Skip to main content


Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2020

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Monday was Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember those who suffered under Nazi persecution. During that dark time, Britain stood out as a beacon of hope, and 10,000 Jewish children came here with the Kindertransport. When the Prime Minister’s Government rejected Lord Dubs’ amendment on unaccompanied child refugees, Britain’s beacon dimmed. Will the Prime Minister now devolve powers over immigration to Holyrood, to allow Scotland to be that beacon of hope?

The hon. Lady does a disservice to this country’s reputation and record, because not only have we taken 41,000 unaccompanied children since 2010, but the whole country can be very proud of everything that we continue to do to commemorate the holocaust and what took place then.

Q3. I know that my right hon. Friend would never put our country at risk, and I also know that he was born in America, so what plans does he have to convince the US Secretary of State that the Huawei deal is safe not only for our constituents but for our allies? (900487)

My hon. Friend raises a most important point that I know is of great concern to Members from all parties. I assure the House and, indeed, the country that it is absolutely vital that people in this country have access to the best technology available, but that we also do absolutely nothing to imperil our relationship with the United States, do anything to compromise our critical national security infrastructure, or do anything to imperil our extremely valuable co-operation with Five Eyes security partners.

I am sure that the whole House will want to send our thoughts to the family and friends of the Royal Marines soldier who sadly died in a training incident earlier this week.

If you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, may we take just a minute to pay tribute to Nicholas Parsons, who passed away this week? We thank him for his work in broadcasting.

This Friday, the UK will be leaving the European Union. The actions that we take over the months and years ahead will shape our future role in the international community for generations to come. Britain’s role in the world will face one of its most important tests later this year when COP26 meets in Glasgow to discuss the need for drastic action to tackle the climate emergency. Given the scale of the crisis, does the Prime Minister think that we as a country should be financing billions of pounds-worth of oil and gas projects all around the world?

Let me first say, in memory of Nicholas Parsons, that we should all avoid hesitation, deviation or repetition in this House.

I do think it important that the UK continues to campaign against hydrocarbon emissions of all kinds, as we do. The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that we have just decided to ban support for all extraction of coal around the world. That is a massive step forward by this country.

The report from the BBC and Unearthed investigation has revealed that a Government agency has helped to finance oil and gas projects that will emit 69 million tonnes of carbon a year—nearly a sixth of the total emissions from this country alone. The effects of climate change have been felt in this country, with flooding in Yorkshire and the midlands, and of course we have seen the wildfires in Australia. Despite pledging to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the Government are currently on track to meet that target only by 2099. Can we afford to wait another 79 years before we reach net zero in this country?

This Government have doubled spending on tackling climate change internationally to £11.6 billion. I am not surprised by what the right hon. Gentleman has said because he is so pessimistic. We should not forget that this country has reduced CO2 emissions already by 42% on 1990 levels, while the economy, under this Conservative Government, has grown by 73%. That is our record; we can do both.

The right hon. Gentleman voted against every proposal to take action on climate change until he became Prime Minister. I hope, for the sake of our future, that he changes his mind before COP26 meets in Glasgow.

Speaking of failing to take a global lead on climate change, the US Secretary of State is visiting later today. President Trump’s latest middle east peace plan is not a peace plan. It will annexe Palestinian territory, lock in illegal Israeli colonisation, transfer Palestinian citizens of Israel, and deny Palestinian people their fundamental rights. When the Government meet the US Secretary of State later today, will they make it clear that they will stand for a genuine, internationally backed peace plan rather than this stuff proposed by Trump yesterday?

Let us be clear that this is a problem that has bedevilled the world, and the middle east in particular, for decades. No peace plan is perfect, but this has the merit of a two-state solution—it is a two-state solution. It would ensure that Jerusalem is both the capital of Israel and of the Palestinian people. Rather than being so characteristically negative, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reach out to his friends and my friends—our friends—in the Palestinian Authority, and to Mahmoud Abbas, for whom I have the highest respect, and, for once, to engage with this initiative and to get talking rather than to leave a political vacuum.

I have the greatest respect for President Abbas and those in the Palestinian Authority; I have met them many times—[Interruption.] This is actually a very serious issue. The Prime Minister should acknowledge that President Trump’s plan will not bring any move towards peace and that it has no support from any Palestinian anywhere in the world. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for the British Government to say frankly and candidly to the US that, on this, it is wrong. There needs to be a two-state solution with international support.

The kind of test for this country for the future has to be how we work to end conflict abroad. The Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen has led to the needless deaths of innocent men, women and children, yet this Government have broken the ban on Saudi arms sales three times, while Donald Trump has vetoed a ban on arms exports three times. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will respect his own ban and will he, when he meets the US later today, ask it to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia while it continues the bombardment of the people of Yemen?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Saudi-led operation in Yemen is supported by the UN—a UN mandate to restore the Government of Yemen—and that is absolutely vital. He is completely correct that the crisis in Yemen continues, and that it is a tragedy for the people of Yemen, but what he should be doing is supporting the activity of the British UN negotiator, Martin Griffiths, who is doing a fantastic job in trying to bring the sides together and to get a peaceful solution led by Yemenis.

Of course, attempts are being made to bring about a peace process, but it is not helped when one country supplies arms to Saudi Arabia, which has led to the deaths of 100,000 people in Yemen last year alone. According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi authorities have stepped up their arbitrary arrests, trials and convictions and the killing of peaceful dissidents and activists, including a large-scale crackdown on the women’s rights movement. When the Prime Minister heads to Riyadh later this year for the G20, will he make it clear that any future trade arrangement with Saudi Arabia will be dependent on an improvement of its human rights laws and its human rights record, particularly in respect of women in that country?

It will not have escaped the House’s attention that the right hon. Gentleman is a supporter and defender of the Iranian regime in Tehran, which has grossly exacerbated the tensions in Yemen by sending missiles to attack the civilian population of Saudi Arabia. Of course we raise the matter of human rights in Saudi Arabia. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the rights of women in Saudi Arabia only the other day. We will continue to do that, and we will do that ever more vigorously and ever more energetically as we pursue our policy of a global Britain doing free trade deals around the world, which will give us the leverage to make exactly these points.

I condemn human rights abuses in every country in the world, including Iran, Russia and anywhere else where such abuses are committed. My question was: what is being done to ensure that our future trade deals are dependent on good human rights in the countries that we deal with? Nine women are in Saudi prisons at the present time, merely for standing up for equal rights for women. Four of them have received electric shock treatment during interrogation. Is that the kind of human rights we tolerate? I sincerely hope not.

Britain is at a crossroads. We are leaving the EU, and our place in the world is going to change. The question is what direction it will take. The signs are that this Government are prepared to sacrifice our country’s interests and values for short-term political advantage and a sell-out trade deal with Donald Trump. As Foreign Secretary the Prime Minister embarrassed this country, and as Prime Minister he shows every sign of being prepared sell it off. When will he accept that the only chance of a truly internationalist Britain is to work with our global partners to tackle the climate catastrophe, expand trade, fight human rights abuses and promote peace?

The difference between this Government and the way we treat international affairs, and the Labour party under its present leadership, can be summarised as follows: the right hon. Gentleman, as leader of the Labour party, has consistently stood up not just for Tehran, but for Vladimir Putin when he poisoned innocent people on the streets of this country; he has said that he would scrap the armed services of the United Kingdom, end our nuclear deterrent and abolish NATO, which has been the bulwark of our security for the past 70 years. This Government are leading the world in tackling abuses, sticking up for human rights, championing the struggle against climate change, and leading the fight for every single girl in the world to have access to 12 years of quality education. That is what global Britain is delivering under this Government. The right hon. Gentleman would isolate this country and deprive us of our most crucial allies. We are going to take this country forward and outward into the world, and—in case I forgot to mention it before—we are going to deliver on our promises and take us out of the European Union this Friday, despite everything that he and all the Opposition parties tried to do.

Q7. With our Prime Minister’s vision, this Conservative Government have an incredible opportunity to deliver change by driving forward the levelling up of parts of the country that have lagged behind London. Will the Prime Minister confirm that beautiful Hastings and Rye will not be overlooked in the process of levelling up, and that the necessary investment will be made in our transport infrastructure, education and health to unleash our bags of talent and potential? (900491)

I can confirm that the infrastructure revolution will penetrate all the way to Hastings and Rye, and across the whole country. There will be an additional £100 million for the redevelopment of the Conquest Hospital and Eastbourne District General Hospital, which I know will be of benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Scotland is being dragged out of the European Union against our will. We hope that our European friends will leave a light on for Scotland.

During the EU referendum, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that when it came to immigration, it would be for the people of Scotland to decide. On Monday, the Scottish Government published their plans for a Scottish visa, doing just what the right hon. Member promised Scotland should be able to do. Before the ink was even dry, those proposals were rejected without consideration. Given that the Prime Minister would never reject a proposal before reading it, can he tell the House on what points he disagrees with model 3? If it helps the Prime Minister, that model was outlined on page 20 of the proposal.

I have every sympathy with the industries and businesses of Scotland that need to allow workers to come freely for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme; we have doubled that number, and that is very important. I thank the lobbying representations that I have received from Conservative colleagues in Scotland on that point. But the idea of having a Scottish-only visa, with a border at Berwick, a wall and inspection posts is absolutely fanciful and deranged. Whatever may be on page 20 of the right hon. Member’s document, I doubt that he explains who would pay for it.

Nobody is suggesting such a thing, and that confirms that the Prime Minister does not have a clue.

Unlike the Prime Minister, experts have backed the Scottish Government’s proposals. The Scottish Trades Union Congress supports them. The Federation of Small Businesses supports them. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry supports them. Even the Migration Advisory Committee report commissioned by his Government has highlighted additional migration routes as a means of increasing population growth. The Scottish Government’s proposals will boost Scotland’s population, grow our economy, and protect public services. The UK Government’s policies threaten to plunge our working-age population into decline. We were told we would have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. We were told we would be an equal partner in the family of nations. Will the Prime Minister now read the Scottish Government’s proposal, listen to the evidence, and deliver a tailored migration policy for Scotland?

We will have exactly such a thing. We will have a points-based system that will deliver the immigration that this whole country needs. The way to boost the population of Scotland is not to have a Scottish Government who tax the population to oblivion and who fail to deliver results in their schools. It may interest you to know, Mr Speaker, that the SNP has not had a debate in its Parliament on education for two years—and what is it debating today? Whether or not to fly the EU flag. It should get on with the day job.

Q13. Prime Minister, up in Yorkshire, in your Conservative Brexit heartlands, we are celebrating our leaving the EU on Friday with a big Brexit bash. I wish to congratulate the Prime Minister on achieving our leaving the EU when so many deemed it impossible. Does he agree that this is an opportunity for a new chapter in our great country when we will finally control our laws, our borders and our money, and become a truly global trading nation? (900497)

I do join my hon. Friend in her celebrations. I am sorry I cannot be there personally but I wish everybody in Morley and Outwood a very enjoyable big Brexit bash.

Q2. Sexual exploitation does not end when you turn 18. Indeed, it is the main driver of modern slavery and trafficking of women in this country. So will the Prime Minister join other countries around the world by bringing in legislation to end demand, making it illegal to buy sexual consent? (900486)

I am certainly happy to look at the proposals if the hon. Lady wishes to bring them forward to the House.

Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to increase capacity on our railways in and between the north, the midlands, the south and Scotland, and that unless we want decades of disruption, the only way to do this is through Midlands Engine Rail, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and HS2?

I can tell my hon. Friend that we are not only building Northern Powerhouse Rail and investing in the midlands rail hub but, as he knows, we are looking into whether and how to proceed with HS2, and the House can expect an announcement very shortly.

Q4. This Prime Minister has shown no respect for Scotland. Will he listen to the Scottish food and drink sector, which currently employs 40,000 EU nationals? We have 46,000 roles needing to be filled by 2030. The figures are clear: immigration is an urgent priority for Scotland. So when will this Prime Minister accept that Scotland must have the power to tailor its own immigration policy and ensure that we have the powers to do so? (900488)

I have the utmost respect for the people of Scotland. I have less respect for the SNP Government of Scotland, who are currently, because of their failures, producing less growth than any other part of the UK.

May I start by congratulating the Prime Minister on ensuring that this is the final Prime Minister’s questions of our time as a member of the European Union? I know that he shares my concern about the loss of biodiversity around the world. I have seen at first hand how it is possible to turn a palm oil plantation back into a fast-recovering rainforest full of wildlife. While we are already doing good work on restoring environment around the world, will he ensure that we step up our work through the Department for International Development to restore biodiversity, and in doing so, help to tackle climate change?

My right hon. Friend raises an exceptionally important point. That is why it is vital that we have a direct link between the Chinese COP summit on biodiversity and our COP26 summit on climate change.

Q5. The Prime Minister talks of avoiding hesitation, repetition and deviation, but does he agree that we should also avoid hypocrisy? We will not be taken seriously on climate leadership as long as we are ploughing taxpayers’ money into projects overseas that are emitting huge amounts of carbon. It is not just the export finance. It is also the fact that at the UK-Africa investment summit last week, it was announced that £2 billion will be ploughed into more oil and gas. Will he join me and the Environmental Audit Committee in agreeing that, from the end of 2021, there should be no UK money going into fossil fuels overseas—yes or no? (900489)

What I can tell the hon. Lady is that we have doubled spending on tackling climate change, to £11.6 billion. Not another penny will be going into digging out coal, and we will do everything we can to help the rest of the world achieve the incredible record of the UK Government in reducing CO2 emissions. That is our ambition.

This Sunday is World Wetlands Day, and I have the superb WWT Slimbridge headquarters in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister tell us what the environment Bill will do for wetlands and wildlife, and will he visit our famous flamboyance of flamingos?

I look forward to seeing my hon. Friend’s famous flamboyant flamingos at the earliest opportunity. I can tell her that our environment plan places biodiversity frameworks on a statutory footing—whether or not that includes flamingos, I do not know.

Q6. P&O Ferries in Hull are finding Filipino seafarers to work for far below the national minimum wage. They are expected to work 12-hour shifts seven days a week for six months at a time. The Prime Minister will remember that the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, which claimed the lives of 193 passengers and crew, was caused by seafarer fatigue. Will he agree to meet a cross-party group of MPs to discuss that issue, to try to put it to bed once and for all and to protect British seafarer jobs? (900490)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that serious issue. I have been told that the replacement crew’s working pattern meets the requirements of international maritime conventions, but plainly there are concerns for all the reasons that he mentions. The shortest answer I can give him is that I know my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be only too happy to meet him and others who are concerned.

This week, the much anticipated Chapelford Medical Centre opened in my constituency, improving GP access for residents. Will the Prime Minister confirm that this Government’s intention is to recruit, train and deploy more doctors, so that we can increase the number of appointments for people in Warrington and across the UK?

Yes; I can confirm that we will not only deliver 6,000 more GPs but, as my hon. Friend may recall, we have also pledged to deliver 40 new hospitals and 50,000 more nurses. This is the party of delivery, decision and democracy, and we get on with the job.

Q8. The Prime Minister will be aware that we have been pressing for some time for a pension for innocent victims of violence in Northern Ireland. Can he update the House on the progress made thus far and give an absolute assurance that those in receipt of such a pension are innocent victims and will not include perpetrators who were injured by their own actions? (900492)

We obviously have every sympathy for innocent victims of violence in Northern Ireland. We have been consistently clear about the principle that people must have sustained injuries through no fault of their own, and that principle will be sustained throughout the negotiation.

The Prime Minister will know that the Future Fit programme is a £312 million investment in upgrading and modernising hospital services in Shropshire. Telford Council, a medically illiterate organisation, has managed to prevent these changes over the last six years, undermining the 300 local doctors and surgeons who believe it is essential for patient safety. Will the Prime Minister intervene to use his good offices to help us break this deadlock, otherwise patient safety will be put at risk at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue, and I can tell him that we are indeed getting on with that job. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health says that he will personally intervene to ensure that that is done.

Q9. While the MAC report proposes a reduction in salary thresholds from £30,000 to £25,600, it does not go far enough, given that around half of Scottish employees earn less than the proposed threshold, and that rises to almost 90% in the vital care sector. Does the Prime Minister agree that protecting Scotland’s care sector with a tailored migration system is more important than his ideological obsession of cutting immigration? (900493)

I think the House should be clear that we do not wish in any way to deprive any part of the UK of the labour that it needs, and we have special provisions to ensure that Scotland is properly catered for. As I say, we have doubled the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. But we will respond in due course to the stipulations of the Migration Advisory Committee.

I know my right hon. Friend is very fond of the north-east of Scotland, having visited twice in the last year, so will he commit here today to delivering the long-awaited oil and gas sector deal so that we can work with that industry as it transitions to net zero and make Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire not just the oil and gas capital of Europe, but the energy capital of the world?

Yes. Not only that, but we can do it in such a way as to continue this country’s reduction in hydrocarbon emissions.

Q10. The shortage of GPs has reached crisis point. In his answer to the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), the Prime Minister did nothing to allay the fears and concerns of patients who are waiting weeks to see a GP now. People in training is all very well, but what is he going to do now to make sure patients can access GPs? (900494)

The hon. Member is right to raise the point, but the number of GPs is already going up, and as I have just told the House, we are recruiting 6,000 more.

Yesterday’s announcement of the Nexus contract being placed with the Swiss company Stadler instead of with Hitachi Rail, which is based in my Sedgefield constituency, is in my opinion inappropriate and it takes no account of the socioeconomic benefit to us of UK-based business. I hope to see a positive decision on HS2 with its potential to reconnect the north with London, and would ask the Prime Minister to ensure that UK-based businesses such as Hitachi see their investment in the UK properly recognised in the procurement process.

My hon. Friend has personally raised the issue with me before, and I am sure that his constituents will congratulate him on sticking up for their interests in the way that he does. I can tell him that there will be a decision on HS2 very shortly, if he can just contain his impatience a little bit longer.

11.   Yesterday, the EU published the Erasmus+ programme annual report. It showed that Edinburgh University is the top UK institution for sending students on the scheme. The number of incoming higher education EU staff stood at 4,970 across the UK. The educational benefits are clearly endless. Will the Prime Minister now prioritise talks on the UK’s continued participation, so we do not face any delay in joining the next cycle from 2021? (900495)

Nothing in withdrawal from the EU stops UK students being able to pursue their hopes, their dreams around the whole of the European Union, and we will ensure that that is the case.

This week sees the start of the second phase of the Grenfell inquiry. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that our thoughts are with those affected, and that what we seek from the inquiry is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as to what happened?

Yes. I think most people would agree that Sir Martin Moore-Bick was pretty unflinching in the first section of his report, and I have no doubt that he will be equally unsparing in the next.

Q12. Prime Minister, is the BBC a mortal enemy of the Conservative party, or a cherished British institution that will be funded by the licence fee? (900496)

I can certainly say that it is a cherished British institution, and not a mortal enemy of the Conservative party.

Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is receiving £500 million thanks to this Conservative Government. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is excellent news for Carshalton and Wallington patients, and will he encourage my constituents to get involved with the consultation on where the new hospital should go?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on speaking up for Carshalton and Wallington, and on drawing attention to investment in the NHS. That investment is increasing under this Government, and we have now legislated for it, not just for this year, not just for next year, but for every year of this Parliament.

Q14. Last week I visited Grange Academy, a special school in Kempston. Its recent bid to the condition improvement fund, in order to make desperately needed school improvements, was turned down by the Government. Will the Prime Minister urgently review the funding formula for capital and revenue, so that schools for children with special educational needs and disability are not disadvantaged simply because they have fewer pupils? (900498)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are increasing funding for SEND schools by £780 million and ensuring that there are more of them, but I would be happy to look at the particular case he raises.

Half of the adult population in Cornwall, and 40% of children, have not seen an NHS dentist in the past year. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is a friend of Penzance and Cornwall, meet me to see how we can resolve that inequality?

Q15. Is the Prime Minister aware that the international strand of Glasgow’s fantastic Celtic Connections festival has been scaled back by almost 20% this year, because of what the director, Donald Shaw, described as the “hassle and stress” of sourcing visas for overseas artists? What is the Prime Minister’s message to artists who want to come here and share their talents, but who are put off by an over-complicated and extortionate application process that signals they are not welcome? (900499)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this Government have already instituted new measures to ensure that people of talent, and who can contribute to this economy, can come without let or hindrance. I am surprised that the director of the festival he refers to is encountering any difficulties, but if he really has a problem, may I direct him to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary?

Given the Prime Minister’s proven track record in overcoming prevarication, procrastination, dither and delay, will he repeat that success, do as other hon. Friends have asked, and get High Speed 2 done, in order to secure jobs across the country, including in Crewe and Nantwich?

I reassure hon. Friends and Members across the Chamber, of whatever persuasion they may be regarding HS2, that there will be an announcement and decision very shortly.

I hope the Prime Minister has the humility to recognise that not everybody will be celebrating on Friday night. We have been promised that leaving the EU will bring power closer to the people and give us a greater say in our communities, but instead many people feel that they have so far been ignored and disempowered. Will he demonstrate his willingness to listen to all voices by meeting Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, and me, to discuss how Wales will win the tools to forge a better future?

I certainly share the right hon. Lady’s general sentiment that it is time for the whole country to come together. I think from memory that Wales voted to leave the EU, and it is time that we regarded this as a beginning. This is curtain-up on a fantastic future for our country, and I respectfully suggest to the right hon. Lady, and others, that that is the frame of mind in which they should approach it.