The Secretary of State was asked—
This Government recognise that delivering world-class infrastructure in our transport and digital sectors is vital to improving productivity and driving economic growth. I hold regular meetings with ministerial colleagues and local partners on issues relating to Wales. Earlier this month I convened a mobile summit which brought together key stakeholders from the mobile network operators and the UK and Welsh Governments to explore ways in which we can work in partnership to improve mobile reception for people and businesses throughout Wales.
I notice that the Minister failed to mention the Swansea bay tidal lagoon report. That six-month independent review conducted by ex-Energy Minister Charles Hendry could not have been more conclusive in saying that moving ahead with a pathfinder lagoon at Swansea bay
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”
is a “no regrets policy”. There may be much to digest in the review’s detailed road map for a new industry, but there are no grounds for further delaying the start of that industry. When will the Government give the green light to this crucial infrastructure project?
I am delighted to state that Charles Hendry is in Cardiff Bay today providing more information about his report to the Assembly, and he is being supported there by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies). The report was comprehensive and detailed on the issues relating to a tidal lagoon. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree, however, that any decision must also be good for the taxpayer and good for the electricity end user.
The Minister will be aware of the campaign by the Daily Post newspaper to improve mobile phone notspots. What is he doing to help to improve mobile phone services for voice and data in north Wales?
I pay tribute to the Daily Post’s campaign in north Wales, which has highlighted this issue. That is partly why I was very keen to convene a summit of mobile providers to look very carefully at ways in which we could give them practical support in helping to deal with notspots in Wales. One of the key issues is the planning regime in Wales, which can be much more flexible in ensuring that the money being invested in Wales goes much further and deals with the notspots in all parts of Wales, whether rural or city.
EU funding has had a clear impact in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in terms of the Heads of the Valleys road, and indeed investment in the railway infrastructure. The south Wales metro scheme will generate £106 million of support from European funds, although it should be remembered that it is also receiving £500 million of funding from the UK Government. This Government have delivered a fiscal framework to Wales that has been described as both fair and sustainable, and I can assure him that Wales will be protected when we come to the negotiations to leave the European Union.
Happy St Dwynwen’s day, Mr Speaker.
Eighty-four per cent. of Conservative councillors, 83% of Conservative MPs, a former Conservative Energy Minister, both Wales Office Ministers and the Conservative party manifesto all support the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project. The Minister failed to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), so I will give him another opportunity: when will his Government kick-start the tidal lagoon project?
I restate that this decision will have to be made across Government: other Departments will have to look at the issue. I am sure the hon. Lady would agree that in an age where we are seeing industry in Wales worried about the cost of energy, any deal for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon must not only be good in terms of the tidal lagoon but right for the taxpayer and the energy user in Wales.
Last week in Westminster Hall, the Minister said that
“it is difficult to offer guarantees that”
European Investment Bank
“loans would be supported”.—[Official Report, 17 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 264WH.]
By that, he meant supported by a guarantee from the Treasury when we leave the EU. What benefits has the European Investment Bank brought to Wales, and how much has it invested in Wales over the past 10 years?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will join me in highlighting the success of the Swansea campus development as an example of European Investment Bank investment in a Welsh context. I am sure that she will also join me in paying tribute to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for securing and guaranteeing EU funding up to the point of departure from the European Union. The key point that she must be aware of is that thus far, this Government have delivered a degree of protection for EU funding in Wales, and in due course further announcements will be made about further funding support in a Welsh context.
Leaving the EU: Business Links
The UK, including Wales, remains the same outward-looking, globally minded country that we have always been. To support Wales’s international business links further, I am jointly hosting a Wales business export summit in Cardiff in early March to ensure that businesses in Wales have full access to UK Government support.
The Republic of Ireland is one of Wales’s most important trading partners, with around 360,000 trucks passing through Welsh ports to Ireland every year. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to get really involved in the discussions about future UK-Irish border and customs controls to ensure that future arrangements not only uphold the peace process with the north, but protect Welsh interests by minimising checks and delays on trucks that use Welsh ports?
My right hon. Friend is a true champion of the port in Milford Haven and the links and benefits that it brings to the Welsh and UK economies, and he has played a significant part in developing it. As we negotiate our exit from the European Union, and the special situation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Welsh situation is not being ignored. At every Joint Ministerial Committee it has been recognised not only by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, but at the Joint Ministerial Committee involving the Prime Minister.
