Before I call the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) to ask Question 1, I should inform the House that the text of the closed question tabled by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) relating to economic performance and public services in the west midlands—Question 5—has, in error, been omitted from the printed copies of the Order Paper. A corrigendum—that is a wonderfully clerkly word—has been made available in the Vote Office and copies are on the Table.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure the whole House will join me in offering condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Police Constable James Dixon from Thames Valley Police, who was killed while on motorcycle duty yesterday, and also to the family and friends of the passenger in the car involved in the collision. I am sure the whole House will also join me in offering condolences to the family and friends of the former Member of this House, Jim Hood, who was a former miner and a strong voice for Lanarkshire in this place for nearly 30 years.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
My constituent, Kate, has run a successful nursery for more than 14 years, but after two months on the Government’s funding for three and four-year-olds, she says that she cannot make it work. She is having to sell her home to pay her staff’s redundancy payments. More than 1,000 nurseries have already closed, and 58% say that they cannot continue. If nurseries close, parents cannot work. Please will the Prime Minister meet me and the nursery owners to discuss these widespread and critical problems?
I have indeed recently met some nursery owners to look at this issue, and they have given a clear message that there are parts of the country where local authorities are operating the system very efficiently and very well, and parts of the country where that is not happening. What underpins this issue is the decision taken by this Government to improve the childcare offer for parents so that they have a better opportunity to ensure that their children get into the childcare that they need.
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency, and he has been a great supporter of the CITB at Bircham. I am very happy to support his campaign; I wish him well, and I am happy to meet him.
My hon. Friend asked about Brexit, and what we are doing in the Brexit negotiations is ensuring that we can indeed build those houses and build the country for the future that we want to see. The principles that we are working to are that the text that is currently being discussed is a report on the progress of the negotiations, on which basis the European Commission will decide whether sufficient progress has been made to enable us to move on to the next stage of talks. It is for those future talks to agree precisely how we ensure cross-border trade while maintaining the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. We are leaving the European Union, and we are leaving the single market and the customs union, but we will do what is right in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing condolences about the police officer and the passenger who lost their lives in the tragic event yesterday. I also join her in paying tribute to the late Jimmy Hood, who represented Clydesdale and, later, Lanark and Hamilton East. He was a good friend of all of us, and he was a great fighter for the coal industry and the mineworkers union during the strike and after that, during his time here. We thank Jimmy for his work for the labour movement.
In July, the International Trade Secretary said that the Brexit negotiations would be
“the easiest in human history”.
Does the Prime Minister still agree with that assessment?
I am very pleased to report to the right hon. Gentleman that the negotiations are in progress, as I have just said, and very good progress has been made in those negotiations—[Interruption.] What the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) has been focusing on is the trade negotiations for the future. Indeed, because we are already a member of the European Union, when we leave we will not have the same relationship with it as, say, Canada had in negotiating a trade agreement. We therefore expect to be able to get the deal that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom. To be able to do that, we need to move on to phase 2. If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about easing negotiations, why did his MEPs vote against enabling us to do that?
The Prime Minister can always look behind her. She has not succeeded in convincing many people. Yesterday, one Tory donor told the papers:
“Yesterday proved beyond doubt that”
the Prime Minister
“is not only weak but that it’s her incompetence that is hobbling the UK.”
He was not very kind about the rest of her Front Benchers either, describing them as a
“bunch of jellyfish masquerading as the cabinet”.
This is truly a coalition of chaos. At the start of the week it all seemed to be going so well: the Prime Minister had scheduled a lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, followed by a press conference, and then was to return triumphantly to the House to present her deal. [Interruption.]
Order. Let me make it clear for the umpteenth time—[Interruption.] I know what is going on. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but I can look after these matters. No one in this Chamber is going to be shouted down. It will not happen. If people think that they can sit where I cannot see them and make a raucous noise, they are very foolish, because I know where they are and I know what they are up to, and it is not going to work—end of subject.
On the Prime Minister’s way back to Britain, someone forgot to share the details of the Irish border deal with the Democratic Unionist party. Surely there are 1.5 billion reasons why the Prime Minister really should not have forgotten to do that.
It was a little difficult to detect a question within that interruption. As President Juncker said on Monday, there are still a couple of things that we are negotiating, and he is confident that we will be able to achieve sufficient progress. But if the right hon. Gentleman wants to wonder about plans for negotiations, perhaps he should look at his own Front Bench. The shadow Chancellor used to say that staying in the single market was “not respecting the referendum”, but now he says that it is “on the table”. The shadow Trade Secretary used to say that staying in the customs union was “deeply unattractive”, but now he says that it “isn’t off the table”. We now know from the shadow Chancellor what their approach really is: it is not to have a plan at all. When asked what the Labour party’s plan was, he said, “Well, that’s difficult for us.” As we all know, the only thing that the Labour party is planning for is a run on the pound.
The Prime Minister was unable to support her Brexit Secretary when he tried to explain that a deal was supposed to have been done in October but still has not been done by December. The leader of the DUP told Irish television that she got sight of the deal only on Monday morning, five weeks after she first asked for it. Two months after the original deadline for the first phase of talks, and after Monday’s shambles, is the Prime Minister now about to end the confusion and clearly outline what the Government’s position is now with regard to the Irish border?
I am very happy to outline to the right hon. Gentleman the position that I have taken on the Irish border with Northern Ireland; it is exactly the same position that I took in the Lancaster House speech, that I took in the Florence speech and that we have taken consistently in the negotiations. We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. [Hon. Members: “How?”] We will do that while we respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, and while we respect and protect the internal market of the United Kingdom. [Hon. Members: “How?”] I say to those Labour Members shouting “How?”, that is the whole point of the second phase of the negotiations, because we aim to deliver this as part of our overall trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we can only talk about that when we get into phase 2. We have a plan; he has none.
Eighteen months after the referendum, the Prime Minister is unable to answer the question. On Monday, as she thought she was coming here to make a statement, it was vetoed by the leader of the DUP—the tail really is wagging the dog here.
The Brexit Secretary told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” in June:
“In my job I don’t think out loud and I don’t make guesses… I try and make decisions. You make those based on the data. That data is being gathered. We’ve got 50—nearly 60—sectoral analyses already done.”
This House voted to see those analyses, but today the Brexit Secretary told the Brexit Committee that the analyses actually do not exist. Can the Prime Minister put us out of our misery? Do they exist, or do they not? Have they done the work, or have they not? That is surely one question she can answer after 18 months.
May I make a gentle suggestion to the Leader of the Opposition? He asked me a question on the Northern Irish border, and I answered the question. He then stood up and said that I had not answered the question. Perhaps he should listen to the answers that I give.
The House requested, as I understand it, 58 sectoral impact assessments. There were no 58 sectoral impact assessments; there was sectoral analysis. Over 800 pages of sectoral analysis have been published and made available to the Select Committee, and arrangements have been made available for Members of this House to see them. We are very clear that we will not give a running commentary on negotiations as they proceed, but what we will do is work for what this country wants. We will ensure that we leave the European Union in March 2019. We will leave the internal market; we will leave the customs union at the same time; and we will ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when we do it.
This really is a shambles. All the Government have done is offer a heavily redacted, abbreviated version, which has not been widely shared. The Brexit Secretary said in September that a £50 billion divorce payment was “complete nonsense.” The Foreign Secretary rejected any payment and said that the EU could “go whistle.” Can the Prime Minister put before the House a fully itemised account of any proposed payment that could be independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office?
We are at the point of progressing on to the next stage. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, so the final settlement will not be agreed until we have got the whole deal agreed. The right hon. Gentleman asked me earlier about hard borders. Half the Labour party wants to stay in the single market and half the Labour party wants to leave the single market. The only hard border around is right down the middle of the Labour party.
Eighteen months since the referendum, there are no answers to the questions. Today, the Government have not yet concluded phase 1, and there are no answers to the questions and the DUP appears to be ruling the roost and telling the Prime Minister what to do.
Whether it is Brexit, the national health service, social care, our rip-off railways, rising child poverty, growing pensioner poverty or universal credit, this Government are unable to solve important issues facing this country. In fact, they are making them worse. The economy is slowing; more people are in poverty; and the Brexit negotiations are in a shambles. This Government are clearly not fit for the future. If they cannot negotiate a good deal, would it not be better if they just got out of the way?
Week in, week out, the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House making promises he knows he cannot deliver, and Labour Members keep doing it. At the election, he told students that they would write off their student debt, and then he said, “I did not commit to write off the debt.” But what is the Labour party doing? It is putting around leaflets that say, “Labour will cancel existing student debt”. It is time he apologised for the grossly misleading Labour leaflets.
Order. We have a closed question from Mr Michael Fabricant.
Public Services: West Midlands
I am pleased to say that employment in the west midlands has risen by 198,000 since the 2010 election. In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that people living and working in the west midlands will benefit from a second devolution deal and a £250 million allocation for regional transport projects.
The devolution deal, the Budget and now the establishment of the national battery research and development centre in the west midlands put the whole region at the very heart of European autonomous-drive and electric-drive cars. So will my right hon. Friend commit to continuing to support this important industry? Will she make a very important promise to me? [Hon. Members: “Ooh!] Yes. Will she get rid of that gas-guzzler Jaguar of hers in No. 10 Downing Street and get a modern Jaguar, an electric one, from the west midlands, because we are the party of the future, not the old Labour dinosaurs opposite?
Perhaps I could just let my hon. Friend know that, sadly, the Jaguar in No. 10 Downing Street is not mine, but he is absolutely right that the west midlands is at the heart of this important industry. We are investing £31 million in the west midlands for the development of testing infrastructure for connected and autonomous vehicles, and we will also build on west midlands expertise in self-driving cars as we invest a further £5 million in an initial 5G testbed. I certainly look forward to seeing this technology developing further.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister regarding the late Jimmy Hood and pass on the condolences of Scottish National party Members to his family and friends?
I am sure the House will also want to join me in welcoming Billy Irving, one of the Chennai six, who has arrived back in Scotland this morning.
So now we know that the deal that was done with the DUP to keep the Prime Minister in office gave the DUP a veto over Brexit. It is embarrassing that it was being briefed on Monday morning that the Prime Minister had a deal, only to take this off the table after a call with the DUP. Is this a Prime Minister who is in office but not in power?
What we are doing is working for a deal that will work for the whole United Kingdom. There are particular circumstances for Northern Ireland, because it is the one part of the UK that shares a land border with a country that will be remaining in the European Union. But as we look ahead, and during the negotiations, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, we are consulting and talking to all parts of the UK—the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government. We want to ensure that we get the right deal for the UK. That is the deal that I have set out: we will be leaving the European Union; we will be leaving the single market; we will be leaving the customs union; but we will ensure that we get that good trade deal for the future.
The clock is ticking, and we need a deal that keeps us in the single market and the customs union—to do otherwise will devastate our economy and cost jobs. Will the Prime Minister recognise that such a deal will resolve the Irish border question and protect jobs throughout the UK? Anything less will be a failure of leadership.
The right hon. Gentleman continues to bark up the wrong tree. We are leaving the European Union. That means we will be leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. We will take back and ensure that we can do trade deals around the rest of the world. That will be important for us. He references jobs and it will be important in ensuring jobs in this country. We will get a good deal on trade and security, because this is not just about trade for our future relationship. I set out in my Florence speech the deep and special partnership we want to continue to have with the European Union. That is about a trade deal that ensures jobs and prosperity across the whole United Kingdom.
Order. I just politely observe that the Front-Bench exchanges have absorbed a disproportionately large share of the time, but I am determined to accommodate Back Benchers who are waiting to ask their questions.
I know that my hon. Friend has been working tirelessly on this issue. I understand the concerns and frustrations of drivers in his constituency and elsewhere about this vital strategic road, which is vital for not only Gloucestershire but the wider region. I am happy to assure him that we are backing the development of the multimillion-pound Air Balloon roundabout scheme, which was announced in 2014. A consultation will begin shortly, so that we can develop the right solution to tackle this pinch-point and continue our support, which, as my hon. Friend said, is good for the whole of Gloucestershire’s economy.
The hon. Lady is just completely wrong. The Government have published a number of documents that set out the various options that can be taken forward with respect to the future trade relationship, that address the whole question of the customs relationship and that would address the issue of the Northern Ireland border. We have already published those proposals in detail. Those details are not part of the negotiations at the moment; they will become part of the negotiations when we move on to phase 2.
I am always happy to spend time in my hon. Friend’s company. I hope that his petition on chicken farms went down well the other evening. The answer is, yes, we are on course to deliver what the people of this country voted for when they voted to leave the European Union.
We are of course looking seriously at and have been supportive of the concept of the trans-Pennine railway. As I understand it, we are waiting for specific proposals to be brought forward. We will of course look at those proposals very seriously.
I am sure the whole House is aware that 40 years ago today, this House came together and voted for a new charity, Motability, which has transformed the lives of disabled people and their families. Does the Prime Minister agree that the success, started by Lord Goodman when he was chairman and now continued by Lord Sterling, should be carried forward? Motability gives a golden opportunity for disabled people to get into the workplace and enjoy the things that everybody else in this country does.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for marking the 40th anniversary of Motability in this way, and I am very happy to join him in that. I am looking forward to becoming a senior patron of the charity, because it does excellent work for people with disabilities, enabling them to stay mobile and active. There are more people with a Motability car today than there were in 2010. I also wish my right hon. Friend well, as I understand that he will be going to the Palace tomorrow to receive his well-deserved knighthood.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The simple answer to his question is yes. He will know, as will other Members of this House, that there are already areas in which there are specific arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—for example, the single energy market that exists between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that there is no hard border; that is exactly what we are working for. We are also working to respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and to protect the internal market of the United Kingdom, and I think that we share those aims.
The Prime Minister will be aware of a Citizens Advice Scotland report, which was issued yesterday, that said that, in Scotland, up to a million consumers pay on average 30% more to have parcels delivered than the rest of the country. In my Moray constituency, this is a huge issue where ridiculous prices are put on to deliver to our area, and, in some cases, companies refuse to deliver at all. Will she tell me what the UK Government can do, with me, to ensure that we right this wrong once and for all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue and speak up on behalf of his constituents in this way. As I am sure he knows, Royal Mail does provide a universal postal service that includes parcel services five days a week at a uniform price throughout the United Kingdom, but there are commercial issues that play outside this service. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be happy to meet him and discuss the issue.
I intend to speak to President Trump about this matter, but our position has not changed—as the right hon. Gentleman says, it has been a long-standing one. It is also a very clear one: the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states. We continue to support a two-state solution. We recognise the importance of Jerusalem and our position on that has not changed.
Today, GlaxoSmithKline joined Merck, AstraZeneca and many other companies and charities investing in British bioscience genetics. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this investment in science and research underpins not only jobs but a revolution in medical treatment, which will save lives and give hope to many patients for new treatments?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She has highlighted a very important sector for the United Kingdom, and I welcome the investment to which she has referred. That is why this sector is one of the sectors that have been given such significance in the industrial strategy that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has published. It is exactly an area where we see benefits in the form not only of investment and jobs in the UK, but, as she says, of improving the treatments available for patients and of improving their lives.
We want to see a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We believe that that should be based on a two-state solution, with a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, but also a secure and safe Israel. That should be a matter for negotiation between the parties.
The whole House will support what the Prime Minister said about the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen during her visit to the middle east last week. Will she continue to provide the maximum amount of pressure to lift both the humanitarian and the commercial blockades, and use Britain’s good offices at the United Nations to secure a resumption of some sort of political peace process that is inclusive and that does not have any preconditions?
My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am sure that everybody across the whole House is deeply concerned about the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the lingering threat of famine there. As he said, I raised my concerns when I visited Saudi Arabia last week. I made it clear that the UK wants to see Hodeidah port open not just for humanitarian vessels with aid able to get in, but for commercial vessels as well. This is crucial and important. My right hon. Friend referenced the need for peace talks. That is our top priority. The best way to bring a long-term solution and stability is with a political solution. We will continue to support the efforts of the UN special envoy and to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts to ensure that a political solution can be reached.
It is time that the hon. Gentleman actually looked at the facts when he stands up to ask his questions. It is my Scottish Conservative colleagues who have ensured that we were able to take steps in the Budget in relation to the VAT status of Police Scotland and the fire services in Scotland. He obviously had not noticed—but I am happy to repeat this to him—that £2 billion extra will go to Scotland as a result of the Budget.
In 2010, the Conservative-led Government set out to reform the school curriculum in order to give our children the skills they need to succeed. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that yesterday’s reading standards results are a vindication of our reforms and our amazing teachers’ efforts, which will allow our children to forge a truly global Britain?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. I am very happy to agree with her on this. Yesterday, we learnt how the UK’s revolution in phonics has dramatically improved school standards. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for School Standards, who has worked tirelessly to this end throughout his time in the House. I also pay tribute to the hard work of teachers up and down the country. I will just give the House the figures. In 2012, 58% of six-year-olds passed reading checks; that figure has risen to 81% this year. We are, indeed, building a Britain that is fit for the future.
The position on EU citizens that I set out in my open letter is the position of the United Kingdom Government. If the hon. Lady has a complaint about something that UKVI has said, I suggest that she sends that information to the Immigration Minister.
Yesterday, the all-party parliamentary group on cancer held its annual Britain Against Cancer conference—the largest one-day gathering of the cancer community in the UK—to launch our report on the cancer strategy. We heard from the Government and NHS England about the many good things that are happening. But there is one issue that is causing real concern to frontline services: the delay in the release of the transformation funding to those frontline services, courtesy of an additional requirement applied to the funding after the bidding process closed. I have discussed the issue with the Secretary of State for Health, who is a jolly chap. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the matter further?
Of course this is an important issue. As my hon. Friend said, we have seen great progress in providing higher standards of cancer care for all patients. Survival rates are at a record high and about 7,000 more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago. Of course we want to do more on this issue. He raised a very specific point. I understand that the Department of Health is adopting a phased approach to investment, as the national cancer programme runs for a further three years. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.
I will ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look at this issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are working on how universal credit is rolled out and how it is dealt with in relation to individuals. I am sure he will understand that if particular things within universal credit apply to people in particular circumstances, they can be applied only if the jobcentres are aware of those circumstances. I will ask the Department for Work and Pensions to look at the matter.
Before my right hon. Friend next goes to Brussels, will she apply a new coat of paint to her red lines, because I fear that on Monday they were beginning to look a little bit pink?
No, I happily say to my hon. Friend that the principles on which the Government are negotiating were set out in the Lancaster House speech and in the Florence speech, and those principles remain.
We are not reducing the Metropolitan police budget. We are protecting police budgets. They were protected in the 2015 spending review. I repeat what I have said in this House before: there is more money and there are more officers for each Londoner than is the case anywhere else in the country. Of course, it is up to the Mayor of London to decide how that budget is spent. The hon. Lady also raised the important issue of scooter or moped crime. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has held a roundtable with police and others in the Home Office to look at how that can be better addressed.
The industrial strategy identifies that the world will need 60% more food by 2050. As we leave the EU, will the Prime Minister commit to supporting our farmers?
I am very happy to commit to supporting our farmers. Markets for British food are growing around the world and we want them to grow even further. Leaving the EU means that we will have an opportunity to design a new approach to agricultural policy—one that supports our farmers to grow more, to sell more and to export more of their world-class products. We will ensure that we have an agricultural policy that actually meets the needs of the United Kingdom.
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), he would have heard how we are supporting the automotive industry—crucially, supporting the future of the automotive industry. We recognise its importance for the west midlands and its importance for the United Kingdom. That is why we are very clear in our industrial strategy that it is one of those sectors that we will be supporting so that we can support these jobs and its prosperity for the future.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she is aware of the very strong enthusiasm for free trade deals with the UK from countries like Canada, Japan, the United States and Australia, and even for UK participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership? But none of these opportunities will come our way if we remain shackled to EU regulation after we have left the EU.
I am very happy to say to my hon. Friend that I do recognise the enthusiasm out there around the rest of the world for us to do trade deals with other countries. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary was recently in Australia discussing just these opportunities. When I go around the world, I also hear the same message from a whole variety of countries—they want to do trade deals for us in the future. We want to ensure that we get a good trade deal with the European Union and the freedom to negotiate these trade deals around the rest of the world.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. On Monday evening, during the opening speeches on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, those on the Government Benches showed their true colours. Revealed were the imperial British Government’s intentions spelled out in red, white and blue. Would the Prime Minister care to echo the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, who said, “It is a power grab, and what a wonderful power grab it is too”? Or would she admit that the scrabble to repatriate powers from Brussels provides a grubby excuse to deny our democratic rights in Wales?
I think the hon. Lady knows full well that what my hon. Friend was saying was that when we leave the European Union we will be grabbing powers back from Brussels to the United Kingdom, and that is exactly right. Following that, we expect to see a significant increase in the decision-making power of devolved Administrations as a result, and that is absolutely right. If Plaid Cymru Members are saying that they want to see powers rest in Brussels, we take a different view—we want those powers to be here in the United Kingdom.
Today, shortlisted cities are making their final pitches in the campaign to be named UK city of culture in 2021. Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing the Stoke-on-Trent team every success in their bid to see Stoke-on-Trent become the next city of culture for Britain?
I have been very happy to visit Stoke-on-Trent on a number of occasions. My hon. Friend is a valiant champion for Stoke-on-Trent, and I wish it all the best, but I have to say to him that I have been asked about a number of other bids from cities around the United Kingdom. I am sure that all those cities that are bidding have extremely good cases to be recognised in this way.