The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House would like to join me in paying tribute to Lord Paddy Ashdown who sadly died last month. From his service in the Royal Marines through to his time in this House and then as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, he served his country with passion and distinction and he will be sorely missed.
In recent days, we have seen instances of threats of violence or intimidation against Members of this House, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), and members of the media. I know the whole House will join me in condemning those threats. Politicians and the media should be able to go about their work without harassment and intimidation.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I echo the Prime Minister’s comments on Lord Paddy Ashdown and, of course, on the disgraceful behaviour and threats to politicians and journalists going about their business.
Like those in the rest of the UK, 235,000 EU nationals in Scotland were treated to a Christmas removal threat via social media from the UK Home Office telling them to register if they want to stay in the UK after December 2020. Friends, neighbours, colleagues—people vital to the Scottish economy—were shamefully told to pay to stay in their own homes. Will the Prime Minister confirm what will happen to those not registered by December 2020? Does she realise that, for those affected, this feels less like a hostile environment and more like a xenophobic one?
We recognise the huge contribution that EU citizens have made to our economy and our society, and we want them to stay. The EU settlement scheme will make it simple and straightforward for them to get the status that they need. EU citizens have until June 2021 to apply and the cost of applying is less than the cost of renewing a British passport, but if the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the interests of EU citizens, he can back the deal, which enshrines their rights.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I pay tribute to those who have served in our armed forces for their courage and commitment. I also pay tribute to the vital work undertaken by Care after Combat; my hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. We have a range of measures in place to support those who have served in the armed forces who then find themselves in the criminal justice system, and prisons tailor rehabilitative work to individuals’ needs, helping to reduce the risk of reoffending when they are released from prison. The point that my hon. Friend makes about the excellent record of Care after Combat is a good one, and I am sure that a Minister from the Ministry of Justice will be happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Paddy Ashdown, who was elected to Parliament at the same time as me in 1983. He was a very assiduous constituency MP and a very effective Member of Parliament, and he and I spent a lot of evenings voting against what the Thatcher Tory Government were doing at that time.
I agree with the Prime Minister on the point that she made about the intimidation of Members of Parliament and representatives of the media outside this building, as happened a few days ago when the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and Owen Jones of The Guardian were intimidated outside this building. I send my support and sympathy to both of them. We also have to be clear that intimidation is wrong outside this building as it is wrong in any other aspect of life in this country, and we have to create a safe space for political debate. [Interruption.] You see what I mean, Mr Speaker; I am calling for a safe space for political debate.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing a speedy recovery to the two British soldiers who were injured in Syria last week.
The Prime Minister scrapped the Brexit vote last month, and promised that legally binding assurances would be secured at the December EU summit; she failed. She pledged to get these changes over the recess; she failed. Is the Prime Minister not bringing back exactly the same deal that she admitted would be defeated four weeks ago?
First, I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no place for intimidation in any part of our society. Politicians do need a safe space in which to express their opinions, many of which are passionately held. I hope that he will now ask his shadow Chancellor to withdraw or apologise for the remarks that he made about the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey).
Let me update the House on the matter of Brexit. The conclusions of the December European Council went further than before in seeking to address the concerns of this House, and they have legal status. I have been in contact with European leaders since then about MPs’ concerns. These discussions have shown that further clarification on the backstop is possible, and those talks will continue over the next few days, but we are also looking at what more we can do domestically to safeguard the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland. That is why this morning we published a package of commitments that give Northern Ireland a strong voice and role in any decision to bring the backstop into effect.
We have also been looking at how Parliament can take a greater role as we take these negotiations on to the next stage. So I can tell the House that, in the event that our future relationship or alternative arrangements are not ready by the end of 2020, Parliament will have a vote on whether to seek to extend the implementation period or to bring the backstop into effect. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be saying more about this during his opening speech in the forthcoming debate.
No amount of window-dressing is going to satisfy Members of this House. They want to see clear legal changes to the document that the Government presented to this House.
The Foreign Secretary said that the Prime Minister has not been asking for anything new in her discussions with the EU. Does not that tell us that the Prime Minister has been recklessly wasting time, holding the country to ransom with the threat of no deal in a desperate attempt to blackmail MPs to vote for her hopelessly unpopular deal?
The right hon. Gentleman can say what he likes about no deal, but he opposes any deal that the Government have negotiated with the European Union. He opposes the deal—[Interruption.] He opposes the deal that the EU says is the only deal, and that leaves him with no deal. The only way to avoid no deal is to vote for the deal. If the right hon. Gentleman is uncertain about what I am saying, perhaps I can give him a tip—he might like to use a lipreader.
