it benefits from the Barnett formula as well. Scotland’s problem is that it has a Government in Holyrood that are not very good at running public services. The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and I probably ought to agree on that.
There has been much reference to the national interest this afternoon, and I commend my right hon. Friend for doing a deal with the DUP in the national interest. However, given this crucial time in our history and the challenges that lie ahead, does he agree that now is the time for Labour to work constructively with the Government for the greater good of the nation, not to seek to score political points?
I agree with my hon. Friend’s wise point. It is never too late to repent, and if the Opposition Front-Bench team want to adopt a more constructive attitude, I would very much welcome that.
Does the First Secretary view with utter despair the comments and implications from the Opposition Front-Bench team today that people will in effect go back to war because we intend to spend £1.5 billion on services that people so vitally need? A bit of rationale surely needs to be injected into this debate. This is a good deal for Northern Ireland and a good deal for the entire United Kingdom.
I agree that the extra £1 billion of new money in this deal, which will, as I have repeatedly said, be spent in the interests of developing the prosperity of all the people of Northern Ireland, is hugely welcome both in itself and in this crucial week for the devolution process. I am genuinely surprised that there is not a greater welcome for it among those on the Labour Benches.
Does the First Secretary agree that it is perfectly sensible that there should be a consultation on VAT rates in tourism in Northern Ireland? Uniquely within the UK, it has a land border with another country that has a lower VAT rate on tourism—9%—and is therefore currently at a competitive disadvantage.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are various things about Northern Ireland that make it unique within the United Kingdom. The history is one, and the land border is of course another. That is why it has a specific type of devolved government, which we hope to see restored, and why we will be consulting on various other policy areas as well.
I am a little surprised by the First Secretary’s statement, because he left out the most important part of the agreement. He said that the DUP will support the Government on votes on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget and so on, but he left out the only bit that the Government really care about, which is that the DUP will support them on all motions of no confidence. That is what the Government have bought with this money, isn’t it? They have bought continuing support on all motions of no confidence, because the only way to bring down a Government under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is a motion of no confidence. All the rest is irrelevant. Now that the DUP has effectively become a party of government, and not a party of opposition, surely, surely, surely it should surrender its right to Short money.
I am quite surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise that the addition of large sums of money for promoting infrastructure, for helping people with mental health problems and for helping particularly disadvantaged communities is the most important part of this agreement. It seems to me to be the most important part of the agreement because it will actually help disadvantaged people in Northern Ireland. If he does not accept that that is important, he will lose some of his socialist firebrand credentials, which he loves to parade.
We were told by Ruth Davidson, no less, that the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs in this Parliament would operate as a separate bloc, would put Scotland’s case forcefully and would make sure that they deliver for Scotland. Can the First Secretary tell us, with reference not to the last Parliament but to this Parliament, what additional targeted investments the 13 Scottish Tory MPs have secured for Scotland in return for supporting this deal?
I refer the hon. and learned Lady to what Ruth Davidson has said today. Ruth Davidson is completely in support of this agreement, and she makes the point that, just as Scotland benefits hugely from the strength of the economy that a Conservative Government have provided and that allows us to make all the investment in Scotland that I have already detailed—I am more than happy to detail it again, if the hon. and learned Lady wants—and just as we have treated Scotland fairly, we should treat Northern Ireland, Wales and other parts of England fairly, too. That is what this Government will continue to do. If she wants any new money, I refer her, as I have done repeatedly from this Dispatch Box today, to the UK prosperity fund that we will be introducing after Brexit, from which I hope many communities in Scotland, as well as in other parts of the UK, will benefit.
I recognise that abortion is a devolved matter, although I deplore the resulting legislative framework in Northern Ireland. Women are prosecuted and convicted in Northern Ireland for seeking to procure abortions, which forces them to come to England for terminations. This is the question we are trying to ask the First Secretary: will his Government fund those terminations, those procedures, in English hospitals because those Northern Ireland women—UK citizens—cannot get them in their own country?
If we accept the logic of devolution, as I have said in answer to previous questions along these lines, this is a matter to be resolved by politics in Northern Ireland.
As a Belfast Member of Parliament—like my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly)—I commend the First Secretary of State for the content of the city deal commitment that forms part of this arrangement and for the huge opportunities for the city of Belfast and the wider region. Will he engage in organising meetings as soon as practicable so that we can get on and make sure that we get the best benefits of the city deal for our constituents in Belfast?
I am very pleased that, as the hon. Gentleman will know, talks have already started on the Belfast city deal, which I hope can be concluded as fast as possible so that Belfast can enjoy the benefits that other cities, including Glasgow and Cardiff, already have. Apart from anything else, it would be a good symbol of the United Kingdom Government acting in the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) mentioned an extra £1.5 billion for Northern Ireland, and under the Barnett formula that should mean an extra £2.5 billion for Wales. Does the First Secretary of State agree that if the Welsh Secretary refuses to find that money for Wales around the Cabinet table, once again the Tories will have betrayed the people of Wales?
