House of Commons
Wednesday 16 January 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Order. Colleagues will no doubt have seen a number of images taken by Members of scenes in the Division Lobby last night. I would like to remind all colleagues that, as the recently issued guide to the rules of behaviour and courtesies of the House makes explicitly clear, Members
“must not use any device to take photographs, film or make audio recordings in or around the Chamber.”
I well understand that yesterday’s events were exciting and that these days many people regularly take photographs, which they feel compelled to share with a wider audience, but Members featured in these photographs have not given their permission, and to that extent this represents an invasion of privacy. I hope I have made it clear that this practice should cease.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Immigration
This has been a momentous week for Andy Murray, so I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that it is appropriate that at this Scottish questions we acknowledge in this House Andy’s extraordinary contribution to British sport, and his personal resilience and courage, and express our hope that we will once again see Andy Murray on court.
I am in regular contact with the Home Secretary on a range of issues of importance to Scotland, including future immigration policy after the UK leaves the European Union.
Apart from his enormous talent, can I agree with the Secretary of State more widely about Andy Murray? He is the embodiment of guts and character, and the most terrific ambassador for Scotland, for tennis and for sport. His mother Judy must be the proudest mother in the world.
The Tories’ obsession with slashing immigration to the tens of thousands will see Scotland’s working-age population decline by 4.5%—that is 150,000 people—by 2041. Is the Secretary of State happy standing over such a policy that will cause economic harm to our country?
The hon. Gentleman does not correctly characterise the situation. The immigration White Paper that this Government have set out is an undertaking to embark on a year-long engagement process across the whole UK to enable businesses and other stakeholders to shape the final details of a post-Brexit immigration policy and process.
May I concur, Mr Speaker, with your comments and those of the Secretary of State regarding Andy Murray? I would encourage all Members to sign my early-day motion recognising his achievements.
Immigration has been and continues to be good for Scotland. Scottish Government modelling suggests that a Brexit-driven reduction in migration will see real GDP drop by 6.2% by 2040, which has a monetary value of about £6.8 billion and a £2 billion cost to Government revenue. Does the Secretary of State believe that this cost to Scotland is a price worth paying for his Government’s Brexit mess and immigration folly?
I do not want to end up repeating my first answer on seven occasions. I want to make it clear that the immigration White Paper that we have published is a consultation. It is an undertaking of a year-long engagement process across the whole UK, including Scotland. I expect Scottish businesses, Scottish stakeholders and, indeed, the Scottish Government to play an active part in that process.
Scrapping freedom of movement will make recruiting staff for NHS Scotland harder. Despite being paid the real living wage, lab technicians, admin staff and social care workers do not earn anywhere close to £30,000. So what did the Secretary of State do to try to convince the Home Secretary to take into account Scotland’s needs?
I was interested to hear the Secretary of State’s comments about Scottish businesses. CBI Scotland has said that White Paper proposals “don’t meet Scotland’s needs” and were a “sucker punch”. Is it not the case that this hostile immigration policy proves that the Tory Government are anti-business?
I am sorry, but this is absolutely pathetic. We have an ageing population, and we need people to come and look after the folk at Greenfield Park care home in my constituency, for example. The Secretary of State is out of touch. When will he get a grip and understand that Scotland’s immigration needs are entirely different from the London-centric policy pursued by this British Government?
I well understand the issues facing Scotland, and I do not believe that it would be better served by a separate immigration policy. I also do not believe that immigration into Scotland is well served by a Scottish Government who put up tax and have a poor record on infrastructure and housing.
The policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland has said:
“The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to… local communities”
“nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to”
get the labour and skills
“they need to grow and sustain their operations.”
With what part of that comprehensive statement would the Secretary of State care to disagree?
I set out in my previous answers that the immigration White Paper is a consultation. The FSB and others are contributing to it, and we will listen to them. I am clear that Scotland benefits from a UK-wide immigration policy, but I also believe that there are things that the Scottish Government could do to make Scotland more attractive.
Following the disgraceful Christmas video aimed at EU nationals and then the Government’s catastrophic defeat last night, will the Secretary of State urge his Government to end the hostile approach to our EU friends, neighbours and colleagues, who are vital to the Scottish economy and Scotland’s communities?
Is the Secretary of State aware that The Times reported on 10 January that a study conducted by one of Britain’s leading social surveys showed that Scots do not want immigration to be devolved? Does he agree that that is a hammer blow to the Scottish National party’s calls and that the biggest danger to Scotland is the SNP’s drive towards another independence referendum, which puts people off wanting to come to Scotland?
It is certainly clear that the SNP does something to put people off coming to Scotland. I read last night that Boy George was going to be moving to Scotland, but the Scottish First Minister engaged with him this morning, and now we hear that he is not coming.
I welcome this Government’s move to guarantee EU citizens’ rights here in the UK. That is unlike the SNP in 2014, when it threatened EU citizens that 160,000 of them would be stripped of their right to remain in Scotland. No unilateral guarantee was given to EU citizens by the SNP in 2014, but this Government are doing so now. Will my right hon. Friend clarify the direct communications that this Government are having with EU citizens in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland to ensure that they know that they are a welcome and valued part of our community?
The borderlands area needs to attract more people to live and work on both sides of the border. Does the Secretary of State agree that the way to do that is through investment, both private and public, and by creating the business environment for that investment, not by increasing taxes and regulation?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As he knows, this Government fully support the borderlands initiative. It is investing in the improvement of infrastructure and housing that will make the south of Scotland and the north of England more attractive, not putting up taxes.
Tax divergence by the Scottish Government is damaging my Gordon constituency, which is struggling to attract overseas workers to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the oil and gas industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is economic madness and that it makes Scotland unattractive?
May I, as the Member of Parliament for Dunblane, add my admiration for Sir Andy Murray and, indeed, for his mother?
On the White Paper on future immigration, does my right hon. Friend agree that the salary floor of £30,000 makes it difficult for Scotland to retain international graduates when the average graduate salary is £21,000? There has to be the opposite of London weighting, does there not?
The Secretary of State’s Government have been responsible for pursuing an agenda in which immigrants are demonised. We saw it over the past year with the hostile environment policy; we saw it over the Christmas break as the Home Secretary declared a national crisis when a handful of refugees made the perilous journey across the channel; and we now see it in black and white in the immigration White Paper. My question is simple: will the Secretary of State apologise for his Government’s demonisation of immigrants and its harmful consequences for the Scottish economy?
Of course I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of events. Scotland remains a place where migrants should be welcome, wherever they come from. The White Paper sets out the basis for a consultation on developing a new immigration policy post Brexit, and I encourage everyone to take part in that consultation.
The Ministry of Defence spent nearly £1.6 billion with Scottish businesses in 2016-17, supporting some 10,500 jobs. This demonstrates the vital contribution of the workforce in Scotland to defending the UK from the growing threats we face from across the globe.
At Defence questions on 26 November, I raised concerns about the desperate shortage of Royal Navy coastal defence vessels, which number just three according to the Minister for the Armed Forces. It is also the case that Scottish shipyards have suffered from major cuts in defence orders. Will the Government now right both those wrongs by allocating new orders for coastal defence vessels from Scottish shipbuilders?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have secured 20 years’ worth of work for the Clyde shipyards. We would be hard-pressed to find any industry in the UK that could say it has secured 20 years’ worth of work to help its workforce for the future.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this important issue. The Ministry of Defence is reviewing the Scottish Government’s plans for next year’s tax, and we await the final outcome and ratification from the Scottish Parliament. We will review the situation and determine whether the impact on the UK armed forces warrants an offer of financial mitigation. Once a decision has been made, an announcement will be made to this House and to those affected personnel.
The defence sector is critical for the Scottish economy, but so are other sectors, such as financial services, higher education, food and drink, and fisheries. So will the Minister have a chat with the Secretary of State to make sure that in Cabinet the Secretary of State is insisting that a no-deal outcome is ruled out?
