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.
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.]
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?
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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 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?