The Secretary of State was asked—
The threat from dissident republican terrorism continues to be severe in Northern Ireland after the appalling killing of Lyra McKee. This Government’s first priority is to keep people safe and secure. Vigilance against this continuing threat is essential, and we remain determined to ensure that terrorism never succeeds.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the £105 million of UK Government funding for the new Derry/Londonderry city deal and the inclusive future fund. Does she agree that it is vital that we provide young people with the jobs and skills they need to move on in the future in a world that is rejecting violence and that all these things will help?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I am sure that she will have heard the words of Father Martin Magill at the funeral of Lyra McKee; he said that young people need jobs, not guns. It is exactly right that we should focus our efforts on providing jobs as well as tackling terrorism, so that we can give those young people the alternative to violence so that they can have a future that is fit for them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is doing an outstanding job and showing tremendous courage and professionalism in dealing with violence and dissident activity? What can the Government do to support the PSNI to ensure that it faces down the dissidents and people who are spreading hatred and violence?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Government’s first priority is to keep people safe and secure across the whole United Kingdom. We saw incredible bravery from the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the night of Lyra McKee’s killing. Although the police faced an onslaught of petrol bombs and shooting towards them, they got out of their vehicles to try to save Lyra, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. We need to see people across Northern Ireland working with the PSNI to stamp out terrorism, and the Government stand steadfast in our commitment to assisting that work.
It is vital that we give the right message to young people. However, we have recently seen, yet again, shots being fired over coffins at funerals and before funerals by IRA and INLA terrorists, using weapons that were supposed to have been decommissioned. Is it not incumbent on all political parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin, to make it clear that such paramilitary displays with weapons are harmful to our society, send out the wrong message to young people and should stop immediately?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that these sorts of outward displays of violence are not acceptable. What I saw after Lyra’s killing was the community coming together and rejecting those outward displays, leading to the cancellation of the proposed march through Londonderry on Easter Monday.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will have had a briefing earlier today—or, indeed, perhaps yesterday—from the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland about the security situation in Northern Ireland. In that context, would the Secretary of State update the people of Northern Ireland about the success of the PSNI in stopping the spate of ATM thefts and apprehending those responsible? Such an update would be very welcome.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that I saw the Chief Constable yesterday, and I share her concern about the issue. This is an ongoing operational matter, but the actions of the PSNI are to be applauded.
The whole House will share the Secretary of State’s admiration for all the officers of the PSNI—and of the Garda Siochana—who have stopped numerous hideous incidents over recent months and years. What assessment has she made of the PSNI’s morale and of the situation for recruitment to the PSNI and other security forces, should there be a different regime for the veterans of Operation Banner compared with other military operations in other theatres?
I have seen that the PSNI conduct a very difficult job. I am always pleased to have the chance to meet police officers—particularly at Strand Road in Londonderry, where I have made a number of visits following dreadful incidents that we have seen in that city—and to hear the camaraderie and commitment shown by those individuals. I am determined that we will deal with the matters regarding the legacy of Operation Banner appropriately, lawfully and in a way that reflects exactly the commitment that we see today from the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Is not one of the challenges for dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland to build the confidence of communities right across Northern Ireland, working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and others? In the face of recent terrible events, we have seen the community doing that, but what more can the Secretary of State do to encourage communities to work with the security forces?
The hon. Gentleman, I know, has great experience in this area and he is right that we do need to see co-operation between communities and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We did see a real step change following that appalling killing where people were welcoming the PSNI into their homes, but it is an incredibly difficult job. We need to make sure that the inclusive future fund—the £55 million that the Government have committed to Derry/Londonderry—is used in part to support those activities.
The Secretary of State will know that the security situation depends on, among other things, the perception that the police and the judicial process are independent. Families of victims of the troubles of the past are, in many cases, still waiting for answers. Does she agree that those families, and those young people who can be pulled into terrorist acts, would be influenced dramatically if they believed that there was a rule saying that there would be a statute of limitations for state actors when, quite rightly, we seek to prosecute those who perpetrated either murder or manslaughter from whatever background?
The hon. Gentleman will know that this Government are committed to implementing the institutions that were agreed at Stormont House. We have had a consultation on that matter and received more than 17,000 responses—individual personal responses. We will publish the summary of those consultation responses in due course.
I am happy to confirm that the latest labour market statistics for Northern Ireland show employment at a record high and unemployment at a record low. This is a long-term and consistently improving trend, and with continued political stability, we hope that it will continue in future.
Those are very welcome statistics. What is my hon. Friend doing to further grow employment and jobs in Northern Ireland and the rest of the country?
I am delighted to give some examples. Not only is unemployment now the lowest of the UK nations, at 2.9%, but the ratio of public sector to private sector jobs is rebalancing healthily. Exports have grown to more than £10 billion, and we expect a tourism surge from the golf open at Portrush. We will continue to pursue those and other measures, including the city deals that have just been mentioned.
Employment levels are improving, as the Minister has said, but does he agree that we need to attract above-average salary levels now to try to grow the economy? In that respect, the Heathrow logistics hub is an excellent project. Will he join me in pressing and persuading those behind the hub to look at Ballykelly, which is a very attractive environment?
The hon. Gentleman is a doughty battler for his constituents and for his constituency. I am sure that those involved will have heard his words and will be considering them carefully, but he is right about that and many other examples of important local investment in Northern Ireland.
The short, focused set of roundtable talks aimed at restoring devolution continues. Northern Ireland’s five main political parties have reaffirmed their commitment to restoring a power-sharing Executive and the other political institutions set out in the Belfast agreement.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer and for the work that she has done thus far. Does she agree that it is absolutely vital to get devolved government up and working as soon as possible, so that the victims of historical institutional abuse receive full and fair compensation for what they have suffered?