Given the first-class universities in Wales, including my alma mater Coleg Prifysgol Dewi Sant, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will highlight their expertise as part of his assessment of international business links?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have mentioned that the Joint Ministerial Committee involving the devolved Administrations plays an important part, but that does not mean that universities will not have a part to play in influencing the negotiations on exiting the European Union. I spoke to the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University last week. I am happy to maintain a close relationship with my hon. Friend’s former university and to ensure that all universities across the United Kingdom have their say as we negotiate our exit from the European Union.
The Secretary of State’s response to the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) was not good enough, to be frank. We have had the same response to that question for some time now. We are going to have a common travel area, and it is going to impact heavily on Welsh ports. Will the Secretary of State put the case for Welsh ports and meet Welsh Members of Parliament to ensure that that important trade has a Welsh dimension?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the issues relating to Holyhead, which are being taken into consideration in our discussions. I will happily meet him and any colleagues he wishes to bring along. The situation in Holyhead and Milford Haven is, absolutely, important to the Welsh and the UK economy, and it has issues in common with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We want to ensure that we get a deal that works for all situations.
I am very pleased that the Secretary of State mentioned universities in his response about international business links. Is he aware of the profound concern that is shared by most vice-chancellors, including Professor Hinfelaar at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, about the impact that changes to migration rules will have on students from within the EU and outside it? Will the Secretary of State discuss the matter in detail with those vice-chancellors?
As well as the universities that I have highlighted, I am in close engagement with Universities Wales, which represents all universities, but I am happy to meet any of the vice-chancellors about the situation. Many assumptions have been made about migration controls. Clearly, it is in our interests to ensure that universities can succeed and prosper, and migration and international students are an important part of their model. Controlling immigration does not mean stopping immigration.
I am glad of my right hon. Friend’s concentration on universities in his answers. He will be aware that just before Christmas, Cardiff University school of chemistry was formally presented with a royal warrant, officially awarding the department a regius professorship of chemistry in recognition of the exceptionally high standard of research at Cardiff University. What are my right hon. Friend and the Wales Office doing to make sure that our institutions and professors get such accolades and that we can stand on the international stage?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the success and the role of universities. The UK Government have a part to play in recognising, championing and promoting that, as well as using Innovate UK money. He is right to highlight the new regius professorship that was awarded to Cardiff University. That underlines its expertise and success in the field of chemistry, and we are determined to ensure that that plays a significant part on the global stage.
As the Secretary of State considers Wales’s business links post-Brexit, will he give the highest priority to the Welsh steel industry, and will he not rule out a trade defence mechanism for steel if that is what is required to save Welsh steelworkers’ jobs?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the steel industry. It is an extremely important industry for communities in Wales, but it is also of strategic importance for the whole of the United Kingdom. Last week, I met all the unions relating to steel, and we discussed the challenges that exist, as well as how the company, the pension trustees, the pensioners and the employees of the steelworks need to work their way through this. The Government stand ready to support the industry—we are determined to find a long-term, sustainable future for the steel industry—and I recognise its importance for Wales and for the UK.
This Government have put in place an industrial strategy that will work for all people in every corner of the UK. Wales is home to world-leading sectors, be it compound semi-conductors in Cardiff, agri-tech in Aberystwyth or advanced manufacturing in Deeside. We are committed to building on our strengths to create an economy where everyone can share the benefits of our economic success.
One of the most important themes of the Government’s industrial strategy is the determination to ensure that all nations and regions of the UK can benefit from economic prosperity. An important aspect of that is science and research, which I hope the Minister will agree offers real potential for businesses in Wales to prosper and create jobs.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of investing in skills and high-tech industries in a Welsh context. I know that our university sector stands ready to support the Welsh economy to ensure that we have such skills.
What representations has the Minister made to his Government about placing steel at the heart of their industrial strategy, and how will the UK Government support the innovative products and projects coming out of Swansea University that will future-proof steel making for many generations?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has stated, he recently met the trade unions in relation to the steel sector, and one of my first visits as a Minister was to the Tata plant in Deeside, so we understand the importance of steel to Wales. This Government have been unyielding in our support for the steel industry in Wales, and that will continue.
