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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2016

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Government Estate

1. What progress his Department is making on the creation of a more modern and efficient government estate. (905408)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that since 2015 the Government estate strategy has ensured that running costs have fallen by £750 million. We have raised some £1.8 billion in council receipts and reduced the estate size by nearly a quarter. This is a huge achievement and in terms of space it makes the UK Government one of the most efficient organisations in the world.

I thank the Minister for that reply and congratulate him and his team on the work they have done. Given that the estate has been reduced by nearly a quarter since 2010, is it not crucial that as much of this land as possible is used for new housing, especially given that quite a bit of it is going to be brownfield?

My hon. Friend, as so often, hits the nail on the head. A huge Government programme has ensured that available public sector land is used to build more houses for our country.

A 2010 report suggested that to end the London magnet we had to move more top civil servant jobs out of the capital and into the regions. How are the Government getting on with that aim?

The Government are getting on very well with it: the number of civil servant buildings in central London has gone down hugely. We have created hundreds of thousands of jobs all over the country— 95,000 new jobs in the last year in the north of England alone—and what matters is what kinds of jobs we are creating and how many people are being employed.

Boycott and Divestment Guidance

We have received a wide range of representations about boycotts in public procurement. The Government’s position is very clear: public sector organisations should not use procurement to run their own independent foreign policies.

Does the Minister agree that people who stand for election to local authorities and who then serve as councillors perform an important role in communities the length and breadth of these islands, and does he further agree that they should be trusted to make political judgments for themselves? Will the Government abandon the boycott and divestment guidance in favour of supporting local democracy?

Yes, I think councillors do an excellent job at what councils are meant to do, but councils are not meant to set foreign policy, and attempts at local foreign policies that are discriminatory are potentially illegal, and we make that clear at every opportunity.

Where a national boycott is in place and where a national decision has been made, local authorities should of course follow that, but these decisions are rightly for the Foreign Office and not for local authorities; the country cannot be run by having hundreds of different foreign policies.

I think that, not for the first time, the Government are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Rather than try to prevent local authorities from taking ethical and environmental considerations into account when making decisions, surely the Government should, as the Scottish Government do, encourage local authorities to do so—or does the Minister really believe that council tax payers’ money should be used to prop up oppressive regimes and support unlawful activity throughout the world?

I find it surprising that the Scottish National party engages in and supports discrimination of this kind. We should trade with the world, except where a boycott decision has been made at a national level. The idea that we should discriminate against companies with which we otherwise have a good trading relationship is wrong.

Permanent Secretaries: Diversity

I am afraid that following an outstanding permanent secretary’s move from Whitehall to become chief executive of Ofcom there are no permanent secretaries from BAME communities at present. However, 20% of permanent secretaries are women, which is higher than the figure for 2010 of 17.5% and much higher than the figure for 2005 of 8%, but clearly it is still considerably too low and we have a great deal more work to do to make sure we are drawing on a talent pool that reflects the nation as a whole.

In 2011, for the first time, 50% of permanent secretaries were female. Since then, and since the Prime Minister took control, the glass ceiling has been painstakingly reassembled. If he cannot be trusted to appoint women, is it not about time we introduced some positive discrimination?

The hon. Lady refers to a brief moment during which, because of appointments already in place and new appointments being made, there was a spike, and we would very much like to see that replicated on a long-term basis. We have appointed a range of women permanent secretaries in the past few months, and I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Lady that we are doing a great deal to ensure that the pool from which we draw the permanent secretaries—directors general—is improving significantly, in that 37% of our directors general are women. We are seeking to move that further forward, and we need to see this happening throughout the senior civil service.

According to Leonard Cheshire Disability, only 4.5% of senior civil servants are disabled. What are the Government doing to ensure that disability is not impeding disabled people in the civil service from reaching the highest levels? Will the Minister review the Government’s policies and keep the House updated on his efforts to improve the employment prospects of disabled people in the civil service?

The hon. Lady is right. As a matter of fact, the situation is even slightly worse than she suggests. The percentage of disabled senior civil servants—or, at any rate, of senior civil servants who have registered themselves as disabled in staff surveys—is only 3.4%. That is much too low, and it reflects the fact that we have not yet been able to remove all the barriers that we need to remove. I am sitting next to the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has shown that it is perfectly possible for someone who suffers from a significant disability to reach the highest level in politics, but we need that to be true throughout our public administration because we need to draw on talent from wherever it comes.

As the Minister confirmed, since the Prime Minister gave himself the power to appoint, 80% of permanent secretaries are men. In the spirit of open government, will the Minister commit to publish the shortlists from which the Prime Minister has made appointments?

I will go back and talk to colleagues about the methods by which we publish what happens under that procedure. I would like to point out to the Opposition spokesman—[Laughter.] I would like to point out to the Opposition spokesperson that we draw permanent secretaries from the pool of directors general. If we are to draw on that talent, we have to encourage more women to be directors general. As I have said, I am glad that the percentage of women directors general is now up to 37%. We would like to get up to 50% or beyond, and as we do so we will have the talent from which to draw into the permanent secretary ranks, which is obviously where we want women of talent to end up.

Government Offices: London

The Government’s direction of travel is ensuring value for money for the taxpayer and value for money overall. The Government Property Unit is working closely with the Departments to reduce the Government estate from around 800 buildings to closer to 200 by 2023. The number of Government offices in London has fallen from 181 in 2010 to just 54 today, and we will seek to reduce it to about 20 by 2025.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, wherever possible, all taxpayer-funded bodies should consider relocating outside central London to save money? Will he write to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority with that suggestion?

If I did not know my hon. Friend better, I would think that he was bidding for IPSA’s headquarters to be located in Northampton South. All I will say to him is: be careful what you wish for. I note that Northamptonshire has led the way by being the first area in the country to announce plans to bring its police and fire services together in a shared estate.

The Minister mentioned the value-for-money approach. Does he agree that it would be better if Government offices were spread across the United Kingdom? Given the value-for-money approach we take in Northern Ireland, would he consider Northern Ireland as a location?

Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a policy on rebalancing the civil service between London and the regions across the United Kingdom. The civil service already has a significant presence across the United Kingdom, and he will know that many civil servants are employed in Northern Ireland. We are looking to extend this further and to create multi-occupancy offices in key locations around the country.

13. I am happy to make a bid for the relocation of Government offices. As my right hon. Friend will know, coastal communities have many advantages, but they face serious challenges. Does he agree that as the sunniest town in our fair United Kingdom, with a thriving cultural scene and buoyant chamber of commerce, Eastbourne might be just the place for such a relocation, as might East Sussex in general? (905421)

My hon. Friend, as a former teacher, is a brilliant MP for her area and a key component of compassionate Conservatism in Eastbourne. I note that Eastbourne chamber of commerce said the town is one of the 10 happiest places to stay in the UK, and it might be a good place for all of us to go after the European Union referendum—whatever the result.

Constituency Boundaries

5. When he expects the Boundary Commission to publish its initial recommendations for new constituency boundaries. (905412)

The conduct of the boundary review is, rightly, a matter for the independent Boundary Commissions. The Boundary Commissions for England and for Northern Ireland plan to publish initial recommendations this autumn, and the Boundary Commissions for Scotland and for Wales plan to do so later this year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he confirm that the guidance given to the Boundary Commission is to split wards by polling districts so that we have equal-sized electorates for Members of this House elected in 2020?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to state, first and foremost, the principle that all votes, no matter where in the country they are cast, should have equal weight, and that constituencies must therefore be more equal in size. Ward-splitting has for some time been part of the Boundary Commission’s work in other parts of the country, but I can confirm that it expects to be able to introduce it in constituencies in England as well.

The number of democratically elected Members of this place from Scotland will be cut by six, but are plans afoot to cut the number of unelected Lords, who are able to make laws affecting Scotland and the rest of the UK?

I think the hon. Lady was supporting the principle that votes should have equal weight no matter where they are cast in the country, and I welcome her support if my reading is correct. I cannot confirm plans to alter the size and composition of the Lords, although I understand that discussions at that end of the corridor are going on fairly continuously.

The supplementary was only tenuously related to the terms of the question, but I am in a generous mood.

10. I welcome the consultation period that will follow the Boundary Commission’s recommendations, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to ensure that people are aware of the consultations so that they can make their views known? What does he intend to do to publicise the consultations? (905418)

My hon. Friend is right: it is vital that people are aware of the consultation period. It is being advertised on the Boundary Commission website and will be advertised further to make sure that everybody can comment, but it is up to political parties from all parts of the House to make sure that their supporters and organisations are galvanised and submissions can be made.

The number of registered voters has gone up massively since December 2015—in some constituencies, the equivalent of two extra wards have been added. Will the Minister therefore reassure us that he cannot possibly use the December figures to redraw the boundaries—or will his Government go back to using voter registration for their own political gain once this referendum is over?

I am intrigued that the hon. Lady thinks she knows what has happened to individual constituencies’ electoral rolls, because the final versions will not be published for another week or 10 days. Whatever the outcome of that publication, it cannot be right that we carry on with the existing political constituency boundaries, which are based on the electoral rolls from 2001 or, in some parts of the country, from 2000. They are shockingly out of date and we absolutely need to update them. I can, however, reassure her that there will be updates every five years, rather than every 10, and that constituency boundaries will be more up to date and accurate than they have been in the past.

Anti-Corruption Summit

7. Whether the agreements reached at the anti-corruption summit in May 2016 will be applied to other countries. (905415)

This Government and this Prime Minister have taken a global lead on tackling the scourge of corruption. Each delegation at the anti-corruption summit signed up to the commitments set out in the communiqué. In addition, 42 countries and eight international organisations issued statements setting out further measures that they will take.

In April 2014, the Prime Minister said:

“I believe that beneficial ownership and public access to a central register is key to improving the transparency of company ownership and vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion.”

Will the Minister explain why the Government are no longer calling for public registers of beneficial ownership in the British overseas territories?

We are calling for them. The Prime Minister was absolutely right then, and we are delivering on that now. Later this month we will publish the beneficial ownership register for the UK. All the overseas territories have signed up to beneficial ownership registers, and we urge them to make them public.

11. In the run-up to the anti-corruption summit, leaders of charities and faith groups around the world were calling on the Prime Minister to insist on the same levels of transparency in our overseas territories and Crown dependencies as we have here in mainland UK. Why did the Prime Minister ignore them? Was he unable or unwilling to stop the facilitation of corruption in our tax havens? (905419)

We have made huge progress in ensuring that we have registers of beneficial ownership in the overseas territories. We are also publishing the beneficial ownership register for the UK. The progress that has been made in the overseas territories is the greatest under any Government in history, which perhaps is one reason Transparency International said that the summit had been a good day for anti-corruption.

