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Volume 671: debated on Wednesday 12 February 2020

I join the Prime Minister in expressing sympathy and support to the victims of flooding and thank the Environment Agency and all the emergency services that are doing their best to help people.

Our thoughts are also with those who suffer from the coronavirus and with the Chinese community in this country, who are, I am sorry to say, facing increasingly alarming levels of racism within our country. As this virus spreads, I also thank public health workers who are helping those affected and raising awareness of the danger of the virus.

Does the Prime Minister think that someone who came to this country at the age of five, was the victim of county lines grooming and compelled to carry drugs, was released five years ago and has never reoffended deserves to be deported?

I think the whole country would agree that, while I cannot comment on individual cases, it is entirely right that foreign national offenders should be deported from this country in accordance with the law.

The Government have learned absolutely nothing from the Windrush scandal. This cruel and callous Government are trying to mislead the British people into thinking that they are solely deporting foreign nationals who are guilty of murder, rape and other very serious offences. This is clearly not the case. Take the example of a young black boy who came to the UK aged five and is now being deported after serving time for a drugs offence. If there was a case of a young white boy with blond hair who later dabbled in class A drugs and conspired with a friend to beat up a journalist, would the Prime Minister deport that boy; or is it one rule for young black boys from the Caribbean and another for white boys from the United States?

Quite frankly, I think the right hon. Gentleman demeans himself and besmirches the reputation of the Windrush generation, who came to this country to work in our public services, to teach our children and to make lives better for the people of this country. He has no right to conflate them with the foreign national offenders we are deporting today.

The Windrush generation have been disgracefully treated by a Government who deliberately created a hostile environment. While the Government were fighting to deport people who legally came to this country as children, the Foreign Secretary refused to tell the family of Harry Dunn the reason the US is blocking the extradition of the woman who is alleged to have killed him. I now ask the Prime Minister straight: is Anne Sacoolas being shielded from justice because she is a former CIA officer?

The whole House will know that the Foreign Secretary and I, and the Government at every level, have tirelessly sought the extradition of Anne Sacoolas for justice in this country, and we will continue to do so.

It is widely reported that Anne Sacoolas is in fact a CIA operative. Now we know that the Foreign Secretary misled the Dunn family, who are being denied justice by the US Government, will the Prime Minister commit to his removal from office tomorrow in his reshuffle?

The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Foreign Office has been told that Anne Sacoolas was notified to the UK Government as a spouse with no official role. We will continue, without fear or favour, to seek justice for Harry Dunn and his family, and we will continue to seek the extradition of Anne Sacoolas from the United States.

This morning, Charlotte Charles, Harry’s mum, said: “We thought we had bridged the gap with the Government. But they have not been honest with us”. This is only the latest case of our country’s one-sided extradition treaty with the USA. This lopsided treaty means the US can request extradition in circumstances that Britain cannot. While the US continues to deny justice to Harry Dunn, will the Prime Minister commit today to seeking an equal and balanced extradition relationship with the United States?

To be frank, I think the right hon. Gentleman has a point in his characterisation of our extradition arrangements with the United States. I do think that elements of that relationships are unbalanced, and it is certainly worth looking at, but that is totally different from the case of Harry Dunn and Anne Sacoolas. We continue to seek the extradition of Anne Sacoolas to face justice in this country.

It has everything to do with the relationship with the USA that Anne Sacoolas has not been extradited back to Britain, because the US refuses to do it because of this lopsided treaty. I am glad the Prime Minister at least acknowledges that point about the treaty. This deep disparity with the US is about to be laid bare, when the courts decide whether the WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange will be extradited to the US on charges of espionage and for exposing war crimes, including the murder of civilians and large-scale corruption. Does the Prime Minister agree with the parliamentary report that is going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of us all?

I am not going to comment on any individual case, but it is obvious that the rights of journalists and whistleblowers should be upheld, and this Government will clearly continue to do that.

Q2. My wife is a volunteer with the local branch of the Samaritans, and my right hon. Friend will know what good work they do in helping to keep people safe online in Sedgefield and the rest of the UK. Does he agree that today’s announcement that we are putting Ofcom at the helm of a strong regulatory regime shows that we are delivering on our commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online? (900759)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. As we deliver gigabit broadband to every part of this country, including to the people of Sedgefield, we will also ensure that the UK is the safest place to be online.

In northern Syria, displaced women and their children are literally freezing to death. There are reports of babies dying as a result of the extreme conditions, and 45,000 people remain stranded with nowhere to go. The Syrian war is considered to have caused the biggest wave of displacement since the second world war. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what responsibility his Government have taken for this humanitarian crisis?

As I think the whole House will know, and as I have said several times in the House, the UK leads the world in supporting humanitarian relief efforts in Syria. This country has committed £3.2 billion to that cause.

My question was about the children who are literally freezing to death. That was not an answer from the Prime Minister.

In 2017, as Foreign Secretary, this Prime Minister enacted a policy of accepting the Syrian dictator Assad’s rule over the country. Assad has delivered death and destruction to his people—a man who has gassed his own civilians. The humanitarian situation has reached crisis point, and there are now fears of all-out war. Is the message that the Prime Minister wants to send from the House today that the UK Government are washing their hands of the Syrian people and that he is content for Assad’s regime to continue enacting these atrocities?

I really think the right hon. Gentleman needs to consult his memory better. He would find that this country and this Government have persistently called for the end of the Assad regime, and indeed have led the world in denouncing the cruelty of the regime towards Assad’s own people. That has continuously been the policy of the British Government.

Q3. Will the Prime Minister join me in supporting a new initiative I am launching in my constituency to train mental health first aiders in schools, workplaces and the community throughout the constituency to tackle loneliness and challenge mental health stigma, and may I ask whether he could find time in his diary to join me at the launch? (900760)

I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to champion mental health services in Watford. We are massively increasing support for good mental health in schools, and, if I can, I will do my best to attend the launch event.

Q4. After three years of extensive evidence-gathering and research, on 26 March the Youth Violence Commission will publish its final recommendations. The overwhelming verdict of victims, youth workers, community leaders and other stakeholders is that short-term solutions do not work. Violence reduction units are a welcome first step, but they need long-term funding and leadership from the top. Will the Prime Minister commit to that funding, and will he attend our report launch to hear directly from victims and experts how we can get to grips with this crisis? (900761)

I think the hon. Lady is right: we have to do both, which is why we are putting £200 million into the Youth Endowment Fund as well as supporting violence reduction units. We are also putting 20,000 police on the streets of this country and giving them the powers, which the Leader of the Opposition opposes, to take knives off the streets with stop and search.

Q5. The Prime Minister has made transport connectivity a priority for the Government. Does he agree that connecting my constituency of Southport with Preston through the Burscough curve link would not only give my constituents more access to the rail network, but help us to unleash our economic potential? (900762)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign for the restoration of the Burscough curves. That sounds to me like a great idea. What he needs to do is put forward a costed business plan, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will look at it very carefully.

Q6. Does the Prime Minister agree with me and 10,800 of my constituents who signed petitions, that the building of a gasification plant in Washington would be terrible for the people of Sunderland, due to the public health concerns, and air quality, and would indeed be a blot on the landscape of Sunderland, and that now as a frequent visitor to Sunderland, I’m sure he shares my concerns on this matter? Will he therefore support me and my constituents, who oppose the building of this plant? (900763)

I will certainly look into the matter that the hon. Lady raises. We will ensure, of course, that if there is a problem with the gasification plant that she describes, Sunderland will continue to prosper and to lead the UK economy.

Q12. Blyth has the potential to become one of the most strategically important ports in the UK for the export of renewable technology as well as wind turbines. Would my right hon. Friend consider visiting Blyth, where I am sure he would get a warm Northern welcome— rose —and see for himself the strength of Blyth to become a freeport? (900769)

The answer was in the question, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the potential of Blyth, although I must remind him that the allocation of freeports will be decided in an entirely fair and transparent way.

Q7. Every day, an estimated 280 shopworkers will be victims of violence at work. At my local Co-op, a staff member was hit with a glass bottle. The Co-op is a good employer, and it wants this to stop, so it and other local retailers engaged with the Government’s call for evidence on violence towards shop staff. Seven and a half months later, they are awaiting a response. Prime Minister, will you commit today to publishing your response to the call for evidence, and will you meet me and a group of shopworkers who have experienced violence at work to hear about what happened to them? (900764)

I certainly will make that undertaking to the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that he has raised this matter. We should not tolerate crimes of violence against shopworkers or indeed anybody else. I therefore find it paradoxical that the leader of his party is soft on the deportation of serious violent offenders.

Q14. This year, we mark the 75th anniversaries of VE-day and VJ-day. As we honour those who have served our country, will my right hon. Friend outline how his new Office for Veterans Affairs is giving our veterans and their families the support they deserve? (900771)

Our new Office for Veterans Affairs is helping veterans to transition to new jobs and to secure homes. A discount railcard will be rolled out by Armistice day, and veterans will get guaranteed interviews for civil service jobs so that we have more veterans bringing their talents to government.

Q8. The Prime Minister’s junior Scotland Office Minister told the National Farmers Union last week that substandard food would be allowed into the UK under a US trade deal, but that it would have to be labelled as such. The Prime Minister has denied this in the past, so who is telling the truth and which of them does not know what is coming? (900765)

I can assure the hon. Lady that the UK has and will continue to have the highest standards in the world for our food.

Q15. In Greater Manchester, frontline police officers are increasingly having to resort to using a pen and paper because of the failing iOPS computer system. This is putting the police at risk and undermining their ability to protect residents and vulnerable children. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister intervene to solve this problem? (900772)

My hon. Friend is, I am afraid, entirely right. We know that there are concerns about this system, and that is why I have asked the Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), to ask Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary for an independent review of the operation of the system. We will ensure that my hon. Friend is kept informed.

Q9. Northwick Park Hospital, which serves my constituents, has not met its four-hour A&E target since August 2014. It has been starved of capital investment and it is short of intensive treatment unit beds. It is expected to have close to a £100 million deficit by the end of the financial year—one of the highest in the NHS. When does the Prime Minister expect Northwick Park to receive a little Government love and attention? (900766)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but as he will know, the highest-ever number of people attended A&E in this country last month—2 million people. The demand is exceptional, and I pay tribute to the work of NHS staff. As he knows, we in this Government are responding with a record investment in the NHS of £34 billion, and we are recruiting 50,000 more nurses, which will help to deal with that crisis.

In the past week, Storm Ciara has wreaked havoc along West Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, affecting the constituencies of Members across the House. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seek to find time to visit my constituency? Horbury Bridge, where “Onward Christians Soldiers” was penned, has been acutely affected. Will he see for himself the terrible damage done to people’s homes, lives and businesses? Will he tread where the saints of our communities and emergency services have trod and continue to toil undivided towards recovery?

I pay tribute to the emergency services for what they are doing in my hon. Friend’s constituency and, indeed, in all flood-affected areas. As he knows, we have activated the Bellwin scheme to protect homeowners, and we are putting £4 billion into flood defences. I certainly will do what I can to take up his offer to visit his constituency and see the scene for myself.

Q10. The new daily allowance for the unelected and unaccountable peers being stuffed into the House of Lords by the Prime Minister is set to rise to £323. The monthly allowance for a single person over 25 on universal credit is £317.82. Is that the levelling up that the Prime Minister keeps talking about? (900767)

I hate agreeing with these people, but I do find it odd that the House of Lords has chosen to do that, but it is a decision for it.

The Prime Minister was instrumental in banning the trade in ivory in this country. Will he be equally decisive in getting rid of the importation of hunting trophies into this country, particularly of endangered animals?

Yes, I thank my hon. Friend for her campaign against illegal wildlife trading and trophy hunting, and we mean to end the import into this country of trophies hunted elsewhere.

Q11. In 2018, Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Putin’s former deputy Finance Minister, paid £20,000 for lunch with the then Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, who we believe is soon to be ennobled. Will the Prime Minister remind the House once more why his Government have yet to publish the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into alleged Russian interference in UK politics? (900768)

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows very well, the report will be published as soon as the Intelligence and Security Committee is reconvened. As I have told the House several times, those of a conspiratorial cast of mind will be disappointed by its findings.

May I commend the Prime Minister for his belief in Britain and the massive boost to infrastructure investment around the country? However, the cost of landing fees at Heathrow airport is £25 per passenger, and those fees will rise with a third runway, leading to Heathrow becoming the least competitive airport on the entire planet. Given the delays and the escalating costs, does the Prime Minister agree that it may well be time to review progress and perhaps to deploy the bulldozers elsewhere in the country?

The House of Commons voted effectively to give outline planning consent to the third runway. It was supported by people across the Chamber—not by me, as it happens. I wait to see the outcome of the various legal processes that are currently under way to see whether the promoters of the third runway can satisfy their legal obligations on air quality and, indeed, noise pollution.

Q13. Since 2015, the number of GPs working in Sunderland has fallen by 16%—much higher than the national average. After almost a decade of Tory control, our GP services are inadequate and getting worse, so who does the Prime Minister hold responsible? (900770)

We are, of course, responsible, and we take full responsibility, but overall GP numbers are up and we are now recruiting 6,000 more. We are able to do that because we are running a sound economy and investing massively in our NHS across the whole country.

As the coronavirus hits the headlines every day, will the Prime Minister join me in thanking and paying tribute to the supreme professionalism of those at Public Health England and, in my area, to RAF Brize Norton for bringing home people who have been affected? Their work often goes unremarked, but it has the admiration of us all.

My hon. Friend puts it beautifully, and I salute everybody involved in bringing home the victims and potential victims of coronavirus for the difficulties and risks they face. Indeed, our NHS has so far done an outstanding job in preparing and informing the country.

When Kevin Simpson’s partner of over 12 years died and his two children lost their mother, the family received no bereavement support payments at all. Because the parents were unmarried, the law denied that support to the two grieving children. The High Court ruled last Friday that this breached the children’s human rights, so when will the Government obey the rule of law and legislate to respond both to that ruling and to the similar ruling by the Supreme Court in the McLaughlin case in 2018? Will there be no further delay so that we can start supporting the thousands of similar children across our country every year who lose their mother or father?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised this with me before, and I have undertaken to meet him on the matter. We will certainly look at the case he mentions to see what exactly our response should be. He is right to draw attention to this injustice, and we will do all we can to remedy it.

On Thursday last week, two people were stabbed in Redcar in broad daylight. Another person was injured in a horrific knife crime on Saturday evening outside a busy nightclub. Figures released by the Ministry of Justice in January show that the Cleveland force area has the highest number of knife and offensive weapon offences per head of population in all of England and Wales. What additional support can my right hon. Friend give to Cleveland police to tackle this problem, and when will we start to see more police on the streets of Teesside?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. Knife crime is intolerable, and its recent rise must be combated. That is why we brought in knife crime prevention orders, which give police the powers, where they suspect a knife crime is about to be committed, to make the interventions that are needed. That is why we are putting 20,000 more police on our streets, with the encouragement and the political support they need to carry out stop and search.

The Oxford-Cambridge so-called expressway is a 20th-century roadbuilding solution to a 21st-century challenge, and at the election Labour rightly pledged to scrap it. I wonder whether the Prime Minister has caught up with us. Will he announce today whether the expressway has finally been put to rest and scrapped?

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to wait and contain his impatience until the Budget, when he will learn more about the national infrastructure plan.

I support the Prime Minister’s decision yesterday to go ahead with HS2, although I have to tell him there is little enthusiasm among my constituents because it does nothing to improve connectivity to Cleethorpes. To build up enthusiasm among the people of Cleethorpes, may I urge him to instruct London North Eastern Railway to reintroduce the direct train service from Cleethorpes through to King’s Cross; to make the Gainsborough-Brigg-Cleethorpes service, which at present runs one day a week, into a seven-day service; to manufacture the rails at Scunthorpe; and, of course, to reopen Suggitts Lane level crossing?

The voice of Cleethorpes has been heard, and my hon. Friend makes a vivid and compelling case. As I stood up to answer, the Chancellor whispered in my ear that we will certainly be looking at it in the infrastructure review.

The prosperous future of our young people all too often depends on their family wellbeing and their school readiness, which requires investment in early years. Does the Prime Minister regret the Conservative cuts to around 1,000 Sure Start centres, including in my constituency? Will he commit to greater funding and support for early years development, particularly in our most deprived communities?

The hon. Lady raises an important point, and this is why we are putting record sums into early years funding—£14 billion is going into education. It is under this Government that people will see the biggest improvements, because it is under this Government that we have a robust, strong, dynamic economy—the third fastest growing in the G7. We are able to make those investments in early years precisely because of our sensible management of the economy.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the private finance initiative deals signed by the last Labour Government to build hospitals such as King’s Mill in Ashfield, at a cost of £1 million a week, are nothing short of a national scandal? Will he please ensure that this never happens again?

It was one of the many scandals of the last Labour Government. From memory, the PFI deals that they did saddled the taxpayer with £80 billion-worth of debts in exchange for £12 billion-worth of hospital assets. That is how Labour runs government. That is how Labour runs the economy. Let’s not let it happen again.

Will the Prime Minister bring to an end the sickening outrage of a witch hunt against former police officers who served Ulster through the heat of the troubles and who will now face the most odious prosecutions for non-criminal misconduct? That would not be tolerated in this part of the United Kingdom and it should not be tolerated in mine.

We will make sure that we give support for all those who face unnecessary prosecution, and I am well aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises.