Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 655: debated on Wednesday 27 February 2019


The Secretary of State was asked—

International Trading Opportunities

I start by congratulating coach Warren Gatland and captain Alun Wyn Jones on their most magnificent victory in Cardiff on Saturday. Speaking as a proud Englishman, it was a joy to watch the game. There is no better way to kick off Wales Week in London, in which we champion and celebrate everything that is great about Wales, including its rugby team.

The Wales Office works closely with the Department for International Trade on promoting Wales’s trading opportunities. From trade missions to his work with trade commissioners and sitting on the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State works continually to create potential both for Welsh exports and for foreign direct investment projects to come to Wales.

I associate myself with my hon. Friend’s remarks, although I preferred the first half.

Many people will have used the M4 this weekend. Given the M4’s potential for promoting international trade in Wales, and indeed in the rest of the country, will my hon. Friend tell me what progress has been made towards honouring the commitment from the 1960s to build the M31 from Reading down to Gatwick Airport, via the M3?

I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion for that project, and rightly so. He is right to raise this important issue. The Department for Transport recognises the importance of cross-border connectivity. It has been gathering evidence to inform the second road investment strategy—RIS2—which will govern investment in England’s motorways and major A roads between 2020 and 2025. Economic growth is one of RIS2’s five stated key aims and will play a part in the appraisal of schemes. It will be published in 2019.

I join the Minister in congratulating the Welsh rugby team on their excellent victory. They are on course for the grand slam this year. The Minister will be aware that REHAU plastics in my constituency, which has traded internationally for more than 40 years, has announced its closure. It will now concentrate its business on the European mainland. Will his Department work with the Welsh Government, myself and local government to try to retain those important trading jobs? They are international jobs, and we need them on Anglesey.

Absolutely. I have a sneaking feeling that rugby might be a running theme throughout these questions. We recognise the importance of REHAU as an employer in the region and on Anglesey, and we will work closely with the hon. Gentleman and with the company to achieve the best possible outcome, most importantly for the important staff who work there.

There are many excellent international trading companies in north Wales, but in order to continue to thrive they need access to the most modern digital infrastructure. What discussions is my hon. Friend having with the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to ensure that growth deal funding is targeted towards improving digital connectivity?

My right hon. Friend is indeed a great champion of north Wales. I recently met that board to discuss its progress in finalising its proposition to utilise the £120 million that we and the Welsh Government each allocated to the deal. Digital infra- structure is currently an underpinning project, but we have set the region a challenge to go even further and to be even more ambitious about what the project can achieve for the region by working closely with a range of partners, including the private sector.

Jim Callaghan, a Labour Prime Minister, brought thousands of jobs to Ford in south Wales. Why is a Tory Prime Minister taking those jobs away?

I politely remind the right hon. Lady that we have record employment in Wales. Tough commercial decisions have been made in recent months, particularly by Hitachi. However, I point to the good economic news in Wales, particularly the record job numbers.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus for Friday, Mr Speaker. I pay my good wishes to Sam on the sad loss of Paul Flynn. This is the first chance I have had to do that. He was a great man. He actually stood in my constituency in 1974.

In January, Dyson announced the relocation of its HQ to Singapore, Hitachi ended its interest in Wylfa and Airbus said it was prepared to leave Wales in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Government’s handling of Brexit has been described as a “disgrace” by Airbus’s Tom Enders and a “state of total confusion” by tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell. What message does that send to international investors and traders about trading opportunities in Wales?

If I might politely say so, the hon. Gentleman is being a little selective with his examples. I would point him to the employment figures. The real figures show that foreign direct investment last year created 3,107 new Welsh jobs, which is a 20% increase. I understand why he might want to paint a gloomy picture. Airbus has made it perfectly clear that it does not want no deal. It wants a deal, and the best thing that he and his party could do is support the deal when it comes before the House.

Withdrawal Agreement Bill: Legislative Consent

2. What steps he is taking to secure the legislative consent of the National Assembly for Wales for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. (909423)

This is the first Welsh questions since the sad passing of our friend and colleague, Paul Flynn. He leaves a significant space on the Labour Back Benches.

The Government are engaging extensively with the Welsh Government in preparing the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. This includes bilateral engagement and meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committees.

The National Assembly for Wales backed the Plaid Cymru motion calling for work to begin immediately on preparing for a public vote. A recent poll by YouGov also found that more Welsh voters back a people’s vote than do not. If the Secretary of State is truly Wales’s voice in Westminster, as he so boldly claims, will he outline the preparations he has pressed the Prime Minister for to facilitate a people’s vote?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, but I would politely point out to her that Wales voted to leave the European Union in even stronger numbers than the rest of the UK. We have an obligation to act on the instruction that comes from that referendum, but in doing so we will continue to work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure and secure a smooth and orderly exit.

I first met Paul Flynn in 1980. He was absolutely inspirational to me then and he continued to be a source of inspiration throughout the many years I had the privilege to know him.

Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the Welsh Government will be fully represented in any negotiations with the EU that impact on devolved competence and policy?

The UK Government have been open and transparent in their dealings with the Welsh Government on representation and engagement. In fact, the Welsh Government sit on the EU Exit and Trade (Preparedness) Sub-Committee, which shows and demonstrates our positive engagement. I am only disappointed that the same privilege and opportunity has not been extended to the UK Government to sit on the Welsh Government’s similar committee.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but does he understand that if the UK Government negotiate free trade agreements, for example with the USA, which force hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken on the people of Wales without the legislative consent of the elected Welsh Government, that will trigger a major constitutional crisis? Is he prepared to risk that?