The Panama papers have shown how illicit finance robs the very poorest countries of the world. Malawi, for example, loses about $130 million a year through such finance. Will the Minister explain why the Malawian company Press Trust Overseas Ltd cannot have its tax affairs scrutinised because it is in the British Virgin Islands? Should not the summit have come to an agreement to force such overseas jurisdictions to publish central beneficial registers?

If the hon. Gentleman cares so much about the matter, he might have congratulated us on the progress that we made at the summit. He will be delighted to know that the British Virgin Islands has signed up to have a beneficial ownership register and to share that information with the UK Government. We are making progress in tackling the scourge of corruption, about which previous Governments, including the one he supported, did too little.

Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012

It is important to begin by acknowledging that, thanks largely to my hon. Friend’s efforts, the social value Act came into force in January 2013. He can be proud that the Act has unlocked a range of public benefits from the procurement of goods and services. Lord Young reviewed progress in 2014 and reported in 2015. His findings inform our current work to quicken the pace of implementation. As part of that work, we will publish a paper this summer that will give examples of how central Government are driving forward the social value Act and what further actions we will take.

The social value Act has been seen to benefit commissioners, service providers and the wider community. What progress has been made in ensuring that government, both local and national, applies the Act to their procurement processes more widely and consistently?

We reviewed central Government’s progress on the Act and found increasing awareness of it and a clear willingness and commitment to implement it. I will publish an appraisal of central Government’s commitments to the Act later in the summer, which will set out the steps being taken and the plans for the future. In preparing for that, I have invited a panel of external social value experts to review and critique current plans and practice. That process is helping to ensure that central Government’s aspirations for social value are being stretched.

Topical Questions

The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency and reform in government, transparency, civil society, the digital economy and cybersecurity to deliver the Government’s agenda.

Will the Minister confirm that, whether appropriate in the Government’s view or not, it is still lawful for public bodies to refuse to award contracts to companies for reasons other than nationality, such as human right records, compliance with international law or a connection with trades such as the arms trade or fossil fuels?

As I said earlier, the boycott of, and discrimination against, countries is potentially illegal. The guidance that we set out was designed to make it absolutely clear that these decisions on boycotts against countries need to be taken at a national level, and it is inappropriate for local authorities to try to set their own foreign policies.

T3. The National Citizen Service has been a wonderful success in Huddersfield and Colne Valley. What more can be done to make sure that even more young people in Yorkshire can find out how to access this transformative experience? (905441)

My hon. Friend is right that the National Citizen Service around the country and in his own constituency has made a huge difference. There were 467 people who went through it in 2015 in Kirklees, the local authority in which his constituency lies. We are determined to increase that number. There is a new marketing campaign, and I am glad to say that 8 million hours of volunteering have so far been contributed by National Citizen Service participants. I hope my hon. Friend will see in his constituency a proportion of that effect coming through in the next year.

T2. What provisions are the Government putting in place to ensure that non-UK citizens of the EU living here will continue to enjoy the same rights after a possible Brexit vote as they do now? (905439)

The hon. Lady is asking a question about something that is a matter of hot debate as we go through the next week or so, and it highlights one of the issues that would need to be resolved and that is of very great complexity.

T4. This Government have a responsibility to ensure that their citizens are safe online. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress he is making in developing the 2016 national cyber-security strategy? (905442)

Cyber-security is incredibly important, especially as we increasingly deliver digital government. The national cyber-security strategy ran up to 2016. The new strategy is underpinned by investment of £1.9 billion—almost double the funding—and we will publish the strategy later this year.

T5. The backward steps in gender inequality at the top of the civil service are unacceptable. Will the Minister release the gender breakdown of those who were shortlisted for the role of permanent secretary so that we can have further transparency on this important issue? (905443)

As I said to the House a few moments ago, we will take that serious suggestion away and come back with a view about whether it is possible to release those data without compromising individual sensibilities. I am absolutely with the hon. Lady that we need to see more women joining the ranks of the permanent secretaries, and as I mentioned to her, it is of great importance that the directors general are now much better distributed in a gender balance.

T6. The National Citizen Service provides a real opportunity for young people in Cornwall, a part of the world that is quite deprived. What more can we do to ensure that young people have access to the service this summer? (905444)

My hon. Friend is right. There were 312 people in Cornwall who participated in the National Citizen Service last year. We want to see that number rise significantly. Already 486 people have signed up and we hope to see more come through during the coming year. We are spending £1 billion over the four years to increase the proportion of young people who can do National Citizen Service, which I think will have an enormous effect on, among other things, social cohesion—80% of those who went through National Citizen Service said at the end that they had a better view of people from other backgrounds than they had before they joined it. [Interruption.]

The Minister is offering serious thoughts in a cerebral manner on a very important topic, the National Citizen Service. I think he deserves a more attentive audience.

Given the surge in voter registration, how can the Minister possibly justify using such woefully inaccurate figures to redraw the electoral map of the United Kingdom?

We just had this question a few minutes ago, and the answer is very clear: the alternative of using figures from 2001 or 2000 is completely unacceptable. We have, in fact, made the process more frequent, not less, and we now update the register for the purposes of writing the boundaries every five years, not every 10.

