First of all, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to our former colleague Paul Flynn. He was an outstanding parliamentarian and a tireless campaigner, and he championed his constituency of Newport West, and Wales, with energy and enthusiasm for over 30 years. Paul spent the vast majority of his career as a Back Bencher and wrote a helpful guide in his book “Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher”, before being made shadow Leader of the House and shadow Secretary of State for Wales. But of course he will be remembered for one of the great parliamentary quotes. When he left Labour’s Front Bench in 2016, he said:
“Our glorious leader, in an act of pioneering diversity, courageously decided to give opportunities for geriatrics on the Front Bench and this was so successful that he decided to create opportunities for geriatrics on the Back Bench. I’m double blessed.”
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I add my tribute to the words of the Prime Minister for my former constituency neighbour, friend and Welsh Labour colleague Paul Flynn? He was a remarkable man. He will go down as one of the great parliamentarians of the past 40 years and was an inspiration to many of us. He once gave me a copy of that book when I was a teenager, so he must have seen something in me, Mr Speaker. I am rebellious, although maybe not quite as rebellious as him. He was a great man and he will be missed by all of us.
In the midst of political crisis, it is ever more important that we put our country first. With thousands of jobs at risk and our international reputation in question, will the Prime Minister now stop playing Russian roulette, rule out no deal, and put a deal back to the British people so they can have the final say?
First of all, the hon. Gentleman knows there are two ways in which it is possible to ensure that we do not see no deal. One is to stay in the European Union, which is not what the referendum result said, and the other is to agree a deal. What I am working on at the moment is taking the view of this House of Commons about the concerns on the backstop in the deal and working with Brussels to resolve that issue, such that this House will be able to agree a deal.
I think this is a very important issue that everybody in this House should take seriously. I never thought I would see the day when Jewish people in this country were concerned about their future in this country, and I never thought I would see the day when a once-proud Labour party was accused of institutional antisemitism by a former Member of that party. It is incumbent on all of us in this House to ensure that we act against antisemitism wherever and however it occurs. It is racism and we should act against it.
May I start, Mr Speaker, by joining what you said on Monday in paying tribute to my friend and yours, Paul Flynn? He served in this House for over 30 years as the Member for Newport West. He was courageous; he was warm; he was witty. As the Prime Minister pointed out, he served briefly on the shadow Front Bench. When he came to his first shadow Cabinet meeting, he welcomed my
“diversity project to promote octogenarians”
to the shadow Cabinet. His book on how to become an MP is absolutely a must-read. He was respected all across the House and I think we are all going to miss his contributions, his wit and his wisdom. Our deepest condolences to his wife Sam and all his family, and to his wider family across Newport and Wales. He was a truly wonderful man and a great and dear friend.
I also hope that the House will join me in paying tribute to Baroness Falkender, who died earlier this month, and send our condolences to her friends and family. When Marcia served with distinction as political secretary to Harold Wilson, she was subjected to a long campaign of misogynistic smear and innuendo. She suffered a great deal as a result, and we should remember the great work that she did as political secretary to Harold Wilson.
The Prime Minister just responded to a question on antisemitism. I simply say this: antisemitism has no place whatsoever in any of our political parties, in our life, in our society—[Interruption.]
Mr Ellis, be quiet now and for the rest of the session. You used to practise as a barrister. You did not make those sorts of harrumphing noises in the courts; or if you did, no wonder you no longer practise there.
As I was saying, antisemitism has no place whatsoever in our society or in any of our political parties, and my own political party takes the strongest action to deal with antisemitism wherever it rears its head.
Last week, an EU official said the UK Government were only “pretending to negotiate”, adding that there was
“nothing on the table from the British side,”,
so with just 37 days to go, can the Prime Minister be clear about what she will actually be proposing today when she travels to Brussels?
Of course there are a number of meetings taking place in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary and the Attorney General were in Brussels earlier this week and had a constructive and positive meeting with officials in the European Commission on the issue of alternative arrangements and work on alternative arrangements. The issue that I am taking to Brussels is the one I have been speaking to EU leaders about over the last few days—that is, the concern that was expressed in this House about ensuring that we could not find ourselves in the current backstop indefinitely. There a number of ways, as I have identified on a number of occasions at this Dispatch Box, to deal with that. I have referenced the work on alternative arrangements. There are also the options of an end-date or a unilateral exit mechanism and legal work—what matters in all of this are legally binding changes that ensure that we address the concern that has been raised by this House. That is what I will be discussing with the European Commission and will continue to discuss with it and European Union leaders.
