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Volume 664: debated on Wednesday 4 September 2019

Last night, Parliament once again defeated this shambolic Tory Government. Today, we have seized back control from a Prime Minister who is behaving more like a dictator than a democrat. The Prime Minister must be stopped, and MPs must tonight unite across this House to take no deal off the table. We will defeat the Government again, so, when we succeed, will the Prime Minister respect the democratic vote of this House and the democratic will of the people we represent and finally act to remove the threat of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit?

I might ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will respect the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom, which this House voted to do time and again, to implement the result of the referendum.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a new boy, but may I suggest to him that we ask the questions and he is supposed to answer them? Quite simply, my colleagues and I are sent here by the people of Scotland, where we have a majority. The people of Scotland voted to remain in the European Union and we are not going to be dragged out against our will by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister must also not be paying attention to the polls this morning. They show that the Scottish National party is polling to win a majority in Scotland once again, with the Tories in retreat, so if he wants an election, he should enable the Bill and bring it on.

It is clear for all to see that the Prime Minister is playing a game of bluff and bluster. He does not care about stopping a no-deal Brexit. His strategy, as his lead adviser put it, is a sham. This is not a Parliament versus the people; it is a Parliament standing up for the people. The people did not vote for a no-deal Brexit. This Prime Minister is robbing the people of power and handing control to the Leave campaign, the cult now running No. 10. Once again, I ask the Prime Minister: are you a dictator or a Democrat? Will he accept the legislation today so that no deal can be avoided, and will he let us vote for an election so that the people can truly decide the next steps?

I am a democrat, because I not only want to respect the will of the people in the referendum but want to have an election—or I am willing to have an election—if the terrible Bill goes through.

There is a reason why the separatists in Scotland drone on and on about breaking up and smashing the oldest and most successful political union, and that is to detract from their appalling domestic record. They are a total shambles. They have the highest taxes anywhere in Europe. Their educational standards are falling, for which they are responsible. Their signature policy—[Interruption.] This is a useful point. Their signature policy is to return Scotland to the European Union after Brexit, complete with the euro, the full panoply of EU laws and, as I never tire of saying, the surrendering of Scottish fish just when they have been taken back by this country.

Q13. I warmly welcome the Prime Minister to his place. My constituents sent me here to speak for them, and what they care about is better hospital care, more police on our streets, and good schools for their children. Does the Prime Minister agree with people in Telford that those are the issues we should be discussing in this place? Will he commit to building on his welcome spending announcements to deliver great public services for my constituents? (912222)

I thank my hon. Friend very much. We love Telford, of course, and it is going to see even more when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announces his spending review shortly. There will be investment in the NHS, more police officers to keep our streets and the hon. Lady’s streets safe, and more money for every school in this country. Conservatives are delivering on the priorities of the British people.

Q2. Mr Speaker, you know that I am not a doomster or a gloomster. On that positive note, I thank the Prime Minister for boosting support for Scottish independence just a few weeks into his premiership—they may be his last few weeks, too. According to research by the UK Trade Policy Observatory, a no-deal Brexit would cost up to 1,100 jobs in my constituency and over 63,000 jobs across Scotland. Will the Prime Minister explain to me and my constituents, who are facing that dreadful prospect, what their families should do about the heavy price that they may pay for a Brexit that they never voted for? (912210)

Of course we are preparing for a no-deal Brexit if we absolutely must have one. I do not think that the consequences will be anything like as bad as the merchants of Project Fear have said, but the way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to allow this Government to get on and do a deal at the summit on 17 October. The choice for this country is who they want doing that deal: this Government or that Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Order. We do not name people in the Chamber. People must observe the rules—[Interruption.] Order. I am simply and politely informing the Prime Minister of the very long-established procedure with which everybody, including the Prime Minister, must comply. That is the position—no doubt, no argument, no contradiction—and that is the end of the matter.

I welcome the new Prime Minister to the Dispatch Box and tell him that this year we celebrate 10 years since this House passed the Autism Act, which is still the only disability-specific piece of legislation in the UK. The all-party parliamentary group on autism, made up of Members from all parts of the House, will publish next week the 10th annual review, with recommendations for the Government right across the board. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to look at the recommendations carefully and instruct his Chancellor to put more resources and more money into helping people with autism and their families receive the help and services they need?

I thank my right hon. Friend very much for everything she has done for that cause over many years, and I reassure her that, very shortly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will outline not just more money for primary schools and secondary schools, but also a big investment in schools for special educational needs and disabilities. That is, again, delivering on the priorities of the British people.

Q4. People in Swansea voted to leave the EU, but leave voters are saying to me that they did not vote for a no deal or for “do or die” on 31 October. They want to live. They voted for good things—for more money, more jobs and more control—and now they see that they will get less money, less jobs and less control, so they want a final say.Will the Prime Minister undertake, when he goes to extend article 50 after the passage of the Bill we are considering this afternoon, to ensure there is a proper referendum so that there is a choice between a managed deal and remain, and not a kamikaze no deal? (912212)

If the hon. Gentleman wants to put that matter to the people, the best thing he can do is persuade his right hon. Friend to summon up his courage and to stop being so frit. If he is going to pass this wretched surrender Bill, at least he should submit it to the judgment of the people in the form of a general election.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to implement the will of the people of Swansea, what he should do is vote with this Government and not for the surrender Bill tonight.

The Prime Minister has said that the Prorogation of Parliament is nothing to do with Brexit. Is that still his position?

As my right hon. Friend knows full well, there have been demands for the Prorogation of Parliament ahead of a Queen’s Speech from the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and from across the House. This Session has lasted longer than any in the last 400 years, and there will be ample opportunity to debate the Brexit deal in this House after 17 October if this Government are allowed to get on and deliver a deal.

Q5. The Chancellor today announced another £2 billion, on top of the £6.3 billion already allocated, to help companies after a no-deal Brexit. Industry, the public and Parliament have a right to know which industries will benefit, for how long and what the total cost will be to the taxpayer. Can the Prime Minister tell us? (912213)

There is a great deal of preparatory work going on—particularly in the west midlands, which the hon. Gentleman represents—to make sure that automotive supply chains are indeed ready for a no-deal scenario, but we do not want a no-deal scenario. And the way to avoid it is not to vote for the absurd surrender Bill that is before the House today and to let the Government get on and negotiate a deal, because that is what we want to do.

The Scotch whisky industry is hugely important in Moray. The potential tariffs applied by the US as part of its trade war with the EU could cost hundreds or thousands of jobs across Scotland and the United Kingdom, so what representations has the Prime Minister made to President Trump? Will his Government do everything possible to avoid these tariffs being applied to the Scotch whisky industry?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything he does to represent that vital industry, which earns billions of pounds in revenue for this country. Tariffs on Scotch whisky would be absolutely absurd—a point we have made repeatedly to our friends in the United States—but, again, when we do free trade deals around the world, Scotch whisky is one of those many products that will have its chances boosted in growing export markets.

Q6. Last weekend, in Lincoln and right across the country, there were cross-party protests against the Prorogation of Parliament. Does this unelected Prime Minister, who has no majority in this House, believe that his attack on our democracy is his only means of forcing a disastrous no-deal Brexit on Lincoln and on the businesses and people of this country? (912214)

If the hon. Lady wants to speak for the people of Lincoln, who, after all, voted to leave —yes, they did—the best thing she can do is make sure we come out of the EU on 31 October with a deal. If she is genuinely prepared to frustrate that ambition, through the surrender deal being proposed today, will she at least have a word with her friend on the Front Bench and urge him, as she speaks of democracy, to submit his Bill to the will of the people, in the form of a general election on 15 October? Will she at least say that to him?

Many of us in this House will know the value of community hospitals in our constituencies, with none more valued than Leek Moorlands Hospital in my constituency. A consultation has recently been undertaken on the provision of healthcare in north Staffordshire, and there is understandable concern about the future of Leek Moorlands. So will the Prime Minister join my campaign to keep the hospital open in Leek, with enhanced services, for the benefit of all the people of Leek and Staffordshire Moorlands?

First, let me thank my right hon. Friend for everything she has done for the people of Northern Ireland and for rightly raising this issue in her constituency with me. Of course she will understand that decisions affecting Leek Moorlands must be led by clinicians, but I hope a solution can be found that benefits everyone in her constituency.

Q7. In a desperate attempt to win yesterday’s vote, the Prime Minister apparently made emotional appeals to Conservative MPs that he was serious in seeking a deal, but his answers in the House yesterday and today make it clear that there are no real negotiations, in public or in private. Those with whom he claims to be negotiating in the European Union have said:“Nothing has been put on the table”. So does the Prime Minister understand why, across this country, people find it difficult to trust a word he says? (912215)

May I tell the hon. Gentleman that what the people of this country want to see is us come together to come out of the EU on 31 October with a deal? We are making great progress with our friends and partners in Brussels and Dublin, and even in Paris, but I am afraid those talks are currently being undermined by the absurd Bill before the House today. I urge him to reject it. If he must pass it, will he have a word with his right hon. Friend and ensure that that Bill is put to the people, in the form of a general election?

In the light of the Prime Minister’s answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), could the Prime Minister please explain why it has proved impossible to find any official or Minister prepared to state that the reasons for Prorogation were to pave the way for a Queen’s Speech, in the course of the current legal proceedings in which the Government are involved? Would the Prime Minister like to reconsider the answer he has just given to the House?

I hesitate to advise my right hon. and learned Friend about legal proceedings but, if he looks at what happened in Scotland this morning, he will discover that that case was thrown out.

Q9. As a result of budget cuts to the Home Office, largely enacted while the right hon. Gentleman was Mayor of London, police numbers plummeted: we have 1,000 fewer officers in the west London command unit alone; and we are one third down on police officers in my borough of Westminster. He is now promising to get us back to where we were in 2010, with an additional 20,000 officers. He has told us, and he said this again today, that those 20,000 will be frontline police and on the streets. It is, however, now clear that at least 7,000 of those officers will not be frontline police. So in order to help this House build some trust in any of the promises he makes, can he tell us whether that is true? (912217)

I think it absolutely bizarre that a London Labour Member of Parliament should ignore the role of the present Mayor of London, who is, frankly, not a patch on the old guy. I left him £600 million and he has squandered it on press officers. Sadiq Khan has squandered it on press officers, and the faster we get rid of him and get more police officers out on the street, the better. That is the best possible argument for Shaun Bailey as Mayor of London.

Order. In the remaining minutes of this session, I appeal to colleagues to take account of the fact that we are visited by a distinguished group of Lebanese parliamentarians, at the invitation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the all-party group on Lebanon, which is chaired by the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). We would like to set them a good example; I am not sure at the moment how impressed they will be.

I think I can comply with that advice, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the extra £14 billion that was recently announced for schools, especially in respect of South West Devon, where I understand we will have the largest increase in the country to correct historical underspending. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this cash boost will help our hard-working teachers to prepare the next generation to reach their full potential? Will it not be wonderful, when we get through Brexit, to start to talk about education, health and social care—the things our constituents are really bothered about?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is exactly why we need that three-year investment in education, and to get Brexit done on 31 October and not be attracted to any more dither, delay and confusion under the Labour party.

Q10. Yesterday, the Prime Minister booted 21 MPs out of his own party for voting against a reckless no-deal Brexit. They included well-respected Members of this House, including a former Chancellor, Churchill’s grandson and the Father of the House. Presumably, that was done on the orders of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff. Given the fact that the Prime Minister himself voted against the former Prime Minister’s deal without losing the Whip, does this not demonstrate to the British public his view of life—namely, that there is one rule for him and another for everyone else? (912218)

Order. Leave me to control the proceedings; I should be immensely grateful for your assistance in that regard. The heckling must cease and we will hear the reply.

I am not going to take any lectures from anybody in the Labour party about how to run a party. Theirs is a party in which good, hard-working MPs are daily hounded out by antisemitic mobs. Let us be absolutely clear: if the hon. Gentleman is interested in democracy, I hope he has been listening to what I have been saying today. In an anti-democratic way, the Bill that will come before the House today would hand over this country’s right to decide how long to remain in the EU, and it would hand it over to the EU itself. That is what the Bill involves. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that is a good idea, let him submit it to the judgment of the British people in an election.

I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will know that tomorrow is the ninth annual Watford jobs fair. I am taking particular interest in the 1,000 or so vacancies this year, and I feel that other Members on both sides of the House might be interested as well. I thank Victoria Lynch and Anna Cox for organising it. We have 1,000 vacancies in more than 60 companies. If the Prime Minister has any spare time tomorrow—there is not much going on here—perhaps he could pop up to Watford, where he would be very welcome.

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a wonderful champion for Watford and for conservative values. I have been to campaign for him in Watford and seen how popular he is. There are now 20,000 job vacancies in the police, if he or anybody in Watford wishes to take up that role, and there are many more in nursing. As my hon. Friend knows, in Watford and throughout the country, unemployment is at a record low and employment is at record highs, because of the sound economic policies that this Government have followed.

Q11. This week, the director general of the CBI wrote to all MPs in the north-west urging us to do everything we can to get a deal that works for businesses in our region. The CBI says that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for north-west business, particularly small businesses. We all know what the Prime Minister has said in the past about business but, now that he has assumed a position of some responsibility, will he stop this relentless posturing around no deal, listen to the CBI and work to protect our vital businesses? (912220)

Again, that is a bit rich from a member of a party whose shadow Chancellor says that business is the enemy—[Interruption.] Where is he? He has gone. The hon. Lady should listen to the people of her constituency who voted to leave the EU and implement their wishes, and that is what this Government are going to do.

Much has been made about provision for EU nationals resident in the United Kingdom post Brexit. Much less comfort has been offered to those 1.5 million United Kingdom nationals resident throughout the rest of the European Union. Is the Prime Minister in a position to confirm not on a piecemeal, but on a pan-European basis that all pensions will be paid in full, that exportable benefits will continue to be paid in full, that healthcare will be covered in full, and that rights of domicile and freedom of movement will be protected? There are frightened people who need an answer.

I thank my right hon. Friend and I can assure him that that matter is, of course, at the top of our concerns with all our EU friends and partners. We have made it absolutely clear that the very, very generous offer that this country has rightly made to the 3.4 million EU citizens here in this country must be reciprocated symmetrically and in full by our friends in the way that he has described.

Q12. The Prime Minister has said that the great city of Portsmouth is too full of obesity and drug addiction. Despite that disgraceful and inaccurate statement about my home city, how would he expect our much-loved NHS to deal with these issues when it is his Government who are exposing us to medicine and staff shortages, according to his own Health Secretary, by hurtling us towards a no-deal Brexit? (912221)

I must correct the hon. Gentleman because, in fact, unemployment is well down in his constituency, employment is up and health outcomes are up. When I made those remarks, which was many, many years ago, it was, I am afraid, when his constituency had the sad misfortune to have a Labour Government in power. That is no longer the case.

I know that, like me, my right hon. Friend has deep concerns about the unfair retrospective loan charge. It is tearing families apart, driving people to despair and reportedly some to suicide. With more than 8.000 people signing my petition saying that we cannot go on like this, can he advise the House on what urgent action his Government will be taking to address this?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question because this is an issue that my own constituents have raised with me, and I know that many of my hon. Friends have also had this issue raised with them. I am sure that Members on all sides of the House have met people who have taken out loan charges in the expectation that they can reduce their tax exposure. It is a very, very difficult issue and I have undertaken to have a thoroughgoing review of the matter. Of course, I will make sure that my hon. Friend has every opportunity to have further discussions with the Treasury about how to redress the situation and about the gravity of the situation.

Q14. If I decide to wear a turban, or you, Mr Speaker, decide to wear a cross, or he decides to wear a kippah or skull cap, or she decides to wear a hijab or a burqa, does that mean that it is open season for right hon. Members of this House to make derogatory and divisive remarks about our appearance? For those of us who, from a young age, have had to endure and face up to being called names such as towelhead or Taliban, or to people saying we come from bongo-bongo land, we can appreciate full well the hurt and pain felt by already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letterboxes. So rather than hide behind sham and whitewash investigations, when will the Prime Minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks? [Applause.] Those racist remarks have led to a spike in hate crime. Given the increasing prevalence of such incidents within his party, when will the Prime Minister finally order an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative party, which was something that he and his Chancellor promised on national television? [Applause.] (912223)

If the hon. Gentleman took the trouble to read the article in question, he would see that it was a strong liberal defence of—as he began his question by saying—everybody’s right to wear whatever they want in this country. I speak as somebody who is proud not only to have Muslim ancestors, but to be related to Sikhs like him. I am also proud to say that, under this Government, we have the most diverse Cabinet in the history of this country. We truly reflect modern Britain. We have yet to hear from anywhere in the Labour party any hint of apology for the virus of antisemitism that is now rampant in its ranks. I would like to hear that from the hon. Gentleman.

The great lady, whom I am sure you and I both revere, Mr Speaker, once said, “Advisers advise, Ministers decide.” Can I ask the Prime Minister to bear that statement closely in mind in relation to his own chief adviser, Dominic Cummings? [Applause.]

Order. The reply must be heard. If the House were to want as a matter of course to allow clapping, by decision of the House, so be it, but it should not otherwise become a regular practice. We have heard the question, pungently expressed. Let us hear the answer from the Prime Minister.

I am used to breasting applause from Labour audiences, particularly since, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, we are actually devoted to delivering on the mandate of those Labour constituencies and we are going to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October. As for the excellent question that my hon. Friend asked, be in no doubt that we are deciding on a policy to take this country forward, not backwards, as the Leader of the Opposition would do.

The Prime Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) was appalling. An apology was required, rather than some kind of justification that there is ever any acceptable context for remarks such as the Prime Minister made in that column. He is the Prime Minister of our country. His words carry weight and he has to be more careful with what he says. My constituent Kristin is afraid because her mum, a European citizen, has been struggling to get settled status after 45 years in this country. Our friends, colleagues and neighbours deserve better than his failures and carelessness with language.

Her constituent Kristin—if she has indeed been here for 45 years, and I am sure she has—should be automatically eligible for settled status. Clearly, it is a difficult case, but the answer is for the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) to bring it to the Home Secretary, and I am sure we can sort it out.