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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 18 July 2018


The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the Welsh economy of the UK leaving the EU. (906435)

Wales approaches Brexit from a position of strength with a growing economy and falling unemployment, and our plan for Brexit will allow us to shape our own ambitious trade and investment opportunities, putting Wales and the wider UK at the forefront of global trade.

The Welsh Affairs Committee has now joined in the calls for the retention of membership of the single market and customs union to protect the agricultural sector, in which 80% of Welsh exports go to the EU. Will the Secretary of State confirm what representations he made to the Prime Minister ahead of the Chequers agreement for continued membership for the agricultural sector?

As the House would expect, I looked closely at that report, but of course the outcome that the hon. Gentleman suggests would mean that we could not honour the expectations of the British people following the referendum decision to leave the European Union; it would mean retaining free movement of people. The Chequers agreement protects the agricultural sector so that it has the opportunity to trade frictionlessly with the European Union.

By 2020, the Welsh economy will have been supported by almost £150 billion of investment through EU structural funds. The Government committed to replacing that funding, along with support for farming and the English NHS, with money from the mythical Brexit dividend. Now that it is clear that the UK will not receive a single penny back from Brexit, will the Secretary of State confirm that there will still be money for Wales?

The Government have committed to consult later this year on the UK shared prosperity fund, which will be a Brexit dividend. We are already seeing a Brexit dividend with the £20 billion increase in health spending, which will have considerable consequences for Scotland and, rightly, for Wales. As their budgets are protected, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will benefit significantly from that.

The Secretary of State’s answer directly contradicts the UK Government’s own analysis, which shows that Wales and every other part of the United Kingdom will be badly hit by their plans for Brexit. If the Government do have a plan for Brexit, we would love to hear it—and is there any economic analysis for it?

The hon. Gentleman ignores the hard data, which shows record numbers of people in employment and sharp falls in unemployment. I have met a whole host of international investors from the US, Qatar, Japan and elsewhere, and we are seeing significant foreign direct investment projects coming to the UK. That shows the great opportunities there are as we leave the European Union.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important market to the Welsh economy is the internal market of the United Kingdom? That is also true for Scotland, which is why it makes no sense that the Scottish National party wants to peel Scotland away from the United Kingdom and the success of this nation.

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. He is right to say that the UK market is more important to the Welsh and Scottish economies than any international market is. It has already been demonstrated that Scotland sells four times more to the rest of the UK than to any international market. That dependence on the UK economy is greater for the Welsh economy.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the economic benefit of the city deals that have been agreed in Wales and Scotland is evidence of what is possible when the UK Government and the devolved Administrations pull together in the same direction?

May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked so hard on the Stirling city growth deal? That exciting prospect, will offer real opportunities for long-term economic regeneration. I take the opportunity to highlight the fact that Wales will be the only part of the UK that is entirely covered by city deals and growth deals. That meets the UK Government’s ambitions to close the wealth gap between the most prosperous and most deprived areas of the UK by raising the economic prospects of some of the poorest parts of the UK.

Given the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the Welsh rural economy, the Minister will surely agree that technology and science opportunities must be seized. What is he doing to ensure that Snowdonia Aerospace at Llanbedr becomes the UK’s first horizontal-launch spaceport?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Llanbedr offers great opportunities. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and I have spoken on a number of occasions about this, and I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the statement that was made last week and the additional money that is being made available to exploit the opportunities in Llanbedr. I am excited by this prospect, and we will put the hon. Lady’s constituency at the forefront of space technology.

I will say more about the situation of the rural economy, given that the former Wales Office Minister, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), stood down this week to oppose the Brexiteers’ wrecking amendments. At next week’s Royal Welsh show, will the Secretary of State announce his resignation in protest at the Government’s policy of wrecking Welsh livestock farming?

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for his excellent work at the Ministry of Defence in supporting the defence services across the whole UK, as well as his role in looking after agriculture as a Wales Office Minister. The hon. Lady will be well aware that the Chequers agreement provides a frictionless trading opportunity for Welsh farmers that will allow them to continue to sell Welsh beef and lamb, and other Welsh produce, to the European Union as they do at the moment.

In calling the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), I congratulate him on what I understand is, unbelievably, his 60th birthday.

It’s a hard life!

The shadow Wales team recently met Farmers Union of Wales representatives, who are desperately worried about the future funding of Welsh agriculture post Brexit. If future farm funding is allocated using the Barnett formula, Welsh farmers will lose £133 million a year, taking £1 billion out of the Welsh economy. That would decimate rural communities and thousands of family-run farms. What steps is the Minister taking to guarantee Welsh agriculture the same level of funding post Brexit?

I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his significant birthday. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I meet Welsh farming unions regularly, and we also meet them jointly with the Welsh Government’s Agriculture Minister. That demonstrates the collaborative approach that we are taking. If I have said once, I have said 100 times that we will not be using the Barnett formula to distribute agricultural spend. Clearly, the current level of spend is the starting point, and we will be consulting in due course. The financial protection that the UK Government have given to Wales, whereby Wales now receives £120 for every £100 spent in England, demonstrates the priority that we put on protecting Wales’s interests.

International Trading Opportunities: Promotion

My Department continues to work closely with the Department for International Trade on promoting Wales’s trading opportunities. During my recent trips to Qatar, Kuwait, Hong Kong and the US I saw at first hand the enthusiasm for Welsh exports as well as the potential for foreign direct investment projects to come to Wales.

Given Wales’s connectivity on the M4 corridor, does my right hon. Friend agree that we can truly capitalise on trading opportunities internationally for Wales and, indeed, the Thames valley by improving the Reading to Gatwick road corridor?

