House of Commons
Monday 21 January 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Security Agreements: European Union
I have regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on a range of matters. The deal that the House considered last week confirmed the commitment of the UK and the EU to a new security partnership and included a transition period. In considering a way forward, we must focus on ideas that deliver the same benefits, are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in the House.
Title V of the draft withdrawal agreement describes the ongoing police and judicial co-operation between the UK and the EU on criminal matters. Given that it has taken 30 months to agree the 13-page section on security and that the section covers only the transition period, why should we have any confidence in this Government completing negotiations to ensure this country’s future safety and security by the end of next year?
Security is an absolute priority for the Home Office, which is why it should come as no surprise to the House that all capabilities on which the UK would wish to co-operate with the EU are covered in the political declaration. If the hon. Lady wishes to continue that kind of co-operation, the best thing to do is to support the deal.
What estimate has my right hon. Friend made of the intervention by Sir Richard Dearlove and General Guthrie?
I read the intervention carefully a week ago. Although I have huge respect for those two individuals and listen to them on many issues, I think that they are completely wrong in their assessment.
The last time the Home Secretary appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, he told us that, in the event of no deal,
“we will be as safe—if we are talking about the SIS II system, for example, as we were just now”,
and said that Schengen Information System II is merely a “nice to have”—those were the words he used. Since then, the Met Commissioner has said that losing access to SIS II
“will be more costly undoubtedly, slower undoubtedly, and potentially, yes, put the public at risk.”
The National Crime Agency has also said that there is
“a risk that this country will be less safe as a result.”
What is the Home Secretary’s assessment of the risk to the country, particularly in policing and security terms, from no deal, and why is his assessment different from that of the police?
The right hon. Lady will know that paragraph 87 of the political declaration talks about how the UK and our EU partners will work together to consider continuing arrangements for missing and wanted persons, and on other issues, such as criminal information exchange. Today we are lucky to live in a very safe country. Under our assessment, I am confident that, whether we have a deal or no deal, we will continue to be a very safe country.
The arrival of 39 suspected migrants via crossings in just the last two days is a considerable concern to my constituents in Dover and Deal. When will the Home Secretary next meet his French counterpart to discuss this matter? Will the Home Office carry out round-the-clock aerial surveillance urgently? Can he confirm the date on which the two cutters in the Mediterranean will return to be on station to secure our border?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have started to deploy aerial surveillance of the English channel since I declared a major incident. While we await the arrival of the two cutters in early February, we have increased the presence of vessels, including with help from the Royal Navy. I will be meeting my French counterpart, Minister Castaner, this week.
Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the police have said that direct access to EU databases such as SIS II are mission critical for their work in tackling criminals and terrorists. What guarantee can the Home Secretary give the House today that, after the transition period, Britain and the police will still have access to these mission-critical databases?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those databases are important, which is why it is very good that we have an agreement in the political declaration to consider how we can keep using such arrangements. Again, if he is that concerned, he should support the deal.
Is it not the case that our closest security and intelligence partnership is with the United States and the “Five Eyes” signatories, none of which are members of the European Union; that our closest defence partnership is with NATO, not the EU; and that, whether we leave the EU with or without a deal, we will be signing a security and intelligence arrangement with the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the security relationship we have with many other countries, including, of course, with our “Five Eyes” partners—that is a critical relationship—and the NATO alliance. That does not take away from the fact that we also want to continue co-operating with the EU, and I am sure that we will.
Can the Home Secretary help me, please? The European Court of Justice has oversight of the European arrest warrant, SIS II, Europol and Eurojust. He says that we will have arrangements with all three; how does he cross the Prime Minister’s red line on those issues?
That is quite straightforward. If the right hon. Gentleman takes the time to read the political declaration, he will see that it refers to establishing arrangements—for example, for the quick and efficient surrender of individuals. They are not necessarily exactly the same instruments, but we have done this in a way that is consistent with our taking back control of our laws.
I have listened with great care to the Home Secretary. He will be aware that the EU insists on treaty arrangements governing key aspects of international security, justice and policing. Without a treaty, courts have no legal basis to implement arrest or extradition warrants, and cannot allow access to criminal and other databases to third countries. The danger is that there will be a mutual loss of the European arrest warrant and the UK will no longer be able to access the Europol database in real time. How does he justify putting the security of the nation at risk in this way?
The Government have suggested to the EU—if the deal gets through Parliament, this is what will be looked at—having an internal security treaty between the UK and the EU because, as the right hon. Lady quite rightly says, it is best to have these arrangements on a proper legal footing and it makes sense to do that through treaty-type arrangements. I have to say again, however, that if she is really concerned about continued co-operation, she should support the deal.
County Lines Drugs Operations
We have provided £3.6 million for a new national county lines co-ordination centre to enhance the intelligence picture and to support efforts to identify and safeguard victims. The centre launched in September last year and carried out its first week of action in October, leading to more 500 arrests and more than 300 people safeguarded.
I was pleased to see it reported recently that the Government are treating the victims of county lines as victims of modern slavery. That is a helpful approach, but I have two concerns. One is that children who have been excluded from school are particularly at risk. My second concern relates to housing. What conversations are Ministers having with their counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to make sure that children who are at risk are not housed back in the area where the people who have persecuted them live?
I thank the hon. Lady for her continued focus on modern slavery. She is absolutely right that this is not just about policing, although of course that is a vital part of our treatment of serious violence and county lines. It is about taking a holistic approach, which is why the Home Secretary chairs the serious violence taskforce, which brings together local government, national Government and all the relevant agencies. That can make a real difference in the lives of young people who may be vulnerable to the gangsters.
In November, West Midlands police was granted a cash boost of £1.8 million to help to deal with gangs and violence. Does the Minister endorse the work of the charity Redthread to prevent youngsters from joining gangs and becoming drug dealers?
I am delighted to endorse the work of Redthread, a charity we support not just in the midlands, but in London and Nottingham. I have been delighted to visit accident and emergency departments where Redthread is in operation. Its workers reach out to young people when they are in A&E departments, at what they call the teachable moment. That is exactly the sort of positive voluntary work we need.
Will the Minister update us on the Government’s public health approach to tackle serious violence? I am not asking for an update on the serious violence strategy, the Offensive Weapons Bill or the youth endowment fund. I have been following those very closely, but I cannot find anything about the Government’s public health approach, as announced at the Conservative party conference. Perhaps the Minister can update us now.
I thank the hon. Lady for her assiduous focus on this important topic. I am grateful to her for her work on the Youth Violence Commission. We are due to consult on the public health duty, a legal duty that will apply across the board to help to embed a public health approach in our treatment of serious violence.
The hon. Lady will know that we have recently announced an independent review of the 21st-century drugs market. Indeed, only last week I had the pleasure of visiting a drug treatment centre in south London to see the important work of doctors and health professionals to help those who are sadly addicted to these very harmful substances.
For the victims of county lines and youth violence, the trauma from their experiences will be devastating, yet far too often police forces and mental health trusts do not work together to make sure that their needs are automatically assessed, leaving children extremely vulnerable and at risk of being re-exploited. Will the Minister commit to working with her colleagues with responsibility for mental health to ensure that all such victims receive an automatic referral to mental health services? Will she commit to coming back to the House at the earliest opportunity with a full update on progress against the wider serious violence strategy?
The hon. Lady will know that we are very conscious of the impact that mental health issues can have, not only on the immediate victims of serious violence but, of course, in respect of the ramifications further afield for communities affected by serious violence. A great deal of work is going on to help people with mental issues who are being dragged into county lines, in particular. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing met the relevant Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care only last week to discuss this issue.
In the year to June 2018, the proportion of recorded crime that was closed with no suspect identified was 47%—a similar proportion to that in the previous year.
Charge rates in West Yorkshire have fallen for some key crimes, with charges for sexual offences as low as 4%—among the lowest in the country. The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council has said that this is because of fewer officers and staff. The Government’s decision to raise money through an increase in council tax means that West Yorkshire will be able to raise almost the same as Surrey, despite having double the population. Will that really meet local need?
I am sure that, given the seriousness of the point the hon. Lady raises, she will welcome the fact that rates of prosecutions and convictions for rape and sexual offences are at their highest ever level. She also asked about funding, and she wants more resources for her local police force, so I hope that she will support the proposed police funding settlement that will, if the NPCC uses the flexibility, provide an additional £28.5 million for her local police force.
In Hampshire, just 4% of sexual offences and just 14% of robberies now result in a charge. Can the Minister honestly tell the people of Portsmouth that after losing 1,000 police officers and a staggering £70 million in central Government funding, my city’s streets are safer?
