I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in attendance on Her Majesty the Queen, welcoming their Majesties King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain on their state visit to the United Kingdom. I am sure the whole House wishes them well.
Is today’s report that in 2015-16 National Grid made £3 billion of profit at the expense of households not further evidence that the Government are not delivering fair energy prices? Will the Government agree to an immediate rebate for overcharging, and will they now commit to an energy price cap for the 17 million households on the most expensive tariffs?
The right hon. Lady is right to identify the issue of energy prices, and I am sure she will welcome the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that the Government will
“ensure fairer markets for consumers”
“this will include bringing forward measures to help tackle unfair practices in the energy market to help reduce energy bills.”
I am sure this is an issue on which we can work across the House together.
Q2. Mr Speaker, yesterday you kindly hosted two important talks on the future of health and social care, and their funding, including one by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). My right hon. Friend the First Secretary knows that the NHS in Staffordshire and Stoke is delivering fine care, but under great financial pressure, in common with other parts of the country. May I encourage the Government to bring together people from across this House to make this Parliament the one that puts the NHS and social care on a firm and sustainable foundation? (900402)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I know he has been campaigning vigorously on behalf of health services in his constituency, including his local hospital, and he is absolutely right to do so. I am sure we both welcome the fact that the Government have committed an extra £8 billion over this Parliament to the NHS, and we are also committed to having a full debate, across the House, and much more widely with people, about how we can improve our social care system, because this is indeed one of the big issues facing this country.
First, let me welcome the First Secretary to his new role. By my reckoning, in the 20 years since he first joined this House he is the 16th Member to represent his party at Prime Minister’s questions, so how about I give him until the end of this session to be able to name all the others? In the meantime, I am sure he and the whole House will join me in congratulating Jo Konta and the British and Irish Lions on their historic achievements of recent days.
On British and Irish co-operation, the First Secretary has huge expertise on the practicalities of the common travel area, so can he tell the House: what will happen to the Irish land border if no deal is reached between Britain and Europe by the end of March 2019?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her kind remarks; I might take her up on her offer and try to name all 16 in the Tea Room later, rather than delay the House now. There are many, many distinguished people, of both sexes, who have done this in my party, because we of course elect women leaders occasionally. I also absolutely share her view about the British and Irish Lions, although it strikes me as a particularly British thing to do to celebrate a drawn series quite as hard as we have—nevertheless, that is the way we do sport. I know you, Mr Speaker, will be very keen on following Jo Konta’s progress through Wimbledon, and Andy Murray’s. Let us hope we have two finalists over the weekend.
On the substantive question the right hon. Lady asked about the Irish border, she will know that it is the aim of this Government to make sure we get the best deal for Britain. As the Prime Minister set out in her Lancaster House speech, one of the key issues that we want to bring forward, and have brought forward at the start of the negotiations, is precisely the issue of the Irish border, because it is extremely important that we get that right, not just for our own citizens in Northern Ireland, but for the Irish Republic. I have already had meetings with my opposite number, the Tánaiste, on this and other matters.
I mentioned at the outset that the right hon. Gentleman is the 16th Member to represent his party in Prime Minister’s questions since 1997. Only three of those have been women and the last one before the current Prime Minister was 16 years ago. I believe we have had three women Labour MPs doing this job in the past two years alone.
Let me return to my question. My question was not: what deal do we hope to get? My question was: what happens if we get no deal at all? This is not some sinister nightmare dreamt up by remainers: it was the Prime Minister who first floated the idea of “no deal”; the Foreign Secretary who said it would be “perfectly okay”; and the Brexit Secretary who said we would be prepared to “walk away”. But, since the election, the Chancellor has said that that would be a “very, very bad outcome”’; and a former Minister has told Sky News that “no deal is dead”. So will the First Secretary clear this up: are Ministers just making it up as they are going along or is it still the Government’s clear policy that no deal is an option?
I recommend that the right hon. Lady read the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, as that is the basis on which we are negotiating. We are also saying that it is conceivable that we will be offered a kind of punishment deal that would be worse than no deal. That is not our intention; we want a deal and we want a good deal. May I also point out to her that it is the position of her leader and her party that, whatever is on offer, they will accept it? That is a terrible way to go into a negotiation. All that I can congratulate them on is their consistency. They have been consistently in favour of unilateral disarmament. They apply that not only to military matters, but to matters of negotiation on Britain’s future prosperity.
Apparently, the First Secretary of State did not get the Prime Minister’s memo—you are supposed to be building consensus, man. If we ignore the political bluster, I think that what we heard was that no deal is indeed still an option. If that is the case, can we turn to what I might call the East India Club question? That was the question that the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) was trying to ask before she suddenly turned herself into Nick Griffin. What does no deal actually mean for our businesses, for our people and for issues such as the Irish land border? Will the right hon. Gentleman address this question now: what does no deal look like in practice?
I am very happy to address the right hon. Lady’s first point about consensus. As she knows, I am a moderate person who is keen on consensus. I very much look forward to sharing the Labour party’s views this morning on the unemployment figures. Unemployment is now down to its lowest level since the early ’70s. There are many Members of this House who were not born when unemployment was as low as this Government have made it. I would hope that, in the course of her questions, she can bring herself actually to welcome lower unemployment. On the substance of her question—as she knows—we are seeking a good deal for Britain that will enable us to trade as freely as possible with the European Union to protect our prosperity at the same time as getting trade deals with other important markets around the world. In the past week alone, both the United States and Australia have said that they would like to sign trade deals with Britain as fast as possible. I am happy to report to her that negotiations are going well and that her fear of no deal is probably overstated.
If the First Secretary of State wants to talk about unemployment, let me ask him this: will he publish the Treasury’s assessment of the impact that a no deal outcome would have on jobs and growth in Britain? Will he publish that today—I don’t think so. Let us continue. If he will not tell the House—[Interruption.]
If the First Secretary of State will not tell the House what no deal means, can he at least clear up the confusion over whether a plan for no deal actually exists? Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary told me that, indeed, there was no plan for no deal. Two hours later, No. 10 fought back and said that there was a plan. [Interruption.] The Brexit Secretary might be laughing, but I am turning to him next. He was so busy fighting with himself that, on 12 March, he said that there was a plan. On 17 March, he said that there was not. On 19 May, he said that he spent half his time thinking about it. Yesterday, he said that he was not prepared to comment. Can the First Secretary of State clear up the confusion today: is there, or is there not, a contingency plan for no deal? If there is, will he undertake to publish it?
The right hon. Lady says that she is happy to talk about unemployment; I notice that she cannot bring herself to welcome falling unemployment figures. We will clearly have to try harder to establish consensus on what I would hope would genuinely unite both sides of the House.
On the issue of the report, the Office for Budget Responsibility is publishing its fiscal risks report tomorrow. If the right hon. Lady can be patient, she will see the report that she wants.
So let us be clear: the First Secretary seems to be saying that no deal is still on the table, but he will not say what it means; and that there is a no deal contingency plan, but he is not going to publish it. This really is two steps forward and two steps back. After all, if the Government seriously want open, cross-party debate about the best way forward for Brexit, surely they have to spell out what all the options look like.
Can the First Secretary at least provide some clarity on one issue? Let us try to make some progress today. He has said repeatedly that we want to avoid a cliff edge Brexit, but under a no deal scenario, he knows that that must be impossible. The Prime Minister can hardly storm out of the negotiating room saying that she will not accept the deal, and then pop her head round the door again and ask can she have two more years to prepare. That is not how it works. Does the First Secretary accept that no deal also means no transitional arrangements?
Let me try even harder to establish consensus with the right hon. Lady. I think we both want a deal; I hope she will agree to that—that she wants a deal at the end of this. The reason why I am optimistic that, because of our negotiating stance and the position set out by the Prime Minister, we will get a deal, is that we have, for example, made a fair and realistic offer about citizenship to try to remove that problem from the equation.