My hon. Friend will be aware that I have been a strong supporter of the third runway at Heathrow because it is important to the Welsh economy, and connectivity to airports is vital to deliver its prospects and objectives. He is right about the M4 corridor. With the abolition of the Severn tolls, it creates an opportunity for a natural economy to develop between Bath, Bristol, Newport and the south Wales economy in general, to create further economic growth.

The Secretary of State knows that Airbus is one of Wales’s most important trading entities and companies, so does he think it is a good or bad sign that the chief executive of Airbus is so worried about the Government screwing up Brexit that he is now stockpiling goods that he feels he will not be able to get in to make his finished products?

I think the hon. Gentleman is out of date. The latest statements from Airbus have welcomed the Chequers agreement, because it will allow the company to protect its supply chain. That demonstrates the positive relationship that we have with large international companies, in seeking to protect their interests but taking the opportunities of leaving the European Union and looking to new markets elsewhere.

15. Is it not the case that following the passing of the Trade Bill yesterday, Wallonia, a region of Belgium, will have more influence over EU trade policy than Wales will have over post-Brexit UK trade policy? (906449)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade announced that we will have the widest, most extensive consultation in relation to future trading arrangements. We will not only talk to the devolved Administrations regularly, as I always do, but talk to key stakeholders in Wales to ensure that we respond to their priorities. We are determined to have the widest consultation to ensure that people have the facts at hand rather than sometimes inaccurate reports.

The expanding digital economy will bring further opportunities for Welsh businesses, yet they tell me all the time that broadband speeds are still too slow to trade. What are the Government doing about this?

On average, the superfast broadband threshold in Wales is higher than it is across the rest of the UK, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that more work needs to be done. Significant sums have been available, with £69 million going to the Welsh Government from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in addition to the £56 million of gainshare that has come from that. Of course, the priority for how the Welsh Government spend that has largely been driven and directed by them. I am keen to work closely with them to see that we can get to the communities that have not yet received superfast broadband, because clearly that brings them opportunities economically.

Cross-border Rail Services

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on improving cross-border rail services to and from Wales; and if he will make a statement. (906438)

The Government recognise that cross-border connectivity is critically important. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to look at what improvements can be made to support better journeys for Welsh and English passengers.

People in Neston are concerned that the rail timetable to be introduced by the new operator on the Wrexham to Bidston line may lead to an inferior service on the English side of the border. When I asked the rail Minister about that recently, he told me that it was the Welsh Assembly’s responsibility, not his; but my constituents have no representation there. Who is accountable for services on the English side of the border within this Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Wales & Borders franchise is part of the Government’s commitment to devolving powers, so there is a joint responsibility between the two Governments. If he wants me to make representations on his behalf to the Welsh Government, I would be more than happy to do so.

Has my hon. Friend had the chance to speak to the management of Great Western Railway about the total shambles that was its rail service last Sunday afternoon, when thousands of passengers faced cancelled or disrupted trains due to staffing problems arising from the World cup final? England did not qualify for the final and Wales was not even at the tournament, so it should not have led to meltdown on the rail network last Sunday.

My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. When these services do not run effectively, that has a massive impact on his constituents and all commuters. I would be happy to meet him to discuss this further, so that we can take it up with the people responsible.

My constituents were promised electric trains running into Cardiff Central by last year. This week, we found out that they will not even be coming into Cardiff Central by the end of next year. When will the Minister sort out the shambles that is the Great Western Railway line from London to Cardiff?

It is important to recognise that we are investing a massive amount of money to ensure that the electrification brings about improved journey times. The Welsh Government have come up with some suggestions about how we might resolve these issues, and we will work with them collaboratively on that. Let us not forget, though, that this Government are making a massive investment in the railway system.

My right hon. Friend will know that we are looking at a host of different projects that will improve journey times for passengers in north Wales, such as the Wrexham to Bidston line. On the specific issue that he raises, we are looking at that across the board, including through the growth deal that we are developing at the moment.

Order. In generously but appropriately congratulating the Minister not on his birthday but on the magnificence of his tie, may I urge him to face the Chamber so that we enjoy the benefit of his mellifluous tones?

It is not just the cancellations and the delays to electrification—it is the short trains, the short-staffed trains, the lack of reservations and the lack of catering. Great Western Railway is an absolute shambles. What on earth is the Minister going to do about it? Is he going to talk to the Secretary of State for Transport, as it is his responsibility?

I am glad that you like my tie, Mr Speaker.

First, I point out that the Government are investing more in our railways than any Government since Victorian times. I accept that there may be some issues with the service, and I will happily arrange to meet GWR to raise the points that the hon. Gentleman made.

Leaving the EU: White Paper

5. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the UK Government’s White Paper on leaving the EU. (906439)

10. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the UK Government’s White Paper on leaving the EU. (906444)

In line with commitments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Government shared the White Paper on our future relationship with the European Union with the Welsh Government in advance of its publication. This followed a regular dialogue with Welsh Ministers as the paper was being drafted.

The Government have proposed 26 policy areas where joint arrangements will be necessary with the Welsh Government after Brexit. Given the proposal in the Chequers agreement and the White Paper for a common rulebook with the EU, in how many of those areas will such arrangements no longer be necessary?

The hon. Gentleman refers to an ongoing relationship and dialogue with the Welsh Government. He will be aware that the Welsh Government were happy to give a legislative consent motion to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill as it passed through the Palace of Westminster, which demonstrates the mutual respect and ongoing productive relationship that we have. I only wish that the Scottish Government would work in the same constructive, positive way.

The White Paper’s mobility proposals for business visitors and intra-company transfers might be all right for large multinational companies in London, but they offer nothing to small businesses in Wales and important public services. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that they can still recruit the EU workers they need, if Brexit happens?