As I said, we are trying to build in a good shipbuilding programme so that shipyards around the country know what the Ministry of Defence’s requirements are going to be for the next 30 years and they can plan accordingly. We also want them to be incredibly competitive, so that they are able to compete for commercial lines, and not just in this country—we want them to be able to compete for opportunities around the world.
I wish to start by adding my sentiments to those expressed by the Secretary of State on our wonderful sportsman Andy Murray.
The Secretary of State has turned his back on Scotland’s great shipbuilding tradition by putting the fleet solid support contract out to international tender. He will no doubt trot out the line, “These are not warships.” However, the Minister of State for Defence, Earl Howe, responded to a written question by saying that a ship such as this is a “non-complex warship”. I grew up in a shipbuilding community. A warship carried weapons, explosives and ammunition, which is exactly what these ships do. So if these are not warships, what are they?
I have made this point consistently, as the hon. Lady will know: the national shipbuilding strategy defines warships as frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers. The primary role of the FSS ships is the replenishment of naval vessels with bulk stores. They are non-combatant naval auxiliary support ships, and therefore they will go out to international competition. What I am delighted to see is that there is a British bid in that competition.
May I suggest to the Secretary of State that he might want to visit a shipyard, as I am sure plenty of workers there would like to give him a different account of that strategy? We are talking about highly skilled, high-paid jobs that could return £2.3 billion of revenue to the Treasury, while providing sustainable employment and ensuring that communities continue to thrive. Instead, the Secretary of State is torpedoing Scottish shipbuilding in favour of bargain basement deals. So will he allow this Prime Minister to continue the destructive legacy of Thatcher or will he support the Scottish Labour party and the Labour party by backing our plans to finally stand up for Scottish shipbuilding, and protect and create jobs in the industry?
It may have escaped the hon. Lady’s attention but I am not the Secretary of State, and I have visited many of the shipyards around this country and in Scotland. I have seen for myself how well they are doing. We want them to be competitive, so that they can have a long-term future. We have 20 years of work guaranteed for Scotland’s shipyards, and Conservative Members can be proud of that.
Moray Growth Deal
We have been making good progress since the Government’s intention to negotiate a Moray deal was announced in September 2018. The partners there have submitted a number of project proposals, which are currently being scrutinised.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response. The Ministry of Defence is one of the largest employers in Moray, and it is set to get even bigger after significant UK Government investment. Given that local personnel at Kinloss barracks and RAF Lossiemouth are already engaged with the Moray growth deal, will the Minister confirm that his Department will now play a significant role in this important deal for Moray?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing on this deal; I know that he takes a keen interest in it, as does the MOD in terms of surplus land being released at Forthside as part of the Stirling deal. He is right that as a local employer we are an important player in that area. I can confirm that the MOD is exploring opportunities for involvement in my hon. Friend’s local growth deal.
Leaving the EU
I regularly meet the Scottish Government in a number of forums to discuss a range of matters related to EU exit. The Joint Ministerial Committee plenary met on 19 December and was attended by the First Ministers for Scotland and Wales, along with the head of the Northern Ireland civil service.
Scotland wanted nothing to do with this ugly, self-defeating Brexit, but last night 10 Scottish Tories voted to defy their constituents, with the other three wanting something much worse for Scotland. What should the Scottish people therefore do to ensure that they are suitably democratically rewarded?
Although we were in different Lobbies last night, I appreciate that the Secretary of State genuinely felt that the Prime Minister’s deal was the best way forward, but he can read the runes as to how likely it is that that deal, or any reincarnation of it, will get through the House, so what personal commitment will he give that he will do everything in his power to protect Scotland from the catastrophe of a no-deal exit, including by putting his country above his party and his own position?
I have been very clear about the ramifications for Scotland of a no-deal Brexit and why I want to avoid that, which is why I voted for the deal. I am also clear that I stood in the 2017 general election on a manifesto commitment to deliver an orderly Brexit for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and that is what I intend to do.
May I begin by associating my colleagues on these Benches with your comments, Mr Speaker, and those of the Secretary of State, regarding Andy Murray? He is indeed a great ambassador for his country, and I believe that in that capacity his best is yet to come.
Last night, this place made history: we defeated the Government’s plans by an unprecedented majority. They are plans on which the Secretary of State has staked his reputation and on which his fingerprints are indelibly printed. Given that massive defeat, will he now commit to meaningful engagement with the Scottish Government and consideration of alternative plans, including remaining in the single market and customs union?
I make no apology for supporting the Prime Minister’s deal; I believe that it was the right deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom. We will of course engage constructively with the First Minister and the Scottish Government, but if we are to do so, they must bring forward proposals other than stopping Brexit and starting another independence referendum.
I was going to suggest that the Secretary of State is ill-equipped to take this process forward in Scotland, but he makes the argument for me. Given his refusal to engage properly in discussion about alternatives, and given the fact that he is so out of step with opinion in Scotland at every level, will he now do the decent thing and resign—step aside so that someone else can take this forward?
That is getting a little tired; I thought the hon. Gentleman could think of another soundbite. I am not out of step with opinion in Scotland. People in Scotland do not want another independence referendum, and they recognise that the SNP has weaponised Brexit to try to deliver such a referendum.
Leaving the EU: Common Fisheries Policy
Leaving the common fisheries policy will allow the UK to take back control of our waters, becoming an independent coastal state. We will negotiate a fairer share of fishing opportunities to benefit fishermen in Scotland and across the whole United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the positive assessment that he has just given the prospects not just for Scotland’s fishing industry from leaving the EU’s common fisheries policy, but for the whole UK’s. Does he agree, though, that those benefits will be lost if we listened to the arguments of those who want to separate our Union but reunite Scotland with the European Union’s common fisheries policy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The SNP is a false friend to Scottish fishermen. It wants to keep Scotland in the CFP by staying in the EU, and, failing that, it wants an independent Scotland to rejoin the CFP. Throughout the negotiations, this Government have shown that they have put the interests of Scottish fishermen and those across the UK at the heart of our approach to leaving the EU.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman, a former colleague, will find that that is an accurate interpretation of the Government’s position. Colleagues such as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) have argued strongly for that case, and we will see what happens when the Bill returns on Report.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the appalling attack in Nairobi and in sending our thoughts and prayers to all those who have lost loved ones. Our high commissioner has confirmed one British fatality. We are providing consular assistance to British nationals affected by the attack. We stand in solidarity with the Government and people of Kenya, and will continue to offer our support to meet the challenge to security and stability that is posed by terrorism in the region.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I join the Prime Minister in her strong condemnation of terror?
You will know, Mr Speaker, as will the Prime Minister, that I first sought election to this House because I believed in more jobs, lower taxes, a stronger economy and more investment in the public services on which we all rely. Does the Prime Minister agree that, since 2010, Conservative Governments have delivered time and again for the British people and that the biggest threat to that is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, with a leader whose policies would mean fewer jobs, higher taxes, a weaker economy and less investment in our public services?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What have we seen under the Conservatives in government? We have seen 3.4 million more jobs; that is more people earning an income, earning a wage, able to provide for their families. We have seen more children in good and outstanding schools and more money in our national health service. What would put that in danger? A Government led by the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). There would be more borrowing, more taxes, more spending and fewer jobs.
May I start by correcting the record? Last night, I suggested that this was the largest Government defeat since the 1920s. I would not wish to be accused of misleading the House, because I have since been informed that it is in fact the largest ever defeat for a Government in the history of our democracy.
Shortly after the Prime Minister made her point of order last night, her spokesperson suggested that the Government had ruled out any form of customs union with the European Union as part of their reaching-out exercise. Will the Prime Minister confirm that that is the case?
