The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Devolution
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 confirmed that, where EU law intersects with devolved competence, those powers will flow directly to the devolved Administrations on exit day. This means that over 100 powers will go directly to the Scottish Parliament. We are also continuing to make progress in establishing common frameworks, which the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) discussed last week.
The Secretary of State is turning a blind eye to the depopulation crisis facing rural Scotland. His Government’s refusal even to consider devolving immigration powers to the Scottish Parliament will cause further damage to these fragile communities. Will he explain to the people and businesses in my constituency how ending freedom of movement will help to solve that depopulation crisis?
The Smith commission, which was supported by the Scottish National party at the time, determined that immigration would not be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I am acutely aware of issues surrounding depopulation and the demographic challenges. Indeed, I heard them mentioned directly in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Migration is one part of the issue but, as I heard in his constituency, matters such as transport and housing are another part.
Is it not in fact the case that, by reappropriating powers to this Parliament without them going to Holyrood, he is the Secretary of State presiding over the biggest power grab since devolution began—not further devolution? Was his colleague Adam Tomkins correct this morning when he said that
“Scottish Tories are unionists first and Conservatives second”?
They never wanted the Scottish Parliament to succeed and now they are using Brexit to undermine it.
It is very clear that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues want to break up our United Kingdom. I will defend our United Kingdom until my last breath.
Not only have the Government taken the Scottish Government to court for trying to protect their own devolved powers; the Secretary of State is now saying that any measures offered to Scotland to reflect the overwhelming remain vote would cause him to consider his own position—a position confirmed this morning by Adam Tomkins as no idle threat made in the heat of the moment. Is he really surprised, therefore, that the Scottish people see this blatant Tory power grab for what it is, and will he follow through on his threat to go, and go now?
I make no apology for making it absolutely clear that the integrity of the United Kingdom is a red line for me and my Scottish Conservative colleagues in any deal on leaving the EU, and the position is exactly the same for our Prime Minister. I know that the preference of SNP Members would be a Brexit of the most disruptive kind, which they see as best able to take forward their cause.
The Migration Advisory Committee accepts the dangers to Scotland’s labour force and economy under the current UK system. Sixty-four per cent. of Scottish voters now want to see immigration policy devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Given that we have seen the reality of the cruel system that the UK Government have implemented, why not give the Scottish Parliament the right to do things differently?
I made it clear in my earlier response that, when these matters were considered in depth by the Smith commission, it was agreed that immigration would not be devolved. At the recent Confederation of British Industry Scotland dinner, which was attended by the First Minister of Scotland, the director general of CBI Scotland made it clear that business did not support the devolution of immigration and having a separate immigration policy in Scotland.
If the Secretary of State really believes that he is “fighting Scotland’s corner”, as he said in Holyrood Magazine, why is he supporting an Agriculture Bill that will remove powers from the Scottish Parliament, and simultaneously failing to honour Tory promises on funding made to Scottish farmers?
Obviously, the hon. Lady did not see yesterday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that there is going to be a review of convergence funding. No powers on agriculture are being removed from the Scottish Parliament, but there is a complete and utter lack of policy from the Scottish Government in relation to Scottish agriculture. They have brought forward no proposals for post-Brexit agriculture in Scotland.
Given the non-answers so far, can the Secretary of State tell us whether there are any circumstances in which he would support the devolution of powers to protect Scotland’s interests after Brexit—or is it the case, given his threats to resign, that he would rather resign his own position than support any measure aimed at ensuring that Scotland is protected from a hard, right-wing Tory Brexit?
As far as I am aware, there is only one party in this Parliament that has so far declared that it will support a no-deal Brexit, and that is the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon was very clear on Monday—[Interruption.]
Order. The Secretary of State has been asked a question. He is answering the question. In that context, a lot of finger pointing is, at the very least, discourteous to the Secretary of State.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As you may be aware, on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that she will order SNP MPs in this Parliament to vote for a no-deal Brexit. What they have to decide between now and then is whether they will blindly follow her through the Lobby or truly stand up for Scotland.
With reference to the fairy tale of a power grab, more than 100 powers that are currently held in Brussels are to be transferred to Holyrood after breakfast—after Brexit, I mean. The sooner the better! Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from removing powers from Scotland, leaving the EU will actually give the Scottish Parliament far more powers?
I will certainly use my best endeavours to ensure that those powers are transferred as soon after breakfast on the day we leave the EU as possible. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Only the SNP would complain that the Scottish Parliament will have significantly more powers after we leave the EU than it does today.
There is an opportunity for the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) to come in on this question if he wants, because his question will not be reached. It is up to him.
Welfare is an area where there is a very good track record of the two Governments working together. We recently met in the joint ministerial group on welfare, which I co-chair, and we will do so again in the coming weeks. People in Scotland clearly want to see that, where the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are given additional powers, they use those powers.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that north-east Scotland, the heartland of the UK fishing industry, received just 15% of grants made by the Scottish Government under the European maritime and fisheries fund? Can he assure me that, as we leave the EU, he will work with the Scottish Government to ensure that the fishing communities in the north-east get the funding they need to make the most of the sea of opportunity?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern. As he has set out many times, as a champion of the fishing industry, it is of course the policy of the SNP Scottish Government to take Scotland right back into the common fisheries policy. It is our policy to leave the common fisheries policy but also to support the industry to take advantage of that sea of opportunity.
We will leave the hated common fisheries policy, so does my right hon. Friend agree with me and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation that Brexit can lead to a fishing boom worth up to £2.7 billion to the economy? Does he share my concern that the Scottish Government’s proposal to keep us locked into the CFP, with decisions being made in Brussels, will betray our fishermen and our coastal communities?
It is incomprehensible to me and to the nearly half a million SNP voters who voted to leave the EU that the SNP Scottish Government still propose taking Scotland back into the common fisheries policy.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one potential devolution that the Government will never allow is for SNP Members to drag Scotland out of the UK against the will of the people, without even holding another referendum?
Mr Speaker, you have heard me say many times at the Dispatch Box that I want a second independence referendum taken off the table. What I did not mean was the solution of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), which is that independence could somehow be declared without a referendum.
Holyrood will gain powers over agriculture after Brexit, but the Scottish Government have decided not to put a schedule into the Agriculture Bill. That is offensive and disrespectful to not only Scottish farmers, but my farmers in Northumberland who have cross-border farms. It will be incredibly difficult for them. Will my right hon. Friend support me in trying to encourage the Scottish Government to put a schedule into the Bill?
I think everybody outwith the SNP agrees that it would be preferable to proceed with such a schedule to the Bill, but Scottish farmers who speak to me have one clear question: what is the Scottish Government’s policy for agriculture post Brexit? The answer is that we just do not know.
Over the weekend, the Secretary of State threatened to resign and almost typically managed to make a pig’s ear out of it. Apparently he was so concerned that Scotland might join Northern Ireland in an outcome that would spare us the worst Brexit excesses that he would show them and go. Surely if anything requires his resignation, it is his inability to look after and protect the devolution settlement.
The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have to look the people of Scotland in the eye and tell them why they are voting for a no-deal Brexit. Day after day, we hear from them how damaging that would be for the economy of Scotland, but on Monday Nicola Sturgeon ordered the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to vote for it. He needs to show some backbone and stand up against her.
The Smith commission was signed up to by all five parties in the Scottish Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend believe that, instead of debating powers, the SNP Government should get on and make use of the powers they already have?
It is clear that the people of Scotland want to see the extensive powers that were devolved in the Scotland Act and the powers coming forward in relation to leaving the EU used, and agriculture, as we have just discussed, is a good example. The Scottish Parliament will have those powers, but we have no idea how the Scottish Government will use them.
In the Secretary of State’s first answer, he referred to progress at the JMC on the common frameworks, which will constrain the operation of devolved powers after Brexit. Can he update the House by saying in how many areas frameworks have been agreed, which they are and by which date he expects the remainder to be completed?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, the Government are obliged to inform Parliament on those matters, and a report will be brought forward in the very near future.
It sounds as if the Secretary of State does not know. The truth is that in only four of the 24 areas have frameworks been agreed, and it is now practically impossible for the exercise to be completed by 29 March. He has threatened to resign. This is something he should resign over but, if he does not resign, will he give an assurance today to rule out the use of section 12 orders to impose frameworks against the consent of a devolved Administration?
I am seeking to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman and respectful to Parliament. The Government are obliged to bring forward a report to Parliament—that is what it wishes—in which both his first and second questions will be answered.
I ask for a moment of indulgence while I congratulate Kirkcaldy High School, which this week received the president’s award from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities as a rights-respecting UNICEF school. Well done to everyone there.
The Secretary of State claims that protecting the integrity of the UK is the most important thing to him. The invisible man in the Cabinet got a few headlines for himself this week by flip-flopping over his threat to resign: sources close to him claimed that he would resign, but he denied it yesterday. Let us be clear—is it yes or no? If there is a deal that creates a border in the Irish sea and undermines the Union, will the Secretary of State resign?
I am very surprised that the hon. Lady should touch on the issue of resignation, since her resignation from Fife Council was such an unmitigated disaster for the Scottish Labour party. Her colleagues on the Benches opposite may not be aware, but the Scottish Conservatives won her seat.
On the issue of a border down the Irish sea, it would not be acceptable to me or my Scottish Conservative colleagues.
It may have escaped the Secretary of State’s notice, but that still leaves Labour in joint control of Fife Council.
The Secretary of State and his Government have just run out of ideas when it comes to Brexit, so let me give him a bit of advice: take a step further and support Labour’s suggestion for a customs union. He says that protecting the Union is his top priority, but he was silent on English votes for English laws and he has made a mess of Brexit powers coming back to Scotland from Brussels. If he really wants to protect Scotland’s place in the UK and stop a border in the Irish sea, he should back Labour’s plan for a customs union—so will he?
What I am absolutely clear on is that, whatever kind of Brexit might be achieved, the worst possible alternative would be a Labour Government for this country.
RBS Branch Closures
With permission, I will answer Questions 2 and 11 together. Our position on branch closures is clear. These should be commercial decisions, not those for the interference of politicians, but equally, we do recognise some of the difficulties that constituents face when this occurs. That is why we support the access to banking standard, which takes a number of steps both to support and to inform customers in that situation.
RBS often says that, to make up for its pulling out of a town, the local post office will carry out the services. However, in Bonnyrigg in my constituency, the post office has shut as well, and now many businesses fear that they are going to have to close. What is the Secretary of State doing to stand up for local communities in Scotland?
The hon. Lady raises a specific case of a closure of a post office in her constituency. I believe the Post Office is engaged in that particular matter but, on the general matter of post offices, they do provide a number of financial services, supported by the banking framework agreement, such that 99% of individual customers will have access for their financial needs and 95% of businesses likewise.
I call Rosie Cooper—let us hear from the hon. Lady.
Question 11, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Lady’s question has been grouped with Question 2, as the Minister advised, so we look forward to hearing from the hon. Lady on these important matters—she has now had time to think about it—now.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Sorry for the confusion.
Given that RBS is 63%-owned by the taxpayer and the majority of branch closures are in Scotland or the north-west of England, could the Minister tell us: what does the taxpayer get for their money if not banks and banking services?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of the taxpayer supporting the Royal Bank of Scotland to the tune of some tens of billions of pounds. It is right that the Government therefore expect the bank to show profitability and to come back into economic health. Our overarching principle is that the best way of achieving that is to leave commercial organisations such as the Royal Bank of Scotland to be in charge of their own affairs, rather than subject to political interference from Ministers.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was wrong of the Royal Bank of Scotland to turn its back on rural areas such as Angus, specifically when online banking is simply not viable because the SNP Government in Edinburgh have not been fast enough at rolling out broadband?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the speed of broadband roll-out. Of course, on the broadband issue, the Government in Westminster have recently made available £1 billion across the UK to stimulate market delivery of fibre and mobile coverage.
Like rural Scotland, rural Cheshire has suffered from a number of branch closures that have left constituents without access to services that can be provided only by banks. What can the Minister do to ensure that my constituents can access those services?
As I have outlined, we support the access to banking standard, but post offices have also received considerable support from this Government and are able to provide a lot of the financial services that individuals and businesses require. In rural areas, for example, 99% of residents are within three miles of the nearest post office.
PIP Reassessment Cost
The Labour party and the people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, and of Scotland, all want PIP reassessments to be scrapped immediately. They are cruel, callous and entirely inhumane. Will the Secretary of State therefore agree that they should be scrapped?
I can advise the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish Government have had legislative competence over PIP since May 2017, as part of this Government’s continued commitment to implement the Smith commission in full. At the Scottish Government’s request, the UK Government will continue to be responsible for PIP until the Scottish Government are ready.
On top of the misery that PIP reassessments are causing, by the end of the year the number of people on universal credit across Scotland will jump from 91,000 to almost half a million. The 13 Scottish Tory Members represent 82,000 people still to be moved on to universal credit, and even the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions now admits that many will find themselves worse off. Will the Secretary of State continue to let the poorest people in Scotland down, or will he have the gumption to resign unless this cliff-edge roll-out is sorted out?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman and others will have the opportunity to debate universal credit later today, but I am satisfied, in relation to my constituents in Scotland, that universal credit is the right approach that allows people to move into work, which is the best way out of poverty.
Every week, I am approached by constituents who have been threatened with having their PIP either taken away completely or reduced, which results in stress and has serious mental health impacts. Does the Secretary of State agree that the interviews are simply not fit for purpose and should be scrapped?
If the hon. Lady has specific cases, I know that the Department for Work and Pensions, which is always seeking to improve the process, will listen to what she has to say.
Scotch Whisky Industry
The Government are entirely committed to the Scottish whisky industry, which exported over 1.2 billion bottles in 2017, raising £4.3 billion for the UK economy. We have provided cuts and freezes in duty since 2013, with the result that the average bottle of Scottish whisky is now £1.19 cheaper than it would otherwise have been.
Until Brexit, the biggest threat to the growth of the Scotch whisky industry was the right hon. Gentleman’s Department using it as a cash cow. It is absolutely imperative that there is another freeze on whisky duty in the Budget. Can he confirm whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has made representations to Cabinet colleagues to call for a duty freeze?
The hon. Gentleman has entirely overlooked the considerable support that we have already provided in duty cuts and freezes since 2013—a total of £4 billion. We will continue to support that vital sector, recognising its contribution to both the economy of Scotland and that of the wider United Kingdom.
Over the past five years, the Scotch whisky industry has invested over £500 million in capital projects in Moray and across the country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows how important a good Budget for Scotch whisky is for Scotland and the UK economy?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is another example of why we should support the Scottish whisky industry. I have received many representations, not least from Conservative Members who represent Scottish constituencies, standing up for Scottish whisky and making sure that we make the investments we need going forward.
The financial services sector is also critical for the Scottish economy and for my constituents in Edinburgh, but none of the Government’s Brexit plans mention this service sector. What can the Minister say to the financial services sector in Edinburgh, and to my constituents whose jobs depend on it, about the Government’s strategy for the service sector post Brexit?
With reference to whisky.
If I interpret the question as relating to financial services specifically around whisky, Mr Speaker, the answer will be the same as for financial services generally. The Government are committed to achieving a Brexit deal with the EU27 that is in the interests of this country, that keeps trade flowing and that ensures we have an implementation period that will provide the opportunity for consistency and certainty going forward.
The Prime Minister was asked—
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.
In the public interest, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister publish in full all the Government’s European Union exit modelling?
May I reassure my hon. Friend that we have confirmed that, when we bring forward the vote on the final deal, we will ensure that Parliament is presented with the appropriate analysis to make an informed decision? With negotiations ongoing, it would not be practical or sensible to set out the details of exactly how the Government will analyse the final deal, but we will set out our assumptions and methodology when we present the analysis to Parliament and the public.
I hope that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Patricia Hollis, Baroness Hollis of Heigham, who died earlier this week. She was a tireless campaigner for social justice and played a pivotal role in defeating the cuts to tax credits this Government were imposing on low-paid workers. We on the Labour Benches will miss her dearly.
Given that the Prime Minister did not once mention Chequers either in her conference speech or in her statement to Parliament on Monday, does this mean the Chequers plan is now dead?
First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure the whole House, in expressing our sincere condolences to the family of Baroness Hollis? She was an outstanding parliamentarian. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will remember how she was a dedicated champion for the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society.
The right hon. Gentleman asks if the Chequers plan is dead. The answer is no.
Well, that is most interesting. The International Development Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary have both refused to say that they back the Chequers plan. Maybe the Prime Minister could share a pizza with them and see if that can sort it out. Will the Prime Minister confirm the Treasury legal advice given to Cabinet that, in the event of no deal, the Government would still have to pay the EU a divorce bill of £30 billion?
We have been very clear, throughout the negotiations in relation to the financial settlement that led to the figure of around £39 billion that appeared following the December joint report, that this is a country that honours its legal obligations and we will do exactly that. But I would also remind Members that we have been very clear, as has the EU, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Last week, 63 Conservative MPs wrote to the Chancellor to complain that Treasury forecasts based on Brexit negotiations are too negative. I am just waiting for them to write to say that the legal advice is too negative as well. In December, the Prime Minister signed an agreement with the EU, which stated:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union.”
Will she confirm that this agreement still stands and that she signed up to it without any time limit?
If the right hon. Gentleman reads the December joint report, he will see very clearly that the first way to deal with the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is through the future relationship. As I said to this House on Monday, we have made good progress on aspects of the future relationship based on the plan that we put forward in July. We then said that there could be some Northern Ireland-specific solutions—there are already Northern Ireland-specific arrangements that take place—and that failing that, we would look at those UK-wide solutions. We were clear then, and we are clear now, that the purpose of the backstop is to bridge the gap between the end of the implementation period and ensuring that the future relationship is in place. As we have said, I expect—and intend to work for—the future relationship to be in place by 1 January 2021.
My question was that the Prime Minister signed an agreement that had no time limits attached to it. Does she stand by that or not? [Interruption.]
Order. We do not need heckling from either side. It is not in keeping with good order and demonstrations of respect, from whichever side it hails.
It is very strange the way that every week, a Member hides over there, to shout and hurl abuse—[Interruption.]
Order. I know that I say it every week, but I say it again: the questions will be heard and the answers will be heard. That is the situation.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The car industry is clear that it needs a new customs union to secure investment in British manufacturing. Vauxhall recently said that it would continue to invest, but there are limits and:
“Those limits are customs barriers.”
Jobs are at risk. Why will the Prime Minister not back a customs union—supported not only by Labour and trade unions, but by businesses, and I suspect by a majority in this House—to protect those jobs?
What the automotive industry and indeed other industries such as aerospace have said is that they want to see frictionless trade across the borders. Frictionless trade across our borders is exactly what lies at the heart of the free trade deal that is proposed in the Government’s plan, put forward after the Chequers meeting in July. That is what we are working to deliver for people in this country. We want to deliver a Brexit that delivers on the vote of the British people and ensures that we protect jobs and security. What would Labour deliver? They are havering around. They think free movement could still continue. That will not deliver on the vote of the British people. They now want a second referendum, to go back to the British people and say, “Oh, we’re terribly sorry, we think you got it wrong.” There will be no second referendum; the people voted and this Government will deliver on it.
My question was about investment in British industry. Jaguar Land Rover is holding off investment until it knows the terms of the deal. Jobs are at risk and manufacturers and skilled workers have little confidence in this Government, because they cannot even agree among themselves.
Last week, the Public Accounts Committee reported that the Department of Health
“could not assure us of its plans to safeguard the supply of medicines after the UK has exited the European Union”.
Does the Prime Minister dispute its assessment?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about the position in relation to a no-deal situation. The Department of Health is working, as are other Departments, to ensure that we have the plans in place, should it be the case that we end up in the position that we have no deal with the European Union. We continue to work for a good deal with the European Union—as I say, a deal that delivers on the Brexit vote but also protects jobs and livelihoods, and crucially protects the precious Union of the United Kingdom.
The British Medical Association said that the NHS is woefully unprepared for this, and this week the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has suspended investments in Britain due to a lack of clarity over the future.
The Conservative party has spent two years arguing with itself instead of negotiating a deal in the public interest, and now, just days before the deadline, Conservative Members are still bickering among themselves. The Prime Minister and her Government are too weak and too divided to protect people’s jobs and our economy, or ensure there is no hard border in Northern Ireland—[Interruption.]
Order. Members are a little overexcited. Just calm down!
The Prime Minister and her Government are clearly too weak and too divided to protect people’s jobs and our economy or to ensure there is no hard border in Northern Ireland, so she has a choice: she can continue to put the Tory party’s interests first, or she can listen to unions and businesses and put the interests of the people of Britain first. Which is it to be?
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken in a number of his questions about protecting jobs. I note that he has said nothing about the unemployment figures this week. I will tell him overall what this Government are delivering for the people of this country: the scrapping of the council borrowing cap, so that councils can build more homes for people; an end to austerity, so that people’s hard work pays off; a freezing of fuel duty for a ninth year, so that there is more money in people’s pockets; the lowest unemployment for 40 years; youth unemployment halved; and wages rising faster than at any time in a decade. Labour can play politics; the Conservatives deliver for the people of this country.
There will be more, and it will be from Mr Tim Loughton.
I am pleased that we are supporting my hon. Friend’s proposal on civil partnerships. We are working with him on his private Member’s Bill and will be supporting him on it. I understand that some small amendments are required, and officials will be discussing those with him.
It is in all our interests—and in the interests of jobs, in particular—that the Prime Minister comes back from Brussels with the right deal. We will act as a constructive Opposition—the enemy is behind her. Yesterday, the former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Major, said that Brexit would leave the UK a poorer and weaker country. Previously, another Conservative party leader told the BBC that “People’s jobs would be put at risk” as a result of Brexit. Does she agree with these statements?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the plan that we have put forward for our future relationship with the EU would protect jobs and livelihoods in this country and enable us to get not just that good trading relationship with the EU but good trading relationships around the rest of the world.
“People’s jobs would be put at risk”—those are the words of this Prime Minister in June 2016. No Prime Minister should negotiate a deal that threatens jobs. She must accept responsibility and avoid an economic catastrophe. Prime Minister, go to Brussels, act in the interests of all citizens across the UK and negotiate to keep us in the single market and customs union. That will command a majority in the House of Commons. Does the Prime Minister not understand that staying in the single market and the customs union is the only deal that will get through this House?
As I have explained in the Chamber on a number of occasions, and will continue to explain, our proposal delivers on the referendum vote, but also ensures that we protect jobs and livelihoods across the United Kingdom. However¸ if the right hon. Gentleman is interested in ensuring that the interests of everyone in Scotland are taken into account in the negotiations that we undertake, he should join us in recognising the importance of leaving the common fisheries policy.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for raising that issue. Inward investment in the UK is important because it supports jobs here, and we want to ensure that we remain an attractive place for that investment. We also want to encourage it through the deals that we are doing with countries around the world. Free trade deals mean greater choice, lower prices for British consumers, more export opportunities for British businesses, and increased investment here in the UK. Leaving the European Union gives us an opportunity to forge even better relationships and even better connections with the rest of the world, to encourage that inward investment and bring yet more jobs to the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I do use a FreeStyle Libre, and it is now available on the national health service, but it is not the only means of continuous glucose monitoring that is available on the NHS. Yesterday I saw a letter from a child—a young girl—who had started on the FreeStyle Libre, but, because of the hypos that she had been having, had been moved to a different glucose monitoring system. There is no one system that is right for everyone; what is important is that those systems are now available on the NHS.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the seasonal workers pilot scheme that we have introduced. The horticultural sector is a particular British success story. Over the last 20 years we have seen a significant growth in soft fruit production: an increase of more than 130%. We have made clear that we are piloting the scheme and will assess how it will work. Obviously we will announce further details of the overall immigration policy that we have proposed, but we will ensure that we recognise the needs of the British economy.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue about hate crime, and we have been taking a number of steps over recent years. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has published an updated action plan, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and those young people meet the Home Secretary to discuss how that action plan can help to address the issues raised.
I thank my hon. Friend and the health and the local government Select Committees for their work on this important issue. It is important that we get social care on a sustainable footing for the future and alleviate the short-term pressures on both the social care and health systems. Obviously we have given more money to councils, but we will be publishing a Green Paper later this year setting out proposals for reform. It will look across the board at a number of proposals that have been put forward in this area, and we will certainly consider those put forward by the Committee.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the arrangements for the free licences change were part of the last BBC settlement. The money is being made available to the BBC and it will take decisions on how it operates.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the excellent news on employment: employment at a near record high, unemployment at its lowest rate since the 1970s, youth unemployment, as I said earlier, halved under this Government and at a new record low, and real wages rising. As my hon. Friend says, what that means is more people with the security of a job, more people with a regular salary, more people able to support their families. We are only able to ensure that that takes place by having a balanced approach to the economy, and that is the Conservative way.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East met the Israeli ambassador on 11 October. He made clear the UK’s deep concerns about Israel’s planned demolition of the village of Khan al-Ahmar. Its demolition would be a major blow to the prospect of a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and I once again call on the Israeli Government not to go ahead with its plan to demolish the village, including its school, and displace its residents.
This is an extremely tragic case, and I offer my sincere condolences to Elliot’s family and friends. I understand that the condition is associated with an inherited metabolic condition. Some of these conditions are very rare and staff are not always on the lookout for symptoms of such rare conditions, but we are committed to ensuring that the NHS always seeks to learn when things go wrong, to ensure that such tragic events can be prevented for future parents. I am sure that a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and Elliot’s parents to discuss this.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Electoral Commission is an independent regulator, accountable to Parliament and not to the Government. There is a very important constitutional principle in this country that politicians do not interfere with police investigations, and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but we will be considering the wider implications for Government policy. We will review very carefully the Electoral Commission’s recent report on digital campaigning and the Information Commissioner’s recommendations on the use of data in politics. Also, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is conducting an inquiry, and we will look at its recommendations when it concludes. As regards the vote in the referendum, I must remind the hon. Gentleman that 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU, on a turnout of three quarters of the electorate, and it is up to this Parliament and this Government to deliver on that mandate.
First, I should like to thank my hon. Friend for his report on the use of technology in the NHS. We are dedicated to using this new funding to support technology transformation and modernisation, and capital funding is being provided to the NHS to upgrade equipment and to construct new buildings and refurbish existing ones. In the 10-year plan, we want to see the NHS embracing the opportunities of technology so that we can not only improve patient care but save more lives and deliver healthcare more efficiently.
As we announced earlier this year, we have asked the NHS to produce a 10-year plan, and we will be providing a multi-year funding settlement for the NHS. Within that, we are able to provide extra money to the NHS as a result of not sending vast amounts of money to the European Union every year when we leave the European Union. That is an advantage of Brexit.
Will the Prime Minister join me in acknowledging the tremendous amount of hard work being done by the Thame remembrance project in my constituency? Three hundred people have travelled 150,000 miles to commemorate all the 212 who lost their lives in various conflicts.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending all those who have undertaken those journeys to ensure that that remembrance continues. It is important that we are able to recognise the contributions that people have made in conflict.
We have taken the price of parcel surcharges seriously, including those for more remote constituencies. We set up the consumer protection partnership to bring together various consumer bodies from the advice and enforcement world to look at the transparency, accuracy, level and fairness of delivery charges. I am sure that the relevant Minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter further.
Could I ask my right hon. Friend to impress upon our European friends two points that I hope the House will think reasonable and practical? The first is that the European Union may not break apart the Union of the United Kingdom, and the second is that the EU may not direct how we regulate our economy and govern ourselves after we have left the European Union.
Certainly, I am very clear that when we have left the European Union we will be taking decisions here in the United Kingdom on all the issues that were previously decided in the European Union. We will be taking control of our laws, our money and our borders. On my hon. Friend’s first point, I made it clear earlier this year, have continued to make it clear and will carry on making it clear that we will not accept any proposals that would effectively break up the United Kingdom.
Given that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, does the Prime Minister accept that it would be difficult for the House to be asked to confirm a legally binding withdrawal agreement without having clear assurances and some precision about the details of the future trading relationship?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As I have always said, when we bring the withdrawal agreement package back to the House, it is important that Members are able not only to consider the withdrawal agreement, but to have sufficient detail about all aspects of the future relationship. The trading relationship is important, but our future security relationship, for both internal and external security and other issues, is also of importance. It is also important to me that there is a linkage between that future relationship and the withdrawal agreement.
Not long ago, we had the horror of three pigs’ heads being left outside a Muslim community centre in Solihull. Then English Defence League thugs came to my proud, multicultural town, but we turned our backs on them. In the light of such events, will the Prime Minister join me in utterly condemning the actions of a Solihull Green councillor, as reported in the Birmingham Mail, who has written a guide to attracting and tricking British National party voters? There is no place for pandering to racism in my town or in our politics.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There is no place in our society for pandering to racism of any sort, and that message should be sent out clearly by the whole House. He referred to what happened at one of his local mosques. The Home Secretary has been pleased to make extra money available for the security of places of worship, because we sadly see places of worship of different faiths being subjected to attacks all too often. However, my hon. Friend’s key point that there is no place for racism in our society is absolutely right.
The Work and Pensions Committee heard evidence that the lack of automatic split payments for universal credit means that women are being trapped in abusive relationships. That absolutely disgusts me, but how does it make the Prime Minister feel?
We take the issue of domestic violence and abusive relationships very seriously indeed. Split payments obviously are available when they are the right thing for couples, but we need to take a sensitive approach to cases on an individual basis. We all want to ensure that women in abusive relationships are getting the support that they need, and we should send a message of clear condemnation of that abuse from across this House.
The next time shroud-waving EU negotiators claim that a hard border is necessary on the island of Ireland, will the Prime Minister kindly ask them who would actually construct it? The Irish certainly will not and the British certainly will not, so unless the EU army plans to march in and build it, it surely can never happen.
I say to my right hon. Friend that we are all working to ensure that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That is the clear commitment of the United Kingdom Government as agreed by the European Union when we signed the December joint report.
My constituent Matthew Hedges, a young PhD student, has been held in a jail in the United Arab Emirates for more than five months, and this week he was charged with spying. Will the Prime Minister ensure that her Government make it quite clear to the UAE that Matt was in the country to do academic research, and nothing more? Will she also ensure that he receives full consular and legal support, and a fair trial, so that he can return to his wife, Dani, in England as soon as possible?
Obviously this is a very difficult and distressing time for Mr Hedges and his family. Foreign Office officials are supporting Mr Hedges and his family, and they have raised the case with the Emiratis at the highest levels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has personally raised this case with his Emirati counterpart. We are in regular contact with the Emiratis regarding Mr Hedges’s health and wellbeing, and we continue to push for consular access to ensure that he is given the support he needs.
In welcoming the Japanese Prime Minister’s suggestion that we can join the Trans-Pacific Partnership when we leave the EU, and in wishing my right hon. Friend well in the upcoming negotiations, will she please confirm that our joining and fully participating in the TPP will not be hindered by the common rulebook of the Chequers agreement and that the whole United Kingdom will benefit?
I have been pleased to discuss our potential membership of the TPP with the former Australian Prime Minister and with the Japanese Prime Minister. I am pleased that the Australian Government and the Japanese Government are welcoming us in joining the TPP. One of the issues we looked at when we put forward our proposals for our future trading relationship with the European Union was precisely whether it would mean we cannot join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the CPTPP. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we would be able to join the CPTPP under the relationship proposed in the Government’s plan.
My constituent came to see me earlier this year about being sexually harassed at work by a co-worker. Despite many months of meetings with her human resources department and line management, she has been treated like the problem rather than the victim. Can the Prime Minister advise me on what I can do to help my constituent to return to work and feel safe when her employer is this House?
It is important that everybody is treated with dignity and respect in their workplace. There is no place for bullying, sexual harassment or abuse in any workplace, including this Parliament. I am sure we are all very concerned about Dame Laura Cox’s report. We have been working on this issue here in this House, and I particularly commend my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has been working tirelessly to try to change our culture and practices. I hope there will be a very serious, very full and proper response to Dame Laura Cox’s report. This should worry all of us, and I want to see a situation where the constituent of the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) is able to come to work in this House and be treated with dignity and respect, and not be subject to bullying, harassment or abuse.
The UK Agriculture Bill is currently before this House. Wales, England and Northern Ireland are part of the Bill but, due to the Scottish National party, Scotland is excluded and isolated. Will my right hon. Friend commit this Government to working with all parties to deliver an Agriculture Bill that guarantees that Scotland and my constituents are not left behind?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I am happy to give him the assurance that we will work with parties in this House to ensure that Scotland is not left behind and that we have an Agriculture Bill that actually works for all of us and for all our agricultural sector.
The Prime Minister has an admirable sense of duty, so will she be honest about Brexit? There is now only one viable option in the short term that can reconcile the referendum result with the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom, with the genuine concerns of many Members on both sides of the House about the impact of a flawed deal or no deal, with our communities and with Labour’s tests. We should join the European Free Trade Association and the European economic area and seek EU agreement to remain in the customs union for a specified period from the date we leave. We should make it clear that, on joining the EEA, we will exercise our right to put an emergency brake on the free movement of labour. It may not be the perfect option, but our only consideration now should be the national interest.
We have got the drift, and we are grateful.
The only consideration for this Government is the national interest. That is why we have put forward a proposal that delivers on the vote of the referendum; that ensures that we leave the European Union on 29 March 2019 and will no longer send vast sums of money annually to the European Union; that ensures we will take control of our laws and borders; that ensures there will not be the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in this country; that ensures that free movement will end; and that also protects jobs and livelihoods, and protects the Union of the United Kingdom. That is in the national interest and that is what the Government have proposed.