Today is the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, under which women were first allowed to stand for public office, and I am delighted that the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons was a Conservative. Women are coming from all over the United Kingdom to the #AskHerToStand day event, with MPs from every party extending invitations to their constituents. This will be an inspirational day, which the Government are delighted to support, and we hope that it will encourage many more women to consider standing for political office both locally and nationally. It is appropriate that we are reminded of the significant contribution made to the House by female MPs, including the fine example set by the late Jo Cox.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The Prime Minister will know that what drives me in politics has always been a love of country and a passionate belief in our United Kingdom, so I have to tell the Prime Minister that I agree with the people of Romford. They are deeply unhappy about the proposed EU deal, which they believe does not represent the Brexit for which they voted. Will the Prime Minister now please think again, even at this late stage, and instead lead our country in a new direction, completely cutting away the tentacles of the EU from our cherished island nation once and for all?
I think that people across the country who voted to leave the European Union voted to bring an end to free movement. Our deal delivers an end to free movement. They voted to bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. Our deal delivers an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. They voted for us to stop sending vast sums of money to the European Union every year so that we could spend that money on our priorities, and we will be able to spend it on priorities such as the national health service. However, the European Union remains a close trading partner of the United Kingdom. As we leave the EU, we want to ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with it, and we will be able to have an independent trade policy that will enable us to make decisions to trade around the rest of the world.
My hon. Friend is indeed a passionate champion of the United Kingdom, but he is also a passionate champion of the links that the United Kingdom has with many parts of the world—including the Commonwealth—and those can be enhanced when we leave the European Union.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for welcoming Fazila Aswat to Parliament today. She is a most welcome guest.
On the hundredth anniversary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, I join the Prime Minister in welcoming all women to Parliament today as part of the #AskHerToStand campaign. We need a Parliament that truly does represent the diversity of the whole country.
Now that a number of Ministers have confirmed this morning that leaving the EU with no deal is not an option, does the Prime Minister agree that there are no circumstances in which Britain would leave with no deal?
No. I have consistently been clear on this point. The point that has been made by a number of my colleagues in relation to the vote that will come before the House—a meaningful vote on a deal from the European Union—is very simple. If we look at the alternative to that deal with the European Union, we see that it will either be more uncertainty and more division, or it could risk no Brexit at all.
The Prime Minister did not answer the question. Is this the final deal or not? The Work and Pensions Secretary says, “This is the deal. It’s been baked”—well, it is half-baked—but other members of the Cabinet want amendments to the withdrawal agreement. The Leader of the House said last week that there was
“still the potential to improve on…some of the measures…that’s what I’m hoping…to help with.”
Can the Prime Minister clarify whether last week’s withdrawal agreement is the final text, or is there another text that is on its way to us?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that he will not get any different answers on this than he has had from me previously. There are two parts to the deal package we are negotiating with the European Union: the leaving part, which is the withdrawal agreement; and the future relationship, which is what is continuing to be negotiated with the European Union. They go together as a package. Yes, the withdrawal agreement has been agreed in principle. The whole package will be what is brought before this House and will be what is considered at the European Union Council on Sunday, and we continue to negotiate on that future relationship to get the good deal that we believe is right for the United Kingdom: a good deal that protects jobs, protects our Union and protects our security.
The Prime Minister is apparently heading off to Brussels today, but the new Brexit Secretary is another non-travelling Brexit Secretary—he is apparently not going with her. I wonder if the post is now an entirely ceremonial one. The Prime Minister’s agreement does not specify how much we would have to pay to extend the transition period. Can she confirm that the choice facing the country would be either the backstop or paying whatever the EU asked us to pay to prolong that transition period?
No, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong on that. Let us just remind ourselves what we are talking about: we are talking about the guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. First of all, that is best ensured by getting the future relationship in place by the end of December 2020. In the event that that was not the case for a temporary period and an interim arrangement was in place, the choice the right hon. Gentleman set out is not the choice that would be before us. Yes, there will be the backstop in the protocol and, yes, there will be the extension of the implementation period, but what we have also negotiated in the withdrawal agreement is that alternative arrangements could be in place; the key is that they guarantee no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The truth is that the Prime Minister’s idea of taking back control of our money is to hand the EU a blank cheque, and after 2020 no rebate for the UK.
The EU’s trade deal with Canada took seven years to agree, and the deal with Singapore took eight years. The Business Secretary said this week that the transition will have to be extended until the end of 2022. Outside the EU and with no leverage, does the Prime Minister think she is fooling anyone by suggesting a free trade agreement will be finalised by December 2020?