The exercise that I indicated last night is, as I said, about listening to the views of the House and wanting to understand the views of parliamentarians, so that we can identify what could command the support of this House and deliver on the referendum. The Government want first to ensure that we deliver on the result of the referendum—that is leaving the European Union—and we want to do so in a way that ensures we respect the votes of those who voted to leave in that referendum. That means ending free movement, getting a fairer deal for farmers and fishermen, opening up new opportunities to trade with the rest of the world and keeping good ties with our neighbours in Europe.
My question was about the customs union. The Prime Minister seems to be in denial about that just as much as she is in denial about the decision made by the House last night. I understand that the Business Secretary told business leaders on a conference call last night, “We can’t have no deal for all the reasons that you’ve set out.” Can the Prime Minister now reassure the House, businesses and the country and confirm that it is indeed the Government’s position that we cannot have no deal?
The point that the Business Secretary was making, and that he has made previously, is that if we do not want to have no deal, we have to ensure that we have a deal. There are actually two ways of avoiding no deal. The first is to agree a deal, and the second would be to revoke article 50. That would mean staying in the European Union and failing to respect the result of the referendum, and that is something that this Government will not do.
The Prime Minister has not answered on a customs union and has not answered on no deal, and continues to spend £4.2 billion of public money on a no-deal scenario. Can she not understand that yesterday the House rejected her deal? She needs to come up with something different.
But it is not just on Brexit that this Government are failing. Four million working people are living in poverty, and there are half a million more children in poverty compared with 2010. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation confirms:
“In-work poverty has been rising…faster than employment”.
With poverty rising, can the Prime Minister tell us when we can expect it to fall for the time that she remains in office?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is happening. We now see 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty; that is a record low. We see 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty; that is a record low. There is a record low in the number of children living in workless households, and income inequality is lower than at any point under the last Labour Government. That is Conservatives delivering for the people of this country. What would we see from the Labour party? We would see £1,000 billion more in borrowing and taxes—the equivalent of £35,000 for every household in this country. That is Labour failing to deliver for working people, because working people always pay the price of the Labour party.
In denial about a customs union; in denial about no deal; in denial about the amount of money being spent preparing for no deal; and in denial about last night’s result. Even the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights says—[Interruption.] It is very telling indeed that as soon as I mention the report of the UN rapporteur, who said that the Government were in a “state of denial” about poverty in Britain, Tory MPs start jeering. Tell that to people queuing up at food banks.
The Government have failed too on children’s education. Can the Prime Minister tell us what is her greatest failure—is it that education funding has been cut by £7 billion, that per pupil funding has fallen by 8%, that sixth-form funding has been cut by a fifth or that the adult skills budget has been slashed by 45%? Which is it, Prime Minister?
We have hundreds of free schools, a reformed curriculum and 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools, and we are narrowing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children. This is a Government who are delivering the education that our children need for their future.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about us being in denial. The only person in denial in this Chamber is him, because he has consistently failed to set out what his policy on Brexit is. I said to him last week that he might do with a lip reader; when it comes to his Brexit policy, the rest of us need a mind reader.
The Prime Minister is very well aware that we want there to be a customs union with the EU. She seems to be in denial about that.
One of the problems the Prime Minister has in her denial is a flagrant disregard for facts and statistics. The UK Statistics Authority has written to the Department for Education four times to express its concern about the use of dodgy figures by her Ministers.
When police officers told the then Home Secretary not to make more cuts to the police, that Home Secretary accused them of “crying wolf”. With 21,000 fewer police officers and rising crime, does the Prime Minister accept that the then Home Secretary got it wrong?
As we look at what is happening particularly with knife crime and serious violence, we recognise the need to take action. That is why we have introduced the Offensive Weapons Bill and why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has introduced the serious violence strategy. We are also making nearly £1 billion more available to police forces over the next year.
Yet again, in all these questions about public services, the right hon. Gentleman only ever talks about the money that is going in. What matters as well with the police is the powers that we give them. When it came to taking more action on knife crime and the criminals involved in it, and we said that somebody caught on the street with a knife for a second time should be sent to prison, what did the right hon. Gentleman do? He voted against it. He does not support our police, and he does not support our security.
It was a Labour Government who increased the number of police on our streets. It was a Labour Government who brought in safer neighbourhoods. It was a Labour Government that properly funded the police force. It is the Tories who have cut it. Ask anyone on any street around this country whether they feel safer now than they did eight years ago—I think we all know what the answer would be.
It was that Home Secretary who not only attacked the police in that way but created the hostile environment and the Windrush scandal. She promised to tackle burning injustices, but she has made them worse, as Windrush showed. There is more homelessness, more children in poverty, more older people without care, longer waits at A&E, fewer nurses, rising crime, less safe streets and cuts to children’s education. This Government have failed our country. They cannot govern and cannot command the support of most people on the most important issue at the moment: Brexit. They failed again and lost the vote last night. Is it not the case that every other previous Prime Minister faced with the scale of defeat last night would have resigned, and the country would be able to choose the Government it wants?
The right hon. Gentleman, in his peroration, talked about the importance of the issue of Brexit facing this country. Later today, we will have the no-confidence debate. He has been calling for weeks for a general election, yet when he was asked on Sunday whether he would campaign to leave the European Union in a general election, he refused to answer not once, not twice, not three times, but five times. On what he himself describes as the key issue facing this country, he has no answer. The Leader of the Opposition has let antisemitism run riot in his party. He would abandon our allies, weaken our security and wreck our economy, and we will never let that happen.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this, because I was particularly pleased to meet the CEO of Sirius during my trip to China and talk to people there about the work that they are doing. It is, as he says, exactly projects like this, which drive investment and exports in the north, that are what the northern powerhouse is all about. In relation to the particular discussions my right hon. Friend mentioned, I am sure he will understand these are commercially sensitive, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specific discussions. But this, as I say, is exactly the sort of project that the northern powerhouse is all about: driving investment, driving exports—good for the north.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the atrocity in Kenya and, of course, our solidarity with the people there?
Yesterday, the Attorney General said that any new deal would be much the same as the one already on the table. We know that the European Union will not renegotiate. If the Prime Minister survives today to bring forward her plan B, will she concede that plan B will basically be a redressing of plan A?
As I said in one of my answers to the Leader of the Opposition, what we want to do, following the defeat that we had in this House last night, is listen to parliamentarians and find out: what is it that would secure the support of this House? That is the question that we will be asking, but that is against the background of ensuring that we deliver on the referendum result—that we leave the European Union and we recognise what people were voting for when they voted in that referendum: an end to free movement, ensuring that we could have our own trade policy with the rest of the world and be fairer to our farmers and fairer to our fishermen, but maintain that good relationship with our neighbours in the EU.
I am afraid that simply did not address the question. The EU will not renegotiate. The Prime Minister has no answer. She has failed. What an omnishambles from this Government, suffering a historic and a humiliating defeat—the worst for any UK Government. Westminster is in chaos, but in Scotland we stand united. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain, and we will not allow our country to be dragged out of the European Union or brought down by this Tory Government. The Prime Minister knew that this deal was dead since Chequers; she knew it was dead when she moved the meaningful vote; and she knows, as we all know, that last night was the last straw. The Prime Minister must now seek the confidence of the people, not simply the confidence of this House. The only way forward is to extend article 50 and ask the people of Scotland and of the United Kingdom whether they want the Prime Minister’s deal or they want to remain in the European Union. The Prime Minister now must legislate for a people’s vote.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows and as I have said before, this House legislated for a people’s vote. It legislated for a people’s vote that was held in 2016, and that vote determined that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. He talks about “our country”. Our country is the whole United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—and it is for the whole United Kingdom that we will be looking for a solution that secures the support of this House and ensures that this Parliament delivers on the vote of the people.
