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Volume 650: debated on Wednesday 5 December 2018

May I first join you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House in commending Sammy Woodhouse? I think we all recognise, across this House, that for too long it has been difficult for rape victims to speak out. I hope that now, following her example, others will recognise that they will be heard and that proper action will be taken.

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.

May I, from the Back Benches, echo your comments, Mr Speaker, and those of the Prime Minister in respect of Sammy Woodhouse?

Does my right hon. Friend believe that today’s announcement of significant investment by the UK life sciences sector to work alongside the NHS, using genomics and artificial intelligence to help diagnose major diseases early, shows that world-class life sciences companies, such as Agilent in my constituency, will continue to invest in the UK to help the NHS improve patient outcomes post-Brexit?

That investment of £1 billion is indeed significant. It will deliver a state-of-the-art research and development facility in the UK and support 650 jobs. It is absolutely right to say that that shows the opportunities available to the UK post-Brexit. It also shows the advantage of our industrial strategy, with AI right at the heart of it, recognising the importance of AI in the health sector in the future. This is a very significant investment. It will support jobs and other employment in the UK, and it will support our economy in the future.

I join you, Mr Speaker, and the Prime Minister in welcoming Sammy Woodhouse to Parliament today. It is an act typical of your generosity to refer to her presence in the Gallery today, so that others may be emboldened to deal with the horrors of the rape crisis we face.

I also express our sympathies to the family of Luke Griffin from Merseyside, who was killed in Kabul last week alongside five fellow G4S workers who were Afghan nationals. Luke had previously served in 16th Regiment, Royal Artillery.

While we debate the critical issue of Brexit, we must not neglect the crisis facing millions of people across our country. Last week, I wrote to the Prime Minister about the scathing report by the UN special rapporteur on this Government’s brutal policies towards the poorest in Britain. As of now, I have received no reply from the Prime Minister. When she read the report, what shocked her more: the words the UN used, or the shocking reality of rising poverty in Britain?

We have been clear, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been clear, that we do not agree with the report— [Interruption.] No, we do not agree with this report. What we actually see in our country today is absolute poverty at record lows, more people in work than ever before, youth unemployment almost halved and wages growing, and that is because of the balanced approach that we take to our economy—a Conservative Government delivering for the British people.

It could be that the Prime Minister does not agree with the report because it contains an unpalatable truth. The new Work and Pensions Secretary seems to have taken lessons from her and created a hostile environment for those who are claiming benefits. One of the Government’s policies which is causing the greatest anxiety and poverty is universal credit. The UN rapporteur, Professor Alston, said it was

“fast falling into universal discredit”.

When will the Prime Minister demonstrate some of her professed concern about burning injustices and halt the roll-out of universal credit?

We have exchanged on this issue of universal credit before—[Interruption.] Oh, the shadow Foreign Secretary, from a sedentary position, says that we have not done anything about it. What we have done is made changes as we have rolled out universal credit, but I am afraid we had a Labour party that would not support the changes we were making to universal credit. We have listened and we have made changes. It is time that the Labour party recognised that universal credit is ensuring that more people are in work in this country and that absolute poverty is at record lows. That is a system that delivers for people and encourages them into work—a simpler system that is better for the people who need to use it.

The Prime Minister might care to cast her eyes over the report from the Trussell Trust, which said that

“the only way to prevent even more people being forced to foodbanks this winter is to pause all new claims to Universal Credit.”

The UN also called for the five-week wait to be scrapped. In the coming weeks, universal credit is being rolled out in Anglesey, Blackpool, Milton Keynes and parts of Liverpool, London and Glasgow. There is a risk that people will be left with no money at Christmas. If the Prime Minister will not halt the roll-out of universal credit, will she at least immediately end the five-week wait?

The right hon. Gentleman does not quite seem to understand how the system actually operates. No one has to wait for money if they need it. We have made advances—[Interruption.]

Order. We are less than a third of the way through and already there is too much noise on both sides of the House. Members must calm themselves. The questions will be heard, however long it takes, and the same is true of the replies. Please try to get used to that.

No one needs to wait for their money if they need it. We have made it easier for people to get advances. We have ensured they can get 100% of their first month’s payment up front. We have already scrapped the seven-day waiting period. I repeat: what happened when we scrapped the seven-day waiting period? Labour voted against it.

It is a loan that is offered for some people.

The Trussell Trust has also pointed out that food banks face record demand this December. I gently say to the Prime Minister and the Members behind her: food banks are not just a photo opportunity for Conservative MPs, all of whom supported the cuts in benefit that have led to the poverty in this country.

Yesterday, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found “in-work poverty is rising” faster than the overall employment rate due to chronic low pay and insecure work. The United Kingdom has the weakest wage growth of all G20 nations. Living standards have fallen for the majority of people. What is so wrong with our economy that our pay growth is so much worse than in each of the other nations in the G20?

We now see wages growing faster than they have for nearly a decade. We see employment at record levels. The right hon. Gentleman talks about scrapping universal credit, but what he wants to do is to go back to square one. That means going back to a system that left 1.4 million people spending most of a decade trapped on benefits. It left people paying an effective tax rate of 90%, and it cost every household an extra £3,000 a year. As ever with Labour, it was ordinary working people who paid the price.

The chief economist of the Bank of England describes the last decade as a “lost decade” for wages. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister might laugh at this, but it is the reality of people’s lives; it is the reality—[Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to Members making too much noise to stop doing so. [Interruption.] Order. I very gently say to the junior Minister on the Back Bench, who is making far too much noise, that he is ordinarily a good-natured and genial chap—I am referring to the hon. Member for Hexham. Mr Opperman, you can do so much better; try to be a well-behaved citizen today. [Interruption.] Well, possibly like some others, but there are quite a lot of badly behaved people. Try to set a better example, Mr Opperman—you are a Minister of the Crown.

Two years ago, a United Nations committee found this Government’s policies towards disabled people represented

“a grave and systematic violation”

of their rights. Does the Prime Minister think that situation has improved in the past two years?

First, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s latter point, it is this Government that have a key commitment in relation to helping disabled people get into the workplace. There are too many disabled people who have felt that they have not been able to do what they want to do—actually getting into the workplace and earning an income for themselves and their families. It is this Government who are helping. The Disability Confident arrangements that the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put in place are doing exactly that.

However, the right hon. Gentleman started off his comments by referencing the last decade. Yes, the last decade has meant that difficult decisions have had to be taken, but why did those difficult decisions have to be taken? They were taken because of the Labour party’s mismanagement of the economy. Remember, remember the letter from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne): under Labour, there is no money left.

When I hear a Prime Minister talking about difficult decisions, what always happens afterwards, in these contexts, is that the poorest in our society lose out. Some 4.3 million disabled people are now in poverty; 50,000 were hit by appalling cuts to the employment and support allowance benefit alone last year. This Government labelled disabled people as “scroungers” and called those unable to work “skivers”—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”]

Order. Calm—[Interruption.] Order. I do not need any advice from the Home Secretary. He should seek to discharge his own obligations in his office to the best of his ability; I require no advice from the right hon. Gentleman on the discharge of mine. Be clear about that.

This Government also created a hostile environment for the Windrush generation. When the UN rapporteur said:

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and…callous approach”,

he could not have summed up this contemptible Government any better. Child poverty is rising; homelessness—rising; destitution—rising; household debt—rising. When will the Prime Minister turn her warm words into action, end the benefit freeze, repeal the bedroom tax, scrap the two-child cap and halt the roll-out of universal credit?

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the poorest losing out. I will tell him when the poorest lose out: it is when a Labour Government come in. [Interruption.]

Order. The finger pointing, yelling and braying must stop. I understand that passions are running high, but on both sides of the House we need some sense of decorum.

When the poorest lose out, it is when a Labour Government come in. What have this Government done? We have introduced the national living wage—Conservatives, not Labour. We have taken millions of people out of paying tax altogether—Conservatives, not Labour. Under this Government, 3.3 million jobs have been created.

Every Labour Government leave office with unemployment higher than when they went into office. What do we see under this Government? Our economy is growing, employment is rising, investment is up, we are giving the NHS the biggest single cash boost in its history, taxes are being cut and wages are rising. Labour would destroy all that. It is this Conservative Government who are building a brighter future for our country.

Q6. As my right hon. Friend knows, none of us looks forward to a smear test, but it can make the difference between life and death. Worryingly, nearly a third of women are missing out on cervical screening. Can I ask my right hon. Friend what steps she and her Government are taking to make sure that more women get tested and do not suffer the terrible consequences of picking up cancer too late? (908026)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is an important point. We do recognise that we need to do more to encourage women to undertake cervical screening tests. In October, we announced a package of measures that will be rolled out across the country, which has the aim of seeing three quarters of all cancers detected at an early stage by 2028. That will see a radical overhaul of the screening programmes, and they will be made more accessible and easier to use.

But I just want to give this very simple message, and I am able to do so standing at this Dispatch Box: smear tests are not nice. All those of us who have had smear tests recognise that they are not nice. But they are important. If you want to see cancer detected early, have your smear test. A few minutes of discomfort could be saving your life.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your words of welcome to Sammy Woodhouse, a very brave woman who has done the right thing in waiving her anonymity? We must all call out crimes of sexual violence and those responsible must be held to account.

We were promised strong and stable. What we have is a Government in crisis: a Government that have lost two Brexit Secretaries, a Home Secretary, a Foreign Secretary, and a Work and Pensions Secretary; a Government that have suffered three consecutive defeats in just two hours, the first to do so in 40 years; and, now, a Government that have been found to be in contempt of Parliament. Is it not time that the Prime Minister took responsibility—the responsibility for concealing the facts on her Brexit deal from Members of this House and the public? Will she take responsibility?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong about that. We have not concealed the facts on the Brexit deal from Members of this House. He will see that the legal position set out on Monday in the 34-page document, together with the statement made and the answers given to questions by the Attorney General on Monday, clearly sets out the legal position.

That is an incredibly disappointing response from the Prime Minister. The facts have had to be dragged out of this Government by Parliament. This morning, we have seen the detail of the legal advice. We have seen the fact that the Government tried to hide—this Government are giving Northern Ireland permanent membership of the single market and the customs union. The legal advice is clear. It states:

“Despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely”.

Since the Prime Minister returned from Brussels with her deal, the Prime Minister has been misleading the House, inadvertently or otherwise. The Prime Minister must explain—

Order. There can be no suggestion of “otherwise”. The right hon. Gentleman must make it clear that there is no suggestion that the Government are misleading the House deliberately. There can be no question of that. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to use the word “inadvertently”, which people do now and again, he can, but there must be no ambiguity on the point, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to clarify that—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw.”] Order. I do not need any advice from anyone. I know exactly what I am doing, and the right hon. Gentleman must comply.

Mr Speaker, I did use the word “inadvertently”, and I repeat it. Since the Prime Minister returned from Brussels with her deal, the Prime Minister has been misleading the house, perhaps inadvertently—[Interruption.]

Order. I always want the right hon. Gentleman to be heard fully, and he will be, but there can be no imputation of dishonour, and the insertion of the word “perhaps” suggests that the right hon. Gentleman wants to keep his options open. The option of imputing dishonour does not exist. That word must now be removed. Please rephrase, continue and complete—briefly.

Mr Speaker, I say again: “inadvertently”.

The Prime Minister must explain why she continues to deny Scotland the rights and opportunities that her deal offers to other parts of the United Kingdom.

I think what the right hon. Gentleman will see if he makes a careful analysis of the statement that the Attorney General made, of his answers to questions and of the legal opinion that was set out by the Government—in many ways, it was unprecedented that the Government published such a 34-page document—is that the advice he is holding in his left hand has no difference from the statement given. Indeed, I might take up the personal challenge from the right hon. Gentleman, because I have said on the Floor of the House that there is no unilateral right to pull out of the backstop. I have also said that it is not the intention of either party for the backstop to be used in the first place or, if it is used, to be anything other than temporary.

The right hon. Gentleman finished by saying, once again, that he wishes to look to what Scotland should have from the deal. We are leaving the European Union as the whole United Kingdom, and we will negotiate as the whole United Kingdom. For Scotland, remaining in the internal market of the United Kingdom is the most important economic interest, and it is in the interests of Scotland to come out of the common fisheries policy. That is in our deal and our policy, and not in his.

Q8. My local authority, Swale Borough Council, is being asked to find land for thousands more homes, and my constituents in Sittingbourne and Sheppey are not happy. Over the past 20 years, large-scale housing developments have transformed our area, and we feel that we have already accepted more than our fair share of new housing. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister urge her Ministers to take steps to reduce the housing targets being imposed on Swale? (908028)

I absolutely recognise the concern raised by my hon. Friend, and people are often concerned when they see proposals for development in their areas. However, we need to build the homes that the country needs, so that everyone can afford a decent, safe place to call their own, and we must help more people on to the housing ladder. Young people today worry that they will not be able to get on the housing ladder, and I am sure my hon. Friend shares my determination to ensure that they are able to do so. I am pleased that in the past year we have delivered more than 222,000 new homes—the highest level in all but one of the past 31 years—and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his local issue further.

Q2. Every Brexit scenario that the Government have modelled suggests that GDP growth will fall, and it falls further once the impact of ending freedom of movement is factored in. The Prime Minister continues to pretend that ending freedom of movement is a good thing, but it is a bad thing. Why is she prepared to take from our children and grandchildren the ability to travel freely throughout Europe, and why is she doing it in a way that is economically illiterate? (908022)

What the analysis actually shows is that outside the European Union, the best deal available in relation to our economy, and which delivers on leaving the European Union, is the deal on the table—the deal I have negotiated with the European Union. When people voted to leave the European Union, one issue they voted on was bringing an end to free movement once and for all, and that is what the Government will deliver.

Q12. In its November survey, local homelessness charity P3 recorded two rough sleepers in Cheltenham—that is two too many, of course, but it is a dramatic reduction on the previous year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows the value of social impact bonds that provide vital one-on-one support to people with complex needs, and will she support and congratulate the vital work of charities CCP and P3 that make such a difference to vulnerable people in our communities? (908032)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We are all concerned about rough sleepers, but as he says, it is finding the solutions and ways through that is important. I commend him for his excellent work in campaigning on the issues of homelessness, rough sleeping and social impact bonds, and I congratulate P3 and CCP in Cheltenham. The rough sleeping social impact bond, which is designed to support individuals who have spent a long time within the homelessness system, and to reduce rough sleeping in the long term by helping people to access the support and services they need, is an important step forward. I congratulate those organisations on the work they have done in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Q3. Point 6 of the Attorney General’s legal advice shows that the Prime Minister has breached her red lines not only on the single market, but also on customs. Does that mean that it is even less likely that her deal will pass through this House? Constitutionally, that should mean a general election, but if not, is the way to resolve this issue to have a public vote on the Prime Minister’s deal? Why can’t she see that, and why can’t she say that? (908023)

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the arrangements we have in place for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, it is clear that we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union, and we will continue to work for frictionless trade at the border. What we will have is an ambitious trade agreement unlike any that has been given to any other advanced economy—the most ambitious trade agreement that any advanced economy has with the European Union. That is good for this country, and good for jobs in his constituency.

Q15. All young people now have to stay in education or training until they are 18. Is it not time that we raised the age of marriage in this country from 16 to 18, as we ask other countries to do? (908035)

I think the number of people marrying in England and Wales at 16 or 17 is very small, and actually continues to decline. We have not seen any evidence of failings in the existing protections for people marrying in England and Wales at 16 to 18 with the appropriate consents, but we continue to keep this under review. My noble Friend Baroness Williams said back in September that we will look at whether there is any link between parents giving consent when girls are aged 16 or 17 and instances of forced marriage; that may be one of the concerns behind the point that my hon. Friend makes. We will specifically look at that issue.

Q4. The Prime Minister knows that in March 2017, New Ferry in my constituency was devastated by a huge explosion, and many people were injured. I raised this with her in Prime Minister’s questions, and she said that the community would get support to recover. After 18 months of struggling, her Secretary of State has written to me to say that New Ferry will get no such support from her Government. Was I wrong to take her at her word, or were my constituents right when they said that when it comes to helping people, you can never trust the Tories? (908024)

I think the hon. Lady knows of incidents when people in her region have been able to trust the Tories. [Interruption.] She knows. Let us look at the explosion in New Ferry. It was clearly devastating. It clearly impacted both residents and businesses, and I did, as she said, make a commitment to look at it. I will look at the letter that she received from the Secretary of State, because my understanding was that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was encouraging Wirral Council to apply to a range of funding streams for various sums of money that would have been available, and that it asked Homes England to work with the council on its regeneration plans and had made money available in response to that. However, I will certainly look at the letter to which she refers.

I rise from the naughty corner, so I might need your protection, Mr Speaker.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her determined campaigning in the area of mental health, both as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister. Will she join me in congratulating Sir Simon Wessely, who has just done a review of the Mental Health Act 1983? His findings will be published tomorrow. Sir Simon conducted the review with great good humour, compassion and dignity. Even though this House is so divided on so many issues, it should be united on this report.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Mental health, and how we look at the Mental Health Act, is an important issue that I hope will unite people across the House in recognition that we were right to have this review. I am certainly happy to congratulate Professor Sir Simon Wessely on the work that he has done. He has engaged with a wide range and large number of service users and their families, as well as health organisations and professionals, to help shape his recommendations. I certainly look forward to reading them. We obviously commit as a Government to coming forward with legislation in due course. This is an important area. We should all get behind this, because we need to ensure that we are delivering for those people in our country who suffer from mental health problems.

Q5. As the Dounreay nuclear site in my constituency continues to decommission, the issue of high-quality replacement jobs is hugely important—in fact, it is crucial. I therefore welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s decision to locate the UK’s first vertical take-off rocket launch site in the north of my constituency. I give credit where it is due, Mr Speaker. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the maximum possible number of jobs arising from the site will be located locally, in north Sutherland and Caithness, and not somewhere much further south? (908025)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Government’s decision. This is an exciting opportunity for the United Kingdom to take a leading role in the new commercial space age. He has referenced the new spaceport and the ambition we have for it. I understand that, following a report by the local crofters association, Highlands and Islands Enterprise is moving ahead with its plans, which could create 40 skilled jobs locally in spaceport construction and operation. I recognise the importance of the skilled jobs he is talking about locally. This is a real opportunity for his constituency, but it is also an opportunity for the UK to be at the leading edge of this technology.

The motion relating to the Attorney General that was passed yesterday related to the whole agreement, not just to the question to which the letter that has now been published relates, which is exclusively the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Given that the ministerial code states:

“The Law Officers must be consulted in good time before the Government is committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations”,

and that the Attorney General has stated that the international agreement is binding on the United Kingdom and the EU, why have we not had an opinion on matters such as the control over laws, European Court of Justice jurisdiction and the incompatibility of the agreement with the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972—matters that are of seminal importance in deciding this question?

I suggest that my hon. Friend looks at the remarks that were made in the Chamber yesterday following the Government’s announcement that they would publish the final advice given by the Attorney General that was asked for.

My hon. Friend has referred again to the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. As I have said in answer to him on more than one occasion in this Chamber and in the Liaison Committee, it was always clear during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which did indeed repeal the 1972 Act and bring the EU acquis—EU law—into UK law, that in the event that there was an implementation period in which we were to operate much as we do today as a member of the European Union, it would be necessary to ensure that any necessary changes were made, and those changes will be made in the withdrawal agreement Bill, which will be brought before Parliament.

Q7. The Prime Minister may recall that, last week, I asked her about the terrible funding settlement for Tyne and Wear fire and rescue service. Well, I was not happy with the answer, so I am going to try again. In the light of the fact that funding local services such as police and fire through the council tax precept just does not work in areas such as mine, will she look again at this funding formula, which will leave such areas perilously close to having unsafe fire and police services very soon? (908027)

I understand that, in Home Office oral questions this week, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service undertook to get back to the hon. Lady. As he made clear this week, the authority’s core spending power has increased this year. I am also informed that the Tyne and Wear service holds £25 million of reserves, which is equivalent to 52% of its core spending power.

In Cumbria, we have endured 42 days of rail strike action, despite the Transport Secretary’s assurance that the guards on the Cumbrian coastal line will remain. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister condemn the actions of the RMT, which have left vulnerable people without public transport and businesses suffering in the run-up to Christmas?

I do indeed condemn the action that has been taken by the RMT, which as my hon. Friend says is leading to people and businesses suffering. We call on the RMT to end the strikes. The jobs have been guaranteed beyond this franchise. There is no reason to continue this needless action. The message is very clear: “Stop the strikes, get round the table and put passengers first.”

Q9. Ofsted reports that 1.3 million children with special educational needs are not having those needs met at school and that over 2,000 children on education, health and care plans in 2018 received no support whatsoever. Ambitious about Autism reports a 60% increase over the past four years in autistic children being excluded from school. Will the Prime Minister please look beyond those figures to the children affected and to the distress that they and their parents are experiencing? Does she agree that this is a national scandal that needs to be addressed with the utmost urgency? (908029)

Every child deserves the right education for them. We are working to drive up quality for children with special educational needs and for those with disabilities. We have taken several steps, such as introducing a new inspections framework and focusing more on a local area’s strengths and weaknesses, and we are working to spread best practice, but that is being dealt with better in some areas than in others. When used properly, EHC plans do ensure that support is tailored to the needs of children and that families are put at the heart of the process, and more money is going in this year for children with special educational needs. However, I recognise that parents of children with special educational needs often feel that they constantly have to beat their heads against the bureaucracy that they come up against to ensure that they get the right support for their children. We are committed to ensuring that we are delivering for children and that we are delivering quality education that is right for children with special educational needs.

I know how much the Prime Minister likes to get out on to the doorsteps of her constituency whenever she is able to, as I like to in mine. Does she, like me, find that people are raising the issue of potholes on a regular basis, and does she, like me, welcome the fact that we are spending £6.7 million—[Interruption.]

Order. This happens in my constituency as well. I want to hear about the pothole situation in Redditch and elsewhere.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The roads in Redditch are excellent on the whole, but we are pleased that Worcestershire was awarded £6.7 million of funding in the recent Budget. How quickly does the Prime Minister think that that money will be spent on fixing our roads?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Potholes, local services and other issues that matter to people on a day-to-day basis are issues that are raised on the doorstep. My understanding is that the money is available and should be being spent now.

Q10. In the Scottish case that has established that article 50, or the Prime Minister’s article 50 notice, can indeed be revoked, the UK Government have lost three times: in the Supreme Court of Scotland, the UK Supreme Court and, yesterday, in the advocate general’s opinion in the Court of Justice of the European Union. Can the Prime Minister tell us why she has put so much public money and energy into depriving this Parliament of legal certainty about the options that will be open to it when her deal is voted down next week? (908030)

Both the UK Government and, actually, the European Commission felt that it was right that the issue be tested. We will not revoke article 50. That is clear. The Government will not revoke article 50. Everyone in the House needs to understand what the judgment of the advocate general means. If experience is anything to go by, the Court will go with it, but it still has not come to its final decision. However, if the determination of the advocate general goes ahead, it says that it is possible for a country unilaterally to revoke article 50, but that is not about extending article 50—it is about making sure that we do not leave the European Union. That is what that judgment is about. We will not revoke article 50. The British people voted to leave the European Union and we will be leaving.

A number of Members of this House and members of the public are still concerned that we may risk being in an extended, if not permanent, backstop situation or customs territory. Can my right hon. Friend explain why, in her opinion, the European Union will not want that to exist and why it will negotiate in good faith for an extensive free trade agreement?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I recognise that there are concerns about the backstop but, for a number of reasons, it is indeed the case that it is not attractive for the European Union to have the United Kingdom in the backstop. First, in that backstop, we will be making no financial obligation to the European Union, we will not be accepting free movement and there will be very light touch level playing field requirements. These are matters that mean that the European Union does not see this as an attractive place for it to put the UK. The EU thinks that is an attractive place for the UK to be in and it will not want us to be in it for any longer than is necessary.

Q11. The European structural fund is worth billions to Scotland, and it funds initiatives in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran such as tackling poverty and promoting social inclusion. The fund is to be replaced by the UK shared prosperity fund. However, we have no real detail or clarity as to how this fund will be designed or when it will begin. Why not? (908031)

That will indeed be replaced by the shared prosperity fund, which will look at ensuring that we deal with the disparities that exist between communities and between nations. The Government will be consulting before the end of the year.

Next week will be the first opportunity for MPs to vote on the withdrawal agreement, and I was glad to have the opportunity to speak in the debate last night. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House and my constituents that, should the withdrawal agreement not secure the support of Parliament, Her Majesty’s Government will seek early dialogue with negotiators in Brussels to seek to address the genuine concerns of MPs on both sides of the House?

I believe that the deal we have negotiated is a good deal. I recognise that concerns have been raised, particularly around the backstop. As I said yesterday in my speech during the debate, I am continuing to listen to colleagues on that, and I am considering the way forward.

Q13. One of my constituents has lost thousands of pounds from his British Steel pension as he was preyed upon by a rogue financial adviser and it has happened to hundreds of others across the country. The Financial Conduct Authority does not have the teeth to sort this out. I think that ripping off pensioners is criminal. Does the Prime Minister agree? (908033)

I am very sorry to hear of the case in relation to the pension of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and the actions of that financial adviser. I will ensure that the Treasury looks at this issue and these sorts of cases with the Financial Conduct Authority.

Our country’s children are our country’s future. Yesterday, Ofsted reported that 95% of early years providers are now rated good or outstanding, up from 74% six years ago. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all those who work in early years organisations for giving our children the very best start in life?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that early years education is important. It is important for children to give them that good start in life, and it is to be welcomed and applauded that 95% of those providers are now rated good or outstanding. We should thank all those who work in early years provision for the excellent work they are doing for our children and their future.

Q14. This morning’s legal advice refers to the backstop as a permanent arrangement that will “endure indefinitely,” which repeats previous assertions. Does the Prime Minister agree, at this last moment, that the entire premise of the backstop has been based on a false assertion? It is a practical, physical and political impossibility, under any circumstances, for a hard border to emerge on the island of Ireland. Why has she allowed that to be used as a negotiating ploy by the EU against the United Kingdom? (908034)

This is not a negotiating ploy by the European Union against the UK. It is our commitment, as a UK Government, to the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman says that the political assertion that there will be no hard border is sufficient to give people reassurance for the future. I say no. What people want to know is that arrangements will be in place. It does not have to be the backstop. The future relationship will deal with this. The extension of the implementation period could deal with the temporary period. Alternative arrangements could deal with it. But people need to know it is beyond a political assertion that there is that commitment there to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that we have no hard border.

Yesterday, London students heard from the renowned holocaust survivor Hannah Lewis, who described the horrors of Europe’s darkest hour. As we celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, does my right hon. Friend agree that there could be no better place for the national holocaust memorial and learning centre than alongside this Palace of Westminster, to stand as a permanent memorial to the horrors of the ultimate of antisemitism?

I commend Hannah for the contribution she is making and has made over the years in bringing home to people the absolute horrors of the holocaust. I commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does important work up and down our country. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there is no better place for the holocaust memorial and learning centre to be than right next to our Parliament. What is important is that this is not just a memorial; it is a learning centre and it will be educating young people and others about the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man.

I, too, would like to take the opportunity to express my respect to Sammy Woodhouse for her courage. Yesterday, the National Assembly for Wales became the first Parliament on the British Isles to reject the Prime Minister’s deal and clearly it will not be the last. Wales has seen through how she is intent on inflicting GBH—her Government’s Brexit harm—on our nation. Beset on all sides, will she come to her senses and rule out a no-deal scenario before this House forces her to do so?

If the hon. Lady is concerned about the possible effects of a no-deal scenario, the only way to ensure that there is not a no-deal scenario is to accept a deal scenario and accept the deal that is on the table.

Prime Minister, the legal witch hunting of military veterans, which I have been raising with you for about a year now, is getting worse. The latest victim is David Griffin, a 77-year-old former Royal Marine who is being reinvestigated for an incident that took place in Northern Ireland 45 years ago, on which he was thoroughly cleared at the time. They knew where to find him, because he is an in-pensioner at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. How is it that we live in a country where alleged IRA terrorists are given letters of comfort and we go after Chelsea Pensioners instead? Prime Minister, this nonsense must stop. Please, please, do something about it.

My right hon. Friend raises a particular case, which will have touched everybody across this House. He also raises the contrast between the treatment of veterans and the treatment of terrorists. About 3,500 people were killed in the troubles, 90% of whom were murdered by terrorists, and many of these cases require further investigations, including the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. We have committed to establishing new mechanisms for dealing with this, in a balanced and proportionate way. We are concerned that at the moment we see a situation where there has been a disproportionate emphasis on those who were serving military or police officers at the time. I want to ensure that the terrorists are investigated, and we continue to look at this question. We have consulted on it and we will be responding to that consultation. I recognise the strength of feeling from my right hon. Friend and others about this issue and the Government will be responding in due course.

I know the whole House is inspired by the bravery of Sammy Woodhouse in speaking out so that we can drive real change, and is horrified by the news that the man who raped Sammy and is serving a 35-year prison sentence was encouraged to seek access to her child through the family courts. Does the Prime Minister agree that no man who has fathered a child through rape should have parental rights? Will she seek to amend the legislation, through the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill when it comes back to this House, so that men who have fathered children through rape cannot weaponise the courts to access children and re-traumatise their victims all?

This is obviously a very distressing case and I am sure that, as we have just heard, the concerns of the whole House rest with Sammy Woodhouse and with what has happened in this case. As the facts have been reported, I am sure we all consider it extraordinary that this should have happened in the first place. What is important is that the Ministry of Justice and other Departments are urgently looking at and working with local authorities on the issues raised in this case to ensure that there is a process in place in future that does protect children and mothers from harm. I understand that the hon. Lady has met the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), and I urge her to continue engaging with the MOJ on this very important issue.