The hon. Gentleman also refers to the conviction rates for rape and sexual offences, which are at record levels. They are low in percentage terms—unacceptably low—but we are making progress, and it is incredibly important that we do so, because one of the success stories of the past few years has been in encouraging vulnerable victims of so-called hidden crime to come forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that and that, given his concern about seeing Hampshire police properly funded, he will vote for the proposed police funding settlement, which would see police funding for his local force double.
The Minister will know that in Telford and Wrekin there is currently a call for not only an independent inquiry but a council-led inquiry into unresolved crimes relating to child sexual exploitation. Will the Minister join me in calling on the council to get on with that inquiry and to release information so that the victims can finally get justice?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. When he raised it before, he heard a clear “get on with it” message from the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box. I repeat that, and I am more than happy to offer to meet him and anyone relevant to discuss the matter.
Hon. Members will know from today’s papers that there has been yet another stabbing in London—this time in Kew in my constituency. I am pleased to say that the victim is now expected to make a full recovery and I thank the local police for their full and rapid response. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge, please, that increased crime in the capital is a source of huge anxiety? Will he reassure my constituents not only that getting to grips with it is a top Government priority, but that he is doing everything he can to work with both the Met and the Mayor of London on a co-ordinated and full response?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, because it is one of the biggest public safety challenges that we face as a city and as a country. I am meeting the Mayor later this evening to discuss this in person. My hon. Friend wants more resources: an additional £100 million of investment is going into the Met police this year and the proposed funding settlement will see an additional £172 million of public money going in to support the Met. That is alongside all the other work that we are doing on the Offensive Weapons Bill, stop-and-search and everything else that he wants to see. I cannot think of a higher priority for the Department at this moment.
On 19 December last year, the Government published a White Paper that set out our principles and plans for a future skills-based immigration system. The future system will focus on high-skills, welcoming talented and hard-working individuals who will support the UK’s dynamic economy and enabling employers to compete on the world stage.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. When we leave the common fisheries policy, as he will be aware, we take back control of our waters and our fish. We can expect at that point an expansion of the seafood processing sector in my constituency of Banff and Buchan, an area of very low unemployment. Will he therefore assure me that our future immigration policy will, if required, facilitate the sourcing of skilled seafood processing workers from outside the UK?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the opportunities that Brexit will bring for certain industries. I can assure him that the immigration White Paper does contain proposals to bring medium-skilled workers into the scope of skilled workers and also to introduce a temporary workers’ route at all skill levels. I hope that that offers him some reassurance.
Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the skills-based immigration system will not fall foul of an arbitrary salary cap? This is important in many sectors. In research—I declare an interest as I am on the board of a university—very highly skilled researchers are often not paid anything like £30,000 at the beginning of their career, but we need them for our university and research sector.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. He may know that we made our visa offer for academics even more generous last year. Those changes have been warmly welcomed by the research community. I can assure him that we will engage with employers in the higher education sector and others before we determine any future salary thresholds.
Chichester is home to a fresh food industry worth £1 billion, and its businesses rely on European workers. One grower in my constituency reached 1.5 million picking hours last year, and with no mechanical alternative for picking soft fruit, any restriction in accessing labour will curtail growth. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that our post-Brexit immigration policy will ensure that such businesses will be able to get the workers that they need?
I understand the importance of the fresh food industry to my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are piloting a scheme to bring in workers from outside the EU to work in this industry, and our immigration White Paper proposed a temporary work route, allowing workers to come to the UK to work in jobs for up to a year at any skill level.
Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will listen to North Yorkshire farmers and those in the agricultural sector who wish to retain access to seasonal workers after Brexit? Will he confirm how the pilot will be assessed and that changes to numbers will be reviewed?
I can tell my hon. Friend that, first, the pilot will test the effectiveness of our immigration system, alleviating seasonal labour shortages during peak periods of production while ensuring that there is a minimal impact on local communities. We will fully assess the outcome of the pilot, but I am happy to give him the assurance that he seeks.
It is impossible to consider the future of the immigration system without considering the injustices that the immigration system has meted out in the past. In relation to the compensation scheme for Windrush citizens who have been unjustly and unlawfully treated by the Home Office, is the Home Secretary aware of reports that unscrupulous law firms are approaching Windrush victims and seeking to represent them in relation to the compensation scheme on the basis of a commission rate of more than 25% of the compensation awarded? Will he condemn that utterly predatory and exploitative practice and take steps to ensure that 100% of the compensation awarded by that scheme, when it is finalised, will go to the victims, who have already suffered enough?
It is very important that we have a fair compensation scheme in place. The work that Martin Forde, QC, has done independently is excellent; we will announce more on that soon. I join the hon. Lady in condemning those unscrupulous firms that are thinking only about lining their pockets, and not about the victims.
Can the Home Secretary say what progress he has made regarding compensation for victims of the Windrush scandal?
The hon. Lady will know that a consultation on the subject recently closed; it was extended at the request of Martin Forde, the independent chairman appointed to look into the matter. We are now working through the responses across Government, and we will announce more details soon.
Tens of thousands of families have been split by the Prime Minister’s draconian anti-family immigration rules. How many more families will be destroyed by the Home Secretary’s proposals to extend those rules to EU family members? Should we not be getting rid of these rules, rather than extending them?
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that in the withdrawal agreement in the Prime Minister’s deal, there is an extensive section on guaranteeing citizens’ rights. I believe that what we have agreed with the EU is very generous. No one has any interest in splitting any families. We must do everything we can to welcome those EU citizens who have made their home in the United Kingdom.
Can the Home Secretary tell us how the settled status scheme will work for EU nationals ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, but working in the offshore oil and gas industry, or the merchant marine? Can he confirm that the fact that many of those people work outside the 12-mile limit for more than six months in the year will not be a barrier to their inclusion in the settled status scheme?
One of the reasons why we piloted the scheme was to look at any issues that might come up before the full launch, which is expected in April. The pilot has just closed; we published the results today. It looks at precisely such issues as the one that the right hon. Gentleman has brought up. We will look into that carefully.
This morning, the Government launched the largest stage of the settled status roll-out. If just 5% of those who need settled status fail to apply for it, 175,000 people in the UK will have insecure immigration status, or no status at all. The British Medical Association found that 37% of EU doctors are not even aware of the settled status scheme. What are the Government doing to make sure that EU citizens know that they need to register for settled status to avoid a repeat of the Windrush scandal?
The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that in a recent test—we have just published the results—out of 30,000 applicants, 70% were granted settled status; 30% were granted pre-settled status. None was refused. Almost 80% said that they found the application process very fair and easy to complete, so the process is working well, although he is right to highlight the question of what it might look like once it is fully open. We are making sure, through a huge comms campaign, that we get through to everyone who needs to know about the scheme. We are, for example, working with employers; I visited one such employer, GSK, just last week.
Immigration Detention Estate
The Government are committed to using the detention estate sparingly, and only when necessary. We have taken a systematic approach to modernising and rationalising the detention estate, so that we ensure that we have the geographical footprint and resilience required to meet our future needs. By this summer, the detention estate will be almost 40% smaller than four years ago, and of significantly higher quality.
I welcome very much the closure of Campsfield House; I have been campaigning for its closure for a very long time. However, it happened very quickly, so lots of workers are now worried about where they will find a job. The local community is desperate to know the plans for the site once Campsfield is totally run down.
I am glad that the hon. Lady identified her involvement with the Close Campsfield campaign. I am conscious that she was at many of the protests calling for the closure of Campsfield. We are developing options for the future use of the site following the end of the contract, which was, in any case, scheduled to end in May 2019. Although the employment of Mitie staff is a question for Mitie, the company has provided assurances that it is actively engaged with its staff on redeployment options within its business. All detainees have been transferred to other centres where they will be held in decent and dignified conditions.
EU Settlement Scheme
The hon. Lady raises the question of how the EU settlement scheme is working. Of course, we know that EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and society, and we want them to stay. The first two phases of beta testing have successfully concluded, and the wider public implementation of the scheme has gone live today.
I have received a worrying pattern of news about EU citizens in my constituency being denied universal credit because they are deemed not to have the right to reside. This is happening despite the Department for Work and Pensions having access to work history records and other evidence to the contrary. Is this an example of the hostile environment extending to EU citizens before Brexit has even happened, and will the EU settlement scheme have any impact on this?
The EU settlement scheme is a really crucial part of making sure that the 3.4 million EU citizens living here can absolutely evidence their right to stay here through a digital status in line with 21st-century requirements. The hon. Lady will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talk in positive terms about how important this scheme is. We have now opened the final phase of testing before the whole scheme goes live at the end of March.
The Government are right to be working hard to secure a Brexit deal, but if no deal is reached, can my right hon. Friend reassure EU citizens living in our county of Hampshire and elsewhere in the UK that their rights will still be guaranteed? This is important and it needs to be clear, not just to citizens but to businesses as well.
Picking up on the final part of my right hon. Friend’s question, last summer we launched the employer toolkit to enable employers best to communicate to their employees the settled status scheme. She is right to point out the concerns that many may have about the event of no deal. I would like to reassure her that across Government we are working incredibly hard to avoid a no-deal outcome. However, the Department for Exiting the European Union was very clear about the protections afforded to EU citizens in the event of no deal, and we believe that our offer to them is generous. Deal or no deal, the scheme will open publicly at the end of March, and it is crucial that as many citizens as possible apply.
The Minister knows that this is an increasingly complex area. I have had many letters from constituents concerned that they will be impacted by the immigration health surcharge. Who is going to have to pay this, and is it going to be increased along the lines foreshadowed in the press?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we did increase the immigration health surcharge. That was an important manifesto commitment that the Conservative party made to make sure that those who are using NHS services are also contributing to the NHS. The settled status scheme has deliberately been designed to be simple, not complicated. It is really important that EU citizens only have to prove their identity, prove their residence, and confirm that they do not have criminality. In the second phase of private beta testing, it has been very plain that the vast majority of people going through the scheme—in the region of 80% or so, I believe—have been able to confirm their residence of five years without any reference to additional information other than their records with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or their DWP records.
As somebody who is married to an EU citizen, I think that these proposals are entirely fair and proportionate, and are in marked contrast to the outrageous scare stories that were put about by some people, in and out of this House, who are fanatical about remaining in the European Union.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that his wife will be going through the process very soon indeed. In fact, some of the best advocates for the simplicity of the EU settled status scheme have been those who have already gone through it, and we have had very positive feedback on the first two phases of testing.
Immigration: Scottish Economy
The Government’s immigration White Paper sets out the principles of an immigration system that will work in the best interests of the whole of the UK. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made clear, the White Paper is the start of the conversation. I look forward to ongoing engagement with stakeholders in Scotland over the course of this year.
The Scottish policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses has said:
“The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses and local communities. These proposals will make it nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to access any non-UK labour and the skills they need to grow and sustain their operations.”
Is he wrong?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the importance of our engaging with business groups and stakeholders across Scotland. I was delighted to meet the CBI in Scotland in a business roundtable back in the summer, and that engagement will continue. I would also like to point out that the independent Migration Advisory Committee was very much of the view that Scotland’s economic situation is not sufficiently different from the rest of the UK to justify a very different migration policy.
Does the Minister accept that the idea of a skills-based immigration system is undermined by having an arbitrary salary threshold, which should be scrapped in favour of an honest assessment of the real skills demand across different sectors in the economy?
I would gently point out that it was not an arbitrary salary threshold; it was the one put forward by the independent Migration Advisory Committee. It is, of course, important that we engage with business and employers across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will use the next 12 months to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) has referred to the concerns of the policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland. The chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Marc Crothall, has said:
“There is no doubt that the government’s plans will exacerbate the existing recruitment crisis considerably, placing our tourism industry and what is one of the most important economic drivers for Scotland in severe jeopardy.”
Is he wrong as well?
The hon. and learned Lady will be aware that the Migration Advisory Committee, which is independent of Government, made the point that it did not see the case for a wide range of sectoral schemes. In fact, it made the case that perhaps only in agriculture was one appropriate. However, it is important that we continue to engage with all businesses and sectors. I am sure she will be delighted to know that the tourism industry in Wales has already beaten a path to my door, and I look forward to Scotland doing likewise.
Clearly the tourism industry in Scotland are very unhappy with the proposals, and I beg to suggest that they know more about their industry than the Migration Advisory Committee. The reality of the situation is that people in businesses across Scotland are dismayed by the UK Government’s approach to immigration. Scotland already has different policies and approaches on taxation, climate change, tuition fees and social care. If those major areas of policy can be devolved and implemented to suit Scotland’s needs, why can immigration not be devolved? I would like to know the Minister’s views, rather than the Migration Advisory Committee’s views.
I am sure the hon. and learned Lady recalls my appearance before her at a Select Committee, where I made it clear that my view was that immigration policy was a matter reserved to the United Kingdom Government.
Response times to fire have increased gradually over the last 20 years. At the same time, as the hon. Lady knows, the number of fires and deaths from fire has, thankfully, fallen. There is no clear link between response times and firefighter numbers.
I thank the Minister for his response, but last month a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services found that fragmentation was resulting in a postcode lottery of 999 response times and standards, which simply is not fair on the public or on firefighters. What steps is the Minister taking to introduce a consistent national framework of standards across fire and rescue services, to provide a proper benchmark against which inspections can take place?
The independent inspection of the effectiveness of our fire service found that 10 of the 14 fire services inspected were rated good for effectiveness, including their response to emergencies. We are driving up standards and finding out what “good” looks like through independent inspection, the creation of the standards board and robust local accountability, including the chance for local police and crime commissioners to take over governance. That framework will drive up standards across the fire service, which is what everyone wants.
Rising response times are not the fault of firefighters, chief fire officers or local politicians. They are the result of this Government’s austerity agenda, which has led to 10,000 fewer firefighters protecting our communities. Council leaders such as those in South Yorkshire, where £12.5 million has been slashed since 2010, have explained to the Minister that this Government’s austerity measures will risk the public’s safety—they have made that clear. Will he explain how sustained cuts to fire service budgets, which force a reliance on small, one-off, un-earmarked—note the distinction—reserves, provide a sufficient basis for a responsive and well-resourced service? Will he commission a review?
I would say to the hon. Lady that we have fewer firefighters because we have had 46% fewer fires over the past decade. What I would also say to her, which I said to all the fire chiefs this morning, is that I am absolutely determined that, in the next comprehensive spending review, the fire service gets the resource it needs to continue to be world class.
I met the chief fire officer and the chair of the fire and rescue authority in Nottinghamshire on Friday, and they made no complaint about their funding level. They have had to make a series of reductions, and they have done it extremely well, without any risks increasing at all to the people of Nottinghamshire. They want to make sure that their funding is retained, and I do not expect the Minister to comment on that. However, does he agree with me that our fire services have done remarkable things, with cuts in their budgets, without any risk to the public at all?
I said exactly that to the fire chiefs today. Through austerity, they have made changes, and they should be commended on their leadership during that period. Their spending power will grow by 2.2% next year, and they sit on reserves worth 42% of their spending power. I repeat to my right hon. Friend what I said to them today: I am determined to ensure that, in the CSR, our fire service is properly resourced.
The Government have concentrated on bringing law enforcement together alongside regulators to focus ruthlessly on tackling dirty money and economic crime. In the next 18 months, we will invest over £48 million to bolster capabilities, including in the establishment of the National Economic Crime Centre.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, by bringing together specialists across both the public sector and the private sector to tackle this, we can use the best of our experience to maintain our status as a global financial centre?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is in all our interests to ensure that our financial sector and country tackle financial crime. The global scale of it demands that all of us play our part to burden-share, which is why the serious and organised crime strategy last year specifically committed to ensuring the widest response from both Government and the private sector.
A year ago, the Government introduced unexplained wealth orders to tackle the laundromat of dirty money in this country. It is reported that the National Crime Agency has identified 140 cases in which such an order would be appropriate, but only one order has been imposed in the past year. Why are the Government afraid of using the tools available to them?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify some of his remarks. First, those orders were not introduced—enacted—until April last year, so they have not been used for a year; and two, not one, have been used. At the same time, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 brought into existence asset-freezing orders. In one year, since April, we have seen asset-freezing orders used 200 times alone in the Metropolitan police, freezing over £40 million. I assure him that the use of unexplained wealth orders will continue. However, he will know as a lawyer that the courts and the judiciary have to get used to understanding them, and we have to understand how the courts interpret the legislation; but he should not worry, the asset-freezing orders are doing their job, as will the unexplained wealth orders.
We have reformed and strengthened the powers available to local areas to tackle antisocial behaviour, including vandalism, through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Six powers are available to the police, local councils and other agencies, including the civil injunction and public spaces protection orders, which set out how a public space can be used.
Over the Christmas period, the Outwood memorial hall in my constituency was vandalised, the community centre and war memorial were damaged, and the possessions stolen include a wheelchair used by the Outwood stroke club. This is a truly sickening crime that has caused great distress to our community. What plans does my hon. Friend have to increase the sentences for those found guilty of such offences?
