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Volume 640: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2018

As I said last week, the condolences of the whole House are with the family and friends of Michael Martin.

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.

Many highland businesses rely on EU national employees simply to operate. Given that the Prime Minister’s Government already make a charge of up to £1,000 per year per person for non-EU nationals, will she categorically rule out any such immigration skills charge for EU nationals after the UK leaves the EU?

We recognise that, after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, there will still be those in the EU who wish to come to work and study here in the UK, and that there will still be UK citizens who wish to work and study in the European Union. We will bring forward our proposals for those arrangements in due course.

Q7. Does the Prime Minister think that it was the Labour party voting against the abolition of stamp duty for 69,000 first-time buyers, or the Labour party voting against 50,000 extra school children getting free school meals that convinced local voters in the elections last week to vote Conservative as the only party on their side? That is why the Conservatives retained control of Westminster and Wandsworth councils, and it is why they gained control in places such as Redditch, Basildon and Barnet. (905236)

Order. The Prime Minister is not responsible for the Labour party, but I am sure that she will be able to respond appropriately.

I can say to my hon. Friend that she is right about votes that took place in this House where the Opposition did vote against the abolition of stamp duty for those young first-time buyers, which is proving so helpful. Last Thursday, when millions of people across England went to the polls to vote for their local councils, we saw that the real winners were ordinary people. More people are now able to get the benefit of Conservative councillors who keep their council tax lower and provide good local services.

First, may I put on record my thanks to Mr Speaker for attending the funeral of the late Michael Martin this morning in Glasgow on behalf of this House?

Does the Prime Minister agree with her Foreign Secretary that the plan for a customs partnership set out in her Lancaster House speech is, in fact, “crazy”?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are leaving the European Union and we are leaving the customs union, but, of course, for our future trade relationship with the European Union, we will need to agree customs arrangements, which will ensure that we leave the customs union, that we can have an independent free trade policy, that we can maintain no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that we can have as frictionless trade with the European Union as possible. I will tell him what is crazy. What is crazy is the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, who for years opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now has a policy that would mean Labour signing up to TTIP with no say in it whatsoever.

Could the Prime Minister explain why she and her Cabinet wasted weeks working up proposals that the EU said were unworkable and that the Foreign Secretary described as “crazy”? Does she agree with her Business Secretary who apparently backs the “crazy” customs partnership proposal, but who made it clear that he did not back a technological alternative when he told the BBC that jobs would be at risk if we do not sort out a comprehensive customs deal?

What the Business Secretary said on Sunday was that it was absolutely right that we should be leaving the customs union. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about jobs, I am happy to do so: half a million jobs lost under the last Labour Government; record employment rate under this Conservative Government.

The Government say that they have two options. The Foreign Secretary says that one is “crazy”, and Sir Ivan Rogers, our former EU ambassador, said that the technological alternative is a “fantasy island unicorn model”. They have two options, neither of which is workable. The case for a new customs union with the European Union is clear, to support jobs and living standards. Why is the Prime Minister ignoring all the major business organisations and all the major trade unions backing a customs union? Is it not time that she stood up to those described last night by the Father of the House as “wild, right-wing people”?

We are leaving the customs union. What we are doing is ensuring that we deliver customs arrangements but leave the customs union, ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as frictionless trade with the EU as possible, and an independent trade policy. What would Labour give us? It wants to go into a customs union with the European Union, with no say over trade policy and with Brussels negotiating trade deals in its interests, not our own. The Labour manifesto said that it wanted to strike trade deals, but now it has gone back on that policy. Typical Labour—letting Britain down once again.

The Prime Minister presides over a divided Cabinet. She has had 23 months to negotiate an agreement and has not made any progress on it. The CBI says that

“a comprehensive customs union, after transition, is a practical, real-world answer”.

The TUC, on behalf of 6 million workers in this country, puts it simply:

“Ruling out a customs union risks jobs”.

The Government continue to reject a new customs union, but at the weekend the Business Secretary made it clear that neither of their options would be ready to be implemented by December 2020. Can the Prime Minister tell us her preferred option and the date on which it will be ready to be implemented?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the length of time in the negotiations. Of course, it was not until March and the agreement to move on to the next stage of negotiations that it was possible to have discussions with the European Commission on the customs arrangements. There were two options in my Mansion House speech. Questions have been raised about both of them and further work continues.

The right hon. Gentleman has spent an entire career opposing a customs union. Now that the British people want to come out, he wants to stay in. I know that he is Leader of the Opposition, but that is going a bit far.

Due to divisions within the Government, these negotiations are a shambles, and this House is being denied the opportunity to debate crucial legislation affecting the future of our economy and communities all over Britain. Can the Prime Minister now tell the House when we will debate the Trade Bill and when we will debate the customs Bill? She has had 23 months to get ready for it.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the state of the negotiations. Before December, he was saying that the negotiations were not going to get anywhere, but what did we get? A joint report agreed by the European Council. He said before March that we would not get what we wanted in the negotiations, but what did we get? An implementation and an agreement with the European Union Council. We are now in negotiation for the best deal for the UK when we leave the EU, and we will get the best deal for the UK when we leave the European Union.

I would have thought that after 23 months, we would have a better answer than that from the Prime Minister.

How can the Government negotiate in the future interests of people’s jobs and living standards when Cabinet members are more interested in putting their own futures first? Fundamentally, how can this Government negotiate a good deal for Britain to defend people’s jobs and living standards when they are unable to reach an agreement between themselves?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what this Government have been doing to defend jobs. We have had a balanced approach to the economy, opposed by the Labour party. We have introduced changes in legislation for more workers’ rights, often opposed by the Labour party. We have been ensuring that we see jobs being created in this country—employment is at its highest rate since records began, and unemployment is at its lowest rate for 40 years or more. This is a Government that are putting jobs first at every stage of what we are doing. Last week, what we saw up and down this country, whether in Barnet, Dudley or Peterborough, was the British people voting to reject the back-to-the-future economic policy of the Labour party and the broken promises of Labour. They do not trust Labour, and they do not trust its leader.

Q10. Under this Government, the introduction of a total cost cap on payday lending has more than halved the number of people with problem payday loans that are unmanageable. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the moment for the Financial Conduct Authority to extend that successful policy to confront doorstep lending? (905239)

I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard to promote financial inclusion, which is very important. We are committed to ensuring that consumers are protected from unfair lending practices. I understand that the FCA is currently conducting a review of the high-cost credit market, including doorstep lending, and will publish an update later this month. Of course, we have also given the FCA new powers to cap the cost of credit, and it will do so if it believes that necessary to protect consumers.

We all woke up this morning to a much more dangerous world. Donald Trump has undermined progress towards normalisation of relationships with Iran. In the Prime Minister’s representations to the President of the United States on Saturday, did she speak in the strongest terms on the lunacy of the actions that he is taking?

I have been very clear in a number of conversations with the President of the United States about the belief of the United Kingdom that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the nuclear deal with Iran—should stay. That view is also shared by Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Macron of France, which was made clear in the joint statement that I issued last night with them. We accept that there are other issues in relation to the behaviour of Iran that need to be dealt with, such as ballistic missiles, the question of what will happen when we reach the sunset clause at the end of the nuclear deal and the destabilising activity of Iran in the region. Those issues need to be addressed, and we are working with our European and other allies to do just that.

The Prime Minister did not make any reference to sending her Foreign Secretary to appear on Fox News as part of his foreign policy initiative, pleading with the President through Fox News rather than direct intervention. The middle east is in need of stability. Conflicts are already raging in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary cannot deliver a message abroad in the correct manner, and at home, he undermines the Prime Minister on the customs union. Can the Prime Minister tell us when the Foreign Secretary will agree with his own Government’s position? If he does not, will she have the backbone to send him to the Back Benches?

It is absolutely right that the Government, in addressing the issue of the Iran nuclear deal with the United States Government, have worked across all levels and made representations at a variety of levels and in a variety of ways. That is what the Foreign Secretary was doing in Washington. It is what he has done with his opposite number in the past, as I have done with President Trump and as has happened with our French and German colleagues as well. We continue to believe that the Iran nuclear deal was an important step forward in helping to keep the world safe. As I say, there are other issues that need to be worked on, and both the Foreign Secretary and I will continue to work on those with our European and other allies.

Q11. Over the bank holiday weekend, spectators turned out in record-breaking numbers to watch the Tour de Yorkshire, enjoying the county’s finest hospitality, with images of the UK’s most beautiful countryside beamed to millions around the world. Does the Prime Minister agree that major sporting events such as the Tour de Yorkshire provide significant economic benefits and investment in our regions, and will she join me in God’s own county for next year’s event? (905240)

It was indeed very good to see millions of people on the roads of Yorkshire, cheering on the Tour de Yorkshire as it took place this bank holiday weekend. As my hon. Friend says, not only are these events hugely enjoyable for sports fans, but they bring huge economic benefit to the area and they show off the best of Britain to the world. That is why I am delighted that in September next year we will see the cycling road world championships taking place in Yorkshire, bringing the world’s best cyclists to Yorkshire—we are providing financial support for these championships—and I am always happy to visit Yorkshire.