The Prime Minister says that it is the only deal available. If that is the case, why was it not put to a vote on 11 December in this House? Why has there been a delay of five weeks on this?
The Prime Minister said she hopes to get “written assurances” before the vote next week, so can I ask her this: will the changes she is looking for be made to the legally binding withdrawal agreement itself?
As I said earlier in my remarks and I have said previously, there are three elements that we are looking at. One is the undertakings and assurances that we are looking for from the European Union, and we intend that those will be available to the House before the House votes at the end of the debate. We are also looking at what more we can do domestically. I have set out, and the Secretary of State will set out more clearly and in more detail, what we are going to do in relation to the powers for Northern Ireland and on the question of the role of Parliament for the future. We are also looking to ensure that we can provide the assurance and confidence that this House needs on the question of the backstop which has been at the forefront of Members’ concerns. We put a good deal on the table, but yes, we are looking for those clarifications—clarifications which I am sure will ensure that Members of this House know that the backstop need never be used and that if it is used it will be only temporary.
Well, in the midst of that very long answer I did not hear the words “legal changes to the document”. That was my question.
The Environment Secretary has said that no deal would damage the UK farming sector. The Foreign Secretary has said that no deal
“is not something any government”
“wish on its people”,
and £4.2 billion of public money is being wastefully allocated to no-deal planning. Will the Prime Minister listen to the clearly expressed will of the House last night, end this costly charade, and rule out no deal?
I have made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that if he wants to avoid no deal, he has to back a deal, and back the deal. He stands there and complains about money being spent on no-deal preparations. Today, Wednesday, he is saying that we should not be spending money on no-deal preparations; on Monday, he said that no-deal preparations were “too little, too late.” He cannot have it both ways: either we are doing too much or we are doing too little. So perhaps he can break his usual habit and actually give us a decision—which is it?
This is the first time since 1978 that a Prime Minister has been defeated on a Finance Bill in the House of Commons. Last night, the House made it clear, in supporting the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), that no deal should be ruled out. That is the position of this House.
The UK automotive industry wrote to the Prime Minister in December asking her to take the no-deal option
“off the table or risk destroying this vital UK industry.”
Given that this House has now rejected no deal, will the Prime Minister protect thousands of skilled jobs in the automotive industry and others and rule out no deal?
I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the leadership given by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford on that issue. I want to be clear that that amendment does not change the fact that the UK is leaving the European Union on 29 March, nor does it stop the Government collecting tax.
The right hon. Gentleman asks once again about the question of no deal and protecting jobs. We have negotiated a deal with the European Union that protects jobs. What is raising concerns, he says, is the prospect of no deal. It is absolutely sensible for this Government to prepare for no deal, and those preparations are even more important given the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman. With an Opposition Front-Bench team who are opposed to any deal the Government negotiate with the European Union, it is even more important that we prepare for no deal. The deal protects jobs and security and delivers on the referendum, and he should back it.
Instead of backing industries in this country and protecting thousands of jobs in manufacturing and service industries, the Transport Secretary is awarding millions of pounds of contracts to ferry companies with no ferries, to run on routes that do not exist and apparently will not even be ready by the beginning of April. That is the degree of incompetence of this Government in dealing with the whole question of relations with the EU.
The Prime Minister has spent the last week begging for warm words from EU leaders and achieved nothing. Not one single dot or comma has changed. She has already squandered millions of pounds of public money on last-minute, half-baked planning for no deal, which was rejected last night. If her deal is defeated next week, as I hope and expect it will be, will the Prime Minister do the right thing—let the people have a real say and call a general election?
No. We have put a good deal on the table that protects jobs and security. I noticed in all of that that we still do not know what Brexit plan the right hon. Gentleman has. I was rather hoping, as he went through, that he might turn over a page and find a Brexit plan. What do we know about the right hon. Gentleman? He has been for and against free movement. He has been for and against the customs union. He has been for and against an independent trade policy. He was a Eurosceptic. Now he is pro the EU. He wanted to trigger article 50 on day one; now he wants to delay it. He did not want money spent on no deal; now he says it is not enough. The one thing we know about the right hon. Gentleman is that his Brexit policies are the many, not the few.
My hon. Friend raises an important point about GPs. If he looks at the long-term plan for the NHS, which was launched on Monday and is being made possible by the £20.5 billion extra that we will be putting into the NHS by 2023-24, he will see that support for the workforce, including GPs, is a very important part of that plan. Indeed, a greater focus on primary care, which will help to keep people out of hospital—at any point in time, 20% to 30% of people in hospital do not need to be there—is an important part of the plan. GPs are an essential element of that, and I assure my hon. Friend that they will be part of that important workforce planning.
I concur with the Prime Minister in her remarks on Paddy Ashdown. I make the point that all of us collectively have a responsibility to make sure that there is no intimidation in our public life.
The Prime Minister delayed the doomed Brexit vote last year on the promise of written concessions from Brussels. Prime Minister, where are they?
We are used to not getting an answer, and there we have it again. What the Prime Minister promised was that we would get written concessions, and that Parliament would have the opportunity to vote on them; nothing has materialised. A month has passed, and nothing has changed.
Last night, the Prime Minister suffered another humiliating defeat. When will the Prime Minister face the facts? There is little support for her deal or no deal in this House. The new year began without concessions; the Dublin talks failed without concessions; the debate on her deal restarts today without concessions. The Prime Minister is frozen in failure, asking MPs to write a blank cheque for her blindfold Brexit. MPs should not be debating without the full facts. Is it this, or will there be the concessions, not just clarifications? When will the Prime Minister guarantee that the House will see the full details before we start the debate this afternoon?
As I said in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, I set out the position earlier. I referenced, as he will know, the conclusions of the December European Council, which went further in relation to the issues that I have raised with the European Council than they had gone before, and those have legal status, but we are of course working further on those issues.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that if he wants to avoid no deal, he has to be willing to agree a deal. The deal that is on the table, which the EU has made clear is the only deal, is the one that the United Kingdom Government have negotiated with the European Union. If he really wants, and is concerned about ensuring that we can look ahead to, a bright future across the whole of the United Kingdom, he should back that deal.
Employment: West Midlands
I was pleased to meet the Mayor of the west midlands last October, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I visited the Kings Norton headquarters of adi Group and saw at first hand the opportunities that apprenticeships can afford. That is why we are seeing annual investment in apprenticeships double to nearly £2.5 billion by 2020. It was also an excellent opportunity to see a successful west midlands company doing its bit to give young people a career. I am pleased to say that the latest statistics show employment in the west midlands has risen by 276,000 since 2010.
That is fantastic news, but I think the Prime Minister will agree with me that transport is also key to employment. I want to raise the question of the rail line that lies between Lichfield and Burton, which is currently used only for freight. It passes the National Memorial Arboretum, which gets about half a million visitors a year, but at the moment they all have to come by road, along the busy and congested A38. May I ask the Prime Minister that this rail line be upgraded to a passenger service, providing a valuable east-west connection from Birmingham? Would she also allow me to take her personally around the National Memorial Arboretum?
I of course recognise the important role that transport links play in relation to prosperity and economic growth. Our rail strategy, “Connecting people”, which we have published, actually does look at how we can restore lost capacity where that unlocks housing growth, eases crowded routes, meets demand and offers good value for money, of course. It is for local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to determine whether a new station or train service is the best way to meet local transport needs, but we work closely with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to take forward the schemes that they are interested in progressing.
In relation to the arboretum, I will of course consider a visit in the future, and I think my hon. Friend has probably given me an invitation it is very difficult to refuse.
The Government are doing exactly what it is necessary and sensible for a Government to do, which is to make preparations for no deal and ensure that we test those preparations. I come back to the point that if the hon. Gentleman is worried about the consequences of no deal, he should back the deal.
It seems plain to anyone who has listened to most of the debates in this House that there is no majority for any proposition on our future relationship with the European Union in this House of Commons, except the majority that is clearly against leaving with no deal. I propose to vote for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, but I doubt it will pass. If it is passed and we get into a transition, there is no majority or consensus on what the Government are supposed to negotiate for in the years that follow to settle our future political and economic relationships with Europe. The Prime Minister has to be flexible on some things, so if she loses the debate next Tuesday, will she consider moving to the obvious step in the national interest of delaying or revoking article 50, so that we have time to consider what the British actually want?
My right hon. and learned Friend referenced the withdrawal agreement and said that there was no position on what the future relationship should be. Of course, the framework for that future relationship, which is in greater detail than many had expected, is set out in the political declaration, which gives the instructions to the negotiators for the future. In that circumstance, it is right that we consider the role that Parliament will play as the negotiations go forward to ensure that we get the future relationship right. I believe it is possible to have a future relationship with the European Union that is deep and close, but that gives us the freedom to do what we want to do, which is to have an independent trade policy and to develop trade agreements and trade arrangements with the rest of the world.
Every Member of this House knows that drivers and commuters want greater investment to repair our roads and upgrade our railway services, yet we are wasting money on a deeply unpopular project, where the management has failed and the costs are out of control. It will end up costing the taxpayer more than £100 billion —that is about £300 million per mile of track. Why can we not face up to reality, Prime Minister, cancel HS2 and spend the money on the people’s priorities for transport, rather than on this overpriced project that will never deliver value for money for the taxpayer?
