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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 642: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018


The Secretary of State was asked—

British Transport Police Scottish Division

1. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the plan to merge the British Transport Police Scottish division with Police Scotland. (905612)

The UK Government are working closely with the Scottish Government, the two police forces and police authorities through a joint programme board to ensure that effective arrangements are in place for cross-border railway policing once responsibilities have been transferred. The safety and security of rail passengers and staff remains our No. 1 priority.

I hear the Minister’s reply, but does he agree that this proposal would let down hard-working and dedicated British Transport police officers and staff in Scotland, who are largely against these changes, and that this ideologically driven merger should not go ahead?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, we are committed to the devolution of powers for railway policing to Scotland and the Scottish Government. We are keeping the promises made in the Scotland Act 2016. Our priority is that the powers are transferred safely and orderly. How the powers are used, however, is a decision for the Scottish Government and they should be rightly held to account by the Scottish Parliament. My hon. Friend will know that our colleagues in Holyrood share his serious concerns and they strongly oppose the SNP’s plans. I am sure that they will have heard the point he has made today.

Does the Minister agree with the Scottish Government that the BTP merger will deliver

“continuity of service for rail users and staff”,

or does he agree with the chairman of the British Transport Police Federation, who says that a failure to look at the alternatives would be “somewhat reckless”?

The UK Government are committed to working with the Scottish Government, the British Transport Police Authority and the police authorities to ensure that the terms and conditions of officers and staff transferring to Police Scotland are maintained. However, this is one of the reasons why there has been a delay. It is important that the staff are properly consulted and we would encourage that to happen.

Leaving the EU: Economic Growth

2. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of growth in the Scottish economy. (905613)

10. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of growth in the Scottish economy. (905621)

The Government are undertaking a wide range of ongoing analysis in support of our EU negotiations and preparations. We want our future relationship with the EU to be a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security co-operation.

The UK Government’s own analysis shows how devastating Brexit will be for GDP. That has already been felt with crippling uncertainty—so much so that Mr and Mrs Mitchell of Allanhill farm in my constituency have written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wondering whether or not they should plant their crop for 2019, because of the uncertainty about seasonal workers. Will he give them certainty today?

The Government have already acknowledged that there will be an ongoing need for a seasonal workers scheme that will support the constituents of the hon. Gentleman, but I thought that he might focus on other constituents, given the report yesterday by the Scottish Government which said that, with Brexit, there will be a huge increase in the number of potential jobs in the fishing industry, which impacts on his constituency, with a £540 million potential boost to the Scottish economy.

Non-UK EU nationals in Scotland contribute around £4.5 billion annually to the Scottish economy. Both the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Prime Minister have failed to rule out an immigration skills charge on companies employing EU nationals in future. Will the Secretary of State oppose any such charge applying in Scotland after the UK leaves the EU—yes or no?

The hon. Gentleman knows very clearly that I oppose there being a separate immigration system in Scotland. Scotland has specific issues in relation to immigration, but those issues also arise in other parts of the United Kingdom. When the Government announce their new immigration policy in relation to leaving the EU, I want to see a policy that takes into account the concerns of Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Increasing trade is critical to the success of Scotland’s economy as we leave the European Union, and I was delighted that the first ever meeting of the Board of Trade in Scotland was held in Stirling just last month. It was a hugely successful day, not least for Stirling’s businesses. What lessons has my right hon. Friend taken from listening to Scottish businesses about their experiences in exporting?

I echo my hon. Friend’s comments about the suitability of the location of the meeting in Stirling and the beauty of Stirling castle as the setting for such an historic event. It is clear that businesses in Scotland want to get ahead with focusing on taking up the trade opportunities that will arise when we leave the EU.

Figures last month revealed that since 2007 the SNP Scottish Government in Edinburgh have missed five of their economic targets. Does this not demonstrate the incompetence of the Scottish Government in managing Scotland’s economy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are real concerns. My view is that the single greatest threat to the growth of the Scottish economy is a second independence referendum, which would put business on hold, disrupt our economy and drive away investment.

11. Given that all of Scotland’s projected population growth over the next 25 years is from migration, does the Secretary of State not agree that reducing net migration would be devastating to Scotland? Does he agree with the leader of the Scottish branch of the Conservative party that a tailored solution for Scotland must be the answer? (905622)

I am clear that we need an immigration policy that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom and that takes into account the very specific needs that we have identified in Scotland. However, we know that the Scottish Government have powers that have very significant effects on immigration, such as the powers on the level of tax, and that making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is not a way to encourage people to come to Scotland.

Does the Secretary of State agree that what really matters to the growth rates and success of the Scottish economy is the Union of the United Kingdom? Does he agree that that is most demonstrated by the border area?

I absolutely agree. That is why I am astounded that the SNP now even disputes that there is an internal market in the United Kingdom; even by SNP standards, that is astounding. That internal market is worth four times as much to Scottish business as the whole of the EU put together.

Leaving the EU: Scotch Whisky Industry

3. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on the Scotch whisky industry of the UK leaving the EU. (905614)

The UK Government work closely with the Scotch whisky industry and particularly with the Scotch Whisky Association to assess the industry’s market access needs. As we leave the EU and build our future trade policy, we are also working to ensure that geographical indications are protected and potentially extended around the world.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his response, but given the potential trade war with the US, the Government’s strategy to throw in the bin 63 bilateral trade deals when we leave the EU, and reports on both sides of the Atlantic that the three-year designation for Scotch whisky could be removed in any trade deal with the US, what is he specifically doing to protect that vital industry for Scotland and the UK in the Brexit negotiations?

First, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the industry itself has been very clear that exciting opportunities can flow from trade deals post Brexit. That is what the Scotch Whisky Association has said, but the points he makes are very serious ones. I make sure that they are absolutely at the heart of the Brexit negotiations.

Scotch whisky is hugely important to my Moray constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most immediate threat to the industry is the possibility that the EU could include bourbon as a counter-measure against US trade tariffs? Therefore, does he agree that we should urge the EU not to include bourbon for fear of the retaliation action that the US could take?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of the whisky industry and raises an extremely serious and important point. I reassure him that I am in direct contact with the Scotch Whisky Association on that issue and will ensure that the points he has made are fully understood within the UK Government and the EU.

The Scotch whisky industry is very important, but does the Secretary of State agree that the construction industry in Scotland is, too. Crummock, a construction firm in my constituency, went bust last week, with almost 300 redundancies. What is he doing to protect construction in Scotland?

I recognise the issues that the hon. Lady raises, because unfortunately a construction company in my own constituency, Graham’s in Langholm, also went into administration last week. There are significant challenges facing the industry and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the specific issue in her constituency.

These dilations are of considerable interest, I am sure, but they are not altogether related to the matter of whisky. I fear that the Secretary of State was drawn away from the path of virtue, to which I know he will now speedily return, aided and abetted by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers).

In future trade talks with India, will the Secretary of State place a priority on improving access for our exports of whisky from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as it is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest products?

I will indeed, and the Secretary of State for Wales would be unhappy if I did not also reference Penderyn, the whisky made in Wales. I can assure my right hon. Friend that I will take exactly that action in relation to all the United Kingdom’s whisky products.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, once we leave the EU, trade deals with countries such as Taiwan will open up massive new markets for Scotch whisky exports?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why the Scotch Whisky Association and various companies in the industry recognise that there are exciting prospects out there for future trade arrangements, and I see that they have the confidence and the determination to achieve them.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

4. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905615)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905616)

13. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905624)

15. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament's decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905626)

Having worked closely with the devolved Administrations on significant amendments, I am of course disappointed that the Scottish Parliament has not yet granted legislative consent to the Bill. The Welsh Assembly agrees that these arrangements fully respect the devolution settlements. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office is in correspondence again this week with Mike Russell, and the door remains open for the Scottish Government to reconsider.

Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he has explained to the Prime Minister that, by a 3:1 majority of MSPs, four of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament withheld legislative consent? What has he advised her to do to recognise that overwhelming expression of the democratic will of the Scottish people?

What I have done is explain the constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom fully to the Prime Minister, which she was already aware of. I know that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) does not like the existing constitutional settlement and wants to see another one, but the current settlement, the arrangements within it and the Sewel convention are quite clear.

This is the Secretary of State who vowed to make Holyrood

“one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments”

in the history of the known universe, so why is he prepared to see this Westminster Parliament override the ruling of the Holyrood Parliament, which has withheld its consent? How does that square with his vow to respect and empower Holyrood?

I am not going to take any lectures on devolution from the SNP. Only today, Nicola Sturgeon has written, ahead of the SNP conference, that this weekend

“marks the start of a new chapter in Scotland’s road to independence”.

That does not sound very much like standing up for devolution to me.

I have recently learned that the great saviour of the Tory party, and perhaps the next Prime Minister, Ruth Davidson, did not actually believe in the vow. Is it not the case that the chickens have come home to roost and that we are now seeing the anti-devolution party once again riding roughshod over Scotland?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman—the anti-devolution party is riding roughshod over Scotland, but it is the SNP. It does not back devolution; it only backs independence.

The Tory-friendly Spectator magazine has said that no self-respecting Scottish Government of any party could give consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in its current form. So instead of expressing disappointment in the Scottish Government, what is the Secretary of State going to do to engage in cross-party talks and to try to find a solution that respects the will of the Scottish Parliament?

I have wanted to reach an agreement all along, and we have made it clear that we still want to reach an agreement in the exchanges with the Scottish Government this week. Either the Scottish Government need to reconsider their position, or a new proposal needs to emerge.

Why does the Secretary of State think that the UK Government’s proposals on the withdrawal Bill were acceptable to a Unionist Government in Wales but not a nationalist Government in Scotland?

Order. Mr Law, behave in accordance with your surname. Compose yourself, man. Indeed, I advise Members on both sides of the argument to seek to imitate the statesmanlike repose of Mr Alister Jack, from whom we have just heard. He has been attending to our proceedings in a most courteous and civilised way, as is his wont.

The Welsh Government, Welsh Labour representatives in the House of Lords and, indeed, the former Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, who is also in the House of Lords, have been clear that the Government’s proposals did not in any way undermine the devolution settlement.

I can forgive some members of the Cabinet their ignorance in not understanding the effect of their policies on the devolution settlement, but that is not a quality that we expect from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Does he not agree that it takes a particular form of arrogance to try to force through a position that is supported by only one of the five political parties in Scotland and by less than one quarter of the Members of the Scottish Parliament?

Again, this comes down to the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not accept the current constitutional arrangements, including the Sewel convention. That can probably be explained by this obsession with pursuing independence. The current constitutional arrangements are quite clear, and the Government are proceeding in accordance with them.

Four out of the five political parties in Scotland now understand that this is the first Secretary of State for Scotland in history who seeks to lessen the control of the Scottish people over their own affairs. Will he now stand down and make way for someone who will respect the wishes of the Scottish people and respect the national Government of Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag with his final words. Scotland has two Governments. In 2014, Scotland voted to be part of this United Kingdom, and I will continue to stand up and defend Scotland’s place in it.

The Secretary of State should be aware that Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, wrote to the Minister for the Cabinet Office on 10 May asking for Scottish cross-party talks. If the Secretary of State really has been standing up for Scotland, what has he done to get his Cabinet colleague back around the negotiating table?

The hon. Lady knows that I regard the position of Scottish Labour in the Scottish Parliament as pitiful, kowtowing to the SNP and not honouring its proud Unionist credentials. We are clear that, if any new, different proposal emerges, the door is open and we will discuss it. However, no such proposal has come directly from the Scottish Labour party.

That door is open. That invitation is there, but the blame for this lies squarely at the doors of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. I have a copy of correspondence between the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Richard Leonard, and the Secretary of State is not even mentioned—he is not even at the table. Does that not epitomise the fact that the Secretary of State is Scotland’s invisible man in the Cabinet and that his colleagues are excluding him from future negotiations because of the mess he has already made?

I do not think the hon. Lady follows the media in Scotland very closely, otherwise she would know that Scotland’s invisible man is Richard Leonard, leader of the Scottish Labour party, who has simply gone along with the SNP at every turn. I am proud, in the Cabinet and elsewhere, to stand up for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, and I will continue to do so.

The founding principles of the devolution settlement have been turned on their head in the unelected House of Lords with its amendments to clause 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, yet we, Scotland’s directly elected Members, will have next to no opportunity to debate and scrutinise what their lordships have decided for us. In what sort of world can that possibly be acceptable?

In exactly the same sort of world in which, two or three months ago, we heard the hon. Gentleman setting out all the virtues of the House of Lords and how it would stand up for the Scottish Government’s principles. With your discretion, Mr Speaker, there will be an opportunity in this House to discuss clause 15 next week, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to do so.

Leaving the EU: Common Frameworks for Business

6. What UK-wide common frameworks the Government have assessed as being essential to business after the UK leaves the EU. (905617)

In March, the UK Government published their provisional analysis of where we believe frameworks may be needed. This showed that, of the over 100 areas in which powers are coming back from Brussels, we think 24 areas may need legislative common frameworks to make sure we maintain the UK’s internal market—a market that is worth four times as much to Scottish businesses as the rest of the EU put together.

Services account for over half of Scotland’s exports to the United Kingdom, so ensuring there are no new barriers to trade in services between Scotland and the rest of the UK is vital for Scotland’s economy. Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that, if the Scottish Government really wanted to put Scotland’s interests first, they would be working more constructively with the UK Government to preserve, and indeed enhance, the ability of the Scottish services sector to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Scottish Government could start by retracting their bizarre recent argument that the UK’s internal market does not exist. We all know they might want the UK’s internal market not to exist, as we realise they have reached such a stage of denial. The truth is that the UK’s internal market is vital to the prosperity and jobs of people across Scotland.

Will the new public relations post in the Cabinet Office covering Scotland and Northern Ireland be one of those essential frameworks that are being built? Is the Cabinet Office riding to save the Secretary of State’s bacon?

As the hon. Lady is aware, the Cabinet Office performs a vital role in operating an overview of the devolved settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and in bringing together those constitutional arrangements.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) is no longer committed to coming in. Never mind. We will get him in another time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that common frameworks in areas such as fisheries, agriculture, food labelling and animal welfare are crucial to ensuring that trade within the UK is not disrupted when the UK leaves the EU?

I absolutely agree. One of the first frameworks we want to agree is in the area of fisheries, because this Government want to take Scotland and the UK out of the common fisheries policy, exactly the opposite of the SNP.

Universal Credit: Low-income Families

7. What assessment he has made of the effect on low-income families of the roll-out of universal credit throughout Scotland. (905618)

Universal credit is transforming lives across the country. Research also shows that universal credit claimants spend more time searching for work and applying for work than those on previous benefits. It is great news that employment in Scotland is up by more than 190,000 since 2010.

People in my constituency and elsewhere, especially low-income families across the UK, have been suffering as a result of the roll-out of universal credit. In Scotland, there have been numerous reports of people having to apply for emergency support, such as crisis grants and food parcels, to meet their immediate needs, because of the six-week waiting period. Does the Minister think there should be such occurrences in the sixth largest economy in the world?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been careful to roll out universal credit and where changes have been needed, we have made them. What is really important is that 77% of people on universal credit are looking to increase their earnings from work, which compares with a figure of just 51% for those on jobseeker’s allowance. Universal credit is a pathway to work and that can only be a good thing.

The roll-out of universal credit and personal independence payments has led to £56 million of cuts in disability payments every year, hitting Scotland’s poorest the hardest. Six out of the 10 worst-hit constituencies are in Glasgow, and the annual loss to disabled people in my constituency is £2 million. If the Secretary of State is really standing up for Scottish interests, what is he doing to stop this atrocious assault on disabled people?

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Government are spending billions and billions of pounds on disability payments, and we are ensuring that we give the support to those people who need it most and encourage people in receipt of such benefits who want to work. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—[Interruption.]

Order. There is considerable noise in the Chamber. The Minister is a most courteous fellow who is delivering an informative reply, which very few people can hear. Let us pay him the respect of hearing what he has to say.

That is very kind of you, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also attending the joint ministerial group on welfare this Thursday, where all these issues are discussed regularly.

Yesterday, I was told by a senior member of the Scottish Prison Service management that discharged prisoners in Scotland are now routinely taken to food banks because prison staff know that the six-week lead-in time for universal credit payments will lead to their using food banks. Does that fact alone not illustrate why the roll-out needs to be paused?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we made some changes in the Budget, which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, following the raising of many of the issues. I should also point out that the Scottish Government do have powers of their own; if they feel they should make further discretionary payments to individuals in Scotland, they have the powers to do so. They have not done so yet.

RBS Branch Closures

I have met RBS to discuss its decision and made it clear that its plans are disappointing for customers and communities across Scotland.

Yesterday, I, along with other Members of this House, met representatives from RBS to voice the frustration of our constituents about how they have been treated by RBS. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to see what more can be done to pressure RBS to think again about its branch closure scheme in constituencies such as mine?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I must say that I am very disappointed at the response from RBS to the significant report by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on this issue.

With great swathes of Scotland losing bank branches while they are still awaiting decent broadband from the Scottish Government, what steps are the UK Government taking to support local authorities in the next round of the broadband roll-out, so that people losing local banking services can at least have good broadband?

First, I commend the hon. Lady for her part in the excellent Scottish Affairs Committee report on RBS. She will have heard the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport make it absolutely clear that in future this Government are not going to rely on the Scottish Government for the roll-out of broadband and will engage directly with local authorities in Scotland.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Last Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the London Bridge terrorist attack. I, and others from this House, attended the very moving memorial service at Southwark cathedral, and I am sure Members from all sides of this House will join me again in offering our deepest condolences to the friends and family of the victims. I would also again like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery shown on that night by the emergency services and those who came to the aid of others.

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.

I would like to associate myself with the remarks about London Bridge.

The number of children growing up in workless households in the United Kingdom has fallen to a record low. Does the Prime Minister agree that to further drive opportunity and social mobility in our country, it is vital to support projects such as the Cheltenham cyber park, so that, in the future, all our children can go as far as their talents will take them?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we ensure that all children have the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them, and initiatives such as the Cheltenham cyber park are an important element in that. The wider point that he makes is absolutely right. If we are to ensure that we lift people out of poverty, as we have been doing, then helping them to get into the workplace is the most important thing that we can do. That is why, thanks to this Government’s economic strategy, we see employment up to another record high, unemployment at a 40-year low, and, as my hon. Friend has alluded to, 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty since 2010.

I, too, attended the service last Sunday in memory of those who died at London Bridge, and I would like to put on record my thanks to Southwark cathedral and the Borough of Southwark for all the work that they put into that, and, of course, to all our emergency services who keep us safe all the year round. Yesterday, I was able to do that in person at the Fire Brigades Union conference in Brighton where I was able to thank them for the work that they do to keep us all safe.

Last month, the Brexit Secretary promised a “detailed, ambitious and precise” White Paper on the Government’s negotiating position. Will it be published in advance of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill debate next week?

I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the work that our emergency workers do, day in and day out, to keep us safe, and I think that everybody across this House recognises that and we are all grateful to them for the dedication that they show.

Yes, my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary and I agree that we want to publish a White Paper that goes beyond the speeches and the papers that have been given and published so far, that does go into more detail and that ensures that when we publish it we are able to negotiate with our European Union and European Commission colleagues on the basis that this is an ambitious offer from the United Kingdom for an ambitious trade deal and security partnership in the future.

The question was a very simple one actually: it was to ask when this White Paper will be published. Next week, we will be debating the most important piece of legislation we have seen for a very long time and we still have not seen the Government’s negotiating position. Will the Prime Minister at least assure the House that not only will the White Paper be published ahead of the crucial June EU summit, but that there will be an opportunity to debate it in this House ahead of the summit?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the votes that will take place in this House next week on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and indeed those votes will be important. They will be important to show our commitment to do what the British people have asked us to do, which is to leave the European Union. If he is talking about clarity ahead of those votes, perhaps he will take this opportunity to do what he refused to do when I asked him last time in Prime Minister’s questions—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Yasin, calm yourself. You are normally a model of calm and repose. Relax, there is a long way to go.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to take the opportunity to do what he refused to do two or three weeks ago in this Chamber, which is to stand up and rule out a second referendum.

The last time I looked at the Order Paper, it said “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. We were told three weeks ago, to a great deal of fanfare, that the White Paper would set out the Government’s ambition for the UK’s future relationship with the EU and their vision for a future role in the world. It is nowhere to be seen and there is no answer to when it will be published. Four weeks ago the Prime Minister did confirm that the Cabinet was looking at two options for a future customs arrangement with the EU: a customs partnership model and a maximum facilitation option. Will she now tell us which of her sub-committees has met, what decisions they have made, when they are going to report to the Cabinet and whether we will be told about it?

We have already set out our ambition for our future relationship with the European Union, but crucially the Government are delivering on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union. I did not ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. I simply suggested that he could stand up and say what the Labour party’s policy was on a second referendum. If he wants to enter the debate next week in the right spirit, he will do just that and rule out a second referendum.

It is not the Opposition who are conducting the negotiations but, very sadly, it is not the Government either. Last week the Brexit Secretary put forward yet another new plan, including a 10-mile buffer zone in Northern Ireland. Is that now the Government’s option?