First, I do not accept the basis of the question, but the hon. Lady raises an important point. We will, of course, continue our warm, constructive and positive engagement with all the devolved Administrations. Our work with the Welsh Government on leaving the European Union has proved fruitful so far. We have laid 120 statutory instruments on behalf of the Welsh Government and at their request. In terms of future trade agreements, we will continue to work with them constructively in the interests of the whole of the UK. Clearly, my interests and their interests will be to defend the Welsh interest. I plan to continue to work with them on that positive basis.

Leaving the EU: Economic Support

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on sector-specific plans to support the Welsh economy in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (909424)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on sector-specific plans to support the Welsh economy in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (909430)

I meet my counterparts in the Welsh Government on a regular basis, including Baroness Eluned Morgan on Monday, to discuss a range of policy areas. A responsible Government prepare for every eventuality, including no deal, and we continue to work together on operational readiness through the Joint Ministerial Committees.

That is all very well, but the Government’s no-deal assessment made it clear that the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the UK’s food and drink sector would be most damaging in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the sector comprises over 5% of those economies compared with just 1.38% in England. How can the Government claim, therefore, that this is a partnership of equal nations when they stand ready to ruin the economies of three, purely in the interests of Tory party unity?

The hon. Gentleman is quite selective with the data that he points to. He has highlighted one scenario, but if he is happy to take that message so clearly from the sector that he has highlighted, that same sector encouraged him to support the Prime Minister’s deal with the European Union. When that meaningful vote returns to Parliament, I hope that he will heed that message then.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that 92% of Welsh lamb goes for EU export? Welsh hill farmers have said that if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead, their industry will be decimated and wiped out—a view confirmed in his economic evidence that was published last night. If that is his analysis, will the Secretary of State for Wales act responsibly and make sure that Welsh lamb is protected?

I would say similarly to the hon. Gentleman that absolutely, we recognise the importance of Welsh agriculture, as we do all the important employment and economic sectors in Wales. The National Farmers Union and NFU Cymru were strong supporters of the deal with the European Union, so if he is happy to repeat their message today, I hope that he is happy to act on their message when it comes to voting on the meaningful vote in this House.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that agriculture is a very important industry not only for Britain but for Wales—particularly, as has already been outlined, Welsh lamb? What measures could be taken in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Clearly the deal would be the first option, but if there was a no-deal Brexit, how would those difficulties be overcome?

My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important point. Agriculture is an extremely important part of the Welsh economy and is disproportionately important there compared with the rest of the UK. We would, of course, act in a way that would protect the interests of that economy to ensure that those jobs are there for the long-term future, in spite of any short-term challenge.

Regardless of whether we have a no-deal Brexit, is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure he probably is—that it is coming up to the 50th anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales? How can we employ, in that sense of the word, the Prince of Wales’s soft power and so on to promote Wales and the Welsh economy?

Irrespective of membership of or departure from the European Union, with which matter we would not want to involve him in any way.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As we leave the European Union, there is an opportunity to look outwards, and the Prince of Wales is a great champion of Wales and brings about significant soft power. We rightly recognised him last year by renaming the second Severn crossing the Prince of Wales bridge. I pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, who will host a reception next week to mark the 50 years since the Prince of Wales was named such.

The voice of Ogmore will be heard, but I see a great phalanx of men standing and only one female Member. Jo Stevens must be heard!

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Every sector of the Welsh economy is going to be damaged by the UK leaving the EU, so will the Secretary of State for Wales confirm that he will be voting to rule out no deal?

I will be voting for a deal with the European Union. The hon. Lady will have an interest in a whole range of sectors, be they agriculture or automotive, and all those sectors have strongly supported the Prime Minister’s deal with the European Union. I am disappointed that the hon. Lady voted against that, making no deal more likely.

11. One of the ways that the Welsh Secretary could start doing his job and providing support for the Welsh economy is by confirming how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work beyond 2020. Treasury Ministers and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers will not give me an answer, so is it not time that he stepped up, did his job and explained to the House how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work? (909433)

I do not want to pre-empt our consultation, which will go out very shortly, but I say candidly to the hon. Gentleman that he will recognise that more than £4 billion—approaching £5 billion—in EU structural funds has been spent in the Welsh economy over the last 17 years; does he honestly believe that we have had the best value from that, and is there not a better opportunity to deliver better value for money for the taxpayer?

The question was a rhetorical one; it requires no answer, and indeed it would be inappropriate, as the Secretary of State knows.

Leaving the EU: Business Preparations

4. What recent discussions he has had with businesses in Wales on preparations for the UK leaving the EU. (909425)

Since the referendum I have been talking to stakeholders the length and breadth of Wales on the implications of EU exit. This includes the discussions I have had with my expert panel and economic advisory board, which met again last month.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but what steps is his Department taking specifically to support small businesses reliant on tourism in Wales?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of his constituency, and I have no doubt that people in Corby and east Northamptonshire will want to visit Wales regularly. This is a great opportunity to highlight Wales Week in London. Wales Week has gone global this year, being held in New York, in Washington and in all parts of the UK. I would be interested in seeing what we can do in my hon. Friend’s constituency next year.

10. My constituent’s restaurant business is under threat because of this Brexit chaos. His Polish and Hungarian staff, who have been with him from the start, have left, and the pound is plummeting, causing huge challenge to him. Does the Secretary of State believe that this chaotic Brexit is really making Wales a more attractive place for visitors? (909432)

There is absolutely no reason why those employees should have left, because we have respected their rights. I only hope and wish that as we continue to negotiate, all the rights of UK nationals living in the European Union will be respected in exactly the same way. The hon. Lady voted against the Prime Minister’s deal with the European Union, and by doing so she is making no deal far more likely. So I would encourage her to look objectively at the data, and to support the meaningful vote when it comes up.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about relocating the resources that are concentrated on Victoria Street into Wales and into Scotland?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office already has an agenda to take as many jobs as possible out of Whitehall and relocate them across the rest of the UK on an ongoing basis. Leaving the European Union will bring new responsibilities. I think there is an opportunity for my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I shall be seeking to play my part in ensuring that Wales benefits too.

In respect of Welsh business preparation for Brexit, can the Secretary of State tell me how many of the hundreds of Government Brexit work streams have been allocated exclusively or primarily to the Wales Office?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Wales Office sits and acts right across the whole of Government, but my prime lead is with the Welsh Government. We have now ensured that they sit on the European Union Exit and Trade (Preparedness) Sub-Committee, and as I mentioned earlier, I only hope that they will similarly invite a UK Government representative to sit on their equivalent Committee.

Policing Budgets

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of changes to policing budgets since 2015 on the effectiveness of Welsh police forces. (909426)

The Government understand that police demand is changing and becoming increasingly complex. That is why, after speaking to all police forces in England and Wales, we have provided a comprehensive funding settlement that increased total investment in the police by over £460 million in 2018-19.

By 2019-20, Gwent police will have seen a 26% cut in its core Government grant compared with 2010-11. Why do this Government keep making it more difficult for Gwent police to keep my constituents safe?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the 2019-20 settlement provides total funding of up to £14 billion, and it is an increase of up to £970 million on the previous year. I would also politely remind him that the Labour party voted against that increased funding.

Industrial Strategy

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the effect of the industrial strategy on the Welsh economy. (909427)

The industrial strategy provides a platform for the Welsh economy to thrive, and we have been working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that we make the most of the opportunities available. We are already delivering a wide range of projects in Wales, such as through the industrial strategy challenge fund, for which Wales is scoring well above its population share.

If you will allow me, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to my parliamentary next-door neighbour, Paul Flynn. The unique, unforgettable parliamentarian he was will be missed by all in this House.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State is concerned by the news that the Welsh Automotive Forum says that once Honda stops production in Swindon, 12 companies based in Wales will be affected by that decision. If he is worried, what will he do for those small and medium-sized enterprises to open up new markets?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. I was in Japan last week when the ambassador received the news. It is necessary to recognise that this is nothing to do with Brexit; it is about changing market habits and about Honda’s changing approach. We have already been in touch with the Welsh Automotive Forum and are engaging positively with its members. The hon. Gentleman is right about the number of companies, but the exposure is more limited than it might initially suggest.

In terms of the industrial strategy, does the Secretary of State think that the chronic M4 congestion around Newport, which snarled up the England rugby team coach last Friday, was part of a cunning plan to give Wales the edge, or just a consequence of 20 years of failure on the part of a Welsh Labour Government, who cannot build a road?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Even the Welsh coach, Warren Gatland, said to Eddie Jones that he would never have travelled through Newport at that time of day because of the congestion in the area. That might be light-hearted, but the reality is that the problem is causing serious reputational damage to Wales. The plan is available and makes a positive recommendation, and the money is available from the Treasury. I wish that the Welsh Government would just get on and deliver the road.

I am sure the House will join me in welcoming the serendipity of the alignment of stars whereby in every year ending in “9” since 1949, Wales has beaten England.

Wylfa Newydd was a key development underpinning north Wales growth deal projects. Now that Hitachi has pulled the plug on Wylfa, what is the Secretary of State doing to secure additional funding, specifically infrastructure investment, over and above the £120 million currently committed by the Government?

The hon. Lady has asked an important question, but Hitachi has paused the project and is maintaining the development consent order. It has not pulled the plug. When I met the chairman last week, he was keen to continue to engage. We will look open-mindedly at the north Wales growth deal, but it is of course a matter for local authorities and businesses to submit bids to me so that I can consider them in due course.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the potential use of Crown Estates revenue income from Wales, or other Treasury funds to support the development of energy infrastructure, and specifically to develop the tidal stream energy sector in Pembrokeshire, Llŷn and Ynys Cybi?

The hon. Lady has given some excellent examples of projects that could well gain support through the north or the mid Wales growth deal or the Swansea city deal. Those are the sorts of projects that I should like to explore, but of course they are bottom up. Working with the hon. Lady and with local partners, I shall be happy to see what we can do.

Journey Times: Chepstow to Gloucestershire

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on plans to reduce journey times between Chepstow and Gloucestershire. (909429)

We have regular discussions with the Welsh Government about cross-border roads, including the proposed A48 bypass around Chepstow. We know that a bypass could improve journey times between Chepstow and Gloucestershire as well as reduce air pollution, and we look forward to working with the Welsh Government to deliver this vital piece of infrastructure.

There are times when a drive through Chepstow resembles the rush hour in Lagos or Mexico City. Will Ministers therefore do everything that they can to encourage the local authorities in Gloucester, the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport to work with Monmouthshire council to deliver that bypass as soon as possible?

There is no greater champion and voice for Chepstow than my hon. Friend. The Government are dedicated to improving transport infrastructure across Wales, for instance by providing a new relief road. We have abolished the tolls over the Severn, and I know from personal experience on Saturday that Chepstow could do with a bypass.

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. He is a fine man and Slough is a very good place, but it is a long way from Chepstow or Gloucestershire. If the inquiry consists of one sentence and relates either to Chepstow or to Gloucestershire, I will hear it. If it is about Slough, he must remain seated. Blurt it out, man.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The western rail link to Heathrow will significantly reduce the journey time between Wales and the airport. The Government committed themselves to the link in 2012. When will it finally be built?

The hon. Gentleman—who has been incredibly creative in getting his question in under Chepstow—will be pleased to hear that we are continuing to engage with the Department for Transport on this vital project.