That is a first indication of how we will approach these negotiations. We approach them in a positive state. We believe that it is in the interests of not just Great Britain but the other member states of the European Union to reach a deal with one of their biggest trading partners. It is in everyone’s interests to reach this deal. Frankly, the right hon. Lady has so far said nothing constructive that might contribute to a deal, but I will give her another chance.
Order. I do not know whether this is spontaneous or orchestrated, and I do not really care which. But whichever it is, the idea that it is going to stop the right hon. Lady from asking her questions is for the birds. Members are wasting their vocal cords. We will carry on for as long as necessary to accommodate the Back-Bench Members whom I wish to accommodate.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is new to this, but the way it works is that he asks the—that I ask the questions—[Interruption.] We are quite happy to swap places with them. Frankly, if he does not want to continue under these rules, I am sure there are plenty of other people on the Front Bench there who would love the opportunity to audition as Prime Minister.
I do appreciate all the First Secretary’s answers, but they just serve to illustrate what a mess the Government have got themselves into by threatening to walk away even before talks began. Is it not the truth that we have a no deal option on the table but the Government will not tell us what that means, and that they have contingency plans but they will not let the public see them? We have got a Chancellor demanding transitional arrangements, which a no deal option makes impossible. We have got a Foreign Secretary making it up as he is going along. We have got a Brexit Secretary so used to overruling his colleagues that he has started overruling himself, and we have got a Prime Minister who is so bereft of ideas that she has started putting suggestion boxes around Parliament. But as a country we have 20 months to go until Brexit. We absolutely have to get a grip. If the Conservative party has not got the strength for the task, then we absolutely have to get rid of them.
There may have been a question in there somewhere. I assure the right hon. Lady of two things. This Government are already in the negotiations, as she will have seen. We have started the negotiations, and they are going well. We said that the first thing we wanted to do was to negotiate citizens’ rights, and that was the first item on the agenda of the first meeting. We want to ensure that European citizens in this country and—equally importantly—British citizens living in other European countries, have as much certainty about their rights as soon as possible. That is what we are negotiating, and that is the sign of a practical and pragmatic Government getting on with work in the interests of the British people.
I have counted that the Labour party has so far had nine different plans on Europe. Labour Members want to be both in and out of the single market, and in and out of the customs union. They said that they wanted to remain, but they voted to enact article 50. They split their party on that. The right hon. Lady said that she would prefer to be at this Dispatch Box, rather than that one. I remind her of the other event that happened recently, where the Conservative party got more votes and more seats than the Labour party and won the election.
Q3. I do welcome the jobs that have been announced. Furthermore, after 65 years of people in my constituency talking about a link road, one actually opened on my watch. I am also trying to obtain an enterprise zone or business park, about which I had a productive meeting yesterday with the powerhouse Minister and the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, who I believe is here today. Would my right hon. Friend help, in any way possible, to ensure that this business park becomes a reality so that we can create more jobs in Morecambe and Lunesdale? (900403)
I agree with my hon. Friend. He will be interested to know that employment in the north-west of England has increased by 2.5% over the past year. Labour Members may wish to welcome that, rather than to heckle. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of business parks and enterprise zones as drivers of economic growth. I wish him well in his campaign, and I am sure that the Business Secretary will be happy to look into the matter.
I am sure that the whole House will join me and my colleagues in marking the 22nd anniversary of the sad events at Srebrenica. I thank those who held last night’s memorial in London to ensure that we never forget. Will the First Secretary of State confirm that the devolved Administrations will not face a diminution of powers as a result of the repeal Bill?
I join the hon. Gentleman in commemorating the dreadful events at Srebrenica. I am happy to reconfirm what the Prime Minister and others have said—that there will be no diminution of the devolved Administrations’ powers under the terms of the Brexit deal that we will negotiate, and that we will look to devolve more powers as a result of the process.
I thank the First Secretary of State for that answer. Will he confirm that there will be a cast-iron guarantee that all powers that come back into the United Kingdom on devolved matters will be returned? Furthermore, do the United Kingdom Government intend to amend schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 to change any aspect of the devolved competences that were approved in the 1997 Scottish referendum?
I can only keep repeating the assurances that we have already given. I am slightly surprised by the Scottish nationalists’ approach. My understanding of their position is that they want the powers taken from London to Edinburgh so that they can give them back to Brussels. Perhaps their inability to explain the logic of that position might explain their recent general election result.
Q5. Earlier this year, the brilliant new St Luke’s Hospital opened in my constituency, but the old cottage hospital that it replaced contains an important and unique war memorial. Does the First Secretary agree with me that, however the NHS redevelops that site, it is vital that the war memorial is preserved in a fitting way so that future generations can remember the sacrifices of those who came before us? (900406)
Perhaps particularly at the moment, when we are about to commemorate the centenary of the terrible battle at Passchendaele, it is very important that we consider the issue of war memorials. Memorials like the one my hon. Friend mentions call on us to remember the horrors of war and to honour the memories of those who died. In this case, I understand that the war memorial is protected by an Historic England grade II listing, so specific planning consent would be required to relocate the memorial as part of any future plans. I hope that will provide the protection he and his constituents need.
Q4. My constituent has serious mental ill health and has had over 50 separate admissions to psychiatric care. She requires regular monitoring to prevent her condition from worsening and becoming a danger to herself and others. She could access support under the disability living allowance, but she stands to lose £110 per week under the personal independence payment. As the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, will the First Secretary look urgently at this case and change the loophole in PIP that leaves very vulnerable people without the continual support that keeps them safe? (900405)
Obviously, the House will be concerned to hear about the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent, as I am. The hon. Lady will know that one of the effects of the transition from DLA to PIP is that more people are now eligible for support—particularly those, as it happens, with mental health problems. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will have heard her point, and I have no doubt that if she contacts him, he will look into the case personally.
Q7. Some of the most distressing cases that I and other Members see in our constituency surgeries are those involving domestic violence. The Queen’s Speech has promised a Bill to help to strengthen our confrontation of this problem, so will the Deputy Prime Minister—sorry, the First Secretary—tell us when we can expect this legislation, urgently needed as it is, and what the Government are doing about this problem while we await it? (900408)
I agree that this is a hugely important issue, and my hon. Friend is right that we have committed in the Queen’s Speech to introduce a domestic abuse Bill in this Session, which I hope will be a landmark in this important area. What we want to do in the Bill is set in motion a transformation not just to protect and support victims, but to recognise the lifelong impact domestic abuse can have on children and to make sure that the agencies respond effectively to domestic abuse. We will, of course, be consulting all the relevant professions and voluntary groups on this, but we are absolutely determined to press ahead with this very important legislation.
Q6. Little Max Johnson is nine. He is in hospital, and he is urgently waiting for a heart transplant. His mum, Emma, and his brother, Harry, join us today to support Max, but also the 10,000 people around the country who need an organ transplant. We can do more to help them. Wales has already moved to the opt-out system, and Scotland plans to do the same. Does the First Secretary agree with me that, in England, we should change the law to one of presumed consent for organ donation, to give Max and all those other people the best chance of life? (900407)
I am sure that the thoughts of Members across the House are with Max and his family at this incredibly difficult time. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that organ donation is clearly a hugely important part of our system, and I am pleased that there are now more than 23 million people on the organ donor register. Over the past year, we saw the highest ever donor and transplant rates in the UK, but, of course, there is more that can be done. As the hon. Gentleman says, the law is different in other territories inside the UK, and the Department of Health is looking at the impact of those changes to see if they can give rise to further improvements in the number of available organs.
Q8. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the quarterly economic survey of the Greater Manchester chamber of commerce predicts economic growth at 3.25% annually, which it has been, broadly, since 2013? Is he further aware that Manchester airport is planning a £1 billion investment in the coming years? Does that not indicate a welcome rebalancing of the economy, underpinned by sound economic management? Will he undertake to continue that sound economic management, which is so necessary to our country? (900409)
My hon. Friend has made a number of important points, particularly about Manchester airport, which I know has been a significant driver of the excellent growth figures of the increasingly excellent economy of Manchester and the surrounding areas. Everything that he has said is true, and I think it is a tribute to the work that has been done on the northern powerhouse that we are now spreading that prosperity across the north of England.