I am sure that the whole House is sorry to hear about that appalling incident, and I fully understand the distress that it must have caused my hon. Friend’s constituents. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their local community. Robust legislation is in place to tackle such crimes, from the antisocial-behaviour powers in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, to criminal damage offences—and, indeed, violence offences, if those are appropriate on the facts of the case.
Residents and businesses in Hoyland have recently been subjected to a distressing wave of serious crime, including vandalism, break-ins and theft. That reflects the fact that there are nearly 600 fewer South Yorkshire police officers on our streets as a result of this Government’s cuts. Can the Minister confirm that Barnsley will not get a penny from the Government in this year’s funding settlement to recruit more frontline officers? Will she think again?
I am sorry to hear about the experiences in the hon. Lady’s constituency and I hope that she will therefore be supporting the Government’s funding settlement, which is coming towards us and will help give up to £970 million more to policing, with the help of police and crime commissioners.
Online Crime: Company Responsibility
Tackling serious crime online is one of our highest priorities. We are increasing our investment in law enforcement and will set out plans to legislate in the online harms White Paper, jointly led by the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It will set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe online, including protection from serious online crime.
Technology is at the root of a great deal of serious crime in the United Kingdom. I know that the Minister understands that and will want to work with tech firms to fight against crime committed online. However, does he rule out the suggestion made by some people, including Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, that if significant change is not forthcoming from the tech firms, we should regulate them?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is ultimately right in the sense that, yes, if communications service providers fail to respond to abuse of the internet, they will need to see an increase in existing regulation. We are considering a full range of possible solutions to address the issue, including a regulatory framework as well as broader legal and regulatory changes, where necessary.
We launched the serious violence strategy last year; it has culminated in detailed work, stretching across Government. It includes the Offensive Weapons Bill and the serious violence taskforce. In addition, we want to build resilience for young people into the future, so we will be launching a £200 million youth endowment fund to intervene on children and young people at risk of serious violence. Shortly, we will consult on a new duty to underpin the multi-agency approach on public health.
Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne was recently successful in getting a grant of almost £1 million from the Home Office—I thank the Department for that—to specifically address serious offences among young people. May I have an assurance that Crawley will continue to remain a focus of such support to combat serious offences?
I congratulate police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne; it is always a pleasure to work with her. That was one of 29 projects awarded a total of nearly £18 million from the early intervention youth fund. The project in Crawley helps engage positively with children under 18 at risk of committing serious violence. The project will establish a network of coaches, drawing together the various agencies working with those young people—again, very much underpinning our approach to tackling serious violence: that we should all be concerned about this matter and working together on it.
The Home Office-funded Violence and Vulnerability Unit report of 2018 noted that a reduction in services that offer positive activities to young people, such as youth services and school clubs, has left a vacuum that gangs are moving into. Does the Minister agree that supporting vulnerable young people and protecting them from county lines requires a cross-departmental approach with funding to back it? That has all too often been missing under the austerity agenda.
I am pleased that the hon. Lady recently met my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to discuss this issue. As she will know from the serious violence strategy, the taskforce and our intention to consult shortly on a public health duty, the Government take our work to tackle serious violence very seriously.
Order. The hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) was focused intently upon his electronic device, and I am sure he found it thoroughly captivating, but I gently point out to him that he has a question that is not unadjacent to that with which we are dealing now, and that he might care to shoehorn his inquiry into the present.
No. 21, Mr Speaker.
No. What I mean is blurt it out now man!
I am delighted that Essex is one of 29 projects across the country that have received money under the early intervention youth fund. The project in Essex will help to support the violence and vulnerability project. As we know, it is the vulnerability of young people that often places them so starkly in the path of those gangsters who want to exploit them.
After a worrying upward trend in violent crime in Tooting, I held a crime summit that brought together the police, local authorities and community groups. That kind of joined-up, multi-sector working is essential in tackling violent crime. Will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to ensure that we work with local groups at the heart of the community to stamp out violent crime?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has taken that approach in her constituency. I have to say that the Government are very much leading on it. I am delighted, for example, that the Mayor of London sits on the taskforce chaired by the Home Secretary. Our approach is that we cannot arrest our way out of this. We want to intervene at an early stage to stop these young people from getting into the clutches of these criminals in the first place.
The public testing phase of our EU settlement scheme was launched today. It is open to all resident EU citizens with a valid passport, allowing us to further test the scheme ahead of full roll-out by April.
We have also announced a significant increase in police funding for the next year. Police and crime commissioners are consulting on plans to recruit around 1,200 extra officers, which is potentially the biggest increase in officer numbers in 10 years.
Finally, we have published our draft domestic abuse Bill to support victims, tackle perpetrators and improve services.
Like me and many others in north Kirklees, the Home Secretary will have been shocked and concerned to hear last week about the 55 local arrests in relation to child sex abuse. This vital investigation will put extra strain on the police and the local authority, whose resources are already stretched to breaking point. Will the Home Secretary give my constituents a cast-iron guarantee that the police will have the resources they need to protect victims in the long and short term? Will he also ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice, with which I am sure the House would agree?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that case. The Government, local police forces and others such as the National Crime Agency have a huge focus on child sexual exploitation and abuse. She has raised the horrific case in Kirklees. I assure her that we want to ensure that all the necessary resources are available. The recent police settlement for this year will certainly help, but there is more to be done, including with the tech giants and those who groom our children online.
I, of course, welcome the High Court judgment, which upholds my decision on all grounds. I hope that hon. Members who at the time claimed that my decision was inconsistent with long-standing Government policy take their time to reflect on it. With the situation changing on the ground in Syria as we speak, I will do all I can to protect our country and to bring suspected terrorists to justice.
I am pleased that the Government have finally announced that they have introduced the draft domestic abuse Bill. Cross-examination of survivors by perpetrators will now be outlawed, but more scrutiny of the family courts is needed. Will the Minister commit to including in the Bill an independent inquiry into the culture, practice and outcomes of the family courts in connection with child contact cases, and to listening to the children?
I thank the hon. Lady for her great example of cross-party consensus, which is very much to be welcomed at the moment. It is great to hear that she welcomes the introduction of this important draft Bill. It is a draft Bill because we will have pre-legislative scrutiny of it, and the idea that she has suggested I am sure will be looked at by the Joint Committee.
I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern. There is widespread frustration among our police officers about that. She will share my view that, obviously, robust investigation of misconduct is important, but we want the IOPC to focus on the most serious cases and to process those investigations faster. That is exactly what we see happening.
The hon. Lady asks a very specific question about figures. I am very conscious that service standards can sometimes drive behaviours that we would not want to see, with caseworkers deliberately choosing cases that are less complex to deliver. Sometimes it has been the case that complex cases have not received the attention that we want. We are working incredibly hard in UK Visas and Immigration, across the piece of visas and applications for asylum and leave to remain, to ensure that we drive down waiting times. If she would like to see me to discuss any particular cases, I will be delighted to talk to her about them.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this. A cross-Government approach is looking at safeguarding our telecoms networks. It would be inappropriate for me to mention any particular company by name, but I can say that I very much share her concerns and I believe that we should work with our allies on a co-ordinated approach.
I want to make sure that police forces across the country, including West Yorkshire, have the resources that they need to deal with this priority. I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the draft police settlement, which I think has an additional almost £30 million for her local force, which will go to help with that absolute priority.
The percentage of convictions secured for domestic abuse is at its highest since 2010. What more can the Department do to ensure that we get more prosecutions and thereby more convictions?
I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said. The resources and the settlement that has been announced, with the additional almost £1 billion for police forces in England and Wales, will certainly help, but more can be done making sure that the police have the powers that they need.
I thank the hon. Lady—[Interruption]—and the House for that welcome. I recently met the leadership of Tyne and Wear, an excellently led force, and it will be receiving an increase in core spending of 1.5% this year. My undertaking to her, as to all fire chiefs, is that I will work with them to build the evidence base to put in a credible bid in next year’s comprehensive spending review to make sure that our fire service continues to be well resourced and world-class.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this point, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, for whom this Bill and helping victims of domestic abuse are a personal priority. I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend, not least because we share the same ambulance service, and I would like it to be doing right by victims of domestic abuse.
The hon. Lady will know that action is required on many fronts to fight the rise in serious violence, and that is why we have our serious violence strategy, which includes more than 60 different measures. On resources, if that is what she really believes, the best thing is for her to support the Government’s police settlement.
I, too, welcome the Government’s domestic abuse Bill and the announcements today. Will the Minister meet me to discuss issues of continuing emotional abuse where a couple have divorced but share the parenting of their children? Constituents of mine in that situation have some very practical suggestions for reducing such emotional bullying.