Q2. A constituent of mine was born in Kirkcaldy to parents who have the right to stay in the UK indefinitely and his entire life has been in Scotland—his schooling, university and now his professional work as a structural engineer—but he cannot get a British passport, and he tells me he fears the knock on the door that so many Windrush people heard. Will the Prime Minister assure my constituent and the many people like him, whose cases are analogous to those of the Windrush people, that they will get the same consideration and be assisted in obtaining citizenship, with the fees waived? (905231)

The former Home Secretary was absolutely clear about the offer that has been made to those people who were covered by the legislation—the Immigration Act 1971—who came to the United Kingdom before 1973. I am sure that the Home Secretary will ensure that the case the hon. Lady has raised is looked into carefully. Often, cases are raised in this House and there is sometimes a complexity to the cases that needs to be looked into very carefully, but I am sure the Home Secretary will ensure that that case is properly considered.

My constituency of Aldershot is the home of the British Army and it has a very fine tradition of military service. I am delighted that the commander of the Aldershot garrison, Colonel Mac MacGregor, and his wife Deborah have joined us in the Gallery today. Next month, Colonel Mac will leave the Army after nearly 40 years’ service, so will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Colonel Mac for his service and the tremendous good works he does in the wider community of Rushmoor borough?

I am very happy not only to welcome the colonel and his wife to the Gallery to watch our proceedings today, but to thank him for the significant service he has shown our country in his time in our armed forces and for all the work he has done as commander of the garrison at Aldershot. We wish him all the very best in his retirement from the Army.

Q3. The Life Sciences Scotland firm Tepnel Pharma Services employs 50 people in my Livingston constituency, who test the safety standards of everyday drugs to ensure that our citizens are kept safe. In its Trade Bill evidence, it expresses grave concerns about the lack of information and the plans for Brexit. I met it last week, and it is fair to say that its concerns have gone from amber to red. The life sciences in Scotland and across the UK rely on a harmonised regulatory environment. Patient safety is on the line and businesses need answers from the Prime Minister. When will they get them? (905232)

As I made clear in my Mansion House speech, the European Medicines Agency is one of those that we wish to discuss with the European Union the possibility of having associate membership of. I and the Business Secretary, as well as others, spend time with the life sciences industry and with other industries to understand their concerns. We will be looking to ensure that we can provide the same level of interaction in the future to enable our life sciences industry not just to continue at the current level, but actually to be enhanced and to grow.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Bomber County Gateway Trust on the approval of its plans for a full-sized sculpture of a Lancaster bomber? In this centenary year of the RAF, does she agree that it will be a fitting tribute to the service personnel—past, present and future?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who are looking for an appropriate commemoration of the Lancaster bomber squad and to recognise all that was done by those who were involved with the Lancasters. As she says, this year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Royal Air Force and all of us across the House should show our gratitude and support for all those in the RAF who have contributed so bravely to the safety of our country over the years.

Q4. “Cretinous”, “crazy” and certain other words beginning with “cr” are used by some Government Members to describe the Prime Minister’s proposals for a customs partnership. However, “credible” is not one of them. Will the Prime Minister please explain how she sees it, given that so many businesses, particularly those in the automotive industry, and the likes of the CBI and the chambers of commerce are so against the proposals and would prefer to see the continuation of a customs union affording truly frictionless free trade? (905233)

As I said earlier, there are two options for delivering on the objectives that we have set. We will leave the customs union, we want to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we want to ensure that there is as frictionless trade as possible between the UK and the EU, and we want to ensure that we can have an independent trade policy. I say to the hon. Gentleman that what is not credible is a Labour party policy that wants us to be in a customs union, giving all the power for negotiating our trade deals to Brussels, with no say whatsoever for the UK.

Will my right hon. Friend welcome the re-election of Bexley’s Conservative council, congratulate it on its good record locally, and look forward to its continuing to implement efficient and effective Conservative policies?

I am very, very pleased to welcome the re-election of Bexley’s Conservative council. I was pleased to speak to the leader of Bexley council shortly before the elections last week, and I am very pleased that the residents of Bexley will enjoy yet more years with a good Conservative council, delivering great local services at lower cost.