The new money of £1 billion in this deal is of course outside the Barnett formula. As I explained to the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), under the Barnett formula every person in Wales receives approximately £120 for every £100 of public spending for every person in England. It is clear from the figures that Wales is not doing badly out of this formula.
During seven years of austerity, which left north-east working families on average £1,000 worse off per year, Tory Governments refused to invest in smart growth for good jobs, but now they have found £1.5 billion to bung at the DUP. Does the First Secretary therefore acknowledge that unless he immediately invests an equivalent amount in the north-east, and undertakes an air passenger duty review, the Government’s reputation for economic competence will be on a level with their reputation for Brexit negotiations, where they are the laughing stock of Europe?
I point out to the hon. lady that over that period—indeed, over her period in the House—unemployment has consistently fallen in her area, as in other areas, until it has now reached its lowest level since the mid-1970s. I would have thought she would welcome that; more of her constituents are in work than ever before.
Why do this Government not do the right thing and deal with these women who have no option but to travel from Northern Ireland to seek termination services in England, Scotland and Wales? Why do the Government, of whom the First Secretary is a leading member, not do the right thing and say that those women should not be charged for accessing NHS services, which, as taxpayers, they contribute to through the tax they pay on their wages?
The hon. Lady knows that the NHS is a devolved function in the devolved Administrations, so if we accept the logic of devolution, this is clearly a political issue for the people of Northern Ireland.
The House is disappointed this afternoon that the First Secretary of State has been so vague in explaining exactly where the money to pay for this deal is coming from. It is therefore incumbent on him to ask his Chancellor to come to this House to explain how it is that the period of austerity which we have suffered for so long has so abruptly come to an end and how it is that if we now have the “proceeds of growth”, areas such as Yorkshire, the north-west, Newcastle and Cumbria are not also allowed to enjoy them?
All the areas that the hon. Lady talks about have benefited from an economic policy that has reduced unemployment to its lowest level for more than 40 years. I am happy to assure her that the money in this deal is well within the confines of the fiscal targets we have set ourselves, so we are still able to hit those targets of eliminating the deficit by 2025—by the middle of the next decade—and reducing the structural deficit to no more than 2% by 2020-21. This does not affect our fiscal targets at all.
Speaking as the new Member for Stirling, where there is a new city region deal in the offing, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm for the benefit of Opposition Members that all city deals in Scotland and Wales since 2014 have sat outside the Barnett formula?
I welcome another of my hon. Friends to his place. He is exactly right. The city deals and the city region deals have proved one of the most successful innovations of this Government. I look forward to the people of his constituency benefiting from them, as people in constituencies across the UK already have.
The Secretary of State for Scotland is not in his place—no doubt he is off somewhere polishing his brass neck—so I will have to tell the First Secretary of State that the city deals arranged in Scotland have come at a cost to local government and the Scottish Government. The UK Government are paying only £678 million, whereas the Scottish Government and local government in Scotland have put in £1.3 billion. How much are local authorities in Belfast and in Northern Ireland as a whole expected to put into the city deals?
Only an SNP Member could idly talk about “only” £678 million; soon we will be talking about real money. [Interruption.] It is a Geoffrey Howe quote. The UK Government and the Scottish Government have joint responsibilities to help the economy of Scotland, and certainly the UK Government are already demonstrably meeting those commitments. I hope the SNP-led Scottish Government continue to do so.
I welcome this agreement, but does the First Secretary of State agree that the injustice—because that is what it is—of women from Northern Ireland who seek terminations being charged to have them on the mainland by the NHS is nothing at all to do with this agreement? It is an entirely separate matter. To that end, does he agree that the Government should consider this matter, because it is not fair that women from Northern Ireland seeking terminations should be charged by the NHS here in this country?
I can only say to my right hon. Friend what I have said to Opposition Members, which is that this is clearly an enormously sensitive political topic, and the best place for it to be resolved is within the democratic politics of Northern Ireland itself.
Tonight, many of my constituents in Glasgow East will be wondering why our local jobcentres are being shut when the pavements of Northern Ireland are being made of gold. Was the Secretary of State for Scotland consulted as part of this grubby deal and the finances involved in it, or was the Cabinet’s man in Scotland once again frozen out?
Like all Cabinet members, the Secretary of State for Scotland plays a key role in all decisions made by the Government. The hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of this deal is, as I hope I have shown over the past hour or so, completely wide of the mark.
Grenfell Tower Fire/Fire Safety
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and our safety inspections of cladding in other buildings.
I know that I speak for the whole House when I express my heartfelt grief at the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Almost a fortnight has passed, but the shock has not subsided. I have visited Kensington and witnessed the terrible anguish of those who have lost so much. In some cases, people have lost literally everything. I am sure that, like me, many hon. Members have returned from their constituencies today with the anger and the fears of residents still ringing in their ears. It is anger that a tragedy on this scale was ever allowed to happen in 21st century Britain, and fear that it could happen again. It is this fear that I want to address first.