I have referred on several occasions to the expert panel I formed, which is being extended, and to joint meetings I have held with Welsh Government Ministers. We are keen to engage with businesses of all sizes. Large companies such as Airbus often receive much attention, but it is only right that small businesses, which often depend on their supply chains, receive a similar amount of attention.

I do not think even the UK Government still believe that the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe is fit for purpose. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is time for it to be replaced by a statutory forum that gives equal power of esteem to all four nations in these islands?

A previous Joint Ministerial Committee committed to look at intergovernmental arrangements and how we can best develop and evolve them in the light of our exit from the European Union. My relationship with the Welsh Government is positive. It takes a lot of hard work on both sides, and I am keen to maintain the warmest sort of arrangements because we respect the outcome of the referendum and the importance of the UK internal market.

The Secretary of State is stoical in the circumstances, but there is an excessive number of rather loud private conversations taking place. An air of solemnity should descend on the House as we are about to hear from the Chair of the Select Committee.

12. We are seeing record numbers of people in work in Wales and record amounts of foreign direct investment, and we have a set of proposals that will allow Wales to benefit from access to the single market and new trade deals across the world. Is it not about time that Members of Parliament on both sides of the House got behind the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales as they lead Wales to a better future outside the European Union? (906446)

My hon. Friend is right, and I pay tribute to him for his work as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee. Not only does the UK remain the No. 1 destination for foreign direct investment, but Wales has seen a 20% increase in the employment created out of that investment. Our exports are growing to record levels and, interestingly, those to areas outside the European Union are growing at a faster rate than those to the European Union.

The White Paper is a little light on the benefits of World Trade Organisation rules. Will the Secretary of State discuss the benefits of those rules with the Welsh Government alongside the White Paper?

I will naturally continue an ongoing dialogue with the Welsh Government about a whole host of issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade yesterday agreed to and committed to consult widely, including with the devolved Administrations. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are great opportunities as we leave the European Union to look at new markets, but nor should we undermine the existing complex supply chains that have built up over 40 years. The Chequers White Paper, I believe, allows us to do both.

Will my right hon. Friend reach out beyond the Welsh Government to businesses in Wales to exemplify the opportunities that will be created as we leave the European Union?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We often, rightly, give a lot of attention to the devolved Administrations because they are elected bodies in the nations themselves, but businesses in Wales depend on the UK market and their view is also important as we develop and evolve our policy towards the negotiations to leave the European Union.

I join in the birthday wishes to my youthful shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane).

It has been two years since the Prime Minister met the First Minister of Wales in Cardiff Bay and stood on the steps of the Senedd, telling politicians and journalists how important the Union is and that she wanted the Welsh Government to be involved in Brexit discussions, so why was the White Paper not shared with the Welsh Government until barely 12 hours before its publication?

The hon. Lady is right that the document was shared with the Welsh Government before it was published. I can also say that many extracts—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. The microphone is not functioning as well as it should be, and I therefore suggest that a modest bellowing by the right hon. Gentleman will suffice.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can point out to the hon. Lady that not only was the document itself shared with the Welsh Government before publication, but—I would say, probably more importantly—as the document was being drafted, various extracts were shared with the Welsh Government and their input during the drafting stages contributed to the document in its totality.

It is not good enough. The Secretary of State knows the terms of the JMC, which state that the UK Government will work with the devolved Administrations

“to agree a UK approach to…Article 50 negotiations”.

After two years of broken promises on Brexit talks, who should the people of Wales blame for the contempt shown to them—the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales or both?

The hon. Lady is ignoring that we shared the drafting of the document with the Welsh Government before we had concluded the document itself. They had an integral part in contributing and sharing their views. I would also say that it was considered at length at the JMC that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster chaired days before the document was shared.

Welsh Guards: Afghanistan

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the Welsh Guards’ tour of Afghanistan. (906442)

I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence about the armed forces in Wales, including about my recent visit to Kabul to meet the Welsh Guards. During the visit, I saw at first hand the important role that our servicemen and women play in the UK’s operations, and I pay tribute to them.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of an added commitment from the Welsh Guards to secure and to help NATO’s capacity-building mission in Afghanistan?

Having seen the Welsh Guards in action in Afghanistan, I have nothing but admiration and respect for the work that they do. The additional support to help them embed and the important steps they are taking to support the ongoing work of the Afghan Government will be extremely important, and I pay tribute to them for the work that they do.

Universal Credit

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the roll-out of universal credit in Wales. (906445)

Universal credit is already operating in 24 jobcentres across Wales, with a further two scheduled to roll out this month. The number of people receiving universal credit in Wales is over 44,000, and 36% of these are in employment. Wales jobcentres are in the latter part of the roll-out schedule, with full roll-out to be completed by the end of this year.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Early indications show that there are huge problems in implementing universal credit, with the Flintshire citizens advice bureau, for example, receiving 340 new cases—serious cases. What is he doing to make sure that our hard-pressed citizens advice bureaux are not overwhelmed when universal credit is fully implemented?

It is important to recognise that universal credit is a transformational benefits system that is working to get people back into work. The recent employment figures, showing that employment in Wales is up by 5,000, are a significant step, but the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises are exactly why we have been careful. We have made significant changes as we have carefully rolled out the project.

Transport Infrastructure: North Wales

13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on upgrades to transport infrastructure in north Wales. (906447)

The Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Welsh Government on Wales and road infrastructure, and we recognise the benefit to communities on both sides of the border.

The M56 is the main arterial route not just through Cheshire but into north Wales. What discussions has the Minister had about upgrading the M56 as part of the next road investment strategy for Highways England?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the M56 and the whole of the cross-border connectivity routes, because the amount of people who live in Wales but work in England is significant. That is why the Secretary of State recently met the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), to discuss these issues—[Interruption.]

