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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2018

Cabinet Office

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Leaving the EU: Contingency Planning

1. What discussions his Department is having with stakeholders on contingency planning for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908294)

The Government’s policy is for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a negotiated deal. Individual Departments are responsible for briefing businesses and other interested parties about contingency planning for all eventualities, and the Cabinet Office is co-ordinating contingency planning across Whitehall.

Will my right hon. Friend give details of which Departments have been allocated moneys for no-deal preparation, how much, and the spending timescales?

My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced yesterday details of a £2 billion planned spend for 2019-20. These moneys would be available for either a no-deal or a deal scenario. The largest recipient Departments are the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for International Trade.

In the event of no deal, we read in the press that the Government are going to inform the public about what they should do to prepare for it. Will the Minister outline for us what exactly the Government will say to the public of this country about how they should prepare for no deal?

As I said in my earlier response, it will be for the Secretary of State in each Department to determine what forms of communication are necessary to businesses or the wider public. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the message that we get back again and again from the general public is that they want Members of Parliament from both sides of the House to get on and agree the deal that is on the table.

With reports of DEFRA making contingency plans to slaughter a large amount of livestock, what reassurance can be given to livestock breeders in my constituency looking at a no-deal Brexit?

I think it unavoidable that, given the World Trade Organisation’s standard tariffs for livestock trade and the position of third countries in relation to the EU’s legal requirement for phytosanitary checks and inspections, there will be difficulties for our livestock exporters in the event of no deal. That is another reason for the House to agree the deal that is available.

After last week’s shambles, we are now 100 days away from our scheduled departure from the EU without having voted on any deal in the House. We are now staring at a cliff-edge no-deal exit, which would be damaging not only for our economy, but potentially for our national security. In the event of no deal, with what assurances can the Minister provide the House that the Government have discussed with stakeholders our continued security partnership with the EU, including on cyber-related matters?

The Home Office and other Departments with the responsibilities for security interests are in constant touch with the police and other relevant agencies about those matters. I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said to others in the House, that what is needed is for every Member in the House to take seriously his or her responsibility and not to keep ducking the question—[Interruption.] The challenge that she has to answer is that if she does not like the deal that has been negotiated with the 27 Governments of the EU, what is her alternative and that which the Opposition are proposing?

Civil Service Relocation

2. What steps his Department is taking to move civil service jobs out of London as part of the Government’s industrial strategy. (908295)

We are committed to supporting economic growth across the United Kingdom. We have established the Places for Growth programme to relocate civil service roles to the regions and nations. That creates a presumption that newly created public bodies will be located outside London.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Can I invite him or the Secretary of State to come to Plymouth with me early in 2019 to see for themselves how digital connectivity has transformed our city? It is not just a great place to live, as it has always been, but now a great place to work and run a business. Would it not be very good for the Government to have a Government hub there?

I know, thanks to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, that Plymouth is a great place to work and do business. A number of potential hub locations are under active consideration. I would of course be delighted to meet a delegation from Plymouth, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster intends to visit Plymouth shortly.

When the Minister is looking to relocate civil service jobs outside London, will he look at post-industrial areas, which traditionally have high levels of unemployment, as a way to stimulate the jobs market?

That is precisely the idea behind the Places for Growth strategy, which is to ensure Government activity benefits all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we have created hubs across the United Kingdom—for example, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds, Birmingham and Cardiff, to name just a few.

The Minister will be aware—at least, I hope he is aware—of the success of the Oil and Gas Authority being based in Aberdeen, as was presented in evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday by both our right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth and the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands from the Scottish Government. Does the Minister agree that moving civil service jobs out of London using that model has the potential to boost local economic growth across the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That forms a core part of the Government’s industrial strategy. As I have said, we have already created hubs in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I am open to all representations for further relocations of Government activity.

Mr Speaker, you would be surprised if I did not mention the great benefits in this of the far north of Scotland: a lovely environment, splendid education and cheap housing and accommodation. Positioning civil service jobs in the north of Scotland, alongside Scottish civil service jobs, would be good for the relationship between Scotland and London, and it would help strengthen the Union.

The hon. Gentleman makes the case exceptionally well. That is precisely why we are ensuring that Government jobs are located in all parts—all nations—of our United Kingdom. I know that there is already considerable space activity in his constituency.

Real Living Wage

3. If he will make it his policy to introduce the real living wage across all Government Departments and to seek accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation. (908297)

We are addressing this issue through the application of the statutory national minimum wage and the national living wage. This is based on the advice of the Low Pay Commission. From April, the national living wage will rise again—from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour—handing a full-time worker a further £690 annual pay rise.

This Government like to talk about employment levels, but they stay silent on the fact that many people are now struggling with in-work poverty, which is rising among working parents in particular. Does this Minister believe that his kid-on living wage is more effective at tackling in-work poverty than the real living wage promoted by the Living Wage Foundation?

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct: we do continue to talk about employment, because 2 million jobs have been created under this Government. On the point about the national living wage, we were of course the first Government actually to introduce a national living wage. The aim is that that will rise to 60% of median income by 2020, and it is actually rising faster than the real living wage.

Everyone in the country knows that the Government’s pretendy living wage is not the same as the real living wage. It pays an awful lot less, and it excludes millions of younger workers. At this season of good will, will the Government not commit to making it their policy next year to seek accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and show leadership in the country in taking on low pay?

I think the hon. Gentleman is a little dismissive of the national living wage, which, since it was introduced, has led to a pay rise for people on the lowest incomes of almost £3,000 a year. It is rising faster than his proposal, and it will reach 60% of median income by 2020. Post that, we will look again at further increases.