I know that the entire country is anxious to hear what we are doing to reassure residents about fire safety in similar blocks around the country. My Department has contacted all councils and housing associations in England to identify all tall residential buildings with potentially similar cladding that they are responsible for. We estimate that number to be around 600. On 18 June, we wrote to those councils and housing associations and asked them to start sending samples. On 21 June, our combustibility testing programme for aluminium composite material started. It is run by the Building Research Establishment—BRE. On 22 June, the Government provided advice to all these landlords about interim safety measures where a building has ACM cladding that is unlikely to be compliant with building regulations. This advice was recommended by an independent panel of experts and includes advice based on the emerging findings from the Metropolitan police investigation into Grenfell Tower.
I can inform the House that, as of midday today, the cladding from 75 high-rise buildings in 26 local authority areas has failed the combustibility test. Members will rightly want to know whether their residents are affected, and my Department will publish regular updates on gov.uk.
The combustibility test has three categories rated 1 to 3, and it is judged that cladding material in category 2 or 3 does not meet the requirements on limited combustibility within building regulations. I can also confirm to the House that, so far, on that basis, all samples of cladding tested have failed. The fact that all samples so far have failed underlines the value of the testing programme and the vital importance of submitting samples urgently.
The testing facility can analyse 100 samples a day and runs around the clock. I am concerned about the speed at which samples are being submitted. I urge all landlords to submit their samples immediately. Landlords and local fire and rescue services are alerted to every failed test, and we are supporting and monitoring all follow-up action, including by dedicated caseworkers in my Department.
Landlords for all affected buildings have informed, or are informing, tenants and are implementing the interim safety measures needed, working with fire and rescue services. At this time, the safety of people living in these buildings is our paramount concern. I am determined that residents have as much peace of mind as possible in such worrying times. Landlords must keep residential buildings safe for their tenants. Where they cannot satisfy that obligation with appropriate mitigating measures, we expect alternative accommodation to be provided while the remedial work is carried out. That is exactly what happened in Camden, and I pay tribute to the residents for their brave response to such a distressing situation.
It is obvious that the problem of unsafe cladding may not be unique to social housing or residential buildings. We have asked other owners, landlords and managers of private sector residential blocks to consider their own buildings, and we have made the testing facility freely available to them. My Department is also working with the Government Property Unit to oversee the checks on wider public sector buildings. Hospitals are well prepared. Each one has a tailored fire safety plan, but nothing is more important than the safety of patients and staff, so, on a precautionary basis, we have asked all hospitals to conduct additional checks.
The Government will continue to work closely with fire and rescue colleagues to prioritise and conduct checks based on local circumstances. The Education and Skills Funding Agency is contacting all bodies responsible for safety in schools, instructing them to carry out immediate checks to identify any buildings that require further investigation. We will have more information this week.
Across the wider Government estate, 15 buildings have been identified as requiring further investigation. While that work continues, it is vital that we offer every assistance to the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. As of this morning, 79 people have been confirmed dead or listed as missing, presumed dead. Sadly, it is believed that this number will increase.
As the Prime Minister told the House last week, the initial response of the emergency services was exemplary, but the immediate support on the ground was simply not good enough. A remarkable community effort sprang up overnight while official support was found wanting. That failure was inexcusable, and it is right that a new team and approach is now in operation. We have activated the Bellwin scheme and sent significant central Government resource, including a single point of access into Government provided by the Grenfell Tower victims unit, operating from my Department. Staff from six Departments are offering support at the Westway assistance centre and a family bereavement centre in Holborn.
The Government have also set aside £5 million for the Grenfell Tower residents discretionary fund, with more than £1 million already distributed. Each household affected is receiving £5,500 to provide some immediate assistance, and so far 111 households have received payments. The British Red Cross is operating an advice line for anyone affected or in need of support. It is just one of many charities, faith organisations and businesses that have provided invaluable assistance to victims. I can announce to the House today that the Government will contribute £1 million to support their efforts. That money will be new money. It will be distributed to a local consortium of charities, trusts and foundations that are working together to respond to this tragic event.
Our other priority has been to find survivors a safe and secure place to live. The Prime Minister made a clear commitment that a good-quality temporary home would be offered within three weeks to every family whose home was destroyed in the fire. Every one of those families will also be offered a permanent social home in the local area. That work is under way and the first families moved into their homes over the weekend. Last week I also announced that the Government had secured 68 homes in a new development in Kensington to rehouse local residents. We will do everything we can to support the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, now and in the future, and I will regularly update the House on our progress.