The future relationship that we are negotiating will set out the structure and scope of that deal, which we will be ensuring we can negotiate in legal text once we leave the European Union, but I think people will have seen from the right hon. Gentleman’s question to me previously the problem he has with this deal: he has not even read it; he does not know what is in it. He says there is a problem with the deal and he would do it differently, he wants to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement but has not read it, and he wants to oppose any deal no matter how good it is for the UK but he will accept any European Union deal no matter how bad it is for the UK. And then he wants to use the implementation period that he would vote against to renegotiate the treaty that delivers the implementation period. And he has said that another referendum is not an issue for today, but it could be an issue for tomorrow. He does not know how he would vote, he does not know when it would be, he does not even know what the question would be. That is not leadership; that is playing party politics. I am working in the national interest.
It is the right hon. Lady’s Government who have got us into this shambles. [Interruption.] And she knows full well that the new European Parliament—[Interruption.]
Order. Nobody in this Chamber will be shouted down. We have often heard it said with high authority from the respective Front Benches that that would be bad behaviour. It is happening now. Stop it, because it will not work.
The Prime Minister knows full well that with a new European Parliament in place next summer and a new European Commission at the same time, there will be less than a year for the negotiations on a future trade agreement and for her to achieve what she claims she can.
In February, the Prime Minister said that creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea is something that
“no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to”.—[Official Report, 28 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 823.]
Can the Prime Minister explain why the backstop agreement would create exactly that border?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that it would not create exactly that. From February until the last few weeks, the European Union said that the only answer was a Northern Ireland-only customs territory in relation to the guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland. We argued and we resisted. We made it clear that we would not accept the position of the European Union, and a few weeks ago they agreed with our position. They conceded to the United Kingdom, so that there will not be a customs border down the Irish sea. It is becoming even clearer that the right hon. Gentleman does not actually know what is in the withdrawal agreement, the protocol or the outline political declaration. Never mind a second referendum; he has not got a first clue.
Given the shambles that this Government have got into, it is a good idea that other people are not ruling out all options. There is an entire protocol in the withdrawal agreement setting out regulations that apply only to Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister clearly did not discuss the draft agreement with the DUP, because its Brexit spokesperson said:
“We are clear—we will not be voting for this humiliation”.
This deal is a failure. It fails the Prime Minister’s red lines; it fails Labour’s six tests—[Interruption.] And it failed to impress the new Northern Ireland Minister, who said just hours before he was appointed that “the deal is dead”. Instead of giving confidence to the millions of people who voted both leave and remain, this half-baked deal fails to give any hope that can bring the country together again. Is it not the case that Parliament will rightly reject this bad deal? If the Government cannot negotiate an alternative, they should make way for those who can, and will.
The public gave us an instruction to leave the European Union, and we should all be acting to deliver that. All the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is play party politics—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Kinnock, you are a cerebral denizen of the House. Gesticulation and shouting are way beneath your pay grade, man. Calm yourself and develop some sense of repose. I said that the Leader of the Opposition should not be shouted at. The Prime Minister should also not be shouted at. Let us hear her reply.
The right hon. Gentleman is playing party politics. He is opposing a deal that he has not read. He is promising a deal that he cannot negotiate. He is telling leave voters one thing and remain voters another. Whatever he might do, I will act in the national interest.
My hon. Friend mentions the issue of paying over money to the European Union. As I have consistently said—and as I hope I indicated in my first answer to the Leader of the Opposition—nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and we remain in negotiations on the future framework. In relation to the £39 billion—which I remind my hon. Friend is significantly less than the £100 billion the European Union was first talking about us needing to pay—this is about the United Kingdom’s legal obligations. I hope that every Member of this House will recognise that the United Kingdom is a country that meets its legal obligations.
I also welcome the anniversary of the Act that gave women the right to be represented in this Parliament—of course, it was a nationalist who was first elected—but we can celebrate success only when women are properly represented in this Parliament.
Yesterday the Prime Minister met the First Minister of Scotland, who made it clear that there are alternatives to this Government’s Brexit plan. Was the Prime Minister listening?
Of course I heard what the First Minster said. The First Minister’s alternative is for the United Kingdom to stay in the single market and the customs union, and that is what we will not do.
This is exasperating. At least staying in the single market and the customs union has some support in this place. [Interruption.] [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] When we look at the report from the UN rapporteur this week, we see that up to a quarter—[Interruption.]
Order. The leader of the Scottish National party will be heard. I do not think that Members will want to hear the question again and again and again, but let us be absolutely clear that if they shout their heads off, they will have to hear it not once, not twice, but possibly three times.
In the week when we heard from the UN rapporteur that up to a quarter of the people of the United Kingdom are living in poverty—something the Department for Work and Pensions also recognises—why does the Prime Minister not recognise the scale of the challenge, which Brexit is only going to make worse? Why does she not realise that she has a responsibility to protect jobs and communities in this country? For once, start to listen, go back to Brussels, and recognise that we all have an interest in this. Let us all work together to make sure that we protect the interests of people in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom: make sure that you go back and negotiate. Let us stay in the single market and the customs union.
The right hon. Gentleman says, “Let us all work together”, but the position that he and his party have would frustrate the vote of the British people in relation to leaving the European Union. He talks about protecting jobs, and that is exactly what the deal we are proposing does. He also talks about listening. Perhaps the SNP should listen to the people of Scotland, who gave a very clear view that Scotland should remain in its most important economic market: the internal market of the United Kingdom.
I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House will want to join me in offering our deepest condolences to the families of Georgia Jones and Tommy Cowan after their tragic deaths. As my hon. Friend knows, drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. Our comprehensive drugs strategy sets out a balanced approach that brings together the police, the health community and global partners to tackle the illicit drugs trade and protect the most vulnerable in our society, and tough enforcement is a fundamental part of that. We are taking a smarter approach to restricting supply, adapting our approach to reflect changes in criminal activity, using innovative data and technology, and taking co-ordinated partnership action to tackle drugs alongside other criminal activity. The National Crime Agency has a key role in dealing with the terrible aspect of drugs that can cause so much harm to people, but of course there is more that we need to do to prevent harm and tragic deaths, such as those of Georgia and Tommy.
The hon. Gentleman will know that we are putting extra money into school funding; he will know that we have changed the national funding formula to make it fairer across the country; and I would hope he welcomes the fact that in the north-west we now see over 895,000 children in good or outstanding schools—an increase of over 175,000 children since 2010. He focuses on the money going into schools; he also needs to look at school outcomes, at the excellent work being done by our teachers and at the children who are now in good or outstanding schools who were not in good or outstanding schools under the last Labour Government.
I am very happy to welcome my right hon. Friend’s constituent Debbie Pritchard, and I hope she will consider standing for Parliament. We talk about diversity in relation to getting more women into Parliament, but my right hon. Friend is right that we also need to ensure that we have people in this Chamber from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a wide variety of experience, because that is the way to get better decisions made in this Chamber. I am pleased that the Conservative party has been taking action through the bursary scheme and through its work to support disabled people into politics and to encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of experience to stand for Parliament and represent constituents in this Chamber.
The hon. Lady’s claim in relation to democracy is absolutely ridiculous. This Parliament gave people the right to choose whether to remain in the European Union or to leave the European Union. People exercised that vote, and we saw numbers of people voting that we had not seen before. It was a great exercise in democracy in this country, and I believe it gave this Parliament an instruction. We should ensure that we leave the European Union, as the people voted.
We are absolutely steadfast, as is my hon. Friend, in our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy. We have always been clear that Gibraltar is covered by our exit negotiations. We have been committed to fully involving Gibraltar as we exit the European Union. We are seeking a deal that works for the whole UK family, and that deal must work for Gibraltar, too.
I am pleased that we have agreed a protocol, as my hon. Friend knows, on Gibraltar. That will form part of a wider package of agreements between the UK, Spain and the Government of Gibraltar setting out the parties’ commitment to co-operation. I have been clear that we will not exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations on the future relationship. We want a deal that works for the whole UK family, and that includes Gibraltar.
The hon. Gentleman says that these pension changes were “snuck out”, but that is not the case. This pension issue has been known of for, I believe, two years—it has been under consideration for two years—so it is not the case that this has been snuck out.
My hon. Friend is right to say that we want to negotiate a trading deal with the European Union that is on better terms than WTO terms, and many people across this House want to see the United Kingdom, as we will do when we have left the EU, negotiating trade deals around the rest of world that are on better than WTO terms. That is because we believe that that is best for the UK economy, and if we are negotiating on better than WTO terms with the rest of the world, it makes sense to be negotiating on better than WTO terms with the European Union.
I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said before in this Chamber, that overall per pupil funding is being protected in real terms by this Government. The core schools budget this year, at £42 billion, will be at its highest ever level. We are protecting through the pupil premium this year; we are giving £2.4 billion to support those who need it most. The core schools budget is rising by nearly £2.6 billion across this year and the next. But what we have also done, alongside putting extra money into schools, is introduce a fairer national funding formula, which ensures that we see a fairer distribution of that money across the country.