Order. These matters are of the utmost importance to the people of north Wales, and the question and the answer must be heard.

My daughter, Fiona, celebrates her birthday today, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) and the late, great Nelson Mandela, who would have been 100 today.

The north Wales economy depends on the port of Holyhead as the main port from the Republic of Ireland. Many businesses are concerned about a no-deal Brexit scenario. Will the Minister tell us whether there is a contingency plan for a no deal and if not, why not?

First, may I wish the hon. Gentleman’s daughter a very happy birthday?

As an Anglesey boy myself, I know how important the port of Holyhead is not just to the Isle of Anglesey but to the whole of north Wales and the whole of the country. That is exactly why this Government are working closely with ports around the whole country as we prepare for our exit from the European Union.

Cross-border Transport Links

14. What assessment his Department has made of the (a) adequacy of cross-border transport links to and from Wales and (b) effect of those links on economic growth. (906448)

Abolishing the Severn tolls will drive the biggest economic stimulus Wales has seen in decades and create the most natural cross-border economic growth corridor, spanning Cardiff through to Bristol and Newport. The UK Government are looking at the capacity and investment needed for roads in the south-west of England once the tolls are abolished.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. The value of removing those tolls to the economies of both south Wales and south-west England cannot be overestimated. What, in his assessment, would be the impact on economic growth of removing those tolls on the bridge?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a significant announcement. The fact that people will be able to cross the border between Wales and England and not have to pay a toll will, we hope, increase economic activity and improve the number of people who enjoy tourism in both the south-west and Wales.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Today marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to his extraordinary life and agree that his message of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation is as relevant today as it ever has been.

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 am proud to have Nelson Mandela Place in my constituency, and we celebrate that today as well.

There were 934 drug-related deaths in Scotland last year. Each one of those deaths is a tragedy, and a preventable one at that. Drug laws are reserved to Westminster. How many more families is the Prime Minister willing to devastate before she will allow Glasgow to get on with the work of building a drug consumption room to save lives?

I agree with the hon. Lady that each death due to drugs is a tragedy, and I am sure that every Member of this House will have known people in their own constituency who have gone through that terrible suffering when they have lost members of their family. There is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms in the UK and we have no plans to introduce them. A range of offences is likely to be committed in the operation of drug consumption rooms. It is for local police forces to enforce the law in such circumstances and we would expect them to do so, but our approach on drugs remains very clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.

At absolutely no point, because Brexit continues to mean Brexit. I know that my hon. Friend wants us to talk about the positives of Brexit and I agree with her: we should be talking about the positive future for this country. I understand that she has also criticised me for looking for a solution that is “workable”. I have to say, I disagree with her on that. I think what we need is a solution that is going to work for the United Kingdom, ensure that we leave the European Union and embrace that bright future that we both agree on.

I, too, pay tribute to Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birth. The people of South Africa stood up against the most vile injustice of apartheid. Their solidarity and the solidarity of people around the world freed him and ended the scourge of apartheid. We should pay tribute to all of them on this day.

People are losing trust in this Government. The Transport Secretary, the International Trade Secretary and the Brexit Secretary were all members of the Vote Leave campaign committee. The Environment Secretary was the co-chair. They have been referred to the police by the Electoral Commission, having refused to co-operate with the Electoral Commission. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that her Cabinet Ministers will fully co-operate with the police investigation?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I actually question the way in which he put his question. He has made an accusation in this House against Members of this House—[Interruption.]

The right hon. Gentleman has made an accusation in this House against individual Members of this House and of the Government, and I suggest that, when he stands up, he reflects on whether or not it was correct to do so. The Electoral Commission is an independent regulator, accountable to Parliament, not to the Government. It has, as we know, taken steps in relation to the Vote Leave campaign. I would expect that all those involved and required to do so will give the evidence that is required and respond appropriately to any questions that are raised with them. But I say again to the right hon. Gentleman that I think he should stand up, think very carefully about making accusations about individual Members, and withdraw.

Order. People can rant from a sedentary position for as long as they like. It will not change the way proceedings are conducted in this session. The Prime Minister’s answers will be heard and the questions from the right hon. Gentleman will be heard, and no amount of orchestrated barracking will change that fact this day or any other.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I stated the fact that the Electoral Commission has made that reference. That is what I said. I asked the Prime Minister for a guarantee that her Ministers will co-operate with the police on any investigations that they may make. That is not judgmental—it is a guarantee they will co-operate. These are serious issues. Current Cabinet Ministers were indeed central to the Vote Leave campaign. After two years of dither and delay, the Government have sunk into a mire of chaos and division. The agreement that was supposed to unite the Cabinet led to the Cabinet falling apart within 48 hours, and on Monday the Government U-turned to make their own White Paper proposals unlawful. Given that the proposals in the White Paper are now obsolete, when will the new White Paper be published?

I heard the right hon. Gentleman say in his first question that members of the Government had failed to co-operate with the Electoral Commission investigation. I say again that he should withdraw that. It is very important in this country that politicians do not interfere with police investigations, that the police are allowed to do their investigation and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I still contend that he made accusations against individual members of the Government that were unjustified and he should withdraw them.

The right hon. Gentleman then came to the amendments that the Government accepted to the customs Bill on Monday night. I will explain the position to the House. [Interruption.]

Order. We are less than a third of the way through—possibly significantly less—and people are becoming over-excited. They must calm themselves and we must hear the Prime Minister.

The hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) said, “This will be interesting”. I will go through each of the amendments in turn for the purposes of the House. Amendment 72 related to parliamentary scrutiny on plans under clause 31 to form a customs union with the EU. We are going to leave the customs union with the EU so we accepted that enhanced parliamentary scrutiny. Amendment 73 related to regulations on the application of VAT in certain circumstances. Such an arrangement is not part of the White Paper and the Chequers agreement, and we were able to accept that too. New clause 37 was to prevent a customs border down the Irish sea. That is Government policy. New clause 36 related to reciprocity and accounting for tariffs collected, and that concept is in the White Paper. The Chequers agreement and White Paper are the basis of our negotiations with the European Union, and we have already started those negotiations.

That is all very interesting, but could the Prime Minister explain why the Defence Minister had to rebel against the Government in order to support the Cabinet’s position of a few days before? The Government are in complete chaos. The centrepiece of the White Paper was something called the “facilitated customs arrangement”. Having spent a week trying to convince their own MPs that this cobbled-together mishmash was worth defending, they abandoned it. So what is their plan now for customs?

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. We have not abandoned the facilitated customs agreement. We are discussing it with the European Union.

Does the Prime Minister seriously expect 27 member states of the EU to establish their own bureaucratic tariff-collection infrastructure just to satisfy the war within the Conservative party in Britain? On Monday evening, the new Brexit Secretary was starting the next round of Brexit negotiations. No wonder he didn’t turn up—he doesn’t know what he is supposed to be negotiating. Two years on from the referendum and 16 months on from triggering article 50, is it not the case that the Government have no serious negotiating strategy?

The right hon. Gentleman is just plain wrong in his interpretation of what is happening. I have a copy of the White Paper here and I am very happy to ensure he gets a copy after these PMQs so that he can perhaps read it and understand what the Government are doing. There are indeed differences between the Leader of the Opposition and me on this issue. I will end free movement; he wants to keep it. I want us out of the customs union; he wants us in. I want us out of the single market; he wants us in. I want us to sign our own trade deals; he wants to hand them over to Brussels. I have ruled out a second referendum; he won’t. There is no doubt which of us is respecting the will of the British people and delivering on the vote, and it is not him.

We are 11 days on from the so-called Chequers agreement, and the Brexit White Paper did not even survive contact with the Cabinet or the Tory Back Benches, and has not yet even been discussed with the EU. The White Paper states:

“The UK is committed to membership of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

Is the new Brexit Secretary signed up to that?

Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are signed up to that: it was in our manifesto. Let me also say to him that he has stood up and asked virtually the same question, and obviously has not listened to any of the answers that I have given him. The point of this is not that you just read out the question you thought of on Tuesday morning, but you actually listen to the answers that the Prime Minister gives.

The Chequers agreement stands. The White Paper stands. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had not even discussed the White Paper with the European Union. I think I have told him in at least two if not three answers that we are already discussing it with the European Union.

The Prime Minister obviously forgot the question that I just asked her, which was about the Brexit Secretary’s support or otherwise for the European convention on human rights. He is on record as saying:

“I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights”.

He is obviously backsliding to keep his job, or that is the new policy of the Government.

With only three months to go until the final withdrawal agreement is due to be signed, the former Brexit Secretary has resigned, the White Paper is in tatters, and the new Brexit Secretary is skipping negotiations. After two years of negotiating with themselves, the Government wanted to shut down Parliament five days early. They have even given up on negotiating with each other. Is it not the case that the Government are failing to negotiate Brexit and failing to meet the needs of the—[Interruption.]

Order. I know what the attempt is, and it is not going to work. The right hon. Gentleman will complete his question. He will not be shouted down, not today and not any day. Learn it: it is quite simple.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Is it not the case that the Government are failing to negotiate Brexit and failing to meet the needs of the country because they are too busy—far too busy—fighting each other?

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what I have been doing over the last week, and let me also look at what the right hon. Gentleman has been doing over the last week. While I was agreeing the future of NATO with President Trump—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Lewis, you are a very over-excitable denizen of the House. You are not as well behaved as your little baby daughter.

While I was agreeing the future of NATO with President Trump, the right hon. Gentleman was joining a protest march against him. While I was delivering a plan for our future trade with the EU, he was delivering a plan to teach children how to go on strike. While I was negotiating our future security relationship with Europe, he was renegotiating the definition of anti-Semitism. He protests; I deliver.

Q5. Thirty-one member countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance have an agreed definition of anti-Semitism. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all political parties should adopt that definition, and its examples, without amendments or omissions? (906524)

I agree with my hon. Friend that all political parties should do just that. The Conservative party has done that, but sadly the Labour party does not agree. The Labour party is trying to redefine anti-Semitism to allow people to say that Israel is a racist endeavour. The Chief Rabbi says that what the Labour party is doing is sending

“an unprecedented message of contempt”

for British Jews. Even some of the right hon. Gentleman’s own MPs are saying that this is anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism is racism. The Labour party should accept that. The right hon. Gentleman should accept that. We should all sign up, as the Conservative party has, to the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and all its annexes.

We should all welcome the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. Those of us in Scotland are very proud that the city of Glasgow was the first in the world to give the freedom of a city to Nelson Mandela, something of which he in turn was also proud.

This week the Prime Minister caved in to her right-wing Brexiteers, undermining her negotiating position with the EU. In her attempt to hold together her fractured party, she has managed to unite the country against this Government. Playing fast and loose with her own position makes the UK a laughing stock with our negotiating partners. The Prime Minister has put her narrow party interest before that of the country. Is it not the case that the events of this week make a no deal much more likely?

As I explained in answer to the questions from the Leader of the Opposition, we are negotiating with the European Union on the basis of the Chequers agreement and the White Paper. Those discussions started this week and have been continuing this week. The right hon. Gentleman talks about putting a political party’s interests before that of the country. I think the Scottish National party should really think about what it is doing when it promotes the independence of Scotland, which is clearly against the interests of its country.

The reality is that this is a Prime Minister who has lost control of her own party, a Prime Minister who is in office but not in power, and a Parliament that is so divided that it simply cannot function. Mr Speaker, to use a good Gaelic word, it is a bùrach. We cannot crash out of the EU without a deal. We need to think of the next generation, who will pay a price for this folly. They will see lost opportunities and lost jobs. Did the Prime Minister come into Parliament to have this as her legacy? Will she now face up to the reality and extend article 50?

Q8. The Prime Minister’s proposals offer a practical and reasoned way to deliver Brexit. Does she agree that it is high time that Labour MPs, and, yes, some Conservatives, stop the fear-mongering, get behind their country and support the Prime Minister as she leads us out of the European Union? (906527)

There are strong feelings around the whole House on this issue, but what we need is a deal that is credible and workable, that protects jobs and protects our precious Union, and that delivers on the result of the referendum. That is exactly what we are doing with the Chequers agreement. It allows the UK to leave the European Union, and to take back control of our money, laws and borders. That is what our plan delivers. As my hon. Friend says, let us work together and deliver for the British people.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. In relation to ongoing matters, may I, on a personal note, thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and every single Member of this House for the kindness they have shown me?

I am delighted to be in my place to be able to ask the Prime Minister a question. So, to the question—to business. Does the Prime Minister agree that, as part of the Government’s attempt to expand capacity in the NHS, existing sites such as Ormskirk hospital in my constituency, where there is capacity to build an extra floor, should be prioritised for expansion ahead of simply building a new hospital at much greater cost, depriving the NHS of much needed investment which should go into patients and staffing?

First, may I say to the hon. Lady how very good it is to see her in her place in this House? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] And I know from the response that that view is shared across the whole of this House.

The hon. Lady raised an issue to do with the NHS and Ormskirk hospital. As she will know, we are putting extra funding into the national health service: £20 billion a year in real terms by 2023-24. We will have funding available not just to build sites but, as she says, to improve current and existing facilities across the country. On Ormskirk hospital, I understand the Northern England Clinical Senate has issued a report making proposals around the provision of emergency services there. No decisions have been made—that is a matter, of course, for the NHS—but as we look to the long-term plan, I want NHS clinicians to come forward with the best proposals for patients and to take account of local interests such as those the hon. Lady has raised.

Q10. Around the world Christians are facing a rising tide of persecution and violence. Does the Prime Minister share my concern at this trend and at particular cases such as those of Sunil Saleem, a Christian man who was beaten to death at a hospital in Lahore in Pakistan, or 33 women in Eritrea who were imprisoned simply for praying? In this country we rightly protect religious freedoms; will my right hon. Friend step up efforts to get other countries to similarly respect religious freedoms? (906529)

As a Government we stand with persecuted Christians all over the world and will continue to support them. It is hard to comprehend that today we still see people being attacked and murdered because of their Christianity, but we must reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions and beliefs and for them to be able to practise their beliefs in peace and security. I am very pleased that I have been able to appoint the noble Lord Ahmad as the Government’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, and he will certainly be doing what my hon. Friend suggests: working with other countries to encourage them to recognise the importance of allowing people to have the freedom to practise their religion and beliefs in peace and security.

Q3. In view of the fact that schools in the Stroud constituency are telling me they are forced to use core funding to cover the additional requirements of special educational needs and that special schools in the constituency are having to meet considerable rising costs, will the Prime Minister look at the national funding formula with the aim of helping those schools, to make sure they are fully inclusive and that we help those who are most vulnerable because of their special needs? (906522)

I have long championed the need for children with special needs to be able to be provided for in the setting that is most appropriate for them. For some that will be a mainstream school; for some it will be a special needs school. We have of course changed the national funding formula to make it a fairer distribution across the country, but, as I have said, I recognise the need to ensure that children with special needs are provided for in the most appropriate setting.

Q11. The establishment of a spaceport in Scotland will give the UK the capability to launch satellites from British soil for the first time ever. Considering the opportunities presented by space and aerospace, will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss more investment for Scotland, in particular the Kinross aerospace centre in my constituency that is being proposed as part of the Tay cities deal? (906530)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue; it is absolutely right of him to highlight the opportunities that our announcement on spaceports give us. We have awarded grants worth £31.5 million to enable satellites to be launched from UK soil for the first time, and that is worth a potential £3.8 billion over the next decade to the UK economy. This is the start of a new space age in the UK; it is a huge boost to our world-leading space sector, making the UK a one-stop shop for new satellite services. My hon. Friend has put a bid in for his own constituency in this regard, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be happy to meet him and discuss that.

Q6. The Bunny Hill and Washington urgent care centres in my constituency, and the Houghton urgent care centre in my neighbouring constituency, are under threat of closure by the Sunderland clinical commissioning group. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister just to say that these are simply local decisions, because local people certainly do not want those closures. What will she say to my constituents who rely on those vital urgent care centres, and to the staff at Sunderland Royal A&E who are going to have to deal with the aftermath of the closures? (906525)

The hon. Lady complains to me that we want decisions to be taken at local level by the NHS, but I believe it is absolutely right that decisions are taken at local level. When the NHS takes those decisions, the important thing is that it puts the interests of patients, the safety of patients and the treatment of patients first. She has raised this particular issue, and I continue to believe that it is right not for politicians here to make a decision like that but for actual clinicians and others working in the national health service to do so.