Q9. The First Secretary said the other day that we needed a national debate on tuition fees, and admitted that student debt was “a huge issue”. Given that the Prime Minister is touting for ideas, may I recommend page 43 of our manifesto, and ask the Government to adopt Labour’s pledge to abolish tuition fees—[Interruption.] (900410)
People often stand at this Dispatch Box and say, “I am pleased that the hon. Lady raised that question.” I am genuinely pleased that the hon. Lady raised that question, because it allows me to draw attention to the very slight problem with her argument, which is that her own party’s Education spokesman has admitted that the tuition fees policy has a £100 billion—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) has admitted that there is a £100 billion black hole in Labour’s student fees policy. That is nearly as much money as we spend on the NHS in a year, and it is equivalent to two years’ worth of disability benefits.
The Labour party was particularly incredible on this issue at the general election, and I am astonished that Labour Members now want to bring it up at Prime Minister’s Question Time. I remind them that misleading students and young people is a very dangerous thing to do. If they do not believe me, they can ask the Liberal Democrats.
Q10. Just one in five of our public art sculptures and statues is of a woman. Next week, to mark 200 years since the death of the world-renowned novelist Jane Austen, the first ever sculpture of her will be unveiled in my constituency, the borough of her birth in the county that inspired her. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for more areas to do what Basingstoke has done, and celebrate their famous daughters? (900411)
I am delighted to echo my right hon. Friend’s call for a welcome for the new statue of Jane Austen in Basingstoke. I am genuinely astonished that there is not a statue of Jane Austen anywhere else in the country, given that she is one of our greatest authors and is still popular 200 years after her birth. I am also happy to echo my right hon. Friend’s desire for more statues of Britain’s greatest women to be spread around the country.
Q12. Politicians are said to be here today and gone tomorrow, but whatever tomorrow may bring, the Prime Minister is not even here today to mark the end of her first year in power. I also note that, for the first time since she became Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Listen: you might like to hear this. For the first time since she became Prime Minister, her image has been removed from the front page of the Conservative party website. Can the First Secretary tell us why she has gone from being the next iron lady to “The Lady Vanishes”? (900413)
The hon. Gentleman is ingenious in asking very personal questions, and I commend him for it. Unfortunately, he has his own record on this subject. As recently as June last year, he said that the leader of the Labour party was
“not destined to become Prime Minister”,
and called on him to resign. I suggest that he might want to make peace with his own Front Benchers before starting to be rude about ours.
Q11. Today’s jobs figures show that we have the highest employment rate since comparable records began. We have more people in full-time employment, and we are touching on the lowest youth unemployment since records began. In the light of the Matthew Taylor review of modern working practices, what more can be done to ensure that that record continues, and that we continue to rid the country of the scourge of long-term youth unemployment? (900412)
My hon. Friend is exactly right, specifically on the subject of youth unemployment. One of the particularly welcome figures among the consistently low and falling unemployment figures over which this Government have presided is the fact that youth unemployment is now at historically low levels and lower than in many other comparable economies. We will continue this in this Parliament, not just with our moves on more apprenticeships, but with the introduction of new and better technical and vocational education, which is key to providing long-term prosperity not just for the economy as a whole, but for everyone in this country.
Q14. How can the Government continue to justify not providing fair and equitable funding arrangements for West Lancashire to support water level management organisations, otherwise known as drainage boards, to help protect homes and the agriculture and horticulture industries critical to the local economy, instead of causing the Environment Agency to threaten to turn off the Alt Crossens pumping station? (900415)
The hon. Lady raises a reasonable point about the Environment Agency. It is the Environment Agency’s duty to ensure that water supplies are good and safe. If she wishes to bring up this issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I am sure he will be happy to talk to her about it.