As the Prime Minister said in her statement to the House last week, the disaster at Grenfell Tower should never have happened. There is an ongoing police investigation and there will be an independent, judge-led public inquiry to get to the truth of what happened and who was responsible. Building regulations and the system for ensuring fire safety in buildings have been developed over many decades. Until the Grenfell Tower fire, many experts would have claimed that that system had served us well. But now we have witnessed a catastrophic failure, on a scale that many thought impossible in 21st century Britain. It is clear that that failure must be understood and rectified without delay, and the Government are determined to ensure that happens. As an initial step, I can inform the House today that I am establishing an independent expert advisory panel to advise the Government on any steps that should immediately be taken on fire safety. Further details about the panel, including its members, will be released shortly.
This tragedy must never be forgotten. It should weigh heavily on the consciousness of every person tasked with making decisions that ensure that it can never, ever happen again.
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement, and for what he has told the House. As he has said, the shock from this truly terrible, tragic fire at Grenfell Tower has not subsided, and neither has the fear. As the Prime Minister said in her statement last week, the Government’s response, both national and local, was not good enough in the early days. Nationally, it is still not good enough. Hundreds of residents of Grenfell Tower and their relatives are still struggling to keep their lives going in the face of this gravest loss, and hundreds of thousands of residents in 4,000 other tower blocks across the country are still wondering whether their homes are safe, worried about sleeping at night and want to know what the Government are doing to ensure their safety.
Trust is so low in the local community around Grenfell Tower that I welcome the local Gold Command leadership. I welcome the key workers who are in place to provide each household with support and advice, and I welcome the £1 million paid so far in immediate assistance payments. However, the Secretary of State has made a promise to rehouse all Grenfell Tower residents in the local area within three weeks. It is now nearly a fortnight since the fire. How many people are covered by that pledge? Two weeks on, is it correct that 370 households are still in emergency accommodation? How many have so far been found permanent new homes, or even the “good-quality temporary” homes mentioned by the Secretary of State? By what date will all residents affected by the fire be in a permanent new home? Finally, as those residents move, will the Government guarantee that the children will still be eligible to attend their same schools?
More widely, Ministers talk too loosely about the buildings that have been tested so far. The Prime Minister said last week:
“We can test more than 100 buildings a day”.—[Official Report, 22 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 169.]
Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the House that the Government’s “testing” is only of cladding samples sent in by councils and housing associations? The Government say that more than 600 tower blocks with cladding need safety checks, so why, five days into the programme, have only 75 tests been done so far? Why have all failed? Importantly, will he confirm that cladding is just not the whole story? We know this from both coroners’ reports in 2013, into the Lakanal House and Shirley Towers fires. We may well find that from investigations into Grenfell Tower, as the fire there broke into almost every floor of the building.
We need from Ministers a much more thorough review of fire safety in all the country’s residential tower blocks, a total commitment to action to deal with any problems, and a guarantee that the Government will help to fund the costs. That also applies to other public buildings such as schools and hospitals, over which similar doubts may hang.
The issue of costs is crucial because some significant work and alterations have to be done, and quickly. Will the Secretary of State make funding available up front—not after the event through the Bellwin scheme—for any council or housing association that needs it for recladding or the installation of sprinklers and other fire prevention measures, starting with the highest-risk high-rise blocks and those with sheltered accommodation? Will he lift the central cap that he currently places on local authorities’ housing so that they can borrow and invest to ensure that their residents are safe?
I welcome the independent expert advisory panel, but frankly the Secretary of State is wrong to say that many experts would claim that our buildings regulation and fire safety system serves us well. Many experts have said exactly the opposite, especially since the two coroners’ reports four years ago into previous tower block fires. Will he now act on the recommendations in those reports?
There really should be a triple fire safety lock around buildings and works on them. First, the materials must be fit for purpose and meet safety specifications. Secondly, fire safety systems must be in place and fire risk assessments done regularly. Thirdly, building regulation and control must make sure that design, construction and any further works are fully safe. Instead, the update that the Secretary of State has given us this afternoon suggests a collapse of the fire safety control and check system. It is not working and it must change.
Finally, what is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that when the Prime Minister said that we simply had not given enough attention to social housing in this country, those were not merely empty words? What is he doing to make sure that this terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower means a profound change of course on housing in this country?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments—in particular, his support for Gold Command and the relief effort on the ground in Kensington.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of specific questions. I can give him some updated numbers on rehousing the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The commitment that we have rightly made is that every single one of the families whose homes have been destroyed—both at Grenfell Tower and in the neighbouring Grenfell Walk: together, some 144 units—are guaranteed an offer within three weeks of temporary housing in the local neighbourhood; we have defined “the local neighbourhood” as Kensington and Chelsea, but also the neighbouring boroughs.
So far, some 373 hotel rooms are being occupied; that represents 153 households from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk and 220 households from the cordon area. Individual housing assessments have been done for almost all those from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk; the work is led by Westminster City Council, with support from a number of other councils across London. If any have not been done, that has been through choice: people have asked that their assessment be delayed because they are not ready. We are, of course, respecting their wishes. In respect of those whose assessments have been done, there have already been 59 offers of temporary accommodation.
As I am sure hon. Members will understand, we are finding that some families want to take their time to make a decision on the temporary accommodation. In a number of instances, some of the families have quite understandably first asked for something in Kensington as close as possible to where they lived, but when they have been shown the home and seen what is left of the tower they have understandably changed their minds and asked for some other options. We are working with them at their pace. Our commitment is that they will all be made offers within the three weeks, although they will not all necessarily be in the temporary accommodation within that time. We have to respect their choice when they are made offers. If they change their minds, we want to accommodate that.
The other issue is that some families actually doubted us when we said that the initial accommodation is temporary. One family I met in the Westway Centre on Friday said, perfectly understandably, “How do we know temporary is temporary? How do we know that you’re not just going to leave us there and not find us better quality, more suitable and permanent accommodation?” When I probed a bit further, the family said they were told that Grenfell Tower would be temporary accommodation when they first moved in, but they were still there 17 years later, so I absolutely understand their concerns. In that case, I had to make a personal commitment to that family. That worked; they are now in temporary accommodation. We want to work with each family at their pace to get them what they deserve and need as best we can.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the testing facilities. I can confirm that the testing facility operated by the Building Research Establishment is testing the cladding material only. That is so important because, besides the whole building structure, the material itself has to meet minimum combustibility standards. The test tries to achieve that. So far, 75 tests on samples have taken place and all 75 have failed.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s statement that cladding is not the whole story, as it goes much further than that. One example is what has happened in Camden. The result of the cladding test for Camden triggered further investigations by the local fire service and the London fire commissioners. When the commissioners went into those tower blocks in Camden, they found, in their own words, multiple fire safety inspection failures, which, frankly, should not have happened in tower blocks of any type, and certainly not in those tower blocks in Camden. There were problems with gas pipe insulation, some stairways were not accessible and there were breaches of internal walls. Most astonishingly, literally hundreds of fire doors were missing. Camden Council itself estimates that it needs at least 1,000 fire doors because they were missing from those five blocks. That has nothing to do with the cladding. Something has clearly gone drastically wrong there. These issues need to be looked at very carefully to find out why this is happening in this day and age in our country.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about costs. We have been very clear that local authorities and housing associations must not hesitate at all. As soon as they learn about any action and necessary steps that they need to take to ensure public safety in terms of fire risk, they must take that action. If they are not able to pay for that themselves, we will of course work with them and put a financial support package in place with the individual organisation.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about what more we can do now. I am sure that he understands that we can do some things now in this immediate and urgent situation, but that there are also longer-term lessons to learn. Some will come from the public inquiry, but we cannot wait for the final results of that inquiry. Hopefully —it is up to the judge—there will be an interim report, but work can be done much sooner than that. That is one reason that I am putting the independent expert panel in place, and I would be very happy for the right hon. Gentleman to meet and have access to that panel.
The right hon. Gentleman’s final point was about social housing. I absolutely agree that there are very big lessons to learn about the quantity and quality of social housing. There has been massive investment of record amounts in social housing over the past six years. More than 330,000 new units have been created, and more council housing has been built in the past six years than in the 13 years before that. We can do a lot more, but it is much better if we work together.
There will be no more tragic matter treated of in this House in this Parliament than that which is before us now, in consequence of which I want every Member who wishes to contribute to the exchanges to have the opportunity to do so. It might, however, help the House if I point out that there are a would-be 52 contributors in the debate to come. As a result, there is a premium upon brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike, now to be brilliantly exemplified by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith).
I commend my right hon. Friend for the action he is taking, the urgency with which he is seeing this process through and the way he wants to drive it through, but to return to the points raised by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, there is one issue we need to revisit in parallel and to get on with as fast as we can. My main concern is that, as we look at the cladding and all the other issues, such as the windows in these tower blocks, which can explode into flames if they are made of the wrong type of glass—that is often overlooked among the other things, such as the fire doors—we should really ask ourselves the simple question, and have a real review into, whether it is necessary any longer in many cases to have these older tower blocks, and whether we would not be better off taking a very strong decision to bring some of these tower blocks down and to provide much better, much more family-friendly low-rise, or even council house, accommodation. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks— he makes a very good point. Our most urgent work right now is to make existing tower blocks safe, but there are also longer term consequences, and that includes looking at our whole approach to social housing and the quality of social housing.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sympathies and those of the SNP to those who have been affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and those who face worry as they wonder about their accommodation tonight. I am glad to see the proposal to give funds to local charities, which is very welcome, but I would like to ask a few more questions on the statement.
First, will there be funding from central Government for mitigating measures and alternative accommodation where local authorities face expensive remedial work? That work may take a significant time, and residents will need to be housed and perhaps compensated during that period. Will there also be additional funding for the fire service, which was clearly not able to carry out fire safety work on, for example, the blocks the Secretary of State mentioned in Camden?
