The Prime Minister was asked—
Sheffield Young Carers is a group supporting inspirational young people who balance all the normal challenges of their young lives with the demands of caring for a parent or a sibling, often with acute needs—people such as John, who has been caring for his mother with fibromyalgia from the age of 10, or Phoebe, who has been supporting her father with mental health problems from the age of eight. They have some practical ideas about what the Government could do to make their lives easier. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet them and hear their proposals?
It is absolutely right for the hon. Gentleman to raise this issue. There are many young people who are caring for their parents and, sometimes, for their siblings as well. All too often they are going unseen and unheard. Certainly, one thing that we are trying to do as a Government is to ensure that we have more opportunities, and a greater ability, to identify and assess those young carers and their families, to support them and to make the rights of young carers clearer. I know that the Department of Health and Social Care is intending to publish a plan setting out our targeted cross-Government action on this area. I would be happy to meet a group of young carers and to hear from them directly.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to be able to have good trading relationships with the European Union, but we also want to be able to negotiate trade deals around the rest of the world with an independent trade policy. I was rather confused to hear a speech on this subject earlier in the week that I believe was given by the Labour leader. He said that he wanted Labour to negotiate a “new comprehensive …customs union”. That would mean that we could not do our own trade deals and would actually betray the vote of the British people. But almost in the next sentence, he said that he wanted a “customs arrangement” meaning that we could negotiate our new trade deals. Well, that is the Government’s position. So what does he want to do—let down the country or agree with the Government?
Good afternoon. I hope that the whole House will join me in passing our deepest condolences to the families of the people who died and those who were injured in the explosion in Leicester, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall). We thank all the emergency services and hospital staff who worked to save lives in that terrible situation.
The Prime Minister emerged from her Chequers awayday to promise a Brexit of “ambitious managed divergence”. Could she tell the country what on earth “ambitious managed divergence” will mean in practice?
May I first join the right hon. Gentleman and, I am sure, the whole House in expressing our condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives in the explosion in Leicester? I agree with him that we should commend the activities and work of the emergency services. They do so much for us all, day in and day out, but they really showed the great job that they do in dealing with those circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the Government’s position on the European Union. It is very simple. We want to deliver on the vote of the British people that means that we will bring back control of our laws, our borders and our money. Of course, that is in direct contrast with the position of the Labour party, which wants to be in a customs union, have free movement and pay whatever it takes to the EU. That would mean giving away control of our laws, our borders and our money, and that would be a betrayal of the British people.
I understand that the Prime Minister is going to make a speech about this on Friday, but I hope that she will address the concerns of 94% of small and medium-sized businesses that say that the Government are ignoring their concerns about how we leave the EU. Who does she think might be better at identifying the business opportunities of the future—the Confederation of British Industry, the Engineering Employers Federation, the Institute of Directors or the International Trade Secretary?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the views of business, particularly of small business. I refer him to what the Federation of Small Businesses said about our position:
“The UK small business community sees the potential wins of an independent UK global trade policy…we want trade kept as easy as possible with the EU27”—
that is our position—
“small businesses are pushing to export to new growth areas—the US, English-speaking nations, emerging economies and the Commonwealth.”
We want a good trading relationship with the European Union and free trade deals around the rest of the world under an independent sovereign nation.
The International Trade Secretary says that business organisations and the TUC have got it all wrong, and that they do not know best how to prosper or grasp opportunities. I put it gently to the Prime Minister that they might have more of a clue than he has about the interests of business, jobs and living standards.
It is wonderful to see the Health Secretary here today. I assume that he was speaking on behalf of the Government last week, when he said:
“There will be areas and sectors of industry where we agree to align our regulations”.
He seems to know the answer. Will the Prime Minister enlighten the rest of us as to which sectors the Government want to remain aligned and which they plan to diverge?
First, the right hon. Gentleman said himself that I am going to be making a speech on these issues later this week. [Interruption.] Oh, just calm down. I have already set out in some detail the position that the Government are taking, and I will elaborate on that further this week. We want to ensure that across a variety of sectors—the goods sector, but also looking at issues like financial services which are such a crucial part of our economy—we get the relationship that means that we are able to ensure that we see that trade going across the borders between the United Kingdom and the remaining EU27 members, and that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; we are absolutely committed to delivering on that.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about people not having a clue. I will tell him who has not got a clue about business and jobs: a Labour party that wants to borrow £500 billion and bankrupt Britain.
The endless round of after-dinner speeches by the Prime Minister on Europe does not really substitute for negotiations or for what is actually going to result from the negotiations.
One of the sectors already suffering very badly is that of health and social care. It is highly reliant on migrant workers. We depend on them for our health and the care of those who need it. Is the Prime Minister not just a little bit concerned that European Union workers with vital skills are leaving Britain in unprecedented numbers now?
As the right hon. Gentleman might have noticed from the last set of immigration figures, we actually still see more people coming into the UK from the European Union than are leaving the UK and going back to the European Union. We do have a care about the number of nurses and GPs that we have in the NHS. That is why we have set the highest levels of numbers of people in training for both nurses and GPs. It is why we have significantly increased the opportunities not just for people who are coming from the European Union to work in our national health service but for those people here in this country who want to work in our NHS to get those training places and do the excellent job that we know they will do for patients in our national health service.
From a Government who have cut the nurse training bursary, who do not seem to understand that it takes eight years to train a doctor, and who are completely oblivious, apparently, to the fact that there are 100,000 vacancies in the NHS now—[Interruption.] I suggest that some Members get a life and go and visit a hospital to see just how hard those people work in order to cover for the vacancies that are there. Surely we need to give immediate, real assurance to EU nationals that they have a future in this country.
Just three months ago, the Foreign Secretary told the House with regard to Northern Ireland:
“There can be no hard border. That would be unthinkable”.—[Official Report, 21 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 848.]
That is what he said. Yet in a leaked letter to the Prime Minister, he wrote:
“even if a hard border is reintroduced, we would expect to see 95% + of goods pass”.
[Interruption.] He is shouting at the moment—he is obviously mixing up the border with the Camden-Islington border. Can the Prime Minister confirm that she will not renege on commitments made in phase 1 to keep an open border in Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman actually raised three different issues in that question, so I will address all of them. He raised the issue of rights for European Union nationals. Of course, a key part of the December agreement—the December joint report that we agreed with the European Union—was about the rights of EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom and the rights of United Kingdom citizens living in the EU27. That was an important thing to have agreed at an early stage in the negotiations. We said we would do it and we did just that.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the number of nurses. Of course, there are now 13,900 more nurses on our wards than there were under Labour. He is talking about the number of years that it takes to train doctors. He said that it takes eight years to train a doctor. Well, if he is worried about the number of doctors there are now, eight years ago it was a Labour Government who were deciding the number of doctors that were going to be trained, so he can talk about that.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the position on Northern Ireland. The Foreign Secretary and I are absolutely committed to ensuring that we deliver on no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That is the position of the UK Government. It is the position of the parties in Northern Ireland. It is the position of the Irish Government, and it was what we agreed in the December agreement of that joint report. We are all committed to ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
If that is the case, why is the Foreign Secretary in private correspondence with the Prime Minister about doing just the opposite of what was agreed in phase 1?
This is a Government in disarray. Every time the Cabinet meets, all we get are even more bizarre soundbites. Remember when we had “Brexit means Brexit”? Then we had “red, white and blue Brexit”, which presumably appealed to Conservative Members. Then we had “liberal Brexit”, and now we have “ambitious managed divergence.” The Government are so divided that the Prime Minister is incapable of delivering a coherent and decisive plan for Brexit. When is she going to put the country’s interests before the outsized egos of her own Cabinet?
My priorities are the priorities of the British people. Yes, we are going to get Brexit right and deliver a good Brexit deal for them, but we are also building the homes that the country needs, so that people can own their own home. We are raising standards in our schools, so that our kids all get a good education. We are protecting the environment for future generations. That is a Conservative Government delivering on people’s priorities and giving them optimism and hope for the future, as opposed to a Labour party that would bankrupt Britain, betray voters and drag this country down.
I was very happy to take a large business delegation with me on the trip to China, including representatives of Riversimple. It was a very good trip and very positive in terms of the connections and the deals that were agreed as a result of it. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Department for International Trade is working hard to support SMEs across the UK and to help connect exporters with buyers around the world. Of course, companies in the UK can access our overseas network and our programme of international events.
I commend the work of colleagues around the House who are trade envoys, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who is our trade envoy for China and who also accompanied me on that trip. I am pleased to say that last year, UK Export Finance provided £3 billion in support, helping 221 UK companies selling to 63 countries, and 79% of those companies were SMEs.
Of course, the emphasis was on “equal”. We are faced with a power grab by Westminster, and it is no surprise that the Scottish and Welsh Governments are putting forward continuity Bills to stop it. The Foreign Secretary’s leaked letter on the Irish border shows that he cannot get to grips with one of the most fundamental issues of Brexit. The Foreign Secretary compared crossing the Irish border to going between Camden and Westminster. Frankly, you could not make this stuff up, Mr Speaker. The UK Government are prepared to put in jeopardy the Good Friday agreement. Does the Prime Minister agree with her bumbling Foreign Secretary, who is making the United Kingdom a laughing stock?
First, this Government are absolutely committed to the Belfast agreement. Indeed, we made sure that that commitment was included in the joint report that we agreed with the European Union last December, so that commitment to the Belfast agreement stands. We are committed to the Belfast agreement and to the institutions under that agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman refers to devolved powers that are coming back from the European Union. We have also given an absolute commitment to amending clause 11, and that commitment remains unchanged. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has recently met representatives of the devolved Administrations. He put forward a further proposal for them, which would ensure that more powers are directly devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Governments and, in due course, to the Northern Ireland Executive. It was acknowledged that that was a significant step forward.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the continuity Bills. The proposals being put forward are unnecessary, and it would be rather more helpful if he concentrated on reaching an agreement in relation to the withdrawal agreement. We want to ensure that more powers are devolved to the devolved Administrations, and that is what we are going to deliver.
Yes, my hon. Friend is right that rail operators are compensated. They are compensated when there is disruption on the tracks run by Network Rail, so the compensation is for something that has happened not as a result of what the rail operators are doing, but as a result of something that Network Rail is doing. We do ensure that there is also compensation available to the passengers who suffer from the disruption. I am pleased to say that automatic payments are available from many rail operators, but not everybody can be automatically refunded. We are operating a delay repay scheme, which means that everyone, regardless of their ticket type, can have access to the compensation that they deserve. We want to ensure that passengers get the compensation that they deserve when their journeys are disrupted.
We continue to stand behind all the commitments that we made in December, and my negotiating team will work with the Commission to agree how they should be translated into legal form in the withdrawal agreement. The hon. Gentleman is right: the draft legal text that the Commission has published would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea, and no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to it. I will be making it crystal clear to President Juncker and others that we will never do so. We are committed to ensuring that we see no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but the December text also made it clear that there should continue to be trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, as there is today.
When I visited Ben Houchen and Teesport, this was one of the proposals that they did put to me. I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the fall in unemployment that we have seen in the north-east, and there are a number of ways in which we are providing that economic growth and ensuring that we see it continuing in the north-east. That is why we are investing £126 million through the Tees Valley local growth deal. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has confirmed recently that we do remain open to ideas that could drive growth and provide benefits to the UK and its people, so we will keep all these options under consideration.
Shale gas extraction could be a very important part of ensuring energy security in this country, and I am sure all the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and the constituents of others represented in this House will want to ensure the Government are doing everything they can to make sure we maintain our energy security and we do not see the lights being turned off.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. First, if I can reiterate the point that I made in response to an earlier question, we are very clear that we want to ensure that we are able to see that trading and that movement between all parts of the United Kingdom—that common single market within the United Kingdom that all parts of the United Kingdom benefit from. We are committed to protecting and enhancing our precious Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The devolved Administrations should be fully engaged in preparations for the UK’s exit. They are—discussions have been taken from them—and as I said earlier, also in response to the Westminster leader of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), it is our intention that the vast majority of powers returning from Brussels will start off in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, not in Whitehall. We will continue to talk to the devolved Administrations, because we also need to ensure that we maintain the single market of the United Kingdom.
It is absolutely clear—first, we do stand by the commitments we made in December, and the negotiating team will be working with the Commission to agree how we put that into legal text for a withdrawal agreement. Part of that agreement was, of course, that we will see no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Another part was, as the hon. Gentleman said, that there would be guaranteed access for Northern Ireland business to the United Kingdom market. As I said earlier, and I am happy to repeat again, the draft legal text that the Commission has published, if implemented, would undermine the UK common market and threatens the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea. No UK Prime Minister could ever agree to it, and I will be making that absolutely clear.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s very firm reaffirmation of her commitment to the Good Friday agreement and the open border and to the December agreement that she made on the withdrawal terms, which included, if necessary, full regulatory convergence on both sides of the border? Does she accept that that means that, if necessary, there will be full regulatory convergence between the United Kingdom and the European Union?
At this stage, prior to my speech on Friday, may I perhaps refer my right hon. and learned Friend to the speech I made in Florence last year, which set out very clearly that we recognise there will be some areas where we will have the same objectives as the European Union and we will want to achieve those objectives in the same way, there will be other areas where we have the same objectives but we want to achieve those objectives by different means and there will be other areas where our objectives will differ? What matters is that it is this United Kingdom that will be able to take the decisions about the rules that it applies.
Order. This is very discourteous. The remainder of the hon. Lady’s question will be heard. It is as simple and unarguable as that. There is no point people ranting from a sedentary position. The hon. Lady will be heard on her feet and that is the end of the matter.
We all recognise the importance of the issue of potholes, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) raised it a while back and the Government put more money in precisely to deal with it. The hon. Lady talks about a stitch in time, but I am afraid I will not take any of that from a Labour party that when in government failed to mend the roof when the sun was shining.
Next week, we celebrate International Women’s Day, celebrating the achievements of women globally. With a record of action on the gender pay gap, with more women in work and more childcare to help them, does the Prime Minister not agree that it is the Conservatives while in government, with two female Prime Ministers, who are really delivering for women?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am happy to join her in celebrating International Women’s Day. I want girls who are growing up today to know that they can achieve anything they want and that how far they go is about them, their abilities and their willingness to work hard. Female employment is at a joint record high. There are now 1.2 million women-led businesses, which is the highest since records began, and the gender pay gap is at a record low for full-time employment. That is a Conservative party in government delivering for women.
We are committed to devolving powers to local areas where it will deliver better local services, greater value for money and clearer accountability. I am pleased to say we have already agreed an ambitious devolution deal with Sheffield city region, which when completed will bring in about £1 billion of new investment to the area. I hear the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for more devolution in Yorkshire, and I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary met a group of councils from Yorkshire yesterday to discuss these very ideas.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is very good to be back. Last year, I had the privilege to open the Guy’s Cancer Centre at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup in my constituency, not knowing then how relevant that might be to me. I pay tribute to the NHS and the outstanding people who work within it. My own treatment has been absolutely outstanding. I know that early diagnosis and early treatment is key. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend see that the lung health check programme, announced by NHS England in November, is implemented as speedily and as widely as possible? Will she do all she can to challenge the stigma attached to lung cancer and some of the false judgments that are made, so that it receives the attention it deserves and those suffering with the disease receive the care they need?
I am absolutely delighted to see my right hon. Friend back in his place in this House. I also commend him for the interviews that he gave over the weekend and the way that he spoke about his own experience. He is absolutely right about early diagnosis. The message that he gave from his experience needs to be one that we all promote around the country—if there is the slightest doubt, if something happens that you think is potentially problematic and the sign of something, please go to the doctor and get it checked out. There are many men, particularly, who think, “Oh no, well, you know, it’s better not to. We won’t. We’ll just put up with it.” Actually, go and get it checked out, because crucially, in cancer and many other areas—but in cancers such as lung cancer, as my right hon. Friend said—if that early diagnosis and early action can be taken, it makes an enormous difference to the patient. I assure my right hon. Friend that we are looking very carefully at and monitoring the effectiveness, particularly, of the scanning of high-risk groups, and we will be looking carefully at the results of that. As he says, we need to ensure that we get rid of the stigma of lung cancer and that anybody who has the slightest suspicion of a problem goes to the doctor, gets themselves checked out and gets the treatment that they need.
Yes, but overall in the north-east, we have seen unemployment falling faster than in many other parts of the country, and that is to be welcomed. We do need to ensure that we are seeing the intended outcome of the apprenticeship levy—that is, more opportunities for young people—actually being put into practice. I am sure that my right hon. Friend who is responsible for the apprenticeship issue will take up the particular reference that the hon. Gentleman made to apprenticeships in the north-east.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the achievements of Chichester-born astronaut Tim Peake by honouring him with the freedom of the city. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Tim and give assurances that our significant investment in the European Space Agency, EU space programmes and research will continue as we leave the European Union?
This is an important issue. I was very pleased that one of the first receptions that I hosted in No. 10 when I became Prime Minister was for Tim Peake and I saw the enormous enthusiasm that he generated among young people for space and science. The joint report that we agreed with the EU in December made it clear that through the multi-annual financial framework, we will continue to participate in programmes that are funded by that, and that includes space, but we will also be discussing with the EU how we can build on our successful co-operation on space as the negotiations proceed. My hon. Friend will have seen that there have been some important developments, including legislation in this House, that will enable us to take a real forward position in relation to space in the future.
I understand that more than 8,000 Carillion workers have had their jobs safeguarded, but, of course, that is no comfort to those made redundant and their families. The right hon. Gentleman raises a specific point about the Midland Metropolitan Hospital. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS Improvement are working with the trust and the private finance initiative company so that work can recommence as soon as possible.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that behind the smiling beard of the Leader of the Opposition lies the real threat to this country’s economy—the shadow Chancellor and his reheated, hard-left Marxism? Can she reassure me and the businesses of this country that the Conservative party will put jobs, prosperity and growth before ideology?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that if we want to build a strong economy with high-skilled, high-paid jobs for the future, the way to do it is not by borrowing hundreds of billions of pounds and bankrupting our economy. The Labour party would be a real threat to the economy of this country and—more than that—they would be a threat to the jobs of hard-working people up and down this country.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong about our proposal for the devolved Administrations: we will be devolving far more powers to the devolved Administrations. Indeed, the Government did that only recently in the Wales Act 2017, which devolved more powers to the Welsh Government. We are absolutely clear that we want to see the vast majority of powers returning from Brussels starting off in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, not Whitehall, but we are also clear that where powers relate to the UK as a whole it makes sense for us to ensure that they continue to apply across the whole of the UK in the same way.
To celebrate World Book Day tomorrow, will the Prime Minister join me in backing the Share a Story child literacy campaign to make 10 minutes of daily reading with a child as much a national habit as eating five portions of fruit and veg?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the Share a Story campaign and marking World Book Day, which is a day to enjoy and celebrate reading. As a child, I very much enjoyed reading, and the idea of making 10 minutes of daily reading with a child a natural habit for everybody is extremely important, and I would certainly support it.
Sunday’s explosion in Leicester has been a terrible shock to the local community, and I know that all our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who tragically lost their lives and those who were injured. I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for praising our incredible emergency services, who continue to work in extremely difficult circumstances. Will the Prime Minister also pay tribute to our local residents, who have pulled together to support one another, showing great strength and courage, and will she make sure we get all the support we need to get to the bottom of what happened and to help my constituents put their lives back together?
As the hon. Lady said, both I and the Leader of the Opposition express our condolences to the family and friends of those who were sadly killed in this tragedy, but we also recognise the impact it has had on the local community. I am very happy to pay tribute to local residents, who have shown the real value of community in the way they have come together, and I can assure her that everything will be done to get to the bottom of why this happened and to ensure, as far as possible—depending on the cause, of course—that it does not happen to anybody again.
Last year, I attended a meeting in the House of Lords organised by the wonderful Cross-Bench peer and human rights campaigner Baroness Cox, at which three very brave women told us their harrowing tales of how they had been treated and discriminated against by sharia councils. It is amazing how noisy feminists in this place are so quiet about this issue, given that women are being discriminated against so blatantly in this country. Is it not time that this alternative, discriminatory form of justice was no longer tolerated in this country?
Let me say to my hon. Friend that we are very clear that there is one rule of law in the United Kingdom, and that is British law. But he is right, and I too have heard stories from individual women who were discriminated against, or felt that they had been discriminated against, and treated badly as a result of decisions by sharia courts. That is why, when I was Home Secretary, I set up the review of those courts. I believe that it published its report recently, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will respond to that shortly.
I commend the right hon. Gentleman for his interest in the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking, and for the work that he has done to support all our efforts to stop this terrible and horrendous crime. Our benefits system is there to provide a safety net, and we have been introducing changes in order to give more help to the people who need it most. I am not aware of the details of the specific issue that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will want to look at it.
I think some people will have been surprised to learn of those links with some leading politicians. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that a free press is very important: it underpins our democracy. Whatever those in the press say about us and whatever they write about us, it is important that they are able to hold politicians and the powerful to account and shine a light in some of the darkest corners of our society, and while I am Prime Minister, that will never change.
Edinburgh airport recently launched a noise abatement consultation. Given that aviation is a reserved matter, will the Prime Minister agree that her Government undertake an investigation of whether the level of night flights at Edinburgh has reached the level that was reached at Stansted when it was regulated?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. This April will mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Belfast agreement, which, together with its successors, has been fundamental in helping Northern Ireland to move forward from its violent past to a brighter and more secure future. I can assure my hon. Friend that this Government remain absolutely committed to the Belfast agreement: our commitment to that agreement is steadfast.
Thank you. Order. [Interruption.] Calm! I have said this before, but let me say it again. I encourage Members to seek to emulate the Buddha-like calm of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). He is modestly affecting not to notice what I am saying, but he is well aware that I am invoking him as an example of the repose and statesmanlike demeanour that colleagues should seek to imitate.