Q13. Zero-energy bill homes at below market prices are being built by British architect Bill Dunster, with the support of the Building Research Establishment. Given their potential to help people find affordable housing, what more can the Government do to help expand this type of housing as part of our commitment to both enterprise and social justice? (900414)
I know that my hon. Friend is an energetic campaigner for social justice. This is a very good example of how having a dynamic and flexible economy is not just good for the economy, but actually good for the whole of society. I am happy to join him in welcoming this type of innovation. Bill Dunster’s firm is a good example of such innovation. I know that it has been supported by the Government’s enterprise investment scheme, so the Government are doing their best to support this type of measure. We are stimulating the growth of the off-site construction sector, which enables more houses to be built, through our accelerated construction programme and the home building fund. This is another very important issue to make sure that we spread the benefits of prosperity around this country.
I wonder if the First Secretary of State might imagine what it feels like to be a parent forced to uproot their children from their one settled home to flee war and persecution, as millions of refugees around the world have done. Then would he imagine further how it might feel for those who become separated from their family members—with one family member making it, for instance, to the United Kingdom—when they are needlessly kept apart from their families due to cruel and unnecessary barriers to family reunification? Will the Government today endorse Baroness Hamwee’s Bill in the other place to bring those desperate families back together?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. He will be aware that this Government, and this country, have done a huge amount—particularly in the region, but also here at home—to help refugees from countries such as Syria. We have expanded the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, so we make sure our doors continue to remain open to people who most need our help. In particular, we work very closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify and refer the most vulnerable refugees. That is the most sensible humanitarian way we can help these very desperate people.
Since I assume this was the hon. Gentleman’s last question, I suspect, as the leader of his party, may I wish him a fond farewell from that job? I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats have taken so seriously the Government’s fuller working lives strategy, which is about providing more jobs for older workers, and that they are about to skip a generation in their leadership.
At the recent G20 meetings, the Prime Minister had excellent and constructive trade discussions with the leaders of India, China, Japan and America, which collectively represent 43% of the world’s population and six times the population of the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this demonstrates the potential for a prosperous and positive future for Britain post-Brexit, and that it really is time for the pessimists to look at the cup being half full rather than half empty?
I am happy to endorse my hon. Friend’s approach and emphasise to him and the House that it is really important to do both—we need a good trade deal with the European Union, which is still a hugely important trading partner for us, but we also need to take the opportunity to strike trade deals with economies around the world, not just currently advanced economies but those that are growing very fast. That is the route to future global prosperity for this country.
We have had two general elections where the Government have promised investment in the northern powerhouse, and yet again, within weeks, they have U-turned on the Trans-Pennine electrification. Is the £1 billion deal with the DUP to keep the Prime Minister in power being funded at the expense of investment in Bradford and the north?
No, not at all. The money that has gone for infrastructure in Northern Ireland is richly needed there. For example, we have signed city deals in England, Scotland and Wales, but none yet in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady is right about the importance of the northern powerhouse, and we will continue with that programme, which is hugely important. As she has already heard, we are seeing unemployment falling consistently in the north of England as a sign of how the economy there is going as well as anywhere else in the country. We are determined to continue that.
I know that the First Secretary will be delighted to see that Parliament Square is now displaying the flag of every British overseas territory to welcome the King of Spain this week, including the flag of Gibraltar. Will he ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to remind the King of Spain that Gibraltar is British and that its sovereignty will remain paramount?
What assessment have the Government made of the effect on radiotherapy for cancer patients of their decision to withdraw from Euratom, given that the Royal College of Radiologists said this week that half a million scans a year are done using imported radioisotopes and that thousands of patients could be affected by this decision?
I am again genuinely happy to answer this question, because this is a very important issue and there has been some unnecessary worry caused to cancer patients by speculation on it. Let me set out the position.
The import or export of medical radioisotopes is not subject to any particular Euratom licensing requirements. Euratom places no restrictions on the export of medical isotopes to countries outside the EU, so after we leave Euratom our ability to access medical isotopes produced in Europe will not be affected. I hope that clears the matter up and reassures cancer patients around the country that the scaremongering that is going on is unnecessary.
It is a hopeful try by the hon. Lady, but points of order will come after the statement.
When the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) have resumed their seats—ah, I see that the latter has forged a new alliance with members of the Scottish National party; I am not sure which of them should be more afraid—we will proceed with the statement.