Will the tenancy agreements for those moved into temporary and more permanent accommodation be equivalent to, or better than, the tenancy agreements they had in Grenfell Tower?
It was clear—the Minister’s response acknowledged this—that the official response was not good enough, although I make these points in the spirit of helpfulness and not in any way on a party political basis. In Scotland and in Glasgow, we have a well-developed resilience strategy involving all local authority bodies. Will the Secretary of State look at the way it is implemented at local government level? Will he also look at how building regulations in Scotland compare with building regulations in England?
Is it possible to have Scottish representatives on the advisory panel the Secretary of State mentioned, so that they can share some of that experience and that different approach? Lastly, the Scottish Government have already established a short-term ministerial working group on building in fire safety. Will there be a means for it to report to the inquiry?
I thank the hon. Lady for all her important points and questions. On funding, we have made it clear that all the local authorities and housing associations absolutely must do all the necessary work, and we will work with each of them to make sure they have the funding they need if funding is preventing them from doing that work.
On the tenancy agreements for the Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk residents, the terms will be the same or better, whatever housing they eventually receive—whether it is temporary or permanent.
On Scotland, the hon. Lady made a good point. Scotland has already identified around 500 high-rise buildings with cladding, but none of them has ACM cladding. Scottish building regulations certainly deserve a closer look, and as we do a wider review, we should certainly take that into account.
The most worrying thing in the Secretary of State’s statement was when he said that none of the examples of cladding so far had met the requirements in the building regulations but had clearly been fitted to buildings. May I urge him to make that the first thing he asks his independent expert advisory panel to look at? If we have widespread non-compliance with existing building regulations, that is the most urgent thing we need to deal with to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy elsewhere in the country.
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. That is a very urgent question that is already being looked at. Once we have the independent panel established, which will be from tomorrow morning, that is one of the first things it will be tasked with.
I have heard some very ill-informed comments about tower blocks here. As the only architecture expert in the House, as far as I know, I am happy to give a lecture about the safety of well-maintained tower blocks. Concrete-framed tower blocks are safer than Victorian terraces, for example. But that is for another day.
I have heard this morning, shockingly, that people who have concerns about their immigration status or lack of documentation are still not coming forward, and are sleeping rough, and some have been told that they may not be eligible for housing and medical services, and may be reported to the Home Office. Will the Secretary of State please make a firm commitment now, and communicate it widely, that immigration status will not be a barrier to help from medical and housing services, and nor will they be reported to the Home Office, so that traumatised and frightened people have no fear in coming forward?
First, I thank the hon. Lady for the reassurance that she has been providing to her constituents, many of whom are looking for support from across Government and elsewhere. She has been a very reassuring figure locally, and I thank her for that.
On her particular question on immigration, I can absolutely give her that assurance. We have already made it clear that any information that anyone coming forward provides either to Government or local government will not be used for any kind of immigration check. That has been put in a letter that has been given to every affected family. If the hon. Lady has some further suggestions about how we can get that message out, as I think we should follow up on those, I would be very happy to listen.
I welcome the rapid pace of testing of the cladding. It is shocking to hear that so many tower blocks are unsafe. We have heard about the situation in Camden, where tower blocks are being evacuated. Does my right hon. Friend expect other councils to manage evacuations of tower blocks?
Thankfully, no other councils have come forward so far with a need to have an evacuation. There are many more tests to take place, so I do not want to prejudge them, but hopefully what has happened in Camden will be a rare occurrence. As I said earlier, in the case of Camden, in particular, the cladding was a trigger for further fire safety inspections, but it was the massive failure of those further fire safety inspections that caused the evacuation.
I thank the Secretary of State for rightly commending the bravery of the 3,000 residents who were evacuated from their homes in my constituency on Friday. In the past few days, residents have repeatedly brought up the closure of Belsize fire station, which was 500 metres away from the tower block in question. Will the Secretary of State give his support to reopening Belsize fire station, which was closed by the former Mayor of London in 2014, so that my residents can feel safe in their homes again?
Of course, local fire and rescue services must have the resources that they need, but in the assessment that was done with Camden in recent days, there is nothing to suggest that that was the issue that might have led to an evacuation. As the hon. Lady is rightly concerned about her constituents, I am sure that she will be hugely concerned with what has come out of the fire inspection report on the towers in Camden, particularly the issue around the fire doors. I am focusing my efforts right now on making sure that Camden can get all that remedial work done, with significant help from Government to ensure that those fire doors are in place as soon as possible.
Regrettably, it would appear that unsafe cladding is widespread. It exists where there are Labour councils, Conservative councils, and councils of other colours; it was put up during Labour Administrations and Conservative Administrations. Does the Secretary of State share my concern and regret, therefore, to hear some party politicisation of this tragedy, and hope that we can all work together across parties to make sure that it never happens again?