Very much so. The Bill is just part of our response to tackling domestic abuse; there is a range of non-legislative measures as well. Including emotional abuse in the definition of domestic abuse will help victims of this terrible crime, and I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend.
In the remotest parts of the United Kingdom, EU health workers are filling vital roles that might otherwise remain unfilled. Will the Government assure me that these crucial people will be allowed to remain at no cost to themselves?
The hon. Gentleman will know that, in the second private beta testing phase of the EU settled status scheme, we made a political priority of those working in NHS trusts and the universities sector. He is absolutely right to point out the vital role that EU citizens play within our health service, and of course he will have heard the Home Secretary and I say repeatedly that we want them stay and are determined to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
People in Corby and east Northamptonshire want to see more police out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime. What difference does my right hon. Friend believe the additional funding recently announced will make to achieving that objective?
We are proposing the biggest increase in police funding since 2010. Almost every force in the country is now actively recruiting and delivering what the public want, which is more officers on the streets and more investigators bearing down on crime.
The National newspaper this morning reports on a female constituent who has been detained and is due to be removed tomorrow despite court papers having been lodged at the Court of Session at the start of the month. Is this the hostile environment in action, and either way will the Minister meet me urgently so that we can secure the immediate release of this constituent?
I am, of course, very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this case. He will be conscious that it would be inappropriate for me to discuss it on the Floor of the House, but I will meet him privately immediately afterwards.
In the coming months, fruit farmers in my constituency plan to welcome thousands of migrant workers from the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, these workers will still be able to come to make sure we can pick and pack our fruit?
My hon. Friend will be aware that, in addition to the rights of EU citizens, which we have secured, we are also piloting a seasonal agricultural workers scheme for those in the soft fruit and growing industries, about which she has spoken to me several times. I am happy to reassure her that we wish that pilot to be successful and will work with her growers to make sure it is.
Mrs Amodio and her husband came to live in Bury over 60 years ago. Mrs Amodio had to sign the Official Secrets Act when she worked at Bury police station. Now retired, she and her husband have been told by this Government to register, apply and pay for settled status. She feels unwelcomed and angry. Will the Secretary of State confirm this policy, and what has he to say to them? Does he agree that we become lesser versions of ourselves as a country with such mean-spirited policies?
The Government have made it absolutely clear that we welcome all EU citizens who have made their homes here and have contributed so much to our nation. We want to have a scheme in place that shows they are welcome, and we will reflect on what is being said and see how we can continue to improve the scheme.
Leaving the European Union
I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning Saturday’s car bomb attack in Londonderry and in paying tribute to the bravery of the Northern Ireland police and the local community, who helped to ensure that everyone got to safety. This House stands together with the people of Northern Ireland in ensuring that we never go back to the violence and terror of the past.
Let me now turn to Brexit. Following last week’s vote, it is clear that the Government’s approach had to change, and it has. Having established the confidence of Parliament in this Government, I have listened to colleagues across Parliament from different parties and with different views. Last week I met the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Westminster leaders of the Democratic Unionist party, the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru and the Green party, and Back Benchers from both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also had a number of such meetings.
The Government have approached those meetings in a constructive spirit, without preconditions, and I am pleased that everyone whom we met took the same approach. I regret that the Leader of the Opposition has not chosen to take part so far, and I hope he will reflect on that decision. Given the importance of this issue, we should all be prepared to work together to find a way forward, and my ministerial colleagues and I will continue with further meetings this week.
Let me set out the six key issues that have been at the centre of the talks to date. The first two relate to the process for moving forward. First, there is widespread concern about the possibility of the UK’s leaving without a deal. There are those on both sides of the House who want the Government to rule that out, but we need to be honest with the British people about what that means. The right way to rule out no deal is for the House to approve a deal with the European Union, and that is what the Government are seeking to achieve. The only other guaranteed way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to revoke article 50, which would mean staying in the EU.
There are others who think that what we need is more time, so they say that we should extend article 50 to give Parliament longer to debate how we should leave and what a deal should look like. That is not ruling out no deal, but simply deferring the point of decision, and the EU is very unlikely simply to agree to extend article 50 without a plan for how we are going to approve a deal. So when people say, “Rule out no deal”, what they are actually saying is that, if we in Parliament cannot approve a deal, we should revoke article 50. Those would be the consequences of what they are saying. I believe that that would go against the referendum result, and I do not believe that that is a course of action that we should take or one that the House should support.
Secondly, all the Opposition parties that have engaged so far, and some Back Benchers, have expressed their support for a second referendum. I have set out many times my deep concerns about returning to the British people for a second referendum. Our duty is to implement the decision of the first one. I fear that a second referendum would set a difficult precedent that could have significant implications for how we handle referendums in this country—not least, strengthening the hand of those who are campaigning to break up our United Kingdom. It would require an extension of article 50, and we would very likely have to return a new set of MEPs to the European Parliament in May. I also believe that there has not yet been enough recognition of the way in which a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy. We do not know what the Leader of the Opposition thinks about this because he has not engaged, but I know there are Members who have already indicated that they wish to test the support of the House for this path. I do not believe there is a majority for a second referendum and, if I am right, then just as the Government are having to think again about their approach going forwards, so too do those Members who believe this is the answer.
The remaining issues raised in the discussions relate to the substance of the deal, and on these points I believe we can make progress. Members of this House, predominantly but not only on the Government Benches and the DUP, continue to express their concern on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop. All of us agree that as we leave the European Union we must fully respect the Belfast agreement and not allow the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or indeed a border down the Irish sea. And I want to be absolutely clear, in the light of media stories this morning: this Government will not reopen the Belfast agreement. I have never even considered doing so, and nor would I.
With regard to the backstop, despite the changes we have previously agreed, there remain two core issues: the fear that we could be trapped in it permanently; and concerns over its potential impact on our Union if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK. So I will be talking further this week to colleagues, including in the DUP, to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House. I will then take the conclusions of those discussion back to the EU.
From other parts of this House, concerns have also been raised over the political declaration. In particular, these have focused on a wish for further precision around the future relationship. The political declaration will provide the basis for developing our detailed negotiating mandate for the future and this new phase of negotiations will be different in a number of ways. It will cover a far broader range of issues in greater depth, and so will require us to build a negotiating team that draws on the widest expertise available, from trade negotiators to security experts and specialists in data and financial services. As we develop our mandate across each of these areas, I want to provide reassurance to the House. Given the breadth of the negotiations, we will seek input from a wide range of voices from outside Government. That must include ensuring Parliament has a proper say, and fuller involvement, in these decisions.
It is Government’s responsibility to negotiate, but it is also my responsibility to listen to the legitimate concerns of colleagues, both those who voted leave and those who voted remain, in shaping our negotiating mandate for our future partnership with the EU. So the Government will consult this House on their negotiating mandate, to ensure that Members have the chance to make their views known and that we harness the knowledge of all Select Committees across the full range of expertise needed for this next phase of negotiations, from security to trade. This will also strengthen the Government’s hand in the negotiations, giving the EU confidence about our position and avoiding leaving the bulk of parliamentary debate to a point when we are under huge time pressure to ratify.
I know that to date Parliament has not felt it has enough visibility of the Government’s position as it has been developed and negotiated. It has sought documents through Humble Addresses, but that mechanism cannot take into account the fact that some information when made public could weaken the UK’s negotiating hand. So as the negotiations progress, we will also look to deliver confidential Committee sessions that can ensure Parliament has the most up-to-date information, while not undermining the negotiations. We will regularly update the House, in particular before the six-monthly review points with the EU foreseen in the agreement.
While it will always be for Her Majesty’s Government to negotiate for the whole of the UK, we are also committed to giving the devolved Administrations an enhanced role in the next phase, respecting their competence and vital interests in these negotiations. I hope to meet both First Ministers in the course of this week and will use the opportunity to discuss this further with them, and we will also look for further ways to engage elected representatives from Northern Ireland and regional representatives in England. Finally, we will reach out beyond this House and engage more deeply with businesses, civil society and trade unions.
Fifthly, hon Members from across the House—[Interruption.]
Fifthly, hon Members from across the House have raised strong views that our exit from the EU should not lead to a reduction in our social and environmental standards, and in particular workers’ rights. So I will ensure that we provide Parliament with a guarantee that not only will we not erode protection for workers’ rights and the environment, but we will ensure this country leads the way. To that end, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary indicated the Government’s support for the proposed amendment to the meaningful vote put down by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), including that Parliament should be able to consider any changes made by the EU in these areas in future. My right hon. Friend and others will work with Members across the House, businesses and trade unions to develop proposals that give effect to this amendment, including looking at legislation where necessary.
Sixthly, and crucially, a number of Members have made powerful representations about the anxieties facing EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU who are waiting to have their status confirmed. We have already committed to ensuring that EU citizens in the UK will be able to stay and continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now, in both a deal and a no-deal scenario. Indeed, the next phase of testing of the scheme for EU nationals to confirm their status has launched today. Having listened to concerns from Members, and organisations such as the 3million group, I can confirm today that, when we roll out the scheme in full on 30 March, the Government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. Anyone who has applied, or will apply, during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed. More details about how this will work will be made available in due course. Some EU member states have similarly guaranteed the rights of British nationals in a no-deal scenario, and we will step up our efforts to ensure that they all do so.
Let me briefly set out the process for the days ahead. In addition to this statement, today I will lay a written ministerial statement, as required under section 13(4) and (5) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and table a motion in neutral terms on this statement, as required by section 13(6). This motion will be amendable and will be debated and voted on in this House on 29 January, and I will provide a further update to the House during that debate. To be clear, this is not a rerun of the vote to ratify the agreement we have reached with the European Union, but the fulfilment of the process following the House’s decision to reject that motion.
The process of engagement is ongoing. In the next few days, my ministerial colleagues and I will continue to meet Members on all sides of the House and representatives of the trade unions, business groups, civil society and others as we try to find the broadest possible consensus on a way forward. While I will disappoint those colleagues who hope to secure a second referendum, I do not believe that there is a majority in this House for such a path, and while I want to deliver a deal with the EU, I cannot support the only other way in which to take no deal off the table, which is to revoke article 50. So my focus continues to be on what is needed to secure the support of this House in favour of a Brexit deal with the EU.
My sense so far is that three key changes are needed. First, we will be more flexible, open and inclusive in how we engage Parliament in our approach to negotiating our future partnership with the European Union. Secondly, we will embed the strongest possible protections on workers’ rights and the environment. Thirdly, we will work to identify how we can ensure that our commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland and Ireland can be delivered in a way that commands the support of this House and the European Union. In doing so, we will honour the mandate of the British people and leave the European Union in a way that benefits every part of our United Kingdom and every citizen of our country. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of her statement. I join her in condemning the car bomb attack in Londonderry at the weekend, and I commend the emergency services and local community for their response. The huge achievement of the Good Friday agreement in reducing violence in Northern Ireland must never be taken for granted. It was an historic step forward, and we cannot take it for granted.
The Government still appear not to have come to terms with the scale of the defeat in this House last week. The Prime Minister seems to be going through the motions of accepting the result, but in reality she is in deep denial. The logic of that decisive defeat is that the Prime Minister must change her red lines, because her current deal is undeliverable, so can she be clear and explicit with the House—which of her red lines is she prepared to move on?
The Prime Minister’s invitation to talks has been exposed as a PR sham. Every Opposition party politician came out of those meetings with the same response. Contrary to what the Prime Minister has just said, there was no flexibility and there were no negotiations—nothing has changed. [Interruption.]
Order. The Prime Minister was heard and, when there was noise, I called for it stop. The same must apply to the Leader of the Opposition. No one in this Chamber will shout the right hon. Gentleman down. They need not bother trying, because they are wasting their breath.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. However, I do welcome the commitment that the fee for EU citizens to apply for settled status will be waived.
The Prime Minister was fond of saying that this is the best possible deal on the table and that it is the only possible deal. However, our EU negotiating partners have been clear, saying that
“unanimously, the European Council have always said that if the United Kingdom chooses to shift its red lines in the future… to go beyond a simple free trade agreement… then the European Union will be immediately ready… to give a favourable response.”
The House voted to hold the referendum and to trigger article 50. There is a clear majority in this House to support a deal in principle and to respect the referendum result, but that requires the Prime Minister to face reality and accept that her deal has been comprehensively defeated. Instead, we now understand that the Prime Minister is going back to Europe to seek concessions on the backstop. What is the difference between legal assurances and concessions? What makes her think that what she tried to renegotiate in December will succeed in January? This really does feel like groundhog day.
The first thing the Prime Minister must do is recognise the clear majority in this House against leaving without a deal. She must rule out no deal and stop the colossal waste of public money planning for that outcome. Questions must also be asked of the Chancellor. He reassured businesses that no deal would be ruled out by the Commons, yet he sanctioned £4.2 billion to be spent on an option that he believes will be ruled out. Last week, the Foreign Secretary said that it was “very unrealistic” to believe that the House of Commons would not find a way to block no deal. Will the Prime Minister meet with her Chancellor and Foreign Secretary to see whether they can convince her to do what is in her power and rule out no deal? If she will not do that now, will she confirm to the House that, if an amendment passes that rules out no deal, she will implement that instruction? The Prime Minister agreed the backstop because of her pledge to the people of Northern Ireland to avoid a hard border, but no deal would mean a hard border in Ireland and would break the Prime Minister’s commitment. Is she seriously willing to accept a hard border?
Today heralds the start of a democratic process whereby this House will debate the amendments that will determine how we navigate Brexit. Of course, the Government tried to block us ever getting to this stage. They wanted no democratic scrutiny whatsoever. Labour has set out a proposal—I believe there may be a majority in this House for this—for a new comprehensive customs union with the EU that would include a say and a strong single market deal that would deliver frictionless trade and ensure no race to the bottom on workers’ rights or any other of the important regulations and protections that we currently have. As we have said consistently from the beginning, we will back amendments that seek to rule out the disaster of no deal and, as we have said, we will not rule out the option of a public vote. No more phoney talks. Parliament will debate and decide, and this time I hope and expect the Government to listen to this House.
The right hon. Gentleman says “no more phoney talks.” It would be nice just to have some talks with him on this issue. He makes lots of claims about what has been said in the talks that have been held so far but, actually, he does not know, because he did not turn up to those talks.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a great deal about the issue of no deal. He says that there is a consensus—a view across this House—that supports a deal in principle and wants to deliver on Brexit. That is exactly what I want to sit down and talk to him about. What we need to see is what it is that will secure the support of this House to enable us to leave the European Union with a deal. We are continuing to listen to groups across the House in order to find a way to secure that support.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about ruling out no deal. As I said in my statement, there are only two ways to ensure that a no deal does not happen: one is to revoke article 50, to reverse the decision of the referendum and to stay in the European Union, which would be a betrayal of the referendum decision in 2016; and the other way is to agree a deal with the European Union. It is precisely to find a way to secure the support of this House for a deal that I am talking to Members across the House and that I want to talk to the right hon. Gentleman. From what he has said today, I hope that he will reconsider his decision not to attend those talks.
The right hon. Gentleman complains about the amount of money being spent. He talks about £4.2 billion being spent and how that money should be spent in other ways—I see that the Labour party has put out a press release saying the money should be spent in other ways. What he might not have noticed is that, actually, not all that £4.2 billion is being spent on no deal. If we stopped spending that money, we would not be prepared for a deal either, so he needs to recognise that, actually, the Government have to spend money to ensure that we are in a position whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the European Union, and whether we leave with a deal or in a no-deal circumstance.
I say once again to the right hon. Gentleman and to Members across the House who are concerned about no deal that that means we should leave with a deal and that what we need to find is a way to secure the support of this House for a deal. What is clear from the discussions that we have had so far is the wide variety of views held across the House on this issue.
When it comes to it, we all need to be able to look our constituents in the eye and say that we did the right thing by them, which is leaving with a deal to ensure that we deliver on the referendum and protect their jobs. That is what the Government are about, that is what we are working on and that is what we will deliver.
As a supporter of the withdrawal agreement last week, I welcome the Prime Minister’s acceptance of the need for change in the light of the result and her reassurance that she will not compromise on a permanently open border in Northern Ireland, and that therefore any discussions that she has with the hard right wing on the Irish backstop will not compromise the commitment to a permanently open border.
Will the Prime Minister also consider reaching out to those remainers who are not yet convinced of her agreement by at least relaxing—if she cannot do a U-turn—her normal rejection of a customs union? I do not see outside powers lining up to do trade agreements to compensate us for leaving Europe. Will she also consider relaxing her resistance to regulatory alignment with Europe? Regulatory alignment is not inconsistent with some tightening up, at least, of free movement of labour. I urge her to be flexible on every front, because there was a large majority against the proposal last week. There are probably more remainers who voted against her than there are Brexiteers, and she needs to reach out to those remainers.
My right hon. and learned Friend talks about some degree of regulatory alignment. He might not have noticed that, last summer, the Government put forward a proposal that included a degree of regulatory alignment, with a parliamentary lock on that regulatory alignment, and that the proposal raised concerns among a number of Members of this House. Some Members said that they did not consider the proposal to be the proper way forward.
I actually think that what we need in the future is a good trade relationship with the European Union. What we have in the political declaration is recognition that regulatory alignment and alignment with standards followed by the European Union are in balance with the question of checks at the border, and there is a spectrum of where that balance results. I have argued for frictionless trade; there are those in the European Union who have not accepted the concept of frictionless trade, but who do accept the concept of reducing friction at the border as far as possible.
My right hon. and learned Friend also said that he did not see potential trade deals with the rest of the world. Today, I had lunch with the Prime Minister of New Zealand and one of the topics we discussed was precisely a future trade deal between the United Kingdom and New Zealand—[Interruption.] Just before Opposition Members start talking about the size of New Zealand, that is not just a trade deal with New Zealand, but United Kingdom membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement.
All of us share the Prime Minister’s abhorrence and disgust at the bombing in Derry over the weekend. We are delighted that the efforts of the emergency services ensured that there was no loss of life. In the light of that incident, however, it was disturbing to see media reports this morning of at least the potential reopening of the Good Friday agreement. I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments this afternoon, but will she confirm that she will seek neither to amend or to add to the Good Friday agreement in any way? Many of us remember the dark days that Northern Ireland went through. This weekend’s attack was a frightening reminder of the fragility of the peace in Northern Ireland.
On the subject of talks, the Scottish National party entered willingly into talks with the Prime Minister last week, and we remain ready to engage in those talks on the basis that we can discuss pausing article 50, taking no deal off the table, and a people’s vote. The Prime Minister talks about “no preconditions”, but in the letters that have gone back and forth between the two of us, she insists that the United Kingdom must leave the European Union on 29 March. That is not consistent with a desire to discuss a people’s vote. All preconditions must be taken off the table if we are to engage in meaningful dialogue. We know that the Prime Minister’s strategy is now to run down the clock. There is no sign that she is interested in meaningful talks or meaningful change.
Prime Minister, take no deal off the table. She tells me that she has no desire for no deal. The Foreign Secretary has no desire for no deal. The Chancellor has no desire for no deal. The Leader of the Opposition has no desire for no deal. The SNP has no desire for no deal, and nor do the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru or the Greens. Let us stop this charade. To have a people’s vote, we would have to extend article 50. It is not true that the only option is to revoke it—although we would welcome that. After last week’s result—a defeat by 230 votes—the Prime Minister has not come here with fundamental change. This Government are a farce and an embarrassment, and their leadership is shambolic.
The Prime Minister must now step up. We must extend article 50 and end this impasse by bringing forward a second EU referendum. Do it for all sorts of reasons, but do it for the EU citizens living in the UK and now facing a registration scheme. I am grateful—I congratulate the Prime Minister—for the fact that fees have been waived for EU nationals, after a campaign led by the Scottish National party and our Government in Edinburgh, but it is shameful that people here, many of whom have been living here for decades, are being forced to register to stay in their own home. That is the fundamental fact. Not in our name. Where is the humanity of this?
We in Scotland have another choice. We did not vote for Brexit. We will not be dragged out of Europe by a Tory Government we did not vote for. We might not be able to save the UK, but we can save Scotland. We have an escape route from the chaos of Brexit: an independent Scotland. Scottish independence will result in our country being a destination in Europe—a country at the heart of Europe, while the rest of the UK turns inward, isolated from its European neighbours. We want no part of it.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues. He talked about the Belfast agreement. As I said in my statement, this Government will not reopen the Belfast agreement. I have never considered doing that and I would not do it. We remain committed to the Belfast agreement and to maintaining our commitments under it.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the question of no deal and running down the clock. We are not running down the clock. I brought to the House a deal that had been negotiated with the European Union, and the House has rejected that. I say once again to the right hon. Gentleman, as I did earlier to the Leader of the Opposition and to other Members, that it is very simple: he cannot wish away no deal. Either we stay in the European Union or we have a deal. I believe that it is right for us to leave the European Union because that was what people voted for in the referendum in 2016. If somebody does not want no deal, they have to be willing to agree a deal. The point about sitting down and talking with people across this House is to identify those issues on which it will be possible for us to make changes such that we can secure support around this House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about the announcement we made today about the fees for applications for citizens. I commend my hon. Friends the Members for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), but the issue was also raised by other Members across this House.
Finally, I will say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said before and will continue to say, that for the Scottish National party to stand up and say that the best economic future for Scotland is to be outside the United Kingdom is to fly—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Well, I have to say to every one of those Members who is cheering that thought that that is to fly in the face of economic reality, because the reality is—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”]
I wonder whether the Prime Minister and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition recognise that with just two months to go, the past week has shown that party politics and Westminster will not deliver a resolution on Brexit, because party politics is not the same as Brexit—it is separate from party politics—so the situation will not change and the House will not find a route forward. The Prime Minister talks about social cohesion, but surely the most divisive thing to do would be for Members to vote through her deal knowing that our communities simply do not want it. Is it not time for us all to be honest about the fact that Parliament has run out of road? We have been debating for two and a half years; we could debate for another two and a half years and we still would not reach a resolution on Brexit. The only people who can do that now, surely, are the British people.
I recognise the passion with which my right hon. Friend is campaigning on this particular issue, but she is assuming that it is not possible to reach an agreement that will secure the support of the House. The purpose of what we are doing at the moment in talking with parties and Back Benchers across this House is to find those issues—I have indicated issues in my statement—on which we can move and on which we can then find that support across the House. I believe it is right for us to continue to work for a deal to leave the European Union on 29 March, and for us to do so with a deal that has secured the support of this House.
As a litmus test of the Prime Minister’s flexibility, may I ask whether, if the House voted for membership of a customs union, for example, she would implement that decision?
Of course, the point about what we are doing in terms of this process is identifying those issues on which there is agreement across the House and on which the support of the House can be secured, and dealing with that with the European Union, but while also being faithful to the vote that was cast in the referendum. I believe that when we look at this issue, everybody should not only say, “Should we be leaving the European Union?”, but recognise the reasons that lay behind the vote to leave the European Union and deliver on them.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly the part in which she said that EU nationals would have their fee waived—the whole House should recognise that—and also her acceptance that there is to be no change to the Belfast agreement, as I recognise completely that that would have opened a can of worms. As someone who did not support the agreement last week, I welcome the fact that she has also made it clear that she will now go forward and seek further change. In doing that, has she given further thought to the idea that, although she would remain absolutely in complete overall charge, she could insert a senior politician in those day-to-day negotiations to ensure that the political ramifications are taken carefully into consideration?
The negotiations at this stage are for politicians. Indeed, I will continue to have a role, as will the Secretary of State, as we go forward. What we need to ascertain is where we can ensure that we can secure the support of this House for a deal, and then take that forward to the European Union.
I, too, welcome the fee waiver and the Prime Minister’s willingness to engage in serious conversations, including about the merits and practicalities of a people’s vote. May I ask a specific question? At the end of last week, the Secretary of State for Defence put 3,500 troops on Brexit standby. Will she clarify what their rules of engagement would be in the event that they face angry and violent demonstrators, and would they be armed?
It is of course right that the Government are taking the necessary contingency arrangements for the situation. The right hon. Gentleman will find that we are talking about those troops perhaps being able to relieve others who are undertaking roles such as the guarding of certain sites. That is what we are talking about.
On the vital issue of UK tax policy, will my right hon. Friend also reconsider the provisions under which the United Kingdom will embrace EU state aid rules? With the European Commission supervising our Competition and Markets Authority, a veto will be given to the Commission over future tax incentives for investment developments such as free ports, airports, and industrial and enterprise zones.
If my hon. Friend looks back at the discussions that have taken place in the European Union, he will see that it has often been the United Kingdom that has been promoting fair competition, including in relation to state aid rules. The question of those state aid rules and what will be included in any future trade agreement with the European Union is, of course, a matter that we look at in detail in the next stage of the negotiations.
The Prime Minister seems to be talking as if she lost by 30 votes, not 230. She says that she wants to give Parliament a say on the political declaration and the future partnership but, to be honest, we have heard all that before. If she is serious, why not give Parliament a say before we finish the article 50 negotiations, not after? Why not put to Parliament some votes on her red lines, including on a customs union; otherwise, how can any of us believe a word she says?
As I have set out, the correct process, which is provided for under the legislation, is that there will be a neutral motion next week, which will be amendable. There will be Members across the House who wish to put down amendments that may reflect different views across the House in relation to different matters. We will, of course, continue to work on this, and when the Leader of the Opposition said that we were denying any democratic involvement in the process—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) says from a sedentary position that, yes, we were. Actually, no, even when we get the support of this House for a deal, there will still be the process of legislating to ensure that that deal is put in place, and this House will play a role in that legislation.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her decision to waive the registration fee for EU nationals—I think that that will be very welcome—and also on her determination now to go back to Brussels and fix the backstop, because that is the way forward. Will she confirm that, in so doing, she will now seek legally binding change to the text of that backstop and to the text of the withdrawal agreement itself?
We are exploring with Members across this House the nature of any movement on the backstop that would secure the support of this House. A number of options have been raised with us by Members across the House. We need to look at those, and to continue to talk with colleagues—with those who have raised the issue from the Government Back Benches, and those who have done so from the Opposition Benches, and particularly, obviously, our confidence and supply partners. There are a number of options; we will look to see what will secure the support of the House.
May I join the Prime Minister in her words about the despicable and reckless attack in Londonderry at the weekend? It was carried out, of course, by the republican terrorists responsible for the murder of prison officers David Black in 2012 and Adrian Ismay in March 2016. These people have nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland, and are rejected right across the board.
On Brexit, I thank the Prime Minister for our meetings in recent days, the good engagement there has been, her recognition that core issues to do with the withdrawal agreement need to be sorted out, her willingness to try to reach a consensus, and the fact that she will go back to Brussels and ask for the necessary changes to be made. Can I take it from what she says that she is really serious about getting a consensus that can get this through the House, with the necessary legal changes to the withdrawal agreement?
Yes; I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that, obviously, what I want to do is identify the way forward in dealing with the issues raised about the backstop. In my statement, I referenced the two key issues: its potential permanency, and the impact on the Union. I want to find a way to resolve those issues that will command support from this House.
I thank the Prime Minister warmly for having listened to the concerns that I and other Members have raised on the issue of EU nationals. Given the good will that she has shown on the issue, will she remind the EU of its promises to reciprocate, and will she encourage the EU27 to remove any fees that its member states charge UK citizens?
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. While it is important for us to give that reassurance to EU citizens here, we must also remember the EU citizens living in the EU27 member states; we will be pressing member states to give reciprocal commitments to UK citizens living there. A number of states have already committed to various ways in which they will provide protection of rights in a no-deal situation. We will continue to press them all to reciprocate.
Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister said to the House that she would reach out to try to find a way forward on the crisis facing our country, but having listened to her statement, I am sorry to say that while her door may have been open, her mind has remained closed. She has rejected stopping us leaving the EU with no deal, even though she knows that no deal would be disastrous, and she has rejected remaining in a customs union, even though she knows it is an essential contribution to keeping an open border and maintaining friction-free trade. Last Wednesday, the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union published a report identifying a number of alternative ways forward, and recommended that they be put to the House in a series of indicative votes. Given that the Prime Minister has twice asked this afternoon, “Well, what will secure the support of the House?”, will she put those proposals to the vote?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Government will table a neutral motion next Tuesday; that is what is required under the legislation. That is an amendable motion. He again referenced the issue of rejecting no deal. As I said earlier, if people do not want no-deal, there are only two ways to go. [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Members chuntering or shouting about this issue from a sedentary position. The sheer facts are that no deal will only be taken off the table either by revoking article 50, which turns back the result of the referendum—the Government will not do that—or by having a deal, and that is what we are trying to work out.
Today, the shadow International Trade Secretary visited my constituency and said to the BBC:
“If there is a motion for a second referendum that is put before Parliament, our position as a party is that we would be supporting a public vote”.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me—and, I am sure, many Brexiteers in the north of England—that a second referendum would be a sell-out and cause a huge amount of harm to trust in politicians?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. A lot of people voted for the first time, or for the first time in many years, in the referendum in 2016, and I think their faith in politicians would be shattered if we failed to deliver on that vote. We have a duty to deliver on that vote in the referendum.
The Prime Minister could reach out by relaxing her own self-imposed red lines, including thinking about other solutions such as staying in the customs union, which would deal with the backstop situation, but she seems intent on trying to get her dead deal through the House by playing chicken with her own Brexiteers and what she calls her confidence and supply partners. Will she, first, tell us that she really does want to reach out? Secondly, will she tell the House this: if we do amend the motion next Tuesday, will she respect that decision and put it into effect?
Of course, as I have said, it is possible for people to move amendments to the motion next Tuesday. We wanted to sit down with all parties and with different groups across the House, because there are different opinions on these issues in parties across this House, and find out where it will be possible to secure support for a deal to take that forward to ensure that we leave with a deal, but underpinning that, of course, is the importance of us delivering on the referendum. I believe that it is a duty for this Parliament to deliver on the referendum, to deliver Brexit, and to deliver a Brexit with a deal.
I think a majority of voters in the referendum voted to leave and did not vote to sign a new comprehensive treaty binding us back into features of the EU. However, I think a big majority in the country would welcome a comprehensive free trade agreement, and use of article XXIV of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, while we are negotiating it, so when my right hon. Friend goes back to Brussels, will she table such a comprehensive free trade agreement and see if that breaks the logjam?
We have been looking at a free trade area—a free trade agreement—with the European Union. I just want to ensure that that is as ambitious as possible, and that is what is set out in the political declaration.
The only thing we know for certain that people voted for in the referendum was to leave the EU—any other speculation is simply that. I repeat the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) put earlier. Amazingly, the Prime Minister did not even mention the words “customs union” in her statement, but if this House voted either to remain in a customs union or to remain in EFTA or the EEA—all issues that were raised with her by her own MPs when she met them last week—will she adhere to that?
As I have said, obviously it will be for people to amend the motion that takes place next week and to see whether there is—[Interruption.] Can I just say to the hon. Lady that she is making some assumptions about the views of people across this House that have not been reflected by the discussions that we have had with Members across this House?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to reject ruling out no deal. May I also say that for those of us like me who did not support the Government’s withdrawal agreement on the basis of the backstop, if she can return from Brussels with something that is legally enforceable on this one area, I believe that she will carry most of the House with her?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comment. It has been clear in the conversations we have had that, in terms of the specifics of the withdrawal agreement, the backstop is the issue. That is why we will be working hard to find a resolution of it.
The Prime Minister knows that farming is integral to Welsh heritage. It is the beating heart of our rural economy. She must also understand that when she humours the idea of a no-deal Brexit, she freezes the heart’s blood of our communities. When I meet Welsh farmers this week, on what grounds can I possibly assure them that Westminster defends their interests, given that the Prime Minister would evidently prefer no deal to a people’s vote?
I have given my response on the issue of a people’s vote or second referendum. After we negotiated the deal with the European Union, I was pleased to meet Welsh farmers, and they supported the deal and believed that it would be a good deal for them.
Bearing in mind that the Leader of the Opposition has a reputation for meeting almost any organisation in the world, my constituents found it distasteful that he was not prepared to give up his time to meet the Prime Minister.
The House has given the Prime Minister instructions on a number of occasions. It has given the Government an instruction about holding a referendum and the date that we leave the European Union. Will she assure the House that she is doing her utmost to carry out those commands?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I think that a number of people are surprised at the unwillingness of the Leader of the Opposition to meet me, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, when he has met other groups who do not have the national interest of this country at heart. As my right hon. Friend says, I am absolutely working to deliver on the instruction of this Parliament to leave the European Union on 29 March.
I welcome the Prime Minister ruling out a second referendum, ruling out revoking article 50 and leaving on the table a WTO deal, whether managed or not. However, this is a remain Parliament—the majority of Members of this Parliament voted to remain. Does she agree that one way to show we are honouring what the people said is to speed up the progress of statutory instruments and legislation that need to get through this Parliament, so that we can get out on 29 March?
We have been laying statutory instruments. Getting statutory instruments through the House requires the usual channels to work together, and I am sure that those on the Labour Front Bench have heard the hon. Lady’s interest in ensuring that those statutory instruments are able to get through the House.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and support her determination to return to Brussels to secure changes, particularly to the backstop. Given what she said in her statement, may I urge her to rule out not only revoking article 50 but extending it? That would give businesses certainty and give the public some finality and reassurance that we will leave at the end of March, as promised.
I hope I can give my right hon. Friend the reassurance that I am working to find a deal that will secure the support of this House, such that we can and will leave the European Union on 29 March.
It is now clear that the Prime Minister is counting on the House of Commons to rule out her red lines because she lacks the political authority to do so. Whether it is her dead deal, no deal, Norway or no Brexit, all the options that lie ahead are substantially different from what people were promised before the referendum. Given that, does she accept that there is not only a practical desire for a new referendum, to break the parliamentary deadlock, but a moral imperative, to ensure that it is the people who agree this country’s future for generations to come?