The UK has lacked a strategic approach to industrial policy for many years, and Wales has suffered as a result. What specific measures in the Government’s industrial strategy will be brought in to help Wales?
It is very important to state that the industrial strategy in a Welsh context must be a partnership between the two Governments that Wales has—we have the UK Government and the Welsh Government—and Wales will succeed and prosper if those two Governments work together. I am glad to be able to say to the hon. Lady that in relation to skills for the energy sector, support for the car manufacturing sector and support for the steel sector, the two Governments are working together to ensure the best for Wales in terms of industrial strategy and developing new opportunities for the people of Wales.
As the Minister has said, we have many important employers on Deeside—Airbus, Tata, Toyota—but we also have many companies in the supply chain that are very important. We must not only keep those companies post-Brexit, but encourage more to come in.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Deeside is a great success story for the UK economy, not just for the Welsh economy. He is absolutely right that we need to build on that success by drawing in more investment, and that is why the Secretary of State and I will be holding a summit with the Department for International Trade in Wales in the very near future.
One of the biggest infrastructure projects we are about to engage in is the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Will the Minister make sure that this is part of an industrial strategy for Wales? We do not have enough people in this country to complete the work, and we need academies in every constituency in the land to give young people the skills they need to work in this building.
The question is certainly part of an ingenuity strategy, on which I congratulate the hon. Gentleman.
I will obviously not comment on the issue of the refurbishment of the Palace, but I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of getting skills that are relevant to the fabric of buildings in Wales, historic buildings especially. I pay tribute to Coleg Llandrillo Menai, which is doing exactly that—training young people not just in building skills, but in traditional building skills as well.
Leaving the EU: Agriculture Policy
We are determined to get the best deal on leaving the EU. We want a world-leading food and farming industry and the cleanest, healthiest environment for generations. Agriculture is clearly a devolved area, and I am keen for Welsh farmers to add value to their products. We have the capacity and scope to be innovative, not only in growing great products and producing great food, but in processing and selling them worldwide.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he confirm whether, once the UK leaves the European Union, agriculture policy and funding will be devolved to the regions or remain here with the United Kingdom Government?
It is certainly the case that agriculture policy is currently devolved. Clearly, there will be a repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster as a result of the decision to leave the European Union, but there is an ongoing and positive discussion between Westminster and the Welsh Government in relation to where powers will lie. I say categorically that that partnership is essential for the success of agriculture. That partnership must be not only constructive but objective in respect of what works for the farming industry in Wales and the UK.
Many of my constituents farm cross-border and produce excellent, high-quality British agricultural produce. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure there is the widest possible market access for that produce post-exit?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who knows the agricultural sector in north Wales and Cheshire extremely well, and who understands the cross-border nature of much farming in Wales. The key point is that we must be aware that we have a great product to offer the rest of the world. It is essential that we go out and sell that product, which is why the Wales Office is forging such a close relationship with the Secretary of State for International Trade. It is essential that we grow the markets for Welsh products, rather than be defensive about the issue.
Is this not a wonderful opportunity to reform agricultural subsidies to decouple Wales from the system in England that rewards people for owning land and not, as they are rewarded in Wales, for producing food? Should we not end the system of paying millionaires and billionaires up to £1 million each a year, while Welsh farmers have to struggle with small subsidies? Can we have Welsh policies for Welsh farmers?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the aim of the Government is to have a farming policy that is right for the UK and right for Wales. He was much more positive about our farming industry in a recent Westminster Hall debate and I agree with the comments he made in that debate. It is essential that we support the farming industry in Wales, while moving forward following our exit from the European Union.
Does the Minister agree that Brexit gives us the opportunity to set a new agricultural policy in Wales, starting with positive changes to the common agricultural policy?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that, in view of our decision to leave the European Union, it is essential that we develop an agricultural system that works for farmers in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. The common agricultural policy was guilty of the fossilisation of Welsh farming, because it encouraged people not to retire. It is essential to look at the problems created by the common agricultural policy while we design a new system for Wales.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the percentage of Welsh exports that go to the European Union, but he should realise that access to the single market is what is now crucial. It was very apparent from the decision to leave the European Union that we will not be a member of the single market. We need to negotiate the best possible access deal with the European Union and I think that will be possible in due course.
