The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Legislative Consent Motions
As this is the last Scottish questions ahead of the 30th anniversary of the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, I think it would be appropriate to place on record what I am sure all Members of the House will feel at the time; their thoughts and prayers will be with the families and friends of the 270 people who perished and every other person whose life has been affected by the events of that night.
The UK Government are fully committed to the Sewel convention and the related practices and procedures for seeking legislative consent.
I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill is vital for my constituents in ensuring continuity of healthcare in the European Union and for the 200,000 expats living in the EU. Will he do everything he can to urge the Scottish Government not to continue to play political games and to grant an LCM to this vital piece of legislation?
It was extremely disappointing that the Scottish Government announced that they would not grant LCMs in relation to a number of Bills without even seeing the details of those Bills. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill is an important one for Scots living abroad, and it would be totally unacceptable to put their treatment at risk, so I hope that the comments that Mr Mike Russell made the other day are perhaps an indication that they will not proceed with this politicking approach.
The Fisheries Bill is one of the Bills that my right hon. Friend referred to; it lays the groundwork for the revival of fishing in Banff and Buchan and all along Scotland’s coastline, and what is more, it confers new powers on the ScottishGovernment. I know that the Scottish National party’s policy is to take us back into the common fisheries policy, but does he agree that they should show at least some respect for coastal Scotland by working constructively and supporting an LCM for the Fisheries Bill in Holyrood?
Recent events demonstrate that there are no limits to what legislation or whose interests the SNP will play politics with. As my hon. Friend said, both the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill are important pieces of legislation for Scotland and ones with which the Scottish Government should be fully engaged.
It is beginning to sound like this Government are only committed to the Sewel convention when it suits them. Is it not the case that the blatant disregard for the decisions and opinions of the Scottish Parliament throughout the Brexit process shows that this Government and Secretary of State are committed to undermining the devolution settlement, and that that is only going to be exacerbated when the Scottish Parliament votes against the Brexit withdrawal agreement?
What the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends do not like about the Sewel convention is that it is a convention of this United Kingdom Parliament. It is part of Scotland being part of the United Kingdom and that is something that they continue to oppose.
Two of the Secretary of State’s own loyal Back Benchers have specifically asked him what discussions he has had with the Scottish Government, and he has refused to answer. Are we to take it from that that he has had no such discussions and that he has no intention of having further discussions with the elected Government of Scotland?
I am afraid that that is not the correct interpretation. As the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends know, since they ask about it repeatedly, I engage fully in the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), and there are extensive discussions about these issues and framework agreements in that forum and in many others.
Leaving the EU
I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and colleagues. The deal is a deal for all parts of the UK and it will protect jobs, security and the integrity of our United Kingdom.
I see that the Prime Minister is in Glasgow today talking about Brexit and exports. Does the Secretary of State recognise the disruption and delays that are expected at UK ports as a result of the withdrawal agreement, which necessitates the development of Scottish ports as an alternative route for Scottish exporters? If he is pledging support for the Prime Minister for a poor deal for Scotland, will he also support the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry, which would help our exporters to get their goods to market?
I would certainly be happy to discuss the specific issue of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry with the hon. Gentleman, but if he and his colleagues do not want to see disruption at ports and elsewhere, they should not, on 11 December, be voting for a no-deal Brexit.
Today, the Chancellor has confirmed that every single Brexit scenario will leave the economy worse off and can be justified only by what he described as political benefits. Given that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, surely the Secretary of State must now acknowledge that there are no political or economic benefits and that Brexit would be an all-round disaster for Scotland.
To quote a tweet from @ScotTories:
“Let me be absolutely clear: As we leave the EU, we need complete control over UK fishing. #NonNegotiatable”.
So said one of the Secretary of State’s Scottish Tory colleagues. Can he credibly tell Scottish fishing communities that the Prime Minister’s deal meets those terms?
It struck me this week that the juxtaposition of the festive season with the Brexit negotiations could help the Secretary of State kill two proverbial birds with one stone. It comes to the House’s attention, via the Glasgow Herald, that his good friend and former chair of the Scottish Tory party is to be summoned imminently to give evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee about his dodgy donations during the Brexit referendum campaign. I was wondering whether the Secretary of State, being a parsimonious chap, was going to save money on postage and deliver his Christmas card to his former friend, Mr Cook, in person at Westminster.
Yesterday, the Scottish Government produced analysis of the Prime Minister’s deal suggesting that the withdrawal agreement we are being asked to vote on would make all of us poorer, but the interim Scottish Conservative leader immediately dismissed it as an excuse for another referendum, even though the Chancellor said today it would make us poorer. Who of the two is right?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not wish to mislead the House, but the analysis produced by the Scottish Government is not an analysis of the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated; it is a rehashed version of a document produced in January that looked only at generic issues. The analysis that this Government will be producing will be focused on the deal that has actually been negotiated.
Leaving the most successful union in history after 311 years would bring economic chaos to Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the effect of Scotland leaving the UK would be much worse than the effect of Brexit under any scenario?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As we have discussed many times in the Chamber, Scotland trades four times as much with the rest of the UK as it does with the EU. I am sure that people in Scotland are starting to ask why the SNP is so keen on delivering a no-deal Brexit. It is because the SNP sees that it is the ideal backdrop for an independence referendum debate.
I absolutely condemn Nicola Sturgeon’s desire to create division, chaos and uncertainty. All along she could have joined the Prime Minister and worked with the UK Government to get a deal for Scotland and the UK, but she chose to put her own interests and an independence referendum first.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the BP Clair Ridge project, which started up in November and will produce an estimated 640 billion barrels of oil? Does he agree that this is clear evidence of confidence in the Scottish economy as we leave the EU?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, from the off, our Prime Minister’s No. 1 priorities have been the protection of our economy, the national interest, and the protection of our UK internal market—in complete contrast to the Scottish National party, which only sows division, and would go out of its way to destroy that internal market, which is of prime importance to Scottish business?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The distinction between the leaders of the various parties is very clear: the Leader of the Opposition is focused on a general election, the leader of the Scottish National party is focused on an independence referendum, and Theresa May is focused on the national interest of this country.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State realises how ridiculous he has looked with his resignation-non- resignation business. He is like a demented Grand Old Duke of York. He has led his merry band of Scotch Tories halfway up resignation hill, and has forgotten whether he is going up or down. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and increasing numbers of Scots do not want anything to do with it. If the Secretary of State cannot represent the people of Scotland, will he just resign and get out of the way, for goodness’ sake?
Well, I suppose there is no greater expert in the House on being ridiculous than the hon. Gentleman, swinging one way and another on every issue of the day. I am quite clear. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and this Government will deliver that.
“We could not support any deal that…leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK”.
Those are the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I put it to him that the backstop provides exactly that in the withdrawal agreement. Given that, how can he justify remaining in the Cabinet?
The hon. Gentleman has quoted selectively from what I said. I acknowledged that there were already significant differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, not least because of the Belfast agreement, and in relation to, for example, the single electricity market. However, I am clear about the fact that the greatest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom is posed by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. That is why they want a no-deal Brexit.
Given the gravity of the situation, I think we should expect Ministers of the Crown to answer questions put to them. The Secretary of State has publicly refuted the differentiation on which the withdrawal agreement is based; he has threatened to resign on numerous occasions; and now he has nailed his colours to the Prime Minister’s mast, and invested what political capital he has left in this deal. I ask him this: if the withdrawal agreement is rejected by this Parliament, as it surely will be, will he at that point resign his position?
May I begin by supporting the Secretary of State’s comments in relation to Lockerbie?
The Secretary of State drew red lines for his support for the Brexit deal on the integrity of the UK and on fishing. Unless those things were protected, he would resign. The Prime Minister has come back with a deal that creates a border in the Irish sea and sells out Scottish fishermen. May I ask what the right hon. Gentleman is still doing at the Dispatch Box?
What I am doing is standing up for the integrity of the United Kingdom. When I see Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon caballing about what they are going to do next, and no doubt agreeing that the keys of No. 10 Downing Street will be handed over to Labour for another independence referendum, I know I am doing the right thing.
The right hon. Gentleman knows my views, but judging by the looks on the faces of those sitting beside him, I do not think he has quite got the mood of the room. The reality is that the Secretary of State’s so-called red lines were written in invisible ink; they disappeared when the Prime Minister came back from Brussels. Labour will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal; it is a bad deal for Scotland and it is a bad deal for working people. The Commons could unite behind Labour’s alternative: a comprehensive and permanent customs union with a British say in future trade deals, and a strong single market relationship to support British business. It is clear that this deal cannot command the support of the Commons. If the Secretary of State now thinks this deal is the best deal for the country, why does he not put that theory to the test and call for a general election and let the people decide?
The hon. Lady has just proved the point from my first answer, and now that she has taken an interest in the fishing industry, which I was not previously aware of, I hope she will sign the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation pledge on what should now happen in relation to the fishing industry. I did not know what Scottish Labour’s position was on this issue, and I do not expect many other people do, but it should not surprise us that ultimately it is being Nicola’s little helpers to vote for a no-deal Brexit.