T8. What steps will the Secretary of State take after a resounding victory in the vote to stay in Europe next week to get all Departments working harmoniously and well again after the disruptions we have had over the last month? (905446)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his implication: actually, the fact is—I see this day by day—that the Departments of State have functioned smoothly and effectively throughout this period, as have members of the Cabinet. I am glad to say that we intend to continue doing so to fulfil the manifesto commitments on which we were elected.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know the whole House will join me in sending our profound sympathies to the family and friends of the 49 people who died in the horrific attack in Orlando on Sunday. This was an evil attack of terrorism and homophobic hatred, and we utterly condemn both of them. This attack, along with the callous murder of a French police couple on Monday, is a stark reminder of the challenge we face to defeat the poisonous ideology of Daesh, both online and on our streets, but I believe that, together—with our friends, with our allies and with our common values—we will prevail.

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

I share the sentiments and sympathies the Prime Minister expressed to the victims and their families and friends in Orlando.

The Australian parent company of Sealite United Kingdom Ltd see Europe as a major market for expansion, but it has put on hold its plans to build a factory in the enterprise zone at the South Lowestoft industrial estate. Lowestoft has enormous potential as a centre serving the European maritime market, but does the Prime Minister share my concern that this opportunity would unnecessarily be placed at risk if the UK leaves the EU?

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern. I well remember visiting his constituency and seeing what a thriving business location Lowestoft is. He is right that many companies come to Britain and invest in Britain for many reasons, but one of the most important is access to the single market of 500 million customers. Next week we have the opportunity to put our place in that single market beyond doubt, and I hope that we wake up on 24 June knowing that businesses are going to invest more in our country, create more jobs in our country and see more growth in our country, because that will help the families of our country. The unemployment figures today show another welcome fall. We can see continued progress—let’s keep our country moving forward.

I concur and join with the Prime Minister in his remarks about the terrible deaths in Orlando. On Monday I joined a vigil of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Soho, in London, to mourn the deaths of those 49 people. We say thank you to all those all over this country who attended vigils on Monday night to show their concern and their horror about what happened. Quite simply, we defeat such atrocities through our love and solidarity, and we need to send that message out.

Three years ago, there was a cross-party agreement for the implementation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to proceed with Leveson 2 once criminal prosecutions were concluded. The Prime Minister will be aware that today there is a lobby of Parliament by the victims of phone hacking. He said a few years ago that

“we all did too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch”.

Well, some of his Tory Brexit colleagues are certainly cosying up to Rupert Murdoch at the moment, but will he give a commitment today that he will meet the victims of press intrusion and assure them that he will keep his promise on this?

First, let me echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Orlando bombings. In terms of the Leveson issue, we said that we would make a decision about the second stage of this inquiry once the criminal investigations and prosecutions were out of the way. They are still continuing, so that is the situation there. I have met victims of press intrusion, and I am happy to do so again. Right now, people can accuse me of many things, but I think that cosying up to Rupert Murdoch probably is not one of them.

My question was, “Will the Prime Minister meet the victims of phone hacking?” I hope he will, because they deserve it, and he promised that he would.

A major funder of the leave campaign has said:

“If it were up to me, I’d privatise the NHS.”

The hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has said:

“If people have to pay for”

NHS services

“they will value them more.”

Both he and the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) are members of a Government who have put the NHS into record deficit. These people are now masquerading as the saviours of the NHS—wolves in sheep’s clothing. Did not the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) get it right when she rejected the duplicity of this argument in the leave campaign and decided to join the remain campaign?

I was delighted with what my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said about changing her mind, which is a brave thing for politicians to do, and saying that she thought that the NHS would be safer if we remained inside a reformed European Union. I believe that very profoundly, because the key to a strong NHS is a strong economy. I think there cannot be any doubt, with nine out of 10 economists, the Governor of the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and all these other organisations saying that our economy will be stronger, and it is a strong economy that delivers a strong NHS.

Last week, the Prime Minister gave a welcome commitment to the closing of the loophole in the posting of workers directive. We will hold him to that, but we are concerned about the exploitation of migrant workers and the undercutting of wages in this country as a result. On that issue, will he today commit to outlawing the practice of agencies that only advertise abroad for jobs that are, in reality, jobs in this country?

First of all, the right hon. Gentleman and I absolutely agree about the evils of modern slavery. That is why this Government passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, with all-party support. We have doubled the fines that can be put on companies for exploiting labour in this way. We have strengthened the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which has commenced and carried out a number of prosecutions, including in the east of England, where I was yesterday. We will continue to take action on every level to make sure that people are paid the wages that they should be paid and that protections are there on the minimum wage, and now on the national living wage. All those measures are vitally important, and we will continue with all of them. I want people to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

My question was about outlawing the practice of advertising by agencies only in other countries.

Tens of thousands of EU migrants work in our public services and do a fantastic job. Many people in Britain, also, are concerned about the impact of immigration on their local communities. Surely what communities need is practical solutions such as the migrant impact fund set up Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister to deal with extra pressure on housing, schools, and hospitals. Will the Prime Minister now concede that it was a mistake to abolish that fund, and will he work with us to reinstate it as a matter of urgency to give support to those communities that are facing problems with school places and doctors’ surgeries?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In answer to the question about employment agencies that only advertise for overseas workers, we are looking at that to see—we have announced this already—if we can ban that practice, because we do not believe it is right. Of course, the answer to so many of these questions is to make sure that we are training, educating and employing British people and getting them the qualifications they need to take on the jobs that our economy is creating. Today’s unemployment figures are another reminder of that.