I do agree with my hon. Friend that we need to see the restoration of the institutions. I also agree that we need to see fair redress for those victims of historical institutional abuse. I have met those victims. Their stories are heartrending and absolutely dreadful. No one should have suffered the way that they did. I am not prepared to wait for restored devolution to take action in this matter. I am determined that we will do everything we can for those victims of historical abuse and that we will take measures forward as soon as possible and not wait for restored devolution.
On that subject, the Secretary of State and, indeed, the whole House will be aware of the sense of outrage that there is across the entire community in Northern Ireland and among the victims of abuse about her approach to this issue in recent days. Frankly, many people are saying that far too much time has already elapsed, given the fact that she has the ability to make this move faster. People are outraged at the idea of having to wait another couple of years, as she appeared to indicate. Will she now undertake to bring forward measures immediately to deal with this issue?
I do not shy away in any way from my responsibilities in this area, and I am absolutely determined that we will act as soon as we can. The two years the right hon. Gentleman referred to is an estimate by the civil service of Northern Ireland; it is not an estimate that I have put forward. As he will know, following the end of the consultation that I asked the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland to conduct, a number of decisions need to be taken—decisions that require ministerial input. I have asked the five parties in Northern Ireland to assist me in getting a resolution to those questions as soon as possible, so that I can act as soon as possible, as I am determined to do.
The Secretary of State will be aware that this is one but probably the most terrible example of a whole series of decisions that have cross-community and cross-party support but that she has refused to do anything about, even though this place and her Government are responsible for the administration of Northern Ireland. The fact of the matter is that people are being told that she has now placed another series of questions that need to be answered, and people see this as further delay. What are the questions that she now wants further answers to, who originated those questions, when did they first come to her—when were they put on her desk —and why is this being used as further reason to delay the proper process of compensation for these victims?
I have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman—he is an honourable man who works very hard for his constituents and for Northern Ireland—but I disagree with him on this matter. The head of the civil service and Executive Office has put forward 15 questions that need a response. I have asked the parties in Northern Ireland to help me to get decisions on those questions. But I am not shying away from my responsibility in that area; I am merely asking them if they will help me to answer the questions that David Sterling has posed to me to enable me to take this to the next stage so that we can deliver for the victims as soon as possible.
The head of the civil service in Northern Ireland, David Sterling, has asked for legislation to be made in this place. When the Secretary of State talks about action on historical institutional abuse, is she talking about bringing legislation through this House?
I have said on many occasions that I am prepared to do the legislation wherever it is quickest that we do it. I want to see redress for these victims as soon as possible. But there are some fundamental questions that David Sterling has posed that need answers, and I will get to those answers more quickly if I have the support and co-operation of the parties in Northern Ireland in working with me.
I know the sense of outrage. I have met those victims. I want to see action. It is quite right that the parties in Northern Ireland, when they were in government, set up this inquiry. It is absolutely right that they did that, and I applaud them for doing so. There is an opportunity for us to make progress on this quickly, but I cannot do it alone. I need the guidance and support of those in the parties in Northern Ireland, because ultimately they will be the Ministers who will have to implement whatever institutions and whatever system is created. I need their support so that we can make progress quickly. I am not delaying anything. I am determined to act for these people, and I will do whatever it takes to do so.
The House will be aware that today, to the very day, is the 21st anniversary of that occasion when a sunshine ray of hope pierced the dark clouds in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement was ratified, and we must give the victims and survivors some of that hope. Their agony is becoming unendurable. I do not doubt the good nature and the good will of the Secretary of State. She met the survivors, as I did I. But we cannot—we must not—wait for another two years. It would be impossible—unconscionable—for us to do so. Thirty-six have already died; we cannot let more die. I can assure the Secretary of State that she will have the support of Labour Members, but can she please bring this forward and end the agony and the misery of these survivors and victims?
I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s offer of support. We spoke about this matter yesterday. I am determined to take this forward as quickly as possible. It would be good to work with him in addressing the fundamental questions that need a response before legislation can be finalised. We are also working with Sir Anthony Hart to get answers to those questions, because we need to get this right. There is no point doing this in haste if we fail to deliver for the people who deserve redress as soon as possible.
Confidence and Supply Agreement
The Secretary of State has not had any meetings with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the confidence and supply agreement. The agreement is between the Conservative party and the Democratic Unionist party for the length of the Parliament, and as the agreement makes clear, the Secretary of State is not involved in confidence and supply discussions.
Last year, I met two incredibly brave women, Sarah Ewart and Denise Phelan, who have been directly impacted by Northern Ireland’s near total abortion ban and are working with Amnesty UK to change the law. Their harrowing experience of being unable to access safe and legal abortion in Northern Ireland demonstrates the reality of that restrictive regime. In Denise’s case, the foetus died and decomposed inside her. When will the Secretary of State realise that her Government’s agreement with the DUP is holding back the human rights of women in Northern Ireland, and what is she going to do about it?
I am not quite clear what the very important and, I agree, very difficult issue of abortion laws in Northern Ireland has to do with the confidence and supply agreement. It is not in the confidence and supply agreement at all. It is a very difficult and knotty issue that needs to be addressed as soon as we can get the Stormont Parliament up and running.
Can the Minister confirm whether there have been ongoing discussions between any members of the Cabinet and the DUP, seeking support for the Prime Minister’s latest attempt to bring back her Brexit deal? If so, will the new DUP bung be subject to the Barnett formula?
I tried to make this clear earlier, but let me repeat it, so that everybody is crystal clear. The confidence and supply agreement is not something that the Northern Ireland Office gets involved in, and rightly so. It is done at a much more senior level between No. 10 and through the usual channels, and it is not something that the Northern Ireland Office would have any particular participation in.
Will the Minister outline the benefits that confidence and supply one—I use that term in anticipation that we will have another—has brought to the population of Northern Ireland?
There has been a great degree of investment in Northern Ireland as a result of the confidence and supply agreement; the hon. Gentleman is right. There has been extensive spending. We have so far spent £430 million in Northern Ireland on things such as health, education and infrastructure. There is a further £333 million, subject to Parliament’s approval, and the remaining £323 million will be allocated in due course.
The Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) simply was not good enough. The current confidence and supply agreement between the Tories and the DUP has denied Scotland a total of £3.4 billion in Barnett consequentials. Would the Minister care to find out what the next bribe to the DUP will cost the people of Scotland, so that we can tell them?
It is very clear that the confidence and supply agreement does not incur Barnett consequentials and is separate. In that respect, it is rather like the city deals. I gently point out to Scottish National party Members that Scotland has done extremely well out of the city deals—it has had something like £1.25 billion. It is all very well them gesturing that away, as if it is nothing at all, but this is real money going into important investments in local economies across Scotland, as it is in Northern Ireland as well.
I have had discussions with the five main parties in Northern Ireland since the local elections, and they have all reaffirmed their commitment to restoring a power-sharing Executive and other political institutions set out in the Belfast agreement.
As someone who is half Northern Irish—in fact, proudly half Northern Irish—I am well aware of the profound sectarian issues that have scarred the nation for many hundreds of years. Consequently, I was delighted to see that the party that did best at the local elections, with the highest increase, was the non-sectarian Alliance party. Would the Secretary of State share with me the joy at seeing that tremendous non-sectarian result?
The message I took from the local elections is that what people on the doorstep want is restored devolved Government as soon as possible and that is what I am working to deliver.
Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that, having got the local elections under our belts and on the cusp of the European elections—with both of those out of the way—a really firm, positive focus can be placed by all parties on restoring the devolved Assembly in Stormont?
I know that the parties in Northern Ireland are determined that they will do all they can to deliver restored devolved Government. That is what is best for the people of Northern Ireland and it is what the people of Northern Ireland want. But this will not be easy—there are challenges—and I ask that we all offer our support to the parties in Northern Ireland to help them to take those difficult decisions.
Would the Secretary of State like to comment on or make an assessment of the election of Councillor Gary Donnelly—former spokesperson for the 32 County Sovereignty Movement—in the electoral area where the murder of innocent by-stander Lyra McKee took place and where police and bystanders were unapologetically and indiscriminately fired towards; and what progress has been made in that murder investigation and the process as well?
The hon. Gentleman is a fan of the dash and the semi-colon.
Very good in the use of a sentence. I repeat that the lesson I took from the local elections was that people want restored devolved Government as soon as possible.
As the House heard earlier, we had over 17,000 responses to the consultation, many of them containing tales of personal tragedy and loss, so I hope that everyone will understand the need to consider them all respectfully and carefully. The process is almost finished and I hope that we will be able to publish an analysis of the views they contain—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very unfair on the Minister, who is answering a question about the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past. This is a matter of the utmost seriousness and solemnity and I think that the Minister and the questioner should be accorded respect.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was just finishing my remarks by saying that the process of considering those tragic submissions is almost finished and I hope that we will be able to publish an analysis of the views they contain very soon.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we must listen carefully to this consultation and does he agree with the words of the Secretary of State in the foreword to the consultation:
“amnesties are not the right approach and”
“believes that justice should be pursued”?
Yes, I do. Any solution must allow both unionists and republicans to achieve closure, and for all of Northern Ireland to draw a line and move on. Otherwise it will not last. We have been working closely with the political parties in Northern Ireland, as well as colleagues across both Houses, on the way forward and, last week, the Secretary of State met the Victims’ Commissioner and legacy groups as well.
Part of the dark past of Northern Ireland is also the question of historical institutional abuse. The Secretary of State has said that she now intends to act. The victims groups this week called on her to stand down and resign. She needs to regain their confidence. She needs to give a very clear timetable as to when she will take action in this House and elsewhere. Will the Minister now make it clear when that will happen?
I thought I heard just now the Secretary of State doing a pretty good job of showing the personal commitment and the urgency with which she is treating this. I am afraid I cannot add any more detail to the timetable, but I hope everybody here will have understood and heard the passion in her voice and the determination to move this forward promptly and swiftly.
Prosecution of Veterans
My hon. and gallant Friend gave a very powerful speech on this on Monday, and I would encourage anybody here who has not heard it to go back and listen again. I think he and I agree that the current situation is not working for anyone. The question is not whether things need to change, because they clearly do, but how, so we have laws which work for police veterans as well as armed forces, for unionists and for nationalists, for victims and their families on all sides of the community, and which bring truth and justice and closure so society can move on. We will bring forward proposals as soon as possible.
As an ex-soldier, and now a Member of Parliament, I am ashamed that my Government have not sorted this matter out. I ask the Minister, and especially the Secretary of State, who has been in post longer—how much longer before it can be sorted out, and are you not ashamed?
My hon. and gallant Friend, having served in Northern Ireland, speaks with huge authority on this matter. I suspect that successive Governments have to share some blame for failing to fix it over many years. Clearly, as I said in my previous answer, the situation cannot be allowed to continue—it is not right; it is not just. It must be sorted out as promptly as possible. On that, I hope that he and I agree.
It was with regret that yesterday we got the revelation from the Government—through a written ministerial statement, rather than an oral statement—about the proposals for the way forward. We should hang our heads in shame that we intend to treat service personnel who served in Northern Ireland differently from those who served overseas. When I questioned the Attorney General on the issue on 31 January, he said clearly that to treat service personnel differently would plainly be wrong. He was right, Minister, was he not?
The important thing, as we heard repeatedly in last week’s urgent question and in Monday’s Westminster Hall debate, is that for those servicemen and women who served under Operation Banner it felt the same no matter what. Our challenge is that, if we are to come up with an answer that will work when it is taken to court by the lawfare-mongers, as it inevitably will be, we must have something that works on the basis of the different legal starting points for things that happened in the UK, as opposed to things that happened abroad, but which ends up with an answer that feels the same to our servicemen and women and provides them with the same robust protections no matter what.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Today marks two years since the Manchester Arena attack. It was a cowardly and sickening attack that deliberately targeted innocent and defenceless children. Members across the House will want to join me in sending my thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of all the victims. I am sure that Members will also want to join me in paying tribute to the emergency services for the immense bravery and courage they showed that night.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I know that the whole House will want to associate themselves with the Prime Minister’s words about the Manchester attack.
The Prime Minister may not have long left—good luck with those meetings later today—but she can act now against the return of banned chemical weapons. British experts are this morning investigating a suspected chlorine attack by al-Assad in Idlib. If it is proved, will she lead the international response against the return of this indiscriminate evil?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of the evil that is the use of chemical weapons. We of course acted in Syria, with France and the United States, when we saw chemical weapons being used there. We of course suffered the use of chemical weapons here on the streets of the United Kingdom, and we made a robust response, supported by our international friends and allies. We condemn all use of chemical weapons. We are in close contact with the United States and are monitoring the situation closely, and if any use of chemical weapons is confirmed, we will respond appropriately. But our position is clear: we consider Assad incapable of delivering a lasting peace, and his regime lost its legitimacy due to its atrocities against its own Syrian people.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We, like her, absolutely recognise the importance of this issue. The Government are committed to improving energy efficiency in 2.5 million homes by 2030 and our aim is to bring 2.5 million fuel-poor homes up to an energy performance certificate C rating by 2030. As she says, that will help to save energy and bring down bills.
I join the Prime Minister in commemorating all the victims of the Manchester bombing two years ago. Our thoughts are with the friends and families of all those who were killed, the survivors, and the emergency service workers who gave such heroic service that night. They will live with the horrors of that night for the rest of their lives and 10.31 tonight will be a very poignant moment for many people in Manchester.
I want to pay tribute to the last survivor of the Hull “headscarf revolutionaries”, Yvonne Blenkinsop. She is visiting Parliament today. She led a campaign for basic safety in the UK fishing fleet in the 1960s. As a result, many lives were saved. People like her have made such an enormous contribution to our national life. They should be recognised for it.
I also want to express, on behalf of the Labour party, my outrage that the Government have again failed our steel industry, putting 5,000 jobs at risk at British Steel and 20,000 more in the supply chain. The Government have failed those people. Even at this late stage—there is a statement later today—they must step in and save those jobs.
Why are schools having to close early on Friday afternoon due to spending cuts?
First, I say to the right hon. Gentleman, because he raised the issue of British Steel, that, obviously, we recognise that this is a worrying time for the thousands of dedicated British Steel workers and their families, as well as those in the supply chain and local communities. The Government have been working tirelessly with the company, its owner Greybull Capital and lenders to explore all potential options to secure a solution for the company. We showed, through the emissions trade scheme agreement, that we were willing to act, but we can only act within the law. It is clear that it would be unlawful to provide a guarantee or loan on the terms requested by the company. We will be working with the company and others, and the official receiver, in the days and weeks ahead to ensure we pursue every step to secure the future of the operations at Scunthorpe, Skinningrove and on Teesside. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has agreed an indemnity for the official receiver to enable British Steel to continue to operate in the immediate future. There are no job losses at this time and the official receiver has already said that staff will continue to be paid and employed. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be updating the House in a statement later this afternoon.
On the issue of schools, as the right hon. Gentleman knows we are putting record levels of funding into our schools.
That would explain why 26 schools close early on a Friday every week because they do not have enough money to keep themselves open. More than 1,000 schools across England are turning to crowd- funding websites with a wish-list of things they want to raise money to buy—really exotic things such as pencils, glue and textbooks. Why are they forced to do that if they allegedly have enough money in the first place?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman what I have said before and just quoted: we are putting record levels of funding into our schools. We have also put in place a fairer distribution of the funding between our schools. We are giving every area more money for every pupil in every school. What is important in our education system is not just what the Government put in, but what quality of education is received by the children. There are more children in good and outstanding schools, the disadvantage attainment gap has been narrowed and record rates of disadvantaged young people are going to university. That is a record to be proud of.
I do not know if the Prime Minister has had a chance to listen to or read the words of the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. He said:
“The fact so many schools are doing this should be ringing serious alarm bells for the government”.
The Prime Minister does not seem to be aware of the crisis that is facing so many in education at the present time, so can she be very clear with the House: has per pupil funding risen or fallen since 2010?
As I said to the right hon. Gentleman, we are giving every area more money for every pupil in every school. Why are we able to do that? It is because the Conservatives have taken a balanced approach to our economy and managed our finances well. What would Labour give us? One thousand billion pounds extra borrowing. That would mean higher taxes, fewer jobs and less money to go into our schools.
I can help the Prime Minister out in two ways. One is that a Labour Government would properly fund our schools—it would not short-change our children—and we would not use Orwellian words like “fair funding” while we are cutting. Per pupil funding —just so the Prime Minister understands it—has fallen by 8%. For sixth forms, it is 24%.
At the end of last year, the Prime Minister said “austerity is over.” Maria, who describes herself as a
“teacher in an underfunded school”
wrote to me this week and asked this—[Interruption.] Maria is a teacher in an underfunded school—I think Conservative Members need to listen to her. She asked:
“when will the government stop making false claims of increased funding for schools and start to tackle the serious problems faced by teachers?”
When will the cuts end for our children’s schools?
I repeat: we are giving every area more money for every pupil in every school, but let us just see the situation that this Government inherited and that we would see under a Labour Government in the future—having to spend more on debt interest than on our schools budget. That is not because of what this Government are doing, because we are bringing debt down. It is the legacy of a Labour Government—more money on debt than on our schools.
What this Government have squandered is what they inherited: children’s centres, Sure Start, children taken out of poverty. They squandered the future for so many of our children. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Burghart, you are an educated young man. When you came into the House, you struck me as a very well behaved fellow. Calm yourself and listen.
The Department for Education’s funding chief met school leaders recently and told them:
“the first thing to say is obviously they are not generous budgets”—
he is very cautious with his words—
“They are budgets which leave schools with real pressures to face”.
Everyone agrees that the creative industries in this country are an enormous strength to our economy, so why have the arts borne the brunt of the Government’s brutal cuts to school funding? So many children are losing out on music and creative arts in our schools because of decisions by central Government.
The right hon. Gentleman started his question by claiming that this Government had squandered what had been left by the last Labour Government. Let us look at what was left by the last Labour Government. [Interruption.] Oh. They do not want to be reminded what they left the last time they were in government. What did the last Labour Government leave? Unemployment higher than when they went into office. What did the last Labour Government leave? The biggest deficit in our peacetime history. And what were we told by the departing Chief Secretary to the Treasury? We were told: under Labour, there is no money left.
My question was actually about funding for arts and creative subjects in schools. A survey has shown that nine out of 10 secondary schools have cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one of the creative arts subjects. Are the artists and actors of tomorrow only to come from the private schools, while the Prime Minister continues to cut the funding for state schools?
When the Prime Minister says that school funding has been protected, she is denying the daily experience of teachers, parents and pupils. She is denying the incontrovertible evidence of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, education bodies and teaching unions. She is actually in outright denial. When the wealth of the richest 1,000 people has increased by £50 billion in the last year alone, do not tell us that the money is not there for our children’s schools. This Government have cut vital public services to give tax cuts to the privileged few. Can the Prime Minister name a more damaging policy—a more short-sighted policy—than cutting investment in our future: our children?
The richest have paid more tax every year under the Conservatives—[Interruption.] Wait for it! They have paid more every year under the Conservatives than in any year under a Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman talks about what happens in our schools. As I have said, we are putting record funding into our schools, but what matters is the quality of education our children get. Labour opposed the phonics checks, it wants to scrap academies and free schools, and it would abolish SATs. That does not help to raise standards in schools. Let us just look at the Labour record. When it was in government, standards were lower than they are today. Where it is in government in Wales, standards are lower than in England, and if it was to get into government, we would see more of the same—lower standards, less opportunity, less opportunity for young people for a brighter future. It is the Conservative party that gives good quality education, good jobs and a good future.
My hon. Friend should not necessarily believe all the reports he reads in the newspapers, but let me be very clear on this particular issue. Around 3,500 people were killed in the troubles. The vast majority were murdered by terrorists. The legal position is clear. Any amnesty or statute of limitations would have to apply across the board. It would apply to terrorists. I am not prepared to accept a proposal that brings in amnesties for terrorists.
I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the heinous crime that took place two years ago in Manchester. We must all stand together against terrorism.
The Prime Minister’s customs tariff plan has been described by the UK’s former representative to the EU as the “definition of insanity”. Her customs union compromise has already been dismissed by the EU. Is this new deal not just a fantasy?
I have set out the 10 points about the new deal. There is an issue about customs. There is a difference of opinion in the House on the future customs arrangement with the EU. That is why it is important that the House comes to a decision on that issue. Allowing the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill will enable the House to come to a decision on that issue. It will also enable the House to come to a decision on a second referendum, which I continue to believe would not be the right route for this country to go down. We should deliver on the first referendum before suggesting anything about a second.
My goodness—talk about ignoring reality! Prime Minister, look at the Benches behind you. The Prime Minister is fooling no one but herself. The truth is that the people of Scotland do not want her deal, her own party does not want her deal, and now even the pro-Brexit Labour Front Bench will not support her deal. Her time is up. Tomorrow, people in Scotland will have the choice to send a message by sending pro-European, outward-looking Scottish National party MEPs to Brussels to stop Brexit. What party does she think the people of Scotland will choose?
There is only one party in Scotland guaranteeing no more referendums, and that is the Conservative party. [Interruption.]
Order. Colleagues, calm yourselves. Dignity. Restraint. Let us hear Mr Heappey.
I know that all Members across the House—it will have been obvious in response to his question—will want to join me in sending deepest sympathies to my hon. Friend’s constituent. As my hon. Friend will know, the courts can already, and do, consider harm caused to a mother or unborn child in sentencing for an offence. I know my hon. Friend has discussed changing the law on this particular issue with the Ministry of Justice. They are concerned that there could be far-reaching unintended consequences of doing so, but I have asked them to keep the law under review. I know that my hon. Friend, along with others in this House, will continue to work on this issue. I am sure everybody recognises the compassion that my hon. Friend is showing in raising this issue. What we want to ensure is that what he is proposing is not something that could lead to other, unintended consequences, of the sort that he would not wish to see.
I fully understand that these cases are desperately difficult, and my sympathies are with the families and friends. The Government did change the law, as the hon. Gentleman said, and specialist doctors on the General Medical Council specialist register can now prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use where there is clinical evidence of benefit. NHS England and the chief medical officer have made it clear that cannabis-based products can be prescribed for medicinal use in appropriate cases, but we must trust doctors to make clinical decisions in the best interests of patients.
Obviously, it is important to remember that the events at HBOS Reading branch constituted criminal activity, and it is right that those responsible were brought to justice. The FCA is currently conducting two investigations into the events at HBOS Reading, including on the bank’s communications with regulators following the discovery of the misconduct. Lloyds has appointed a former High Court judge, Dame Linda Dobbs, to consider whether issues related to HBOS Reading were properly investigated and reported by Lloyds Banking Group. Those findings will be shared with the FCA, and I look forward to the conclusion of all those investigations.
We have been putting more money into special educational needs. I recognise that for many parents getting the support that is required for their children can be a difficult process with the local authorities. We recognise the importance of special needs and that is precisely why we have been putting extra support in there.
May I thank the Prime Minister for the amount of British aid that flows through to the World Food Programme in Yemen and ask if she has noted in the last 48 hours a report by its excellent director David Beasley drawing attention to the diversion and theft of aid in Houthi-controlled areas by Houthi authorities? Will she urge the international community to increase the pressure on Houthi leadership to resolve this and further the efforts for peace in Yemen, rather than take the slightly easy course of always focusing on the Yemeni Government and the Saudi-led coalition?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. We are all concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. As he rightly says, this Government have a good record in terms of the amount of money and the aid we are providing to help those in Yemen, but of course it is only of benefit if it is able to reach those who need it, and it is incumbent on all parties to ensure that that aid reaches those who need it. We will continue to support the efforts to bring a lasting peace to Yemen. A political settlement there is the way to get that sustainability and security for the future, but it is incumbent on everybody to make sure the aid that is being provided for those who are desperately in need can reach those who need it most.
May I say first that it is indeed right that the eyes of the world will be on Portsmouth for the D-day national commemorative event? This will be putting our veterans first. It remembers their sacrifices and their achievements, and we will highlight the historic strength of the western alliance and the trans-Atlantic partnership. The hon. Gentleman has raised a specific issue in relation to coroners’ reports and I will write to him in response to that, but may I say that I look forward, as do others, to being in Portsmouth to commemorate this very important anniversary?
Forty three years ago I, like many others, was ordered to serve in Northern Ireland to keep the peace while terrorists were attacking and killing civilians in Northern Ireland. Many of my colleagues and others did not come back, including one, Robert Nairac, a friend, who was tortured and murdered, and his body has never been found nor his murderers ever brought to justice. In answer to an earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) my right hon. Friend talked about an amnesty. I must tell her that none of those who served has called for an amnesty; what they have called for is fairness and justice. Many old veterans are now finding, having been cleared decades ago, that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is proceeding against them with no new evidence. Will my right hon. Friend please answer me: how can I say to my old colleagues that this Government have not abandoned them?
May I say to my right hon. Friend that we absolutely value the service that he and others gave in Northern Ireland? This was a very difficult time for a part of the United Kingdom and the work that the police and the armed forces did in Northern Ireland during that time was absolutely crucial. We are pleased that we have seen the peace that has come since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement but there was obviously much injury and loss of life during the troubles. As I indicated earlier, around 3,500 people were killed during the troubles; the vast majority of them were murdered by terrorists. My right hon. Friend talked about a fair and just system. We want to ensure that there is a fair and just system that is working across the board to deal with these legacy issues, but at the moment there is a disproportionate emphasis on cases that involve the police and the armed forces. There are cases involving terrorists that are being looked into, but I think people would recognise that there is a disproportionate emphasis on the police and armed forces. It is therefore important that we bring in a system that has full support and will enable people to see that fairness and justice are being applied. That is what the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is working on. She has been working on that with the various political parties in Northern Ireland, and it is what we will put forward in due course. We recognise the sacrifice, the bravery and the determination of our armed forces and the work they did in Northern Ireland, and we, too, want to see fairness and justice.
As the hon. Lady knows, there is only one way for this House to ensure that we leave the European Union without no deal, and that is to leave with a deal and to support the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill and to take that process through this House. I am sure that she also knows that the legal default position continues to be no deal. Were we to get to 31 October—I want us to leave the EU before then—but were we to get to the 31 October position, it would be a matter for the 27, not just for this country, to determine whether there was no deal or not. This is why it is absolutely right that the Government are continuing to make preparations for no deal.
Like so many people in this Chamber, I want to see more money for schools, hospitals, the police and transport. Is not the best way of doing this to agree a deal that allows us to legally exit the EU, thereby unlocking the three years of pent-up investment that is sitting on the sidelines seeking the certainty that the Prime Minister is trying to deliver and that this party should be trying to deliver?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is pent-up investment there, and there are companies that have been holding investment back until they see the Brexit deal being resolved. It is important that we see that deal going through this House, and supporting the withdrawal agreement Bill is the way to ensure that we deliver the Brexit that the people voted for and that we do it in a way that Conservatives stood on in their manifesto at the last election and actually that Labour Members stood on in their manifesto at the last election. Once we are over this and once we have left the European Union, we will be able to take advantage not only of the deal dividend but of that increased investment, and to see that bright future for our country.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point, and I recognise the force with which he has raised it and the concern that he has for the victims of that terrible attack. Sadly, we have seen too many people in this country being victims of terrorist attacks. The Lord Chancellor has indicated that the Ministry of Justice is reviewing this situation. He has heard the specific proposal the hon. Gentleman has put forward, and I am sure that he will take it into account in that review.
Returning to Northern Ireland, there has now been no devolved government there for two and a half years. Every week in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we hear about the impact of this on ordinary people. Whether on equality issues, on funding for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, or on a pay rise for teachers, who are paid 6% less than teachers in the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is being left behind. Will the Prime Minister do all she can to restore devolution before the end of the year?
I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. I am as keen as she is to ensure that we see the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland. I believe that all the parties have recently come together for talks with the Secretary of State and, as appropriate, the Irish Government, and we are ensuring that those talks are continuing. Obviously, there are matters that need to be addressed and concerns from the political parties on different issues. Those need to be overcome such that we can see devolution restored because, as my hon. Friend says, this is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, ensuring that they have a devolved Government that can ensure good governance in Northern Ireland.
We have been listening to those who have raised concerns about that particular issue. Last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that no new Government funding scheme will be used to support the unjustified use of leasehold for new houses. We have had a technical consultation on how to improve the market for consumers, and we are analysing the responses. We will shortly respond to the consultation and to the recent Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report on leasehold reform, and we will introduce legislation in due course.
In reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), the Prime Minister quite rightly paid tribute to the 300,000 security personnel who through their courage, professionalism and skill maintained the rule of law in Northern Ireland, without which the Belfast agreement would never have been signed, but she did not quite answer his question. None of the people who served and defended the rule of law wants a blanket amnesty; they want a categorical assurance that the prosecuting authorities will not bring forward a fresh process within the existing framework of law unless there is clear new evidence and an assurance that, no doubt whatever, a fair trial will proceed.
I absolutely appreciate the points that my right hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) have made in relation to this issue. The problem we face in Northern Ireland is that a number of processes have been aiming to deal with justice in relation to deaths during the troubles, but all the processes that have been followed so far have been found to be flawed in some way. That is why it is necessary to go through the work that we have been doing to find a process that will not be flawed, that will be legally supportable, and that will enable the fairness and justice that we all want to see to be brought to the fore.
The Government have been dealing with the issue of pay for sleep-in cover. We have had to address the matter as the direct result of a court case. We have been responding to that case, so I recognise the issue about pay for sleep-in cover. We are going to bring forward proposals in relation to the wider issue of social care. We want to ensure that we have a sustainable social care system for the future.
Will the Prime Minister welcome, with me, the launch of Radio Reminisce, a fantastic, new dementia-friendly, subscription-based radio service? It is designed to help and comfort people over 70 with early-onset dementia, and it was produced and developed in Belper in my constituency.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue of support for people with early-onset dementia and for highlighting the new radio service. As she will know, the Government are committed to doubling spending on research into dementia by 2020. The radio service is obviously a practical way of providing support for people with early-onset dementia, and I am happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the new service. I am sure that it will provide important help to those who are suffering with dementia.
My view on what should happen in relation to abortion is clear, and I have made it clear in the past, but this is a devolved issue and we believe it should be addressed by the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland when that is restored.
As we look forward to the visit by the President of United States, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is in the national interest that we support his visit and unite across the House, and across the country, to make a success of the visit so that our special relationship endures, grows and supports the success of this country as we exit the EU?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and he is absolutely right. We are looking forward to the state visit of the President of the United States, and we are also looking forward to President Trump joining me and other leaders to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-day. This is an important commemoration where, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), we will recognise the sacrifice made by British armed forces, American armed forces and others from so many other countries to ensure the freedom of Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) is also right that we have a deep and special relationship with the United States of America. It is important, and it is our closest and deepest security and defence relationship. It is a relationship that has helped to keep the peace around the world, and it is one we want to see continue. Every Member of this House should welcome the President of the United States of America to the UK.
I suggest that, if the hon. Gentleman wants to listen to the people of Scotland and their view on their future, he starts listening to the decision they took in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom.
If polling is to be believed, the winning party in tomorrow’s Euro elections will be the Brexit party. This party, in contrast to the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, has clearly stated that a no-deal Brexit is its policy. On the basis of normal turnout, that means between 6 million and 7 million people will have voted for a no deal, which begs the question: what of the other 10 million Brexit voters in 2016?
It concerns me, and has long concerned me, that we do not have the consent here in this House to deliver the Brexit that is likely to emanate from this House. With that in mind, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on the first steps towards acknowledging it yesterday, will she commit to reaching out across the House to bring about the vote, which remains to take place, on the choice between having a final say of the British public or a no-deal Brexit?
I do not recognise the choice that my hon. Friend sets out. First, as I said earlier, I have not changed my view on a second referendum. I have been clear that I believe this House should be delivering on the result of the first referendum, and I believe that the choice before this House is whether it wants to deliver on the result of the first referendum and on the manifestos on which the majority of the Members of this House stood, which were clear that we want to do it with a deal. We can do that, and we can do it by giving a Second Reading to the withdrawal agreement Bill, by seeing the Bill through the House to Royal Assent, by ratifying the treaty and by leaving the European Union.
What the DWP is doing is spending not just its resources but its effort—I thank all the staff in the DWP for this—out there, helping people into the workplace and ensuring that when they are in the workplace they are able to keep more of the money they earn.
Two years ago, the Prime Minister visited the fishing village of Mevagissey—I am sure she remembers it, because she bought me some chips for lunch. The people of Mevagissey now face losing their only GP surgery because the remaining doctor has given notice to hand back the contract to the NHS. I am sure the Prime Minister would agree that it is vital that these rural and coastal communities retain their primary care services, so what more can the Government do to attract GPs to rural and coastal communities? Will she use her offices to ensure that everything possible is done to make sure Mevagissey keeps its GP service?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of the visit to beautiful Mevagissey and of the good chips that he and I shared on that occasion. He is absolutely right about the importance of GPs to local communities, and I recognise the concerns in Mevagissey on this issue. We are giving additional incentives to attract GP trainees into areas where it has previously been hard to recruit, such as rural and coastal communities. I am sure that a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue.
For over two years, the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland have been waiting for justice and compensation, following the independent report of ex-Justice Hart. The fact of the matter is that many of them are dying without seeing the compensation come through. The Northern Ireland Office’s policy of refusing to do anything in Northern Ireland, even when it has cross-community and cross-party support, has now culminated in victims of abuse dying without seeing justice—this has got to stop. Will the Prime Minister intervene and make sure that action is taken to get immediate action for these victims?
I fully appreciate the extent of concern that there is about this issue. Of course, we also have our independent inquiry into child sexual abuse here in England and Wales, and I recognise the impact on all those who have been victims of this sort of abuse. We call it “historical”—as the right hon. Gentleman said, the investigation is referred to as an “historical” investigation—but for those who have been victims it is not historical; this rests with them for the rest of their life. I recognise the concern about the issue he has raised. Obviously, if the Northern Ireland Executive were in place, this would be a matter that they would be addressing. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been looking at this issue, and I will discuss with her what response can be given on what I recognise is a matter of deep concern to many people in Northern Ireland.
I have a question to the Prime Minister from a Northern Ireland veteran. He is Royal Marine David Griffin, a Dublin-born Irish Catholic who joined the British Army and transferred to the Royal Marines. In 1972, in Belfast, he killed an IRA gunman who was about to assassinate one of his comrades at a guard post. Forty-seven years later, he is now being investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He is watching these proceedings now, Prime Minister, from his home, at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. He asked me to ask you this: “I served my Queen and country in uniform for over 20 years and I was commended for my service in Northern Ireland. Acting under the lawful orders of my officer commanding, I killed a terrorist who was about to murder one of my comrades, yet I am being investigated as if I were a criminal. The IRA have ‘letters of comfort’—we don’t. Why, Prime Minister, are you pandering to Sinn Féin-IRA, while throwing veterans like me to the wolves?” What is your answer, Prime Minister, to this Chelsea pensioner and all the veterans he represents?
My right hon. Friend has put his case and that of the veteran he is representing, a Chelsea pensioner. We thank that individual, as we thank all those who served in Northern Ireland for their bravery and the determination with which they acted in Northern Ireland. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson)—a former Northern Ireland Secretary—said, that bravery and determination enabled the peace that we see today in Northern Ireland.
It is not the case that the terrorists currently have an amnesty. [Interruption.] No, it has been made very clear that evidence of criminal activity will be investigated and people should be brought to justice. I want to ensure that we have a fair and just system. I do not believe that the system is operating fairly at the moment. I do not want to see a system where there is an amnesty for terrorists. I want to see a system where investigations can take place in a lawful manner, and where the results of those investigations can be upheld and will not be reopened in the future. In order to do that, we need to change the current system, and that is what we will do.
Over the last few days, I have received distressed emails from a number of constituents who are EU citizens living in the UK, but who will not be able to vote tomorrow. Their predicament arises because of this Government’s late decision to participate in the elections, which did not give many EU citizens enough time to fill out the necessary form declaring that they will not be voting elsewhere. Will the Prime Minister use all the power of her office to take immediate steps this afternoon to ensure that the necessary form is made available at polling stations tomorrow so that EU citizens living in the United Kingdom will not be disenfranchised?
We take every step to ensure that those who are entitled to vote in elections are indeed able to do so. The hon. and learned Lady says that it was a late decision by the Government to enter into the European elections. Of course, that decision was taken because of a decision by this House on 29 March not to agree a deal that would have made it unnecessary to hold European elections.
I think the Prime Minister is beginning to understand the level of fury of veterans when it comes to their treatment by this place over this years. The most disturbing part of last weekend was the insinuation of equivalence between those who got up in the morning to go and murder women, children and civilians, and those who donned a uniform to go and protect the Crown. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to tell the nation that she sees no equivalence whatever between those two groups, and that the line that preferential treatment should not be given to veterans is not right?
I would hope that it is absolutely clear from everything that I have said at this Dispatch Box that I value the sacrifice, bravery and commitment of our armed forces, whose work in Northern Ireland—alongside the police in Northern Ireland and others—enabled us to get to the stage at which we are at today, whereby we have the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and have had peace in Northern Ireland for many years now, and long may that continue. There is no question of equating that bravery and sacrifice with the acts of terrorists. I think the implication of my hon. Friend’s question is that he is urging me to put in place a system that would equate terrorists with members of the armed forces. Any statute of limitations and any amnesty that is put in place would, as a matter of law, have to apply across the board. I do not want to see—and I will not see—an amnesty for the terrorists.
I thank the Prime Minister for recognising the impact on steelworkers and their families of the devastating news that British Steel has gone into liquidation, and for recognising the high quality of work that they do on Teesside, at Skinningrove and in my constituency of Scunthorpe. Will she meet cross-party MPs whose constituencies are affected by this news, so that we can look together at how best to ensure that this great industry moves forward to serve this country into the future?
As I said earlier, I recognise that this is a worrying time for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and others. The Government have been actively looking at what we can do. We have given support through the ETS agreement, but have not lawfully been able to give the further support that was requested. I will certainly meet the hon. Gentleman and a group of MPs to consider the issue. This is about one company, owned by Greybull Capital. However, we have taken steps in the past to ensure that the United Kingdom continues to have a steel industry, and we will want to look at the wider issue.
Order. Just before we come to the Prime Minister’s statement, I think it is fitting for me to refer again to something that was mentioned at the start of questions to the Prime Minister by the Leader of the Opposition.
Three trawlers set out from Hull during January and February of 1968 and never returned, leading to the loss of 58 lives. Yvonne Marie Blenkinsop is the last surviving member of a group of women from Hull who became known, following that tragedy, as the headscarf revolutionaries. The women campaigned for better protection for their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Through their actions, countless lives have been saved. I am reliably informed that Yvonne Marie Blenkinsop is with us today, observing our proceedings. We salute her and her fellow women, and we extend to her the warmest welcome to the House of Commons. [Applause.]