Through city and growth deals the UK Government have already committed over £1 billion of investment to Scotland and are working on further growth deals for Borderlands, Ayrshire and Moray. The UK Government are committed to delivering a city and growth deal for every part of Scotland. City and growth deals show the benefits that are delivered to the economy when Scotland’s two Governments work together.
I thank my hon. Friend for his warm words of welcome and completely agree: the over-£1 billion of investment in Scotland’s cities shows that this Government have a clear role in delivering economic growth in Scotland. Just last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Perth announcing £150 million of investment as part of the Tay cities deal. My hon. Friends the Members for Angus (Kirstene Hair) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) were instrumental in securing investment not only for their constituencies, but for the whole region as part of the deal.
Given the recent news from Michelin that it will lose up to 850 jobs from Dundee, it is now more important than ever that all commitments on the Tay cities deal are met. The Scottish Government are committed to £200 million. Can the UK Government today give a guarantee that they will fully match that £200 million investment?
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises this issue, and I know how important it is to his constituency, but, as I said previously, £150 million is being committed to the region in a growth deal and we are working with the Scottish Government in the Michelin action group, which met on 12 November. With support from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy we have presented a number of potential areas for further exploration for repurposing the site either with Michelin or a third party, and I understand that the next action group meeting will be on 30 November.
Some £120 million was announced as part of the Edinburgh city deal to upgrade Sheriffhall roundabout, but the A720 city bypass that stems off the roundabout is chock-a-block, start to end every day, which will affect my constituents and those of the Secretary of State. This seems to have slipped down the Scottish Government agenda. Those constituents would like to know what conversations the Secretary of State has had with Scottish Government Ministers.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The deal for Edinburgh was signed on 7 August. There is a £300 million investment from this Government, and I know how important this is for her constituency. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to follow up on her question so that she has more details.
Leaving the EU: Fishing Industry
Fishing is of totemic importance in Scotland, and I regularly meet representatives of the fishing industry in Scotland to discuss the opportunities for the sector when we leave the EU.
As we have already heard, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has launched a campaign calling on all parties to back its pledge for the UK to take back control of our waters after we leave the European Union. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has signed that pledge. I have signed it and Scottish Conservatives are signing it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all parties in this House should sign that pledge?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the transitional arrangements will involve a period in which things will remain as they are, in order to provide certainty, but there is a clear mechanism for fishing to leave those transitional arrangements and to be part of the Fisheries Council in December 2020, to plan ahead for 2021.
I recently visited Atlantic Canada on a trade visit, where I met Canadian fisheries and ocean tech companies that are invested in Scotland. They are enthusiastic to work more closely with the UK once we have left the common fisheries policy to ensure that we have better balanced and managed fisheries. Can my right hon. Friend give me a commitment that we will do just that?
The Minister claims that the Scottish fishermen should rest easy because he has signed the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s pledge. A month ago, he signed a letter to the Prime Minister saying that he would resign if Northern Ireland was treated differently from Scotland because of the threat to Scotland. If he has not lived up to his resignation promise, how can the Scottish fishermen ever believe that he will live up to the promise he has made in the fishermen’s pledge?
I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s point of view, but I believe that the biggest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom comes from those on the SNP Benches and from people who are seeking to bring about a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit is the most certain way to see Scotland leave the United Kingdom, and I am not going to support anything that brings that about.
The Secretary of State claims that this deal is a good deal, but on fishing, that claim was blown out of the water by President Macron of France before the ink was dry on the political declaration. The reality is that the Secretary of State cannot guarantee that the UK will not be pushed into the backstop indefinitely if access to waters and quota shares are not agreed with the European Union. That is an undeniable breach of his red line. He promised to resign over that very issue, yet he is still here, desperately claiming the false choice between no deal and a bad deal. When did he realise that he cared more about his ministerial Merc than about a good deal for Scotland’s fishermen?
Again, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s taking an interest in fishing for the first time. If he listened to the fishermen, he would know that Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation had said that no red lines had been crossed. What I find even more concerning in all these debates on fishing is that Scottish Labour is lining up with President Macron to do down this country. Our Prime Minister is fighting for the best possible deal for our fishermen. [Interruption.]
Connectivity: Scotland and the rest of the UK
The UK Government are committed to constructive intergovernmental working and a joined-up approach to all matters that relate to cross-border transport connectivity. At a working level, much co-operation goes on between officials in the Department for Transport and Transport Scotland on these issues every day.
I know that this issue is very close to my hon. Friend’s heart, and the Department for Transport is working extremely closely with Transport Scotland and Network Rail to look at future options around HS2 that might have a good business case, working towards the UK and Scottish Governments’ shared ultimate ambition of a three-hour journey time between London and Scotland.
It is all very well talking about connectivity between Scotland and the rest of the UK, but in remote parts of my constituency, connectivity is rubbish: you would be better off with two tin cans and a length of string. Should we not sort out Scotland first?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. With his two cans reference, I think he was referring to the digital connectivity issues. I would politely remind him that £1.7 billion of public money is being invested to support vital improvements in broadband coverage, and this Government have invested £121.8 million in Scotland’s superfast broadband infrastructure. Per head, that is over twice the funding that England has received.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Baroness Trumpington, who sadly passed away yesterday. From her time at Bletchley Park as a codebreaker during the second world war, through to her time in government and public service, she led an extraordinary life. She will be sorely missed.
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 sure the whole House would want to be associated with the Prime Minister’s remarks.
The misery inflicted on my constituents by Northern rail continues unabated: long waits for already full trains; trains that do not arrive on time; whole-day cancellations; and even the cancellation of last trains, leaving people stranded. There can be no more excuses. This latest Northern rail fiasco began in May, with timetabling and communications issues. Is it not time to get the communications right, and timetable the end of the Northern franchise?
First of all, we are clear as a Government that the performance in the north and the disruption that was caused to rail passengers following the timetable changes that took place on 20 May were unacceptable. It is clear that we saw a combination of delayed Network Rail infrastructure works and reduced time to plan a modified timetable, which meant that the new timetable was finalised too late. We know that passengers are currently not getting the service they deserve, although there are more Northern rail services now than there were earlier this year; but much more needs to be done. We are working alongside Transport for the North, Northern, TransPennine Express and Network Rail on improving services and punctuality. We have asked Richard George to review the performance of the region’s rail network and to make recommendations to improve reliability, and where operators are found to be at fault, we will take action.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of the fishing industry and our precious Union. I am a committed Unionist, as he is, and as indeed are all my colleagues on the Conservative Benches. Our deal in relation to fisheries means that we will become an independent coastal state. That means that we will be able to negotiate access to our waters. We will be ensuring that our fishing communities get a fairer share of our waters. We will be determining that issue of access to our waters, and we firmly rejected a link of access to our waters and access to markets.
I have to say also that we are very clear, as I made clear in my statement on Monday, that we will not be trading off a fisheries agreement against anything else in this future relationship; and I am confident that my hon. Friend will have seen the support for the deal, which has been recognised by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
I echo the Prime Minister’s words about Baroness Trumpington. We thank her for her service to this country throughout her life. We will also remember her as a great codebreaker, as a very demonstrative Member of the House of Lords with her physical symbols, and also for her wit on “Have I Got News For You”.
I also want to pay tribute to my friend Harry Leslie Smith. Harry passed away early this morning in Canada. Harry also served in the war, and he was an irrepressible campaigner for the rights of refugees, for the welfare state and for our national health service. He was passionate about the principle of healthcare for all as a human right. We thank Harry for his life and his work.
On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary said of their Brexit deal that it
“mitigates most of the negative impacts.”
Can the Prime Minister tell us which of the negative impacts it does not mitigate?
I am sure the whole House will also wish to pass on our condolences to the family and friends of Harry Leslie Smith.
What we see behind the analysis that we have published today, and indeed the Chancellor recognised it this morning, is that our deal is the best deal available for jobs and our economy that allows us to honour the referendum and realise the opportunities of Brexit. This analysis does not show that we will be poorer in the future than we are today. [Hon. Members: “Yes, it does.”] No, it does not. It shows that we will be better off with this deal. What would make us poorer, and what would have an impact on our economy for the future, are the policies of the right hon. Gentleman—more borrowing, higher taxes and fewer jobs. The biggest risk to our economy is the right hon. Gentleman and his shadow Chancellor.
On the same day that the Foreign Secretary made his statement, the Prime Minister said:
“This is the best possible deal. It is the only possible deal.”
Well, it is not hard to be the best deal if it is the only deal. By definition, it is also the worst deal.
The Government Economic Service forecasts published today are actually meaningless, because there is no actual deal to model, just a 26-page wishlist. The Chancellor, however, said that the Prime Minister’s deal will make people “worse off.” Does she agree? The Chancellor does not appear to be here to be consulted.
As I have just set out to the right hon. Gentleman, what the analysis shows is that the deal we have negotiated is the best deal for our jobs and our economy that delivers on the result of the referendum for the British people. I believe that we should be delivering on the result of the referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the political declaration—he calls it a wishlist. What he is describing is a political declaration that has been agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union and that sets out
“an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation.”
What does Labour have to offer? Six bullet points. My weekend shopping list is longer than that.
After eight years of making our economy weaker through austerity, their botched Brexit threatens more of the same. Professor Alston said in his damning UN report into UK poverty:
“In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought”.
In her Chequers plan, the Prime Minister promised frictionless trade with Europe after Brexit. Her future partnership guarantees no such thing. Does the Prime Minister understand why MPs are queuing up not to back her plan?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman who is backing my plan: farmers in Wales, fishermen in Scotland and employers in Northern Ireland. When MPs consider the vote, they will need to look at the importance of our delivering on Brexit and ensuring that we deliver Brexit, and doing it in a way that protects jobs. On that subject, he referenced what had happened to the economy over the past eight years: we have seen the number of young people not in education, employment or training at record lows; we see borrowing this year at its lowest level for 13 years; we see more people in work than ever before, and the fastest regular wage growth for nearly a decade; and today we have seen the number of children living in workless households at a record low and the proportion of workless households at a record low. That is good, balanced management of the economy by the Conservatives.
If it is good, balanced management of the economy, why did Professor Alston say there are 14 million people in our country living in poverty? The Prime Minister claims support for her deal, but last week more than 200 chief executives and entrepreneurs described her Brexit deal as the worst of all worlds—[Interruption.]
A private email that the CBI sent round says of the deal:
“no need to give credit to negotiators I think, because it’s not a good deal.”
All the Prime Minister can commit to is that we will be working for frictionless trade. She has gone from guaranteeing frictionless trade to offering friction and less trade. After these botched negotiations, the country has no faith in the next stage of even more complex negotiations being concluded in just two years. So what does the Prime Minister think is preferable: extending the transition with further vast payments to the European Union or falling into the backstop with no exit?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is an exit from the backstop—there is an alternative to the backstop, but we do not want the backstop to be invoked in the first place, and neither do the Government of the Republic of Ireland and neither does the European Union. He is referring again to this issue of the political declaration and the nature of the political declaration. He will know that the European Union cannot agree and sign legal texts on a trade arrangement with a country that is a member of the European Union, so it cannot do that until we have left the European Union. Let me just say this to him: the December joint report was 16 pages long and it took less than a year to turn it into 599 pages of legal text. The political declaration is 26 pages long. It is perfectly possible to turn that into the legal text within the nearly two years that is available. At every stage people have said that we could not do what we have done. They said we could not get agreement last December—we did. They said we would not get an implementation period—we did. They said we would not agree a withdrawal agreement and political declaration—we did. It takes hard work and a firm commitment to work in the national interest, and that is what this Government have.
That would explain why the Business Secretary does not have much faith in this either—he is already discussing the transition period being extended to 2022, apparently. Parliament voted for the Government to publish their “legal advice in full”. The Government today say they will ignore the sovereign will of Parliament. In 2007, the Prime Minister wrote to the then Prime Minister saying that the legal advice for the Iraq war should have been published in full to Cabinet and MPs. So why does the Prime Minister not practise what she preached?
Of course, there is a legitimate desire in Parliament to understand the legal implications of the deal. We have said and been clear that we will make available to Members a full, reasoned position statement laying out the Government’s legal position on the withdrawal agreement, and the Attorney General is willing to assist Parliament by making an oral statement and answering questions from Members. But as regards publication of the full legal advice, the advice that any client receives from their lawyer is privileged; that is the same for Government as it is for any member of the public.
The Chancellor said:
“What we are not going to do is publish the raw legal advice from the Attorney General”.
The Prime Minister herself wanted to see legal advice in the past, and MPs need to see the advice, warts and all, so that they can make their informed decision on this matter.
The Prime Minister insists that her Government will be able to negotiate every aspect of the UK’s future trade relationship with Europe within the space of two years. We have had two and a half years since the referendum; so far, 20 of her own Ministers have resigned. This is the most shambolic Government in living memory, and she is now asking Parliament to vote on the basis of a 26-page wishlist without even seeing the full legal advice. It is now clear that Parliament will not back this plan, so is it not time for her to accept that reality and make way for an alternative plan that could work for the whole country?
I will take no lectures from the right hon. Gentleman, who has seen 100 resignations from his Front Bench. Today, we saw what really lies behind Labour’s approach. Last night, the shadow Chancellor told an audience in London that he wanted to seize upon a second referendum and vote remain. So now we have it: they want to cause chaos, frustrate Brexit and overturn the will of the British people. That would be a betrayal of the many by the few.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising what I think we should all, across the House, accept is an excellent campaign. I look forward to perhaps being able to visit some of the excellent shops that he just mentioned when I am in his neck of the woods. It is important that we help small businesses, which is why we are taking more than 655,000 small businesses out of paying any business rates at all. We want to change the system so that rates follow the lower level of inflation, which would mean a saving every year and would be worth more than £5 billion to businesses over the next five years, and we are providing £900 million to cut the bills of eligible small retailers by one third for two years. I congratulate Lindsay Grieve, Stems the florist and Archie Hume, and I look forward possibly to visiting them. I am sure that many Members of this House will be recognising the importance of small businesses on Small Business Saturday and championing the excellent contribution that they make to our economy.
May I take the opportunity to wish everyone in the House a happy St Andrew’s day for when it comes on Friday?
Today, the Chancellor said that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will leave the economy “slightly smaller”, and that “in pure economic terms” there will be a loss. That has now been confirmed by the Government’s own analysis, which shows that real wages will fall. Does the Prime Minister agree that her deal will leave people poorer than the status quo?
The analysis shows—[Interruption.] No, the analysis does not show that we will be poorer than the status quo today. What it shows—[Interruption.] No, it doesn’t. What the analysis shows is that this is a strong economy that will continue to grow and that the model that actually delivers best on delivering the vote of the British people, and for our jobs and our economy, is the model that the Government have put forward, the deal that the Government are proposing.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister has read her own analysis, because quite clearly, under any scenario of leaving the single market and the customs union, we will be poorer. The Prime Minister wants to take us back to the days of Thatcher and a belief that unemployment is a price worth paying. That is the reality. No Government should choose to weaken their economy and make their citizens poorer. That is what the Prime Minister is doing.
The Prime Minister will travel to Scotland today. People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. We voted for our rights to be respected—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister will travel to Scotland today. People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. We voted for our rights to be respected and we are not prepared to give up those rights. The Prime Minister must explain to the people of Scotland why her deal will rob them of their rights as EU citizens.
The right hon. Gentleman started with comments about the Government’s approach to unemployment. What do we see under this Government? Some 3.3 million jobs have been created since the Conservatives came into power and the OBR is forecasting a further 800,000 more jobs being created in our economy. The employment rate is at a near record high, employment is at a record high and the unemployment rate has almost halved since 2010. He talks about what the people of Scotland voted for. They voted to stay in the United Kingdom and they voted for 13 Conservative MPs.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Backing this Brexit deal means that we will control our borders, we will end free movement once and for all, we will protect jobs with a deal that is good for our economy, we will no longer send vast sums of money every year to the European Union—we can spend it on our priorities—and we will be able to strike free trade deals around the world, as well as taking back control of our laws and having a good security partnership. But if we reject this deal, we go back to square one, with damaging uncertainty that would threaten jobs, threaten our investment and the economy, lead to more division and mean that there was less time to focus on the issues that our constituents wish us to focus on. I think the choice is backing the deal in the national interest, so that we can build that brighter future, or going back to square one, if it is rejected.
May I first say how sorry I am to hear of the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent, Matthew, and the abuse that he suffered? Sadly, what has come out of this independent inquiry is that too much abuse was allowed to carry on for too long, and that too many people suffered as a result. It is not just the case that they suffered at the time when the abuse was taking place; that suffering remains with them to this day, and we should all recognise that.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of mandatory reporting, which we looked at very carefully when I was Home Secretary. There is actually mixed evidence on the impact of mandatory reporting. In fact, there is some evidence that it can lead to the genuine cases not being given the resources they require. I want the hon. Lady to be in no doubt about the seriousness with which I and this Government take the issue. We are doing our best to repair—I will not claim that we can fully repair—by giving some sense of justice to the people who suffered at the hands of too many institutions, including institutions of the state, for too long.
I recognise my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and reassure her that we have been protecting police funding since 2015. We have enabled police forces further to increase funding through the council tax precept. This year, including council tax, there is an additional £460 million available to the police. However, I recognise the issue that my right hon. Friend has raised, and we will continue to ensure that the police have the resources they need to cut crime and keep our communities safe. There is also a role for chief constables and police and crime commissioners—as operational leaders and elected local representatives—to decide how best to deploy resources in order to manage and respond to individual crimes and local crime priorities.
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the vote that took place in 2014 and the desire of the Scottish people to remain in the United Kingdom. We have been working with the devolved Administrations at every stage throughout the negotiations. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been having regular meetings with the devolved Administrations, and officials have also been meeting them, so we have ensured that the voice of the devolved Administrations has been heard in our negotiations.
I thank my hon. Friend for again recognising the importance of small businesses, particularly in rural communities. We recognise that the widespread free access to cash remains extremely important in the day-to-day lives of many consumers and businesses throughout the UK. LINK—the UK’s cash machine network—is committed to maintaining free access to cash through its extensive footprint of ATMs. The Payment Systems Regulator, set up by the Government, regulates LINK and is ensuring that the UK payment system works in the interest of consumers. I assure my hon. Friend that the regulator is closely monitoring the situation and is holding LINK to account for its commitments to maintaining a broad geographic spread of ATMs across the United Kingdom.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, which is obviously, through personal experience, very close to his heart, but I know it is of concern to other Members of this House. I understand that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is undertaking a review of the provisions for parents of premature babies, and also for those who experience multiple births, as it is the Department responsible for the parental leave legislation,. It is working with charities representing parents of premature babies—parents of babies who require neonatal care—to better understand the pressures and the issues that those parents have to face when their child is born prematurely or sick. It expects to be in a position to share the key findings of this review with interested parties in the new year. I will ensure that a relevant Minister from the Department meets the hon. Gentleman and the charity to hear that experience first hand.
My hon. Friend might not be surprised if I say that I do not quite share that analysis of the deal that we put forward. Look, this is a deal that does deliver on Brexit. I think this is important: it does deliver on Brexit but it does so in a way that protects our United Kingdom. That is an issue that I have set out in this House on many occasions, and it is one that we were very keen to ensure was dealt with in this deal. It is a deal that protects jobs, but it also delivers on the people’s vote to ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so in a way that delivers no free movement, no jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and not sending those vast annual sums to the European Union every year. But I thank my hon. Friend for engaging with those young people in Durham and debating this matter with them. It is very important that we ensure that young people maintain that interest in politics.
First, I have already quoted—referenced—what the Chancellor said. The hon. Lady’s reference to the issue of Gibraltar goes absolutely contrary to what the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has said about the way in which the United Kingdom has absolutely stood by Gibraltar—and we will continue to stand by Gibraltar. She will have heard me say before that I believe, in terms of a second referendum, that it is important that we deliver on the vote of the British people. But I would also just ask her to consider this: it would not be possible to hold a referendum before 29 March next year. That would mean having to extend article 50—[Interruption.] She wants to extend article 50 —delaying Brexit or leaving with no deal. I believe that the best option for this country is to ensure that we deliver on the Brexit vote, that we leave the European Union next March, that we do not delay that point, and that we leave with a good deal that will protect jobs across the country.
I thank my right hon. Friend. Of course, he will know that this weekend marks the start of Advent, which is a time of expectation and hope for Christians. Today is Red Wednesday—a day when landmark buildings, including these Houses of Parliament, will turn scarlet as an act of solidarity with persecuted Christians.
I certainly welcome the Patriarch of Jerusalem’s upcoming visit. I know that some Israelis can face additional structural challenges, particularly Christian and Muslim Arab Israelis, who experience higher rates of poverty and unemployment, and can face discrimination. We certainly encourage the Israeli Government to do all they can to uphold the values of equality for all enshrined in their laws. I give my right hon. Friend the assurance that I will continue to work with Governments, with the international community and with the United Nations to support the rights of minorities, including Christians.
The right hon. Gentleman, with his long years in this House, knows that we will on 11 December look at the deal that the Government have negotiated with the European Union. I believe there is a clear choice. I believe that backing that deal will provide people with certainty and ensure that we deliver on the vote of the British people in the best way for jobs and our economy. Failure to back that deal, I believe, would lead to chaos and uncertainty for people for the future, and the clear message I get around the country is that people do not want that chaos and uncertainty.
This country exports vast amounts of plastic to developing countries, under the guise of recycling. Could we incentivise recycling in this country and seek to ban the exporting of our rubbish to other countries, where it often ends up in landfill or the ocean?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. I hope that she recognises the action the Government have taken in relation to plastic. I was very pleased yesterday, when I was at the winter fair at the Royal Welsh, to see a company that 29 years ago started recycling plastic and turning it into products that people could use, such as garden seats and tables. That was an innovative initiative 29 years ago, and it is slap bang what we all consider to be the right thing to do today.
May I first say to the hon. Gentleman that I realise what a worrying time this must be for the employees of Cammell Laird? Obviously, the Government do not have a role in the strategic direction or management of the company, but officials are in close contact with the company and are being kept informed. I hope there can be a dialogue between all sides, so that they can work together to come to a solution that is in the best interests of all involved. As I say, I recognise what a worrying time this must be for the employees of that company.
It has been widely reported that, fearing a backlash here in the UK, the Prime Minister personally intervened to stop the Government offering sanctuary to Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother who faces a very serious threat to her life. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to put the record straight and commit to doing everything this country can to offer sanctuary to that mother?
First—I might say this in answer to a number of questions—my hon. Friend should not necessarily believe everything he reads in the papers. The position that the Government take is very clear: our prime concern must be the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we want to see a swift resolution of the situation. Obviously, there is a primary function for the courts and Government in Pakistan. The Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has publicly supported the Supreme Court and has promised to uphold the rule of law, while providing continued protection for Asia Bibi.
We could approach this in two ways. We could go out there and say something, just to show that the UK is doing that, or we could ask what is right for Asia Bibi. We are working with others in the international community and with the Pakistani Government to ensure that our prime aim—the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family—is provided for.
It sounds to me as if the hon. Lady has already raised her concerns in relation to this matter, with the debate in Westminster Hall, and we have—[Interruption.] Yes, we have been looking at the issue of fire authorities, and what we have seen over time is, actually, that sometimes plans are attempted to be put forward, on which money has been spent, which have not worked for fire authorities. It is important that we make sure that the level of protection and support that they provide is there, and obviously she has had a response from the Minister this morning.
The Prime Minister will be aware that, in recent weeks, an unprecedented number of migrants—more than 100 migrants—have crossed the English channel to enter the United Kingdom in small unseaworthy craft. Does she agree that it is very important that Britain and France work together to find the people traffickers behind this, put a stop to them, bring them to justice and ensure that we invest more in our border security?
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point, of which he is acutely aware as the Member for Dover. Earlier in the year, in our discussions with the French Government, we agreed that we could set up a co-ordination centre, which would enable the French and UK Governments and authorities to work together on exactly these sorts of issues. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has ensured that that co-ordination centre has now been stood up—literally, in the last few days.
It is of great concern to my constituent Carol Law, a staunch Brexiteer, that her name has ended up on the database of anothereurope.org, the left-leaning remain campaign group. From this organisation, Carol this week received an unsolicited email, seemingly from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), asking her to stop Brexit. Carol is a smart lady, however, and knows that our best years lie ahead outside the EU. Will the Prime Minister please take this opportunity to educate Opposition Members about general data protection regulation rules and ask them to remove Carol from any databases they are associated with?
I think that everybody needs to take care in relation to the names that they have on databases. The core point of what my hon. Friend was saying was to reveal the view, which a number of people have on the Labour Benches, that actually they should be trying to stop Brexit. I believe we should be delivering Brexit for the British people. As my hon. Friend believes—and, indeed, I concur with her—outside the European Union, there is a bright future ahead for this country. Our best days lie ahead of us.
My constituent Sarah Rushton’s brother has been missing for over two years. Yesterday, I met her and Peter Lawrence, the father of Claudia Lawrence, who expressed their frustration that the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 has yet to be implemented, despite receiving Royal Assent in April 2017, and is unlikely to take effect until July 2019. Will the Prime Minister assure me that there will be no further delays in the measures in the Act being fully implemented?
The Lords European Union Committee has stated:
“On the basis of the legal opinions we have considered we conclude that, as a matter of EU law, Article 50…allows the UK to leave the EU without being liable for outstanding financial obligations”.
The Prime Minister told me in Prime Minister’s questions two weeks ago completely the opposite. Who is right: the Prime Minister or the Lords European Union Committee?
The Committee of the House of Lords that my hon. Friend has quoted—it was quoted by another hon. Friend after the statement I made on Monday—did indeed say that in its view there was no legal obligation. There is a different opinion on this, which is that there are legal obligations for this country when we leave the European Union in terms of financial payments. I believe, as I have said before, that this is a country that upholds its legal obligations.
Let me be very clear that what the Chancellor made clear this morning is that the Brexit deal that delivers best for our jobs and for our economy will continue to see our economy grow. It is not a case of the deal making us poorer than we are today. Our economy will continue to grow, and that is what is clear from the analysis and from the Chancellor.
Order. May I say to the hon. Lady, who is perched, poised and about to pounce with a point of order, that ordinarily points of order come after urgent questions and statements? If there is some peculiarly compelling reason why the matter should be aired now, because it somehow flows from proceedings, I am happy to hear it, on the assumption that it is brief.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you been made aware of why the Chancellor is unable to respond to the urgent question? This is an incredibly important issue about the future of our country. He has found plenty of time to visit the television and radio studios this morning. He should be in this Chamber right now.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I recognise that she chairs an important Select Committee of the House, but the short answer for her, and for the benefit of the House and others attending to our proceedings, is that who the Government field to respond to an urgent question that I have granted is exclusively a matter for the Government. I think that the hon. Lady knows that—I take her puckish grin as testimony that she is aware of the fact—but she has registered her disapproval with the force and alacrity that we have come to associate with her. Meanwhile, however, we will hear the urgent question and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will reply.