Q5. Despite the ever present threat of death from Syrian and Russian airstrikes, and in the face of smears and disinformation, the rescue workers of the White Helmets have never stopped saving the lives of their fellow Syrians. Last week, the Trump Administration froze their US funding. With thousands of civilian lives at risk, will the Prime Minister step up, pledge that the Government will plug the funding shortfall that now exists and ensure that these heroic rescue workers can continue their work? (905234)

We recognise the important and valuable work that the White Helmets do. As the hon. Gentleman says, they do it in horrendously difficult conditions and are incredibly brave to continue that work. We do support them and we will continue to support them. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will look at the level of that support for the future.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the four fantastic new Conservative councillors—[Interruption.] Their election takes the control of Redditch Borough Council from the Labour party to the Conservative party—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] If her diary permits, I ask her to visit Redditch at the earliest possible opportunity to back our fantastic local campaign to unlock—

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the newly elected Conservative councillors. I gave a list of councils earlier where people had rejected Labour, like Barnet, Dudley and Peterborough. I can add Redditch to that list, and indeed other councils around the country. Many congratulations to her, to those councillors and to all the volunteers and activists who work so hard.

Q6. In the past year, the Trussell Trust has given out over 3,000 food parcels to my constituents in south Manchester, half of them to families with children. The trust says that the Government’s flawed roll-out of universal credit has fuelled the 13% rise in food bank use over the past year. How does the Prime Minister explain the rise? (905235)

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman knows that we do not want to see anybody having to use food banks. As we have rolled out universal credit, we have listened to the concerns raised and we have changed the arrangements as a result.

Congestion on the A40 in west Oxfordshire is a blight for residents. With developments, including the Cotswold garden village, set to increase demand, will the Prime Minister work with me so that upgrades to the A40, to buses and to the Cotswold railway line ensure that we have an integrated transport structure to keep west Oxfordshire moving?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue on behalf of his constituents. I recognise that he is absolutely right to do so and how important it is to them. At the Budget, we announced £1.7 billion for the transforming cities fund to deliver transport infrastructure for the future. We have also ensured that local authorities are able to bid in to over £1 billion of discounted lending to support high-value infrastructure projects, giving power back to local people and recognising the importance of such infrastructure. He raises specific issues and I know my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be happy to discuss them with him.

Q8. When the Prime Minister told the nation she was on the side of hardworking families struggling to make ends meet, did she have in mind a Britain divided across the generations, as described in this week’s report by the Resolution Foundation? (905237)

The question of intergenerational fairness is one that we recognise and one I think the whole of society needs to recognise. We need to ensure, through Help to Buy and abolishing stamp duty for many first-time buyers, that we help young people to get their foot on the housing ladder and buy more homes. It is important that we make sure we have jobs for people, and that young people are skilled, trained and educated to take on the jobs of the future. That is what our modern industrial strategy is doing and that is the best thing we can do: ensure, as we are doing, that we have the policies, through our balanced approach to the economy, that provide the jobs and homes for those young people for the future.

Yesterday, the Scottish Affairs Committee heard from Royal Bank of Scotland executives. Given this publicly funded bank’s blatant disregard for the local communities it serves, will my right hon. Friend strengthen the access to banking standards to give local people more of a say when banks remove vital local services?

It is important that we put those access to banking standards in place and that there are alternative arrangements in place, which we have encouraged people to take up, to ensure that they are able to access the banking facilities they need.

Q9. The Yorkshire Post is this weekend taking the unprecedented step of calling on the Secretary of State for Transport to resign, accusing him of repeatedly betraying our region over rail. Electrification is nowhere to be seen, trains are routinely overcrowded and delayed, and wheelchair users are left stranded when access lifts are broken or locked—all set against record ticket prices. Can the Prime Minister explain to passengers in Yorkshire when they will see a rail service that is truly capable of delivering the northern powerhouse? (905238)

We are putting record investment into rail across the country and that includes investment in rail in the north. We are supporting Transport for the North, which is coming forward with proposals for the north. This Government recognise not just the importance of infrastructure but the importance of infrastructure across the whole of the country.

Yesterday, with my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), we launched the One Britain One Nation all-party group, which will be working with schools to promote pride in our country, and respect, tolerance and inclusion regardless of one’s background. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the founder of One Britain One Nation, Kash Singh, for the hard work he is doing to promote unity in our communities and schools?

It is absolutely right that we pay tribute to those like Kash Singh who are working to promote inclusion and unity in our communities, and it is important that we see that the values of respect and inclusion, regardless of one’s background, are ones that everybody recognises and practises. We have changed the law so that schools have to actively promote our fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs. I am absolutely clear that nobody’s path through life should be affected by their background or where they came from. How far they go should be based on how hard they work and their talents, and not their background.

Q12. A successful start-up forced into bankruptcy by Government delays in paying out European regional development funds, and a tech company’s expansion plans stalled because the Government will not guarantee it access to the native European language speakers that it needs—these are businesses that I have spoken to in Newcastle in the last few weeks. In the absence of any guidance from Government on businesses preparing for Brexit, will the Prime Minister agree that Tory infighting is costing us jobs in Newcastle? (905241)

No. The hon. Lady has raised a number of points. We have been clear about the support that we are giving in terms of the funds that have previously come from the European Union. We have also been clear about the issue of citizens’ rights for people who are currently here in the United Kingdom from the European Union, and for those who will come here during the implementation period up to the end of December 2020. If she wants to be worried about policies that will affect jobs in Newcastle and the north-east, I will tell her the policies that would affect jobs in Newcastle and the north-east: the policies of her Front Benchers and her party.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland suggested that the possibility of dealing with legacy cases through a statute of limitations coupled with a truth recovery process would be included as an option in the forthcoming consultation exercise? Does she accept that that is a legitimate option for consideration, and will she therefore ensure that it is not excluded from that consultation exercise?

My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. At its heart is the support and gratitude that we owe to all those who have served in our armed forces. Our armed forces personnel are willing to put their lives on the line for our safety day in and day out, as are our personnel who work in law enforcement. The peace we see today in Northern Ireland is very much due to the work of our armed forces and law enforcement in Northern Ireland, but we have an unfair situation at the moment, in that the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland. That is patently unfair—terrorists are not being investigated. Terrorists should be investigated and that is what the Government want to see.

Q13. Waiting times for personal independence payment tribunals in Wales have quadrupled over the past four years. My constituent, Alan McKittrick, is suffering from prostate cancer, angina, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, hernias, mental ill health, dizziness, blackouts and ulcers, yet his initial PIP claim was refused. He then waited 56 weeks for an appeal, which he won. Will the Prime Minister apologise to Alan, and when will she end this hostile environment towards sick and disabled people? (905242)

Obviously, Members across this House raise issues about the PIP process, and the Department for Work and Pensions is consistently looking at the whole PIP process. One of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in his question was the health of the individual concerned. As he sits for a Welsh constituency, I would have thought that, if he wants to talk about health, he should talk to the Labour Government in Wales.

I recently visited a construction site for 85 affordable homes in Cotmanhay in my constituency, which is benefiting from a £3 million Homes England grant. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that she will continue to work with the new Housing Secretary to ensure that more people, such as those in Cotmanhay, fulfil their dreams of home ownership?

I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment. This is an important issue. As I mentioned in response to an earlier question about intergenerational issues, there are young people today who worry they will never be able to get a home. The Government are committed to building more homes and helping young people to get their feet on the housing ladder. That is why we have abolished stamp duty for many first-time buyers and put more money into Help to Buy. Helping young people to get their feet on the housing ladder is a commitment of this Government and something we will continue to do in her constituency and elsewhere.

Q14. The Government have made a decent start on tackling the problem of our overuse of plastics but, if we are to get recycling rates up to where they need to be, we have to look at the production processes, as was pointed out to me by pupils at Anderson High School in Lerwick on Monday. Will the Government work with plastics manufacturers to see what they can do to reduce the 50 different types of plastic currently in use and so make them easier to sort and recycle? (905243)

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are making progress on plastic, but we need to work with the manufacturers on its production, which is why we are doing exactly that. The Business and Environment Secretaries and others are talking to manufacturers about how to ensure that plastic is recyclable and does not end up in our oceans, with all the problems that causes.

Afghan interpreters who served alongside British troops did so with skill and courage. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those who have made their homes in our country can remain and that the ordinary fees will be waived as a small sign of our gratitude?

My hon. Friend raises an important point about Afghan interpreters, who served bravely alongside our armed forces, as he says. The Home Secretary has been looking at this issue, particularly in relation to the fees for those individuals. Some have wished and been able to return to Afghanistan and have been given opportunities by the Government to retrain and re-establish their lives there, but it is important that we recognise the debt that we owe them.

Q15. Crime in north-east Lincolnshire is up more than 20%. Recently, we have had a single-punch death, a serious blade attack and an incident involving 200 hooligans that forced Grimsby families to flee our local seaside resort of Cleethorpes. Humberside police have 310 fewer frontline officers and 550 fewer support officers than in 2010. Will the Prime Minister accept that her cuts mean that residents of Grimsby and Cleethorpes no longer have the fully funded and properly staffed police force they deserve? (905244)

Since 2015, we have been protecting police funding. This year, we have made available £460 million extra to policing across the country, which is more than the Labour party was committed to in its election manifesto last year. As I have always said—and indeed as the shadow policing Minister has said—there is no direct link between the number of police officers, crime and funding.