In terms of funds to help communities impacted by migration, we have a pledge in our manifesto that we are looking forward to bringing forward, which is a controlled migration fund to make sure that we put money into communities where there are pressures. Of course there are some pressures and we do need to address them, and I am happy that we will be able to work on a cross-party basis to do that. As I have said many times, there are good ways of controlling migration, and one of them is the important rules we are bringing in so that people do not get instant access to our welfare system, but there are bad ways of controlling immigration, and leaving the single market and wrecking our economy is certainly one of them.

Today a flotilla of boats is due to come along the Thames campaigning on fishing quotas not going to the domestic UK fleet. I have been looking out of the window and I have not seen them come yet, but presumably they are on their way. The Prime Minister will be very well aware that reforms that were made three years ago actually put the power back into the hands of member states, and it is the UK Government who have given nearly two thirds of English and Welsh fishing quotas to three companies, thus excluding the small fishing communities along our coasts. Will the Prime Minister stop blaming Brussels on this and tell our small-scale and sustainable fishing communities what action he will take to allow them to continue their work, and indeed go further out in collecting fish?

First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for speaking about the reforms we carried through in the last Parliament; my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) was absolutely crucial in delivering those changes. We have seen in the last five years an increase in the value of the UK fishing industry of something like 20%.

The point I would make is that we export every year about £1 billion-worth of fish to the EU. No country in the world has a trade agreement with the EU that does not involve tariffs—taxes—on the sale of its fish, so there is no way we would get a better deal from the outside than the deal we get on the inside. Working with our fishing communities, working with our fishermen, keeping that market open and making sure that we manage our fish stocks locally and appropriately are very much part of our plan.

The Prime Minister’s Government still did hand quotas over to three very large companies at the expense of small communities around Britain. I hope that he will reflect on that.

With just eight days to go before the referendum, the Labour position is that we are going to be voting to remain because we believe it is the best way to protect families, protect jobs and protect public services. We would oppose any post-Brexit austerity Budget, just as we have opposed each austerity Budget put forward by this Government. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to condemn the opportunism of 57 of his colleagues who are pro-leave—these are Members who backed the bedroom tax, backed cutting disability benefits and backed slashing care for the elderly—who have suddenly had a damascene conversion to the anti-austerity movement? Does he have any message for them at all?

There are very few times when the right hon. Gentleman and I are on the same side of an argument. For people watching at home, when the leader of the Labour party—and, indeed, almost all the Labour party—a Conservative Government, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the official Ulster Unionists and the Scottish National party all say, “We have huge disagreements, but on this vital issue for the future of our country, the best option for Britain is to vote to remain in a reformed European Union,” that really says something.

The truth is this. This is a huge choice for our country, and choices have consequences. If we wake up on 24 June and find that we have remained in, our economy can continue to move forward. If we vote out, the experts warn us that we will have a smaller economy, less employment, lower wages and, therefore, lower tax receipts. That is why we would have to have measures to address a huge hole in our public finances. Nobody wants to have an emergency Budget. Nobody wants to have cuts in public services. Nobody wants to have tax increases. But I would say this: there is only one thing worse than addressing a crisis in your public finances through a Budget, and that is ignoring it. If you ignore a crisis in your public finances, you see your economy go into a tailspin and you see confidence in your country reduced. We can avoid all this by voting remain next week.

Q3. Having recently undertaken a real ale tour of some my constituency’s finest public houses, and having sampled some of the finest ales that anyone is likely to taste —many of them brewed locally in Derby North, which is recognised as the real ale capital of the UK—may I ask the Prime Minister to join me in acknowledging the virtues and massive benefits to local economies from small and medium-sized breweries up and down the country? (905425)

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. Having spent last week at Shepherd Neame in Kent, and having spent yesterday at Greene King in Bury St Edmunds, I agree with her that a large quantity of real ale is one of the best ways to get through this gruelling referendum campaign, and I would recommend it to everybody. The British beer industry is in good health because of the duty cuts made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Because of the micro-brewers tax regime, we have a lot of craft ale coming through in our country. It is an industry in a good state. The brewers that I am talking to and going to see want the single market open and they want us to remain in.

On Orlando and on the deaths in France, we on the SNP Benches join in the condolences that have been expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

We are now only a week away from the biggest question that the UK has faced in a long time—continuing membership of the European Union. Exports of goods and services from the Scottish economy are massively important: hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on them. Meanwhile, our public services, including the NHS, are supported by many hard-working people from elsewhere in the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that if we want to protect jobs and if we want to protect our public services, we must vote to remain in the European Union?

I believe that the most important argument—there are many arguments people make, but this is the most important—is about the future of our economy. It seems obvious to me: you can listen to the experts, or you can just make a common-sense argument. Today, we have full access to a market of 500 million people. For an economy such as Scotland’s, which is such a big exporting economy, there is no way we would get a better deal on the outside of the single market than we get on the inside, so if we left we would see our economy suffer, we would see jobs suffer and we would see people’s livelihoods suffer. That is just plain common sense. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that for jobs and for livelihoods, we should remain in. There is a consequence for the public finances, because if our economy is doing less well, our public finances would be doing less well, and that would have consequences for Scotland, too.