First of all, we recognise the concerns that people have about roads, particularly issues such as potholes in their roads, which is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made more money available to address those issues.
On the question of HS2, it is not just about a high-speed railway; it is about ensuring that we have the capacity that is needed on this particular route, because we are already reaching capacity on the west coast main line. We are already seeing HS2 spreading prosperity. It is encouraging investment and rebalancing our economy, and that is 10 years before the railway even opens. We have seen 7,000 jobs created across the UK, and 2,000 businesses across the UK are delivering HS2. It will bring tens of billions of pounds’-worth of benefits to passengers, suppliers and local communities up and down the route.
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct: the late Lord Ashdown was deeply respected across this House, across Parliament as a whole and widely across the country. On the question he puts about the review of the loan charge—[Interruption.] I get the point he was trying to make, but may I just make this point? He talked about Opposition and Government MPs uniting. Actually, the Government accepted his review into the loan charge. I think the first stage might be for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to sit down with him and a group of cross-party MPs to look at how that review is being taken forward.
Mr Speaker, I am not going to ask about Brexit. You may be pleased about that. [Interruption.] And happy new year to all of you as well.
I recently had the immense privilege of shadowing Dr Imran Zia at our accident and emergency department at Whipps Cross University Hospital. It was a humbling experience to witness the dedication and fantastic skill of our doctors and nurses. However, they work in buildings that are now well over 100 years old and they know they need better facilities. I have to say to my right hon. Friend that while the NHS set the development of Whipps as the top north-east London priority, in December it announced programmes for investment across London, and yet again north-east London was not included. Will my right hon. Friend please visit Whipps Cross Hospital to see how important and vital it is to the area? Will she work with our excellent Health Secretary, on the basis of a fantastic announcement on Monday, to invest in those buildings and facilities?
I will certainly look at the possibility of taking my right hon. Friend up on that invitation. He makes an important point about the announcement we made on Monday. Our right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has heard what he says about the particular requirements at Whipps Cross Hospital, and will be happy to sit down and talk with him in more detail about that. I will certainly look at my diary and look at his invitation.
Brexit, for example, is clearly in Russia’s geopolitical interest. It was chilling to hear Vladimir Putin parroting exactly the words of the Prime Minister on why we should not hold a referendum but instead
“fulfil the will of the people”.
Meanwhile, poll after poll shows there is a majority for a referendum, because people can see that the Prime Minister’s flailing deal is not in our national interest. So whose side is this Prime Minister on: Putin’s or the people’s?
The fact that the energy price cap has now come in is a very important step that this Government have taken. Something like 11 million households will benefit from the price cap. Households will save money as a result of what this Government have done. We recognise the concern people had about energy prices. It is this Government who have acted to deliver, and my hon. Friend’s constituents in Erewash will see a benefit as a result.
I absolutely respect and recognise the role that the steel industry plays in the United Kingdom. Over recent years, the Government have taken steps to support the steel industry. The hon. Lady talks about the issue of whether we should leave the European Union without a deal. I have been working to ensure that we have a good deal when we leave the European Union. That is the deal that is on the table, and anybody who does not want no deal has to accept that the way to ensure that there is not no deal is to accept and vote for the deal.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am wearing my Arsenal tie, and unfortunately those on the terraces here are not quite as well behaved as those at the Emirates.
As I was saying, on Tuesday I will vote for the Prime Minister’s deal. I would like her to look at one particular aspect, for which I have to declare a rather rash financial interest. It relates to page 33 of the withdrawal agreement. Citizens’ residency can be provided either for free by the UK Government or for an amount commensurate with existing costs. At a Brexit meeting in Bexhill, I was so confident that the Government would provide it for free that, rather foolishly, I offered to pay the charge for one particular European citizen who was not quite as confident. Given that this was a decision by the UK public, surely we should welcome our friends, neighbours and essential workforce from the EU, and offer citizens’ residency free of charge, so that they can stay in this country at our cost.
Obviously, I recognise the concern raised by my hon. Friend. The £65 fee to apply for status under the scheme is in line with the current cost of obtaining permanent residence documentation, and it will, of course, contribute to the overall costs of the system, but applications will be free of charge for those who hold valid permanent residence documentation or valid indefinite leave to enter or remain, and for children being looked after by a local authority. Where an application is granted pre-settled status under the scheme, there will, from April 2019, be no fee for applying for settled status. As I said in an earlier response to another Member, the EU settlement scheme will make it simple and straightforward for people to get the status that they need.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am working to ensure that the deal that has been negotiated by the UK Government with the European Union is voted on positively by this Parliament. It is a good deal. It does what he wants: it protects jobs and security. It also delivers in full on the referendum result, which is a key issue. We owe it to people to deliver what they wanted, which was control of money, borders and laws, and that is what the deal does.
I thank my right hon. Friend for ensuring that our manifesto commitment to scrap tolls on the Severn bridge crossings has been met. That will put £1,400 a year into the pockets of thousands of motorists, many of whom are my constituents. Does she agree that will help transform the economies of the south-west and south Wales?
This is an important step that the Government have taken. It was advocated by individual Members and the Secretary of State for Wales, and I believe it will indeed have a very positive economic effect on Wales, on the south-west and on constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s.
The hon. Gentleman quoted £84 million. That was actually for a pilot, which is about keeping more children at home with their families safely. We announced an extra £410 million overall at the Budget for social care, which includes children, and spending on the most vulnerable children has increased by more than £1.5 billion since 2010. We are also taking a number of other steps, such as the work we are doing to increase the number of children’s social workers, the appointment of a chief social worker for children, introducing Frontline and Step Up, and getting quality candidates into social care careers. Those are important steps. The hon. Gentleman talks about money; actually, it is about ensuring that the service that is provided is the right one. That is why we do it across the board, and that is why we are looking at those issues around social workers.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Ever since former President Gayoom introduced democracy to the Maldives, its legitimacy has been challenged. Just like we have seen with the prophets of doom around Brexit, the recent elections went ahead with no violence and President Solih was elected with a great majority. Will my right hon. Friend redouble her efforts to increase trade, education and cultural links?
I can tell my hon. Friend what I hope is news that he will welcome, which is that a new embassy is being opened in the Maldives. As we look around the world in relation to trade, we will of course see what we can do to improve our trade with a number of countries.
The UK Government have negotiated a deal with the European Union that delivers on the referendum result. I know the hon. Gentleman does not want to deliver on the referendum result. He wants to ensure that the UK stays inside the European Union, at the same time—talking about the economy—as he supports taking Scotland out of the Union of the United Kingdom, which is much more important economically for the people of Scotland. The people of Scotland know that remaining in the United Kingdom is their best future.
Volunteering services are enormously important, and none more so than the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, who put their lives at risk and often rescue people who make perilous crossings to try to get into this country. Is it not time that we looked at the RNLI’s funding? Many people think it is funded by the Government, and it is time we gave some money towards it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the vital role that the RNLI plays. As she says, many people do not realise that it is funded entirely by voluntary contributions. I pay tribute to all those across the country who raise funds for the RNLI, including, if she will allow me, the Sonning branch in my constituency.
Every death of someone while homeless or sleeping rough on our streets is one death too many, which is why we have made a commitment to end rough sleeping by 2027 and halve it by 2022. The hon. Lady says that she does not want to know what we have done, but we have committed more than £1.2 billion to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. She mentioned mental health services, and asked what we would do in the future. What we will be doing in the future is putting an extra £2.3 billion into mental health services, to ensure that we provide them for the people who, sadly, are not currently able to access them.
More Londoners voted to leave the EU than voted for the current Mayor of London, who is swanning around Europe talking about Brexit rather than his responsibilities, such as crime, housing and transport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if he insists on being a Brexit diva, he should concentrate on telling his side to vote for this deal—[Interruption.]
I absolutely agree. What the Mayor of London should be doing is looking at what delivers on the overall vote of the people of London—the vote to which my hon. Friend referred—and at what delivers in a way that protects the best interests of Londoners, and that is to vote for this deal.
According to that invaluable website TheyWorkForYou, the Prime Minister has assured the House on no fewer than 74 previous occasions that we will be leaving the EU on 29 March. Will she categorically confirm today that there is absolutely no question at all of delaying that date?
Let me first join the hon. Lady in commending the work that the Cooksons have done with the Charlie Cookson Foundation in raising funds for children and babies with life-threatening conditions. I am sure that the sympathies of the whole House are with the family at this very, very difficult time. The hon. Lady has outlined some of the specifics of the case, but I will ensure that the relevant Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care meets her to discuss the issue further.
We do want to change the culture on organ donation in order to save more lives. That is why we are planning to introduce a new opt-out system in England in 2020. The new law will be known as Max and Keira’s law, in honour of Max Johnson, who received a heart from Keira Ball, and Keira, who sadly lost her life in a car accident. However, the hon. Lady has outlined a tragic case, and I will ensure that a Minister from the Department speaks with her about it.