Leaving the EU: Civil Service Capacity

4. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of the civil service to manage additional responsibilities arising from the UK leaving the EU. (908298)

14. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of the civil service to manage additional responsibilities arising from the UK leaving the EU. (908308)

The Government are equipping themselves with the right people and the right skills for the UK to exit the European Union successfully. Almost 11,000 people are now working on EU exit-related policy and programmes across the Government, and the workforce plans will continue to be reviewed to ensure that our civil service can respond to emerging capacity and capability requirements.

The National Audit Office reports that the additional staff needed to work at UK borders after Brexit may not be in place by March 2019. Will the Minister explain why, almost 29 months since the EU referendum, the Government have not got their act together?

All reports of the National Audit Office are obviously interesting, but I have absolute confidence in the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is very confident that the Border Force will be ready—as am I, from my previous experience in that Department—for any eventuality of Brexit.

We are hearing on the news today that the Government are preparing for every extreme eventuality and possible consequence of Brexit. Which promised or commissioned services are already not being delivered because of the thousands of civil servants transferred to EU work and preparation for the various Brexit outcomes?

Departments are continually looking at and reviewing workforce plans, reprioritising and assessing changing needs. We have the beauty of having a fantastic civil service, with the extra funding that the Treasury has put in to make sure that we are able to get the civil service in place at this point, to continue to deliver on the important Government domestic agenda, while ensuring that we leave the EU in an orderly and sensible fashion.

In the field of justice, we have been lucky to enjoy very good civil, mutual judicial co-operation across Europe. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, are there plans in place, and are there the civil servants, for example, to rejoin The Hague conventions in place of the regulations in Europe and so on, to ensure that we have a smooth legal transition?

There is something wrong with the microphone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot be fully heard, and that is unsatisfactory, but I am sure it will be put right.

My right hon. and learned Friend asks an important question. We are now focusing on making sure that we get the deal we want negotiated with the EU—that is our top priority—but it is right that we prepare for every eventuality. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is working with partners around Europe to ensure that, but the best thing we can do in this Parliament to ensure that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit, including for the justice system and security, is to support the Prime Minister’s deal when we vote on it in January.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Prime Minister said that no deal need not be the end of the world and that Britain would be fully prepared in that eventuality? With this ramping up and extra investment, will our civil service have the resources it needs to be ready and deliver on time?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is right that, with just over three months to go before we exit the EU, we need to accelerate and intensify these preparations. I am confident that the civil service is well equipped to deal with that, but of course our focus and our key priority is to get the right deal with the EU and one that we can pass that through this House in January.

Will the Minister liaise with his colleagues in the Cabinet Office to ensure that civil servants, both there and in the Department for Transport, speedily come to a conclusion on air passenger duty and corporation tax, thereby giving a considerable boost to the Northern Ireland economy?

My colleagues in the Cabinet Office and in the Department for Transport are working together to ensure that everything is as smooth as it can be. However, I would reiterate that the best way to have a smooth solution to all this is to support the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister is putting before this House.

Voter ID Pilots

12. Whether the Government plans to conduct further voter ID pilots; and if he will make a statement. (908306)

The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy. A diverse range of local authorities have confirmed that they will be taking part in voter ID and postal vote pilots for the 2019 local elections. The pilots will provide further insights into ensuring the security of the voting process.

I am grateful for that answer. Bishop Auckland has the lowest rate of passport ownership in the entire country. Does not the Minister understand that expensive forms of voter ID will exclude thousands of people from exercising their democratic right to vote?

Yes, I do; the design of the pilots acknowledges that and makes sure that a free-of-charge alternative will be available.

My previous experience as a Tower Hamlets councillor highlighted to me the significant vulnerability of poorer, more diverse communities to electoral fraud. How can my hon. Friend improve democratic education across all communities so that we can make the electoral system more robust?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing her experience and her voice to this debate; it is very important that we hear that. I also thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who also represents Tower Hamlets, for his cross-party support for this policy. It shows how important that is. It is essential that electors are aware that their voice is theirs alone. That message was promoted through various channels in May this year, including work with the Electoral Commission, Crimestoppers and the police, and we will do more to spread that message.

Will the Minister assure the House that those who do not have the documentation she requires will not be disenfranchised by the new policy?

Yes, I am very happy to repeat that reassurance. When somebody does not have the correct form of ID, local authorities will provide an alternative method free of charge. On top of that, we are working closely with a range of charities and civil society organisations so that everyone who is registered to vote has the opportunity to do so.

Is the Minister not aware that ID is linked to knowing where the children of our country are: are they in school; are they vulnerable? Those in her party stopped us having that identification. Many children are at risk because of their actions on ID.

The hon. Gentleman has advanced that argument over many years in many different formats. I regret to say I am not entirely clear if I follow him this morning, but I would be very happy to have a further conversation with him if there is an important point there.

13. Why does the Minister not, instead of wasting money on voter ID pilots, spend money on giving votes to 16-year-olds? (908307)

I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), if he is listening, that I think what the Minister was saying, in a very polite and roundabout way, is that she has not got the foggiest idea what he is on about. No doubt, with some clarifications, she will be perfectly clear on what he is talking about. I thought I knew what he was talking about.

Yes, Mr Speaker. To answer the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), she will know very well that the election manifesto on which this party and Government were elected excluded votes at 16. It is also a little sad if she does not see the merits, in their own right, of ensuring integrity in our voting processes. That means tackling fraud.

This year’s voter ID pilots cost the taxpayer £1.7 million and the only discernible effect was that several hundred people were prevented from voting. The Minister is refusing to publish details of the budget for next year’s voter ID pilots. Why is she keeping that information secret, and what has she got to hide?

There is nothing to hide. I have been extremely clear about what the costs may be. As soon as I have information about the design of the pilots, I will be happy to share it with the House. Indeed, I have undertaken to do so through the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The hon. Gentleman needs to be concerned about how his party says one thing and does another. The Labour party uses voter ID in its own meetings. If it is good enough for them, why is it not good enough for the country?

I call Giles Watling. Not here. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Well, I hope the fella is not indisposed. We look forward to seeing him again. I call Michael Fabricant.

Nobody doubted it for a moment. We always expect the hon. Gentleman to be here, and we can spot him a mile off.


7. What steps his Department is taking to help improve the cyber-security of public and private sector organisations; and if he will make a statement. (908301)

Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, which is supported by nearly £2 billion of investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and infrastructure, to deter our adversaries and to develop the skills and capabilities this country needs.

With major data breaches at the Marriott hotel group and British Airways, with which I hope to be flying tomorrow—[Interruption] Well, I hope so, anyway—what can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that private corporations maintain security for their customers?

My hon. Friend is spot on in his comments. That is why the National Cyber Security Centre has designed new materials aimed at members of company boards. The Cabinet Office will be launching them, along with the NCSC, in the new year.

The Minister will be aware that before the summer recess The Daily Telegraph reported that data breaches on gaining passes to Government buildings, including the Cabinet Office, were made available to the public because of the use of open shared drives that had been condemned six months previously. Can the Minister give a reassurance that that simply will not happen again?

Clearly, any breach of data security is to be regretted, and we have a system whereby we learn from those experiences. We also need to be aware that both criminal gangs and hostile state actors are always seeking innovative new ways to penetrate our defences, and the NCSC is our key source of expertise in combating that threat.

Topical Questions

Today, I am publishing the Government’s “State of the Estate” report, which shows that we have successfully cut the size of the Government estate by more than a third since 2010, saving £760 million in running costs. As well as saving money, we are improving the environmental performance of Government buildings, with emissions having been cut by almost 40% since 2009-10.

What engagement has the Minister had with the Northern Ireland Office over the money required to deal with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, and what requirement has there been in respect of the allocation of moneys to the Northern Ireland Government?

Consequential sums will flow to the Northern Ireland civil service as a result of the Treasury’s announcement yesterday. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is closely involved in all Government discussions about contingency planning, and I have invited representatives of the Northern Ireland civil service to a meeting with UK Ministers later today where they will have the opportunity to put Northern Ireland’s case directly.

T4. On no-deal planning, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the contingency of our ending up on the WTO’s default tariff schedule, particularly in terms of the potential impact on farming and industry? (908313)

I discuss these matters regularly with both the Secretaries of State my hon. Friend alluded to. I am afraid that there is no getting away from the fact that going to WTO tariffs would impose very considerable additional costs upon our dairy, meat and livestock exports, and upon our vehicle manufacturers. That is another reason why the House should back the deal on the table and not let us be sucked into the damage that a no-deal exit would bring.

Season’s greetings to you, Mr Speaker, everybody in the House and all our staff.

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting appears to have decided to abandon all non-essential Government business and reveals an Administration in an advanced state of decay. Will the Minister now tell the House which Government functions he regards as non-essential and is now putting into deep freeze?

We have taken no decisions to put anything into deep freeze. We are engaged in prudent contingency planning so that we are prepared for all eventualities. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman yet again has ducked the opportunity to say what the Opposition’s preferred outcome is, if they object to the deal on the table.

T6. The 29 March will be nearly three years since the British people decided to leave the EU in the referendum, and there are fears that the article 50 process will be drawn out or cancelled. In that context, does my right hon. Friend agree that democracy delayed is democracy denied? (908315)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not have been clearer about both our exit from the EU and the date we will leave. It is important that we leave but do so in a way that protects jobs, investment and living standards in this country. That is why this House has the responsibility to agree to a deal and not go into a no-deal exit.

T2. The National Audit Office report on the British Army recruiting partnership is heavily critical of Capita’s role. It takes up to 321 days to complete the Army recruitment process, and Capita is being paid an extra £182 million, despite missing the British Army’s targets every year since 2013. Considering Capita’s failures with contracts such as the NHS cervical cancer screening programme and NHS England’s primary care support services, will the Minister stop rewarding failure and cease awarding contracts to Capita? (908311)

The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of Capita’s Army recruitment contract. I can tell him that we have a plan to address those challenges. We are working on a manning campaign, and we are in close contact with the chief executive of Capita to deal with precisely that issue.

T7. It is right that we try to ensure that the voting system is as fair as possible. What work is the Minister doing to improve the current system, and does she agree that a close link between constituents and their representatives is important? (908316)

Yes, I agree that the link with constituencies is extremely important, and, as my hon. Friend will know, we are committed to keeping the first-past-the-post system for that reason.

T3. Thirty-five years ago, in a unanimous five-nil judgment, the Law Lords ruled that Sikhs were an ethnic group and protected from discrimination. However, the results of the Prime Minister’s race disparity audit contained no data whatsoever relating to Sikhs. The Office for National Statistics only requires public bodies to collect and monitor data relating to ethnic groups specified in the census, and the Government’s White Paper fails to include a Sikh ethnic tick-box. Will the Minister commit herself to meeting officers of the all-party parliamentary group on UK Sikhs and to the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick-box in the Census Order, in order to bring an end to decades of discrimination against the Sikh community? (908312)

I shall be happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues. I know that the independent Office for National Statistics, whose decisions these are, has written to the APPG in some detail, and I know that the ONS will also listen carefully to the hon. Lady’s question and endeavour to answer it.

Are the Government still committed to abolishing the insidious 15-year rule that applies to British expats voting in UK elections?

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This Friday marks 30 years since the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, which resulted in the biggest loss of life from a terrorist atrocity on UK soil. I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of the 270 people who perished, and with all those whose lives have been affected.

May I wish all Members and staff a merry Christmas and a happy new year? I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our warmest Christmas wishes to all our armed forces who are stationed overseas, and I am sure that I also speak on behalf of the whole House in sending Christmas wishes to all members of the emergency services and those who will be working over Christmas. Their service and sacrifice are inspirational, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I wish everyone here a merry Christmas: the Prime Minister, and all other Members.

The Prime Minister may recall that during the first Prime Minister’s Question Time of 2018, I asked her to do more to support the victims of the leasehold mis-selling scandal. May I use the last Question Time of the year to ask whether she has done anything about that, or whether she is going to kick it into the long grass as she did with the meaningful vote?

We have, in fact, been taking action in relation to leaseholds. We want to ensure that the leasehold system is transparent and fair to consumers, so that their homes truly feel like their own. In July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that no new Government funding scheme would be used to support the unjustified use of leasehold for new houses.

Our technical consultation on how to improve the lease- hold market for consumers has now closed. We have received responses from nearly 1,300 people and organisations, and we are analysing those responses. We will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Q8. As you will know, Mr Speaker, the issue of British nationals living in the EU and EU nationals living in the UK is of the utmost importance to every Member of the House. Given the Prime Minister’s welcome comments on her return from Salzburg about protecting the rights of EU nationals, at least those resident until 29 March, in the event of no deal, can she now confirm that in the event of no deal—and I hope that that will not be the case—she will reach a legally binding, multilateral agreement with the EU on the issue of citizens’ rights before 29 March? (908286)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and has consistently raised and championed the needs and concerns of EU citizens here in the UK. Our withdrawal agreement does guarantee those rights, which is important not just for individuals, but for businesses. We are clear that in a no-deal scenario, EU citizens resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and will be able to continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now. That demonstrates our ongoing commitment; we obviously want to work with, and are strongly engaging with, our EU counterparts to urge them to make the same commitment to protect the rights of UK nationals living in the European Union. We have been clear about the rights of EU nationals here in a no-deal scenario; we want the EU to do the same for UK citizens living in the 27.

I join the Prime Minister in remembering the events at Lockerbie 30 years ago. I remember the silence that fell on this entire building when the news came out of what had happened at Lockerbie. For the people of Lockerbie the trauma lives on, as it does for the families of the victims, and we should remember them today.

May I also take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to wish you and all Members of the House and everyone around our country a very happy Christmas, particularly those who have to work over Christmas and of course our armed services who will also be on duty over the Christmas period? All the best for a peaceful and welcome 2019. [Interruption.] I have gained acquiescence. My Christmas good wishes do extend to everyone over there on the Conservative Benches as well.

However, until then I just have to say this: the Prime Minister has plunged this country into a national crisis. She refused Parliament the right to vote on her Brexit deal. She said that she did that to seek “further assurances”; she failed. She is now claiming that she is still seeking further assurances while all the time running down the clock on the alternatives, so can the Prime Minister explain to us when the European Council will meet to approve the changes that it has already ruled out?

We are indeed still working with the European Union; we have discussions with the European Union to seek those assurances that this House wanted us to seek. May I correct the right hon. Gentleman on one point? He referenced the issue of the meaningful vote; we will have that meaningful vote here in the House. I set out earlier this week—[Interruption.] I set out—[Interruption.] There is absolutely no point in Opposition Members shouting out “When”, because I set out in the statement on Monday when that will take place.

I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that, week after week, he has stood here on this issue and talked about what he is against; he never says what he is for. If he wants to fulfil the will of the referendum—to support jobs, to end free movement, to do those trade deals, to avoid no deal—he needs to vote for this deal. He can talk all he likes about a meaningful vote; all he gives us is a meaningless position.

We should have had the vote a week ago. The Prime Minister denied Parliament the opportunity to have that vote and she is still unclear as to when it will actually take place.

There are no meetings of the EU Council scheduled until 21 March, and the EU has been very clear: there are no more negotiations, clarifications or meetings. The Prime Minister will be bringing back the same deal she pulled last week; this is an intolerable situation, and she is simply playing for time.

On Monday, in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) on the backstop, the Prime Minister said:

“I am seeking further political and legal assurances in relation to those issues, which can be achieved in a number of ways.”—[Official Report, 17 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 534.]

The Prime Minister must clearly set out now how she will achieve those legally binding assurances before the House is due to return on 7 January.

We will set out what is achieved in our EU discussions when we return in the new year, when we have had those discussions, when we bring those assurances back. The right hon. Gentleman can get as angry as he likes about this issue, but it does not hide the fact that he has no Brexit plan. I know it is Christmas, and I know that he has looked in his stocking, down the chimney and under the Christmas tree, but he still has not found a Brexit plan. He has to accept his responsibility to deliver on Brexit—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Yasin, you are normally a most composed, almost laid-back individual. You are becoming very hot-headed and I am worried, for your own sake. Calm down! Be a good fellow.

The right hon. Gentleman has to accept his responsibility for delivering on Brexit. There are some people who say that the Leader of the Opposition is just going through the motions, but what we saw this week is that he is not even doing that.

It is the Prime Minister who is supposed to be undertaking the negotiations. It is the Prime Minister who has failed to bring an acceptable deal back. If she does not like doing it, then step aside and let somebody else do it. The reality is that she is stalling for time—[Interruption.]

Order. I made it clear that the Prime Minister must not be shouted down, and no one should even bother trying to shout down the Leader of the Opposition. It will not work against the Prime Minister, and it will not work against the right hon. Gentleman. End of subject.

The reality is that the Prime Minister is stalling for time. There is still no majority in this House for her shoddy deal. It is not stoical; it is cynical. As the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) said:

“we have displacement activity designed to distract from last week’s failed renegotiation”.

The International Trade Secretary said:

“I think it is very difficult to support the deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop…I’m not even sure if the cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons”.

So can the Prime Minister give us a cast-iron guarantee that the vote in this House will not be delayed yet again?

We have been very clear about the process that we are going through and we have been very clear about when the vote will be brought back to this House. Of course the details of that debate have to be discussed in the usual channels in the usual way. The right hon. Gentleman made a response when I said that he had a responsibility to deliver on Brexit. Every Member of this House has a responsibility to deliver on Brexit, because 80% of the votes cast for Members of this House were for Members who stood on a manifesto commitment to honour the referendum and deliver on Brexit. What people will say to the right hon. Gentleman if he fails to recognise that he has a duty, as has everybody in this House, to deliver on Brexit, is that once again he has just bottled it.

The Prime Minister did not answer my question about a cast-iron guarantee. She is the one who has denied Parliament the right to vote on this subject, so please let us have no lectures to Parliament when it is the Prime Minister who is denying MPs the possibility of a vote. We should have had a vote a week ago, and we should now be debating practical alternatives. She is behaving in a disgraceful way that is frankly an outrage. No deal would be a disaster for our country, and no responsible Government would ever allow it. Just two weeks ago the Chancellor said that preparations for leaving with no deal

“could not be done in a matter of months; they would take years to complete.”

No deal is simply not an option, so why does the Prime Minister not stop the pretence and stop wasting £4 billion in a cynical attempt to drive her deeply damaging deal through this House?

If the right hon. Gentleman does not want to see money being spent on no deal, he has an easy answer: vote for this deal.

What the Prime Minister is doing is a criminal waste of money. She is recklessly running down—[Interruption.]

Order. In this House of Commons, where we are supposed to try to treat each other with respect, no one, under any circumstances, is going to be shouted down, so stop the attempted shouting down, on both sides, abandon the juvenile finger-wagging, which achieves precisely nothing, and let each other be heard. It is called the assertion of democratic principle.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister is recklessly running down the clock, all in a shameful attempt to make her own bad deal look like the lesser of two evils. With rising crime, 20,000 fewer police on our streets, 100,000 vacancies in our national health service, and the worst performance last month of any November on record, how can the Prime Minister justify wasting that money on no deal, which cannot and will not happen?

Until a deal has been ratified, the responsible position of Government—of any Government—is to put in place contingency arrangements for no deal. But I repeat that if the right hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal, he has to put into practice what he is saying and actually vote for a deal. He talks yet again about the number of police officers and about money going to the police. We made extra money available to the police this year, and what did the Labour party do? It voted against it.

The Prime Minister should stop dithering and put it to a vote of the House. Let the House make a decision. Her friend the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) was right, was she not, when she said that the threat of no deal is “an absolute disgrace”? The Prime Minister has thrown away two years on her botched negotiations. She is now recklessly wasting £4 billion of public money. She is holding Parliament and the country to ransom. She is irresponsibly risking jobs, investment and our industries. There have been no changes, so she must put her deal to the vote. Parliament must take back control. There is no majority in this House for no deal. Is this not just a deeply cynical manoeuvre from a failing and utterly reckless Prime Minister?

I have to say that it is a bit rich for the right hon. Gentleman to stand here and talk about dithering. Let us see what the Labour party did this week. They said that they would call a vote of no confidence, and then they said that they would not. Then he said that he would, and then it was not effective—[Interruption.] I know that it is Christmas—[Interruption.]

Order. Members must not shout at the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Order. Calm yourselves. Try to get into the Christmas spirit. If you cannot do that, at least listen to the Prime Minister.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

They said they would put down a vote of no confidence, then they said they would not, then they said they would, and then they did it but it was not effective. I know it is the Christmas season and the pantomime season, but what do we see from the Labour Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition? He is going to put a confidence vote. Oh yes he is! [Hon. Members: “Oh no he isn’t!”] I have some news for him. I have some advice for the right hon. Gentleman: look behind you. They are not impressed, and neither is the country.

Q10. May I wish the Prime Minister a well deserved Chequers chillax over Christmas before the start of the new panto season? On the basis that there may be £39 billion going spare in the new year, may I give her my priority Christmas list? Justice for the 1950s WASPI women; genuinely fair funding for hard-pressed schools in West Sussex; addressing the estimated £2 billion shortfall in children’s social care; and, for good measure, a vote of absolutely no confidence whatsoever in Her Majesty’s Opposition. (908288)

I thank my hon. Friend for his good wishes. In fact, I will not be at Chequers at Christmas, but I will take his good wishes to apply wherever I am at Christmas. As he will know, we are obviously putting more money into social care and the various issues he is concerned about. I do agree that if there is any vote of no confidence in this House it should be in the Leader of the Opposition.

I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks on the atrocity of Lockerbie. Mr Speaker, I wish you and everybody a merry Christmas. This is a time to be spent with friends and family, and I look forward to spending it on the Isle of Skye.

The British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the EEF, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors represent hundreds of thousands of businesses, and today they have said that their members are “watching in horror” the actions of this Government—watching in horror. This Prime Minister and the Conservative party are not fit for government. With 100 days left on the clock, this Government have failed businesses, failed Members of this House and failed citizens right across the UK. Will the Prime Minister move aside and put a vote to the people?

First, what is causing concern for businesses is the fact that Parliament has not been able to come to a decision because people—[Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members, including SNP Members, pointing across the Chamber. They have a responsibility to deliver on Brexit for the British people as well, and it is high time they took that responsibility seriously. A deal that works for the UK, a deal that works for Scotland—that is what we are offering. It is supported by techUK, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scotch Whisky Association, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and Oil & Gas UK. They are supporting the deal, why isn’t he?

If the Prime Minister thinks the deal is worth putting to the House, why did she pull the vote? The SNP will not stand by and watch this Prime Minister wreck our economy and rob our citizens of their rights.

Yesterday, alongside other Opposition party leaders, the SNP tabled a motion of no confidence in this shambolic Government. When the official Opposition fail to step up, the real opposition to this Tory Government will step in. The Prime Minister is now running scared and denying time for our motion for fear of the result. Is the Prime Minister so frightened of defeat that she will deny Parliament another vote?

We have been clear that Parliament will have a meaningful vote on the deal, and we have set out when that will be. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Scottish economy. If he is concerned about the Scottish economy, why have the Scottish Government taken measures that mean people in Scotland earning £27,000 or more will be paying more tax than they would in the rest of the UK? That is not good for the Scottish economy, and it is not good for the people concerned.

Q11. The Prime Minister was completely correct to castigate the Labour party for its deeply flawed plan to snatch shares in private companies. Will she join me in also condemning the South African Parliament, which is currently taking powers to seize land from its own citizens, without compensation and solely based on the colour of their skin? Not only is that wrong, but it risks turning another African country from a breadbasket into a basket case. (908289)

I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed about this issue. The question of land reform was one I raised with President Ramaphosa when I visited South Africa in August. We recognise the concern there is and the need there is for land reform, but President Ramaphosa has consistently stated that violent and illegal land seizures will not be tolerated and that the process should be orderly within South African laws and take into consideration both the social and economic impact. We want to see a process that is fair and, while it recognises the need to deliver on land reform, does that in a way that is fair to all South African citizens.

Q2. It is only a few short months since the Prime Minister promised us an end to austerity. So why, at a time when demands on council resources in deprived areas such as mine are increasing and health inequalities are widening, does she believe it is right to cut the public health budget for County Durham by £19 million and increase the public health budget in affluent Surrey by £14 million? (908280)

Obviously, there are funding arrangements that apply across in terms of the decisions on these sums of money. The hon. Gentleman talks about disparities that occur. Of course funding per dwelling for the local authority in Durham is more than it is in other areas—it is more than it is in my Maidenhead constituency. So there are proper ways of looking at these issues and ensuring, as we are by putting more money into our local authorities, that the money is there for them to do the job they need to do.

Q13. Senior managers at Lloyds and HBOS were convicted of a disgraceful fraud against their own business customers. Now there is compelling evidence of a cover-up at the highest level, including a recent admission of the disgraceful mistreatment of a whistleblower. This week, the compensation scheme for victims was described by Jonathan Laidlaw, QC, as “partial” to the bank’s interests. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the chief executive, Antonio Horta-Osorio, should now consider his position and that the compensation scheme should be replaced by an independent process of arbitration? (908291)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and I know that he has consistently campaigned on it. I understand that he raised it yesterday in a debate in Westminster Hall. As he said in his question, the events at HBOS Reading—at that branch—constituted criminal activity, and it is right that those responsible were brought to justice. Decisions about whether to launch financial services conduct investigations are the responsibility of the Financial Conduct Authority, as the independent regulator for the sector. I understand that it is currently conducting two investigations into the events at HBOS Reading, including into the bank’s communications with regulators following the discovery of the misconduct. Obviously, we look forward to the conclusions of those investigations. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to champion the needs and concerns of all those who found themselves recipients and victims of what was identified as criminal activity.

Q3. For almost 400 years, this country, almost uniquely in the world, has been a place of safety and security, and a place where Jewish communities have thrived. In 2018, many in the Jewish community are questioning whether that will be the case into the future. A disturbingly large number of young Jewish people are questioning whether they should remain in this country. Does the Prime Minister agree that 2019 has to be a year when we all stand up and be counted, to ensure that those young Jewish people believe in and stay in this country, wishing to contribute and no longer fearing for their future? (908281)

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Jewish people should be able to feel safe and secure in this country. I never thought I would see the day when Jewish people living in this country questioned whether they should stay in this country. This is a terrible state of affairs that we have come to. There is no place for racial hatred in our society and it is important that we all take every step to tackle it. I was very pleased to host the reception for the recent groundbreaking Sara conference, organised by the hon. Gentleman and the all-party group on antisemitism, along with the Antisemitism Policy Trust, which looked at the twin evils of misogyny and antisemitism. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about the need for us all—every one of us—to stand up as we go into the new year and say that 2019 will be the year when we stand up and say there is no place for antisemitism or racial hatred in our society.

Most Members of this House, on both sides, are likely to spend much of the recess working, as I know my right hon. Friend herself will. Given the cost of staffing and security, can my right hon. Friend think of any reason at all, other than grandstanding, for the early recall of Parliament? Will she, with our good wishes, continue her endeavours to seek a solution to what we all know is a very intractable problem?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we are able to conduct the discussions that are taking place with the European Union. We have been clear that we will bring the meaningful vote back to the House, and it is right that we have set out the timing on which that will be done. I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out that when Members of this House leave Parliament as we go into recess, they do not just go away; they go to their constituencies and work in their constituencies and for their constituents. That is all too frequently forgotten by many, so I thank my hon. Friend for raising it and reminding us of it.

Q4. Homelessness in the UK is now a national emergency and a national disgrace. How can it be, in a country of our resources, our talents and our wealth, that this year 320,000 British people have been classed as being homeless? Don’t listen to your Ministers, Prime Minister; you only need to go to any British city centre this Christmas to see just how bad this problem has become since 2010. Whatever the Government think they are doing, it is not enough. Prime Minister, please, will you try to do better next year? (908282)

First, in the way that the hon. Gentleman put his question he is confusing or putting together homelessness and rough sleeping. These are different issues. Nobody should have to sleep rough on the streets of this country, which is why we are taking action against it. The hon. Gentleman raises the wider issue of homelessness. Why is it that we have this wider issue? It is because Governments, year after year, failed to build enough homes in this country. We need to ensure that we are building those homes. That is what this Government are doing. Last year we saw the number of homes being built at the highest level for any but one of the last 31 years. If the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that there is a variety of housing available to people in this country, it is this Government who have ensured that councils can borrow more to build more houses, and what did he and the Labour party do? They voted against it.

Twelve young people die each week in this country from sudden cardiac arrest, and that figure could be reduced significantly by the availability of more defibrillators. Will the Prime Minister therefore support my ten-minute rule Bill, which I will present to Parliament this afternoon, and which will require the mandatory installation of defibrillators in all schools, leisure centres and public buildings so that we can end this needless loss of life?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, which we take extremely seriously. We are certainly committed to encouraging all schools to acquire defibrillators as part of their first aid equipment. The Department for Education has been working with the NHS to make these life-saving devices more affordable. They have also become easier to use in recent times. I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, but to those many people up and down the country who are campaigning and raising funds to ensure that there are defibrillators not just in schools but in other places, such as outside the hall in Holyport in my constituency. The defibrillator there was paid for by money raised by people in that village. We should commend such people for what they are doing, and we will continue to work to ensure that defibrillators are available.

Q5. The Office for National Statistics excess winter mortality figures show that, in our country over the past 10 years, 313,000 people have died because of the cold. Last winter, 50,000 died, the highest number of winter casualties since 1976. It is a shameful indictment of our ability as a country to protect our most elderly and vulnerable residents, so may I ask the Prime Minister to say specifically what she will do this winter to prevent thousands of people from dying needlessly? (908283)

There are many actions that the Government are taking in relation to the wider issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised about people saving lives over the winter—action is being taken in the NHS and elsewhere. Of course, for people to be able to heat their homes and to have confidence that they can afford to heat their homes, it is important that we help those who find themselves stuck on tariffs that are not right for them—that are higher than they should be. That is why our energy price cap is an important step in this. It will help 11 million households. On average, £76 a year will be saved and for some £130.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that demand for special educational needs provision is increasing throughout the country and that resources are thinly spread. Will she undertake in 2019 to make it an even higher priority for our Government to provide generous support for these very special children?

I thank my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. The need to ensure that we are providing for children with special educational needs is very important. We are already seeing £6 billion this year going towards children with complex special educational needs; that is the highest level on record. We are also investing £265 million through to 2021 to create new school places and improve the existing facilities for children with special educational needs and those with disabilities. But it is also about the programme we have with our free schools: 34 special schools have opened so far with a further 55 in the pipeline. That is providing for children with special educational needs and we will continue to do so.

Q6. Yesterday, within hours of the Prime Minister greenlighting the no-deal preparations, a constituent contacted me to say that he had been sent a redundancy notice by his work directly as a result of the chaos that this will cause. Her own figures show that any Brexit deal will leave us poorer, but no deal means a £24 billion hit to our public finances. [Interruption.] The Chancellor barracks—these are his own figures. Can the Prime Minister tell my now unemployed constituent what public services she is going to cut, or what taxes she is planning to raise to deal with that hole? Or is she just going to leave it to one of her successors to deal with these problems? (908284)

While the Government are making contingency arrangements for no deal, of course, what they are working for is to get the agreement on the deal that has been negotiated with the European Union such that we leave with a good deal for the United Kingdom that ensures that jobs are increased in this country, as they have been over the last eight years under a Conservative Government.

Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all NHS, social care and emergency services staff who will be working over Christmas and the new year? Imagine how many more of them could be employed if we were not haemorrhaging billions preparing for a disastrous no deal. Could the Prime Minister end the uncertainty by ruling out no deal and will she also end the uncertainty please by publishing the long-term 10-year plan for the NHS before we break for Christmas?

My hon. Friend and indeed a number of others have raised this question of no deal and not wanting to have no deal. As I said earlier in answer to questions, there is a simple way to ensure that we do not leave with no deal, and that is to back the deal.

Q7. Motor neurone disease is terminal but, under this Government, people who are diagnosed with this dreadful disease have to prove that they have a reasonable expectation of death within six months, or go through a process of assessment. Will the Prime Minister show some empathy, show some compassion and take action with her new Secretary of State to end this dreadful state of affairs which she is presiding over? (908285)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about people with motor neurone disease. I note his point and will inquire about these issues with the Department for Work and Pensions. I will look into the issue and respond to the hon. Gentleman in writing.

The Prime Minister is sending Parliament off for a two-week break at the very moment that we have a Brexit crisis and no decisions. Our communities want us here, representing them in Parliament. If we are not even back until 7 January, how can she possibly say that we are doing our job? Is not the message to the British people, “Crisis? What crisis?”

We are in a very simple situation, as I am sure my right hon. Friend understands. Members across the House raised some concerns specifically in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop in the withdrawal agreement. We are having further discussions with the European Union on that matter to achieve the political and legal assurances that will assuage those concerns, and then we will bring the vote back to this House.

Q9. As the Home Secretary will not answer a rather straightforward question, will the Prime Minister tell us whether it is still her intention that her Government will reduce immigration to the tens of thousands? Yes or no? (908287)

The Prime Minister was sent a letter on a cross-party basis from those of us who have manufacturing workers and those who support them in our constituencies, who are deeply concerned about the impact of Brexit on their jobs. Does she agree that the best way to avoid the unnecessary economic damage of leaving with no deal is to leave with a deal and protect those jobs?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The manufacturing industry has been clear with us that it wants the country to leave the European Union with a deal that helps to protect those jobs. That is exactly what we want to do, and that is the decision that Parliament will be faced with when we bring the meaningful vote back.

Q12. Almost 1,000 Nottingham South residents have already responded to my Brexit survey. Only 7% back the Prime Minister’s deal and more than three quarters want to vote on Brexit if MPs cannot agree. She will not let Parliament have a vote and she opposes letting the people have a vote. Are not her attempts to dodge and delay simply costly and reckless? (908290)

The hon. Lady is wrong. She says that I will not let Parliament have a vote; Parliament will have a vote when we have conducted those further discussions with the EU.

I am afraid that the Prime Minister is wrong when she says that the choice that will eventually face this House is the choice between her deal and no deal. I gently say that no responsible Conservative Prime Minister—we are, after all, the party of business—would be so reckless as to take us out of the European Union without a deal. Will the Prime Minister now commit to this—[Interruption.]

Order. Some junior Minister presumes to try to shout down the right hon. Lady. Not only unethical, Mr Opperman, but always—everywhere, without exception—doomed to fail.

It is a little dangerous as well, if I may say so.

When the Prime Minister’s deal fails, as we all know it will, will she then commit to allowing this House to consider all the various options that exist, other than her deal, by way of proper meaningful votes, as a matter of urgency, given that the clock is ticking down?

The House will be having the meaningful vote that it asked for. That meaningful vote will be on the deal that has been agreed and negotiated with the European Union, subject to the further work that is being undertaken in relation to the assurances. I recognise the concern about no deal raised by my right hon. Friend and other Members. I come back to the point that the only way to ensure that we do not leave with no deal is to ensure that we leave with a deal.

Q14. Will the Prime Minister quickly intervene to overcome the difficulties at the Home Office which are obstructing my constituent, Lara Smith, from accessing her vital medication, Dronabinol, and which may mean that she will have to face unaffordable procurement costs, plus hundreds of pounds for the drug itself? (908292)

The Home Secretary is obviously on the Front Bench and has heard the hon. Lady’s question. I will ask him to respond to her.

The Prime Minister originally said that if we left the EU without a deal we would not pay it any money. She has more recently said that if we leave without a deal we would have to pay it some money. She must have taken some legal advice on this issue, as no British Prime Minister would commit billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money without finding out what our strict legal financial liability is. Given that, can she set out exactly what the legal advice is on how much money we would have to give the EU if we left without a deal, which sections of the EU treaties those financial liabilities stem from, and how much she would give over to the EU if we were to leave without a deal, as this is information that this House needs to know and the EU needs to know? I am a generous man—[Interruption.]

I am a reasonable and generous man, so if the Prime Minister does not have that information to hand, then perhaps she would write to me after this session with the answers to those specific questions.

I do not have the answers to all of those questions straight to hand, and I will indeed write to my hon. Friend.

Q15. Immigration from the European Union has significantly benefited my constituency economically, socially and culturally, as it has benefited all 650 constituencies in these four nations. The Government’s own analysis shows that cutting immigration from the European Union hurts our economy, and that is precisely what the immigration White Paper about to be published aims to do. Can the Prime Minister identify a single tangible benefit that my constituents will notice that could possibly compensate for lower earnings, lower standards of living and desperate staff shortages in our public services? (908293)

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he looks at previous research that has been done by the Migration Advisory Committee that shows that in certain economic circumstances the numbers of people coming to the United Kingdom from the European Union, and overall migration into the United Kingdom, did have an effect on people here already resident in the United Kingdom and their ability to get into the jobs market.

Mr Speaker, you have helpfully circulated an update on behaviour in this place. This year, when we have been celebrating 100 years of women getting the vote, does my right hon. Friend think it is appropriate language to call people stupid women in this Chamber?

I think that everybody in this House, particularly on the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, should be aiming to encourage women to come into this Chamber and to stand in this Chamber, and should therefore use appropriate language in this Chamber when they are referring to female Members.

May I join with others in wishing everybody a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year? As the Prime Minister ponders over Christmas what might be done to get her withdrawal agreement through this House, can I urge her to consider the necessary changes that need to be made—not just assurances—in order to get somewhere with any realistic prospect of actually winning that vote?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that I would like to give him the reassurance that we will of course look at all the options that are available for dealing with the issues that have been raised.