Q14. I celebrated the 70th birthday of our NHS with patients and the fabulous staff at the Oakwood day mental health hospital in Nuneaton. Mental health has always been the Cinderella of the NHS. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking our doctors and nurses who work in mental health, and will she say what more we can do to improve mental health and what resources the Government will put into that? (906533)

I join my hon. Friend in commending the work that is done by all our dedicated staff in the national health service. They continue to do that wonderful work with considerable commitment and dedication. He is right to say that mental health is important. It has been overlooked for too long, and that is why this Government have been putting a focus on mental health. We have been doing more, but there is more to be done. We are putting more money in, and we have announced a new package of measures backed by £6 million in funding, which includes rapid access to mental health services and support for children and their whole families where there is a dependent drinker. Spending overall on mental health issues is at record levels and growing, with a planned record £11.86 billion for 2017-18, increasing by a further £1 billion by 2020-21. It is right that we put this important focus on mental health, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising this.

Q7. My extraordinary constituents help to keep the nation’s lights on, and they keep us safe by building the Royal Navy’s submarines. They deserve a train service that is worthy of the name, so will the Prime Minister get a personal grip on this fiasco? Just this weekend, we saw 170 services cancelled across the Northern network because there was a World cup game on. (906526)

Like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that constituents deserve a rail service that provides for them and their needs. I recognise the problems that have been experienced on Northern, and of course on Govia Thameslink as well. We have given unprecedented powers and funding to Transport for the North, but the issue that he raises in relation to the World cup was one that affected other train services as well, because of the way in which many services operate, and their requirements for drivers and their relying on volunteers to turn up at weekends. This experience may very well be one that the train operators will want to look at, to ensure that in future they can provide the services that constituents need.

As the Prime Minister is aware, the Department for Exiting the European Union carried out a study of all the previous free trade deals that the European Union had done, in order to create a draft free trade deal that was based solely on European precedent. The Department was—until I left, at least—creating a legal text of such a draft treaty as a fall-back option for the current negotiations. Will she agree to publish that text when it is complete?

First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he did as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Secondly, as he knows, we have published the proposals that we have for the future trade relationship with the European Union. Of course, as we look through those negotiations, we will be looking to see where the European Union has entered into certain agreements with others in the past. Very often, the European Commission will say, “X can’t be done,” only for us to say, “X was done with another country and therefore it is possible for it to be done with us.” But what I want to see is not just an amalgam of those free trade agreements but an ambitious plan—which is what I believe we have produced—that will protect jobs in this country, deliver on the referendum result and, crucially, ensure that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Q9. The largest apprenticeship provider in Southampton recently reported to me that he has suffered a 70% drop in apprentices on his books since the introduction of the levy-based apprenticeship system. That accords with figures from other providers in my area and means that hundreds of young people will now not get the apprenticeships they need. What is the Prime Minister doing to get the disastrous roll-out of the levy-based apprenticeship system back on the road? (906528)

What we have seen since the apprenticeship levy was introduced is a change in the number of people doing apprenticeships, but we have also seen an increase in the quality of the apprenticeships that are being undertaken. The Government are now looking at how the levy is operating to ensure that we can do what I want to do, which is ensure that every young person has the opportunity to pursue the course, be it of education or training, that is right for them and that is going to give them the best start in life.

My right hon. Friend should be commended for her sangfroid a week ago in dealing with a giant ego—somebody who believes that truth is fake news and leaks continually. I am not referring here to the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); I am of course referring to President Trump, who has acted in a very bizarre way over intelligence. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has to work with him, but is she not alarmed at the way in which he refused to challenge President Putin over the Russian activity that recently resulted in the death of a woman here in Salisbury?

I understand that there have been some clarifications of some of the statements that President Trump made. I did raise with President Trump the incident in Salisbury and the fact that we have seen somebody die here in the UK as a result of contact with a nerve agent. Of course, we took immediate action at the time after the Salisbury attack when we had been able to attribute it to Russia. The United States stood alongside us, as did many other nations across the world, and took action against Russia, which showed a united international front that sent a clear message that we will not accept this behaviour, that this is not behaviour that Russia can conduct with impunity and that we will continue to act together.

Q12. Carillion forecast an £83 million loss on the Liverpool Royal Hospital, and physical cracks now exist in the structure’s concrete beams. It is 16 months late, over budget and structurally unsound, but the answer to my question in the Prime Minister’s absence last week offered no solutions. Will she now take responsibility for finishing and opening the new Royal and guarantee that the spiralling costs will not fall to the hospital trust, which would cut the budget for patient care in Liverpool for decades to come? (906531)

The hon. Gentleman raised this in my absence last week, so he will know that we are supporting the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust in its work on this, and we want to see the new hospital built as quickly as possible while securing best value for money in doing so. The Government and the trust continue to be in active discussions with the existing private sector funders to see whether there is a way forward to complete the remaining work on the hospital. It has taken longer, and further issues were uncovered during the process, but the way that we are approaching the situation is the right way to ensure that we are clear about what we are dealing with. We want to make the right decisions, and it is right that those discussions continue.

It is in the national interest that we should have, and have implemented, contingency plans for the unwanted eventuality of exiting the European Union with nothing agreed. Now there is collective agreement to accelerate the delivery of our plans, will my right hon. Friend please give instructions that every communication related to no deal serves to bolster our negotiating position by reinforcing the credibility and feasibility of those contingency plans?

I thank my hon. Friend also for the work he was doing in the Department for Exiting the European Union, and particularly for the work he was doing on this issue. He is absolutely right that we need to make sure that we have those no-deal preparations in place while we negotiate with the European Union on a deal, because we need to ensure that we have made contingency arrangements for every eventuality. Also, the European Union needs to be in no doubt that we are making those preparations and are ensuring that, should that be the outcome, we are prepared.