F-35 Contracts

9. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential effect of F-35 contracts on (a) industry in and (b) exports from Wales. (909431)

Again there is no stronger voice for Wales than that of my right hon. Friend, who has a long-standing interest in Wales. Yesterday I met the Minister with responsibility for defence procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) to discuss the F-35 contract. The recent announcement puts Wales right at the centre of the global F-35 partnership. It is the largest defence programme in history.

It was a great pleasure to visit the F-35 factory in Fort Worth in the summer of 2016, and of course the F-35 has a huge UK content to it, so does my hon. Friend agree that these contracts show the immense contribution being made by the Welsh defence industry to the UK economy and exports overall?

The aerospace and defence industries are in very good health in Wales. In the financial year 2017-18, the UK Government spent £960 million with the Welsh defence industry and commerce; that is up from £946 million. This supports an estimated 6,300 jobs in Wales and the half a billion pound F-35 contract is to be welcomed right across this House.

Will the Minister meet with aerospace businesses such as Tritech, Magellan and Solvay in Wrexham to ensure that in the event of a no-deal Brexit we maximise spend within the UK to benefit our businesses?

I certainly would agree to meet with the aerospace industry. I have already visited a number of companies. I am also committed to holding a roundtable on this very subject and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman as well to discuss this further.

12. Given the huge challenges that the steel industry and car manufacturers face in Wales, as well as in the rest of the UK, even at this late stage, would it not be better if the Secretary of State and the rest of the Government committed Britain to staying in the customs union? (909434)

The hon. Gentleman raises this issue on the European Union. He voted against the Prime Minister’s deal. That makes no deal far more likely. The only way to secure a smooth, orderly exit from the European Union is to support the Prime Minister’s deal when the meaningful vote comes back to this House.

Since the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) is conscious that he has a question on the Order Paper, he can have it.

RNLI New Quay

13. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the future of the RNLI lifeboat in New Quay. (909435)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work on this important issue. The UK Government do not anticipate that the RNLI’s decision to replace the all-weather lifeboat with the Atlantic 85 vessel will have an impact on its capability to co-ordinate search and rescue in Cardigan bay.

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that the decision to remove the all-weather lifeboat from New Quay has caused considerable concern in Ceredigion and further afield. May I ask him to again raise this matter with the Department for Transport and press for detailed reassurances that the removal will not diminish search and rescue capabilities in Cardigan bay?

I am more than happy to work with the RNLI and to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his concerns to ensure there is proper and correct lifeboat coverage in Cardigan bay.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


May I first say that the UK is deeply concerned about rising tensions between India and Pakistan and urgently calls for restraint on both sides to avoid further escalation? We are in regular contact with both countries urging dialogue and diplomatic solutions to ensure regional stability. We are working closely with international partners, including through the UN Security Council, to de-escalate tensions and are monitoring developments closely and considering implications for British nationals.

Mr Speaker, I understand that Eve Griffith-Okai in your office retires at the end of the week. She has worked for four Speakers and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing her the very best for the future.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I thank the Prime Minister for her initial response. In the face of her total failure to secure the agreement of this House, when will the Prime Minister call time on this farce, extend article 50 and put her deal versus remain back to the people?

First, I made a statement and answered 82 questions on these issues in the House yesterday. We will be bringing the meaningful vote back by 12 March. As I said yesterday, if that meaningful vote is rejected again by the House, we would have a vote in this House on 13 March on whether the House accepts leaving without a deal on 29 March. If the House rejects leaving without a deal on 29 March, there would be a vote on a short, limited extension to article 50. On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I continue to believe that it is right for us to deliver on the result of the referendum that took place in 2016.

Q2. The 2017 Birmingham bin strike led to mass fly-tipping across the borough border in my beautiful town of Solihull. With the threat of another strike ever present, will the Prime Minister join me in urging Birmingham City Council to do what often seems to be beyond it—namely, to be a good neighbour and sort out these strikes, which seem to be just a taster of what would happen under a hard-left Labour Government? (909473)

Obviously, this is a matter for Labour-controlled Birmingham City Council to resolve: rubbish piling up on the streets because of the failure of the Labour council to get a grip. Not only does it show what a hard-left Labour Government would be like; it shows all of us that, under Labour councils, you pay more and get less.

There is an urgent question coming up on Kashmir, but I will just say that from our side of the House we strongly support rapid dialogue between India and Pakistan in order to reduce the tension and deal with the root causes of the conflict before more lives are lost.

I also join the Prime Minister in wishing Eve a very happy retirement, Mr Speaker. She has been absolutely brilliant in your office over the many years of people rushing in and out and making totally unreasonable demands. She has always sorted it out. Could you pass on to her the thanks of lots and lots of Back Benchers over many years?

The Bank of England forecasts that growth for this year will be the slowest in over a decade. Does the Prime Minister blame her shambolic handling of Brexit or her failed austerity policies for this damaging failure?

First, I think the right hon. Gentleman should have seen the report that actually showed the expectation that in this country over the coming year we will have higher growth than Germany. He talks about the economy, so let us just say what we see in the economy under a Conservative Government: more people in work than ever before; unemployment at its lowest level since the 1970s; borrowing this year at its lowest level for 17 years; and the largest monthly surplus on record. Conservatives delivering more jobs, healthier finances and an economy fit for the future.

I know that the Prime Minister is very busy—I understand that—and she possibly has not had a chance to look at the Bank of England forecasts, which suggest that there is a one in four chance of the UK economy dipping into recession. Manufacturing is already in recession, car manufacturing has declined at the steepest rate for a decade—down 5% in the past quarter alone—and Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan have announced cuts to either jobs or investment in recent months. Does she blame her shambolic Brexit or her Government’s lack of an industrial strategy for this very sad state of affairs?

I have just explained to the right hon. Gentleman the positives in the economy and the consistent quarter-by-quarter growth that we have seen under this Government. What do we know would be the worst thing for the economy in this country? It would be a run on the pound, capital flight and £1,000 billion of borrowing under a Labour Government.

As manufacturing industry declines, it is skilled well-paid jobs that are lost. But the Prime Minister is right—there is something that is increasing, and that is the income of the top fifth richest people in this country, which went up by 4.7% last year while the incomes of the poorest fell by 1.6%. With the poorest people worse off, will the Prime Minister now commit to ending the benefit freeze, or does she believe that rising poverty is a price worth paying?

Perhaps it might again help to look at some of the facts. The top 1% are paying 28% of income tax, which is higher than at any time under a Labour Government, income inequality is lower than that which we inherited from a Labour Government, and the lowest earners saw their fastest pay rise in 20 years through the national living wage. The Conservatives are building a fairer society and delivering for everyone.

Some of us cannot forget that it was the Conservative party that so opposed the principle of the national minimum wage from the very beginning. Perhaps the Government could start by tackling the scourge of low pay in their own Departments. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Justice pay some of their central London workers as little as £7.83 an hour, and they have been on strike again this week, hoping to get a London living wage. Will the Prime Minister intervene and ensure that they do get the London living wage so that they can continue doing their valuable work for both those Departments?

Low pay means that many workers have to claim universal credit just to make ends meet. This month, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions admitted that universal credit is driving people to food banks. Is it not time to stop the roll-out and get it right, or does the Prime Minister believe that rising poverty is a price worth paying?

No. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is repeating his previous question, but he talks about universal credit. We have made changes to it as we have rolled it out as we have seen how it has been operating. In my first months as Prime Minister, we cut the taper rate so that people could keep more of what they earn. Since then, we have increased allowances to 100% of a full monthly payment, we have scrapped the seven days’ wait, meaning that people get their money sooner, and we have brought in a two-week overlap for people on housing benefit. When we were making all those changes to universal credit to benefit the people who receive it, why did the Labour party oppose every single one of them?

Can I just give one example of what is happening? Take the food bank in Hastings, which is represented by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, where demand went up by 80% after universal credit was rolled out, and the Trussell Trust said that a significant proportion of referrals are related to benefit changes, delays or sanctions. It is a huge increase in food bank use.

Some 4.1 million of our children are growing up in poverty, and the Resolution Foundation said last week that UK child poverty was on course to hit record levels. Will the Prime Minister act to prevent that? Will she start by ending the two-child limit? Will she end the benefit cap? Will she restore the 1,000 Sure Start centres that have been lost under her Government?

We want to ensure that we have a welfare system that is fair not only to those who need to use it, but to all the hard-working taxpayers whose taxes actually pay for the welfare system. The right hon. Gentleman talks about child poverty, but absolute child poverty is at a record low. We know that a child growing up in a home where all the adults work is around five times less likely to be in poverty than a child in a home where nobody works. Under this Government, the number of children in workless households is at a record low. So, when the right hon. Gentleman stands up, will he recognise that work is the best route out of poverty and welcome the fact that we now have more people in work than ever before—3.5 million more than in 2010?

It clearly is not working, because so many people who are themselves working very hard, some doing two or even three jobs, have to access food banks just to feed their children. The Prime Minister used to talk about the “just about managing.” Well, they are not managing anymore. Income inequality— up. In-work poverty—up. Child poverty—up. Pensioner poverty—up. Homelessness—up. Austerity clearly is not over. People on low incomes are getting poorer, while those at the top are getting richer. The economy is slowing, manufacturing is in recession and this Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit—[Interruption.]

Order. The right hon. Gentleman will not be shouted down. It is not going to happen. The attempt is foolish and it demeans the House. Stop it. Grow up.

Austerity clearly is not over. People on low incomes are getting poorer, while those at the top get richer. The economy is slowing, manufacturing is in recession and this Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit is compounding years of damaging austerity. Their policies are driving people to food banks and poverty in the fifth richest economy on this planet. Are any of these burning injustices a priority for the Prime Minister?

Manufacturing is not in recession, and what the right hon. Gentleman says about the lowest earners is not the case. If he had listened to my earlier answer, he would know the lowest earners have seen the highest rise in their pay for 20 years as a result of the introduction of the national living wage—the national living wage introduced by a Conservative-led Government.

If the right hon. Gentleman is talking about actually helping people who are in work, let us talk about the fact that we have cut income tax to help people to keep more of what they earn. We have frozen fuel duty to help people for whom a car is a necessity, not a luxury. Since 2010, those measures have saved working people £6,500.

From the way the right hon. Gentleman talks, one might think that he would have supported those measures. But what did he do? No, he voted against them over a dozen times. That is the reality: it is working people who always pay the price of Labour.

Q5. For rural areas, access to emergency care is hugely important, with distances and journey times crucial. Does the Prime Minister therefore agree with me and the 40,000 Pembrokeshire people who signed the petition against proposals to remove accident and emergency services from the local hospital that the Welsh Government need to look again and ensure that communities such as mine are not left with second-class services that put lives at risk? (909476)

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. Obviously I recognise the concern those people feel, particularly those who live furthest away from the planned new hospital. As he says, health is a devolved matter for the Labour Welsh Government, but I urge them to consider fully the impact of the changes on local residents. We want to ensure that people can access the services they need, wherever they live in the United Kingdom.

I am sure the House will want to join me in welcoming the president of the Dutch Senate and the Dutch parliamentarians who are with us. Goedemiddag. Hartelijk welkom, dames en heren.

Some 100,000 jobs in Scotland are under threat from a no-deal Brexit. The Scottish Government’s top economic adviser has warned that it could create a recession worse than the 2008 financial crisis. The Prime Minister must rule out no deal right here, right now. Why is she still blackmailing the people of this country?

The right hon. Gentleman might not be surprised if I point out to him that there are only two ways to ensure that no deal is taken off the table. [Interruption.] It is no good SNP Members shaking their heads or muttering from a sedentary position. They need to face up to the fact that we will not revoke article 50 because we are leaving the European Union, so the only way to take no deal off the table is to vote for the deal.

I think it will be for Parliament to decide, and of course there are other options: we can extend article 50 and we can have a people’s vote. The Prime Minister should look at the faces of her colleagues; she is fooling no one. Parliament will not be bullied into a false choice between accepting her very bad deal or no deal at all. MPs from Scotland must now decide: will they stand up for Scotland or will they stand up with the extreme Brexiteers on the Tory Benches? Today, the Scottish National party will move an amendment to rule out no deal in any and all circumstances. Scottish MPs can back the SNP or betray voters in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister finally end this Brexit madness and vote for the SNP amendment tonight?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about an extension to article 50 or a second referendum, but that does not solve the problem—it does not deal with the issue. The issue is very simple: do we want to leave with a deal or without a deal? That is the question that SNP MPs and every other MP will face when the time comes. He then talks about betraying voters in Scotland. I will tell him what has betrayed voters in Scotland: an SNP Scottish Government who have raised income tax so that people in Scotland are paying more in income tax than people anywhere else in the UK; an SNP Scottish Government who have broken their manifesto promise and raised the cap on annual council tax increases for homeowners; and an SNP Scottish Government under whom people are facing the prospect of an extra tax for parking their car at their workplace. And all of that—[Interruption.]

Order. There is a fest of undignified arm-waving, and bellowing, Mr Kerr, from a sedentary position. Calm yourself, man. Take some sort of soothing medicament that you will find beneficial.

And all of that in a year in which the Scottish Government’s block grant from Westminster went up. The people betraying the people of Scotland are the SNP Scottish Government.

Q6. Yesterday, we heard of the horrific antisemitic attack on an elderly Jewish gentleman in north London. Tonight, right hon. and hon. colleagues from across the House will be breaking bread with the Community Security Trust, a charity that exists to defend against antisemitic violence. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we can never be blasé about antisemitism, we can never be tolerant of antisemitism, and the Labour party can never be too apologetic about antisemitism? (909477)

First, I join my hon. Friend in recognising the work done by the Community Security Trust. It does such important and valuable work throughout the year, and I am pleased that the Government are able to support the work it does. He is absolutely right to say that one can never be too apologetic about antisemitism, but I think what we have heard sums up Labour under its leader: it loses the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and it keeps the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). That tells us all we need to know about the Labour leadership: they are present but not involved. Perhaps if the Labour leader actually wants to take action against racism, he would suspend the hon. Member for Derby North.

One homeless person dying on our streets is enough for national shame, yet the latest figures show that in 2017 nearly 600 died. In that same year, the Vagrancy Act 1824 was used more than 1,000 times to drag homeless people before our courts. Crisis, Centrepoint, St Mungo’s and MPs on both sides of this House agree that it is time to scrap this law. Will the Prime Minister consider meeting us and the charities so that we can make the case for why we should not wait one more day?

As I think I indicated in Prime Minister’s questions last week, the number of people sleeping on our streets has gone down for the first time in eight years, but of course there is more to do. On the wider issue of homelessness, there is more to do in terms of building more homes, and we are doing that. I will ensure that the Minister from the relevant Department meets the hon. Lady to discuss the matter.

Q8. Residents of Northpoint House in Bromley in my constituency have aluminium composite material cladding on their building. They are paying out £5,000 a week for a waking watch, repairs and remediation will cost £3 million, and their fire brigade enforcement notice expires on 30 April. The flats are valueless, so the residents cannot raise the money against them. Despite personal intervention by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, for which I am grateful, the freeholders and the developer refuse to accept liability. Under the circumstances, will the Government accept that it may be necessary to intervene directly to ensure that the innocent flat-owners are not out of pocket? (909479)

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I know that, as he said, he has been in touch with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as well as the Treasury. As I have said previously, we fully expect building owners in the private sector to take action, make sure appropriate safety measures are in place, and not pass costs on to leaseholders. We have written to all relevant building owners to remind them of their responsibilities. They must do the right thing; if they do not, we are not ruling anything out. I should also point out to my hon. Friend that local authorities have the power to complete works and recover the costs from the private owners of high-rise residential buildings. I am sure that a Minister from MHCLG would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to continue to discuss this matter, to ensure that the residents are given the peace of mind they need by the action being taken.

Q4. The Government have just decided that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, imports of medical supplies are to be handled by the same company that forced hundreds of restaurants to close because it was incapable of delivering chicken to Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is horrifying that the Prime Minister’s stubbornness is literally putting people’s lives at risk through bargain-bucket supply deals. What guarantee can she give patients who are watching us now, looking at the pantomime and farce in this House, that they will be able to get their vital medicines when they need them in the event of that no-deal Brexit? (909475)

The Department of Health and Social Care is taking the steps necessary to ensure that medicines are available. We have been clear before that it is not necessary to stockpile and that patients should not be stockpiling medicines. Medicines will be available. If the hon. Lady is so concerned about the impact of no deal—

It is no good the hon. Lady shaking her head. There is a very simple answer: if she does not want no deal, she should support the deal.

Q11. Yesterday, The Sun newspaper reported on proposals for a £1.6 billion post-EU fund for deprived areas in the north, predominantly in seats held by Opposition MPs. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that money from the fund is available to constituents like mine in Harlow, where we have significant deprivation and disadvantage? (909482)

We will be introducing a fund to ensure that our towns can grow and prosper. The details will be announced in due course by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that Harlow, and indeed other towns across England, will be able to propose ambitious plans to help to transform their communities. Of course, we will work with the devolved Administrations and in Northern Ireland to ensure that towns in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also benefit from town deals.

Q7. As a former shop steward and works convenor, I completely understand the need to approach the cliff edge in order to secure a deal, but rational negotiators never go to the edge, hold hands and jump into the abyss. When will the Prime Minister recognise that constructive discussions should take place without the nuclear option of mutually assured destruction? (909478)

Constructive discussions are taking place. This House was clear on what it wanted to be changed in relation to the withdrawal agreement and the deal that we had brought back from the European Union, and we are making progress and having exactly the constructive discussions the hon. Gentleman talks about.

Q14. Public trust in politics is dangerously low. Failing to honour and deliver the EU referendum result cannot be an option. I campaigned to remain, but I am 100% committed to leaving; the question is how. Most of my voters in Mid Norfolk said that they wanted to be in the Common Market, not a political union. Given the clear warnings from the life science and agriculture sectors—key industries in Norfolk—about the danger of no deal, I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give this sovereign House the vote and ask that if the House votes against, she will consider the European Free Trade Association instead of the backstop, giving us the Common Market 2.0 that most British voters want. (909485)

As I said yesterday, in answer to a question from, I think, our right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the first aim of the Government and my first aim is to bring back a deal that can command support across the House in a meaningful vote, such that we are able to leave with a deal. The arrangements within the political declaration have significant benefits in relation to issues such as customs, but they also provide for us to have an independent trade policy and to bring an end to free movement. My hon. Friend talks about trust in politics, but I believe that those were important elements of what people voted for in 2016 and it is important that we deliver on that.

Q9. The Prime Minister previously committed to a meaningful vote on her Brexit deal but had to be forced by the courts to hold it. She then committed to that meaningful vote in December, but pulled it at the last minute. When her deal fell to the worst Government defeat in history, instead of listening to MPs, she carried on regardless, so I ask her: what guarantee, other than her word, will she give this House that we will be able to vote to stop a no-deal Brexit before 29 March? (909480)

I set out clearly in my statement yesterday and I have repeated it in answer to a question today, the process that the Government will follow. The Government policy is to leave with a deal. We are working to ensure that we can bring back that deal. The hon. Lady talks about the rejection of the meaningful vote and not listening to Parliament, but the constructive discussions that I am having with the European Union at the moment are exactly about listening to Parliament—[Interruption.] It is all very well the shadow Trade Secretary, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), shouting, “Nonsense!” He might not have noticed that on 29 January this House voted by a majority to say what it wanted to be changed in the withdrawal agreement, and that is what we are working on.

Little moves us more than the death of a child and for bereaved parents that grief is beyond words. Action speaks louder, which is why I have championed, inspired by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), the Children’s Funeral Fund. Will the Prime Minister tell us when the good work of her Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), will come to fruition and the fund will begin to bring support and solace? We cannot mend broken hearts here, but those who have loved and lost deserve better than delay and doubt.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and for the work that he has done on this issue with the hon. Member for Swansea East. It is accepted across the House that it is not right that grieving parents have to worry about how to meet the funeral costs when they have lost a child. As he knows, we have confirmed that parents will no longer have to meet the cost of burials or cremations. Fees will be waived by local authorities and paid for by the Government. The relevant Ministries have been working on the most effective way to deliver this, and I can confirm that the fund will be implemented by the summer.

Q10. In the past few months in my constituency, a 98-year-old man was killed in an aggravated burglary, an Asian couple were robbed, held hostage and beaten in their home, schoolchildren were mugged at knifepoint, and a spate of burglaries were committed across Enfield Southgate. My constituents do not feel safe. Does the Prime Minister recognise the severe consequences of underfunding our police service, and will she commit to restoring funding for community policing to pre-2010 levels? (909481)

Of course we recognise the concerns about serious violence, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has brought forward measures such as the Offensive Weapons Bill and set up the serious violence taskforce. In relation to funding for the police, the Metropolitan police will receive up to £2.5 billion in funding in 2019-20, which is an increase of up to £172 million on 2018-19. If the hon. Gentleman also wants to ask questions about funding for police in London perhaps he should speak to the Labour Mayor of London.

With the Government’s review of higher education still under way, does the Prime Minister agree that the reintroduction of maintenance grants is one outcome that could clearly aid social mobility for more disadvantaged students?

I recognise that my right hon. Friend has been, and continues to be, a huge champion for social mobility. She is asking me to provide a solution to higher education funding and student finance before the Augar report has been received and published. All I can do is assure her that Philip Augar and his panel are working on the report and we will look seriously at the proposals they bring forward.

Q12. In my constituency of Jarrow there is a wonderful young lady, four-year-old Harriet Corr, whose life would improve dramatically if she had access to the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi. It is available in Ireland and many other European countries, and is due to become available in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister intervene personally in the negotiations between the NHS and Vertex to ensure that Harriet’s family and many other families are not forced to leave their homes and move elsewhere? (909483)

I am sure the whole House will recognise the concerns of Harriet and her family. We want to ensure that patients have access to the most effective and innovative medicines, but obviously at a price that represents value to the NHS. NHS England has proposed its best ever offer for a drug. This offer is the largest ever commitment of its kind in the 70-year history of the NHS, and would guarantee immediate and expanded access both to Orkambi and the drug Kalydeco for patients who need it. We have been closely following the discussions, and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has offered a meeting with the global chief executive officer of Vertex, NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in an effort to move the situation forward for the benefit of patients.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that five years ago today Russian special forces seized the Government building in Crimea and raised the Russian flag? Will she confirm that the UK Government remain committed to the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea, and will she look at strengthening sanctions against Russia until that can be achieved?

I am happy to give my right hon. Friend that confirmation. This was an illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, and we have been doing everything we can to ensure that the appropriate sanctions are imposed that will have an impact. We have been one of the voices around the EU Council table that has been advocating the roll-over of sanctions at every stage and ensuring that, as we look at the actions of Russia here and elsewhere, we enhance those sanctions and rightfully put pressure on those who are responsible.

Q15. The Scottish Government have used their powers to increase carer’s allowance to the level of jobseeker’s allowance, yet this top-up is being under-mined because carer’s allowance is regarded as income under universal credit. If carer’s allowance is meant to help cover the extra costs incurred by providing care, why are carers on universal credit being penalised? (909486)

The hon. Lady knows full well the way in which universal credit operates to encourage people into work, but I will ask the Minister in the relevant Department to write to her on this matter.

Thousands of young girls—including, sadly, some from Taunton Deane—are purchasing so-called quick-fix diet and detox products that are often endorsed by celebrities on social media, something for which these celebrities can be paid thousands of pounds. NHS chiefs say that some of these products can have highly detrimental health effects and are heaping work on our mental health services. In Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and following this morning’s excellent Westminster Hall debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair), will the Prime Minister agree that the irresponsible and unsafe endorsement of such products should be addressed?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am sure that all Members have had constituency cases where they have seen the devastating impact that eating disorders can have on individuals, and on their families and friends. The Government have been taking steps over the past few years. In 2014 we announced that we were investing £150 million to expand eating disorder community-based care for children and young people, and 70 dedicated new or extended community services offer care as a result. As my hon. Friend said, young people may be encouraged to take products because of celebrity endorsement. The celebrities involved should think very carefully about the impact that these products can have in effecting eating disorders, which devastate lives.

The Prime Minister, and indeed the entire House, know the conditions under which her withdrawal agreement will have a majority. The whole House, and indeed the country, now know that as a result of yesterday’s events the prospects of the Prime Minister being able to achieve the necessary changes have been undermined and her negotiating position has been weakened. That is the reality of the situation. Can we have an assurance, in terms of any possible extension—and I would be interested to know what the Prime Minister thinks the purpose of the extension would be—that she will continue to focus on getting those legally binding changes? Hopefully, during any future negotiations, she will not be undermined in the way that she has been so far.

First of all, we are continuing to press for those legally binding changes. Those are the discussions we have been having with the European Commission. It is what I have spoken to every European Union leader about over the last 10 days or so. It is what I was speaking to people about at Sharm El Sheikh over the weekend as well. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the extension to article 50. Can I be very clear again? The Government do not want to extend article 50. The Government’s policy is to get the legally binding changes so a deal can be brought back to this House, and this House can support the deal, and we can leave on 29 March with a deal.

Unlike some Ministers who cannot normally take the view that the Prime Minister’s word is binding, I do take the Prime Minister’s word as being binding. Can I ask that she reiterates our manifesto commitment to leave with a deal or to leave with no deal, and that is our commitment?

Indeed, I have always said that no deal is better than a bad deal. I think we have actually got a good deal from the European Union. It provides for citizens’ rights; it provides certainty for business with the implementation period; it ensures that we have, in the political declaration, the arrangements for customs in the future—for no tariffs, no quotas and no rules of origin; and it covers a number of other areas that I think will indeed be positive for this country. There is an issue that the House wants to see changed. That is what we are working on in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop. I want us to leave with a deal. I want to be able to bring back a deal that this House can support.

Violet Grace Youens was walking home from nursery with her grandma on 24 March 2017. She was hit by a stolen car driven erratically and at 83 mph in a 30 mph zone. The driver and accomplice immediately left the scene, and the driver absconded from the country. Tragically, four-year-old Violet Grace died in her parents’ arms the following day and her grandma suffers with life-changing injuries. The offenders have since been sentenced to tariffs that do not fit the gravity of the crimes.

In October 2017, the Government published a response to the consultation on driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury. They confirmed proposals to increase the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years’ imprisonment to life, along with other tariffs for serious driving offences, and stated that Government would bring forward proposals for reform of the law as soon as parliamentary time allows. Today, after just one week, the public petition “Violet Grace’s Law” stands at more than 74,000 signatures. The Government are repeating the same response—

Order. This is a matter of the utmost sensitivity. I respect that, and that is why I am allowing the hon. Lady to go way beyond the normal length, but she must now put a question with a question mark—one sentence to wrap it up very well. Thank you.

Prime Minister, when do the Government truly intend to bring forward the changes for the reform of the law?

First of all, I am sure that the feelings of the whole House will be with Violet Grace’s family that this terrible tragedy has occurred. I know from a constituency case that I had the concern that parents, family members and others have when they see somebody who has caused a death in this way by their driving being sentenced to a tariff which they feel is less than it should be. The Government have taken this very seriously—that is why we have had the consultation—and we will indeed bring forward our proposals when parliamentary time does allow. But I will ask a Minister from the Department for Transport to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this matter with her.

Mr Speaker, I do not know whether you were as surprised as I was yesterday that, yet again, the media had verbatim reports of the Cabinet meeting straight after it. In fact, there were references to colleagues in front of me as kamikaze pilots. Prime Minister, to sort this issue out, would it not just be easier to televise Cabinet meetings? [Laughter.]

Mr Speaker, when you did a thumbs-up after that question, I was not sure whether that indicated that you had a view on the televising of Cabinet meetings. My hon. Friend has tried to approach that issue in various ways. I seem to remember that last time he asked me about this, it was not about televising Cabinet but sending his CV in to be a Cabinet Minister. Perhaps these are linked—perhaps he wants to sit round the Cabinet table and be on television all the time.

Well, we never knew that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) had such ambitions, but maybe it lurks within him—who knows? For my own part, I was merely acknowledging welcome and friendly visitors to the House.