We are looking at the two options for the customs model. Both of those will do what we have committed to do, which is to ensure that we deliver no hard border in Northern Ireland. We were very clear about what that means in the December joint report. It also means that we ensure that there is no border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland—no border down the Irish sea as the European Union proposed. That is why we are putting forward alternative proposals to the European Union. We continue to negotiate with the European Union on all the issues that need to be addressed before we bring legislation before this House with the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill. The debate that will take place in this House next week is important because it will show the sincerity of this House to deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union.

We have had no answer on the White Paper and I do not think that we have had an answer on the buffer zone. I could say that the one thing that the buffer zone proposal has achieved is bringing just about everybody in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland together. The British Irish Chamber of Commerce said, “the idea is bonkers”. Will the Prime Minister confirm that it remains her plan to leave the European Union in March 2019 and complete the transition by December 2020?

Well, I look at the faces behind the Prime Minister and they are not all at one on this matter. The right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) does not share her certainty; he said that there will be a transition period that will follow her implementation period. When it comes to Brexit, this Government have delivered more delays and cancellations than Northern Rail. The Government’s White Paper is delayed, their customs proposals have been cancelled and they have ripped up their own timetable, just like our shambolic privatised railways. This Government’s incompetence threatens our economy, businesses, jobs and communities. My question to the Prime Minister is this: which will last longer, the Northern Rail franchise or her premiership?

If the right hon. Gentleman is not willing to stand up in this House and talk about the Labour party policy on Europe, we actually learned a little today from the shadow Brexit Secretary about the Labour party’s policy on Europe, who made it clear that it was a

“pretence that somehow everybody in the Labour party is in the same place on this”.

So now we know what the right hon. Gentleman is. Labour Members voted for a referendum; they voted to trigger article 50; and since then they have tried to frustrate the Brexit process at every stage. Their MEPs voted against moving to negotiate the trade discussions. They voted against the withdrawal Bill. Today, we saw again that they are refusing to rule out a second referendum. The British people voted to leave the European Union, and this Government are delivering on the vote of the British people.

Q2. Mr Speaker, I know you are keen to learn more about blockchain, so I have written a paper on it for the think-tank Freer, to help inform the people of Bloxwich about the possible benefits of this technology. With some countries saving up to 2% of GDP by deploying this technology, will the Prime Minister commit to harnessing it to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of it as we forge a greater, global Britain? (905628)

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on distributive ledger technology, as I think we should call it. We are committed to supporting the development and uptake of emerging digital technologies in the UK such as AI and DLT. The Government have invested around £10 million through Innovate UK and our research councils. The Treasury and the Bank of England are working on crypto-currencies and looking at these issues in a working group together. We are deploying the technology that my hon. Friend has referred to in order to help Government discharge our duties more effectively, and many Departments are already developing DLT proofs of concept. I thank him for the work that he has done. He might like to distribute the article on the work that he has done to all Members of this House.

Supermarkets running out of food within days. Hospitals running out of medicines within a fortnight. Petrol reserves dwindling after just two weeks. These are the concerns of UK Government officials, and now the—[Interruption.]

Order. There is excessive noise in the Chamber. Mr Wishart, you are a very distinguished fellow, but you are not conducting an orchestra and your services in that regard are not required—at any rate, not on this occasion. Mr Blackford’s question must be heard, and however long it takes, it will be heard.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

These are the concerns of UK Government officials, and now the Dutch Government are telling Dutch businesses not to risk buying UK products. Does the Prime Minister understand the catastrophic negotiating position she has cornered herself into?

We have already set out our ambition for that trade deal with the European Union in the future. The right hon. Gentleman talks about supermarkets in Scotland and supermarkets across the rest of the UK. He might pay attention to the supermarket chains in Scotland, which said that one of the most important things for Scotland is to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Quite simply, the Prime Minister did not listen to the question, because it was about the fears that have been raised by her own officials on the consequences of Brexit.

For this Government in the negotiations, jobs have been an afterthought, the Irish border has been an afterthought, and the economy—at all costs!—has been an afterthought. While the Leader of the Opposition is playing games, the question he should have asked today is: will the Prime Minister stop her charade and vote for the Lords amendments next week for membership of the EEA and the customs union, protecting jobs and prosperity?

Jobs are absolutely at the forefront of what we are considering in terms of our future trade partnership. That is why we are as ambitious as we are for the possibilities of that economic partnership in the future.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Northern Ireland border. The Leader of the Opposition complains that we are giving too much attention to getting the answer right on the Northern Ireland border, and the leader of the Scottish nationalists says that we are using it as an afterthought. We are committed to ensuring that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We also want to ensure as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union and that we are able to operate our independent trade policy. All those are about ensuring that we protect jobs here in the United Kingdom.

Q6. The second of July marks the 90th anniversary of the passing of the equal franchise Act, when women won the same right to vote as men. To celebrate that, the Government have established the first National Democracy Week, which will take place that week. Will the Prime Minister personally support National Democracy Week and encourage all Members to get involved in it? (905632)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the upcoming National Democracy Week, which is important. I certainly support it, and I hope everybody across the House does. Because it falls on the 90th anniversary of the equal franchise Act, the week gives us an opportunity to look back and see how far we have come as a flourishing democracy. It also gives us an opportunity to champion and encourage greater democratic participation across the country. I hope every Member of the House supports that and will support National Democracy Week.

Q3. I would like to give the Prime Minister another chance to answer the question that she keeps avoiding. The Cabinet agreed to publish a Brexit White Paper ahead of this month’s crunch EU Council meeting, to allow the Government to negotiate. The Brexit Secretary said it would be “detailed, ambitious and precise”. Will she confirm whether the Brexit White Paper will be published before the EU Council meeting, or is she unable to negotiate for the UK because she is negotiating with her own Cabinet? (905629)

What the Government said is that we will be publishing a White Paper that will be detailed and ambitious, and we will do just that.

Q8. In the light of the publication of the Scottish National party’s latest independence blueprint, does the Prime Minister agree with the vast majority of Scots that this is not the time to drag us back to another decisive referendum on independence? (905634)

The people of Scotland voted in a legal and fair referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, and it is SNP Members, who are completely out of touch with the people of Scotland, who are continuing to press the issue of independence. Now is not the time for a second independence referendum. Now is the time for the United Kingdom to be pulling together, to get the right deal for the United Kingdom and the right deal for Scotland in our negotiations. As I indicated earlier, and as is recognised by many people across Scotland, the most important thing for the future of Scotland is to continue to be part of the UK’s internal market.

Q4. Together with my colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party and across all parties in Northern Ireland, I very much welcome the announcement yesterday by the Transport Secretary of Government support for a third runway at Heathrow. To secure additional jobs and business growth for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to realise tourism potential, will the Prime Minister ensure that there is no undue delay in scheduling a vote on that important matter? (905630)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of support for the third runway at Heathrow. We will ensure that that vote is brought to the House in a timely fashion. There is a requirement for it to be brought within a certain period, and we will ensure that that happens. This is an opportunity to increase job opportunities. It is also an opportunity to increase connectivity with other parts of the United Kingdom, which in itself will be of benefit to jobs in other parts of the UK.

Q11. As my right hon. Friend is aware, this Government are investing more in national infrastructure than any previous Government, from HS2 to the new Lower Thames crossing. However, we must never forget the personal sacrifice that people are asked to make to allow these projects to progress. Will she therefore remind the various Government agencies involved that they have a duty of care to our constituents and that they should ensure that no one is materially disadvantaged or physically harmed in the name of investment? (905637)

My hon. Friend makes two important points: the first is the importance and significance of the investment that is being put into infrastructure across the country; and the second is of course that, as we do that—when we are putting in place these large infrastructure projects—we must make sure that they are planned in consultation with, and with sympathy towards, local communities. Of course, as we see with the proposals for Heathrow, for example, that does come with a significant compensation package for those people who will be personally affected.

Q5. Grimsby hospital has been forced to spend £50,000 not on patient care, but on fees for doctors’ visas. Of those visas, 85% have been rejected because of restrictions that the Prime Minister imposed as Home Secretary, preventing my local NHS from recruiting the doctors my constituents need. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money, and it is hitting patient care. When will she exempt NHS staff from the cap? (905631)

As I have said before in this House, we are aware of the issue that has been raised about—[Interruption.] We have already taken action in relation to nurses. We are looking at the most recent figures, and considering what action should be taken.

Q14. Some people holding taxpayer-funded jobs in the UK are paid disproportionate amounts relative to their roles. Some town council clerks earn up to £90,000 a year; chief executives of councils earn up to £250,000 a year; and we still have too many managers in the NHS earning up to £200,000 a year. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is important that we always ensure taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly and that this money would be better spent on our nurses, our police officers, our firefighters and our frontline services? (905640)

I am sure my hon. Friend understands and recognises that, alongside other terms and conditions, pay is a matter for authorities to manage as individual employers. Of course, since 2010, the Government have put in place a number of measures to increase accountability and transparency on senior pay. The Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015 and the transparency code 2015 require authorities to publish details of senior salaries for staff earning £50,000 or more, which is why we are now able to see the sums that are being earned. We are also legislating on measures—on another issue that has been of concern, I know, to Members in this House—for capping pay-offs at £95,000 and clawing back redundancy payments should workers return to the public sector within 12 months of their exit, making sure that taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly.

Q7. Last year, a quarter of young people thought about suicide, and one in nine attempted suicide. Young people are three times more likely to be lonely than older people. Knife crime is up, and gang crime is up. There are fewer opportunities for young people than ever before—68% of our youth services have been cut since 2010—with young people having nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to speak to. Is it now time for a statutory youth service, and will the Prime Minister support my ten-minute rule Bill after Prime Minister’s questions? (905633)

I think “Nice try” is the answer to the hon. Gentleman, but he said that there were fewer opportunities for young people here in this country. May I just point out to him the considerable improvement there has been in the opportunities for young people to get into work and the way in which we have seen youth unemployment coming down?

Heathrow has played an absolute blinder with the Department for Transport. It is a privately owned company that now has a DFT policy to give it an active monopoly status. Better still, it has somehow managed to get a poison pill clause agreed by the DFT that means the taxpayer has to cover all its costs if things go wrong. Is this not the worst kind of nationalisation—the public sector and taxpayers owning all the Heathrow downsides and risks, and the private sector owning all the upside and the financial returns?

Yesterday’s decision to support Heathrow’s expansion demonstrates this Government’s commitment to delivering the jobs and major infrastructure that this country needs to thrive, but the airport expansion will be fully financed by the private sector. The statement of principles is clear that it does not give Heathrow Airport Ltd the right to claim any costs or losses from the Government should its scheme not proceed.

Q9. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced limits to the renewable heat incentive for large projects, which places in jeopardy the delivery of landmark renewable energy projects in strategically important industrial areas such as Grangemouth in my constituency, where the limit is inconsequential relative to the amount of heat energy required. What actions will the Prime Minister therefore take to ensure the future of the Grangemouth renewable energy project? (905635)

The hon. Gentleman raises a specific issue about the Grangemouth renewable energy project. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be happy to meet him to discuss it.

A majority of my Crawley constituents want their trains to arrive without delay, and a majority of them also want Brexit to arrive without delay. Please can we have delivery?

Of course, we are taking action on the issues on the railways, to ensure that trains are able to arrive without delay. We will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019, and the implementation period will last until the end of December 2020. That is our commitment, and that is what is going to happen.

Q10. My constituent Giorgi is 10 years old. He was tragically orphaned in February. He has lived in Glasgow since he was three years old. His only language is English and he speaks it with the same accent as mine. Yet he now faces being deported to Georgia, his late mother’s country of birth, becoming another statistic who suffers at the hands of this Prime Minister’s hostile environment policy. Will the Prime Minister promise today that Giorgi will not, under any circumstances, be torn from his school friends in Glasgow and sent to a country that is entirely foreign to him? (905636)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific individual case. It is right that it be looked at properly, and that is what I will ask the Home Office to do.

I think Members across the House will recognise the role that animals play during war, not only in the sacrifice they make but in the support they give. I thank the Prime Minister for meeting the war horse memorial group from Windsor. The unveiling will take place this Saturday, and I am very proud of the work the group has done. Does the Prime Minister agree that recognition of the role of animals in war can unite us with the Commonwealth and the entire world?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I was pleased to see the maquette of the war horse memorial, which will be unveiled in his constituency this weekend. I am pleased to say that that model is now in Downing Street. We have recognised the important role played by animals in warfare, and I am sure that when the memorial goes up in his constituency, it will remind many more people that we should never forget the part that animals have played.

Q12. I am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in congratulating my hon. Friends who are this week celebrating the first anniversary of our election.In December, the four remaining members of the Social Mobility Commission resigned, with the chair citing the Government’s inability to“devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda”.Does the fact that several key roles on the commission were left unfilled for almost two years reflect this Government’s lack of commitment to achieving not just social mobility for the few but true social justice for the many? (905638)

I congratulate all Members who came into this House after the 2017 general election, including colleagues on this side of the Chamber, and I hope they will not take it amiss if I mention in particular the 12 Scottish Conservatives who came in after that election.

This Government takes very seriously the issue of social mobility. We take it seriously through the policies we are implementing to help ensure that our young people get the skills they need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) mentioned in the first question, so that they can take the jobs of the future. I want a country where how far somebody gets on is a reflection not of their background or where they come from, but of their abilities and willingness to work hard.

May I urge the Prime Minister to do everything she can to ensure that Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway get a grip and bring to an end appalling delays suffered by my constituents on the Great Northern line?

I absolutely recognise the problem that passengers have faced. Passengers have been let down and the delays they have been experiencing are unacceptable. That is why we need to take immediate action, which is what the Department for Transport is doing.

Q13. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that affects every part of an individual’s life, from their education and employment to their relationships and social life. Through the work of the all-party group on ADHD, which I chair, we know that the current diagnosis and treatment process is not fit for purpose. Data is not collected and there is a vast postcode lottery in waiting times. Will the Prime Minister commit to collecting and monitoring the data and to creating a process that puts the needs of people with ADHD first? (905639)

I commend the work that the hon. Lady does with the all-party group on this issue, which I know that, as she expressed through her question, she takes very seriously. As she will probably know, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published guidance that aims to improve the diagnosis of ADHD and the quality of care and support that people receive. She raised the particular issue of the data that is available; the National Institute for Health Research has awarded £800,000 to fund research to help to identify existing services and gaps in provision for young adults with ADHD, and the Department of Health and Social Care is exploring what data on ADHD diagnosis could be made accessible through the mental health services dataset.

At his valedictory address yesterday morning, the Chief of the Defence Staff said that he was very concerned about the growing practice of legacy investigations of British servicemen and veterans, often many years after the events in question. There is growing concern in the House about the prospect of brave servicemen being, effectively, scapegoated by others for political or financial gain. We call our servicemen and women heroes; we should treat them accordingly, so would the Prime Minister be prepared at least to entertain some investigation of the concept of a statute of limitations to protect those who have served on the frontline and those who will follow them in future?

As my right hon. Friend said in his question, we do not just call our servicemen and women heroes; they are heroes. They are incredibly brave and put themselves on the frontline for our safety. We owe a vast debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women, who have shown such heroism and bravery over the years.

We want to ensure that we do not see our servicemen and women—and, indeed, in relation to legacy issues in Northern Ireland, police officers—as the sole subject of investigations, which is what is happening at the moment. I want to ensure that terrorists are investigated for past crimes as well, which is why the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has launched the consultation on legacy issues. It is of course open to people to respond to that consultation. We should recognise the importance of ensuring that these matters are dealt with fairly and proportionately. I want to ensure that a focus is put on and investigation is possible for the terrorists, not just, as we see today, servicemen and women and police officers under investigation and terrorists not investigated.

15. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether her hostile environment immigration policy has been a success or a failure? (905641)

It is absolutely right that as a Government, over the years since 2010, we have taken action against illegal immigration. I am pleased to say that we have been removing illegal immigrants from this country and yes, we have tightened the conditions to ensure that we can take action against illegal immigrants. What is important is that we ensure that people who are here legally are not caught up in the actions intended for those who are here illegally. I hope that the Labour party will understand, recognise and support the need—sadly, one or two comments from those on the Labour party Front Bench suggest that they do not—to take action when people are here illegally.