Q13. My constituent Andy McLean arranged to sell his house to an online company, He agreed a price and then saw it cut by more than 20% on the day contracts were to be exchanged and after he had incurred a fortune in deposit, legal and other costs associated with his new house purchase. Will the Prime Minister instruct Ministers to bring forward regulations so that people like my constituent can be protected from such rip-off companies and their cowboy tactics? (906532)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific issue, and I am happy to ensure that the responsible Ministers will look at that issue.

For a Minister to be able to do their job, they rely on getting impartial, sound and honest advice from their civil servants. When that sacrosanct relationship is broken, there needs to be a full and proper investigation. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has called for the full, open and transparent publication of Sir Alex Allan’s Windrush report. Will my right hon. Friend therefore use her stamp of authority as Prime Minister and insist that we get to the bottom of this and see who was told what and when in order that it does not look like another cover-up?

It is important, as Alex Allan himself has made clear, that proper consideration is given to the publication of information involving individuals’ personal information, but I know my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering this matter very carefully.

I commend the work of the charities Shine and SBH Scotland for their work in assisting people affected by spina bifida and other such conditions. Those charities, public health authorities, scientists and others all agree on the need to reduce the number of pregnancies that have neural tube defects by the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid—the USA and other countries do that already. Will the Prime Minister look at bringing the UK into line by introducing this very important public health preventive action?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I join him in commending the excellent work of charities on this issue. We all want mums-to-be to have healthy pregnancies and, of course, there is NHS guidance on the supplements, such as folic acid, that women planning a pregnancy should take before conception and, indeed, until the twelfth week of pregnancy. Women are recommended to eat more folate-rich foods during pregnancy. We will continue to look at this issue to ensure that the advice and the action that is taken are absolutely right to ensure that mums-to-be have healthy pregnancies.

I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating Sir Cliff Richard on his successful action against the BBC, which behaved atrociously in its illegal invasion of his privacy. Will my right hon. Friend look again at changing the law so that a suspect is not named by the media, except in exceptional cases, until such time as they are charged? I know I am off her Christmas card list, but I have tabled a private Member’s Bill that commands cross-party and, I think, widespread support—I am more than happy to call it Cliff’s law. Will the Prime Minister please agree at least to look at the Bill, because Sir Cliff is not alone and this is not confined to sexual offences? Suspects should not be named by the media until such time as they are charged.

Obviously, my right hon. Friend has raised a very important issue. She has raised it in the specific case of Sir Cliff Richard, but, as she said, this does not just relate to somebody who is well known and in the public eye. This is a difficult issue, it has to be dealt with sensitively and I looked at it when I was Home Secretary. There may well be cases where the publication of a name enables other victims to come forward and therefore strengthen the case against an individual. So this is not somewhere where we either do all of one or all of another; it is an issue for careful judgment. But in exercising that careful judgment, the police have to recognise their responsibilities and the media need to recognise their responsibilities as well.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. On Saturday, we had the international day of remembrance for victims of honour abuse. This Friday, it will be two years to the day since the rape and murder of my constituent Samia Shahid, who was lured to Pakistan. I thank colleagues in the House, and, in particular, the leader of my party, for showing solidarity with the #honourher campaign today. Will the Prime Minister once again reiterate our commitment to eradicating violence against women and girls? Will she also urge the Pakistani authorities to give justice to Samia Shahid—two years on we are still waiting for a trial?

The Foreign Office is aware of the particular case and the issue the hon. Lady has raised in relation to the Pakistani authorities, but I am happy to reconfirm our absolute commitment to work to eradicate violence against women. The term “honour violence” is such a misnomer; this is an appalling crime of violence against women. We should all be working to ensure that we eradicate it.

Neuroblastoma is an aggressive form of cancer that impacts 100 children each year, most of whom are under five. Thanks to a campaign involving my constituents the Jeffreys family, and many hon. Members from across this House, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has now approved a drug that may extend lives. Tragically for my five-year-old constituent Jack Jeffreys this has come too late, and he is now undergoing palliative care, with his family at his bedside. For his legacy, and for all of those other children who could lead longer lives, may I ask the Prime Minister to ensure that the NHS now commissions and uses this drug?

I am sure the whole House will join me in extending our thoughts and prayers to Jack’s family at what must be a terribly, terribly difficult and tragic time for them. As my hon. Friend has indicated, NICE has recommended the drug that he refers to for use in children; that was in draft guidance it recently issued. I understand the drug is now available across the NHS, through the cancer drugs fund, and NICE will be publishing its final guidance in August. I am sure the drug will be rolled out swiftly to ensure that as many people as possible are able to benefit from it as swiftly as possible.

Three days after she became the proud grandmother of Holly, I call the Mother of the House, Harriet Harman.

Last night’s shambles over the vote of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) should put it beyond doubt that pairing is not the answer for MPs having babies. We are elected as MPs to vote in this House, and MPs having babies should not lose that right. Will the Prime Minister give the House the opportunity to vote on the Procedure Committee draft motion on proxy voting for baby leave? With more parliamentary babies in the pipeline—there is one right next to me—and more crucial votes coming up, it is time to sort this out. This one is overdue.

First, may I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that the breaking of the pair was done in error? It was not good enough and it will not be repeated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) and the Chief Whip have apologised directly to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Joe Swinson), because we take pairing very seriously and we recognise its value to Parliament. We will continue to guarantee a pair for MPs who are currently pregnant or who have a newborn baby. The issue the right hon. and learned Lady raises refers also to this question of proxy voting and the report the Procedure Committee has brought out. We are looking very carefully at that issue. We want to ensure that we can facilitate parental leave in this place, but, obviously, we also have to ensure that there is a proper consultation. We are looking at the interests of not only individuals, but the whole House.