Last Friday, I visited Trewen farm in Botwnnog with the Farmers Union of Wales. This dairy farm has contributed over £150,000 to the local economy in the last three years, yet only three years from now Welsh farmers are set to face a perfect storm. Can the Minister reveal what transitional arrangements will be put in place to safeguard our rural economy?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and the use of the term “perfect storm”. It is an acknowledgement of the press release sent out by the Farmers Union of Wales. I can reassure her that the issue should be about access to the single market, and while the FUW has expressed its concern about the decision to leave the single market, my discussions and meetings with farmers’ unions in Wales, both the FUW and the National Farmers Union, have highlighted access to it as the crucial issue for Welsh farmers.
During Welsh questions last April, the Minister said:
“The extent of Welsh agricultural produce that is exported to the EU shows how important that market is; 90% of Welsh agricultural produce is exported to the EU and we should not risk losing that.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 341.]
Given those comments, will he explain why his Government wish to leave the single market?
At the risk of repeating myself, let me point out that the hon. Gentleman is right that 90% of Welsh farming exports go to the EU, which is why I have repeatedly stated that the issue that farmers in Wales are concerned about is access to the single market. That is the issue that will make a difference to Welsh farmers and towards which the Department and the Government will be working.
I call the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and wish him and his colleagues a happy Burns night.
EU Single Market: Jobs
Since the vote to leave the EU, we have seen employment hit record highs, and there are now 4,000 fewer people unemployed than six months ago. Trade with the EU is important to Wales, but it is clear that we need to increase our trade with the fastest-growing markets across the world. It is time for Wales, like Britain, to rediscover its role as a great global trading nation.
I hope the whole Chamber will celebrate Robert Burns today.
This week, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government published a White Paper outlining their concerns about Wales and our leaving the EU. What actions will the UK Government take to address the concerns raised by the two largest parties in the Welsh Parliament?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was awaiting the document from the Welsh Government. It was received on Monday, and of course we will work through the details. It will be subject to discussion at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations—the right place for it to be considered and discussed—but much of the language around accessing the single market is not incompatible with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said.
The Supreme Court ruling yesterday concluded that the Sewel convention was a convention and therefore not a matter on which it could rule. Our friends in Plaid Cymru are moving to table a legislative consent motion in the Welsh Parliament, and the Scottish Parliament will also vote on a legislative consent motion. Does the Secretary of State agree, in the spirit of democracy, that the devolved Governments are best placed to determine the future of the people living and working in our nations? [Interruption.]
Order. We would like to hear the reply.
It is a matter for the devolved Administrations whether they choose to table legislative consent motions, and yesterday’s judgment was quite clear. The approach of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the whole Government is to engage positively with the devolved Administrations—the Scottish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Welsh Government—but we will also want to engage with other stakeholders in the nations as well.
North Wales has been designated the central maintenance centre for all European F-35 fighters. Can the Minister assure the House that the aerospace companies in north Wales will be given the same assurances as Nissan that leaving the single market will not result in tariff barriers or a loss of access to European skilled labour?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman highlights the success of Sealand in winning the F-35 contract. It will be the global repair hub. I was there on Monday celebrating and recognising the effects and the impact that employees had on winning that global contract. The significance should not be understated. It offers positive prospects for the supply chain and that centre for decades to come.
The Prime Minister has talked of a bold new trading relationship with New Zealand. Will the Secretary of State relay to the Prime Minister—she is here, so he can do so directly—the genuine concern of many Welsh upland farmers that they could lose access to the biggest market on the continent in favour of a market, and direct competitor, on the other side of the world?
Welsh produce, and Welsh lamb and beef in particular, is world leading, and there are great opportunities as we exit the European Union to explore and exploit new markets. Hybu Cig Cymru specifically recognised that £20 million could be brought to Wales from accessing the north American market. These are the ambitions that we want to have, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will of course put Britain first in any negotiations.
I am not seeking a running commentary or any detailed negotiating information, but a special deal was cut for the car industry in the north-east. Did the Secretary of State seek a similar deal for the car industry in Wales?