Will my right hon. Friend affirm to this House today and to the President of the Commission tonight that as we move to honour the result of the referendum, it will remain our firmest intention to retain the closest possible relationships with our European friends and allies, in the very best interests of both?
I say to my right hon. Friend that I am happy to give that commitment. I think it is important for us to recognise that although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe; we do want to continue to have not just a good trading relationship and close trading partnership with the EU, but that close security and defence partnership that we have had with the European Union and other countries across Europe as well. As he says, this is what makes sense, not just for the UK, but for all those European Union member states as well.
The hon. Gentleman raises what is obviously an important issue. Having introduced the Modern Slavery Act, I am pleased to say that between 2015 and 2017 we saw a 52% increase in the number of modern slavery offences prosecuted. There is more for us to do, but we should welcome the change that has already taken place.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about a sex-buyer law. Separate to the review of the Modern Slavery Act, the Home Office has provided funds for research into the nature and prevalence of sex work in England and Wales, and that follows a Home Affairs Committee report on prostitution. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, we believe it is vital to have an evidence base before we consider any changes in this policy area. The research that is taking place will be completed next spring.
Can the Prime Minister assure the House today, as she has done on many other occasions, that the UK will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019—come what may?
May I first of all thank my right hon. Friend for the work that she did as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and, indeed, for the work that she had done as a Minister previously? In particular, the Disability Confident scheme, which she championed and continues to champion, has had an impact on the lives of people who are disabled. I can give her the assurance that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We want young people to feel secure if they are walking through the streets or gathering in a park with their friends. In looking at the concern that has been expressed about crime—in particular, I recognise the concern that has been expressed about knife crime and levels of knife crime—we need to tackle the issue in a number of different ways across the board. It is about ensuring that we have the right powers for the police and that we have the right system in the criminal justice system, but it is also about providing education for young people about the risks of carrying knives and about providing alternatives to those young people who are tempted to join gangs, because a lot of the crime that we see is related to gang activity. This is something that has to be addressed across the board, and I recognise the importance of doing that to ensure that young people have the security, safety and confidence that they need.
Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, I and other colleagues have read the draft withdrawal agreement and the many briefings. It is clear to me that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have laudably tried to reconcile the demand for continuity of market access today with freedom to diverge tomorrow. Is not the truth of the backstop as drafted that if—and as—we were to exercise our regulatory freedom, whether in agri-food or data protection, we would allow the EU to harden the border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Can the Prime Minister reassure me, and seek reassurance in Brussels today, that the draft does not contain a trap, whereby if we dare to diverge, we will undermine our Union?
As my hon. Friend will know, and as I set out earlier, if it is necessary to have an interim arrangement to provide the guarantee in relation to the border of Northern Ireland, there are a number of ways in which that can be achieved—the backstop, as identified in the protocol, the extension of the implementation period, or alternative arrangements—and work is being done on them.
The backstop is intended to be a temporary arrangement, and for that limited period of time. If my hon. Friend just casts his mind to a practical thought about what could happen, if we were in the situation where the backstop had to be in place for a matter of months, for example, it would be right for the United Kingdom to give the commitment that we would not be looking to diverge from regulations during that period and that we would ensure that we kept that free access for the goods from Northern Ireland coming into Great Britain, as we have committed in the withdrawal agreement—in the text that is set out—and as we had committed previously. That will of course be a decision for us, here. What is important is that we have a means of ensuring that the backstop remains temporary. The best means of doing that is what we are doing at the moment: negotiating the future relationship, which will ensure that the backstop, if it is ever used, remains temporary, and preferably is never used at all.
The hon. Lady will know that we made changes to universal credit to ensure that people are able to access 100% of their payments at the earliest possible stage if that is what is necessary. She raises the issue of poverty. Let me just give her a few figures. There are 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty today—a record low; 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty—a record low; and 637,000 fewer children living in workless households—a record low. That is due to the action of this Government and the impact of universal credit.
Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges was arrested when he was leaving the UAE, having completed his research into the impact of the Arab spring on the UAE’s foreign policy. He has now been sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for the United Kingdom. A number of us will note the irony of a former MI6 officer who works in the outer office of the de facto ruler of the UAE who has organised many of the excellent visits from this House to the UAE. The action is wholly inconsistent with the behaviour of a nation with which we have a mutual defence accord. Will the Prime Minister please give this her urgent attention? If he is not released, I do not see why we should be committed to its defence.
We are, of course, as is my hon. Friend, deeply disappointed and concerned at today’s verdict, and I realise how difficult and distressing this is both for Matthew Hedges and for his family. We are raising the matter with the Emirates authorities at the highest level. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is urgently seeking a call with the Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed. During his visit to the UAE on 12 November, he raised the issue with both Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Foreign Minister. I can assure my hon. Friend and other Members that the Foreign Office will remain in close contact with Matthew, his family and his lawyer. We will continue to do all we can to support them as they consider the next steps and we will continue to press this matter at the highest level with the Emirates.
I first send my deepest condolences to Claire Throssell, the hon. Lady’s constituent, and pay tribute to the fantastic work that she does as an ambassador for Women’s Aid. We are committed to transforming the response to domestic violence. The consultation that took place in the spring received more than 3,200 responses, which shows the degree of concern that people have over this issue of domestic violence and the recognition of the need to look carefully at the legislation on this. I understand that the Home Office will be publishing a response to the consultation together with the draft Domestic Abuse Bill later this Session.
All the evidence shows that diversity delivers better decision making, yet, over the past 100 years in this place, 4,503 men have been elected and just 491 women. I am proud that two of those Conservative women became Prime Minister, but can my right hon. Friend share with me what she feels that Parliament, as well as the political parties, can do to help encourage more of the women who are with us here today as part of the Ask Her To Stand campaign actually to go forward and stand for election and join us on these Green Benches?
I thank my right hon. Friend for championing this important cause. She is absolutely right that greater diversity in this place means that we get better decisions; that is the same for Parliament as it is for a business or any organisation. We should send a very clear message from everybody across this House about the significance of the work of an individual Member of Parliament and the change they can make for their community. Being a Member of Parliament is one of the best jobs in the world. It is an opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives, to be a real voice for those whose voice otherwise would not be heard, and to take decisions that will lead our country forward and provide a better future for people’s children and grandchildren. It is a great job and I encourage all the women who are here today and thinking of standing to stand for Parliament, get elected and make a difference.
In the December joint report agreed between the European Union and the United Kingdom, it was agreed that Northern Ireland would have the final say on whether it diverged from the UK single market and was subjected to single market European rules with no say. Why has the Prime Minister deleted all reference to that in the withdrawal agreement? Did she push the delete button?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the December joint report. The issue of what the processes in the United Kingdom would be when it comes to looking at the regulations is a matter for the United Kingdom to determine; it is for us to determine both our parliamentary decisions on that and the Stormont lock that was expressed in the December joint report. As the right hon. Gentleman will also know, the lock in the December joint report referred to a decision being taken by the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly, which sadly are not in place today.
On Monday, at an event for cystic fibrosis sufferers organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), I heard something that I never want to hear again: a young woman in her 30s actively researching funeral plans because she has cystic fibrosis and knows there is no cure. My question is about the conversation between the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, NHS England and Vertex, which has been at an impasse for almost three years now, about access to Orkambi for patients who need it. Pharmaceutical companies are of course entitled to make profit, and research and development is expensive and lengthy, but now that we have reached the point at which the Health and Social Care Committee is having to ask for transparency on the finances to try to break the impasse, we know we have to do something differently. Looking at the huge global forward profits for Vertex, will the Prime Minister personally work with the Health Secretary to break this impasse and get Orkambi to those patients who are desperate to relieve their cystic fibrosis symptoms?
My hon. Friend’s question is an important one, which has been raised in the House before. I recognise the concern about the length of time it has taken to work on this issue. The Department of Health and Social Care is working with NICE and the NHS. I believe that they have made the single biggest drug offer in the history of the NHS to Vertex, the pharma company; and Vertex needs to work with NICE to get this approved. I will ensure that the concern expressed by my hon. Friend and which I know exists in relation to this matter is fully made clear to the Department of Health and Social Care in the work that it is doing with NICE, the NHS and the pharma company in order to ensure that the result is of benefit to the patients who are looking desperately for this drug.
Article 171 of the withdrawal agreement says that in the event of deadlock in the arbitration panel on a dispute on any aspect of the treaty, the chair, who has the decisive vote, will be chosen “by lot”. Now, I know the Government are close to the gambling industry, but is it not rather reckless to leave crucial decisions of national importance under the withdrawal agreement to the toss of a coin?
We have put in place arbitration arrangements that mirror arbitration arrangements that exist in other international treaties. The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the withdrawal agreement also says that five individuals—I think that is the number given—will be identified as suitable to be chairman of the panel.