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. As I said in my statement, clearly some things have gone drastically and catastrophically wrong. It has happened over a number of decades. If we are going to put that right, we can do it if we all work together.
Will the Secretary of State inform us whether any samples of cladding have been received from Coventry for evaluation? Has he taken up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the question of making money available from the central Treasury contingency fund, which is usually very large and was established precisely for this sort of disaster?
I will first attend to the question about Coventry. As I have said, 26 local authority areas have done tests that are public, but not all of them have told the residents of their respective towers. Coventry is not on the list of those that have gone public. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, if Coventry were one of those, it would contact its local MPs individually. On funding, local authorities also have reserves for unforeseen circumstances. Some local authorities will certainly want to use their reserves.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for his extensive statement to the House? All our thoughts must still be with those affected by these dreadful events. I welcome the systemic testing of cladding material. What would be the legal ramifications if landlords failed to make use of that service or, indeed, to ensure that their property is safe? Secondly, does my right hon. Friend agree that local authorities should review the use of high-rise accommodation for disabled and very elderly people?
Let me start by addressing my right hon. Friend’s final point about disabled and very elderly people. Of course, special circumstances will be required in situations such as evacuation in case of fire. That should certainly be taken into account by local fire services looking at those buildings and carrying out a further inspection. On the legal ramifications, if a landlord does not submit something for testing when there is good reason to do so, it is the legal responsibility of every landlord in the country, whether the property is social or private, to make sure that it is safe in every way for tenants, and there will certainly be action.
Although I welcome the announcement about an independent expert advisory panel, the Government have historically had the Building Regulations Advisory Committee. It has not met for five years, but it sounds as though the independent advisory panel will do the same job. What is the difference between the two?
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done over a number of years to promote fire safety. He has secured this evening’s Adjournment debate, to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, will respond. I am sure that will enable the hon. Gentleman to further explore his question and others. In the light of the tragedy, this particular panel will possibly have a broader remit, and its membership might also be broader, including through taking on international experience.
The horror of Grenfell Tower will remain with victims and their families and friends for generations. Will my right hon. Friend expand on the role of the victims unit, in particular the work it is doing with children who have lost a parent and those adults who have lost the English-speaking member of their family?
The victims unit, which is now based in my Department, has a number of officials from at least six Departments. The idea is that if any victim, family member or friend has any issue that central Government can help with—it might relate to immigration, tax and benefits or housing—they would have to deal with only one individual, making it much easier for them.
I am grateful for the statement and share the Secretary of State’s grief, anxiety and shock at the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. When tower blocks fail fire safety tests, and when urgent mitigating measures cannot be done to make those buildings safe, what he has said to date does not reassure many Members, because local authorities and housing associations will need funding support to help them provide new housing for those residents affected. What consideration has been given to declaring this a civil emergency, so that central Government funds can be provided to housing associations and local authorities trying to rehouse local residents?
I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that funding is already being provided by central Government in certain circumstances. We have made it clear that if there is an issue and the remedial work to make a property safe cannot be done immediately, as was the case in Camden, the local authority should not hesitate but should take action immediately, regardless of cost, to make residents safe. When the local authority needs funding support, we will work with it and provide that support.
I thank the Secretary of State for his full and detailed statement. I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House are united in their determination that the horrific events at Grenfell will never happen again. I am enormously encouraged by the announcement that there will be a full public inquiry. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that that inquiry will not be allowed to drag and that it will happen as soon as possible? We need answers, and quickly.
My hon. Friend refers to the public inquiry that was announced by the Prime Minister last week. It will be a judge-led fully independent inquiry. We should not prejudge the terms of the inquiry because they will be set by the judge. The issue of timing is important, but it is also important to ensure that the victims are properly represented, as the Prime Minister has promised that they will be.
The Secretary of State referred to cladding but not to insulation. He will know that the police and the fire service have raised serious concerns about the way in which the insulation spread the fire at Grenfell Tower. What is being done about insulation? Is it now time to require that insulation materials are tested as well? Will there be transparency about what insulation materials were used in Grenfell Tower, and should those materials be banned in tower blocks and other properties?
The right hon. Lady is right to raise that issue, and the police report on Grenfell Tower rightly focuses on it. I will not say anything more about Grenfell Tower, as it is important that I do not get involved in that, but, more broadly, it is possible that a test could show that cladding was category 1, which is the correct type, but that the insulation was the wrong type. Since the police report, we have worked with the Local Government Association to update the advice that is going to local councils. We are looking at what is the best way to respond and to ensure that insulation is also looked at properly.
Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that this tragedy has been politicised so heavily by senior members of the Labour party? How long does he think the public inquiry will take to come to conclusions? Is there any evidence that the panelling has been used in countries other than ours?
What the public want to see—this is what they are seeing today in this Chamber—is everyone working together. The timing of the public inquiry will be up to the judge, but it is hoped that the judge might see fit to produce an interim report that we can act on much more quickly.
