House of Commons
Wednesday 30 October 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
BUSINESS BEFORE QUESTIONS
That there be laid before the House Returns for Session 2017-19 of information and statistics relating to:
(1) Business of the House
(2) Closure of Debate, Proposal of Question and Allocation of Time (including Programme Motions)
(3) Sittings of the House
(4) Private Bills and Private Business
(5) Public Bills
(6) Delegated Legislation and Legislative Reform Orders
(7) European Legislation, etc
(8) Grand Committees
(9) Panel of Chairs
(10) Select Committees.—(The Chairman of Ways and Means).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Armed Forces Veterans
Before I begin, may I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, on what I believe is—I am not sure—your penultimate day in the Chair? As I have said before, despite the odd disagreement in my past life as Government Chief Whip, your energy, drive and commitment to this role has been without parallel. I hope you will indulge me if I also pay tribute to two other departing Members with a strong interest in Northern Ireland: first, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who has served his constituents with good grace for over 20 years and clearly cares deeply about Northern Ireland and its people; and secondly, my ministerial colleague my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who has been in indispensable to me since I took over this role. He has been critical in driving forward preparations for Northern Ireland’s exit from the EU, and also in his tireless work for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. I would also like to wish all colleagues who are leaving Parliament my best wishes; as Chief Whip, I saw at first hand how tough this period of political history has been for all colleagues.
The UK Government are fully committed to the covenant. A veterans strategy was published last year and a consultation event held in Belfast in conjunction with the veterans support office. I am now working closely with colleagues to develop a comprehensive response to that consultation so that we can ensure that every veteran receives the support they need and the recognition they deserve.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but when is the pursuit of brave Northern Ireland veterans and former members of the security services going to come to an end? Is the Secretary of State aware that the Ministry of Defence supports a presumption against prosecution when a case has already been fully investigated, unless there is new evidence? May I urge him to support that proposal and make it an election pledge?
My hon. Friend will be aware that there is a consultation going on, as he has referred to. The Northern Ireland Office is looking at the Northern Ireland challenges on legacy. These are very sensitive issues—the system is not working, and we will be reporting back to this House over the coming weeks.
May I, on behalf of my party, extend our best wishes to the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) and the Minister of State, to the right hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who has been incredibly helpful to me on a particular issue and, indeed, to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who has been a recurring strong voice for Northern Ireland?
The Secretary of State said three weeks ago that no party in Northern Ireland would have a veto, yet Sinn Féin used its veto on the extension of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland; it does not apply in whole or in part, because of Sinn Féin’s sectarian intransigence. Will the Secretary of State keenly pursue the full implementation of the covenant in Northern Ireland?
The Government are committed to the armed forces covenant. As I said, we are engaging with the consultation that has occurred. We are clear on our responsibilities; the covenant is working across Northern Ireland, but we obviously need to ensure that it is working as efficiently and productively as possible for members of the armed forces.
In the 30 years since I attended the Remembrance service at Enniskillen after the tragedy and atrocity there, there has been recognition of the service by nationalists, Catholics and Irish people in the great war and in the second world war. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to encourage the joint remembrance of a joint sacrifice?
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), may I gently say to the Secretary of State—and I apologise for all the grief I have given him over the past few years—that, on this very important matter, when I was the Veterans Minister I had the great honour of visiting Northern Ireland, and I have to say to him that the covenant, which the coalition Government did so much to advance in that time, has just not happened in Northern Ireland, and it is because of sectarian differences? That is not fair, and those in Northern Ireland must have exactly the same rights under the covenant as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question and pay tribute to her for the work she did in that role. I am aware that there is more to do, which is why we have been consulting on how the covenant is being implemented. There are things to improve, and we will make sure that we improve them.
It is deeply frustrating that there has been no functioning Assembly for so long. MLAs’ pay is deeply controversial, but they are doing important constituency work. I have said that I will review MLA pay, and I am currently doing that.
I echo the sentiments about colleagues who are leaving, in particular my fellow Northern Ireland Affairs Committee member, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who has stood up for Northern Ireland.
At the Select Committee last week it was revealed that the cost of MLA salaries has reached over £15 million since the Assembly was dissolved. MLAs do good constituency work, but is it not time to use that mechanism as a tool to get the Assembly back up and running?
My hon. Friend is right that this is a challenge. It is a controversial amount of money, but in my view we have to do everything we can to encourage the political parties in Northern Ireland to come together. We need to review pay, but we also need to encourage the Assembly to get up and running.
There is a lot of talk about reducing the salaries of MLAs, but I am sure the Secretary of State will agree with me that many, many MLAs work hard in their constituencies to provide constituency services through their offices. That is an important factor.
I should like the Secretary of State to explain to the people of Northern Ireland why he is still dithering about cutting the salaries of MLAs. He cannot possibly justify continuing to pay MLAs almost £36,000 a year each during the next five years, and the general election campaign will bring no expectation of the Assembly being restored. For goodness’ sake, give the people of Northern Ireland some good news. Cut their salaries and do not dither.
Leaving the EU: Peace in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s security situation has been transformed as a result of the peace process. Although the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism continues to be assessed as severe, hard work by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and others means that most people are not affected. Challenges remain and will continue after EU exit, but Northern Ireland is a place where people want to work, study and live free from the threat or use of violence.
The Prime Minister will spend the next several weeks trying to sell his damaging Brexit deal in Northern Ireland, among other places. The Chief Constable of the PSNI believes that that deal could lead to an increase in violence and civil unrest. What additional funding will the Secretary of State commit to community policing in Northern Ireland to help him cope?
The PSNI has received additional funding in the run-up to Brexit. I remain in constant touch with the Chief Constable, and I will ensure that the funding and resourcing they need to do their job, which they do day in, day out to protect the citizens of Northern Ireland, is there.
There is widespread disquiet among Unionists about the proposed deal, because of the concept of a border down the Irish sea. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the UK comes out of the interim period and has a free trade agreement, Northern Ireland can have absolute equal status with the whole of the rest of the UK if mutual enforcement is introduced both north and south of the border? That would get rid of the need for a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and a border down the Irish sea.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The Government, through this deal, are ensuring that the United Kingdom comes out of the EU as a whole. On east-west trade, we are doing everything we can to ensure that there will be unfettered access to the GB market and no barriers to that trade.
The PSNI operates on a very flexible basis. My view is that it is well resourced—as I said, it got additional funding through the recent funding increase for the police—but I will keep monitoring that over the coming weeks.
There can be no justification in any circumstances for the use of violence against a democratic decision taken by the people of this country. Nevertheless, the EU withdrawal agreement could create a precedent whereby the principle of consent is altered. The principle of consent is fundamental to Unionist support for the political process and our participation in it. I ask the Secretary of State to look again at what the Government have proposed in this agreement and the damage it is doing to Unionist confidence in the process.
As my right hon. Friend knows, there is no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. I accept that there have been significant questions from the Unionist community. I met with a range of Unionist community groups, including the Orange Order, on Saturday. I will continue to have those meetings and to reassure people that there is no constitutional change and that the arrangements for the Assembly and the Executive remain unchanged.
I thank the Secretary of State for his most generous words. I have to say, the warmth and kindness he displayed are not normally characteristics of the Whips Office, which made them doubly welcome.
This is a bittersweet occasion, but for me the bitterness is assuaged by the sweetness of the 21 years I have worked in Northern Ireland, in that most beautiful part of the world, with some of the finest and sweetest people anyone could ever hope to meet. I implore the Secretary of State and all those who will assemble in the new Parliament to strain every sinew to see that those children born 21 years ago, who are now a new generation of adults in Northern Ireland, may finally know the peace to which they are entitled and let Northern Ireland finally flourish and bloom in peace and prosperity.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. My conversations with young people in Northern Ireland are the most moving and humbling I have ever had, and I will do everything I can to ensure that the opportunities those women and men have are maintained and can flourish. All the young people I have met in Northern Ireland so far in this job show every hope for a successful future for Northern Ireland.
The withdrawal agreement is clear that the UK Government are committed to protecting Northern Ireland’s position in the UK internal market, and we have guaranteed that Northern Irish businesses and farmers will continue to have unfettered access to the rest of the UK market. When the withdrawal agreement comes back, those clauses on unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will be in it. Businesses in Northern Ireland will benefit from tariff-free access to the UK single market while also benefiting from future trade deals negotiated with the UK.
It is one of the defining characteristics of a nation state that goods moving into a territory are subject to regulations that are not there for goods that move within it. That is why the withdrawal agreement is a threat to the future of the Union that is the United Kingdom. It is why the former Prime Minister was absolutely right to discount completely the possibility of a customs border down the Irish sea. Why has the Conservative and Unionist party changed its mind?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the key priority was to maintain no hard border on the island of Ireland—the thing that has ensured peace there for the last few decades. As I said, we will deliver on the commitments in the protocol on unfettered access for NI businesses into the GB market.
In the light of that answer, how does a Unionist Secretary of State justify export declarations on £18.5 billion-worth of trade flowing from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and what charge will be placed on that £18.5 billion-worth of trade?
Through this agreement, the United Kingdom maintains total control of how that is applied. As my hon. Friend knows, we are working day in, day out to ensure that Northern Irish businesses can send their goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain with absolutely unfettered access.
May I return to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson)? Could we not consider the mutual recognition and mutual implementation proposals in much the same way as we administer the common travel area?
