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.
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.
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.
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.
Order. The hon. Lady must be heard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hon. Lady knows full way 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, knows the conditions under which her withdrawal agreement will have a majority. The whole House, and indeed the country, now knows 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.]
I want to hear the Prime Minister’s answer. This is a very important question.
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.