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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 657: debated on Wednesday 27 March 2019


The Secretary of State was asked—

Government Policies: Implications for Scottish Economy

1. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications of the Government’s policies for the Scottish economy. (909972)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has regular discussions with fellow Cabinet Ministers regarding all matters that are of importance to Scotland.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that direct engagement by UK Government Departments, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury, in growth deals such as the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal is the best way to ensure that all economic objectives are met?

May I reassure my hon. Friend that discussions are held right across Whitehall Departments, including those to which he refers, to ensure that the city deal projects, including the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal, are as successful as possible? I also recognise the extraordinary amount of work, effort and drive that he has personally put into helping ensure that they are a success.

The Secretary of State and I had a conversation in the Tea Room on Monday, but given that he is not answering this question I will have to ask about something else. Brexit is obviously the biggest issue with regard to the impact on the Scottish economy, so can the Financial Secretary tell us how much the Scottish economy will shrink by if the Prime Minister’s deal is passed in this House?

The cross-Government analysis that we have already come forward with shows, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that, on the basis that we are leaving the European Union, by far the best outcome is to support the Prime Minister’s deal.

Under the Conservative Government, the Scottish budget has been cut by £2.6 billion in real terms over 10 years, and yet the confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist party means that the Barnett formula has been broken to the tune of £3.4 billion. When is Scotland going to get that money?

The Barnett formula has been honoured. As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are Barnett consequentials where moneys are allocated to devolved matters within England. That is not the case in the recent additional amounts to support the Northern Ireland budget. It is also the case that in the recent autumn Budget the Chancellor announced changes that resulted in an additional £950 million for the Scottish Government.

The economy of rural Scotland would suffer serious damage if the Government’s proposals for tariffs on foodstuff were ever to be implemented. The National Farmers Union of Scotland has called for that to be rethought. Are the Government listening to it?

The Government are most certainly listening to all those who have concerns about the introduction of tariffs where they are not in existence, as is currently the case between ourselves and the EU27. Once again, that is why the deal that is before the House, which has been negotiated with the European Union, is so important—because that would mean that we would not run into those particular difficulties.

This question is specifically to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland has three responsibilities: strengthening and sustaining the Union; acting as Scotland’s voice in Whitehall; and championing the UK Government in Scotland. Which one does he think he is doing best, and why?

I have no hesitation in answering on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, bound as I am to do so, given that I started this series of questions and convention dictates that I have to reply on his behalf. Those are all absolute priorities for my right hon. Friend, and he will continue to speak up for the people of Scotland.

I have to express the Opposition’s disappointment that the Secretary of State for Scotland is repeatedly not standing up and being accountable. Once again, this question is directly to the Secretary of State for Scotland, because it is he who holds the office, not the right hon. Gentleman sitting next to him.

I am afraid that I have to tell the Secretary of State that I disagree with the previous response. His record is abysmal. He has failed on the stronger towns fund; failed on Brexit funding for Scotland’s businesses; failed to stand up for Scotland’s shipbuilding communities through his non-action on the fleet solid support ships contract; and failed to respect the devolution settlement. He has even failed to follow through on his own resignation threats. Secretary of State, how bad does it need to get for the people of Scotland under this Tory Government before you do the right thing and actually resign?

I categorically do not accept the points the hon. Lady makes. My right hon. Friend does indeed stand up for Scotland, which is partly why—[Interruption.] The reason why he is not at the Dispatch Box, as the hon. Lady well knows, is to do with the way in which the conventions of the House operate in respect of the answering of questions. She knows that and it is a little unfair of her, if I may say, Mr Speaker, to try to make political capital out of that particular procedural element. My right hon. Friend has stood up for Scotland to the extent that there was £950 million additional budget for Scotland as a consequence of the last autumn Budget, with £1.3 billion going into city growth deals across Scotland. That is to support Scotland, the economy and the Scottish people.

Leaving the EU: Public Services

2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential effect on public services in Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (909973)

I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The best way to ensure that public services in Scotland and across the rest of the UK are protected is to ensure that we leave the EU with a deal.

May I share with the Secretary of State an email from one of my constituents, Ian? He says:

“As a doctor, I have already seen the adverse impact of Brexit on the NHS. Staff shortages are already hurting us…We cannot have Brexit and give the NHS resources it so badly needs. I know which people in our local community would prefer.”

Which does the Secretary of State think the people of Scotland would prefer: a decently funded NHS or Brexit?

I think everybody in Scotland wants to see a decently funded and supported NHS. I disagree with the hon. Lady on Brexit—her position is well known. If we want to encourage doctors like Ian to come to Scotland, what we should not be doing is taxing them £1,900 more than they would pay in the rest of the UK.

Is it not the case that what we have just heard is a complete scare story? The Government are making millions more extra available for the health service and all EU nationals who are currently here are welcome to stay. Surely, in the future, we will be able to have an immigration system that treats people equally regardless of where they come from in the world?

I agree with the points my hon. Friend makes. In the future, we have to make Scotland an attractive place to come to. If we want doctors and senior health service professionals to come to Scotland, we should not be taxing them significantly more than they would be paying in other parts of the UK.

The number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK has fallen by 87%, and more than 7,000 nurses and midwives from the European economic area have left the UK since the EU referendum. Can the Secretary of State say, with any honesty, that his Government’s pursuit of Brexit, and their hostile immigration policy, has not seriously harmed the NHS?

I could absolutely say that, because the Government are committed, as they have demonstrated across the UK for which they are responsible, to the additional funding of the NHS. We have set out an immigration White Paper, a route for engagement, to ensure that going forward we have EU and other citizens in our country to support the NHS and other services.

It is nice to get a chance to actually shadow the Secretary of State, instead of myriad other Departments that turn up from week to week, particularly as his own Government analysis shows that their plan for Brexit will result in a 4% drop in gross domestic product. If his party’s track record tells us anything, it will choose to impose austerity and poverty pay on public services and workers to make up for that decline. One of the worst consequences of austerity is rising food insecurity, resulting in food bank use rising faster in Scotland than across the rest of the UK. Given the pressure that the failed austerity agenda is putting on our public services, will the Secretary of State say how many food banks are currently operational in Scotland and does he predict that the number will go up or down under the current policies of this Government?

I thought the hon. Gentleman might have begun with an apology for his shameful remarks, when he said that people who did not agree with him in the Labour party leaving was “necessary cleansing”. I do not know if Labour Members are aware of those comments, but I believe that they are truly shameful. Of course, in relation to food banks, everybody regrets the need that people have in emergency situations to use food banks, but we are clear that the support that we are providing to people as we leave the EU will be sufficient to meet their needs.

Leaving the EU: Discussions with Scottish Government

I recently chaired the joint Scottish Business Growth Group and regularly meet the Scottish Government in a number of other forums, including the Joint Ministerial Committee, to discuss a range of matters related to EU exit.

I am sure that the Scottish people will be comforted by that fact. I am pretty certain that the Secretary of State has been able to have a look at the petition to revoke article 50. If he has not, I can tell him that nearly 10% of his constituents have now signed it. The Scottish people just want this chaotic Tory Brexit gone, but with the UK options quickly diminishing for Scotland to remain, surely he agrees that at some point, the Scottish people will have to decide whether they want to go down with this disastrous, isolating, ugly Brexit Britain or whether they should determine their own way in Europe as an independent nation.

I became aware that the hon. Gentleman did not support the First Minister’s policy of a people’s vote when I did not see any pictures of him cuddling Alastair Campbell at the weekend. At least the hon. Gentleman is honest—he wants to revoke article 50. I do not agree with him. That would not implement the outcome of the referendum. The best way for Scotland and the UK to proceed is to leave the EU with the Prime Minister’s deal.

We know that the Prime Minister, yet again, has had private discussions with the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, who is not a Member of this House and does not represent any Government. She represents only a minority view within one nation of these islands. When did the Prime Minister last speak to the First Ministers of Scotland or Wales? What has the Secretary of State done to ensure that such important discussions take place between now and 12 April?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the First Minister of Scotland was invited to join a Cabinet committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, to discuss Brexit preparedness, as was the First Minister of Wales. Surprisingly, the First Minister of Wales has attended and the First Minister of Scotland never has.

I am surprised to hear the Secretary of State suggest that the best future for the people of Scotland is to leave the EU, because the UK Government’s modelling shows that any Brexit will mean that the people of Scotland are worse off as a result. Will he now do his job, stand up for the people of Scotland and vote against any Brexit?

I am presuming that the hon. Lady is part of the “Remain elite” that Alex Neil MSP and Jim Sillars referred to in their letter to the Scottish Daily Mail, when they encouraged all Scottish National party MPs in this House to back the Prime Minister’s deal as the best way forward for Scotland. They should listen to them.

Almost all future population growth in Scotland is predicted to come from inward migration, so a welcoming immigration policy and freedom of movement are critical for our public services and our rural communities. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary about meeting Scotland’s needs or devolving the power so that we can do it ourselves?

I was going to answer that I had regularly raised the issue at Cabinet, until the hon. Lady raised the last bit about devolving powers. I have been very clear at this Dispatch Box that the Government, in line with the Smith commission, does not support the devolving of immigration.

Sixty-two per cent. of people in Scotland voted to remain, so that is an elite that I am pretty happy to be part of. Some 7,500 of his constituents and 14,500 of mine have signed the petition to revoke article 50. The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be the Secretary of State for Scotland and Scotland is against Brexit, so when is he going to do his job, stand up for Scotland and stand up to the Prime Minister, and stop Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will?

Clearly the hon. Gentleman’s view is not shared by Alex Neil MSP and former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars, who I know commands great respect in Glasgow. The issue at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question is an unwillingness to accept the outcome of the 2014 referendum. We had a United Kingdom referendum, and the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the EU.

Will the Secretary of State join me in commending the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) not only for threatening to resign over this Government’s ruinous Brexit policy, but for actually having the courage, honour and conviction to follow through, or is that an alien concept to this Secretary of State?

As we see repeatedly from SNP Members, they want a chaotic Brexit—and the chaos and disruption that no deal or no agreement would bring—because they believe that chaos and disruption are the best ways to advance their independence referendum agenda.

I am aware that the UK Government have provided the Scottish Government with millions of pounds for Brexit preparations. In the rest of the UK, that money has gone to local authorities. Can the Secretary of State tell me how much of that funding the SNP Scottish Government have given to Moray Council or any other council in Scotland?

I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating my hon. Friend and his wife Krystle on the birth of their son, Alistair, and on using the proxy voting system to reflect his views throughout his paternity leave.

The House might not be aware but the UK Government have provided nearly £100 million to the Scottish Government for Brexit preparations, but, at the weekend, the First Minister of Scotland was unable to identify a single penny that had been paid directly to Scottish local authorities.

From my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the Scottish Government, can he tell us what preparations they have made for a smooth exit from the EU and to take advantage of the benefits that will apply to Scotland?

I would commend the Scottish Government for their actions in relation to preparing for a no-deal outcome in the imminent future—that these preparations were being made was acknowledged by Mike Russell, their own Minister, in a TV interview at the weekend. The Governments are capable of working on that basis. That said, in response to the point of my hon. Friend’s question, no, the Scottish Government have not embraced Brexit or the opportunities it could bring to Scotland.

Twice the elected representatives of the British people have rejected the Government’s withdrawal agreement, and today we move on to consider alternatives. I know that the Secretary of State is conflicted on this matter, but I would like to give him an opportunity to be clear with the people of Scotland. Will he still rule out a no-deal Brexit, and if the only way to achieve that is by revoking article 50, will he support that?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. I do not support a no-deal Brexit, but I do not support revoking article 50 either.

We can only interpret that to mean that there are circumstances in which the Secretary of State for Scotland would consent to a no-deal Brexit. In doing so, he stands against the views of the national Parliament of Scotland, of Scottish civil society and of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people. Is it not time now to rename his post “Secretary of State against Scotland”?

I am sure that that line sounded better when the hon. Gentleman practised it in front of the mirror. He clearly misconstrued my response. The House has made very clear that it will not accept a no-deal Brexit, but we are committed to ensuring that we deliver on the referendum result. That means leaving with a deal, and that is why I continue to support the Prime Minister’s deal.

Borderlands Growth Deal

In his spring statement, the Chancellor announced the provision of up to £260 million for the borderlands growth deal, which will take the total investment to £345 million.

Extending the borders railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle would bring economic prosperity and jobs to the Scottish borders and the wider borderlands area. Will the Minister join me in asking for some of that £260 million to be spent on a feasibility study?

I can certainly confirm that the Department for Transport will be considering a feasibility study on the extension of the borders railway.

Has the Minister looked at anything to do with local transport in Scotland? Has he looked at the shambles of ScotRail, and the shambles of local communities that have been left isolated?

We are totally committed to supporting infrastructure in Scotland. That is why we have announced £1.3 billion to support eight city growth deals that will promote economic growth, prosperity and jobs in Scotland.

10. Perth city centre is just outside my constituency, but it is nevertheless a cultural and commercial hub for many of my constituents. Is my right hon. Friend considering further funding applications for the city centre and the rural areas of Perth and Kinross? (909981)

Regeneration is of course a devolved matter, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government will be supporting Perth via a £150 million commitment to the Tay cities deal.

Elite-level Professional Tennis

7. What information his Department holds on the amount of elite-level professional tennis that will be played in Scotland in 2019. (909978)

I know that you, Mr Speaker, take a particular interest in this question.

Although my office does not routinely hold information on this matter, I acknowledge the great opportunity to build on the continuing legacy of Andy and Jamie Murray to develop tennis throughout Scotland.

If Scottish Office Ministers invested in access to the internet, they would discover that there are no elite-level events in Scotland, which is why many people feel that the Lawn Tennis Association is failing to take the opportunity to build on the legacy of Andy Murray’s success. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives of the LTA and the Scottish Government to see what more can be done to ensure that this huge opportunity is not missed once and for all?

I should be happy to give that undertaking. Perhaps you will join us, Mr Speaker, given your passion for tennis and your attendance at major events in Scotland.

I entirely agree with the Secretary of State. We all commend the heroic successes of Andy and Jamie Murray and want to build on them this year and beyond. I think that we should also acknowledge and salute the extraordinary efforts of Judy Murray, one of the greatest women in the world of tennis.

Of course Scotland’s reputation in elite tennis extends beyond the Murray brothers to the likes of Gordon Reid, Jonny O’Mara and the late and much missed Elena Baltacha. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Lawn Tennis Association to provide the money that will enable Tennis Scotland to take advantage of this golden opportunity to ensure that children, no matter where they live in Scotland, can take part in and enjoy the benefits of tennis?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will do that. Perhaps he would like to join me, along with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) and you, Mr Speaker, at the meeting with the LTA and other interested parties.

Spring Statement: Block Grant

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the spring statement on the Scottish Government’s block grant. (909982)

The spring statement builds on the autumn budget, which resulted in an extra £950 million for the Scottish budget, and also at the spring statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a further £260 million commitment to the borderlands growth deal.

Scotland clearly receives a very fair share of funding, but the Scottish Government have decided to increase taxes. Does the Minister agree that becoming the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom risks undermining Scotland, particularly through investment and in its wider economy?

Substantial tax powers have been devolved to the Scottish Government, including those relating to the rates of income tax, but the UK Government are committed to bringing taxation down, first and foremost by increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 one year earlier than our manifesto commitment and reducing tax in total for over 32 million people throughout the UK.

I hope colleagues across the House will want to join me in extending a warm welcome today to the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Woody Johnson. Woody, welcome, it is a pleasure to have you here.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Mr Speaker, I join you in welcoming the United States ambassador to see our deliberations today in Prime Minister’s questions.

I recently announced at Prime Minister’s questions that I would be chairing a serious violence summit, and I can inform the House that this will take place next Monday. The summit will bring together Ministers, community leaders, agencies and experts to explore what more we can do as a whole society to tackle the root causes of serious violence, as well as intervening with those most at risk. Following the initial summit, Cabinet Ministers will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions with national leaders and those on the frontline. This will complement the recent announcement of a £100 million violence reduction fund targeted at hotspot areas, along with the £200 million youth endowment fund being established this week.

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 wish the Prime Minister well with the serious violence discussions she is having. However, Brexit is already costing the UK around £1 billion a week in lost growth, and we know that 80%-plus of the public are unhappy with the way in which this has been handled. This is not the fault of Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk or any MP in this House voting according to their conscience; that fault lies with the Prime Minister, who is the architect of the withdrawal deal. So can she finally concede to the House that she is liable, responsible, culpable for the chaos that is the Brexit debacle and say when she will be resigning?

The Brexit deal delivers on the result of the referendum. The hon. Gentleman has a different view from me: I know he does not want to deliver on the result of the referendum. He wants to try and keep the United Kingdom in the European Union; 17.4 million people voted to take us out of the European Union and that is what we are going to do.

Q2. North West Leicestershire voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union and for the past two years the Prime Minister has told my constituents on over 100 occasions that we will be leaving on 29 March 2019 with or without a withdrawal agreement. At the last minute, she begs our EU masters for an extension to article 50, delaying our departure. Does my right hon. Friend realise that the good people of North West Leicestershire will forgive her for this? They are good people, but they are not stupid people, and they will never trust the Prime Minister again. (910058)

I hope the message my hon. Friend takes back to his constituents is a very simple one: we can indeed guarantee delivering on Brexit; we can guarantee delivering on Brexit if this week he and others in this House support the deal.

This chaotic and incompetent Government have driven our country into chaos. We know the scale of the crisis when the TUC and the CBI are united in writing to the Prime Minister saying:

“A Plan B must be found—one that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border”.

My question on Monday went unanswered, so will the Prime Minister now say what is her plan B?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are continuing to work to ensure that we can deliver Brexit for the British people and guarantee that we deliver Brexit for the British people. We have a deal that cancels our EU membership fee, stops the EU making our laws, gives us our own immigration policy, ends the common agricultural policy for good and ends the common fisheries policy for good. Other options do not do that. Other options would lead to delay and uncertainty, and risk never delivering Brexit.

The only problem with the Prime Minister’s answer is that her deal has been twice defeated in this House, in one case by the largest ever majority by which a Government have lost a vote in our recorded parliamentary history. Reports today suggest that a former Conservative Prime Minister is telling Conservative MPs that pursuing a customs union with the EU is the best way to get Brexit over the line. Does she agree with him, and will she be supporting any motions for a customs union this afternoon?

The Government’s deal that we have negotiated with the European Union delivers the benefits of a customs union, while enabling us to have an independent free trade policy and to negotiate free trade agreements in our interests and not rely on Brussels to negotiate them for us. The right hon. Gentleman used to stand up for an independent trade policy; now he wants to have a customs union and to throw away the idea of an independent trade policy and leave Brussels negotiating for us. We want to negotiate our trade in our interests and the interests of people across this country.

The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that our policy is for a customs union to protect jobs and society. She will also know that the TUC and the CBI have called for a customs union as part of a deal. In fact, the letter they wrote to all MPs yesterday said that

“a deal that delivers a customs union and strong alignment with the UK and the EU rules is the preferred outcome for the business community”.

It is a bit strange when a Conservative Prime Minister says she does not want what the business community wants. These are indeed strange times. Can she say why she will not include a customs union in the options that will be discussed today?

May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he does not just read the question that he had thought of previously but listens to the answer that I gave to his previous question? I will repeat it. He stood on a platform to enable us to do independent trade deals and have an independent trade policy and to deliver Brexit. His policy on a customs union breaks the first promise. He has never explained why he wants to abandon an independent trade policy, and his policy on a second referendum breaks his second promise. Whatever happened to straight-talking honest politics?

The Prime Minister does not seem to realise that she does not have a deal that has been supported by this House. Our proposals for a customs union give us alignment on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections; they do not begin with a race to the bottom, which is what she and many of her Front Benchers actually want. Earlier this week, the Business Minister resigned from the Government saying that the Government’s approach to Brexit was

“playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country”.

Why is she prepared to carry on risking jobs and industry in another attempt to yet again run down the clock and try to blackmail the MPs behind her into supporting a deal that has already been twice rejected?

We have been negotiating to protect jobs. What the right hon. Gentleman says about a race to the bottom is wrong, as he well knows. We have been working across this House and it is absolutely clear in the political declaration that we agree to not falling back on workers’ rights. Also, we are the Government who have enhanced workers’ rights—[Interruption.] This is the problem. The Labour party can never stand it when they are told that Conservatives have stood up for workers, but that is what the Conservative party does. We have enhanced workers’ rights. We stand up for workers with our tax cuts and our national minimum wage and with higher employment.

In answer to a straight question to the Prime Minister, she was unable to guarantee what is called dynamic alignment with European standards. She knows full well that Labour’s proposals are to use EU standards as a baseline from which we would improve them, including giving workers full rights at work from day one of their employment, ending zero-hours contracts and many other things.

In the former Business Minister’s resignation letter, he also said to the Prime Minister that he hoped that she would

“now act in the national interest and enable Parliament this week to find a consensus… negotiating position”.

If today or on Monday a consensus alternative plan emerges across the House, will the Prime Minister accept that decision of the House and accept it as the basis for the UK’s negotiating position with the EU henceforth?

The objective that we should all have is being able to guarantee delivering Brexit to the British people. The right hon. Gentleman stands there and raises workers’ rights. We have been very clear about non-regression on workers’ rights and environmental standards—[Interruption.] He shakes his head, but it is in black and white in the political declaration that has been agreed. He ends his question—[Interruption.] The shadow International Trade Secretary is shouting from a sedentary position about listening to Parliament. What we are going to do on workers’ right is say that, no, we will not simply automatically accept what the European Union does; we will listen to Parliament and give Parliament a say in that. I thought the Leader of the Opposition wanted Parliament to have a say in these things.

That sounds awfully like a recipe for regression away from those standards and for damaging workers’ rights.

After the two largest defeats in parliamentary history, surely the Prime Minister should be listening to Parliament. She did not answer my question about whether an agreement reached in this House would become the Government’s negotiating position. I think that the House and, perhaps more importantly, the whole country deserves to know the answer to that question.

This country is on hold while the Government are in complete paralysis. The vital issues facing our country, from the devastation of public services to homelessness and knife crime, have been neglected. The Prime Minister is failing to deliver Brexit because she cannot build a consensus and is unable to compromise and reunite the country. Instead, she is stoking further division and is unable to resolve the central issues facing Britain today. She is, frankly, unable to govern. The Prime Minister faces a clear choice—the one endorsed by the country and many in her party—which is either to listen and change course or to go. Which is it to be?

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the indicative votes tonight, but I actually answered that question in this House earlier this week. He might want to talk to his shadow Brexit Secretary, who made it clear that the Labour party will not commit to supporting the result of any of the indicative votes tonight. The Leader of the Opposition then talks about what is happening in this country, so let us just look at what is going to happen in this country next week: nearly £1 billion extra for the police, £1.4 billion more for local councils, £1.1 billion extra for our schools, another fuel duty freeze, another rise in the national living wage and another tax cut. That is happening under the Conservatives. What would Labour give us? He wants to scrap Trident and pull out of NATO. Labour would give us capital flight, a run on the pound and a drop in living standards. The biggest threat to our standing in the world, to our defence and to our economy is sitting on the Labour Front Bench.

Q3. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to reform the Government’s online petition system, which currently accepts unverified signatures from across the world? This fundamental flaw can produce an inaccurate reflection of public opinion on important issues, such as revoking article 50, and leaves our democracy potentially under threat of manipulation by foreign state aggressors. (910059)

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Like the traditional paper petition system, we need to strike a balance in the e-petition system between allowing people to easily register their support for issues that are important to them while discouraging dishonesty. I have been assured that the Government Digital Service has been constantly monitoring signing patterns to check for fraudulent activity. I am sure she will understand that I cannot comment in more detail on the security measures that are taken, but petitions are subject to checks as part of due diligence.

I am sure the House will want to join me in welcoming the members of the 6th Royal Scots Reserves who are joining us in the Gallery today and in thanking them for their service.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the cost this Prime Minister will pay to force her disastrous deal through is the price of her departure. Yet again, another Tory Prime Minister is willing to ride off into the sunset and saddle us with a crisis in the UK and an extreme right-wing Brexiteer coming into Downing Street. Does she feel no sense of responsibility for what she is about to do?

My sense of responsibility and duty has meant that I have kept working to ensure that we deliver on the result and the will of the people.

Let me help the Prime Minister. She can still change course; it is not too late. On Saturday I joined Opposition leaders and 1 million people to demand a second EU referendum, and 6 million people have signed an online petition demanding that the Prime Minister rethinks her strategy. Today this House will give her a way out, a chance to prevent disaster. Will she finally respect the will of Parliament, or will she continue to allow Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom to be held hostage by the extreme right wing of the Tory party and the DUP?

I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman joined the march for a second referendum. Last week his policy was revoking article 50, and now his policy is having a second referendum. Let us look at what the Government are doing: the Government are delivering on the vote of the 2016 referendum. What the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is to stay in the EU. [Interruption.] All the Scottish nationalists nod their heads and say they want to stay in the EU, and what would that mean? It would mean staying in the common agricultural policy—not in the interests of Scottish farmers. It would mean staying in the common fisheries policy—not in the interests of Scottish fishermen. It is Scottish Conservatives who are standing up for the interests of Scotland’s farmers and fishermen.

Q4. Under my right hon. Friend’s Government, 1 million more disabled people are in work, but I am sure she would like to do so much more. For example, can she get disabled access for Ledbury station so that disabled passengers can simply get off the train, saving them an extra 20-minute journey to Hereford and back? The Access for All programme is too slow, and disabled people need to go to and from work, too. (910060)

May I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the Government’s record in helping more disabled people get into the workplace? We do want to tackle the injustices that face disabled people and, as he says, if we are to enable disabled people to go as far as their talents will take them, we need to ensure that they have access to work and are able to travel to work easily, conveniently and confidently, as everybody else does.

Our Access for All programme has an additional £300 million of funding to upgrade historical station infrastructure. I understand that Ledbury station is being considered for part of that funding, and we expect to make an announcement shortly.

Q6. Violent crime has risen by 19% and robberies have risen by 17%, and we have all seen the devastating and tragic impact of the increase in knife crime in our communities. This is the reality of the Prime Minister’s reckless cuts since 2010, with youth centres closed, police budgets slashed and the closure of all early intervention services across the UK. I plead with and beg the Prime Minister to understand that we need more real investment—before any more lives are lost. (910062)

I say to the hon. Gentleman that South Wales police are getting an increase in their budget in 2019-20. We have protected police funding since 2015, in direct contrast to a Labour party that suggested that it should be cut by 10%.

Q5. When I have asked on previous occasions why we cannot stop this ongoing, politically motivated witch hunt of our Northern Ireland veterans, the answer has always been, “We cannot interfere with the judicial process.” But surely the Good Friday agreement was entirely predicated on interfering with the judicial process, with convicted terrorists being let out of prison, royal pardons and letters of comfort being provided to terrorists on the run. I have a son who serves in the Royal Artillery, Gunner Michael Lopresti, the fourth generation of his family to do so. So can my right hon. Friend reassure him that when he goes on an operational tour, which he is very keen to do, if something goes wrong, officers lose control of the situation and terrible mistakes are made, in 50 years’ time he will not be dragged out of bed at six in the morning, taken to a police station, questioned and then charged with murder? (910061)

First, let me say to my hon. Friend that I congratulate Gunner Lopresti on, and commend him for, the service he is giving to our country. We have been clear, in looking at the issue of Northern Ireland and the legacy there, that the current system is not working well for anyone. On that specific matter, we recognise that about 3,500 people were killed in the troubles, the vast majority of whom were murdered by terrorists. Many of those cases do require further investigation, including those relating to the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. That system does need to change, to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles. But we are working on proposals across government to take those proposals forward and of course we are looking constantly to make sure that we can give maximum confidence to our brave servicemen and women, who, day in, day out put their lives on the line for us.

Q7. We all know that policing has changed significantly over the past 50 years; we have seen that with cyber fraud and cyber-bullying, and the recent tragic increases in knife crime. On the way, the public have lost trust in politicians when it comes to policing. There is a way to restore that trust, Prime Minister: will you commit to setting up a police royal commission, so that facts and evidence, rather than political spin, prepare our police to properly tackle 21st century crime? (910063)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the nature of crime is changing—or we are seeing new types of crime being introduced. The police need to have the ability and resources to deal with those, and the understanding of how best to do so. I do not think we need a royal commission to do that; one of the things I did as Home Secretary was to set up the College of Policing, and one of the points of that college is to ensure that it is identifying new types of crime and identifying how best to deal with all types of crime, so that we have the confidence that our police are using the best tools available to them.

Q12. I have an unlicensed airfield—Eshott—in my constituency. It is a small business that is continuing a long history of general aviation on that site ever since the airbase was built during world war two as the home for one of the largest Spitfire bases. A neighbours’ dispute is threatening the safety of the runway, but the Civil Aviation Authority is refusing to assist the owners to enforce safety orders. Can the Prime Minister please help us to stop a totally avoidable disaster? (910068)

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and safety in aviation is absolutely paramount. I understand that she has raised this issue directly with the aviation Minister, who is looking at it carefully as a matter of urgency. We are hoping for a positive resolution for all parties involved. The Minister will be writing to my hon. Friend as soon as possible, but I also know that the CAA has been in contact with all parties involved. She is right to raise this important issue and urgent action is being taken.

Q8. The condition myalgic encephalomyelitis affects approximately 25,000 children in the UK. When those children’s parents make the extremely difficult decision to remove their sick child from a programme of graded exercise therapy, child-protection proceedings are triggered against many of these families. In the midst of this Brexit chaos, will the Prime Minister commit to looking into this issue, to ensure that loving parents who are caring for extremely sick children are not threatened with that child being taken into care? (910064)

The hon. Lady has raised an issue that I was not aware of previously. I am happy to look into it and to make sure that the responsible Ministers look into it, too.

Q13. Following the referendum result, the Government have had the responsibility of negotiating the withdrawal and transition, and then there will be future negotiations. Up to now, the deal has not passed Parliament because of three incompatible groups that surround the Government: those who want to stay in, those who want to be out-out, and the Labour party, with its vague policy that even the Labour leader does not agree with. Most people in the country want the Prime Minister to succeed and the deal to go through so that we get the best possible advantage in future arrangements. (910069)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the message that I consistently get from people throughout the country is that we want to deliver Brexit. There is a way to guarantee the delivery of Brexit, and that is supporting the deal.

Q9. My constituents are pleased that it has been decided that the UK’s first space launch facility will be in the north of my constituency. They are pleased not least because it gives us a great opportunity to redeploy the considerable skills that we have at Dounreay in Caithness. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is a splendid business opportunity, not only for my constituency and for the UK, but in terms of building and launching rockets for countries in Europe and the rest of the world that will never have their own launch facilities? (910065)

I am a little disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not give me another invitation to come to a hotel in his constituency, but there we are. I thought perhaps I might have been able to look at the spaceport from the hotel windows. He raises an important point, and the development of this spaceport is significant. It will indeed be good for local business and local jobs—skilled jobs in an important area of employment—but as the hon. Gentleman says it will also give opportunities for the UK to offer services to other countries throughout Europe that are not able to provide those services for themselves. It is good for our economy, for the hon. Gentleman’s local economy, for his constituents and for the UK as a whole.

Unlike most professions, those in the armed forces do not get to choose where they are stationed, but those in Scotland are undoubtedly delighted to serve there. More than 7,000 of our armed forces personnel in Scotland are penalised by Nicola Sturgeon’s high-tax agenda. In my view, that is simply unfair. Will the Prime Minister commit to extend for another year the compensation that the UK Government paid last year to armed forces personnel based in Scotland? We need to send a clear signal that the Scottish Government are prepared to penalise those in our armed forces, while it is this Conservative UK Government who will always ensure that those who put their life on the line for our country will come first.

First, I pay particular tribute to everyone stationed at RM Condor in my hon. Friend’s constituency. She is absolutely right about those brave men and women across our armed forces who put their lives on the line for us. She is also right that both this year and next the SNP’s tax hike unfairly hits a majority of our brave and loyal service personnel based in Scotland. That leaves thousands of them out of pocket, and that is wrong, so we will again be providing financial mitigation payments to those negatively impacted for the tax year 2019-20 by these Scottish income tax hikes that mean Scottish income tax is higher than the UK’s. A single financial mitigation payment will be made retrospectively in 2020. The Scottish Government may ignore our armed forces; we stand by them.

Q10. No matter what happens with Brexit, I am sure we all agree that we need a new industrial renaissance in the north. With the northern powerhouse and Yorkshire devolution stalling, is it not about time that we gave the same priority and attention to the Humber docklands as has been given to the London docklands for the last 40 years? (910066)

I was absolutely clear when I became Prime Minister that we want a country that works for everyone. Our modern industrial strategy is exactly aimed at ensuring that we are developing across parts of the country that need it and that perhaps feel that they have been left behind. The hon. Lady talked about investment in the north and the northern powerhouse. The northern powerhouse is not stalling. We have made significant investment into the northern powerhouse and into infrastructure in the north, and into the deals that we have negotiated across the north, to ensure that the benefits of the economic prosperity under this Government are felt across every part of our country.

A very large number of my constituents voted to remain in 2016, many voted to leave and some were not old enough to take part—they all have a view. They and their MP now overwhelmingly want to leave the EU with a deal, so that we exit in a safe way that protects our economy and their jobs and just lets us move on. In the long term, we want a deep and special relationship with the European Union, while embracing the opportunities of the 168 countries that are not part of it. Just so I am clear before I vote this evening, will the Prime Minister confirm—just between us, if she likes—that none of that is contrary to the manifesto that she and I stood on two years ago?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent work as a Minister. He was an exemplary Minister, and I am sorry that he felt it necessary to resign from the Government. We do indeed want a deep and special partnership with the European Union. We also, as he says, want to embrace the opportunities of the 168 countries that are not part of it, by having an independent trade policy. That is precisely what is delivered by the deal that the Government have negotiated with the European Union. We can guarantee our leaving the European Union with a deal and in a safe way by ensuring that the deal is supported, so that we leave the European Union, as set out by the EU Council, on 22 May.

Q11.   Newcastle voted, by 50.7% to 49.3%, to remain. It divided our city, and I was determined that we should not have to vote again, but this is a complete shambles. Parliament gridlocked, Government paralysed, businesses stalled, jobs lost, households stockpiling, our global reputation trashed and a Prime Minister incapable of holding her Cabinet together, never mind the country. Will she consider the possibility that she is making a terrible mistake? (910067)

If the hon. Lady wants to ensure that we are able to deliver on the overall vote of the referendum in a way that protects jobs, our Union and our security, and in a way that is orderly and guarantees Brexit for the British people—she said that she did not want a second referendum—I suggest that she gets behind the deal.

Two days ago, I asked the Prime Minister if, as absolutely required under the ministerial code and the Cabinet manual, she sought the Attorney General’s advice on her authorisation of the extension of the exit date, and whether she would publish that advice. She refused to answer. Distinguished lawyers and former judges are convinced that the so-called international agreement is unlawful; I sent her a letter about that yesterday. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet considered the regulations at all. The motion to approve the regulations will come before the House this evening. The European Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee will need to see the advice of the Attorney General before the end of the day, when the motion will be received by the House. Where is the advice of the Attorney General? Will she produce it and withdraw the motion?

It is a matter of international law that the date of the UK’s exit has been changed. The purpose of the SI this evening is to reflect that change in domestic law. Should the SI not pass, there would be severe uncertainty for citizens and businesses, and contradictory provisions between EU rules and UK rules, but it would be clear that the date of our exit had changed. The House of Commons voted to seek an extension to article 50, and an agreement was reached with the European Council in relation to that. My hon. Friend has raised the question of the commencement order with me previously. The commencement order is due to come into effect on the date that we leave the European Union. I know that he wants to leave the European Union, and we can of course leave the European Union. Dare I suggest to my hon. Friend that, if he cares to back the deal, we could guarantee leaving?

Q14. This weekend The Guardian reported that 15 Tory councillors who were suspended for Islamophobia or racism had been quietly reinstated. The Conservative party has so far failed to quell fears that it is in denial about Islamophobia. Since I asked the Prime Minister about this issue in June 2018, there has been no concrete action. Will she instruct her party chairman to respond to the three letters that I have sent him on this subject, and when will the Tory party adopt the definition of Islamophobia set out by the all-parliamentary group on British Muslims, as the Labour party, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Mayor of London and councils across the country have done? (910070)

The Conservative party has a complaints process that deals with complaints of Islamophobia and of any other sort against councillors or other members of the party. It is absolutely clear that discrimination or abuse of any kind is wrong. We take action where there are cases of discrimination or abuse. The hon. Gentleman says that we have not acted since he raised this issue in 2018. We have acted on cases. The party chairman takes very seriously any allegations that are brought before the party and we will continue to do so.

Most of us would prefer a good deal to no deal at all, but may I urge the Prime Minister to ignore the dire forecasts about what would happen should we leave on World Trade Organisation terms? It is the same people who predicted doom and gloom in 2016 if we voted to leave. Since then, we have had record low unemployment, record high investment and record manufacturing output. Those people were wrong then. They are wrong now. We could be leaving as per the legal default position of article 50, which is without a deal.

My hon. Friend references leaving on WTO terms. Of course, what I want—what I think is right and what the Government consider right for the United Kingdom—is for us to be able to negotiate trade agreements with countries around the world that give us a better operation with those countries, rather than just the WTO basis. But I also want us to be able to negotiate a good trade deal with the European Union. We want a good trade deal with our nearest trading neighbours, and opportunities for good free trade agreements around the rest of the world.

Q15. I have a very important question for the Prime Minister. There are 1,152 people living with dementia in my constituency alone. With the cost of dementia to society across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland predicted to be £30 billion by 2021, what commitment can she make to increase dementia research into new avenues of discovery that could lead to a cure or treatment? Will she commit the Government to allocating just 1% of the societal cost of dementia towards research annually? (910071)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. He mentioned the number of his constituents who are living with dementia. Across all our constituencies, there are increasing numbers of people living with the condition. That is why we have committed to delivering our dementia 2020 challenge in full. The challenge supports research into dementia, which he specifically mentioned. The UK research community is playing a significant role in the global effort to find a cure or a major disease-modifying treatment by 2025. We have committed to double spending on dementia research by 2020—the equivalent of around £60 million per annum—and we are on track to meet that commitment. As he referenced, much of this investment is for research to better understand the nature of dementia, to inform the development of future treatments and to find ways to prevent the onset of the condition. Preventing the condition is of course the best route to take. Meanwhile, we look to provide better treatment for those with the condition.

Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher told the UN General Assembly that the threat from global warming needed an equivalent response from the whole world. What progress is being made on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute towards man-made climate change?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this very important issue. He has also reminded people that it was a Conservative Prime Minister who was one of the first world leaders to raise the issue of climate change and to put it on the international agenda. He asked about some of the changes that have taken place. Between 2010 and 2017, we reduced the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 23%; in 2018, nearly 50% of UK electricity came from low-carbon sources; and UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row. That is just a few of our achievements. That is our record as a Government. But of course we continue to work internationally to help to deal with this issue, and that is why we believe it is so important to adhere to and remain part of the Paris climate change agreement.

I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in welcoming the signing yesterday of the heads of terms—the agreement—on the Belfast city regional deal, the first city deal in Northern Ireland, which it is estimated will bring about 20,000 new jobs, £350 million of investment by the Government, and a lot of extra investment by local councils and the private sector. Will she confirm that she will do everything in her power, in the absence of devolved government—the civil service signed on behalf of Northern Ireland—to ensure that there will be no impediment to the good progress of that city deal, which has been welcomed right across the community in Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about the considerable benefits that these city deals can bring in bringing together provision by both government at all levels and the private sector. I absolutely take his point that in the absence of devolved government we need to make sure that there is no impediment to moving ahead with this city deal as fast as possible and commit to ensuring that that does indeed take place.

The Prime Minister knows of the huge improvements to the quality of clinical care brought about by the Getting It Right First Time programme authored by Professor Tim Briggs, who I brought to see her, and indeed to see Gordon Brown as well. Given the importance our constituents place on a good service from their local GP practice, will she ensure that the general practice roll-out of Getting It Right First Time is speeded up so that the excellent practice in places like Worksop, Whitstable and Peterborough can be made available to all our constituents?

I thank my hon. Friend not only for his question but for bringing Professor Tim Briggs to see me. When Professor Briggs came to see me, he did raise this issue of spreading the concept of getting it right first time beyond hospital consultants and into GP practices. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should make sure that we do that. We want to make sure that absolutely the best practice is adopted by GP practices across the whole country—that is for the benefit of all our constituents.

Skin cancer is on the rise in the United Kingdom. As many Members know only too well, it can kill, though when detected very early, or early enough, the NHS is able to perform absolute miracles—thank God. Is it not time, though, in the UK in particular, that we had a major public health campaign to persuade people to check out their body to see whether they have any suspicious moles, to take those suspicious moles to the doctor, to avoid the sun in the midday heat, to cover their children with at least factor 30, and to make sure that we can save lives—because if people are in doubt, they should check it out, and if they do, we can save lives?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point, and he speaks on this issue from personal experience. He is absolutely right. We need to ensure that people are aware of the dangers, aware of the signs that they need to take notice of and aware that they need to take them to their doctor, because lives can be saved. The Health Secretary has heard the passionate case that the hon. Gentleman has made in relation to public health information on this, and I am sure that he will be happy to meet him to discuss this further.

I hope that the American ambassador is enjoying his visit here today as much as he enjoyed his visit to north-east Lincolnshire last Friday, when I was able to join him at Young’s Seafood in Grimsby, where we enjoyed some of the finest seafood possible. Does the Prime Minister agree that Brexit increases the opportunity to build on our existing trading relationship with the United States?

We hope the ambassador’s palate was satisfied. I dare say we will be hearing about it if it was not.

I assure my hon. Friend, having recently visited north-east Lincolnshire, that we all enjoy our visits there and seeing the many opportunities across the economy. He talked about seafood and fishing opportunities. He is absolutely right: ensuring that as we leave the European Union we have the ability to have our own independent trade policy means that we will be able to have free trade agreements around the world, including with the United States. As we have heard on many occasions, we are keen on both sides of the Atlantic to be able to pursue that free trade agreement.

One of the many tragedies associated with this Brexit chaos is the huge distraction it is from other key priorities such as the climate catastrophe. Just this week, we learned that global climate emissions have hit their highest ever level. In the Prime Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), she only gave half the story. The other half is that the UK is way off track to meet our long-term climate targets, and our consumption emissions are down just 4%. Will she support growing calls for a green new deal—a green transformation of our economy, creating hundreds of thousands of good-quality jobs in constituencies up and down this country?

First, the hon. Lady should do more to welcome the action that this Government have taken on that issue. Secondly, she will have noted that clean growth is one of the challenges we have set in our modern industrial strategy. For a long time, people used to say that it was not possible to deal with climate change and environmental issues without damaging the economy. That is absolutely wrong. Actually, clean growth is a very good opportunity for us to take economic benefits. When I visited north-east Lincolnshire, I went to Ørsted and saw the work it is doing on offshore wind farms, which is making a huge impact on renewable energy in the United Kingdom. I am pleased that this Government are looking at the opportunity of hosting COP 26 in the UK.