It sounds like it might be quite confusing for the European Union to understand exactly what the Prime Minister is turning up with, actually. She has had three groups of Back Benchers working on three proposals: first, to remove the backstop; secondly, to make the backstop time-limited; and thirdly, to give the UK the right to exit unilaterally. Which of these proposals is the Prime Minister negotiating for today: one, two or three?
The right hon. Gentleman points out that, as I just said in my response to his question—he could have listened to that answer, but I am happy to repeat it—there are a number of ways in which it is possible to address the issue that has been raised by this House of Commons. Work is being undertaken on those various issues. On the alternative arrangements, for example, the Commission has raised questions, particularly about the extent to which derogation from European Union law would be necessary to put those in place, and there is concern about being able to achieve that if we are going to leave in time. Nevertheless, we have agreed that a workstream will go forward on those matters. We are also exploring the other issues, but the point is a very simple one. It is not just a question of saying to the European Union, “Actually, this is just the one thing.” It is a question of sitting down with the European Union and finding a solution that is going to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland, that is going to ensure that we deal with the concern that has been raised here in this House of Commons and that is going to enable a deal to be brought back to this House of Commons that it can support so that we leave on 29 March with a deal.
Last week, a Foreign Office Minister said categorically:
“We are not leaving without a deal”,
but sadly he does not speak for the Government. The Prime Minister’s Business Minister says he is
“very conscious of the damage that not ruling out a hard Brexit is having on business and industry”.
People’s jobs and livelihoods are in the Prime Minister’s hands. Will she stop playing games with people’s jobs and make it very clear that no deal is absolutely ruled out?
People’s jobs and futures are in the hands of every Member of this House. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman could have listened to an answer I gave earlier, to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). There are only two ways to take no deal off the table: one is to back a deal, the other is to revoke article 50 and stay in the EU. The right hon. Gentleman has refused to back a deal, so the obvious conclusion is that he must want to revoke article 50. He can stand up now and tell us what his policy is—is it to back the deal or to stay in the EU?
I did write the Prime Minister a very nice letter setting out our views. I am sure she received it and read it and I hope she will think on it.
It appears that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) was right when he said last week that in the event that the Prime Minister’s deal does not succeed
“this Government…and this Prime Minister…would prefer to…head for the exit door without a deal”.—[Official Report, 14 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1108.]
He went on to say that it was “a terrifying fact”. Thousands of car workers in Derby, Sunderland, Birmingham and Swindon are facing redundancy. Does that matter to the Prime Minister?
We have seen decisions taken by car manufacturers, and obviously Honda’s decision this week is deeply disappointing, but it has made it absolutely clear that this is not a Brexit-related decision, but a response to the change in the global car market. Of course jobs matter to the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about jobs, perhaps he would like to change the habit of a lifetime and stand up at that Dispatch Box and welcome the excellent job figures we have seen this week under this Government.
The Prime Minister does not seem very interested in listening to those companies and industry bodies that are saying they need a customs union. When she talks about jobs, will she also talk about those doing two or three jobs to make ends meet, those on zero-hours contracts, those so low paid they have to access food banks just to survive and those suffering from in-work poverty—on her watch, under her Government?
Last year, investment in the car industry halved. Brexit uncertainty is already costing investment, and where investment is cut today, jobs are cut tomorrow. That uncertainty would not end even if the Prime Minister’s rejected deal somehow got through, because it promises only the certainty of a “spectrum” of possible outcomes. Will she see sense and offer business and workers the certainty of a customs union that could protect jobs and industry in this country?
What the right hon. Gentleman will also have heard from car manufacturers is their support for the deal the Government negotiated with the EU. If he wants to talk about jobs, I am very happy to talk about jobs, because what do we see in the latest figures? We see employment at a record high and unemployment at its lowest since the 1970s; we see that 96% of the increase in employment in the last year has come from full-time work; we see youth unemployment almost halved since 2010, and female employment is at a record high. [Interruption.] It is all very well shouting from the Front Bench, but let us look at Labour’s record in government. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Lavery, calm yourself. You have applied to be a statesman, but there is an apprenticeship, and you have to undergo it, but it is not assisted by such sedentary ranting.
Let us look at Labour’s record in government on employment: unemployment rose by nearly half a million; female unemployment rose by 26%; youth unemployment rose by 44%; and the number of households where no one had ever worked nearly doubled. That is the record of a Labour Government under which working people pay the price of Labour.
Child poverty halved under the Labour Government. We invested in Sure Start—in children’s centres—and a future for young people. The Prime Minister should get out a bit more and hear the anger of so many young people around this country at what they are suffering under her Government and on her watch.
The chair of the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK said yesterday:
“I am saddened by the way that some of our politicians have put selfish political ideology ahead of the national interest and people’s livelihoods and left us facing the catastrophic prospect of leaving the EU next month with no deal”.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Food and Drink Federation, the National Farmers Union and the CBI all want a disastrous no deal ruled out. Along with the TUC, many also support the UK being in a permanent customs union.
There is a little over a month to go and the Government have failed to put the country first. There is the crisis of jobs going and industries under threat, and the Prime Minister indulges in what her own Business Minister calls “fanciful nonsense”. When is she going to put the interests of the people of this country before the interests of the Conservative party?
The right hon. Gentleman has consistently put his party political interest ahead of the national interest. We can take no deal off the table by agreeing a deal, yet at every stage he has acted to frustrate a deal. He has acted to make no deal more likely, but that is not surprising from this Labour party. What do we see from his Labour party? Hamas and Hezbollah are friends, and Israel and the United States are enemies; Hatton a hero, and Churchill a villain. Attlee and Bevan will be spinning in their graves. That is what the right hon. Gentleman has done to a once-proud Labour party. We will never let him do it to our country.
My right hon. Friend will know from Shelter that many people in receipt of benefits are blocked from renting in the private sector. These people are often carers or have a disability. I know that No. 10 is working with Shelter to resolve this problem. Will the Prime Minister give all her officials her support to resolve this pressing issue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We are working with Shelter. I urge that work to go ahead to a fruitful conclusion. Stuart Carroll, one my local councillors, has raised this issue with me and has come in to work with No. 10. It is an important issue and we are working on it to find a satisfactory resolution soon.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the sad death of Paul Flynn? He will be missed by many, and thoughts and prayers are with Sam and his family. He was a unique and truly gifted parliamentarian. It was a pleasure to serve on a Committee with him and it was a pleasure to have known him.
Westminster is broken. We are in the middle of a constitutional crisis and on the brink of a Brexit disaster, yet this place is at war with itself. The Tories and the Labour party are imploding. Scotland deserves better. We need a way out. Time is running out. Will this House get to vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal next week, and if not, when?
Obviously, we are in discussions with the European Union and will bring a vote back when it is possible to bring a deal back that deals with the issue that the House of Commons has raised. We have listened to the House of Commons. We are working on the views of the House with the European Union, and we will bring a vote back when it is the right time to do so.
Quite simply, that is not good enough. Time is running out. Three and a half thousand jobs have been lost from Honda; the NFU says that a no-deal Brexit is the “stuff of nightmares”; and 100,000 jobs in Scotland are under threat. Prime Minister, you are bringing the UK economy to its knees. How many warnings, how many jobs and how many resignations will it take for the Prime Minister to stop this madness? If you do not act, Prime Minister, Scotland will.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we see debt down, the deficit down, jobs up, taxes down—oh, taxes down not in Scotland of course, where the SNP is putting taxes up. He says it is not good enough, but I will tell him what is not good enough: it is an SNP that wants to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom, knowing full well that being a member of the United Kingdom is worth £1,400 every year for each person in Scotland. He talks about damaging the economy; the only people who are going to damage the economy in Scotland are sitting on the SNP Benches.
It is an important message for us to give that we are very clear that we will take action against those who are involved in terrorism. Obviously, each Home Secretary deals with the question of deprivation on a number of occasions; I dealt with deprivation cases myself, and there is a very clear set of criteria on which the Home Secretary considers that matter. But the overall point my hon. Friend makes is absolutely right: how important it is for this Government and this country to make it very clear that we will take action against those who are involved in terrorism.
The hon. Lady has raised a particular case about Heidi, her constituent, and obviously I am sorry to hear that Heidi is in these circumstances. On the question of the drugs and treatments that are available, obviously we have a robust independent process through the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence reviews to look at new medicines that are possible, and this is the case with Spinraza. I am pleased that Biogen has, as I understand it, submitted a revised submission for the NICE appraisal committee to consider and a meeting has been arranged for 6 March when those recommendations will be considered.
All parliamentarians should be horrified that any human being would spend the night sleeping on a pavement. In that regard, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity, following the visit from the relevant Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), to acknowledge that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council together with its associated bodies has reduced rough sleeping by 85%, and that that is another reason why Southend should become a city? And will the Government do all they can to address issues of alcohol abuse and mental health?
First, well done to my hon. Friend for once again getting in his bid for Southend to be a city. He raises very important issues; we are addressing the issues of alcoholism and mental health, and of course these are often connected when people find themselves homeless or rough sleeping. I am happy to congratulate Southend council on the work it has done to reduce rough sleeping in its area. I am pleased to say that the rough sleeping initiative which the Government have introduced, where we are working with the local authorities with the highest levels of rough sleeping, has seen rough sleeping falling by 23% in those areas, so action is being taken and that is having an impact. Of course there is more to do, and we focus on those issues that underlie the problems that those who find themselves rough sleeping are experiencing.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has heard me respond to a similar issue before. We have repeatedly called on private building owners not to pass costs on to leaseholders, and as a result of our interventions, 216 owners have either started, completed or have commitments in place to remediate. Fifty are not co-operating, but we are maintaining pressure on them and we rule nothing out. We have established a taskforce to oversee the remediation of private sector buildings, and it is actively working to do just that.
Sometimes our public services fail to provide our military personnel, our veterans or their families with the support that they need, and they have nowhere to take their case for arbitration. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss my campaign to create an armed forces ombudsman, so that those who have served our country will know that they are valued?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which she has worked to champion the armed forces covenant and the interests of the armed forces. Of course we should all recognise the sacrifice and dedication of our armed forces and the work that they do for us, day in and day out. I would be very happy to meet her to discuss her proposal.
Of course the Government have taken action in relation to the issue of medicinal cannabis, but the important thing is that decisions are taken on the basis of clinical evidence by those who are best able to take those decisions, rather than by Ministers. A process has been put in place to ensure that, where there are cases, those cases are looked at very carefully and that decisions are properly taken by the clinicians who are best placed to do so.
The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on his swift and decisive action in removing British citizenship from Shamima Begum, but the fact remains that, of the 900 British nationals who have gone to support Daesh fighting against British armed forces in Iraq and Syria, only 40 have been prosecuted. With 400 of those individuals set to return to this country in the near future, will the Prime Minister revisit the provisions of the Treason Act to ensure that these appalling activities receive suitable and just punishment?
Obviously, our priority is to ensure safety and security here in the UK. We also recognise that anyone who has travelled to Syria not only puts themselves in considerable danger but potentially poses a serious national security risk. Any British citizen who returns from taking part in the conflict must be in no doubt that they will be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted. It is right that we follow that process, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that one of the issues in looking at prosecution is ensuring that there is evidence to enable a prosecution to take place. Decisions on how people are dealt with are taken on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that the most appropriate action is taken. We are ensuring that, in every decision, we put the protection and safety of the public first.
If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about ensuring that we do not leave the European Union without a deal, he has a simple route through this, which is to back the deal that the Government bring back from the European Union.
Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to my late old friend Steve Dymond, a haemophiliac who was infected by contaminated blood? He fought for over 20 years, showing great bravery and resilience, and was supported throughout by his wife Su. He was grateful when the Langstaff inquiry was set up, so does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that all the NHS documents and medical notes that the inquiry may need are made available so that it can be fully comprehensive?
I join my right hon. and learned Friend in paying tribute to Steve Dymond. The contaminated blood scandal was an appalling tragedy that should never have happened, and it is vital that the victims who have suffered so much and their families get the answers and justice they deserve, for which, as we all know, they have waited decades. I am assured by the Department of Health and Social Care that it has already sent thousands of documents to the inquiry and will send more when necessary, but we are committed to being open and transparent with the inquiry and have waived the usual legal privileges to assist the process. It is important that the inquiry is able to get to the truth.
This is a Government who are ensuring that we are working across the whole country and that we are delivering an economy for everyone across the whole country. The hon. Gentleman talks about billions of pounds in relation to the north, but he may just want to reflect on the £13 billion being put into transport in the north of this country.
Will the Prime Minister join me welcoming Councillor Anne Meadows, who has today left the Labour party in Brighton and Hove City Council, crossing the floor to join the Conservatives, who are now the largest group on the council? Councillor Meadows left the Labour party because of the rise of antisemitism and bullying that she and her colleagues have experienced from Momentum activists—so much so that only seven of the 23 councillors will be standing again in May. Does the Prime Minister agree that antisemitism is rife throughout the whole Labour party?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As she says, Anne Meadows, a long-serving Labour councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council, has today chosen to leave Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and join the Conservatives, due to the bullying and antisemitism that she has received from Momentum and the hard left. That is the harsh reality that decent, moderate Labour councillors are having to face every day, due to Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to stand up to bullying and racism in his party. We welcome Councillor Meadows into the Conservative party with open arms, and I am sure that she will be an excellent Conservative councillor.
The hon. Lady will recognise that I am not able to respond to the individual details of the case at the Dispatch Box, but I will ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions and the relevant Minister look at the case and respond to her.
Improving mental healthcare has rightly become a priority for the Government, but are the Government doing anything to improve the mental health situation of hard-pressed NHS staff who deserve support?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Our dedicated NHS staff, day in and day out, are delivering an unwavering commitment in caring for us all, and obviously it is necessary that we ensure their mental health is looked after. We are setting up a dedicated mental health support service, which will offer NHS staff confidential advice and support 24 hours a day. It will be staffed by qualified professionals who have had training in situations that are unique to the NHS and will ensure that mental health referrals for NHS employees, from either a general practitioner or an occupational health clinician, are fast-tracked. It is right that mental and physical wellbeing is at the forefront of our health service, and it is right that we are taking this action to support our dedicated NHS staff.
I am sure the hon. Lady will look forward to working well with the largest group on Brighton and Hove City Council, which is now the Conservative group. She raises the issue of education funding, and she refers to answers I have given in the past. We have been putting more funding into education, and we have been doing it in a number of ways. We have announced extra support, as she says, for children with complex special educational needs, and that is building on the £6 billion in place for it this year—the highest level on record. She says it is not enough, but it is the highest level on record. We are also putting money into new school places and better facilities for children with special educational needs.
Communities across the country are installing defibrillators. The village of Brompton in my constituency has one in a former telephone box that is a stone’s throw away from the main road but is not directly visible from it. Does the Prime Minister think it is a good idea to have a nationally approved defibrillator road sign so that these lifesaving devices can be quickly accessed in the event of an emergency?
I commend the action being taken in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, and I see the same action being taken in my constituency, with people ensuring that defibrillators are available. He raises a very interesting point, and I will ask the Department for Transport to look at it seriously.
This issue is close to the heart of many Members, and it is particularly close to the heart of the hon. Gentleman. I know that he met Ministers to discuss this issue last year. Officials in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are undertaking a short, focused internal review of provision for parents of premature, sick and multiple babies to obtain an understanding of the barriers to participating in the labour market. They are working with organisations such as Bliss, the Smallest Things and the Twins and Multiple Births Association to better understand these issues, and they have held focus groups with a number of parents. They have offered to discuss their conclusions with those interested parties in due course, and I am sure that they will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this in taking it forward.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the British Army has engaged in a recruitment campaign in Commonwealth countries. However, only after soldiers have signed up for minimum four-year contracts do they find out that they are not allowed to bring their children to this country. Given that these brave women and men are prepared to put their lives on the line for us and our country, I hope that she will agree that this needs to be looked into urgently. Will she therefore kindly agree to meet me and others concerned to see how this matter can be progressed?
I am aware of the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. I am told by the Ministry of Defence that it does make sure that information is available to individuals about what their situation will be. This matter is not just of concern to the MOD; obviously, the issue of the immigration rules rests with the Home Office as well. I will certainly meet him to discuss this issue.
I recognise the importance of buses to our communities. We have been spending £250 million every year to keep fares down and maintain an extensive network. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that since 2010 we have seen 10,000 new routes across the north and midlands, and live local bus services registered have increased by 15% in just the past two years.
Paul Flynn was, in his time, a valued member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I know that colleagues on both sides of the House who serve on that body would like to join others in expressing our condolences to his family.
My armed forces constituents will be pleased to know that, with effect from the start of this year, ex-servicemen and women will receive ID cards. Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing the hope that, in time, that card will become a passport to public recognition of some of the bravest and finest in our country?
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the ex-forces community and we are working hard, as my hon. Friend has indicated, to ensure that they receive the support they deserve. As he says, any personnel who have left the military since December 2018 will automatically be given one of these new ID cards, which will allow them to maintain a tangible link to their career in the forces. As the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has responsibility for defence people and veterans, said:
“These new cards celebrate the great commitment and dedication of those who have served this country, and I hope they can provide a further link to ex-personnel and the incredible community around them.”
I hope that they will, as my hon. Friend says, be a sign of the incredible valour that those ex-servicemen and women have shown.
In 2017, during the election, we learned what the Prime Minister’s definition of “strong and stable” was. As our automotive industry disintegrates before our eyes, as investment is put on hold and as growth slows, are we now learning what the Prime Minister’s definition of “smooth and orderly Brexit” is?
I say to the hon. Lady, as I say to every Member of this House, that there will come a further point, in this Chamber, when every Member will have a decision to take on whether we want to ensure that we deliver on the vote of the referendum—most Members stood on a manifesto to do that—by leaving the EU with a deal. That will be a decision for all Members of this House. I know where I stand: I believe we should be leaving with a deal. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees.