The Secretary of State was asked—
Green Industrial Jobs
The Secretary of State for Scotland meets Cabinet colleagues regularly to discuss all matters of importance to Scotland. This Government are committed to levelling up across the whole United Kingdom, and that is why the Prime Minister has set out his ambitious 10-point plan for our green industrial revolution, which will support up to 250,000 jobs.
The SNP has joined the Tory party in abandoning workers at BiFab, forgoing the green industrial jobs they claim to want to encourage. Within days of the Scottish Government withdrawing their support for BiFab, they launched the Scottish National Investment Bank, stating it would support Scotland’s transition to zero carbon emissions. They say one thing and do another. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish Ministers about protecting jobs at BiFab and developing a green supply chain in Scotland to facilitate the expansion of its offshore wind capacity?
After exploring all options, both the UK and Scottish Governments have concluded that there is currently no legal right to provide further financial support to BiFab in its current form. A joint working group will be formed between the Scottish and UK Governments to consider ways to strengthen the renewables supply chain in Scotland and to secure future possibilities and opportunities. Both of Scotland’s Governments have committed to exploring options for the future of the yards and to strengthen measures to support the renewables supply chain.
The Minister’s seeming disinterest belies the whole problem. His original words were fine. The reality is that when BiFab, the only manufacturer of the steel cases for these turbines, went into administration, the Edinburgh Government and the London Government walked hand in hand away from that situation. What does that say about the ambition to be the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind production, and what does it say to the workers and the skills base at BiFab when the Government simply abandon them?
The situation at BiFab is a culmination of a number of issues, the main one being the unwillingness of the parent company and majority shareholder, JV Driver, to provide working capital, investment or guarantees for the company. We are determined to secure a new future for the yards in Fife and the Western Isles, and we will explore options for the future of these sites and, through the new working group, work with the Scottish Government to strengthen the renewables and clean energy supply chain.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment at the SNP Scottish Government’s continued dogmatic opposition to nuclear power, despite the fact that in recent weeks it has been the leading source of zero carbon generation in the UK? Does he agree with me that the refusal to contemplate a replacement of the Chapelcross power station at Annan in my constituency is depriving the area of the high-quality green jobs from which it has benefited from the last 60 years?
It will come as no surprise that I do share my right hon. Friend’s disappointment. This Government believe that nuclear has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power stations provide the dependable, low-carbon power that is required to complement renewable energy to ensure a low-cost, reliable, diverse generating mix to meet our net zero ambitions for 2020.
Mr Speaker, this is the first Scottish questions since the Scottish football team qualified for Euro 2020, so I am sure you will allow me to pass on my congratulations to Stevie Clarke and his team for cheering up our nation, and of course we look forward to being further cheered when we win at Wembley in the championships in June next year.
I am sure the Minister is aware of the Proclaimers song “Letter from America”, which includes the line “Methil no more”, and that is what the decision of his and the Scottish Governments have delivered in reality for that community in Fife. Just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced that he was launching a 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution that would deliver a quarter of a million new green jobs. I did not of course realise he meant jobs that were overseas. Can the Minister inform the House how many current and potential green jobs will be lost following the Scottish and UK Governments’ joint decision, in the words of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, to collude to “pull support” from BiFab in Fife?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm. As a former card-carrying member of the tartan army myself, I might be enthused about rejoining it, but being a member of the Whips Office, I am not sure I would always get slipped to attend the matches.
We understand from the Scottish Government, who are closest to the company, that there is no commercial way forward that is compatible with state aid. The UK Government are equally bound by the state aid rules, at least for the moment, and therefore there is no legal way for either Government to intervene at this stage.
I am sure that it will not have escaped anyone’s attention that the UK and Scottish Governments have just hidden behind EU state aid rules—the irony of that. The Minister did not give a figure, so let me give the figure: 500 highly skilled green jobs in Scotland abandoned. And it is not just the Tories who are to blame; unbelievably, the SNP has repeatedly hidden behind the same EU state aid rule, despite initially agreeing to support BiFab and then pulling it without notice. It has ignored a Scottish parliamentary vote to sort it out, and on the SNP’s watch fabrication contracts for offshore wind farms have recently gone almost exclusively—where? —overseas. The post-covid recovery has to be about jobs, yet both Governments are unnecessarily abandoning good clean jobs, and this Government are risking a disastrous no deal Brexit, which will further decimate jobs. So I ask the Minister this: the Prime Minister has broken his promise of an oven-ready Brexit deal, so how many jobs will be lost in Scotland as a result of the Tories delivering a no deal Brexit?
I have already discussed this Government’s commitment to the 10-point plan and the up to 250,000 jobs across the whole of the UK. That is still in play, but this is obviously a disappointing situation, and the recent revelation that a private firm bought a majority stake in BiFab for just £4 before it went into administration raises serious questions about how the SNP Scottish Government could pour tens of millions into a company without securing that yard’s future. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this whole matter requires a proper inquiry.
My Department meets regularly with the Ministry of Defence to help raise concerns that are specific to Scotland. British armed forces personnel in Scotland play a crucial role in defending the whole of the United Kingdom, keeping us safe both at home and abroad, and assisting with such dedication at the height of this covid-19 pandemic.
I welcome the landmark £24 billion investment in our UK armed forces, as announced by the Prime Minister just last month, bringing economic and security benefits to all four nations of our great United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree, therefore, that this demonstrates the true value of the Union to Scotland, bringing jobs to Scotland, enhancing the security of the nation, and delivering on the Prime Minister’s levelling-up agenda across the country?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Scotland has always played a crucial role in the UK’s defence, and the projects that are supported by this spending, including shipbuilding on the Clyde, will directly benefit the people of Scotland, bringing security and economic benefits. This level of spending and investment is only possible through Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s response, but can he set out what support the British Army is providing to the Scottish Government to ensure the efficient delivery of the coronavirus vaccine in my constituency in the borders, but also across Scotland more widely?
The Scottish Government requested a military planning team to assist with the planning for the roll-out of the vaccine in the borders and across Scotland, and I am very pleased that I was able to approve that request. The scale of the task is very considerable, but the logistics expertise with the British armed forces is making a huge difference.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the work that soldiers from Kinloss barracks in Moray have done throughout this pandemic in our fight against covid-19: they have been in Liverpool since last month, and earlier this week started assisting Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council in its community testing programme. This is in addition to the work they did throughout the highlands in the summer, covering 80,000 miles and conducting well over 3,000 tests. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating everyone at Kinloss on the effort they have put in during this pandemic, and agree that it underlines yet again the outstanding work they do in Scotland and across the United Kingdom?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in thanking everyone at Kinloss barracks. At the start of the pandemic our British armed forces distributed essential equipment and personal protective equipment. They helped build hospitals across Scotland and were instrumental in getting vital equipment to the Glasgow lighthouse lab. They operated the mobile testing centres, and, currently, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), there are 21 military planners working with Scottish health boards and the Scottish Government on logistical planning for vaccine deployment. Our offer remains open: if the Scottish Government require further assistance from our amazing armed forces, they are standing by and are ready to help.
Tay Cities Deal
Good progress has been made on the Tay cities regional deal. The Chancellor announced at the spending review on 25 November that the UK Government investment will now be compressed to 10 years. We are working with local partners to get the full deal signed on 17 December.
It has been almost a year since I was elected, and in all that time we have been assured that the Tay cities deal is just around the corner. I am delighted to hear that the deal is over the line. It will be a Christmas present for North East Fife and elsewhere, for which people have been waiting for some time.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for those comments. I know of her hard work especially in helping the Eden Campus project in her constituency to be a leading part of the deal. I had hoped to be up visiting it a few weeks ago, but unfortunately covid restrictions precluded that. I very much look forward to visiting in the new year when circumstances allow.
I too thank the Minister for the reprofiling of the Tay cities deal from 15 years to 10 years. That will really help the projects. We now need to know when it will be signed. He will also know that we have an issue with the internationally renowned James Hutton Institute in my constituency. That is primarily a UK Government-financed project, but its place in the Tay cities deal has been put in jeopardy because of all the delays. To ensure that it can be started in year one, the Hutton needs the Government to draw down its funding early. Will the Government do that? If not, how do they intend to ensure that this crucial project can be guaranteed?
I have had many constructive dialogues with the hon. Gentleman on the Tay cities deal, and I am happy to confirm that we look good to go next Thursday to sign the deal. The delay was for a very good reason: as he alluded to, we were trying to get the UK Government side of the deal down from 15 years to 10 years. I am aware of the specific circumstances at the James Hutton Institute. I had a very constructive meeting with it on Friday last week, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are exploring every option to ensure that it gets its funding but that all the other very worth- while projects in the deal do too.
As confirmed in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, the Government are committed to the development of hydrogen as a decarbonised energy carrier for the UK. We are developing our strategic approach to hydrogen and its potential to deliver against our net zero goals, and we will set out our plans shortly.
SGN has just secured vital funding from Ofgem to progress its landmark trial of green hydrogen in a new domestic gas network. I congratulate everyone at SGN and those working on the project in Fife on achieving that. Does the Minister agree that innovations such as that trial and the H21 project in Teesside, which is led by Northern Gas Networks, prove that the UK is leading the world in the hydrogen economy?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him and the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen, which he chairs, on their work advancing the hydrogen agenda. I also congratulate SGN on achieving up to £18 million from Ofgem’s network innovation competition to support development of a hydrogen demonstration network in Levenmouth, bringing carbon-free energy to around 300 homes from late 2022.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
I have frequent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is vital to protect seamless trade and jobs across all four corners of the United Kingdom following the end of the transition period.
Of course, what the Secretary of State did not say is that the internal market Bill is a blatant attack on devolution. That should not come as a surprise, because just three weeks ago the Prime Minister said that devolution was Tony Blair’s biggest mistake—a bigger mistake than even the illegal Iraq war. Does the Secretary of State disagree with the Prime Minister?
What the Prime Minister said was that devolution was a mistake when it was set up to be put in the hands of separatists, and I completely agree with that. I totally agree with it. The Scottish National party is a campaigning organisation for independence—for separation of the United Kingdom—masquerading as a party of Government.
The Secretary of State has regularly explained that, as we leave the EU, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will serve to strengthen the UK’s economy and the Union as a whole. Does he feel that the announcement yesterday from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office that Northern Ireland will have the “best of both worlds”, meaning that Northern Ireland will still have access to both EU and UK markets after Brexit, undermines his claims about the Bill?
As the Secretary of State knows, Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The Scottish Government subsequently published a framework for how Scotland could still have access to the single market post Brexit. That was rejected outright by the UK Government. Given that Northern Ireland has been promised the very same thing, will he now make the case for Scotland to get the same concessions, and, like his predecessor, will he consider his position if such a request is not granted?
The Secretary of State would do well to remember that the SNP is a democratically elected party of Government in Scotland. Although we take nothing for granted, pollsters continue to suggest that the SNP will win a majority of seats in the Holyrood elections this coming May, and 15 consecutive polls show a clear majority mandate for Scottish independence. Does he believe that his Government’s disastrous internal market Bill has contributed to that rise in support for the SNP and Scottish independence?
There is nothing disastrous about a United Kingdom Internal Market Bill that has mutual recognition and non-discrimination at its base, and that protects jobs in Scotland and people’s livelihoods, when 60% of Scotland’s trade is to the rest of the United Kingdom, worth over £50 billion and, as the Fraser of Allander Institute said only last week, providing 554,000 jobs.
The Secretary of State for Scotland and I have frequent discussions with colleagues on the opportunities for COP26. That includes through the COP26 devolved Administration ministerial group, which brings the COP president, territorial Secretaries of State and devolved Administration Ministers together to ensure effective engagement and collaboration on COP26 and net zero.
I am exceedingly grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the Minister to answer the question.
COP26 in Glasgow, as the Minister knows, is no ordinary summit. It is a huge opportunity to set the global agenda we need to tackle the climate emergency, but in my opinion the Government have so far not afforded it the attention and weight it requires. That has to change—urgently, I would argue—to make the summit the success the planet needs it to be. Cutting overseas aid has had a devastating effect on countries on the frontline of the climate emergency. That will undermine our role as hosts of COP26, as well as our international standing and moral authority around the world. What steps is the Scotland Office taking to ensure that, as hosts of COP26, we are leading by example and not turning our back on those who are living on the frontline of the climate emergency?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I point out that we will still be one of the world’s largest net donors to the most deprived communities around the world. That commitment remains absolute. We will be working over the next months to ensure that COP26 in Glasgow is as big a success as it can be. We will lead the global climate change agenda and I can think of nowhere better than my home city of Glasgow to be the showcase for that. There are lots of partners, from very small local companies right up to big multinationals, who will be playing a part. My colleagues and I will be engaging with them very much over the next few months.
End of the Transition Period: Preparedness
I have regular conversations with the Scottish Government on preparedness for the end of the transition period, including meetings of the EU Exit Operations Cabinet Committee and the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know he will agree with me that the Scottish Government have failed to prepare for the end of the transition deal and are letting the Scottish people down, in particular by failing to recruit the required number of environmental protection officers to assist our fishing industry as we leave the transition deal at the end of this year. Will he confirm that the British Government stand ready to assist the Scottish Government, should they require it, to get the required number of protection officers in place to support our fishing industry?
As my hon. Friend knows, it is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to ensure adequate certifier capacity for exports to the European Union. The UK Government have been engaging closely with the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland and Scottish local authorities to clarify the capacity in Scotland for certifying export health certificates, and with them, we have determined the level of additional capacity that is needed. That is the sort of boring answer. I would add that we have provided the Scottish Government with £138 million of Brexit preparedness support for this purpose.
Dearie me, Mr Speaker. Let me try this one. NHS Tayside has stated that a hard Brexit could
“lead to an inability to deliver safe and effective care”,
and NHS Lanarkshire says that Brexit poses a “very high” risk to the delivery of healthcare services. We also know that the Ministry of Defence is putting plans in place to fly the Pfizer vaccine into the UK to avoid the Government’s entirely self-inflicted border ports chaos. Given that we did not vote for any of this and that 15 polls in a row now show support for independence, does the Secretary of State still believe that the Union is “firing on all cylinders”, as he wrote at the weekend?
The Union is absolutely firing on all cylinders, whether it is the support of over 900,000 jobs in Scotland, the UK Government procuring, supplying and paying for all the vaccines for the United Kingdom, or the armed forces helping with the roll-out. As regards the scare story the hon. Gentleman is trying to start over the MOD flying the vaccine into the United Kingdom, all good Governments have robust contingency plans. That is No. 5 on the list of contingency plans, and they are not just for the transition period outcome. Those contingency plans are made for potential strikes, weather events and so on. It is entirely responsible to plan that way.
The end of the transition period has been described by Scottish businesses as a “catastrophic” situation. Some have argued that if they cannot trade with the EU, they are out of the game—it is an existential threat. Can I ask the Scottish Secretary to actually show some authority in the Cabinet and insist on a minimum six-month grace period, so businesses do not fall foul of regulations which are not yet developed for a deal that is not yet agreed, but which is supposed to be in place in barely three weeks’ time? This needs to be done; it needs to be done today. Otherwise, businesses will struggle dreadfully on his watch.
There has been a major public information campaign running for businesses and citizens, telling them exactly what they need to do. We have always been clear that, whether it is deal or no deal, there are steps that have to be taken when the transition period comes to an end. We are not going to delay the end of the transition period, because it is only by sticking to that date that people can prepare responsibly, and it also holds the EU’s feet to the fire in getting a deal. We have been clear what measures they need to take. They need to look at the UK Government website, where they can see very clearly what preparations they need to make for the end of this month.
An effective response to covid-19 does indeed need to be a co-ordinated response across the whole United Kingdom, informing every aspect of the UK Government’s response. For instance, on 24 November, the UK Government and the three devolved Administrations published a joint statement on UK-wide arrangements for the festive season. We are currently working with the devolved Administrations on the deployment of vaccines and community testing across the UK.
Last month, an opinion poll revealed that 68% of Scots want the Scottish and UK Governments to work more closely together. Minister, why is it that, despite that, the Scottish and UK Governments are not able to work in a co-ordinated manner, and why are we constantly seeing mixed messages and infighting?
It is not for me to say what mixed messages the hon. Gentleman might see in the press or get from political parties. The UK Government and all assemblies across the whole UK work together on a co-ordinated basis to deliver not just what has been delivered up to now; there was the excellent news yesterday of the first vaccines being provided across the whole UK—not in one part of the UK or another but across the UK on the same day. Vaccines are an excellent example of that co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and the UK Government are procuring vaccines on behalf of the UK as a whole. The prioritisation of the vaccines is a devolved matter—
The news of the vaccine’s approval is incredibly encouraging, but we now face the greatest organisational challenge perhaps since the second world war in distributing it to all who want and need it across the four UK nations. Given the botched roll-out of the flu vaccine in Scotland this year, how is the Minister going to ensure that Scottish Ministers are able to get the delivery of the covid vaccine right?
I am conscious of the time, so I shall give a very brief answer. Local deployment of the vaccines is a devolved matter, but Ministry of Defence Ministers have made military planners available to the Scottish Government to facilitate the complex task of mass deployment.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I visited Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital yesterday to see the first clinically approved vaccine being given to people in London, as it is now across the country. This is a fantastic moment for all of us in this House, and I know that everybody will want to join me in thanking the NHS, the vaccine taskforce, the scientists and all the volunteers who have made this possible.
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.
When I was a spear carrier in the Brexit referendum campaign, led by my right hon. Friend, we assured the British people that a trade deal was entirely achievable, so may I urge him to make one last effort? Surely that deal is achievable, because we have no intention of lowering our standards, but the EU should know this: if, consistent with national security, he cannot secure that deal for us, this parliamentary party will back him to the hilt, because strength comes with unity.
I thank my right hon. Friend. He is entirely right: a good deal is still there to be done, and I look forward to discussing it with Commissioner von der Leyen tonight, but I must tell the House that our friends in the EU are currently insisting that, if they pass a new law in the future with which we in this country do not comply or do not follow suit, they should have the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate. Secondly, they are saying that the UK should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters. I do not believe that those are terms that any Prime Minister of this country should accept. I must tell the House and reassure my right hon. Friend that, whether our new trading arrangements resemble those of Australia’s with the EU or whether they are like those of Canada with the EU, I have absolutely no doubt that, from 1 January, this country is going to prosper mightily.
I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the vaccine roll-out. It was fantastic to see the first person, Margaret Keenan, receive the vaccine yesterday. It is a huge national effort, and I want to thank everybody who has been involved with it. Mr Speaker, I also want to thank you and the House authorities for enabling me to participate today, notwithstanding the fact that I am self-isolating.
A year ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised the country
“a permanent break from talking about Brexit”.
Can the Prime Minister tell us: how is that going?
I am delighted to welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman here, from his vantage point of exile in Islington, his spiritual home, and wish him all the best in his self-isolation. His own silence on this matter has been sphinx-like. I wonder quite what it is that has kept him from asking this question for so long. We delivered Brexit on 31 January, in case he failed to notice.
It is Camden, not Islington. The Prime Minister starts straightaway by deflecting—it is the same old, same old, whether on covid or Brexit. Twelve months ago, he told the British people that he had an “oven-ready deal”. He did not say he had half a deal or that the next stage would be very, very difficult. In fact, he faced the British people and told them, before the election, that the chances of no deal were “absolutely zero”. The Chancellor, as he is now, obviously took him at his word, because the Chancellor said in the run-up to the election:
“We won’t need to plan for no-deal because we…have a deal.”
So a year on, why should anyone who trusted the Prime Minister when he said he had a deal, including his Chancellor, apparently, believe a word he says now?
I hesitate to accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of deliberately trying to mislead people, but let us be in no doubt that we had an oven-ready deal, which was the withdrawal agreement, which the people voted for, as he rightly points out, and by which this country left the customs union and the single market, and delivered on our promises. I can tell him, although he must know this, that whatever happens from 1 January this country will be able to get on with our points-based immigration system, which we have put into law, in fulfilment of our manifesto commitment. We will be able to get on with instituting low-tax free ports, in places where jobs and growth are most needed around the country. We will be able to honour our promise to the British people and institute higher animal welfare standards; we will be able to do free trade deals; and we will get our money back as well. I do not know what else he wants to see from 1 January, but all those things will be delivered.
Oh, I see. Apparently, “Get Brexit done” just meant the first part of it—the easy bit. I do not remember that being written on the bulldozer at the time. Last September, the Prime Minister actually hit the nail on the head when he said that leaving without a deal would be a “failure of statecraft”. It would be—it would be a total failure—and it will be the British people who pay the price. Does the Prime Minister agree with his own spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, that the cost of that failure—of leaving the EU with no deal—would be higher unemployment, higher inflation and a smaller economy?
The more the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about Brexit, the more I can see why he tried to avoid the subject for the past year. We did leave with a very good deal, and in any circumstances this country will prosper mightily. He talks about the possible adverse consequences for this country of a deal on Australian terms—I think that is what he is talking about—but we have yet to hear from Labour party members what their view is of that matter. Would they vote for it, yes or no? He remained totally Delphic last week about his policy on fighting coronavirus and he is totally Delphic about what to do on Brexit as well.
The Prime Minister talks about indecision; he is absolutely stuck—this is the truth of it—and dithering between the deal that he knows we need and the compromise that he knows his Back Benchers will not let him make. I genuinely hope that this is the usual Prime Minister’s bluster and that, like one of his newspaper columns, a deal arrives at the last minute. But for some people, and their jobs, it is already too late.
Yesterday, INEOS, a major employer in this country, announced that it will not now build the new Grenadier car in Bridgend and will move production to France instead. This is a project that just two months ago the Prime Minister said was “a vote of confidence”. Hundreds of skilled jobs now will not go to Bridgend. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many more British jobs have to go overseas before he gets on with delivering the Brexit deal that he promised?
I think it is a bit much of the Leader of the Opposition to criticise the Government for failure to come up with a policy on Brexit and to attack the putative consequences of coming out on Australian terms when he cannot even say whether he would vote for that deal—yes or no. If he cannot say whether he would vote for our deal—yes or no—he simply cannot attack the Government’s policy. Until he is able to come up with a position of his own, wrap a towel round his head and decide what he actually thinks, I find it very difficult to take his criticisms seriously. What I can say is that this country will be ready for whether we have a Canadian or an Australian solution, and there will be jobs created in this country—throughout the whole of the UK—not just in spite of Brexit but because of Brexit, because this country is going to become a magnet for overseas investment. Indeed, it already is and will remain so.
The Prime Minister asked me how I will vote on a deal that he has not even secured. Secure the deal, Prime Minister; you promised it. I can say this: if there is a deal—and I hope there is a deal—my party will vote in the national interest, not on party political lines, as he is doing. This is about leadership. The Prime Minister has done 15 U-turns, he has had five different plans on covid, and last week 53 of his own MPs voted against him, so if I were him I would not talk about leadership.
The Prime Minister has not always wanted to listen to business—we know what his message to business is —but he should. Let me quote the CBI, which says that the message from business is this: “get a deal…quickly”. The National Farmers Union says:
“Time is really running out and…it’s very hard to get final preparations in.”
These are the people the Prime Minister should be listening to, not his Back Benchers.
On the question of preparation, the Government knew months ago that they needed 50,000 customs agents trained and ready to go from 1 January—deal or no deal—so can the Prime Minister tell the House how many of the 50,000 agents will be in place on 1 January? That is in 23 days’ time.
It is wonderful to get to the end of that question. I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have already invested £1 billion in getting this country ready for whatever the trading relationship is that we have on 1 January. We have invested £84 million into supporting customs agents across the UK and £200 million into supporting our ports, and they are doing an amazing job. I want to thank business for the incredible job it is doing to get ready. We have all got to get ready, because under any view there is going to be change from 1 January—there will be change in the way we do business and there will be more opportunities for this country around the world. I am delighted by what I take is the increasing signalling from Camden, because the message from Camden seems to be that, given the choice, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would vote for a deal rather than not. Did my Back-Bench colleagues get that impression? I think I did.
I take it that the answer is the Prime Minister has no idea whether the 50,000 customs agents will be in place on 1 January. He either does not know or he does not care. The Prime Minister said he had a deal. He did not. He said he would protect jobs. He did not. He said he would prepare for any outcome. He has not. Whatever may happen in the next few days, there is no doubting that his incompetence has held Britain back. Will he end this charade? In that uncertainty, will he get the deal that he promised and allow the country to move on?
I want to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his final baffling question. Last week, as I have said, he sphinx-like avoided any pronouncement on how this country was going to fight covid. He refused to support the measures that we have put in place. This week, he remains deafeningly silent on what he really thinks about a Brexit deal. While he puts a cold towel round his head, lost in thought, and tries to work out what his position is, we are getting on—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker, you should summon him back—he seems to have vanished.
While the right hon. and learned Gentleman tries to work out what his position is, we are getting on with the work of government. As he says, it is a year since this people’s Government were elected and I am very proud that we are delivering on the people’s priorities: 6,000 of the 20,000 police officers; 14,800 of the 50,000 nurses already; and we are getting on with building every one of the 40 hospitals—it is about 48 hospitals—that we are going to deliver, along with the biggest programme of infrastructure investment in this country for a century. We are uniting and levelling up across the whole of the UK. Whether the outcome is Canada or Australia, we will be taking back control—we have already taken back control—of our money, our borders and our laws and we will seize all the opportunities that Brexit brings.
I was saying, Mr Speaker, that my hon. Friend is completely right about the power of great infrastructure projects to deliver jobs, which is why we are getting on with both the eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. What I have asked the National Infrastructure Commission and Network Rail to look at is how those two projects can best be integrated to boost the economy of the whole of the north of the country.
Yesterday, by this Government’s own admission, it was confirmed that Northern Ireland is getting the best of both worlds: access to the EU single market and customs union. This is great news for businesses in Northern Ireland, but it leaves Scotland, which also voted to remain, dealing with the hardest of Brexits. What is good for Northern Ireland is surely good enough for Scotland. Why is Scotland being shafted by this double dealing? Can the Prime Minister explain to Scottish businesses why this is fair?
In common with the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland will benefit. It will benefit from substantial access to devolved powers, it will benefit from the regaining of money, borders and laws, and, as I never tire of telling my friend, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), that, in spite of all his jeering, Scotland will take back control of colossal quantities of fish, which is something that the people of Scotland deserve to be able to exploit for the advantage of those communities.
The Prime Minister can spin all he likes, but everybody can now see the total contempt that this UK Government have for Scottish interests. Northern Ireland gets the single market and customs union; we get nothing. Members of his Scottish branch office told him how unfair and damaging it would be to deny Scotland’s access to the EU single market and customs union while at the same time delivering it for Northern Ireland. Ruth Davidson even said that such an act would “undermine the integrity” of the United Kingdom. The former Scottish Tory constitution spokesperson said that it would be the end of the Union. They, along with the former Secretary of State for Scotland, said that if this were to happen, they would all resign. Since the Prime Minister is ready to sell out Scotland’s interests with his Brexit deal, does he expect to receive these resignation letters from Baroness Davidson and her cohort before or after her travels to Brussels tonight?
The only reasonable answer to that question is that I think it is highly unlikely that those letters will arrive. The right hon. Gentleman does a gross injustice to Scotland and the future of Scotland, which will be assured within the single market of the United Kingdom. In spite of the slight negativity that I detect from him, I believe that Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, will benefit from a very strong trading relationship with our friends and partners across the channel, whatever the circumstances, whatever the terms we reach tonight.
I am sure that I speak for many hon. Members when I say that I am a massive supporter of subtitles myself—particularly with some of these crime dramas from America. The campaign that my hon. Friend mentions is excellent. All the Departments that have a stake in this will be working with her to see what we can do to take the matter further.
Last week, we learned that UK Export Finance has been approached to back the east African crude oil pipeline. This is a climate catastrophe that will produce emissions equivalent to all the UK’s annual flights. Not only that, but a recent response to one of my written parliamentary questions confirmed that UKEF has six more fossil fuel projects under consideration. Ahead of the climate ambition summit this weekend, how can the Prime Minister claim any climate credibility while ploughing public money into dirty fossil fuel projects overseas? Are these the actions of a rogue, out of control Government Department—or, worse, does the Prime Minister actually approve of them?
I hope the hon. Lady knows that we are moving away dramatically and at speed from UK Export Finance supporting fossil fuel exploration around the world, but, of course, hydrocarbons remain a significant industry in Scotland and many other places. In so far as there are legitimate contracts that are at risk of being frustrated, we cannot do that. I really think that her criticism of the Government is absurd. Look at the overall record and ambition of this Government; this is the first country in the developed world to set a target of net zero by 2050. I know that when she is being less polemical, she has had some kind words to say about the Government’s programme, and I certainly support her in that.
The people of Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, voted in 2014, by a substantial majority, to remain in the UK. I believe that was the right decision, and I believe that were they ever to be asked the same question again in the future, it would be the same answer. But has he has said, and as his hon. Friends have said, many times, it was a once-in-a-generation event.
I thank my hon. Friend. No. 1, yes of course we will do everything we can with NHS Test and Trace, plus our armed forces, to roll out community testing in Stafford; and No. 2, of course we want to support Stafford and the people of Stafford with a massive programme of business support, including nearly £1.4 million in bounce back loans, grants, rate relief and VAT deferrals.
The Government of this country have done everything we can to support business and support lives and livelihoods throughout this pandemic, with now, I think, more than £260 billion of support, and that remains the case. The hon. Gentleman mentions France and Germany. He should know that unemployment, in spite of all the difficulties this country has faced, remains lower in this country than in France, Italy, Spain and the United States. Yes, it is tough, but we are going to get through it and we are going to get through it together.
I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate him on his achievement and on his anniversary. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking very seriously at the project that he mentions. I know that the Department is going to be assessing that application very carefully and will keep him informed.
I am delighted to accept the thanks of the hon. Gentleman. I have to say that it is really thanks to him and the Scottish National party that we have been able to keep our wonderful United Kingdom together, because it was the sheer incoherence of their position, their refusal to address the tough questions of what breaking up the UK really means—the impact on our budgets and our economy and the impacts on Scotland and on our whole country—and their manifest inability to explain what they actually mean that meant that the people of Scotland voted in 2014 to remain part of the UK. They were right then, and they will be right in the future to stay.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this injustice and what is happening with leaseholders at the moment. That is why we have put £1.6 billion into removing unsafe cladding. I do not want to see leaseholders being forced to pay for the remediation, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are looking now urgently—before the expiry of the current arrangements—at what we can do to take them forward and support leaseholders, who are in a very unfair position.
Is the Prime Minister aware that his Government risk failing a generation of children in my constituency of Enfield North and across the country, as analysis shows this week that only one in six pupils on free school meals—those who are most likely to fall behind their peers—will benefit from the programmes to help them catch up on learning lost as a result of covid? Does the Prime Minister agree that is simply not good enough, and can he explain why we are in this dire situation nine months on?
I share the hon. Lady’s anxiety about the impact of differential learning on kids in our schools across the country, because there is no doubt that different groups have been affected in different ways by the pandemic. That is why we have put a billion pounds or more into the catch-up funds, but it is also why it is so important to ensure that kids go to school and stay in school. That is why we have put all the emphasis, as we have throughout this pandemic, on maintaining kids in school, even if that has put pressure on the hospitality sector and other parts of our economy.
I am thrilled that the Black Country Living Museum is in line to be a covid vaccination centre. I have had many happy meetings with my hon. Friend in the Black Country, and as a proud former resident of Bilston, I look forward to returning before too long.
Mr Speaker, I know you are a strong supporter of the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands face the prospect of their fisheries exports to the European Union being subject to tariffs of between 6% and 18% from 1 January. Fisheries exports to the European Union account for more than 40% of the islands’ gross domestic product, and up to 60% of their Government’s revenue. This poses a serious challenge to the Falkland Islands. Will the Prime Minister raise this matter when he meets with the President of the European Commission later?
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of the Falkland Islands and, indeed, other Crown territories and overseas dependencies around the world, whose future and future trading arrangements must be secured. That is indeed something that we have raised and will continue to raise on their behalf to make sure that they get the satisfactory assurances they need.
I will indeed. I think everybody in the House recognises the distress that unauthorised camps and encampments can cause to local communities, and my right hon. and learned Friend is right to draw attention to this. He is also right to call attention to the new powers we are giving both to the police and to councils to tackle the matter, and I am glad to have his support.
Could the Prime Minister kindly explain to the people of tier 3 Birmingham, with a population of over 1 million and where almost 2,000 have lost their life, why he has not considered them a priority for receipt of the vaccine?
I really must respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has set out very clear criteria for the groups, starting with those over 80, care home workers, NHS workers and those in care homes, and he knows the criteria very well. Birmingham, of course, will be among them, and of course that is right. I am afraid that I simply cannot accept the premise of his question.
Yes, and just this morning I was discussing Derbyshire’s bid for a big community testing programme. We will obviously do everything we can to support them, and I thank my hon. Friend and local leaders for what they are doing to promote community testing.
Real-terms pay cuts for millions of public sector workers, an insulting 37p increase in benefit levels and broken promises on minimum wage increases show that the Prime Minister wants to pay for this crisis on the backs of the working class. Would it not be fairer to impose a windfall tax on the wealth of the super-rich and on those who have made super-profits out of the covid crisis, including those who won contracts because of their links to top Tories?
I must, again, strongly disagree with what the hon. Gentleman says. Everybody on this side of the House is proud not just of the living wage but of record increases in the living wage, of above inflation pay rises across the board and, of course, of what we have done to support nurses and the NHS with record investment. I do not think anybody who looks at the investment this Government have made in the public sector could doubt our commitment. We will continue to do that, but what we want to see is our economy recovering and our strong and dynamic private sector, which the hon. Gentleman disparages, enabling the country to forge forward as it should.
It is crucial to understand that the 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution is about jobs, jobs, jobs. This plan, whether it is retrofitting homes or making wind turbines, will generate 250,000 jobs across the country in just the first few years.
Many constituents, especially those emanating from the Punjab and other parts of India, were horrified, as I was, to see footage of water cannon, tear gas and brute force being used against peacefully protesting farmers. However, it was heart-warming to see those very farmers feeding those forces who had been ordered to beat or suppress them. What indomitable spirit—it takes a special kind of people to do that. Will the Prime Minister convey to the Indian Prime Minister our heartfelt anxieties and our hopes for a speedy resolution to the current deadlock? Does he agree that everyone has a fundamental right to peaceful protest?
Of course. Our view, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, is that we have serious concerns about what is happening between India and Pakistan, but these are pre-eminently matters for those two Governments to settle. I know that he appreciates that point.
I thank my hon. Friend for his campaign and for everything he does for his constituents. I can tell him that the bid process for the remaining eight hospitals, on top of the 40, is currently being designed. The Department of Health and Social Care is working with a variety of trusts, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Trust, as that work continues.