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Volume 652: debated on Wednesday 9 January 2019

Q2. UK officials at Dover process 10,000 lorries every day from the EU, bringing in food, medicines and other goods. Has the UK Government’s experiment on Monday with 89 lorries in a Kent car park given the Prime Minister confidence in her Government’s ability to handle a no-deal Brexit? (908399)

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.

Q5. I welcome the crackdown on cold-calling to fleece pensioners out of their hard-earned pension pots, but is that not just dealing with the symptoms, rather than the underlying cause, which is the ill-judged free-for-all pension changes introduced by the Prime Minister’s friend, the previous Chancellor George Osborne, which gave the green light to the shysters and the spivs? What is she going to do about that? (908402)

The changes introduced by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer gave pensioners more flexibility and freedom in relation to how to use their own money.

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.

Q6. I thank the Prime Minister for her words about Lord Ashdown, our friend Paddy. Paddy was loved on these Benches, and I believe he was respected across the House and across the country. We will miss him deeply. An unusual thing happened last night: Conservative MPs and Opposition MPs united, and leavers and remainers united. They united to back my proposal for a review of retrospection in a law called the loan charge, which offends against the rule of law and has caused misery to tens of thousands of people. In her role as First Lord of the Treasury, will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and a cross-party delegation of MPs to discuss the new review of the loan charge? (908403)

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.

Q7. I would like to add mention of my own sadness at the passing of Paddy. In his final weeks, he was very concerned about the way that Brexit would play into Britain’s place in the world. (908404)

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?

I am on the side of the people, to whom this Parliament gave a vote on the decision as to whether to stay in the European Union. We will be delivering on and respecting the result of that referendum, and delivering on Brexit.

I am delighted that we have been able to deliver on our manifesto commitment to introduce an energy price cap. Will my right hon. Friend outline how that price cap will benefit my constituents across Erewash?

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.

Q8. Many of my constituents are employed in the Sheffield steel sector—a beacon of innovation and manufacturing. UK Steel, the body representing steel companies, has been clear that a no deal would be nothing short of a disaster for the sector. Will the Prime Minister confirm that she will not be so irresponsible as to consider the option of a no deal, and reassure my constituents, who are worried about their jobs and their future? (908405)

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.

On Tuesday I shall vote for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, but may I ask the Prime Minister to consider one particular aspect, for which I must declare a rather rash—[Interruption.]

Order. The question from the hon. Gentleman must be heard. As I scarcely heard what he said, I think he should start again—[Interruption.] Yes, he should start again and deliver it in full.

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.

Q9. This week, our cross-party Norway Plus group published “Common Market 2.0”, a clear plan that respects the 52:48 mandate, addresses concerns about free movement, protects jobs in my Aberavon constituency, and helps to reunite our deeply divided country. If the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected on Tuesday, will she give the House the opportunity to vote on a range of options, including “Common Market 2.0”, and will she give Members on her Benches a free vote on those options? (908406)

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.

Q10. The Local Government Association has produced figures showing that councils of all political persuasions overspent their children’s services budgets by £800 million last year. The figure for Sheffield was £12 million. That is totally due to the fact that the number of children in care has risen to a 10-year high. In the light of that pressure, does the Prime Minister accept that the £84 million over five years offered by the Chancellor in the Budget is totally inadequate? Without extra funding, either these vulnerable children will not get the care they need, or other important services, such as parks and libraries, will get further cuts at a time the Prime Minister has told us that austerity has come to an end. (908407)

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.

Q12. Parliamentary defeats are now a regular feature of the Prime Minister’s Government. She has lost a quarter of her Cabinet, and 117 of her Back Benchers want her gone. Her deal is as dead as the deadest dodo. How many more indignities can this Prime Minister endure before she realises that she is the biggest part of the problem? For goodness’ sake, just go! (908409)

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.

Q13. York has been in shock as we have learned that 11 homeless people in our city died last year. While we know that this is an issue across the nation, we also know that substance misuse services have been cut, that social housing has not been built in our city, and that mental health services are desperately underfunded and understaffed.Prime Minister, I do not want to hear what you have done, because it has clearly failed. I want to know what you are going to do differently, so that no homeless person dies this year. (908410)

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.

Q14. The Prime Minister has had 20 dancing rebels, has promised five golden trade agreements and has had one big defeat, and yet she still cannot find her withdrawal agreement. Has she checked her pear tree? (908411)

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?

I am happy to repeat what I have said previously—that we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March. I want us to leave the European Union on 29 March with the good deal that is on the table.

Q15. My constituents Sarah and Chris Cookson lost their little boy Charlie in 2013. Since then, they have devoted their lives to helping other families and children with life-limiting conditions via their charity, the Charlie Cookson Foundation. On Boxing Day, Sarah gave birth to Carter John Cookson. He had three cardiac arrests in one day. After an unsuccessful operation, he is now fighting for his life, in need of a heart transplant. Carter has been given only a matter of weeks to live. Will the Prime Minister join me today in raising awareness to help us to find a heart for little baby Carter? (908412)

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.