I want to press the Secretary of State a little further on funding for local authorities. Most of them do not have vast reserves but are struggling with 40% funding cuts. There is still not sufficient clarity on exactly where and when the Government will step forward with funding. It is needed not only for places that need sprinklers and to get rid of cladding but, crucially, for rehousing. Will he say exactly what the national Government will fund?
I can only repeat what I said earlier: whether it is removing cladding, taking other necessary action to improve the fire safety of buildings or rehousing, local authorities should get on with it, just like in Camden. The first thought there was not, “How exactly are we going to fund this?” The council rightly got on with action and made the tenants safe. The Government will then work with those local authorities that cannot afford that to provide necessary support.
As someone who previously worked for Shelter, may I thank that organisation and all the other charitable organisations that are working so hard in the constituency to do what they can for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire? What is the Government’s timeline to rehouse all the displaced Grenfell survivors from temporary accommodation into long-term, stable homes in their local community?
We welcome the hon. Lady to the House and look forward to her bringing the benefit of her experience in that and other sectors to our deliberations.
On the timeline, the offer of temporary accommodation will be made within three weeks. On permanent accommodation, we have already found a number of units. Some people are starting to look at them, and my expectation is that we can hopefully do that within months and move very quickly, as long as that is what the tenants want. I, too, welcome the hon. Lady’s experience at Shelter. She may be aware that Shelter is giving tremendous help on the ground in Kensington to a lot of the tenants who have concerns over whether temporary really means temporary, and I hugely welcome that.
On funding, basically the Secretary of State has said that the Government will work with local authorities and housing associations to provide funding if they cannot afford to carry out the work. Will he explain precisely what that means and what criteria he will use? Is it not fundamentally wrong to expect other social housing tenants to pay for this work through either increased rents or less maintenance of their properties? Will the Government bring forward a comprehensive finance package that provides not merely increased borrowing for organisations, but the actual cash to pay for this work?
The hon. Gentleman will know that, as we speak, it is a legal requirement for local authorities and housing associations that they ensure that the homes they offer to tenants are fit for habitation. They should be meeting those requirements already. I gave the example of Camden; it should already have been meeting those requirements. Despite that, if authorities and associations are not able to do that from their current resources, they should get on with the job and meet those requirements, and we will work with them and give them the support they need.
It is good to be back, Mr Speaker.
Ann Jones, the Assembly Member for the Vale of Clwyd, has brought forward her own legislation to introduce sprinklers in all new-build houses in Wales. I am a firm believer in the dictum that out of badness comes good. What happened at Grenfell Tower was bad—it was a tragedy. Can we use this disaster to open a complete review of fire safety across the UK, not just on the issue of cladding, but on insulation, containment, emergency lighting and especially sprinkler systems, and for not just high towers but other vulnerable housing, such as houses of multiple occupation?
As I said in my statement, there will certainly be a need for a complete review across the UK.
Approximately one in three properties in Westminster towers is leasehold and I am sure the same is true for other blocks. Does the Secretary of State have the power to require leaseholders to install fire doors and other internal fire safety measures? If not, what is he going to do about it and who is going to pay?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. This is often the case, although not exclusively. Many leaseholders have removed fire doors, which is clearly not acceptable. I believe that all the legal powers are in place. Certainly, one of the lessons of this tragedy—this is certainly what we have seen in Camden—is to make sure we take a much greater interest in enforcement.
The Secretary of State said in his statement, “Landlords must keep residential buildings safe for their tenants.” The experts all agree that sprinklers save lives. Sympathetic words are simply not good enough. Fitting sprinklers would cost far less than the deal the Government have stitched together with the DUP. Let us have no more excuses. What is more important to the Secretary of State: clinging to power or preventing fire deaths?
When the local fire and rescue service recommends sprinklers, they should be installed.
Was the Secretary of State’s Department aware of the fire at the Lacrosse tower in Melbourne in 2014? It had cladding similar to that at Grenfell Tower. What lessons did the Department for Communities and Local Government learn from that fire? Should it not have prompted a review of the cladding of tower blocks in this country?
The important point that the hon. Gentleman highlights is that we can benefit from international experience, whether that comes from Australia, Europe or elsewhere. That is certainly one thing we should look at as we learn the lessons.
The Secretary of State will be familiar with tower blocks in my constituency. I would like him to explain now why he will not simply use this opportunity to pay for the sprinkler systems that were recommended by the coroner after the Lakanal House fire.
It is important that we are clear on this. The coroner did not say in her 2013 report that all high-rise buildings should have sprinklers; she said that they should be considered where they are appropriate.
I want to follow on from the point made about immigration status by my very welcome hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad). Having worked with people with a very fragile immigration status who have suffered a trauma, I know that until people have a stable immigration status, they will never feel safe to speak out. The Secretary of State asks what we can do. We could give those people a message today that we will