Over the coming weeks, and then when we enter the implementation period, we must do everything we can to deliver on the commitment that I have just made to unfettered access for goods travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and ensure that trade can continue as it is now.
Northern Ireland in the UK
As part of the world’s sixth largest economy, Northern Ireland benefits from sharing resources to fund public spending on defence, education and health, and from access to the UK’s unique international networks. It also benefits from the Government’s UK-wide policies, including recent increases in the national living wage and the personal allowance. As Conservatives and Unionists, we should always support the Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it.
In an interview on Radio Ulster this morning, I reiterated our unwavering commitment to Ulster from the Tory Back Benches. I trust that the Minister agrees that, despite the DUP’s initial reservations about the withdrawal agreement, they will hopefully realise that it is in all our interests for it to be passed as soon as possible.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. I think it is clear that this deal safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the customs territory of the UK, safeguards the principle of consent, and safeguards the right of the Northern Ireland Assembly to opt out of future arrangements if it chooses. It absolutely safeguards Northern Ireland’s constitutional position as part of the United Kingdom.
One of the hallmarks of this United Kingdom is fairness and justice for people who have been victims, wherever they have suffered abuse, but today the victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland feel very frustrated and angry about the fact that because an election has been called, the Bill that was designed to address that issue and provide compensation will not now proceed. Can the Minister please indicate, even at this late stage, that it will be allowed to proceed?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to this issue. Time is of the essence when it comes to the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill, and we will do all we can to ensure that it is passed before the general election: my Secretary of State has made that clear. No decision has yet been made about the Bill prior to the dissolution of Parliament, but we will do everything possible to take it forward.
I must press the Minister on this issue. We have literally only a few days and hours left. Surely the Minister can give a more definitive explanation. Surely he can give a definitive commitment that, on this issue, he will step forward. There is cross-party support here in the House, and there is cross-community support in Northern Ireland. Please, please get on with it.
I absolutely recognise the urgency of the matter. Earlier this week, the Secretary of State stated publicly that in order to speed up the delivery of redress mechanisms, he had tasked officials in the Department to work at pace with the Executive Office, and to begin preparations for the scheme once it becomes law. Those preparations will continue, and we will also provide whatever support is needed to assist the Northern Ireland civil service to ensure that victims are paid as rapidly as possible. However, I recognise that this is a question for the House, and we will work with the usual channels to see what we can do on that front as well.
May I begin by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for your courtesy and consideration to the Opposition’s Northern Ireland team?
It would be remiss of me not to recognise the ending of the place on the Front Bench of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who will be sadly missed on our side of the Chamber and, I believe, on the other side as well.
As the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) has said, it is absolutely intolerable that victims of institutional abuse, who had been led to believe that legislation would pass through this House imminently, now face the prospect of the Leader of the House and the business managers frustrating their simple call for justice, even though the Secretary of State, the Opposition and the Democratic Unionist party want that legislation. Will the Minister ensure that he talks to the Leader of the House and demands that that Bill be brought forward before Parliament is prorogued?
It is clear that we have agreement across the House on how important this issue is, and we are doing everything we can to move forward on it. I will certainly have those conversations, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also have those conversations with the usual channels on his side of the House.
Leaving the EU: Withdrawal Agreement
In my last questions, may I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his over-generous remarks and associate myself with his kind words about my north-west London neighbour, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)? I should also like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your support over many years in the Chair.
Under the proposed agreement, all businesses will continue to trade across the north-south border without tariffs or new regulatory checks. Businesses in Northern Ireland will continue to benefit from tariff-free access to the UK’s single market while having the opportunity to benefit from any future trade deals negotiated by the UK after we leave the EU.
Has an economic assessment been prepared to illustrate how much of a competitive advantage Northern Ireland will gain from effectively remaining in the EU’s customs union and single market, compared with other businesses across the rest of the UK? If so, will the Minister publish it?
I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the impact assessment. I do not recognise her comments about competitive advantage or disadvantage. I hope that she will recognise that the circumstances in relation to Northern Ireland are special because of the land border, and that the proposed agreement responds to those special characteristics.
The Foreign Secretary has described the deal as “cracking” for Northern Ireland. It stands to reason, then, that the deal must be less cracking for the rest of the UK. Why is Northern Ireland getting special treatment when it voted to remain, while Scotland, which also voted to remain, is having to take the bad hard Brexit that the Tories are so determined to push through?
I understand, I think, the point the hon. Gentleman makes, but I return to what I was saying. He knows that the circumstances in Northern Ireland are special in relation to our exit from the EU because of the existence of the land border and because of the importance that we all attach to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. One of the great achievements of this new proposed withdrawal agreement is the removal of the need for a hard border.
Heysham in my constituency is the nearest mainland UK port to Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that my area could be a boomtown if we had a free port, as 10% of the north-west’s GDP comes in through our port, and it will be 20% once this withdrawal agreement has been finalised?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his creativity in introducing that point, which I am sure will have been heard by the relevant Secretary of State. He raises an important point about the opportunity and need to talk up the UK economy and to talk up the opportunities to increase business and trade links across the UK internal market once we leave the EU.
Welfare Mitigation Payments
The mitigations in place were agreed by the previous Northern Ireland Executive and are sunsetted in March 2020. Ministers here in Westminster do not have the power to instruct the Northern Ireland civil service to take action or to direct spending in relation to devolved matters. Any extension of those mitigations will be a matter for the Northern Ireland civil service and restored Executive Ministers.
I am—[Interruption.] I am sure that the people of Selly Oak would like the welcome that the Prime Minister just received.
In view of the importance of this issue, will the Minister consider amending the Bill, because it is clear that if the people of Northern Ireland face this welfare cliff edge, there will be major problems from March next year?
This is an incredibly serious issue. Thousands of people in Northern Ireland benefit from these mitigations, and there is a sunset provision for the end of March 2020. The hon. Gentleman will know that alternative mechanisms are available to the devolved Administration to extend the mitigations, but that is not ideal. The best way would be to change the legal framework, which is best done in Northern Ireland by a Northern Ireland Executive, and the day when it is restored cannot come too soon.
Does the Minister agree that many families in Northern Ireland are particularly affected by the Government’s policy to cap benefits for families with more than two children? When he next sees the Prime Minister, will he ask for the lifting of the cap, which affects poor children throughout the whole United Kingdom, to be part of his election manifesto?
It is not for me to revisit the bowels of welfare policy, but the right hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee on Work and Pensions has raised a serious point about extending the mitigations. That is for the devolved Administration and would be an urgent requirement for a restored Executive.
The introduction of universal credit has had a devastating impact in my constituency, but women in Northern Ireland who wish to access an exemption to the two-child limit, known as the rape clause, may still be subject to criminal prosecution for not reporting under the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, as confirmed by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State commit to lifting the two-child limit that places families into further hardship?
That is an extremely important and sensitive issue. The hon. Lady will know that, in practice, there have been no prosecutions under section 5 of the 1967 Act in the past 50 years. She will also know about the guidance from the Attorney General and from the outgoing DPP, particularly on the status of public interest. I come back to the same old riff: any change in the law is for a devolved Executive and a devolved Administration. This is a serious issue, so it is about time elected politicians in Northern Ireland stepped up to their responsibility.
When giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed that Northern Irish businesses will have better access to the EU single market than Scottish businesses. Shamefully, this Government will not publish an economic assessment of the Prime Minister’s deal, but we know from independent research that it will hit Scotland hard. Will the Minister therefore ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is sitting next to him, whether Scotland’s man in the Cabinet demanded that Scotland’s businesses be given the same access to the single market and customs union as Northern Irish business, or did he sit there meekly, abandoning them to their fate?
The Government have published an impact assessment in relation to the proposed withdrawal agreement, and we have rehearsed the arguments about the arrangements in Northern Ireland. These are Northern Ireland questions, and I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Immediately after questions today, I will open the debate on the Grenfell Tower inquiry report.
Mr Speaker, I know that the whole House will want to join me in recording that, after 10 tumultuous years, this is your last Prime Minister’s questions. As befits a distinguished former Wimbledon competitor, you have sat up there in your high chair not just as an umpire ruthlessly adjudicating on the finer points of parliamentary procedure with your trademark Tony Montana scowl, not just as a commentator offering your own opinions on the rallies you are watching—sometimes acerbic and sometimes kind—but above all as a player in your own right, peppering every part of the Chamber with your own thoughts and opinions like some uncontrollable tennis-ball machine delivering a series of literally unplayable and formally unreturnable volleys and smashes.
Although we may disagree about some of the legislative innovations you have favoured, there is no doubt in my mind that you have been a great servant of this Parliament and this House of Commons. You have modernised, you have widened access, you have cared for the needs of those with disabilities, and you have cared so deeply for the rights of Back Benchers that you have done more than anyone since Stephen Hawking to stretch time in this session. As we come to the end of what must be the longest retirement since Frank Sinatra’s, I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking you and hoping that you enjoy in your retirement the soothing medicament that you have so often prescribed to the rest of us.
I know that Members across the House will want to join me in wishing the England rugby team the very best for the final in the world cup on Saturday.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I fully associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about your outstanding service, Mr Speaker, and wish you a long and successful life after your speakership comes to an end.
Labour will produce a strong offer at the forthcoming election on the climate emergency and net zero, including a full ban on the extraction of fossil fuel by fracking. What chance does the Prime Minister think he has of matching that offer, particularly in the light of the news that the Conservative manifesto will be written by a lobbyist for the fracking industry?
We will shortly make an announcement about fracking in this country, in view of the considerable anxieties that are legitimately being raised about the earthquakes that have followed various fracking attempts in the UK. We will certainly follow up on those findings, because they are very important and will be of concern to Members across the House.
But I must say that this Government yield to nobody in our enthusiasm for reducing CO2. We have cut carbon emissions massively in the UK and we were the first European country to commit to net zero by 2050, and that is what we are going to do. We can do it because we believe in a strong, dynamic, robust market economy that is delivering the solutions in clean technology that are deplored by the Labour party.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything he does for his constituents and the thalidomide victims. I reassure him that the current health grant, which as he rightly says is subject to review in 2023, will be reviewed. I am getting confirmation of that from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I hope that my hon. Friend will pass those assurances to the thalidomide victims as fast as he can.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will indulge me one moment while a say a word about you—I am sure you will. I want to thank you for the way you have used your speakership over your decade-long tenure. You have done so much to reform this House of Commons, and our democracy is stronger for the way you have done it.
You have served for 10 years. You have given real power to Back Benchers, vastly expanded the use of urgent questions, which has been overwhelmingly popular with all Ministers, and opened up the number of emergency debates, which is even more popular with even more Ministers. In the traditions of the great Speaker Lenthall and others, you have stood up for Parliament when it has to be stood up for, and we thank you for that. You have also carried that message internationally in terms of the role of parliamentary democracy and Parliaments holding Governments to account. As we hope to form a Government in the future, we hope to be held to account by Parliament as well.
I also think, and I am sure the whole House would agree with me, that you have done excellent work in opening up Parliament to visitors, exhibitions and children. You have reduced some of the strange customs and strange garments that people wear in this building—[Interruption.] It’s all right. I know you are all jealous of my tie, but it is okay. You have used your office to increase diversity among the staff in the House and make this a much more LGBT-friendly place. You have taken it from being a gentlemen’s club that happens to be in a royal palace to being a genuinely democratic institution.
I want you to accept our thanks and pass on our best wishes to Sally, Freddie, Oliver and Jemima, your wonderful family, for the support they have given you. There will be a great celebration today—I am sure the whole House will join us in this—when you and I celebrate Arsenal beating Liverpool tonight. [Interruption.] The Labour party loves a debate and loves a bit of banter.
The Prime Minister’s planned sell-out deal with Donald Trump means yet more national health service money being siphoned off into private profit. Channel 4’s “Dispatches” reported that the cost of drugs and medicines has repeatedly been discussed between United States and United Kingdom trade representatives. Why did the Prime Minister previously say the health service was not on the table in any post-Brexit trade deal?
The answer to that is very simple: it is because it is not on the table. I pay tribute to officials of the NHS, who have just done a brilliant job in reducing the cost of Orkambi—made in America, by the way—so that cystic fibrosis sufferers in this country get the treatment they need, at a cost that is reasonable to the taxpayers of this country. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know how the people of this country are able to afford the stupendous investments we are now making in the NHS—£34 billion, the biggest ever investment in the NHS, with 40 new hospitals that we are building as a result of the decisions we are taking—I can tell him that it is because this is the party that supports wealth creation. The reason we are able to invest in the NHS is that for the last nine years this economy has been growing. It has grown by 19% since the Conservatives first came into office, and he would ruin this economy and ruin our ability to fund the NHS. That is the reality.
We all welcome the fact that Orkambi will now be able to be provided in this country under the NHS, and we thank those who campaigned for it. The shame is that we are not told what the deal is with the company concerned. As for the fabled 40 hospitals, that figure dropped to 20 and then finally dropped to six.
We learned this week that Government officials have met US pharmaceutical companies five times as part of the Prime Minister’s planned trade deal. The US has called for “full market access” to our NHS, which would mean prices of some of our most important medicines increasing by up to sevenfold. While the Government are having secret meetings with US corporations, it is patients here who continue to suffer. Can the Prime Minister explain why the number of people waiting longer for urgent cancer treatment has tripled over the past nine years?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, this Government are investing £34 billion in the NHS. We are seeing improvements in cancer survival rates throughout the country, thanks to the investment that the Government are making. I think it absolutely satirical that he should claim credit for getting Orkambi and other drugs delivered at a reasonable price; that is the work of the UK Government and the NHS, supporting the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to ensure that people in this country get affordable treatments. He may not be aware of it, but Vertex, the company that makes Orkambi, comes from America. Is he seriously suggesting that the NHS should not engage in negotiations to ensure that British patients get the drugs they deserve? Is he so phobic of American companies that he would forbid the NHS from having those discussions?
Not for the first time, the Prime Minister is talking nonsense. Of course we need to import medicines from various places; I just want it to be done in an open and transparent way. I do not want secret talks between Government officials, on behalf of Ministers, and big pharma corporations in the USA.
Last year, 34,000 cancer patients waited more than two months for treatment. Although early detection is obviously very important, the longer people wait, the less chance there is of their surviving cancer. The Prime Minister knows that, I know that, the whole world knows that—why can he not get it, and put the necessary resources into the NHS to cut the waiting times?
The NHS is receiving unrivalled and unprecedented sums of taxpayers’ money. If the right hon. Gentleman is seriously saying that he would not like dentists, opticians and Macmillan care nurses to work with the NHS, he must be out of his mind. Cancer survival rates have actually increased year on year since 2010, and more and more people are seen within the right waiting time, thanks to the investments that we are making. I think he should pay tribute to the hard work of NHS staff, stop talking down their incredible achievements, and recognise that if we are allowed to come back as the next Government, we will invest massively in the NHS and take it forward with the funds that we will make available from a strong and growing economy. The reality is that he would wreck that economy.
What we do not want is private companies like Virgin Care suing our NHS for contracts that they did not get. Our NHS should be focused on making people better, not making the wealthy few richer.
National health service A&E departments have just had their worst September on record. This morning, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said that this winter the NHS needs more than 4,000 extra beds. Will the Prime Minister explain why, under his Government, the number of people in England waiting for an operation has now reached a record high of 4.4 million?
There is a reason why more people are receiving NHS care: it is that the NHS is working harder and achieving more than ever before. If the House wants to see what Labour would be like in office, it should look at its performance. By the way, I should say that the SNP Government negotiated a much higher price for Orkambi in Scotland. [Interruption.] They did. They got the price totally wrong. The Leader of the Opposition should have a word with them.
If the people of this country want a horrific foretaste of what life would be like under a Labour-run NHS, they should look at the NHS in Wales where all health targets are routinely missed, where the A&E waiting target has not been met since 2008; and where the target for in-patients and out-patients has not been met since August 2010. The right hon. Gentleman talks about cancer treatment—that target has not been met since June 2008. That is how Labour runs the NHS.
I am surprised that the Prime Minister can keep a straight face saying that, while his Government have cut so much from the Welsh Government’s budget. And that from a Government who have cut 15,000 beds from the NHS and who have cut £7 billion from social care. I do not know how he has the brass neck to say what he has just said. The reality is that his words are hollow. That is clear to anyone who has tried to get a GP appointment, who sees how overworked our NHS staff are when they visit a hospital and who sees the stress that NHS staff go through when they cannot deal with all the patients who are coming in. He needs to think about this.
Let me give an example. A lady called Gillian wrote to me this week. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Yes, it is a real case of a real person, and I will quote her letter if I may, Mr Speaker. Gillian says:
“My mother died in February as a direct result of the GP shortage in the UK. Her last years were marred by long waits for treatments and for interventions…Whenever she got care, it was given by overstretched but dedicated people, but it always came after painful and debilitating delays.”
Why should that happen to Gillian’s mum or anybody else’s mum? The problem is the shortage of GPs, the shortage of nurses and the excessive waiting time for people with very difficult conditions and deep pain. They should be sympathised with and supported.
I can certainly say that we will deal with the concerns of the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent Gillian, but I can tell him that there are 17,300 more doctors and over 17,000 more nurses on our wards since 2010. Frankly, it is time to differentiate the politics of protest and the politics of leadership. He should apologise for continually striking attitudes that I do not think are in the interests of the people. It is all very easy to be an Islingtonian protester and say that you side with Russia over what happened in Salisbury, or say that you have a £196 billion programme of renationalisation, or continually flip-flop one way or the other—now leave, now remain—refusing to respect the verdict of the people in the EU referendum. Leadership means standing up for the people of this country, standing up for our police, standing up for our NHS and making sure that it gets the funding that it needs, and standing up for our economy and for our wealth creators. Above all, it means getting Brexit done and ending the dither and delay. The time for protest is over. It is time for leadership, and that is what this Government provide.
Coming from a Prime Minister who withdrew his own Bill, that seems a bit odd. My question was about somebody whose mother had died and who believes that that is because of the shortage of staff within the NHS. I had hoped that the Prime Minister would have shown some empathy and answered that question, because GP numbers are falling, there is a 43,000-nurse shortage in the NHS, and the NHS has suffered the longest spending squeeze ever in its history. The choice at this election could not be clearer. People have a chance to vote for real change after years of Conservative and Lib Dem cuts, privatisation and tax handouts for the richest. This Government have put our NHS into crisis, and this election is a once-in-a-generation chance to end privatisation in our NHS, give it the funding it needs and give it the doctors, nurses, GPs and all the other staff it needs. Despite the Prime Minister’s denials, our NHS is up for grabs by US corporations in a Trump-style trade deal. Is it not the truth—[Interruption.]
Despite the Prime Minister’s denials, the NHS is up for grabs by US corporations in a Trump trade deal. Is it not the truth—the Government may not like this—that this Government are preparing to sell out our NHS? Our health service is in more danger than at any other time in its glorious history because of the Prime Minister’s Government, his attitudes and the trade deals that he wants to strike.
I do indeed agree that there is a stark choice facing this country at this election, and one of the options is economic catastrophe under the Labour party, with a £196 billion programme that will take money away from companies and spend it on a pointless renationalisation programme. Labour will put up taxes on corporations, on people, on pensions and on businesses—to the highest level in the whole of Europe. That is the economic catastrophe that the Leader of the Opposition offers. But it is worse than that because he also offers a political disaster, consigning next year, which should be a wonderful year for our country, to two more referendums: another referendum on the EU because he cannot make up his mind what he thinks, flip-flopping this way and that; and another referendum on Scottish independence. Why on earth should the people of this country spend the next year, which should be a glorious year, going through the toxic, tedious torpor of two more referendums thanks to the Labour party?
We want next year to be a great year for our country. We are going to invest more in frontline NHS services. We are going to reduce violent crime, with 20,000 more police officers on our streets. That is what I pledged on the steps of Downing Street, and we have done it. We are going to invest in every one of our primary and secondary schools across the country. That is what I pledged on the steps of Downing Street, and we are delivering it. We are going to invest in a fantastic infrastructure programme for our country, with gigabit broadband across the whole nation. That is what I pledged on the steps of Downing Street, and that is what we are going to deliver. And we are going to deliver a fantastic deal by which this country will come out of the European Union—a deal that the Leader of the Opposition has tried to block but which we will deliver. That is the future for this country: drift and dither under the Labour party, or taking Britain forward to a brighter future under the Conservatives. That is the choice this country faces.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything he does to campaign for his constituents, and particularly for the hospital in Stanmore. I assure him that that hospital, along with many others, will be in line for the funding that it requires. On his specific point about the administration at that hospital, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to deal with his concerns very speedily.
Can I, Mr Speaker, on behalf of those of us on the SNP Benches, wish you all the best for your impending retirement and salute you, Sir, for the way that you have stood up for the democracy of this House in order that at this time of crisis we hold the Government to account? We trust that you will enjoy your many passions in retirement. You will always be welcome up in Scotland, and if you need to visit a football team as an antidote to Arsenal you will always be welcome at Easter Road to see the mighty Hibernian. Let me, Mr Speaker, wish England all the best for the rugby on Saturday.
This Prime Minister’s extreme Brexit will take a wrecking ball to the economy and cost Scotland and the United Kingdom £70 billion a year. [Interruption.] We talk about the impact of Brexit and the Conservatives howl and complain, because they know the reality is that it is going to damage people’s lives. Is it not the truth that this Prime Minister is willing to throw Scotland under his big red bus to deliver his Brexit, no matter what the cost?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, the greatest damage that could be done to the Scottish economy would be the SNP’s reckless plan to break up the Union with the UK. Sixty per cent. of Scotland’s exports are with the rest of the UK. They would be throwing away not just the biggest block grant in history that Scotland has received this year but, of course, all the benefits of membership of the most successful political partnership in history, from shipbuilding in Govan to the Glasgow climate change summit next year, which will be a glory of our whole United Kingdom and which is coming to Scotland precisely because Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. They would throw all that away with their crackpot plan for borders at Berwick and creating a new Scottish currency or joining the euro; and, worse still, going into the European Union and handing back control of Scotland’s fisheries—Scotland’s spectacular marine wealth. Just at the moment that they have been won back by this country, they would hand back control of those fisheries to Brussels. That is their policy; I look forward to contesting it at the barricades.
Well, I certainly wish Mr Grant all the best for his future, because he is not coming back, like so many of the Scottish Conservatives. We hear that the Prime Minister will be coming up to Scotland in the election campaign. He will be welcome, because each time he comes to Scotland he drives up SNP support.
Scotland did not vote for Brexit and we will not have it forced upon us. Is it not clear that the Scottish National party is the only party standing up for Scotland’s interests and respecting our democratic decision to remain in the European Union? This coming election will be one of the most important in Scotland’s history. Only a vote for the SNP can secure the escape route for Scotland away from this Brexit mess, from the chaos of Westminster and from the austerity of the Tories, and protect Scotland’s right to choose our own future as an independent country in Europe.
I am sorry if I seemed to rant at the right hon. Gentleman, but if I may say so, he does rant quite a lot about independence for Scotland—he bangs on about it endlessly. Why does he go on about Scottish independence so much? It is because he wants to conceal what the SNP Government are actually doing in Scotland. They are wrecking it. They are diabolical for the Scottish economy. They have the highest taxes in the UK. They are not running either health or education well. That is why they are so monomaniacal about independence and smashing the Union.
There are some wonderful things happening in Scotland, and it is very often thanks to Scottish Conservatives, who are delivering £200 million for Scottish farmers—that is all thanks to the intercessions of Scottish Conservatives —as part of the biggest ever block grant from London to Scotland. It is Scottish Conservatives who can be relied upon, unlike any other party in Scotland—unlike Labour or the SNP—to keep the Union together: the most successful political partnership in history.
I can certainly give my hon. Friend an assurance on his second point. The only way to deliver a great Brexit is to vote for the Conservative party and this Government. I can make him happier still by pointing out that those 153 police are just the first wave for Ribble Valley, as part of the 20,000 more police who we will be putting on the streets of this country.
Order. Both representatives at the Dispatch Box spoke with force and fully. The hon. Lady is not going to be cut off by people ranting at her. She will be heard. If there are people who do not want to hear it, they are welcome to leave; I do not think she will care, and neither will I. Her question will be heard, and that is the end of it.
I do not want to hear the Prime Minister’s campaign-ad answer, because my son will not be able to go to school on Friday, and his campaign-ad answer does nothing for me as a parent. [Interruption.] I am so glad that they think it is really funny that children cannot go to school five days a week. The Prime Minister is responsible for the children in this country, and while he might struggle with that personally, will he today give a commitment that there will be a maximum number of children in every class post the election and that every single child will be able to go to school for five days a week?
May I first of all wish a very happy birthday to Danny? I can reassure the hon. Lady that I believe that under this Government—under this Conservative Government—he will have the best possible chance not only of having the funding for his school that he needs, because we are investing in every primary and every secondary school in the country, but of having, as I say, the £14 billion to level up funding both in primary and in secondary schools. I believe that Danny will have a better chance of a great job under this Government—and look at what we have achieved already: record employment under this Government—and a better chance of being able to find, eventually, his own home. So Danny has a great future under this Government, and I hope she will reassure him on that point.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything that he does for his constituency of Berwickshire, and he is absolutely right. As I said earlier, that is why SNP Members rant, to use their own word, so incessantly about independence—because they wish to distract or to dead-cat, as the saying goes, from the lamentable failures of the SNP Government. He is entirely right that, if this goes on, I think the SNP will forfeit all right to manage the NHS in Scotland.
It is important to strike a balance, and people should be allowed to celebrate Guy Fawkes night and other occasions with fireworks, but the hon. Gentleman is plainly right that they are very disturbing for animals. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is looking at this very matter. I would just point out that, on animal welfare, it may interest him to know that there are measures we will be able to implement as a result of Brexit—such as banning sow farrowing crates, for instance, which I think is of great concern to our constituents, and banning the live export of animals—that we would not otherwise be able to do. That is one of the reasons why we need to get Brexit done and take this country forward.
I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right not just that this matters very much to him and to his constituents, but that the welfare of communities in Kashmir is of profound concern to the UK Government. He also knows, of course, that it is the long-standing position of the UK Government that the crisis in Kashmir is fundamentally a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve and, alas, since we were there at the very beginning of this crisis, he will understand that, for long-standing reasons, it is not for us as the UK to prescribe a solution in that dispute.
I might ask the hon. Lady how she can justify this country spending another £1 billion per month on delaying our exit from the European Union, which is what she voted for.
I remind the hon. Lady that, under this Government, we are spending £225 million more per year on policing in London than was the case when I was Mayor of London. She might ask her friend the Mayor of London what he is doing with that money and why he cannot do better. Frankly, his record on policing in London is utterly shameful. She should be holding him to account.
I am very happy to congratulate Warren Wood and Norbury Hall schools. I believe that Norbury Hall is my hon. Friend’s alma mater. I confirm what I think he and the whole House know: those schools and every other school in the country are getting £14 billion more to level up funding for every pupil. That is possible because of the policies pursued by our one nation Conservative Government. It would be ruined by the Labour Opposition.
I will certainly look at what we can do to ensure that the hon. Gentleman does get a new hospital in his constituency, because we have a huge programme now under way, but the only way to deliver that £34 billion investment in the NHS—the biggest in modern history—is to ensure we have a dynamic, one nation market economy of the kind that we have. I am afraid all the Labour party would do is whack up taxes on business and companies in such a way as to destroy the viability of the UK economy. That is the programme he supports.
Mr Speaker, may I take the occasion of your last Prime Minister’s questions and mine to join in the tributes to your role in the Chair? During your decade, there have been unprecedented attempts at times to try to increase the power of the Executive at the expense of this Parliament. You have been very formidable in maintaining the duty of government to be accountable to this House. I trust that your successor will try to live up to your considerable achievement.
To show that a veteran MP, even one who is retiring from the House, can still look to the future, will my right hon. Friend give me some clarity on what he will seek to achieve—if, by chance, he wins this unpredictable general election—by way of the permanent relationship he will have to negotiate between the EU and the United Kingdom as an ex-member? In the years of negotiation that he will have to undertake, will he seek to ensure that we maintain trade and flows of investment between the whole United Kingdom and the European Union that are free of tariffs, free of custom controls and largely free of regulatory distinctions; indeed, as near as possible to the single market and customs union that we are in? Just talking about a free trade agreement is an extremely vague aspiration that covers a wide range of possibilities. Can he demonstrate that he really is a liberal free trader at heart?
Indeed. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, the advantage of the partnership we will build is that not only—[Interruption.] I am sure the talks will go well. We will have a zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangement with our European friends and partners. Under the current deal, which is a fantastic deal, we will also be able to do free trade deals around the world. There will be many ways in which we will stay very close to our European friends partners, but there will also be important ways in which we may seek to do things differently and better.
I have already mentioned animal welfare; I might mention tax breaks for new technology, I might mention cutting VAT on sanitary products, I might mention free ports. There are all sorts of ways to do this. I might mention different regulation on biotechnology or in many of the areas in which this country now leads the world. That is the opportunity for our country: to do a great free trade deal with our European friends and partners of a kind of which I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend would thoroughly approve, while also being a champion of free trade around the world. That is what we are going to do.
As the Father of the House leaves this place after 49 years without interruption, I for one want to salute him. [Applause.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman is one of the most popular and respected politicians in our country. For his service to this place, for his service to his constituents and for his service to our country, he deserves the warmest appreciation. For my part, I thank him for his support and friendship over decades. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, as most sensible people know, whether they agree with him or not, is a great man.
I am afraid that shows a fundamental division between us, alas, because I think that what we need is a strong and dynamic economy, and the evidence is that reducing corporation tax delivers more in yields and more in growth. That is how we have been able to commit now to spend another £780 million on special educational needs schools, and to allow communities to set up new SEND schools where they desire them. We will back them with the funding made available by that strong economy. That is the fundamental difference between the hon. Gentleman and me.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that during your time in office, Mr Speaker, and the 326 Prime Minister’s questions over which you have presided, thanks to decisions made by the Government and this House the British taxpayer has paid for life-saving vaccinations for more than 140 million children living in the poorest countries of the world? At a time of considerable division in our country, is that not an achievement in which the whole of Britain can take real pride?
It certainly is an achievement of which the whole House should be proud. I know that my right hon. Friend has done a huge amount to champion the cause of overseas development, and he can be absolutely certain that this Government will continue not just to provide support for vaccination around the world but to ensure that we continue to lead the world in our overseas development budget. Our commitment is followed and respected by countries around the world.
This is also my last Prime Minister’s questions, and I want to follow the comments that have been made about your strong leadership from that Chair, Mr Speaker, and, indeed, your kind comments about my good friend my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and others. I would also like, if I may, to take this opportunity to thank the staff of this place, particularly those in the Library and the catering department, and the Doorkeepers, who do so much to keep us hale and hearty. I thank my numerous friends and colleagues across this place, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who have been so personally kind to me over the past few months and so supportive of our policies, particularly the introduction of our net zero legislation. I want to thank the people of Devizes who have given me their trust for the past nine years; it has been the privilege of my life to serve you.
I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question. Does he believe, like me, that there is no planet B and that we should take the opportunity of this Brexit blockage breaking election to move the country on and focus on the incredible things we can do as the host next year of the UN’s global climate change talks, which may be in Glasgow but are a four-nation COP, so that we can help the world to get on with dealing with the problem of the next 30 years and how we repair our climate?
May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for everything she has done in her parliamentary and ministerial career, and associate myself with your comments, Mr Speaker, about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)? I know that my right hon. Friend is leaving this place to do something perhaps even more important, which is to run our COP 26 summit next year in Glasgow, and I know that she will do an absolutely outstanding job. She is completely right that it would be far more wonderful for this country to focus on what we can do to lead the world in tackling the problems of the environment and climate change rather than frittering away yet more political time and capital on two more pointless referendums. I thoroughly agree with her proposal.
We all remember that the Opposition parties never wanted to give the people an EU referendum, even opposing our amendment to the 2013 Queen’s Speech, selected by you, Mr Speaker, an early Brexiteer, regretting the absence of a referendum Bill. Given that they have done everything they can to delay our departure, as we head into Christmas may I urge the Prime Minister, whatever their antics, to lead a positive, decent one nation campaign for a stronger economy to help those less fortunate that addresses the divisions in our country? We wish him well.
I thank my hon. Friend for putting that so succinctly and well. That is exactly what we want. I think it is what the people of this country want; they want to get Brexit done and they want to move forward with a one nation agenda to unite this country, and to level up across the country with better education, better infrastructure and fantastic new technology. That is our agenda; the Opposition’s agenda is for years more of political dither, delay and division.
It is a pleasure, Mr Speaker, to see you in your Arsenal tie, and for two reasons: I have worn mine as well, but I am sorry the Leader of the Opposition has not worn his.
Mr Speaker, before I go on to ask the Prime Minister a question, may I thank you not just for giving me a voice in this place but for giving representation to my family and those I grew up with in Buckingham whom you have served so well as their local MP? They have asked me to pass on the fact that you will be missed dearly by them.
Returning to the football/politics metaphor, does the Prime Minister agree that when it comes to both football and politics the owner of the No. 10 berth is key to success, so would he rather see a centre-right, dominant leader sweeping all before him domestically and in Europe, or should we look towards the left wing where we might see a misfiring striker more at home in the 1970s?
I thank my hon. Friend, who does a superb job of representing his constituents. My own footballing skills are—[Interruption.] I can do it, Mr Speaker, and I enjoy it, but the most important thing is to have a team that is united and will deliver a great future for this country. That is what we offer, and I am afraid it is in sharp contradistinction from the Labour party, because last night more than 100 of them could not even be bothered to vote for a general election, which they are shortly about to contest. What kind of confidence is that in their leader?
Ni fyddwn yn gweld eich tebyg eto yn y Tŷ hwn a byddwn yn gweld eich eisiau, Mr Speaker: I do not think we will see your like again, and we will miss you in this House.
We are coming to the close of nine years of Tory misrule, misinformation and broken promises. Leading us in this merry dance is the Prime Minister, a lord of misrule at this shambolic Christmas election. But my party has long been prepared for this election. In Wales we have a simple choice: we can back our country by voting Plaid Cymru or be let down once again by one of these deeply divided Westminster parties that offer nothing but more Brexit chaos. Will the Prime Minister be honest for once with Wales: there is only one way out of the chaos, isn’t there, and that is to remain in the European Union?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her beautiful Welsh—although I could not get all of the Welsh—but I remind her that the most important point that she might bear in mind is that her constituents, the people of Wales, voted to leave the European Union. And that is what the people of this country voted for; that is what the majority of the constituents of those on the Benches opposite voted for, and it is high time that they honoured that promise.
My constituents in North Hykeham deal with some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, and they tell me that completing Lincoln’s bypass would make a huge difference to their lives. Can my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirm that his Government will support the building of this bypass?
May I, Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Members of my party thank you for your service to this House? You came to office at a very, very turbulent and challenging time for this House, and you have always been assiduous in protecting the rights of Back Benchers and smaller parties, and we thank you for that and wish you well in your retirement.
In the dying days of this Parliament, will the Prime Minister please do something for the victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland? I raised this at Northern Ireland questions. There is still time in this Parliament to get this legislation through. The victims have been waiting for so long now. There is cross-party, cross-community support; will he please act on that?
I thank my right hon. Friend; he has campaigned very much on that issue. The Government of course have fulfilled their promise to introduce legislation on the matter, and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has had productive meetings with representatives from victim and survivor groups. But the most powerful way to address this issue, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, will be if we can all work together to get the Stormont Executive back up and running to deal with the matter themselves.
There will never be, because there could never be, a more eloquent and articulate Speaker than you, Mr Speaker; we will miss your style and your remarkable, encyclopaedic grasp of detail—and I will miss the literary references by the way, Mr Speaker.
Marcel Proust said the only—[Interruption.]
Marcel Proust said:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.
Hard-working British patriots who voted to leave the European Union with fresh eyes have in their sights the bourgeois liberal elite who are trying to steal Brexit from them. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as he is broadcast on the wireless and elsewhere and actually meets people in real life too in the coming days and weeks, simply evangelise this plain and straightforward message: back Brexit, back Britain, back Boris?
There is only one way to take this country forward, and that is to get Brexit done. My right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for people in his constituency and across the country, and if our Government are returned, as I hope we will be—and I will work very hard to ensure that we are—the people of this country will be seeing record investment in their NHS, they will be seeing improvements in their wages through the biggest expansion of the living wage in memory, and they will be seeing reductions in the cost of living, because it is one nation Conservative policies that can be relied on to take this country forward—and the Labour party would take us backwards.
Mr Speaker, from the Liberal Democrats Benches may we wish you well and congratulate you on a decade particularly as a modernising Speaker? From topicality of debates to promoting diversity within the staff of the House to reforms to support parents who are MPs, you have helped to drag this institution out of the past so it can face the future.
At this general election, voters deserve better than a choice between the two tired old parties, and in the TV debates people deserve to hear from a leader who wants to stop Brexit and build a better future, so will the Prime Minister commit today to take part in those three-way debates, or is he going to run scared of debating with “a girly swot”?
I think what the people of this country want is the promises made to them kept, and I am not disposed to believe in the promises of the Liberal Democrats when their leaflets in London say they want to revoke the result of the referendum and their leaflets in the south-west of the country do not mention Brexit at all. That is what they stand for—a bunch of hypocrites, the lot of them. They stand for nothing but a policy of dither and delay and indecision. To take this country forward with fantastic environmental policies and fantastic policies on education of a kind that I think will appeal to all the hon. Lady’s constituents, she should join this party, vote for this Government and support us at the general election.
Mr Speaker, may I join the tributes from across the House to your service and your speakership? Even though, our 30-year friendship notwithstanding, I have not agreed with everything you have done recently, I have been a big supporter of you in the Chair. You have been a champion of Back Benchers, and you have allowed the Chamber to hold the Executive to account, and you have enabled that in a very good way. The best of luck, and good wishes to you and your family.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was standing for the leadership of our great party, he spoke about ending the witch hunt of our Northern Ireland veterans. He said:
“We need to end unfair trials of people who served Queen and country.”
He also said that the persecution of veterans facing historical allegations over troubles in Northern Ireland has “got to stop”. Given that there was nothing on that in the Queen’s Speech, will he give a clear manifesto undertaking that if he is re-elected as Prime Minister of a Conservative Government, he will bring forward legislation as quickly as possible to end this awful injustice?
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for everything he has done to campaign on this issue. As he knows, the consultation on the new legislation was concluded only a few days ago. I can certainly give him the reassurance that we will bring forward legislation to ensure that, when there is no new evidence being provided, there are no unfair prosecutions of people who served this country faithfully and well.
Mr Speaker, I have been in Parliament for 32 years. I have seen many Speakers in the Chair and I must say you have been the best. As we say in the north-east—it’s not quite the language of the Welsh—you’re a canny laddie.
The WASPI women were given a bad deal on their pensions. Does the Prime Minister have any plans to put that wrong right?
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman as he leaves this House. Indeed, I repeat my congratulations to all hon. Members who are standing down on the service they have given.
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the WASPI women. As he knows, it is a very difficult and very emotionally charged issue. We have done our best to try to satisfy that group. Another £1 billion has, I think, been allocated to the support of WASPI pensioners. I would just remind Opposition Members who are chuntering at me that under the Labour Government I seem to remember female pensions went up by 75p. That was their approach to pension rights for women. We are looking at what more we can do to satisfy that issue but, as he knows, it is very difficult.
Mr Speaker, I wish you well and add to the plaudits by thanking you for the way you have represented my father’s old constituents of Buckingham. I know you have been assiduous in that.
Many years ago, the Prime Minister was campaigning in Newbury to help get me elected when he was asked by the Newbury Weekly News whether there was any chance of him becoming Prime Minister. He said that he thought there was more chance of being decapitated by a frisbee. I will continue to take great delight in the fact that he has defied those odds if he can commit to me here today to continue this country’s bold ambition on ocean conservation, in which we are a world leader.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all the service he has given to this Government and this country. I remember vividly campaigning with him on one occasion when we were interrupted by a dog show. He has done particularly important work on conserving oceans. He has helped to ensure that this country has global leadership in establishing marine conservation areas around the planet. As you know, Mr Speaker, this country protects a vast expanse of the oceans, more than any country on earth, and it is thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend that we have put that issue at the forefront of our politics, protecting marine life and protecting not just the fish but the penguins as well. As he will know, a third of the world’s Emperor penguins are British. He has done a signal job of protecting those penguins and I thank him for it.
Order. Just before we proceed with a number of statements that need to be made, I would like to thank the Prime Minister and colleagues for their kind and generous personal remarks, which are greatly appreciated. I want to thank staff of mine, past and present, who have given of their time to be here today for the last Prime Minister’s questions that I will chair. All of them are people who have worked with me for a significant period of time. We have had fantastic relations and a terrific bond. I hugely appreciate the fact that they have bothered to turn up on this occasion. In particular, I want to thank my wife Sally and our three children Oliver, Freddie and Jemima for the support, stoicism and fortitude they have displayed through thick and thin over the past decade. I will never forget it and I will always be grateful for it. [Applause.]
It may also be for the convenience of the House for me to make a short statement about Dissolution guidance. The draft guidance for Members standing, Members not standing and Members’ staff is available on the intranet. It will be finalised after Dissolution is confirmed. In the course of today, answers to frequently asked questions—FAQs—will also be published. These will include an answer to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) on Monday concerning arrangements for Remembrance Sunday.
Colleagues, I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Patricia Hillas as the new Speaker’s Chaplain. She was selected following a fair, open and competitive recruitment process. Tricia, as she likes to be known, is currently Canon Pastor at St Paul’s cathedral, where she leads on diversity and inclusion, and—goodness knows, there is a piquancy about this today—on the Church’s response in times of disaster. In particular, she was part of the team at St Paul’s that brought together the national memorial service following the Grenfell Tower disaster, working alongside the bereaved families and survivors, and local faith and other groups. As we know, that avoidable disaster has caused intense grief, pain and anger among those affected in the community.
Born in Kuala Lumpur to an Indian mother and a British father, Tricia moved to the UK with her family in 1971. Formerly a social worker, Tricia specialised in supporting individuals and families diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, helping them deal with complex multiple challenges with dignity. Married to Andrew, who is head of the youth offending service for Southwark, Tricia will additionally be priest in charge of St Mary-at-Hill in the City of London. I am also proud to say that she will be the second female Speaker’s Chaplain from a BAME background. Tricia replaces our dear friend, the Rev. Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who leaves on Thursday to become—I am so proud to say this—the first black Bishop of Dover. Tricia’s start date remains to be agreed, but I hope that when she does take up the post, probably early next year, the House will enjoy working with her.
It may also be helpful to inform the House now—these matters have been properly discussed with the usual channels—that at the start of the general debate on the report from the Grenfell Tower inquiry, I will ask the House to observe a minute’s silence to reflect on that tragic event and those whose lives were lost.
Business of the House
That, at this day’s sitting, proceedings on the motion in the name of the Prime Minister in relation to the Report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry may continue for three hours, though opposed, and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Grenfell Tower Inquiry
The House observed a minute’s silence.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
I will be making quite a lengthy speech this afternoon, reflecting the comprehensive nature of the report, so if hon. Members will bear with me, I am sure that I will address many of the issues on which they may be planning to intervene.
The bereaved, the survivors and the members of the north Kensington community joining us in the Galleries today each have their own story to tell, their own perspective on what happened at Grenfell, but over the past two and a half years, they have been united in their fight to uncover the truth. It is not a fight they would ever have chosen, but it is one they have taken up with determination, dedication and great dignity. Yet their exceptional tenacity in seeking justice has not always been matched by their faith in the system’s ability to deliver. This is no surprise. After all, they have been let down many times before, too often overlooked and ignored in the months and years before the tragedy and shamefully failed by the institutions that were supposed to serve them in the days and weeks after it.
Since then, the survivors, the bereaved and the local community have endured one unbearable milestone after another—the funerals, the anniversaries, giving and hearing evidence at the public inquiry, the painful process of building a new life in a new home without loved ones and without treasured possessions, and then the publication of this report today—all the while carrying with them the unimaginable trauma suffered that night. I am very much aware that no report, no words, no apology will ever make good the loss suffered and the trauma experienced, but I hope that the findings being published today and the debate we are holding this afternoon will bring some measure of comfort to those who suffered so much. They asked for the truth. We promised them the truth. We owe them the truth. And today the whole country and the whole world is finally hearing the truth about what happened at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017.
When the sun rose over London that morning, it revealed an ugly scar of black smoke cutting across an otherwise clear blue summer sky, and on the streets of north Kensington a scene of horror and desperation. Shortly before 1 o’clock that morning, a faulty fridge freezer had started a small fire in the kitchen of a flat on the fourth floor of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower. The resident of the flat did everything right. He raised the alarm, called the fire brigade and alerted his neighbours. Within five minutes, firefighters arrived to deal with what appeared to be a routine incident, and in the normal course of events, the fire would have been contained and extinguished, and that would have been that, but what happened that night was anything but normal.
Even before firefighters began to tackle the blaze on the inside of the tower, unbeknown to them flames were already beginning to race up the outside. Just seven minutes after the first firefighters entered the kitchen on the fourth floor, a resident on 22nd floor dialled 999 to report the blaze at her level, almost 200 feet higher up. By 1.27 am, a column of fire had reached the roof, one whole side of the building was ablaze and dense smoke and searing flames, visible across the capital, began wrapping around the tower, penetrating its heart. By 1.30 am, less than three quarters of an hour after it began, it was clear to those watching below that the inferno was completely out of control.
Grenfell Tower, filled that night with almost 300 souls in its 129 flats, was beyond saving. The fire that shocked the nation and the world that June morning took the lives of 72 men, women and children. The oldest, known simply as Sheila, was a poet, artist and great grandmother who had brought joy to many and seen and experienced much in her 84 years. The youngest, Logan Gomes, had never even seen his own parents. He was stillborn hours after his mother made a narrow escape from the choking, noxious smoke. Many who lived together died together: husbands and wives, parents and children were found in each other’s arms. Those who survived saw everything they owned reduced to dust and ash: wedding dresses, irreplaceable photographs, beloved children’s toys—all gone. The true scale of the trauma, the impact of the fire not only on those who survived but on those who lost loved ones or who witnessed its destruction, is unlikely ever to be known.
Grenfell represented the biggest loss of life in a single incident in the UK since the Hillsborough tragedy 28 years previously, but my predecessor as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was determined that there would be no repeat of the travesty that followed that disaster, which saw the friends and families of those who died forced to fight the establishment tooth and nail, year after year, decade after decade, to secure justice for their loved ones. That is why just 15 days after the tragedy she appointed one of our most experienced and respected former judges, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to lead a rigorous public and completely independent inquiry into what happened.
Sir Martin has today published his report on the first phase of that inquiry, covering the events of 14 June: the cause of the fire and its rapid spread, and the way in which emergency services and others handled the immediate response. As the sponsoring Minister under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005, I laid copies of the report before Parliament this morning. I was in no doubt that the House should have the opportunity to debate it on the day of publication.
Grenfell was a national tragedy, and this is a report of great national importance. However, I recognise that Sir Martin has produced a very substantial piece of work—almost 1,000 pages across four volumes—and that therefore the vast majority of Members will have not yet have had an opportunity to digest and analyse it in any great detail. I believe that Members have an important role to play in scrutinising such reports and the Government’s response to them, so let me reassure the House that we will seek to schedule a further debate on Sir Martin’s findings at the earliest suitable opportunity so that Members can debate the report in detail. Obviously that may be after the election, but we will certainly ensure that it will happen.
Of course, what happened during the hours in which the fire raged is only half the story. Phase 2 of the inquiry, which will start taking oral evidence earlier in the new year, will look at the wider context, including the nature and application of building regulations, the way in which local and central Government responded to the fire, and the handling of concerns raised by tenants over many years. Phase 1 sets out what happened; phase 2 will explain why. Such a complex process will inevitably take time—longer than any of us would wish—but, as I have said, we owe it to the people of Grenfell Tower to explain, once and for all and beyond doubt, exactly why the tragedy unfolded as it did, and with the standard set by this first report, I am confident that that is exactly what will happen.
Sir Martin’s work is exhaustive in its detail. He provides an authoritative, and often harrowing, minute-by-minute account of the fire and its terrifying spread. Led always by the facts, his recommendations are clear and numerous, and where there are failings to be highlighted, he does so without fear or favour. Nowhere is that clearer than in his verdict on the single biggest cause of the tragedy. He leaves no doubt that the cladding on the exterior of Grenfell Tower was the defining factor in the rapid and all-consuming spread of the blaze.
It was the cladding—the aluminium composite material rainscreen—and the combustible insulation behind it that ignited because of the fire in flat 16. It was the cladding that allowed the flames to climb so rapidly up the outside of the tower, causing compartmentation to fail. It was the cladding that turned into molten plastic raining fire on the streets of north Kensington and causing the blaze to travel up and down the building. In short, it was the cladding that turned a routine and containable kitchen fire into a disaster of unprecedented proportions that cost 72 people their lives. Sir Martin is clear that the cladding on Grenfell Tower was fitted in breach of building regulations. Why that was allowed to happen, and who was responsible for it, will be covered in phase 2 of his inquiry.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way, and for the manner in which he is making his speech.
It is still the case that men, women and children up and down the country will be sleeping tonight in buildings with that cladding. So many years after the tragedy, does the Prime Minister not think that, in this sixth richest democracy in the world, we could have done more to prevent people from sleeping in infernos across our country?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point; indeed, I was coming to that very matter in my explanation of what happened. All I can say is that he is quite right. We cannot afford to wait for the full conclusions of the report. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has just pointed out to me, we have allocated a further £600 million to the removal of such cladding. It is essential that we remove similar cladding on all buildings as soon as possible, which is why we have established the fund to pay for the removal of such cladding systems from tall residential buildings.
I know that progress is not as fast I should like, but I am pleased to say that all such buildings owned by central and local government have now had their cladding removed, are undergoing work to remove it, or, at the very least, have such work scheduled. In the private sector, progress is slower, and too many building owners have not acted responsibly.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We propose to name the businesses and companies that own those buildings but are failing to comply, to encourage them to get on with this vital work. While the people living in those privately owned buildings are safe—and, as the House will know, round-the-clock fire patrols and other temporary measures ensure that that is the case—I am in no doubt that they need a long-term and lasting solution.
May I just make some progress?
Nearly all private high residential buildings where such cladding remains are now in line to have remedial work scheduled. Where that is not the case, the Government will work with local authorities to take enforcement action if landlords refuse to deal with the problems themselves. I think the House will agree that they have had enough time. There are no more excuses; they must make those buildings safe, or face the consequences.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has done a lot of work on this issue, and we have highlighted the need for speedy removal of the cladding. It is in the private sector that there are often disputes between the freeholder and the leaseholders, who may be legally responsible but simply do not have the wherewithal to do the work. I am pleased by what the Prime Minister has said, but will he confirm that he will work with local authorities and they will do the work in default, in order to ensure that people in these properties are safe?
We will indeed be working—in fact, we are already working—with local authorities to enforce the requirement that they remove the cladding in question. Although I—like, I think, many Members—feel that progress should be faster, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are hard at it to remove that cladding.
If I may, I shall turn now to the second and most important factor that Sir Martin identified. The cladding on Grenfell Tower caused the fire to spread out of control and to behave in ways that nobody had seen before. This unprecedented fire created an unprecedented challenge to the men and women sent to fight it. Since 2017, much has been written from many perspectives about the way in which the London Fire Brigade handled the unfolding disaster, so let me be very clear from the start.
I thank the Prime Minister for the thoughtful delivery of his speech. I have seen the report this morning, and I have seen its recommendations. Will he give an undertaking today to enable adequate extra funding so that those recommendations can be taken forward as a matter of haste? It has been two and a half years, and that is too long. We need that money specifically so that they can be taken forward quickly.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I can tell her that I will be coming to that matter—and, I think, probably all the matters that hon. Members wish to address—a bit later in my remarks.
I think that the House will want to hear now about Sir Martin’s opinions on the way in which the London Fire Brigade handled the disaster. After examining all the evidence and listening to hundreds of witnesses and experts, Sir Martin does not call into doubt the actions or the bravery of any of the rank-and-file firefighters dispatched to Grenfell Tower. No one in this House or the other place should be in any doubt about that. As Mayor of this great city of London, I saw for myself the courage and commitment demonstrated by the men and women of the London Fire Brigade, and Sir Martin’s report bears that out. It tells of firefighters exhibiting
“extraordinary courage and selfless devotion to duty”
as they pushed themselves
“to and even beyond the limits of endurance”,
facing choking smoke and temperatures as high as 1,000° C. Their work that night was nothing short of phenomenal.
However, Sir Martin concludes that the firefighters on duty that night were
“faced with a situation for which they had not been properly prepared”.
He finds the London Fire Brigade’s planning and training for such an incident were “gravely inadequate”, and that on the night of the fire there were “serious deficiencies” in command and control. The report highlights a lack of co-ordination between emergency services, which Sir Martin calls a “serious failure” of stated policies. He also finds—the point that will be of most concern to those who lost loved ones—that the failure to order an evacuation of the tower once the fire was clearly out of control most probably led to the deaths of individuals who could otherwise have been saved.
If I may, I will continue, as it will be important for the House to hear the whole context in which these criticisms and points are being made.
The so-called “stay put” policy is the bedrock on which all plans for fighting fires in tall residential buildings are based. Building regulations are supposed to mean that fires cannot spread beyond individual flats, because they are compartmented. When that is the case, it is indeed safest for most residents to stay in their homes until the fire is extinguished, but at Grenfell that was not the case. The fire spread widely and rapidly, up, down and across the tower.
If I may, I will continue so that the House can get the whole picture that Sir Martin wants to convey.
By 1.30 am, it was clear that the compartmentation had failed. By 1.50 am, it was still not too late to order an evacuation, yet according to Sir Martin senior officers simply could not conceive of a situation in which compartmentation could fail so comprehensively. In the report, “stay put” is described as such an article of faith within the fire service that senior officers were reluctant to let the reality before them override their training. As a result, the decision to order an evacuation was not taken until 2.35 am, by which time the tower’s single staircase was already filling with impenetrable smoke.
Even after that time, poor and confused lines of communication meant that operators in the 999 control room were not aware that the advice had changed. Swamped by the sheer volume of calls, and dealing with a challenge well outside their experience and training, some continued to give conflicting advice to callers trapped inside the tower. Sir Martin notes that many operators did not realise how all-encompassing the fire had become until well after 5 am, when a lull in calls allowed them to check their phones and see images of the burning building for the first time. Information gleaned from callers inside the tower was faithfully recorded, but only rarely made its way to firefighters who could act on it.
I thank the Prime Minister for the tone and the reflective manner in which he is delivering his speech, but may I point out that this was not the first time that compartmentalisation had failed? In July 2009, Lakanal House, a multi-storey building, suffered a similar tragedy in which six people lost their lives and more than 20 were seriously injured. Subsequently, the coroner wrote to the then Minister, Eric Pickles, with a recommendation that the “stay put” policy be reviewed, but no action was taken.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, as the whole House knows. As I said at the outset, that is among the issues that will be addressed in the second part of Sir Martin’s report, but I will say a little bit about it later on. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue.
While brave firefighters led many people to safety from inside the tower, Sir Martin concludes that the chaos and confusion meant that some calls for help were not responded to until it was too late.
I have visited Grenfell Tower twice to sympathise with the relatives, but I have also been able to see at first hand how firefighters in these complex situations risk their lives. I had a meeting only yesterday at the Fire Service College in my constituency, which provides worldwide training for every type of fire officer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe it to our firefighters up and down this country to enable them to have the very best training?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am well aware that he has a centre for the training of firefighters at Moreton-in-Marsh in his constituency. Directly on his point, Sir Martin cautions all of us against making judgments at a distance, and I agree with him wholeheartedly on that.
It is very easy for us on these green Benches to have 20:20 hindsight. We are not about to run into the heart of a fire that is blazing more than 200 feet into the night sky.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. First, when he was Mayor of London he presided over fire service cuts despite warnings from London MPs from across parties, which he did not heed. Does he regret that? Secondly, on his Government’s watch, the regulators were stripped of powers, including the ombudsman’s power to investigate complaints without complainants having to go to their MP first. Will he now take action? He does not have to wait for the reports to come out to take action to strengthen the regulations. Will he provide the much-needed resources? We had to fight tooth and nail for two years with Grenfell United and the survivors to secure the £600 million. It is time that he acted and provided the necessary additional funding so that our constituents can sleep at night without having to worry about whether their homes may be set alight.
Sir Martin notes that appliances were at the site within five minutes, and he makes no findings that I am aware of about a lack of resources, nor about the other issues that the hon. Lady raises.
It is vital that individuals are held accountable for their errors, and when we do so we must do so very carefully. It is clear from this report that the firefighters on the ground were in a position that they should never have been in. They were doing their damnedest to tackle a fire that should never have been allowed to happen. But that does not absolve us of responsibility.
We must ensure that the failures identified by the inquiry are corrected, because not only does Sir Martin highlight that mistakes made by the London Fire Brigade in responding to Lakanal House, which the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) mentioned earlier, were repeated, he also raises concerns that the London Fire Brigade is, I am afraid,
“at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire.”
I must make some progress.
It is vital that the London Fire Brigade learns those lessons, and I am sure that everyone there will want them to do so. As a constituency MP, Mayor, or journalist, I never met any firefighter who was anything less than totally committed to public safety. I will be working with the London Fire Brigade, the Mayor’s office and local authorities across London to ensure that the lessons of Grenfell are learned and that Londoners are made safer for it. Where Sir Martin recommends that responsibility for fire safety should be taken on by central Government, I can confirm that we will legislate accordingly.
If hon. Members will allow me to complete my points, I think they will hear the answers to their questions.
More widely, we plan to accept in principle all the recommendations that Sir Martin makes for central Government. We will set out how we plan to do so as quickly as possible, but I can assure the House and all those affected by the Grenfell tragedy that where action is called for action will follow.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way and for his tone in delivering his response to the report. On the night of Grenfell, it took 38 minutes for a high-reaching aerial appliance to arrive. By that time, the building’s cladding had already caught fire. Will the Prime Minister consider his own actions in removing aerial appliances from London Fire Brigade’s engines and in the cuts made to the fire service when he was Mayor of London?
Sir Martin makes no recommendation on that point to the best of my knowledge.
For the survivors, the bereaved and the local community, the report will prove particularly harrowing, yet I hope it will strengthen their faith in Sir Martin’s desire to determine the facts of the fire and this Government’s commitment to airing those facts in public, no matter how difficult they may be, and to acting on them. That commitment is absolute—
Mr Speaker, I have given way enough.
That commitment is absolute, because if any good is to come of this senseless tragedy—a tragedy that should never have happened—and if it is to become a catalyst for change in our approach to fire safety and, indeed, to social housing more widely, we must get to the truth about what happened and why. We must expose and fix the failings that allowed an otherwise safe building to become so dangerous, that allowed a small kitchen fire to become a devastating inferno, and that led to so many people being told to stay in their homes when they could and should have been fleeing to safety. The inquiry is a vital part of that.
I thank Sir Martin and his team for all their work so far, and I know that all current and former Ministers, civil servants and all public sector workers will fully co-operate with phase 2. While uncovering the truth is very important to the survivors and the bereaved, it is not the only aspect of the post-Grenfell story that requires our attention. We will continue, as the previous Prime Minister promised, to support the affected families long after the television cameras are gone. We will continue the work of the Grenfell ministerial recovery group, which brings together the efforts of all parts of central and local government in meeting the needs of the community. We will continue to ensure that a beautiful and appropriate memorial is created on the site of the tower—a process that is being led by the bereaved and the local community.
No, I am winding up.
We will continue to make sure that those affected by the fire have an active and engaging role to play in implementing the lessons of Grenfell, including working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to develop the policies in our social housing White Paper. We will continue to implement the findings of the Hackitt review of building regulations, and I have asked the civil servants responsible for implementing Sir Martin’s recommendations to provide me with regular and frequent updates on their progress. I will not allow the lessons of this tragedy to fall through the cracks.
The night of 14 June was horrendous, but in the darkness we have also seen the best of humanity: the residents who sacrificed their lives to save their children or neighbours, the local community that rallied round in such an incredible fashion, holding the survivors in a tight embrace as the authorities failed to step up, and the bereaved and survivors here with us today. Those who would have every reason to hide away have instead fought to uncover the truth about what happened that terrible night. They have forced themselves to relive time and again the kind of trauma that most of us, mercifully, cannot begin to imagine. They have dedicated so much of their lives in so many ways to ensure that those who died on the night of 14 June 2017 will always be remembered. To them, I say once again that the truth will out, that justice will be done, and that Grenfell Tower and the people who called it home will never be forgotten.
May I start by thanking the Prime Minister for the serious way in which he has approached this matter and for his speech today on the findings of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s first report? I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for ensuring that we had a minute’s silence at the start of the debate for those who lost their lives on that terrible, terrible night.
I start by paying tribute to the survivors of the fire and their family members, who have campaigned with such dignity and determination for the past two years—two long years. Many of them are here today in the Gallery or watching the debate on television. For them, it is yet another horrible day of remembering a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a nephew, a niece who they will never see again and who will never come back. Those memories will never go away. With sympathy we should have an understanding of our responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to live in safety, wherever they are in this country.
Seventy-two people lost their lives on that night in June 2017. That situation rocked the community and shocked the whole country. It brought together help from lots of people—people from local churches, mosques and synagogues, and from different community organisations. People rushed to Grenfell as the fire was still blazing with gifts of food and toys, and with support. That simple human understanding from so many people is something we have to cherish and begin to understand, because it demonstrates that there is a natural human instinct to help people.
I cannot forget going there straight after the fire and talking to dazed people who did not really understand what had happened and to exhausted firefighters, police officers and many others who were trying to comprehend the enormity of the situation. It was truly horrific. I pay absolute tribute to all those volunteers and others who turned out that day to help. Local government officers from all across London immediately volunteered to try to help, because the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea seemed to have difficulty in responding to the enormity of the situation—I say no more than that at the moment.
It was a tragedy, Mr Speaker, but it was an avoidable tragedy. A tragedy is when there is an earthquake, a tidal wave or a volcano that we cannot understand or predict. This was an avoidable tragedy. All the survivors—all of them—deserve a new home and safety and security in this country, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary demanded at the time. All those responsible for this avoidable tragedy must understand that justice must prevail. Every necessary measure must be put in place to prevent a fire such as Grenfell from ever happening again.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a national fire response issue and that it is not just about London? Will he comment on my request to the Prime Minister that extra funding be made available so that the recommendations can be put in place, because I have not heard a positive response that says, “Yes, we will pay for that”?
Yes, it is a tragedy at Grenfell and a tragedy in that part of London, but obviously it is a potential tragedy anywhere where there is dangerous cladding on blocks of flats. My hon. Friend, who is our shadow Fire Minister, specifically asked that question about funding. Perhaps the Prime Minister or whoever responds for the Government would care to answer that point.
I have been on a number of the walks for Grenfell. Over my life, I have been on many marches and demonstrations, but I have never been on anything so poignant and powerful as thousands and thousands and thousands of people silently walking through north Kensington and then walking past the carcase that is Grenfell Tower. The power of that—the power of silence—is palpable. What is also palpable is the way in which the community as a whole supports those people.
When the silent march passes the fire station, there is genuine love and affection for all the firefighters who risked their lives that night. I know that nobody is trying to do this today, but let us not blame firefighters for their work. They did everything they could, and well beyond that.
I thought that it was absolutely right to hold the service in St Paul’s, because it was a way of bringing people together to try to come to terms with the horror of their loss. The events that I have been to in the mosque have also brought people together to try to comprehend the horror of their loss.
I was privileged to be the Minister for Civil Society at the time and, along with the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), I met many of the charities and support organisations. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in thanking them for all the work they have done, both in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and since then, to support the victims, their families and the wider community?
I absolutely do, and I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I have never forgotten meeting so many different groups and charities that day, who were already doing their best to meet in the church. Community organisations, the citizens advice bureau, North Kensington Law Centre and so many more were all doing their very best. There were also collections in the local community to try to ensure that people had what they needed.
We welcome the report on the first phase of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry, which, as the Prime Minister pointed out, not everybody has yet had a chance to study in detail. It has, after all, only just come out. We expect the Government and the other agencies cited to respond in full. It is very unlikely that a further debate will be held in this Parliament, so it will be for the next Parliament, I hope, to start with an urgent debate on this matter.