I thank my hon. Friend for the remarks he made as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kenya. I was pleased when I visited Kenya last August to meet some of those who are working to fight terrorism. They are working to bring stability and security to people in that region, and very important that is, too.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the long-term plan we have set out for the national health service. The resources allocated to CCGs reflect the needs of the population, including levels of deprivation and the age profile of the population. Changes have been made to the allocations for 2019-20. The fair share allocations for Staffordshire CCGs, which I am sure he is particularly interested in, have increased; they will see a higher level of growth in their actual budgets over the next five years. That difference will ensure that, over time, funding across the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CCGs becomes fairer. The biggest cash boost in the NHS’s history is enabling us to do that, and I hope that will address the issue my hon. Friend raised.
The hon. Gentleman cannot ignore the fact that in the 2016 referendum the people of this country voted to leave the European Union. I believe it is a duty not just of the Government but of Parliament to ensure that we deliver on that. We will be speaking to parliamentarians in my own party, the Democratic Unionist party and across the House about finding a way forward that secures the support of the House, but I say to him again that a vote was taken in 2016 and I believe it is incumbent on this Parliament to deliver on that vote.
I thank my hon. Friend. When I have visited Copeland, I have seen very clearly not only its population’s expertise and skills in the nuclear industry but the importance of that industry. The Moorside site will revert to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and we are considering options for its future. The site remains eligible for nuclear new build, and we are committed to seeing new nuclear as part of our future energy mix. It might be helpful if the relevant Minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy met her and that group to explore this issue further.
As I said in the House last night, I will be talking to parliamentarians in my own party, in the DUP and in other parties across this House, looking to see what can secure the support of this House, but I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said to her right hon. and hon. Friends, that what this House must always have in mind is the importance of delivering on the vote of the people to leave the European Union.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. This is so important. I believe that if we fail to deliver on what the British people instructed us to do in the vote in the referendum, the British people’s views of this House, of Parliament and of politicians will be at an all-time low, because they will have lost faith in politicians across the whole of this Parliament. We need to deliver Brexit for the British people.
Of course, public health funding will be looked at in the spending review. The hon. Lady assumes that the only action taken on prevention of obesity and other conditions is through public health, but that is not the case. If she looks at the NHS long-term plan that has been announced—funded by the biggest cash boost in the NHS’s history, given by this Government—what she will see is an emphasis on prevention and on ensuring that people are able to lead healthier independent lives for longer.
I sat through many hours on every day but one of the recent debate, listening carefully to the extraordinary range of views expressed throughout it by Members in all parts of the House. It seemed to me that the only clear majorities in this House on a cross-party basis are against leaving with no deal; in favour of extending article 50 to give us time to sort out what we now propose to do; and in favour of some form of customs union and sufficient regulatory alignment to keep all our borders between the United Kingdom and the European Union open after we leave. Will the Prime Minister not accept, just as I have had to accept that the majority in this House is committed to the UK leaving the European Union, that she must now modify her red lines, which she created for herself at Lancaster House, and find a cross-party majority, which will be along the lines that I have indicated?
My right hon. and learned Friend started by saying that there are a considerable number of views across this House. It is precisely because of that that we will be undertaking the discussions with parliamentarians that I said last night would happen. He talks about the possible extension of article 50. Of course, article 50 cannot be extended by the UK; it has to be extended in consultation and agreement with the European Union. The Government’s policy is that we are leaving the European Union on 29 March. The EU would extend article 50 only if it was clear that there was a plan that was moving toward an agreed deal. The crucial element of ensuring that we deliver on Brexit is being able to get the agreement of this House to the deal that will deliver on the referendum result, lead to the UK leaving the European Union, and recognise what lay behind people voting to leave.
I have not seen the housing masterplan that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but of course it is this Government who have put more money into affordable homes and more money into ensuring we are seeing more homes being built, and who have lifted the cap on local councils so that they are also able to build more home and the homes that people want.
Next month, I and my three neighbouring colleagues—my hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately)—will host our second apprenticeship fair, connecting nearly 40 leading organisations with more than 700 pupils from 22 schools. Does the Prime Minister agree that apprenticeships offer a viable alternative to full-time higher education, while creating a skilled workforce that benefits business and its future employees?
First, I commend my hon. Friend for the work she is doing in her constituency through the jobs fairs. I absolutely agree with her: it is very important that young people are able to see that there are different routes for them for their futures and different routes into the workplace. Apprenticeships are an important route for some young people. All the apprentices that I meet say that the best thing they have done is take up an apprenticeship, and that was right for them. We want every young person to be able to take the route that is right for them, be it higher education, further education or apprenticeships.
This is an important issue that has been raised by a number of Members from across the House. Our priority is always the safety of patients. Ministers are aware of the new study that has come out. We have a commitment to review any new evidence in this area, and we do that, but we do it by consulting independent scientific experts. Baroness Cumberledge is leading the independent medicines and medical devices safety review. That is expected to examine what happened in the case of Primodos and will determine what further action is needed. I assure the hon. Lady that we will listen very carefully to any recommendations that come out of the review, and of course that study will be looked at very carefully to see what has come out of it.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise, particularly since last night, that in these complex circumstances, her role as Prime Minister is now to create the political environment in which solutions to the Brexit conundrum can be found and not to continue with a plan expecting a different outcome? Does she also accept, then, that if she cannot get what she wants, she will need to change her mind to secure public confidence?
As I have pointed out today and as I said last night, it is precisely because we recognise the need to understand rather better what can command and secure the support of the House that we will be talking to parliamentarians across the House, and that includes my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Democratic Unionist party and parliamentarians across other parties. That is because, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said, there is quite a variety of views across the House about what is right.
I very much welcome the recent statement by the Foreign Office that Britain must do more to support persecuted Christians. In the light of that, will the Government now review their position on the Asia Bibi case and offer her asylum in the UK, so she can choose a safe destination, instead of asking a third country to take her in? That would mean shifting our moral responsibility to another country, which cannot be right.
I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend by saying that, as I have said previously, our primary concern is the safety and wellbeing of Asia Bibi and her family. Obviously, the UK’s high commissioner in Islamabad is keeping me and the Government up to date with developments. We have been in contact with international partners about our shared desire to see a swift and positive resolution in this case, and a number of countries are in discussions about a possible alternative destination for Asia Bibi once the legal process is complete. I will not comment on the details of that, however, because we do not want to compromise Asia Bibi’s long-term safety.
On the timing, I think the Foreign Minister of Pakistan has confirmed that Asia Bibi will remain under the protection of the Pakistani Government until the legal process has concluded, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan has supported the Supreme Court and promised to uphold the rule of law. What matters is providing for the safety and wellbeing of Asia Bibi and her family.
I referred earlier to figures on the number of people in absolute poverty, which have reached record lows under this Government, but the hon. Gentleman talks about people who are in work. The Government have taken a number of steps to help those people: we have cut taxes for 32 million people, increased the national living wage and frozen fuel duty. Unfortunately, however, in the case of so many of those measures, which we took to give financial help to people who are just about managing—the sort of people he is talking about—the Labour party opposed them.
In an article I posted on my website in November, I concluded by saying:
“Hopefully we will eventually come to a position that both sides who support the agreement and those, like me, who oppose it can…coalesce. I believe this could happen over coming weeks, though there will be more drama before we reach that point.”
We have all had our fair share of drama, but would my right hon. Friend agree that it is not both sides—meaning remain and leave—who must coalesce around an agreement but the European Union, and may I urge her to continue negotiations with Europe in the hope it will show some flexibility?
I thank my hon. Friend for making a very obvious point that has not been raised by those who have been talking about the sort of discussions we are to have across Parliament. I want to see what will secure the support of the House, but of course we have to ensure that it can secure the support of the EU. This is a treaty and agreement between two parties, and, as I said last night, once we have those ideas from the House, I will take them to the EU.
As I said earlier, the Government have made more money available to police forces. Nearly £1 billion extra will be available to them next year. But, of course, it is not just about the money that is available to police forces; it is about the power that the police have. That is why we have introduced the Offensive Weapons Bill, and why we continually take action to ensure that the police have the power that they need to keep us safe.
Further to my right hon. Friend’s point of order last night and the questions that she has been asked so far during this session, does she agree that we all need to maintain maximum flexibility if we are to build a consensus around Brexit in the House?
As I said last night, we will approach the discussions that we will have with Members on both sides of the House in a constructive spirit. As I said earlier, however, as we are looking at those discussions to find what will secure the support of the House, we must remember that what we are doing is finding a way to deliver Brexit, and to deliver on the vote of the British people.
The withdrawal agreement that was negotiated with the European Union set out the ways in which EU citizens’ rights would be guaranteed here in the United Kingdom and reciprocal rights for UK citizens in the European Union would be guaranteed. The vote last night rejected that package of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. We have made clear as a Government that in a no-deal situation we will also guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are living here, and we stand by that.
No country has ever left the EU using article 50, so I do not underestimate the challenge, but back in the real world, businesses up and down the country—with the possible exception of Wetherspoon—are extremely disappointed with last night’s vote, and short-term investment decisions are still on hold or going against the UK. Does the Prime Minister agree that protecting just-in-time supply chains, on which my constituents’ jobs depend, must be at the heart of any solution?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. One of the things that the deal we put to Parliament last night did was protect those just-in-time supply chain models, and our position on their importance has not changed. As we look ahead to today’s vote, we should bear in mind that backing the Government today will enable us to find a way forward on Brexit and on the issues that, as my hon. Friend says, matter at home, to ensure that this country has the Government it needs to take that forward, deliver on the referendum and—as my hon. Friend says—protect not just the jobs of her constituents, but jobs throughout the country.
We have been working with Hitachi and with the Government of Japan, and yes, I did raise the issue of the Wylfa site with the Prime Minister of Japan last week. Of course, the company involved will be making a commercial decision in relation to this matter. The Government have been in discussion with it for some time and have been providing support. We do want to see new nuclear as part of our energy mix in the future, but we must also ensure that the cost of any energy that is provided by nuclear is at a reasonable level for the consumer.
I welcome the recent news from the Secretary of State for Defence and his ministerial team that 45 Commando will remain at RM Condor in my constituency. Zulu Company, part of the 45 Commando group, recently took part in specialist chemical training, which will ensure it is ready to respond first to any chemical or biological attack such as the one we had in Salisbury last year. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Royal Marines at 45 Commando and all the men and women who work at the base on their tireless work to keep our country safe?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue; she has also raised it in a Westminster Hall debate as it is of importance to her, as it is to many other Members around this House. I pay tribute to all the Royal Marines past and present at RM Condor and I am pleased to say that we do plan for 45 Commando to remain based at RM Condor barracks in Angus. We will ensure that they continue to have the required facilities for them to live, work and train in Angus, and I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Zulu Company on its hard work in keeping us safe.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s offer of cross-party talks. She will remember, as we are former colleagues, that my party has a record of working with others in the national interest. However, she should not even bother lifting the telephone to Opposition parties unless she is willing to rule out categorically a no-deal Brexit and is willing to enter into a constructive conversation about a people’s vote.
As I said earlier, there are two ways of avoiding a no deal: one is to have a deal, and one is to stay in the European Union. We will not be staying in the European Union, but I am always happy to have constructive discussions with party leaders who want to put the national interest first. Sadly, from everything I have heard, not every party leader wants to do that.
Driving off a cliff never ends well, particularly if it results in a crash and burn Brexit with no deal in just 72 days’ time, but there is a way to avoid this: to be realistic by extending article 50 to allow us to put a realistic negotiated Brexit direct to the British people, to ask if it has their consent and also to include an option to remain with the excellent deal we already have.
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear, as I have said this already in today’s Prime Minister’s questions, that I believe we should deliver on the vote of the referendum in 2016: we should be delivering Brexit. As I indicated earlier to her, she and others have talked about extending article 50, but the European Union would extend it only under circumstances in which it was going to be possible to come to an agreement on a deal. The talks we will be having—the discussions I will be having with parliamentarians across this House—will be aimed at ensuring that we can find a way to secure a deal that will get the support of this House.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, thank you for your clarity with regard to taking photos in this place. It was put to me this morning by my local BBC station that MPs in this place are not quite getting the seriousness that the country is feeling when they behave in such a frivolous manner. I take that one stage further: we set rules and laws in this place and expect people to abide by them, but we cannot seem to do that ourselves—not a great look. May I therefore ask you, Mr Speaker, not so much for a reminder of the rules we already know are in place, but to say what the sanctions will be for those who break them? If there are no sanctions, might we change the position to reflect the fact that the rules are being flouted?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and his courtesy in warning me of his intention to raise it. I take seriously these breaches of privacy, and that is what they are—breaches of privacy by one colleague against others—which is why I made my statement earlier today. I do not expect to have to apply, or ask the House to apply, sanctions on colleagues for breaches of this sort, but as a supporter of England’s finest football club the hon. Gentleman will know that the referee has several weapons in his arsenal before resorting to yellow or red cards and he can be assured that the Chair keeps a beady eye on offenders.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A member of my staff was abused this morning as he sought to come to work. There were no police officers outside the Embankment entrance to Portcullis House. It was not just a random piece of abuse; he was called a “spineless” c-u-n-t. I will not use that word in any circumstances. There is no excuse for abusing him or any other member of staff in that way. Some of us have broad shoulders—I am not going to make a fuss; we all know what happened last week, and I am grateful that the police are finally doing something about it—but it cannot be right that those people are standing outside this place. The man who abused my staff member had been spoken to on three occasions this morning by police officers, but they had then left their post to go somewhere else.
Mr Speaker, I am grateful to the police who keep us safe, and you know the sort of conversations that I and many others have had with them. I do not doubt that they want to do a good job, but unless the Metropolitan police at the most senior level now do their job and make sure that our staff have exactly the same rights as any other worker in any other business, trade or profession, we will have a situation where our members of staff will simply no longer work for us. Mr Speaker, what more can we do?
I was shocked to hear of that incident, and I concur entirely with everything that the right hon. Lady has said to the Chamber today, as I have done on a number of recent occasions. No one should be subjected to vile abuse of the kind that she has described. I hosted a meeting in Speaker’s House last week with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, and I referred to the fact of that meeting in the Chamber, I believe last Friday. I have written to the Commissioner, and I have received a very full and encouraging reply from Cressida Dick. I will not read it out to the House, but she, while quite properly explaining how seriously she and her officers take their responsibilities, went on to seek to assure me of an increased police presence and, to some degree, a changed mindset in terms of the importance of proactive measures. Quite why there were no police officers outside Portcullis House at the time I do not at this point know, but I intend to raise the matter, because it is absolutely vital that the aspiration to achieve security is realised, if at all possible, in every particular case. Does the Leader of the House want to come in on that?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask for clarification? Are you intending to alter the Standing Orders of the House in order to change the way in which business is conducted in the upcoming days and weeks, or are you going to allow those Standing Orders to be changed by a vote of the House? Excuse my ignorance on this, Sir. I ask because if the control of business is taken away from the Government, for example on the issue of Brexit, that has significant ramifications for how we do business in this House and for what is likely to happen in the days and weeks ahead.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I can answer him very simply. No, I have no intention of trying to change the Standing Orders of the House. With the very greatest of respect to the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for a long time and for whose intelligence I have very high regard, that is not a power of the Speaker. The House is in charge of its Standing Orders, but in so far as he—[Interruption.] No, I am not debating this with him. He raised the point and I am furnishing him with an answer, upon which he can reflect. The later parts of his point of order were frankly hypothetical, and I cannot be expected to treat of hypothetical questions. He asked a specific point in the first part of his inquiry, and I have given him a specific reply. We will leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you agree that the way in which the rules of this House have evolved, and the way in which the current Government have taken to ignoring Opposition motions and not even deigning to vote on them—coupled with the difficult circumstances in which we in the House of Commons now find ourselves in the aftermath of yesterday’s crushing defeat of the Brexit deal—demonstrate that our Standing Orders are probably in need of some evolution, even though I understand that you cannot change them? Will you perhaps think about bringing the Procedure Committee into play at some stage, so that we can take back some control from a dysfunctional Government and make certain that the will of this House can be properly put into effect?
It is not for me to bring the Procedure Committee into play. However, I am in the hands of the House, and the House can take a view on these matters and may well choose to do so. More widely, I think it is fair to say that quite a number of Members of Parliament on both sides of the House—particularly some very senior and experienced Members—have relayed to me over the last several months their disappointment, concern and in some cases I would go so far as to say distress that what they previously regarded as givens seem no longer to apply. I simply make the point factually that a number of senior Members on the Government Benches have told me that, whatever they think of a particular vote—for example, a vote on an Opposition motion—it should be honoured, because they are putting their commitment to Parliament in front of their commitment to party. So I put that out there. These matters will be aired in this Chamber, and ultimately decided upon in this Chamber, if Members want that to happen. The idea that that can be blocked—I am not saying that that is what is intended—by Executive fiat, for example, is for the birds.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is entirely understandable that you do not want to answer hypotheticals, but for those of us who are trying to understand what might be afoot and to explain it to our constituents, could you confirm whether it is the custom or the rule that rulings on money resolutions are the sole domain of the Chairman of Ways and Means?
I have made the position clear on money resolutions in the past, and I am not going to entertain hypothetical questions. I have tried to be—[Interruption.] Order. I am not debating the issue with the hon. Gentleman. He has made a point of raising points of order on a number of occasions, and if he wants to have a discussion at some stage, he is perfectly welcome to come to see me, but I am not going to detain the House now with endless exchanges on this matter with people who really want to stage a form of Question Time—[Interruption.] No, I do not require any gesticulation from him; I am telling him that that is the situation.
EUROPEAN UNION REFERENDUM (PREPARATION) BILL
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Dominic Grieve, supported by Liz Saville Roberts, Joanna Cherry, Tom Brake, Heidi Allen, Stephen Doughty, Justine Greening, Mr Chris Leslie, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Caroline Lucas and Dr Phillip Lee, presented a Bill to enable preparations for a referendum about the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 21 January, and to be printed (Bill 318).
EUROPEAN UNION REFERENDUM BILL
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Dominic Grieve, supported by Liz Saville Roberts, Joanna Cherry, Tom Brake, Heidi Allen, Stephen Doughty, Justine Greening, Mr Chris Leslie, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Caroline Lucas and Dr Phillip Lee, presented a Bill to provide for a referendum about the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 21 January, and to be printed (Bill 319).
Low-Level Letter Boxes (Prohibition)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend building regulations to require letter boxes in new buildings to be positioned above a certain height; and for connected purposes.
Thank you so much to all the Members of this House who have come here today to support my Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to improve the health and safety of workers, particularly postmen and women, paper boys and girls and other deliverers. When I met representatives of the Communication Workers Union, they told me that the key issue for their members was not Brexit but low-level letterboxes and dangerous dogs. I am not asking homeowners to retrospectively change their existing letterboxes or replace their front doors. When it comes to front doors, a lot of people are very fond of their knockers. This Bill simply wants to stop developers from building swathes of homes each with a letterbox placed near the ground.
I hope that this will be a moment of unity in British politics. I have been overwhelmed by support from Members across the House. We all need to declare a bit of an interest. We politicians have been known to deliver an occasional leaflet ourselves, maybe. Many Members of this House visited their own Royal Mail sorting offices in the run-up to Christmas. I enjoyed visiting the one in Chelmsford.
Our posties have deep knowledge of and care for their local communities. They are resilient and they are having to adapt to the digital age. These days, they deliver fewer letters but many more parcels because so many people are ordering goods online. There are over 95,000 postmen and women working for Royal Mail. They deliver to 30 million addresses. They serve each of our communities six days a week, every week of the year.
I asked our postal workers what I could do for them, and they asked me to help with the issue of low-level letterboxes, particularly because of the strain this puts on deliverers’ backs. Back injury is the primary cause of sickness in Royal Mail. Royal Mail has introduced better trolleys and training schemes to improve how staff lift, but despite this, last year it recorded over 16,800 back-related absence spells. The act of having to bend or stoop to deliver mail to low letterboxes is a significant factor, and it cannot be overlooked. The occasional low-level letterbox is not a big issue, but where developers fit row after row of front doors with ankle-high letterboxes, deliverers face repetitive stress.
Low letterboxes are also associated with an increased likelihood of injury from dogs or cats. Each week across the UK there are, on average, 44 dog attacks on postal workers, and every year there are 50 attacks from cats. Low-level letterboxes are much more difficult for deliverers to see, resulting in more hand injuries and more damage to mail, especially packages. Post that has been delivered into a low-level letterbox is also easier for thieves to steal.
In many cases, it is not until the new doors are already in place that the local postal workers know that they have an issue, and then the trade union takes it up. The CWU repeatedly challenges developers to retrospectively change the letterboxes. This is difficult to do, time-consuming and a waste of money. Some of us know that difficult to do, time-consuming and waste of money issues can be somewhat annoying. The union has been campaigning on this issue for many years. Indeed, back in 2005, 97 Members of Parliament signed an early-day motion asking for change, but it did not get much publicity. Well, we are certainly letting our postal workers have the spotlight today.
This Bill has a huge amount of support. I am especially grateful for the specific support from the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) and my hon. Friends the Members for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), all of whom have been postal workers themselves. It has been a pleasure to discuss this with the Minister responsible, who has been most encouraging. He is held in huge regard by postal workers for the work he did prior to coming to this place on the issue of dangerous dogs. I understand that the Government may be consulting on changes to building regulations later this year, so I hope the Minister will take the messages from this Bill seriously and make sure that the necessary changes come into force.
Health and safety matters. Sometimes Conservative Members are told that we do not care enough about health and safety or about the conditions of our workers. Indeed, in the past few days I have even heard some Opposition Members say that it was because they were concerned that we did not care enough about health and safety that they would not vote for the Government on the withdrawal agreement last night. But I believe that those concerns are unfounded. Every time I talk to my Conservative colleagues about this, they tell me that they do care about health and safety and do care about the conditions workers face. I hope the fact that so many Conservative Members support this Bill may go some way to assuage the concerns of Opposition colleagues.
Other nations have taken action—Ireland, Portugal and Belgium. There is a European standard, which suggests a minimum height of 70 cm. It is a shame that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) is not in his seat as I point out that in old money that is 2 feet 3½ inches. Not all European standards are evil. On this special day, would it not be nice to find one—at least one—that we can all unite around? The National House Building Council has been recommending since 2005 that developers and builders adopt this European standard. It has also suggested that the European standard for the aperture for letterboxes should be followed so that they can fit in small parcels. However, despite these recommendations, the problem still persists. There are some issues for which recommendations are simply not enough and we need regulation.
Back pain is the most common cause of chronic pain. Those of us who have ever suffered from back pain know how debilitating it can be. Every day our postal workers deliver for us: let us now deliver for them.
Question put and agreed to.
That Vicky Ford, Scott Mann, Mrs Pauline Latham, Victoria Prentis, Bob Blackman, Tom Tugendhat, Craig Tracey, Mr Edward Vaizey, Richard Benyon, Tim Loughton, Maria Caulfield and Kelvin Hopkins present the Bill.
Vicky Ford accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 March and to be printed (Bill 320).
Business of the House (Today)
At this day’s sitting the Speaker shall put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion tabled under section 2(4) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 in the name of Jeremy Corbyn not later than 7.00pm; and Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents) and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Michelle Donelan.)
No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government
[Relevant documents: Fourteenth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, The Role of Parliament in the UK Constitution; Interim Report, The Status and Effect of Confidence Motions; and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, HC 1813.]
I beg to move,
That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
Last night, the Government were defeated by 230 votes —the largest defeat in the history of our democracy. They are the first Government to be defeated by more than 200 votes. Indeed, the Government themselves could barely muster more than 200 votes. Last week, they lost a vote on the Finance Bill—that is what is called supply. Yesterday, they lost a vote by the biggest margin ever—that is what is regarded as confidence. By any convention of this House—by any precedent—loss of confidence and supply should mean that they do the right thing and resign.
The Prime Minister has consistently claimed that her deal, which has now been decisively rejected, was good for Britain, workers and businesses. If she is so confident of that—if she genuinely believes it—she should have nothing to fear from going to the people and letting them decide.
In this week in 1910, the British electorate went to the polls. They did so because Herbert Asquith’s Liberal Government had been unable to get Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” through the House of Lords. They were confident in their arguments, and they went to the people and were returned to office. That is still how our democracy works. When we have a Government that cannot govern, it is those conventions that guide us in the absence of a written constitution. If a Government cannot get their legislation through Parliament, they must go to the country for a new mandate, and that must apply when that situation relates to the key issue of the day.
In 2017, the Prime Minister and her party thought that they could call an election and win it. They thought that they would return with an overall majority, but there was an enormous increase in the Labour vote—the biggest since 1945—during that campaign when people saw what our policies actually were.
When the Prime Minister asked to be given a mandate, she bypassed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Foreign Secretary, pointed out, was designed to give some stability to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government to ensure that the Lib Dems could not hold the Conservatives to ransom by constantly threatening to collapse the coalition. The 2011 Act was never intended to prop up a zombie Government, and there can be no doubt that this is a zombie Government.
If the right hon. Gentleman’s motion is successful this evening, there may be a general election in a few short weeks. Would the Labour party manifesto state whether it will be a party of Brexit or a party against Brexit? It is a simple question; what is the answer?
We are a democratic party, and our party will decide what policy we fight the election on. In the meantime, however, we are clear that there has to be a customs union, access to European trade and markets and the protection of rights, and there must be a rejection of a no-deal Brexit.
As I was saying, last week this Government became the first for more than 40 years to lose a vote on a Finance Bill. In a shocking first for this Government—a shocking first—they forced a heavily pregnant Member of this House, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), to delay a scheduled caesarean to come to vote, all because of their cynical breaking of trusted pairing arrangements. We need to examine our procedures to ensure that such a thing can never happen again.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you please assist the House, because this is an important matter? I say this as a woman. We need to establish once and for all whether the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) was offered a pair. I think all of us and the public need to know.
The Clerk reminds me that that is not a point of order. My understanding is that there was a pairing opportunity, but the issue was aired in the chamber on Monday and again yesterday. The Leader of the Opposition is absolutely entitled to highlight his concern about the matter, which I know is widely shared, but it should not now be the subject of further points of order. I hope that that satisfies the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Nothing demonstrates the sheer incompetence of this Government quite like the Brexit negotiations. Yesterday’s historic and humiliating defeat was the result of two years of chaos and failure. It is clear that this Government are not capable of winning support for their core plan on the most vital issue facing this country. The Prime Minister has lost control and the Government have lost the ability to govern. Within two years, they have managed to turn a deal from what was supposed to be—I remember this very well—
“one of the easiest in human history”
into a national embarrassment. In that time, we have seen the Prime Minister’s demands quickly turn into one humiliating climbdown after another. Brexit Ministers have come, and Brexit ministers have gone, but the shambles has remained unchanged, culminating in an agreement that was described by one former Cabinet Minister as
“the worst of all worlds.”
Let me be clear that the deal that the Prime Minister wanted this Parliament to support would have left the UK in a helpless position, facing a choice between seeking and paying for an extended transition period or being trapped in the backstop. The Prime Minister may claim the backstop would never come into force—[Interruption.]
Who has confidence in this Government’s ability to negotiate a future trade deal with the EU by December 2020 after the shambles that we have all witnessed over the past two years? This Frankenstein deal is now officially dead, and the Prime Minister is trying to blame absolutely everybody else.
In modern British history, when faced with a defeat even a fraction of the size of the titanic and calamitous margin that the Prime Minister faced yesterday, Prime Ministers have done the right and honourable thing and have resigned and called a general election. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister, in the pursuit of power and the trappings of office, has now forgotten what is right and honourable?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. As I made clear, all the precedents are that when a Government experiences a defeat like last night’s, it is time to resign and allow the people to elect a new Parliament to deal with the issues facing the country.
Let me be clear that the blame for this mess lies firmly at the feet of the Prime Minister and her Government, who have time after time made hollow demands and given what turned out to be false promises. They say that they want this Parliament to be sovereign. Yet when their plans have come up against scrutiny, they have done all they can to obstruct and evade. The Prime Minister’s original plan was to push through a deal without the appropriate approval of this Parliament, only to be forced into holding a meaningful vote by the courts and by Members of this House, to whom I pay tribute for ensuring that we actually had the meaningful vote last night.
As I understand it, the Leader of the Opposition will allow his party to decide whether he will deliver Brexit should he become Prime Minister. His party has already decided that if he is not successful in getting a general election, he should support a people’s vote. If he does not win the vote tonight, will he then support moves in this House to give us a people’s vote?
I have not had such a call as yet. I have my phone on. [Interruption.]
I think we should proceed with this debate. The Prime Minister’s original plan was to push through a deal without approval, as I pointed out, and she was forced into seeking approval by the courts. Since losing their majority in the 2017 general election, the Government have had numerous opportunities to engage with others and listen to their views, not just here in Westminster, but across the country. Their whole framing of the EU withdrawal Bill was about giving excessive power to the Secretary of State for Brexit at the expense of Parliament. It was a Bill of which Henry VIII would have been very proud.
Yesterday’s decisive defeat is the result of the Prime Minister not listening and ignoring businesses, unions and Members of this House. She has wasted two years recklessly ploughing on with her doomed strategy. Even when it was clear that her botched and damaging deal could not remotely command support here or across the country, she decided to waste even more time by pulling the meaningful vote on 11 December on the empty promise, and it was an absolutely empty promise, of obtaining legal assurances on the backstop—another month wasted before the House could come to its decision last night.
Some on the Government Benches have tried to portray the Prime Minister’s approach as stoical. What we have seen over the past few months is not stoical; what we have witnessed is the Prime Minister acting in her narrow party interest, rather than in the public interest. Her party is fundamentally split on this issue, and fewer than 200 of her own MPs were prepared to support her last night. This constrains the Prime Minister so much that she simply cannot command a majority in this House on the most important issue facing this country without rupturing her party. It is for that reason that the Government can no longer govern.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister shook her head when I said that she had treated Brexit as a matter only for the Conservative party, yet within half an hour of the vote being announced the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) commented:
“She has conducted the argument as if this was a party political matter rather than a question of profound national importance”.
How right he was, and how wrong the Prime Minister was to threaten him before the vote took place.
I know that many people across the country will be frustrated and deeply worried about the insecurity around Brexit, but if this divided Government continue in office, the uncertainty and risks can only grow.
When those cross-party talks start, which of the Scarlet Pimpernels will come? Will it be the Leader of the Opposition who campaigns for remain in London and the south-east, or will it be the Leader of the Opposition who campaigns for Brexit up north? We need to know.
There has been no offer or communication on all-party talks. All the Prime Minister said was that she might talk to some Members of the House. That is not reaching out. That is not discussing it. That is not recognising the scale of the defeat they suffered last night.
It is not just over Brexit that the Government are failing dismally, letting down the people of this country. There has been the Windrush scandal, with the shameful denial of rights and the detention, and even the deportation, of our own citizens. The Government’s flagship welfare policy, universal credit, is causing real and worsening poverty across this country. And just yesterday, under the cover of the Brexit vote, they sneaked out changes that will make some pensioner households thousands of pounds worse off. Those changes build on the scourge of poverty and the measures inflicted on the people of this country, including the bedroom tax, the two-child limit, the abominable rape clause, the outsourced and deeply flawed work capability assessment, the punitive sanctions regime and the deeply repugnant benefits freeze.
People across this country, whether they voted leave or remain, know full well that the system is not working for them. If they are up against it and they voted remain, or if they are up against it and they voted leave, this Government do not speak for them, do not represent them and cannot represent them. Food bank use has increased almost exponentially. More people are sleeping on our streets, and the numbers have shamefully swelled every year. The Conservative party used to call itself the party of home ownership; it is now called the party of homelessness in this country.
Care is being denied to our elderly, with Age UK estimating that 1.2 million older people are not receiving the care they need. Some £7 billion has been cut from adult social care budgets in the past nine years. Our NHS is in crisis, waiting time targets at accident and emergency—[Interruption.] I am talking about waiting times at accident and emergency departments and for cancer patients that have not been met since 2015 and that have never been met under the Government of this Prime Minister.
The NHS has endured the longest funding squeeze in its history, leaving it short-staffed to the tune of 100,000 and leaving NHS trusts and providers over £1 billion in deficit. The human consequences are clear. Life expectancy is now going backwards in the poorest parts of our country and is stagnating overall, which is unprecedented —another shameful first for this Government and another reason why this Government should no longer remain in office. That is why this motion of no confidence is so important.
The Leader of the Opposition is making some powerful arguments—not very well, but he is making them—but could he help us with this? I saw an opinion poll at the weekend. If there is any merit in his arguments, can he explain why the Conservative party is six points ahead in the polls? Could it be because he is the most hopeless Leader of the Opposition we have ever had?
My right hon. Friend is right to put on record the concerns about uncertainty in the country, and he is absolutely right to talk about poverty. Can he confirm that it is the position of the British Labour party to rule out a no-deal Brexit? Can he understand why the party that claims to be the traditional party of business will not do the same?
I can absolutely confirm that. We have voted against a no-deal Brexit, and apparently the Business Secretary thinks that vote is a good idea. The Prime Minister was unable to answer my question on this during Prime Minister’s Question Time. A no-deal Brexit would be very dangerous and very damaging for jobs and industries all across this country.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is absolutely right that, under this Government, we see our NHS in crisis and education underfunded. Our communities have been devastated by their austerity agenda. More people are homeless; more people are living in poverty; and more people are using food banks. If the Government disagree, why do they not call a general election? We are ready.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for his work representing his constituency. On this side of the House, we are determined to force this Government to accept the reality of the defeat last night and to go to the people so that they can decide whether they want a party in office that promotes inequality, poverty and injustice in Britain, or the Labour alternative, which is bringing people together, however they voted in the referendum.
I know that some Members of this House are sceptical, and members of the public could also be described as sceptical, but I truly believe that a general election would be the best outcome for this country. As the Prime Minister pointed out in her speech yesterday, both the Labour party and the Conservative party stood on manifestos that accepted the result of the referendum . Surely any Government would be strengthened in trying to renegotiate Brexit by being given a fresh mandate from the people to follow their chosen course. I know many people at home will say, “Well, we’ve had two general elections and a referendum in the last four years.” For the people of Scotland, it is two UK-wide elections, one Scottish parliamentary election and two referendums in five years So although Brenda from Bristol may gasp “Not another one”, spare a thought for Bernie from Bute. However, the scale of the crisis means we need a Government with a fresh mandate. A general election can bring people together, focusing on all the issues that unite us—the need to solve the crises in our NHS, our children’s schools and the care of our elderly.
We all have a responsibility to call out abuse, which has become too common, whether it is the abuse that Members of this House receive or the abuse that is—[Interruption.]
No. I am sure we can all unite in condemning racist abuse in any form whatsoever within our society. Too many of our constituents have faced that since the toxic debate in the last referendum and, if I may say so, the Government’s hostile environment policies on the Windrush generation.
Many media pundits and Members of this House say there is currently no majority in the House for a general election—let the Members of this House decide. However, it is clear there is no majority for the Government’s Brexit deal and there is no majority either for no deal. I pay tribute to all Members of this House who, like the Labour Front-Bench team, are committed both to opposing the Prime Minister’s bad deal, which we voted down last night, and to ruling out the catastrophe of no deal. But I do believe that following the defeat of the Government’s plan, a general election is the best outcome for the country, as the Labour party conference agreed last September.
A general election would give new impetus to negotiations, with a new Prime Minister, with a new mandate, and not just to break the deadlock on Brexit, but to bring fresh ideas to the many problems facing our constituents, such as very low pay, insecure work and in-work poverty, which is increasing. They face the problems of trying to survive on universal credit and living in deep poverty; and the scandal of inadequate social care, which might not concern the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) but does concern millions of people around this country.
Then we have the crisis facing local authorities, health services and schools, which are starved of resources; and the housing and homelessness crisis, whereby so many of our fellow citizens have no roof over their heads night after night.[Interruption].
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it not—[Interruption.] Well, give me a go! Is it not often the practice in this House that when someone speaking from the Dispatch Box refers to another Member and challenges them, they then normally take an intervention?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
If the House backs this motion today, I will welcome the wide-ranging debates we will have about the future of our country and the future of our relationship with the European Union, with all the options on the table. As I said before, a Prime Minister confident of what she describes as “a good deal” and committed, as she claims, to tackling burning injustices should have nothing to fear from such an election. If the House does not back this motion today, it is surely incumbent on all of us to keep all the options on the table, to rule out the disastrous no deal and offer a better solution than the Prime Minister’s deal, which was so roundly defeated yesterday.
This Government cannot govern and cannot command the support of Parliament on the most important issue facing our country. Every previous Prime Minister in this situation would have resigned and called an election. It is the duty of this House to show the lead where the Government have failed and to pass a motion of no confidence so that the people of this country can decide who their MPs are, who their Government are and who will deal with the crucial issues facing the people of this country. I commend my motion to the House.
Last night, the House rejected the deal the Government have negotiated with the European Union. Today, it is asked a simpler question: should the next step be a general election? I believe that is the worst thing we could do: it would deepen division when we need unity, it would bring chaos when we need certainty, and it would bring delay when we need to move forward. So I believe the House should reject this motion.
At this crucial moment in our nation’s history, a general election is simply not in the national interest. Parliament decided to put the question of our membership of the European Union to the people. Parliament promised to abide by the result. Parliament invoked article 50 to trigger the process. And now Parliament must finish the job. That is what the British people expect of us and, as I find when speaking to my constituents and to voters right across the country, that is what they demand. But a general election would mean the opposite. Far from helping Parliament finish the job and fulfil our promise to the people of the United Kingdom, it would mean extending article 50 and delaying Brexit, for who knows how long.
The Prime Minister has lost a quarter of her Cabinet and 117 of her Back Benchers want her gone. She has experienced the biggest defeat in parliamentary history. What shred of credibility have her Government got left? For goodness’ sake Prime Minister, won’t you just go?
As someone who was defeated last night by only 230 votes, may I encourage the Prime Minister to KBO and never tire of reminding the country that our good economic and one-nation record will be put at risk by a very extreme left-wing and high-taxation party?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall speak about this later in my speech, but it is over the years since 2010, with Conservatives in government, that we have been able to turn the economy around, ensure that jobs are provided for people and give people a better future.
I totally agree with the Prime Minister that a general election would solve nothing—it is merely a tactical device used by the Opposition to cause chaos—but does she agree with me that we also need to rule out a second referendum on our membership of the EU, which would be highly divisive and would not resolve the issues we currently face?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that a general election would cause the sort of delay that I have just been talking about. He is also right in that we had a referendum in 2016, and I believe it is incumbent on this Parliament to deliver on the result of that referendum and to deliver Brexit. As regards those issues, the choices we face as a country will not change after four or five weeks of campaigning for a general election, and there is no indication that an election would solve the dilemma that we now face. Not only that, but there is no guarantee that an election would deliver a parliamentary majority for any single course of action.