May I raise that issue with the Prime Minister? Today, we have learned from a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer and a former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer that there would likely be £30 billion of cuts to public services or tax rises were there to be a Brexit vote. What impact would that have on public services in Scotland? Please can we learn now, before we vote, what impact that would have on the budget in Scotland, which pays for the NHS in Scotland, for our schools in Scotland, for local government and for all key public services? Is that not yet another reason why we must vote to remain in the European Union?

These figures are not based on what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying; they are based on what the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research are saying. They are talking about a £20 billion to £40 billion hole in our public finances if Brexit were to go ahead. Those organisations are often quoted across this House—many times against the Government—because they are respected for their independence. Clearly, if that is the impact on the public finances, decisions to cut public spending in the UK Budget do have an impact, through Barnett, on Scotland. To anyone who says, “Well, these warnings could of course be wrong, or they could be inaccurate”, I would make the point—it is perhaps an uncomfortable one for the right hon. Gentleman—that there were of course warnings about the oil price before the Scottish referendum, and it turned out actually to be worse than the experts warned.

Q4. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, many of my constituents are worried that remaining in the EU increases the risk of terrorism, fears exacerbated by the disgraceful comments of people such as Nigel Farage. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that our security services are helped, not hindered, by the EU? (905426)

I would say very directly to my hon. Friend that I have done this job for six years and, working with the Home Secretary, I have seen how closely our intelligence and security services work with other services around the world. Of course we keep ourselves safe by investing in anti-terrorism policing and of course we keep ourselves safe by the way we work with the Americans and the “Five Eyes” partnership, but I am in no doubt that the increasing extent of information exchange and intelligence exchange that takes place through the European Union is of direct benefit to our country.

It is not just that you need a border; you also need information and intelligence to police that border properly. We are now seeing an enormous amount of exchange about criminal records, terrorist records and passenger name records. Of course, outside the EU, we could try to negotiate our way back into some of those agreements, but right now we are in them, we are driving them and we are making them keep people safe in our country.

Q2. Knowsley is expecting to receive £10 million in EU funding over the next three years. EU funding has helped attract businesses to the borough, including QVC, which created 2,500 jobs. Is it not the case that that important funding from the EU could be lost if we vote next week to leave the European Union? (905424)

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. All the independent economic reports say very clearly that there is no financial saving from leaving the EU. The Institute for Fiscal Studies put it like this:

“we conclude that leaving the EU would not…leave more money to spend on the NHS. Rather it would leave us spending less on public services, or taxing more, or borrowing more.”

I would argue that there is a big dividend from remaining inside the EU, which we would start to feel next Friday, as companies would be able to see that Britain had made a decision, and the job creators, wealth creators and international investors would know that Britain meant business and they would invest in our country. There is no saving from leaving. That is what the experts agree.

Q5. The number of children growing up in workless households has fallen by nearly half a million since 2010. Will the Prime Minister continue to tackle child poverty by focusing on rising wages, more jobs and a growing economy? (905428)

My hon. Friend is right that the most important thing we can do for parents in our country is help them to get a job, earn a living and provide for their family. In our life chances strategy, measuring worklessness and school attainment will be really important in helping to ensure that we continue to lift children out of poverty.

Q6. Thomas and Elke Westen live and run their businesses in Kirkcaldy, but, as Germans, they are denied a vote next week. They are hurt by the portrayal of immigrants in the EU debate. They leave for France on Sunday, and are considering leaving permanently if we exit the EU. Will the Prime Minister join my call for them and others in a similar situation to stay, as they are highly valued? (905429)

Of course, there are many people who come to our country, work hard, make a contribution and help to build our communities. It is important to get the numbers into some sort of perspective. I think 5% of our population are EU nationals—Italians, Germans, Poles, Spaniards and the rest of it—so if you stop 100 people in the street, only five will be EU nationals. It is just as the hon. Gentleman said. Look at our NHS—there are 50,000 EU nationals working as doctors, nurses and care assistants. Look at our care homes—there are 60,000 EU nationals helping to look after our elderly relatives with dementia and other conditions as they come towards the end of their lives. Yes, we need to make sure that people who come here work and make a contribution, but we should celebrate the contribution they make.

Q8. Given the Government’s recent enthusiasm for making forecasts and predictions, will the Prime Minister tell the House in which year we will meet our manifesto commitment to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands? (905431)

The last year for which EU migration was in balance—that is between the number of EU and British nationals leaving our shores to work in Europe and the number of EU nationals coming to live and work here—was as recently as 2008. Yes, we need to do more to control migration from outside the EU, and we are doing so, with the closure of bogus colleges and other measures. We are also doing more inside the EU, not least by saying that if people who come here do not get a job after six months, they have to leave, and that if they work, they have to contribute for four years before getting full access to the welfare system. Those are big changes. They are also sensible ways of controlling immigration. A non-sensible way would be pulling out of the single market, damaging jobs and our economy, and so having to explain to our constituents why we have a self-imposed recession.

Q7. Many in my constituency of Swansea East are already struggling to make ends meet. The World Trade Organisation says that if we leave the EU we could face major tariffs on trade, and would have to renegotiate more than 160 trade agreements. Does the Prime Minister agree that leaving the EU would hit hard-working families the most by raising the cost of living, and that it is too big a risk to take? (905430)

The hon. Lady is right. It is always the poorest and those with the least who get hit hardest if an economy suffers a recession. There are two ways in which the cost of living could be impacted. She is absolutely right that if we leave the single market and go to World Trade Organisation rules, tariffs will be imposed on the goods we sell to Europe, which would make us suffer. Also, if the pound falls, as many independent experts forecast, the cost of living rises, the cost of the family shop rises and the cost of the family holiday rises. She is right that it is not worth the risk. We should not risk it—we should keep our country safe.

Q9. Following the Chancellor’s welcome announcement about the launch of the new Thames estuary 2050 growth commission, will the Prime Minister outline his hopes for how the commission’s focus will deliver the much needed infrastructure and economic development that will allow north Kent to prosper, including in my wonderful constituency of Rochester and Strood? (905432)

Whenever I get a question from my hon. Friend, I remember how grateful I am that she is representing Rochester and Strood—happy days. For the 2050 growth commission, the key areas are skills and infrastructure. A serious amount of money is being committed to that infrastructure, and we need to look at things, including the lower Thames crossing, to ensure that the economy of that region makes the most of its potential.

Q12. Some 2,500 people are employed in the ceramics industry in my constituency. Their jobs are dependent on EU trade, their rights are protected by the EU social charter, and their town centres have been rebuilt with EU funds. With his friends in the leave campaign producing more spin than a potter’s wheel, does the Prime Minister share my fears that despite Europe’s flaws, a Brexit vote could leave us picking up the pieces of a broken economy for years to come? (905435)

I will nick that soundbite—it’s a good one. The hon. Lady is right. If we leave the single market and the European Union, the Council President has said clearly that that process probably takes two years, and after that we will have to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union. If that trade deal is like Canada’s, it could take seven years. We are looking at a decade of uncertainty for our economy.

On the ceramics industry, I am advised by my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who before coming to this House did a worthwhile job of working in that industry—[Interruption.] He may not be spinning pots any more, but he is spinning for me very effectively. Last year we exported £38 million in porcelain and china to the EU. If we were outside the EU without a trade deal and had World Trade Organisation tariffs, there would be a 12% tax. I do not want us to hit British manufacturers, car makers and aeroplane makers. We should be investing in and supporting those industries, not making their situation more difficult, which Brexit would undoubtedly do.

Q10. Thirty years ago when I was just a little lad—[Hon. Members: “Aah”] Thirty years ago, my parents quit their jobs and founded a small manufacturing business around our kitchen table. Today, British manufacturers—particularly small businesses—are worried because if we leave the European Union, they will continue to make their products to common European standards because they value the free market. They value the single market and want to export, but they are aware that the United Kingdom will have no say whatsoever in the formulation of those standards, and their competitive advantage will be destroyed. What advice does my right hon. Friend have for my parents and for small businesses and the millions of jobs that depend on them across the country? (905433)

I had always assumed that my hon. Friend was under 30, so I am shocked to get that news. He makes an important point. If we were to leave the EU, we would lose the seat around the table that sets the rules of the single market. Of course sometimes those rules can be annoying or burdensome, but at the end of the day those are the rules we have to meet. If we leave and have no say over those rules, we do not gain control, we lose it. That is a crucial argument, and it is why the majority of small businesses—as well as a very large majority of larger businesses—back staying in the EU.

I endorse the Prime Minister’s comments about the deaths in Orlando and Paris and associate the Social and Democratic Labour party with those remarks.

I assure the Prime Minister that the SDLP is fully behind him in his efforts to secure a remain vote. The Brexit campaigners have made securing our borders their resounding war cry, but when it comes to the only land border between the UK and the rest of the EU we are dismissed and told that nothing will change there. A return to customs posts, passport checks and a hard border will be a critical economic issue for Northern Ireland’s voters in eight days’ time. Will the Prime Minister now, once and for all, clarify this point and tell the people of Northern Ireland what will become of the border if the UK votes to leave the European Union?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Orlando shootings.

If we vote to stay in, we know what the situation is: we know that the common travel area works, we know it can continue and everyone can have confidence in that. If we were to leave—the leave campaigners want to make a big issue about our borders—we will have a land border between Britain outside the European Union and the Republic of Ireland inside the European Union. Therefore, you can only have new border controls between the Republic and Northern Ireland or, which I would regret hugely, you would have to have some sort of checks on people as they left Belfast or other parts of Northern Ireland to come to the rest of the United Kingdom. We can avoid these risks. There are so many risks here: risks to our children’s jobs, risks to our economic future, risks to our borders, risks to the unity of the United Kingdom. I say: avoid the risks and vote remain next Thursday.

Q11. Next week, I will be visiting 25 schools in my constituency to explain both sides of the EU referendum argument to those of our population who will be the most heavily impacted by a decision they cannot make. Does the Prime Minister have any words for these young people for the remain segment? (905434)

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s hard work. What I would say is that, even if those people in our schools are not able to vote, this will affect their futures. I hope that, after being inspired by my hon. Friend, they will talk to their parents and their grandparents about wanting to grow up in a country with opportunity, and we are bound to have more opportunities if we remain in a reformed European Union with 27 other countries. I also think it goes to a point about what sort of country we want our children to grow up in; not just one of economic and job opportunities, but one where our country is able to effect change and get things done in the world. We do not diminish ourselves inside a European Union; we enhance the power of Britain and the greatness of our country.

Approximately 11,000 of Marks & Spencer’s most loyal employees, many with over 14 years’ service, are about to get a serious pay cut. Cuts to Sunday pay, bank holiday pay and antisocial hours pay, all made on the back of the national living wage, mean they will take home less next year than they do this year, with some losing up to £2,000. This is not just any pay cut, this is a big fat Marks & Spencer’s pay cut. Does the Prime Minister agree with his Chancellor that cutting take-home pay at M&S or anywhere else on the back of the national living wage is wrong? If so, will he move to close the loopholes that make this possible?

Obviously, we want to see the national living wage feeding through into people having higher take-home pay, not lower take-home pay. We urge all companies to make sure that that is the case. I have not seen the information about Marks & Spencer, but it knows, like any retailer, that it needs to attract, retain and motivate the staff they have. It is absolutely crucial in retail, particularly with all the competition online, that it continues to do that, and it will not do that if it cuts people’s pay.

Q13. I agreed with the Prime Minister on Europe when he said to the CBI on 9 November last year:“Some people seem to say that really Britain couldn’t survive, couldn’t do okay outside the European Union. I don’t think that is true…The argument isn’t whether Britain could survive outside the EU; of course it could.”So if, as I hope, despite the panic-driven negativity from the remain camp in Downing Street, the British people vote next week to become a free and independent nation again, will my right hon. Friend join me in embracing the great optimism and opportunity for our country and our people that such a momentous decision would bring? (905436)

As I said at the CBI, of course Britain can survive outside the EU—no one is questioning that. The question is: how are we going to do best? How are we going to create the most jobs and investment, how are we going to have the most opportunities for our children, how are we going to wield the greatest power in the world, how are we going to get things done? On all those issues—stronger, safer, better off—the arguments are on the remain side.

I associate myself and my party across the country with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the killings in France and the brutal homophobic murders in Florida. The killer and his vicious homophobic act do not speak for Islam.

The wealthy elite fuelling the leave campaign will be unharmed by the inevitable hike in interest rates that will follow Britain’s exit from the EU and the decline in sterling. The rate rise will, however, hit millions of ordinary British people. It will cause people to lose their homes through repossession and push low-income people further into crippling debt. Will he advise his Tory Brexit colleagues that there is a long-term economic plan on offer—one that can help hard-working families not to suffer—and it is to vote remain next Thursday?

The hon. Gentleman and I are often on opposing sides of arguments, but it says volumes about the breadth of the campaign to remain in a reformed EU that we have the Liberal Democrats as well as the Labour party, the Greens, the trade unions, business, voluntary bodies and so many others all coming from different perspectives but—crucially—all saying that our economy will be better off, and therefore families and our country will be better off, if we remain in. He is absolutely right about interest rates. The last thing that homeowners and homebuyers need—the last thing our country needs—is a hike in interest rates damaging our economy. I am glad he supports a long-term economic plan. Such a plan should include our remaining in a reformed EU.

Q14. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on honouring our manifesto pledge and delivering this historic referendum. Unfortunately, however, we have heard some hysterical scaremongering during the debate, and there are those in this House and the other place who believe that if the British people decide to leave the EU, there should be a second referendum. Will he assure the House and the country that, whatever the result on 24 June, his Government will carry out the wishes of the British people—if the vote is to remain, we remain, but if it is to leave, which I hope it is, we leave? (905437)

I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. “In” means we remain in a reformed EU; “out” means we come out. As the leave campaigners and others have said, “out” means out of the EU, out of the European single market, out of the Council of Ministers—out of all those things—and will then mean a process of delivering on it, which will take at least two years, and then delivering a trade deal, which could take as many as seven years. To anyone still in doubt—there are even Members in the House still thinking about how to vote—I would say: if you have not made up your mind yet, if you are still uncertain, just think about that decade of uncertainty for our economy and everything else, don’t risk it and vote remain.

The North Middlesex hospital accident and emergency unit is in complete meltdown. Will the Prime Minister commit to taking swift action to tackle this crisis?

I understand that this is a very busy accident and emergency unit: it received more than 13,600 patients through its doors in April alone. It manages, however, to carry out 40,000 operations and more than 62,000 diagnostic tests every year, and since 2010 the trust has recruited 120 more doctors and 280 more nurses, but the Health Secretary will continue to monitor the matter closely. This brings us back, however, to the core argument today: if we remain in, we will have a stronger economy, and then, yes, we will have to take the proceeds of that growth and continue to put them into the NHS, as I have always done as Prime Minister.

I am looking forward to the British people giving me the opportunity to vote against the vindictive emergency Budget. Will my right hon. Friend explain, if the Government are so strapped for cash, why they remain intent on spending £50 billion on HS2?

We will be strapped for cash, if we believe the Institute for Fiscal Studies or the National Institute of Economic and Social Research—both impeccably independent—who say that there would be a hole in our public finances of between £20 billion and £40 billion. You do not have to be an economic expert to see this: if the economy shrinks, and there are fewer jobs and lower wages, there will be less in tax receipts. If there is less in tax receipts, we will clearly need to make cuts, put up taxes or increase borrowing. It is a simple matter of mathematics. There is an easy way to avoid that situation—vote to stay in a reformed European Union next Thursday.