The biggest challenge between the Commons and the Lords takes place next week—yes, I am referring to the Lords versus Commons pigeon race, which has been revived after a 90-year gap and takes place at Bletchley Park next Wednesday. Each Member of both Houses has been asked to sponsor a pigeon, and the money will go to that excellent charity Combat Stress. Will my right hon. Friend join me in not only wishing this revived event great success but sponsoring a pigeon?

I would be happy to do so. There was a little bit of laughter when my hon. Friend asked his question about the pigeon race, but it is in an extremely good cause: it will raise money for Combat Stress. We have just made the point about the bravery of our servicemen and servicewomen. We should support them in every way we can. I am happy to sponsor a pigeon and I encourage every Member of this House to do so as well.

The Brexit vote means that families are already £900 a year worse off, while both Tories and Labour peddle the fiction of single market rewards without responsibility. I ask the Prime Minister, her hon. Friends and the Opposition: how much poorer will families become as they indulge in fantasy politics?

I have made clear to the House the ambition we have for our future economic partnership. The hon. Lady stands up and talks about fantasy politics. Perhaps she would like to go out and speak to the people of Wales, who I might remind her voted to leave the European Union.

Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment and astonishment that Labour and Scottish National party MEPs last week ignored the interests of British fishermen when they voted to back the European Parliament in an attempt—[Interruption.] It is true—to keep the UK inside the common fisheries policy? Will she confirm today that she still intends the UK to become a fully independent coastal state?

I find it extraordinary that the SNP and the Labour party are supporting our continued membership of the common fisheries policy. This party, the Conservative party, is the party that will take the United Kingdom out of the common fisheries policy and ensure that we can become the independent fishing state to which my hon. Friend refers.

Despite the Prime Minister’s claims that she has put more money into education—she claims she has put £1.5 billion into education—over the past two years she has cut about £4 billion from education. With classroom sizes rising, teachers’ pay capped and school budgets cut, what is the Prime Minister going to do about it?

I do not recognise the description the hon. Gentleman sets out. We have indeed put more money into education in our schools. Through our national funding formula we are ensuring its fairer distribution across schools and we are making more money available for schools over the next two years.

We all appreciate what an extremely difficult job the Prime Minister has in striving for the best possible deal for our country regarding Brexit, but has the time not come to reiterate to our EU friends, echoing the words of the Prime Minister herself, that no deal is better than a bad deal? In what circumstances is she prepared to walk away from the negotiations, saving the British taxpayer billions of pounds?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that I have said consistently that no deal is better than a bad deal. I have also said that we are working to ensure that we get the right deal and the best deal possible for the United Kingdom. We recognise the importance of ensuring that as a country we prepare for all scenarios. That is why Government Departments are looking at the issue of a no deal, because they are preparing for all contingencies. That is absolutely right for them to do so. Some of the arrangements that will be put in place for a deal will be the same as arrangements for a no deal and the Treasury has of course made money available to Government Departments to ensure that they are able to make all the preparations necessary.

Wolsingham school in my constituency has been forced to suspend its sixth form as the result of years of cuts to post-16 education by this ruthless Government and a national funding formula that discriminates against smaller rural communities and their schools. The Education Secretary has washed his hands of the issue. As a result, young people in my community will face four hours or more in journey time for their education. Wolsingham is the first to face this crisis, but sixth forms across the country will collapse under the current funding situation. Will the Prime Minister intervene to help our schools, and the broader network of sixth forms and sixth-form colleges?

I am pleased the hon. Lady mentions Wolsingham—I well remember it from when I stood in North West Durham. [Interruption.] No, I was not successful. [Interruption.]

Order. I hope it is not being suggested that that is some sort of savage personal indictment of the Prime Minister. It probably was not very propitious territory at the time.

I understand that the decision to suspend recruitment to Wolsingham School’s sixth form was made by the school governing body after student numbers had fallen in recent years and that other good and outstanding school sixth forms and colleges are available within travelling distance of Weardale. Some young people are already choosing to access those, rather than the local school sixth form, but the local authority is looking at the question of future travel arrangements—that is its responsibility for post-16 transport—while our new national funding formula for pre-16 schools will help to safeguard rural schools by ensuring a more appropriate funding formula across the country, with a lump sum for every school and additional support for small rural schools.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating four schools in Redditch—Inkberrow First School, Woodfield Academy, Crabbs Cross Academy and Ridgeway Academy—which have received nearly £1 million to improve their buildings, which will help our young people get a great start in life? Does she agree that it is only because of our strong management of the economy that we can invest so much to help young people up and down the country?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I am happy to join her in welcoming the funding available to those four schools in Redditch. We are able to put more money into our schools and education only because our strong management of and balanced approach to the economy means that that money is available. Labour in government would borrow more, spend more, tax more and leave the country on the brink of bankruptcy.

Following the tragic murder of a 17-year-old on Saturday in broad daylight in front of his friends, will the Prime Minister meet me and the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk to discuss how such violent crimes might be prevented in Ipswich?

Of course, we are deeply concerned about crimes such as the one the hon. Gentleman has referenced, which took place in his constituency. The former Home Secretary had already published a serious violence strategy, and the current Home Secretary will be taking it forward. I am sure the Home Office, working with the police, will look at this issue very carefully to ensure that every effort is being made out there to take the steps necessary to deal with serious violence. I will ask the relevant Home Office Minister if he would be prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter.