The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Discussions with First Minister of Wales
Given the new easy listening approach of the Prime Minister, will the Government give a commitment that they will discuss any new proposals that they make on withdrawal from the European Union with the First Minister of Wales and the Welsh Government prior to the meeting of the European Council?
The hon. Gentleman is well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is keen to work with colleagues across the House to secure a deal to leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly way. My relationship with the Welsh Government, and specifically with the First Minister in Wales, is warm, positive and constructive. As the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, the First Minister or someone that he nominates attends the European Union exit committee, which focuses on preparedness in the event of a no deal.
If it is good enough for this House to be asked repeatedly to approve the Prime Minister’s deal, why is it not good enough to put it back to the people of Wales? If the Secretary of State is so confident in the merits of the Prime Minister’s deal, why is he so afraid to put a deal that has been rejected by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly back to the people of Wales to decide?
The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that Wales voted to leave the European Union. Also, I underline that Wales voted to leave the European Union in higher numbers than the average across the rest of the United Kingdom. Of course we are keen to work with all political parties to secure a smooth and efficient exit from the European Union. Let us be frank: the Welsh public and the UK public want to draw a line under this chapter.
Is not the key problem that we are facing with the withdrawal agreement at the moment that there are just too many MPs from Wales and elsewhere—on the Opposition Benches and some on our side—who go to their constituencies at the weekend and tell their leave voters that they want to get on with Brexit, but who then come back here on a Monday and find every trick in the book and every excuse to vote against implementing Brexit?
My right hon. Friend has absolutely hit the nail on the head and I am grateful for his support. He is well aware that, last Friday, the Opposition voted against the withdrawal agreement, having previously said that they had no differences with the withdrawal agreement. That seems to demonstrate that they are seeking to create as much chaos as they can, rather than acting in the national interest.
My right hon. Friend is well aware that this House has not yet come to a conclusion as to whether it wishes to call on the Government to be part of the customs union or not. So far everything has been rejected and the Prime Minister is seeking to work across the House, and with colleagues in all parties, to come to an agreement on what the House actually wants.
With the actions that the Government are planning, I am optimistic about our prospects outside the European Union. Having travelled internationally—I was in Japan some weeks ago and in China at the end of last year—I am encouraged by the interest that has been shown in the UK economy, and I believe that Wales and the UK economy will be prosperous outside the European Union.
The Secretary of State told my colleague, the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), on the record in the Welsh Affairs Committee two days ago that he did not want to be “in a situation where there is no deal.” Could the Secretary of State explain to Welsh food producers and manufacturers why there are press reports after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that he was for a short delay? That is, of course, shorthand for supporting no deal.
The right hon. Lady is seeking to draw me on private discussions within Cabinet meetings, but of course she knows that I would not be drawn on those. What I said on the record on Monday I will happily say on the record now: I do not want to be in a no-deal position and that is the reason that I voted for a deal. I hope that the Welsh food producers that she referred to also supported the Prime Minister’s deal, and I hope that she will explain to them why she refused to support it.
To lose one Wales Office Minister may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose four in little over a year looks like carelessness. Something must make their positions untenable, intolerable, dispensable, toxic. When will the Secretary of State admit that his office has also become dispensable and too toxic to serve the interests of Wales? When will he do the right thing and resign?
I do not think that a month passes without the right hon. Lady calling for me to take such action. However, it gives me an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) for his efforts, including his work on the north Wales growth deal, for which the right hon. Lady has shown appreciation in the past. I wish that she would not be so churlish now.
As you know, Mr Speaker, the Newport West by-election will take place tomorrow, having been called after the sad passing of our wonderful colleague Paul Flynn. I wish Ruth Jones, our wonderful candidate, all the best for tomorrow. Let me also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), to his place. Is he staying long, or is he just passing through?
On several occasions the House has refused to back leaving without a deal. So have the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly. The Prime Minister does not want that either, and she has at last reached out to our party, seeking a cross-party approach to resolve the Brexit impasse. Does the Secretary of State agree with his Prime Minister, or with his former junior Minister, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who has just resigned?
Let me first wish Matthew Evans well in the by-election to which the hon. Lady has referred.
As I said a moment ago, I do not want to leave the European Union without a deal. That is exactly why I voted for the Prime Minister’s deal. Perhaps the hon. Lady will explain to her constituents why she voted to block Brexit.
In the spirit in which the Prime Minister made her statement yesterday, when she said that she was keen to engage on an open and transparent basis, the Leader of the Opposition has said that there are no red lines, so I do not know why the hon. Lady is calling on me to draw some now.
UK Shared Prosperity Fund
I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about a range of issues affecting Wales, including the UK shared prosperity fund. Leaving the European Union removes the geographical and fund-specific constraints that currently exist, and provides an opportunity to address the concerns of businesses, the voluntary sector and communities about excessive bureaucracy.
The Government committed themselves to creating a UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU funding that seeks to reduce inequalities across our communities between the four nations of the United Kingdom. Two years later, the fund still does not exist. Are the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Scotland advocating its introduction in the Cabinet, to ensure that Scotland and Wales secure the fairest deal and will not receive less funding than they currently receive, or than was promised by the leave campaign?
The simple fact is that the shared prosperity fund does not exist because we are still part of the European Union and receiving that EU funding. There is clearly plenty of space for development, and we will be consulting shortly. In respect of the share of funds received by Wales, I would compare my record positively with that of the Labour Administration. Having underfunded Wales for 13 years, we now have a new, enhanced settlement that is focused on need.
The worst inequality in any EU member state exists between London and Wales, and leaving the EU would make that worse. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he is working to ensure that the shared prosperity fund delivers for Wales—which can be done only if decisions are made in Wales—and that devolved Governments are not sidelined?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the worst inequality, as she described it—that between London and Wales. The facts speak for themselves, but those inequalities have built up over some time. I would also point to the relative positive growth in Wales compared with other parts of the UK and the enhanced funding settlement that has been negotiated under the fiscal framework. So I am optimistic and excited about our future outside the EU.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK shared prosperity fund offers a cast-iron guarantee that Wales is not going to lose out financially as a result of Brexit, and will he consider ensuring that that money goes directly to local authorities so it is spent in the best possible way?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Like me, he was an Assembly Member in 1999 when the first form of European aid on this scale was discussed. It was described as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sadly, we have qualified twice since and that is because of the relative failure of the existing programmes.
Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), will my right hon. Friend ensure that it is local authorities that can bid for this scheme, rather than it just being devolved to the Welsh Assembly to divide up the funds accordingly?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and that is the sort of innovation that the consultation will consider. He is tempting me to draw conclusions before we actually consult, but we have not been doing nothing on this policy area. Pre-consultation discussions have already been taking place in Wales and the Welsh Government jointly presented at the last St Asaph meeting in north Wales.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but of course he is tempting me to announce elements of the comprehensive spending review well before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will do so later this year. However, communities have said that the £4 billion has not changed communities in the way they wanted it to, so this is an opportunity to introduce a much more innovative, proactive approach that responds to the private and voluntary sectors and local authorities in a much more local way.
I welcome the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) to his new ministerial position. May I too wish our Labour candidate Ruth Jones well in the Newport West by-election tomorrow?
There has been more than just the one meeting on the shared prosperity fund in Wales—there have been five meetings—but the consultation has not started. MPs were neither informed nor invited to those meetings, even if, as was the case with me, they were held in their own constituency. Does the right hon. Gentleman view MPs from all sides as stakeholders in the shared prosperity fund? Why were MPs not invited to these meetings and will he meet with stakeholder MPs to discuss the design of the fund?
First, I point out that these meetings were aimed at communities and the Welsh Government jointly presented at the last one. The hon. Gentleman has frequent opportunities to make direct representation here and it was only a little over a week ago that I met the all-party group for the UK shared prosperity fund to discuss the matter. I am sorry that he could not be present with some of his colleagues, but of course I will be happy to meet him or any other colleague who wishes to discuss the UK shared prosperity fund.
Foreign Direct Investment
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for foreign direct investment in his constituency and in all parts. He rightly points out that the Department for International Trade promoted a Wales capital investment programme at the MIPIM conference for the first time. That is a great demonstration of Whitehall Departments working closely with local authorities. There has been extremely positive feedback from both local authorities and investors, and we are working through those leads to see which projects can land.
Not only would no deal have an impact on foreign direct investment; it would also, on the Government’s own figures, leave the Welsh economy 8% smaller over 15 years. Can the Secretary of State clear up any ambiguity about his own attitude to no deal and say clearly today that there are no circumstances whatever in which he would back no deal?
The hon. Gentleman is quite selective in the quotes that he cites on foreign direct investment. He and the House will be well aware that the latest available figures show that the UK has the third highest stock of foreign direct investment in the world after the US and Hong Kong. Clearly, the UK’s record on FDI is strong, and I suggest that Wales’s record is stronger than most of the rest of the UK.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He is rightly aware of the great record that Wales has on attracting inward investment. There are more than 60 Japanese companies in Wales, for example, and that is why I was there some weeks ago talking not only about existing investments but about the potential for new investments for the UK outside the European Union.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the Irish Government have recently reopened their consulate in Cardiff. What more can the Government do to encourage other countries to do likewise, so as to boost Wales’s international presence and levels of inward investment?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which we discussed at the Welsh Affairs Committee on Monday. I pay tribute to him for his persistence on this matter. He rightly points out that the Irish Government have opened an office in Cardiff, and we would encourage other Governments to do that. I am happy to meet and to work with him to see which nations we should target to attract them to Wales and to Cardiff.
I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy and Transport on a range of matters, including infrastructure in Wales. We are committed to creating a broad-based resilient economy through our own modern industrial strategy and the Welsh Government’s economic action plan.
The resilience of the major road network in north-east Wales is entirely dependent on the M56, just across the border in my constituency, which is now beyond capacity. Will the Secretary of State speak to Department for Transport Ministers to ensure that we get the upgrades we need in order to benefit north-east Wales as well?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, particularly when responsibilities are split between the Welsh Government and the UK Government. In seeking to address these sorts of issues, and cross-border infrastructure projects in particular, the strategic roads in Britain group has been established—of which the Welsh Government and the UK Government are part—to prioritise how we can best resolve these issues.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her work on seeking to clear up the phurnacite site. She has been working on this project for many years. I would perhaps enhance the comment she made about funding for Wales for environmental projects, because that is devolved and would be part of the Barnett block. I am keen to work with her to see how we can best influence the Welsh Government in this devolved area of policy so that we can bring benefit to her constituency.
Prince of Wales’s Investiture Regalia: Permanent Home
I commend my hon. Friend for his commitment to this issue. I would be delighted to see the return of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’s regalia to Wales. There are many fine residences in Wales that would be suitable to display what some consider to be the Welsh Crown jewels.
As you will know, Mr Speaker, the question on Welsh people’s lips at the moment is not Brexit but the royal regalia. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there are many suitable locations, including Caernarfon castle or, perhaps even better, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, which has a secure place to store them?
My hon. Friend is persistent, but that demonstrates the importance of the project and its potential to attract tourists to Wales. It is an interesting proposal, and my officials are happy to work with other organisations to see how we can make it a reality. There are security implications, but there are also significant potential benefits.
Investiture regalia is probably a controversial subject, but those who are keen on it would describe themselves as patriots. Will the Secretary of State for Wales describe himself as a real patriot by ruling out a disastrous no-deal Brexit, and will he show his commitment to that?
I am a passionate Welsh patriot, as I would hope that the hon. Lady would recognise. I want to leave the European Union with a deal, which is why I have voted for it, but I point to the hon. Lady’s record: she voted against the deal last Friday, rejecting the call, instruction and demand that came from the Welsh public in the referendum.
The Royal Collection contains a fantastically valuable sword made of Tain silver. Will the Secretary of State have a word with the Secretary of State for Scotland to see whether the sword could be lent to my home town of Tain in the highlands?
I will happily raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. This question highlights the great history, shared identity and common issues of this nation, and we can share such assets to attract tourists to every part of the United Kingdom.
I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and with the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales benefits from the opportunities that our modern industrial strategy provides.
The recent BEIS Committee report on the industrial strategy was particularly damning about how the steel sector has been failed by the Government. If Ruth Jones is elected tomorrow, she will be strong voice for the industry in Newport West, but what is the Secretary of State doing to push the sector deal negotiations and demand action on energy costs?
I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s point, but she is a strong supporter of the steel industry in her constituency, across Wales and elsewhere. The steel industry faced a challenging crisis just three years ago, and it is now in a much more positive position as a result of Government interventions such as reducing energy costs for energy-intensive industries.
I thank the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for meeting a delegation that I brought here a few months ago, but we now need action. Rehau is shedding jobs in my constituency, and this is an opportunity for the Department to put its money where its mouth is with the industrial strategy and help that company. Will the Secretary of State meet me to follow up on the meeting that the former Under-Secretary of State had with the company so that we can keep jobs and production in Amwlch in my constituency?
I am happy to respond positively to the hon. Gentleman, who is a champion for Anglesey. Since our meeting about Wylfa Newydd, I met the chairman of Hitachi to press the importance of the case and to stress the support that comes from the local authority, the Assembly Member and the Member of Parliament, which demonstrates the co-ordinated approach.
Universal Credit: Low-income Families
Universal credit is available in every jobcentre in Wales. Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families. In the past 12 months alone, the employment rate in Wales has increased by 3.4 percentage points, the largest increase in any area of the UK.
Will the Minister set out what discussions he is having with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on making it easier for private-rented sector tenants in Wales to have the housing element of universal credit paid directly to their private landlord?
I can confirm that I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on this subject, about which she is incredibly passionate. We are making it easier, particularly for those on legacy benefits who already have direct payments.
The Prime Minister was asked—
April marks 50 years since the launch of our longest sustained military operation, Operation Relentless, and the beginning of our continuous at sea deterrent. I am sure all Members on both sides of the House will want to join me in paying tribute to all the generations of Royal Navy submariners, their families, who sacrifice so much, and all those involved in protecting our nation.
Tomorrow marks 70 years since the founding of NATO. I assure the House that, under this Government, the United Kingdom will continue to play our leading role in NATO as it continues its mission of keeping nearly 1 billion people safe.
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 assure the Prime Minister that I will not raise Brexit, which will be raised later. I want to raise another very important issue. Consultants and doctors at the university hospital in my constituency have raised the issue of the NHS pension scheme and the tapered annual allowance, the consequences of which are that doctors are retiring early and turning down additional shifts for fear of paying higher tax bills to the Government. That is resulting in longer waiting times for patients and a shortage of doctors and consultants. Will she raise this with the Chancellor as soon as possible and inform me of his answer?
I am aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. In fact, the Chancellor and the Treasury are already in discussion with the Department of Health and Social Care on this very issue. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Chancellor is on the Treasury Bench and has heard his point. I will make sure that we confirm to him what comes out of those discussions.
I should just congratulate my hon. Friend on so cleverly working in Southend’s claim to become a city. As he says, it is very important that we see that investment coming to our country. The benefits and opportunities, when we have got over this stage and delivered Brexit, for building that better Britain and building that better future, including in Southend-on-Sea, will be there. It is for all of us to ensure that we can get over this stage, get a deal through, get to Brexit, deliver on Brexit and build that better future, of which I am sure Southend will be a leading part.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing the people of Southend well, and I hope it does become a city. [Interruption.] Is that okay?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s offer of talks following the meetings I have held with Members across the House, and I look forward to meeting her later today. I welcome her willingness to compromise to resolve the Brexit deadlock.
When the Prime Minister began her premiership, she promised to resolve the burning injustices facing this country, so can she explain why, according to the Government’s own official figures, poverty has risen for all ages under her Administration?
No one in government wants to see poverty rising, and we take this very seriously indeed, but, as I have said previously to the right hon. Gentleman, the only sustainable way to tackle poverty is with a strong economy and a welfare system that helps people into work. That is why it is important that we have the lowest unemployment since the 1970s and that the number of homes where no one works is at a record low. But we also need to make sure that work pays. Let me just give the right hon. Gentleman some figures: in 2010, under a Labour Government, someone working full-time on the national minimum wage would have taken home £9,200 after tax and national insurance, whereas now, thanks to our tax cuts and the biggest increase in the national living wage, they will take home more than £13,700—that is £4,500 more under a Conservative Government.
Official figures show that since 2010 child poverty has increased by half a million, working age poverty has increased by 200,000 and pensioner poverty has increased by 400,000. Although the Prime Minister is right to mention the national minimum wage, whose introduction her party strongly opposed, we should just be aware of what the national minimum wage actually means: it is £8.21 for over-25s; for 21 to 24-year-olds it is only £7.70; and for apprentices it is just £3.90 an hour. These are poverty wages. There are now 8 million people in this country in work and in poverty. Many on middle incomes are struggling to make ends meet. Universal credit is failing. Will the Prime Minister today at least halt the roll-out of universal credit and agree to a thorough review of it?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, as we have been rolling out universal credit, we have been making changes to it. One of the early measures we took when I became Prime Minister was to change the taper rate. We have since abolished the seven-day wait. We have ensured that we have taken action to make it easier for those who are transferring on to UC in relation to their housing benefit. But, crucially, there is only one way to ensure that we sustainably deal with the issue of poverty—
A Labour Government.
No, and I will come on to that. It is to ensure that we have a strong economy that delivers jobs, and better jobs, and that people can keep more of the money that they earn. What do we know would happen? From behind the right hon. Gentleman, an hon. Member says, from a sedentary position, that the answer is a Labour Government. But a Labour Government would spend £1,000 billion more than has been proposed; a Labour Government would put up taxes; and the Labour party has opposed tax cut after tax cut. This is how you help working people: tax cuts which keep people in work; better jobs; and high employment. That is under the Conservatives.
From a Government that rolled out austerity and has caused such poverty across the country, the Prime Minister really ought to think for a moment about what she has just said. The last Labour Government halved child poverty; brought in children’s centres and Sure Start; and reduced poverty across the whole country. She seems to be ignoring the true impact of universal credit. The Trussell Trust says that in areas where universal credit has been rolled out, food bank use has increased by more than 50%. This week, we also learned that another 400,000 pensioners are in poverty compared with 2010. So why is the Prime Minister pressing ahead with cuts to pension credit for couples where one person is of pension age and the other is not?
Under a Conservative Government we have seen the triple lock on pensions, which has provided good increases for pensioners year after year, and under this Conservative Government we have seen the introduction of the new pension arrangements for individuals who are pensioners. Let us just remember what we saw under a Labour Government. It is not under a Conservative Government that we saw a 75p rise in pensions—it was under Labour.
The last Labour Government lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty; this Government have put 400,000 more into poverty. Age UK, which I think knows a thing or two about this, says that this proposal by the Government is “a substantial stealth cut”. This year, 15,000 pensioner households could be up to £7,000 a year worse off as a result of this stealth cut.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister mentioned the triple lock, because at the last general election the Government alarmed older people by pledging to scrap the triple lock and the means-tested winter fuel allowance. Will the Prime Minister give an unequivocal commitment that this is no longer Government policy and will not be in the next Tory manifesto?
We have given our commitments to pensioners. We are clear: we are keeping those commitments to pensioners. What we have seen under Conservatives in government is the basic state pension rise by over £1,450 a year. That is in direct contrast to what a Labour Government did for our pensioners. We want people to be able to live in dignity in their old age, and that is what this Conservative Government are delivering.
I am sure that the whole generation of WASPI women will be pretty alarmed at the lack of action by this Government and the lack of justice for them. Additionally, over 1 million over-75s currently receive a free TV licence, a scheme established by the last Labour Government. This Government transferred the scheme to the BBC without guaranteeing its funding. Will the Government take responsibility and guarantee free TV licences for the over-75s?
The last Labour Government guaranteed free TV licences for the over-75s; this Government appear to be outsourcing that policy to the BBC. I think it should be an item of public policy and not be left to somebody else to administer on behalf of the Government.
The last Labour Government lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty and 2 million children out of absolute poverty, and homelessness was cut in half. Contrast that with this Government, who have has put half a million more children and 400,000 more pensioners into poverty, and doubled homelessness. This, by this Government, is a political choice. There is nothing inevitable about rising poverty, homelessness and soaring food-bank use in the fifth richest country on earth. So yes, let us work to try to resolve the Brexit deadlock, but unless this Government tackle insecure work, low pay and rising pensioner poverty, the Prime Minister’s Government will be marked down for what they are—a failure in the eyes of the people of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman cited the last Labour Government—I did not realise that he was such a fan of the last Labour Government. He seemed to spend the entire time voting against them when he had a Labour Government.
Let us just talk about what is happening under this Government: a record rate of employment; wages growing at their fastest for a decade; debt falling; a long-term plan for the NHS, and the biggest cash boost in the NHS’s history; a skills-based immigration system; more money for police, local councils and schools; the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights for over 20 years; the freeing of councils to build more homes; world-class public services—[Interruption.]
As this week is World Autism Awareness Week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to encourage all Departments to follow the examples being set by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care, which are taking initiatives to improve their engagement with people who have autism in their families? I also ask her to endorse the autism awareness training course for Members of Parliament—offered through the all-party parliamentary group on autism and the National Autistic Society—which will be held in this House on 1 May. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act 2009, it would be good to see every MP go through that training course to better help their constituents.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that she did to bring in the Autism Act 2009. It was very important; it was groundbreaking. It was the first piece of parliamentary legislation to be linked to the condition of autism. I thank her and the members of the all-party parliamentary group on autism for their work on this important issue, including in highlighting the awareness week, and in ensuring that autism training is available for Members of Parliament. I hope, as she does, that Members from across the House take that up. We are reviewing our autism strategy to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, because we want to know what is working and where we need to push harder to transform our approach, so we will continue to look at the issue, which she rightly highlighted in her work on the Act. I welcome that, and congratulate her on the work that she continues to do on the issue.
It is well known that the SNP supports a people’s vote and has supported revocation, but all the way through this process, right back to 2016, the SNP and the Scottish Government have sought compromise. We have published document after document, including “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which we know Michel Barnier has read; he says it is an interesting document. Why does the Prime Minister continue to ignore Scotland’s voices? Why has she restricted herself to inviting the Leader of the Opposition to formal talks? Why has she not invited the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government? Why is it that Scotland’s voices are being ignored by this Prime Minister and this Government?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I say, I am meeting the First Minister of Scotland, and the First Minister of Wales, later today. The right hon. Gentleman asks why I offered to meet the Leader of the Opposition. I am happy to meet Members from across the House to discuss the Brexit issue, but I think I am right in saying that the Leader of the Opposition and I both want to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal, whereas of course the right hon. Gentleman, as he has just said, has a policy of revoking article 50. That means not leaving the European Union at all.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me make it clear that the voices of Scotland will not be shouted down by Conservatives in this House. The important factor here is that the Prime Minister is having formal talks with the Leader of the Opposition. Scotland will not accept a Tory or a Labour Brexit. Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, and we simply will not be dragged out against our will. Will the Prime Minister now engage in formal talks with the Scottish Government, the Scottish National party and other Opposition parties to make sure that our voices are heard, and that the desire to stay in the European Union—the best deal for all of us—is listened to and respected?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, because we have met to talk about these issues, just as I have met other party leaders from across the House, I am always happy to meet party leaders from across the House. I want to find a way forward that delivers on the referendum and delivers Brexit as soon as possible, but in a way that means that we do not have to fight the European parliamentary elections, and in an orderly way for this country. He talks about voices from Scotland; I can assure him that there are indeed strong voices for Scotland in this House—they sit on the Conservative Benches.
Can I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, on behalf of all the people of Selby, to put her weight behind the campaign for step-free access for Selby railway station? [Interruption.] I am sorry to disappoint colleagues with my line of questioning, but this matter is very important for the people of Selby. In this day and age, it is totally unacceptable that those who are unable to walk up stairs—people with disabilities—are denied access to public transport. The people of Selby demand action.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his service as a Government Minister since 2017. He has worked extremely hard, serving as both a Wales Office Minister and a Government Whip simultaneously, and I am sorry that he has resigned. I also thank him for raising the important issue of access to public transport, particularly access to stations for people with disabilities. He asked me to add my weight to the campaign, but I have to say that his considerable weight has been behind the campaign for a long time. [Laughter.] As a campaigner!
As I said, my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard on the issue for some time. I understand that the Department for Transport will announce tomorrow the stations that will benefit from funding for accessibility, if my hon. Friend can have just a little patience and wait for the announcement.
The purpose of meeting the Leader of the Opposition today is to look at the areas on which we agree. There are actually a number of areas on which we agree in relation to Brexit: we both want to deliver on leaving the EU with a deal; we both want to protect jobs; we both want to ensure that we end free movement; and we both recognise the importance of the withdrawal agreement. We want to find a way forward that can command the support of this House, to deliver on Brexit and the result of the referendum, and to ensure that people can continue to have trust in their politicians doing what they ask us to do.
Robert Small and David West were two young men from the Fareham area with their whole lives ahead of them. While suffering with mental health problems and under the care of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, they tragically took their own lives. Few can imagine the grief endured by their families, who have since been campaigning for a change at Southern Health, which has struggled with systemic issues and problems for some years. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the Government will work with me and other Hampshire MPs to secure vital changes at Southern Health so that such tragedies may be avoided?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the constituents she referred to. These incidents are very concerning. I understand that the local trust and the county council have pledged to work together more closely to resolve issues, but we remain absolutely committed to transforming mental health services around the country. We are providing record investment for these services, and we have an ambitious plan to increase the workforce and deal with the issues. I reassure my hon. Friend that action will be taken to ensure that we can prevent such incidents from happening in the future. They were terrible incidents, and our sympathies are with the family and friends of the victims.
As I believe I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, when any allegations of Islamo- phobia are made, against elected Conservatives or members of the Conservative party, we take them very seriously and action is taken in relation to those individuals. He referred to the attacks on mosques. I absolutely condemn any attacks against mosques, or indeed against any place of worship. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has increased the funding available to help protect places of worship against attacks. This has no place in our society and we should all be working to ensure that people can go to their place of worship and feel safe and secure in this country.
Yes, I think my right hon. Friend will know, having heard my remarks about what I think a Labour Government would do to the economy, that I do not think the Labour party should be in government. It is the Conservatives who are delivering for people. The Leader of the Opposition and I have different opinions on a number of issues, and I will highlight just one. When this country suffered a chemical weapons attack on the streets of Salisbury, it was this Government, with me as Prime Minister, who stood up to the perpetrators. The right hon. Gentleman said that he preferred to believe Vladimir Putin than our own security agencies. That is not the position of someone who should be Prime Minister.
The hon. Gentleman should look at the funding that has been made available to Wales by this Westminster Government. He talks about the Government of Wales. There are indeed issues there that I think we should be focusing on, such as the national health service in Wales under a Labour Government. [Interruption.] Yes, Members may well point. That is what we see when Labour is in office: a national health service that has not met its A&E target for over a decade.
According to polling that has just been published, over 58% of the British public have expressed a wish to have a final say on the Brexit process. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that, with the ongoing impasse here in Westminster, and despite her best endeavours to pass her deal, and indeed the ongoing endeavours of the House to find a compromise, the British public are right increasingly to think that they should have a final say before proceeding with Brexit?
I know how passionately my hon. Friend has campaigned on this issue for some time now. He refers to the deal that the Government have put forward being rejected. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition’s deal has also been rejected by this House, as has a second referendum. What I believe we should be doing is delivering on the result of the first referendum, which is why I will be sitting down with the Leader of the Opposition later today.
The hon. Lady again raises the important issue of autism. I am sure that, as constituency MPs, we all see cases where parents have found it very difficult to get support for their children who are on the autistic spectrum. It is important to ensure that there is the awareness and the ability to deal with this issue. As I said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), we are looking again at our autism strategy, because we want to ensure that we have in place all we need to support those with autism.
Last week in this Chamber, the Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition is
“The biggest threat to our standing in the world, to our defence and to our economy”—[Official Report, 27 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 313.]
In her judgment, what now qualifies him for involvement in Brexit?
Every Member of this House is involved in Brexit. I want to deliver Brexit. I want to deliver Brexit in an orderly way. I want to do it as soon as possible. I want to do it without us having to fight European parliamentary elections. To do that, we need to get an agreement through this House on the withdrawal agreement and a deal. The House has rejected every proposal that has gone before it so far, as well as a second referendum and revoking article 50. I believe that the public want us to work across the House to find a solution that delivers Brexit, delivers on the referendum and gives people faith that politicians have done what they asked and actually delivered for them.
Across this House, we all have a responsibility to ensure that we deliver Brexit and that we do it as soon as possible and in an orderly way. It is entirely right, and I think members of the public expect it, for us to reach out across the House to find a way through; they want a solution. The country needs a solution, and the country deserves a solution, and that is what I am working to find.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of her constituents. It was a very important summit that we held on Monday. I was pleased to bring together people from the police, across Government Departments, community groups, the judiciary, healthcare and a wide range of activities to recognise the importance of taking a holistic, collective approach to dealing with knife crime. We will be consulting on a statutory duty to deal with knife crime as a public health issue, which is important, to ensure that everybody plays their part.
After the summit I was able to meet a number of families who had lost children—I say children, because these were teenagers—as a result of serious violence involving knife crime and a shooting. The horror and devastation of these attacks is brought home when sitting down and listening to the families who have seen promising young lives cut short in this tragic way. We are committed as a Government to working not just across Government but with society as a whole to deal with the scourge of serious violence, which is taking so many young lives.
We remain committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of our nuclear submarines as soon as is practically possible. The MOD continues to act as a responsible nuclear operator by maintaining its decommissioned nuclear submarines to meet the necessary safety and security standards. I think its commitment is illustrated by the recent success in the initial dismantling of the submarine Swiftsure, which has been followed immediately by the initial dismantling of Resolution. The MOD will continue to work with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to achieve steady-state disposal of our laid-up submarines as soon as possible. We are working on this. The Labour Government had 13 years as well, and what work did they do during those 13 years on this decommissioning issue?
Why is a Conservative Prime Minister, who repeatedly told us that no deal is better than a bad deal, now approaching Labour MPs to block a WTO Brexit when most Conservative MPs want us to leave the European Union with a clean break in nine days’ time?
I say to my right hon. Friend that I was absolutely right: no deal is better than a bad deal, but we have got a good deal. We had a chance last Friday to ensure that we would leave the European Union on 22 May, and I am grateful to all colleagues who supported that motion, some of whom, I know, doing so with a very heavy heart. But I want to ensure that we deliver Brexit. I want to ensure that we do it in an orderly way, as soon as possible, without fighting European elections, but to do that we need to find a way of this House agreeing the withdrawal agreement and agreeing the way forward. It is on that basis that I have been sitting down with Members across the House and will continue to do so in order to ensure that we can find a way forward that this House can support.
I commend Grace for the work that she has been doing on this issue—sadly, coming out of her own personal experience. I think the hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue. We want to make sure that people with invisible disabilities are able to access public toilets and can do so in a way that does not lead to the abuse that, sadly, Grace suffered. I fully recognise the campaign that she is fighting, and I think it is an excellent campaign.
The people of Sleaford and North Hykeham—like myself, like the country—voted for Brexit and want to see it delivered. I understand the Prime Minister’s saying that we have to look at the balance of risk. Indeed, I looked at the balance of risk myself and supported her deal, and I urge others in our party to do so. But if it comes to the point when we have to balance the risk of a no-deal Brexit versus the risk of letting down the country and ushering in a Marxist, antisemite-led Government, what does she think at that point is the lowest risk?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the support she has shown for the Government’s deal and for the encouragement she is giving to others to support that deal. I want to see that we are able to deliver for her constituents and for others across the country and that we, as I say, deliver Brexit, and do it as soon as possible. In delivering Brexit, we need to ensure that we are delivering on the result of the referendum. That is what I said yesterday, and that is what we will be looking to do.
I am going to be in discussion with the Leader of the Opposition, but as I indicated earlier, I think the Leader of the Opposition and I both want to deliver leaving the EU and to deliver that with a deal. I think we both agree that the withdrawal agreement is a part of any deal. I think we both agree that we want to protect jobs and ensure high standards of workers’ rights. I think there are a number of areas on which we agree; the question is, can we come to an agreement that we can both support that would command the support of this House? That is what the talks will be about.
Seventy years after the founding of NATO, will the Prime Minister find time today to look at the situation facing Northern Ireland veterans, some of whom are being arrested and charged with murder, nearly 50 years after the alleged events and where there is no new evidence? What signal does that send to youngsters looking to join the armed forces? Will she try to make solving this part of her legacy?
I recognise the issue that my hon. Friend has raised, and obviously the concern has been shared by our hon. and right hon. Friends and others across the House. The current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well for anyone. As I have said previously in this Chamber, around 3,500 were killed in the troubles, and the vast majority were murdered by terrorists. Many of these cases require further investigation, including the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. The system to investigate the past needs to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles and to ensure that our armed forces and police officers are not unfairly treated. The Ministry of Defence is also looking at what more can be done to ensure that service personnel are not unfairly pursued through the courts in relation to service overseas, including considering legislation, and we continue to look at how best to move forward in relation to the issues of the legacy in Northern Ireland.
I understand that South Wales Police has been given extra funding in relation to dealing with knife crime. It is important that we deal with this issue. The hon. Gentleman raised Brexit, and it is also important that we deliver on the result of the referendum and do what is necessary to ensure that we are prepared for leaving the European Union, which is exactly what the Government are doing. However, we are focusing on the issue of serious violence, as witnessed by the knife crime summit that we held earlier this week.
In agreeing with the 14 members of the Cabinet who are happy for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union next week, can I ask my right hon. Friend whether she will set out her vision for the benefits that will come to the United Kingdom from no deal?
I say to my hon. Friend, first, that he should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers; the Cabinet came to a collective decision yesterday. Secondly, I have always been clear that I think the opportunities for the United Kingdom outside the European Union are bright. I believe we can build that greater Britain and that brighter future for everybody. I believe we will do that better by leaving with a good deal. I believe we have a good deal, and that is why I have been working to ensure that we can leave, do so as soon as possible and in an orderly way, and build that brighter future.
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), any allegations made in relation to the Conservative party are investigated carefully by the Conservative party and action is taken. This Government have been doing more to ensure that the police can deal with issues around hate crime. When I was Home Secretary, I required the police to ensure that they were properly recording incidents of hate crime, so that we could better identify Islamophobia. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friends the Communities Secretary and the Home Secretary recently chaired a roundtable on anti-Muslim hate crime. It is being taken seriously by the Conservative party and by the Government.
It is worth everyone in this place remembering that for people outside there is far, far more to life than Brexit, as illustrated by many of the questions today. In Loughborough, we are very proud of Loughborough University being the best university in the world for sports-related subjects. One group of athletes who have been much undersung in recent weeks are our Team GB athletes who took part in the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi. One hundred and twenty-seven athletes returned with 169 medals, over 60 gold. Will the Prime Minister congratulate them, and does she think it might be time for GB to host the next Special Olympics?
I will look very carefully at my right hon. Friend’s suggestion in relation to the Special Olympics. I am very happy to join her—I am sure everybody across the whole House will—in congratulating our GB team on the significant haul of medals they brought back from the Special Olympics. May I also say how much we value Loughborough University and the work it does on sports-related matters?
The hon. Lady knows that we are increasing the funding—£1.3 billion extra—available to schools. I am sure she will want to welcome, as I do, the fact that there are 22,500 more children in the Bristol local authority area in good and outstanding schools since 2010.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), I thank the Prime Minister for the invitation she extended to me to her knife crime summit on Monday. Does she agree that, while the numbers and powers of police officers are important, we need to send a message to people who would never wear a t-shirt made in a sweatshop and look carefully at the air miles of the food they buy, yet seem not to make the connection between the drug use they have in their personal lives and the damage done to young people on our streets? Will she send a message that it is not acceptable?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. If we look at the extent to which knife crime is gang and drug-related, many people across our society need to ask themselves what they are doing to ensure we deal with knife crime and not see drug-related gangs committing these crimes, so that we are able to rid our society of what I believe to be the curse of drugs. I believe they have those impacts. They are bad, and that is why it is important that, as a Government, we have a very clear drugs strategy to take people off drugs and ensure we deal with this issue. My hon. Friend makes a very important point: it is a matter not just for Government or police, but for all of us across our society to deal with these issues.
We want to ensure we have a migration system that enables us to welcome people into this country on the basis of the skills they will bring and the contribution they will make to this country, not of the country they happen to come from. When people voted to leave the European Union in 2016, they sent a clear message that they wanted things to change. One of the things they wanted to change was to bring an end to free movement and to ensure that it is the UK Government who are able to make decisions about who can come to this country.
As the Prime Minister seeks to get her short extension upon the short extension, will she make it absolutely clear to the European Union that if they turn around and say that it has to be a long extension and that we will have to fight the European Union elections, she will say no, no, no?
We had the opportunity on Friday to cement that extension to 22 May and ensure that we left on 22 May. As I said earlier, I am grateful to all who supported that motion. Some did so with some difficulty, and with a very heavy heart. I now want us to find a position where we can, across the House, support the withdrawal agreement and a deal that enables us to leave on 22 May without having to hold European parliamentary elections. We can only do that if we come together and find a way forward that this House is willing to support.
We are looking seriously at issues around Yorkshire devolution. I know that it has caused some concern and there are different opinions about how it should be taken forward. The hon. Gentleman references Geoffrey Boycott, and one thing that I have always admired about Geoffrey Boycott is that he stayed at the crease, kept going and got his century in the end.
Further to the last question, once the Prime Minister has dealt with the rather tricky issue that is Brexit, as I am sure she will, will she move on to the much more difficult problem of devolution in Yorkshire? Now that the Secretary of State has ruled out devolution to the whole of Yorkshire, will the Prime Minister consider a devolution deal to the York city region, to include the city of York and the glorious county of North Yorkshire?
We recognise that there is in Yorkshire, as I have just said, enthusiasm for and dedication to the concept of devolution, and its potential to release and harness local people’s sense of identity with Yorkshire and be of ongoing benefit to the people of Yorkshire. We need to find the right proposals that will suit the area, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary has met the Yorkshire leaders. Discussions are continuing with them about a localist approach to devolution in Yorkshire different from the One Yorkshire proposal, which did not meet our criteria.
Reports from the Cabinet yesterday suggest that two proposals were put forward for cross-party co-operation to solve the Brexit crisis. One of them was to work with the Leader of the Opposition to deliver a Labour Brexit. The other was to work with the 280 MPs across the House who will support the Prime Minister’s deal subject to a confirmatory referendum. Why does she trust the Leader of the Opposition more than the people?
I want to ensure that we find a resolution that the House can support, such that we can deliver Brexit in a timely fashion. I believe it is important to do that as soon as possible, and I want us to do it without having to fight the European elections. I believe it is absolutely right, and the public would expect us, to be willing to work across the Chamber to find a resolution to this issue.
Conservative-led Redditch Borough Council has recently submitted its bid for the future high streets fund. Will the Prime Minister add her support to that bid, because the people of Redditch deserve to have our town unlocked? Does she agree that it is only with Conservatives in our town hall that we can continue to unlock Redditch after years of Labour neglect?
I commend Conservative-led Redditch council for the work that it is doing to unlock the town and to unlock the high street. My hon. Friend tempts me to support one bid over others, but there will be other of our hon. and right hon. Friends who wish me to support bids from their towns. It is important that we have made this money available, and I congratulate Redditch council, under the Conservatives, for all that it is doing to ensure the vitality of the town.
I find myself in a slightly curious position, sandwiched between the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh nationalists. I reassure my constituents and hon. Members that I remain a progressive Conservative while I am, sadly, independent in this House.
The Prime Minister’s late conversion to compromise is welcome, but I am sure she will understand the scepticism of those of us who have been working on a cross-party compromise for many months. Can she reassure me that she will enter discussions with the Leader of the Opposition and other parties without the red lines that have bedevilled the Brexit negotiations so far?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s indication that he remains a progressive Conservative in his thinking on various issues. I approach the discussions in a constructive spirit, because I want to find a resolution of this issue. I want to ensure that we can do what people told us we should do, which is to deliver Brexit in an orderly way that is good for this country.