I do not recognise the basis of the question. The automotive sector is exceptionally strong in Wales, partly as a result of the Nissan contract in Sunderland, for which many of the supplier companies are based in Wales. I also draw attention to the great success of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in bringing Aston Martin to Wales. We should recognise and celebrate the fantastic success on that MOD base.
Up to 200,000 jobs in Wales depend on our membership of the European Union, the single market and the customs union. I am not going to go through every sector, but will the Secretary of State seek sectoral deals for important parts of the Welsh economy as we leave the European Union?
It is clear that we want to get the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom. We want to ensure that the market within the United Kingdom works effectively. After all, the most important market for Wales is the market from within the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman can take confidence from the fact that, on the back of this Government’s policy and success, Wales has been the fastest growing economy outside London since 2010.
Order. Colleagues, we are visited today by Speaker Win Myint, the Speaker of the Hluttaw, the Burmese Parliament. He is accompanied by a delegation of his parliamentary colleagues. I am sure the House will wish to join me in welcoming Mr Speaker and his colleagues.
The Prime Minister was asked—
As the response from the whole House showed, we all indeed welcome the Speaker of the Burmese Parliament and his colleagues to see our deliberations today.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to the friends and family of the police officer who was shot in Belfast over the weekend. The Police Service of Northern Ireland does a superb job in keeping us safe and secure, and has our fullest support.
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. Later this week, I will travel to the United States for talks with President Trump.
I join the Prime Minister in sending good wishes to the police officer who was shot in Belfast.
They are the best drivers of social mobility, and 99% of them are rated good or outstanding, while 65% of their places are in the most deprived areas of this country, so why is the Prime Minister introducing cuts that threaten the very existence of maintained nursery schools? Is it not true that when it comes to social mobility, her actions speak far louder than her words?
I want to ensure, and this Government want to ensure, good-quality education at every age and every stage for children in this country. That is why we are looking at improving the number of good school places. The hon. Lady talks about my record speaking louder than words, so let me point out that I was very proud as chairman of an education authority in London in the 1990s to introduce nursery school places for every three and four-year-old whose parent wanted them.
My hon. Friend raises the question of parliamentary scrutiny. I have made clear, as have senior Ministers, that we will ensure that Parliament has every opportunity to carry out such scrutiny as we go through this process. I set out that bold plan for a global Britain last week. I recognise that there is an appetite in the House to see it set out in a White Paper—I have heard my hon. Friend’s question, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) asked a question in the same vein last week—and I can confirm that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published for the House.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing the condolences of, I am sure, the whole House to the family of the police officer who lost his life over the weekend in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister has wasted 80 days between the original judgment and the appeal. She has finally admitted today, after pressure from all sides, that there will be a White Paper. May we know when that White Paper will be available to us, and why it is taking so long for us to get it?
The right hon. Gentleman asked for debates. I made very clear that there would always be debates in the House, and there have been and will continue to be. He asked for votes. There have been votes in the House; the House voted overwhelmingly for the Government to trigger article 50 before the end of March this year. He asked for a plan. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), I have set out a clear plan for a bold future for Britain. He and others asked for a White Paper, and I have made clear that there will be a White Paper.
What I am also clear about is that the right hon. Gentleman always asks about process—about the means to an end. The Government and I are focusing on the outcomes. We are focusing on a truly global Britain, building a stronger future for this country, the right deal for Britain, and Britain out of the European Union.
My question was not complicated. I simply asked when the White Paper would come out. Will it be published before or at the same time as the Bill that is apparently about to be published?
Last week I asked the Prime Minister repeatedly to clarify whether her Government were prepared to pay to secure tariff-free access to the single European market. She repeatedly refused to answer the question, so I will ask her again. Are her Government ruling out paying a fee for tariff-free access to the single market or the bespoke customs union to which she also referred in her speech?
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the issue of timing. There are actually two separate issues. The House has voted overwhelmingly that article 50 should be triggered before the end of March 2017. Following the Supreme Court judgment, a Bill will be provided for the House, and there will be proper debates on it in the Chamber and in another place. There is then the separate question of the publication of the plan that I have set out, a bold vision for Britain for the future. I will do that in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman knows that one of our objectives is the best possible free trade with the European Union, and that is what we will be out there negotiating for.
Some of this is very worrying for many Members, but, more important, it is worrying for many other people. For example, the chief executive of Nissan was given assurances by the Prime Minister’s Business Secretary about future trade arrangements with Europe, but now says that Nissan will
“have to re-evaluate the situation”
in relation to its investments in Britain.
The Prime Minister is threatening the EU that unless it gives in to her demands she will turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe. Labour Members are very well aware of the consequences that that would have—the damage that it would do to jobs and living standards, and to our public services. Is the Prime Minister now going to rule out the bargain basement threat that she made in her speech at Lancaster House?
I expect us to get a good deal for trading relationships with the European Union, but I am also clear that this Government will not sign up to a bad deal for the United Kingdom. As for the threats that the right hon. Gentleman claims might happen—he often uses those phrases and talks about workers’ rights—perhaps he should listen to his former colleague in this House, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who today said,
“to give credit to the Government…I don’t think they want to weaken workers’ rights”,
and goes on to say,
“I’ve seen no evidence from the conversations I’ve had with senior members of the Government that that’s their aspiration or their intention or something they want to do. Which is good.”
As usual with Labour, the right hand is not talking to the far-left.
The evidence of what the Tory party and this Government really think about workers’ rights was there for all to see yesterday: a private Member’s Bill under the ten-minute rule by a Tory MP to tear up parts of the International Labour Organisation convention, talking down the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) to protect European workers’ rights that have been obtained in this country. That is the real agenda of the Tory party.
What the Prime Minister is doing is petulantly aiming a threat at our public services with her threats about a bargain basement Britain. Is her priority our struggling NHS, those denied social care, and children having their school funding cut, or is it once again further cuts in big business taxation to make the rich even better off?
I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that I have been very clear that this Government will protect workers’ rights; indeed, we have a review of modern employment law to ensure all employment legislation is keeping up with the modern labour market. One of the objectives I set out in my plan for our negotiating objectives was to protect workers’ rights.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about threats to public services. I will tell him what the threat to public services would be: a Labour Government borrowing £500 billion extra. That would destroy our economy and mean no funding for our public services.
The threat to workers’ rights is there every day: 6 million people earning less than the living wage; and many people—nearly 1 million—on zero-hours contracts with no protection being offered by this Government. What they are doing is offering once again the bargain basement alternative.
Will the Prime Minister also take this opportunity today to congratulate the 100,000 people who marched in Britain last weekend to highlight women’s rights after President Trump’s inauguration, and to express their concerns about his misogyny? Many have concerns that in the Prime Minister’s forthcoming meeting with President Trump she will be prepared to offer up for sacrifice the opportunity for American companies to come in and take over parts of our NHS or our public services. Will she assure the House that in any trade deal none of those things will be offered up as a bargaining chip?
I again point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is this Government who have introduced the national living wage and this Government who have made changes to zero-hours contracts.
On the issue of my visit to the United States of America, I am pleased that I am able to meet President Trump so early in his Administration. That is a sign of the strength of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America—a special relationship on which he and I intend to build. But I also say to the Leader of the Opposition that I am not afraid to speak frankly to a President of the United States; I am able to do that because we have that special relationship—a special relationship that the right hon. Gentleman would never have with the United States.
We would never allow Britain to be sold off on the cheap. How confident is the Prime Minister of getting a good deal for “global Britain” from a President who says he wants to put America first, buy American and build a wall between his country and Mexico?
Article 50 was not about a court judgment against the Government. What it signified was the bad judgment of this Government: the bad judgment of prioritising corporate tax cuts over investment in national health and social care; the bad judgment of threatening European partners while offering a blank cheque to President Trump; and the bad judgment of wanting to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven. So will the Prime Minister offer some clarity and certainty and withdraw the threats to destroy the social structure of this country by turning us into the bargain basement she clearly threatens?
We will be out around the world with the EU, America and other countries negotiating good free trade deals for this country that will bring prosperity to this country. The right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about Brexit, but I have to say to him that he is the leader of his party and he cannot even agree with his shadow Chancellor about Brexit. The shadow Chancellor cannot agree with the shadow Brexit Secretary, the shadow Brexit secretary disagrees with the shadow Home Secretary, and the shadow Home Secretary has to ring up the leader and tell him to change his mind. He talks about us standing up for Britain; they cannot speak for themselves and they will never speak for Britain.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and he is absolutely right to do that. I can assure him that we are working generally to improve the safety of our roads. He refers specifically to the issue of the A303 and to the tragic incident that happened on 27 December. We have committed to creating a dual carriageway on the A303 from the M3 to the M5. I understand that Highways England has recently launched a consultation into the route under Stonehenge, and my hon. Friend will want to look closely at that issue. This is all part of our £2 billion investment in road improvements that will improve connections in the south-west, but I can assure him that we have road safety at the forefront of our mind.
May I begin by wishing everybody a happy Burns day, and by extending congratulations to The Scotsman newspaper, which is celebrating its bicentenary today?
Yesterday, the Government lost in the Supreme Court, and today we have had a welcome U-turn on a White Paper on Brexit. In the spirit of progress for Parliament, and in advance of her meeting President Trump, will the Prime Minister tell Parliament what she wants to achieve in a UK-US trade deal?
First, I join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing a happy Burns day to everybody and in recognising the bicentenary of The Scotsman. I am sure everybody in the House will join me in that. He asks what we want to achieve in our arrangements with the United States. It is very simple: we want to achieve an arrangement that ensures that the interests of the United Kingdom are put first, and that is what I will be doing. We want to see trade arrangements with the United States, and with other parts of the world, that can increase our trade and bring prosperity and growth to the United Kingdom. Then, my aim for this Government is to ensure that the economy works for everyone in every part of the United Kingdom.
The European Union, which we are still part of, has among the highest food safety standards anywhere in the world, and we are proud on our continent to have public national health systems. The United States, on the other hand, is keen to have health systems that are fully open to private competition and it wants to export genetically modified organisms, beef raised using growth hormones and chicken meat washed with chlorinated water. Will the Prime Minister tell President Trump that she is not prepared to lower our food and safety standards or to open our health systems up for privatisation? Or does she believe that that is a price worth paying for a UK-US trade deal?
We will be looking for a UK-US trade deal that improves trade between our two countries, that will bring prosperity and growth to this country and that will ensure that we can bring jobs to this country as well. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, in doing that, we will put UK interests and UK values first.
I recognise the issues that my hon. Friend has raised, and I can assure him that our commitment in relation to the northern parts of England, including Yorkshire, is absolutely clear. We want to back business growth right across the north, and we are backing the northern powerhouse to help the great cities and towns of the north to pool their strengths and take on the world. Yorkshire local enterprise partnerships have received an additional £156 million in Government funding this week, and we are spending a record £13 billion on transport across the north. As a result, there are more people in work in Yorkshire and the Humber than ever before, and the employment rate is at a record high. That is good news for people in the region and good news for our economy as a whole.
There are a number of organisations that we are part of as members of the European Union. As part of the work that we are doing to look at the United Kingdom’s future after we leave the European Union, we are looking at the arrangements we can put in place in relation to those issues. The pharmaceutical industry in this country is a very important part of our economy, and the ability of people to access these new drugs is also important. I assure the hon. Lady that we are looking seriously at this and will ensure that we have the arrangements that we need.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. He has long been a champion of entrepreneurship in this country, and I can tell him that in the industrial strategy we are committed to providing the best environment for business. The Treasury has established a patient capital review, for example, with a panel chaired by Sir Damon Buffini to look at the barriers that exist to long-term investment. We are also increasing investment in venture capital by the British Business Bank by £400 million, and that will unlock £1 billion of new finance. The Treasury is going to be publishing a consultation in the spring examining these issues, and I am sure my hon. Friend will wish to contribute and respond to that.
I am very happy to look at the tragic case that the hon. Lady describes. Our thoughts must be with Chris and Lydia at the terrible loss they experienced. As to the issue of what is happening in terms of the Greek criminal justice system, of course that is a matter for the Greek authorities, but I will look seriously at this case and see if there is anything that the Foreign Office can do.
President Trump has repeatedly said that he will bring back torture as an instrument of policy. When she sees him on Friday, will the Prime Minister make it clear that in no circumstances will she permit Britain to be dragged into facilitating that torture, as we were after 11 September?
I assure my right hon. Friend that our position on torture is clear: we do not sanction torture and do not get involved in it. That will continue to be our position.
People voted differently across the country. Parts of the country voted to remain and parts of the country voted to leave. What we do now is unite behind the result of the vote that took place. We come together as a country, we go out there, we make a success of this, and we ensure that we build a truly global Britain that will bring jobs to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and for his constituents.
This week, Milton Keynes celebrates its 50th birthday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We have been the most successful of new cities and have one of the highest rates of economic growth. Does the Prime Minister agree that Milton Keynes has a great future and will be central to delivering this Government’s ambitions?
I join my hon. Friend in marking Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday. I understand that he has secured a Westminster Hall debate on the subject later today, so I congratulate him on that. Milton Keynes is a great example of what can be achieved with a clear plan and strong local leadership. We are providing additional funding for the east-west rail project, which he supported through his chairing of the east-west rail all-party parliamentary group, and the Oxford to Cambridge expressway road scheme. We will see a country that works for everyone. Milton Keynes has had a great 50 years, but I am sure that it will have a great future as well.
The hon. Gentleman raises the difference in gauges on railways here and on the continent, which has obviously been an issue for some considerable time. We want to encourage rail freight, we have been encouraging it, and we will continue to do so.
The Ministry of Cake in Taunton, a company with a turnover of £30 million, has recently been bought by a French company called Mademoiselle Desserts. The Ministry of Cake trades across Europe and into China. Does the Prime Minister agree that that demonstrates confidence in our economy—in that a European company has bought into it—that we can unlock global trade and that the south-west is a terrific place to do business?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The investment of a French company into the company in her constituency shows people’s confidence in the future of our economy, the fundamental strengths of our economy and that we can unlock global trade. Of course, the south-west is a very good place to do business.
The issue of the detained fast track system in the asylum system is one that I obviously looked at when I was Home Secretary, and we made a number of changes to how we operated it. However, it is built on a simple principle: if somebody’s case for asylum is such that they are almost certain to be refused that asylum, we want to ensure that they can be removed from the country as quickly as possible, hence the detained fast track system.
Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assist in efforts to get an enterprise zone in my constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale as part of the industrial strategy? It turns out that the Labour council and county council are talking about an enterprise zone-esque project in the area but have not applied for any funding whatsoever. Will she please assist me in this endeavour?
I know what a champion for Morecambe and Lunesdale my hon. Friend is and has been as a Member of Parliament, and I am sure that the Chancellor and the Business Secretary will look at the issue he has raised. I should also say how sad it is that Labour councils are not willing to put forward proposals to increase the prosperity and economic growth in their areas.
First Minister of Scotland: Meeting
I will meet the First Minister and leaders of the devolved Administrations at the Joint Ministerial Committee on Monday, but of course we regularly engage with the Scottish Government on a wide range of issues.
When the Prime Minister does eventually meet the First Minister, will the Prime Minister confirm whether she supports the principle in the Scotland Act that whatever is not reserved is devolved? Will she be able to tell the First Minister what powers will come to the Scottish Parliament in the event of Brexit? Will she confirm that the great repeal Bill will not be the great power grab?
I have been very clear, and this was echoed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that no powers that are currently devolved are suddenly going to be taken back to the United Kingdom Government. We will be looking at and discussing with the devolved Administrations how we deal with those powers that are currently in Brussels when they come back to the United Kingdom. We want to ensure that those powers are dealt with so that we can maintain the important single market of the United Kingdom.
It is currently an offence to assault a police officer, immigration officer or prison officer, but it is not a specific offence to assault an NHS worker, whether they are a doctor, nurse or paramedic. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should consider extending a specific offence to cover such people, to make it absolutely clear that the public will not tolerate violence towards our hard-working members of the NHS?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Of course, we condemn assaults on anybody and any violence that takes place. The Secretary of State for Health has heard the case that my hon. Friend has put and will be happy to look into that issue.
The hon. Gentleman seems to know a lot about these ducal matters; it is most interesting. I am fascinated by the reply, so let’s hear it.
The hon. Gentleman is right that one of the tasks we will have when we leave the European Union is to decide what support is provided to agriculture as a result of our being outside the common agricultural policy. I assure him that we are taking the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom into account when we look at that system and what it should be in future.
Ah, yes, a Hampshire knight.
Last weekend, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a welcome visit to Ukraine, where he said that freedom and democracy are not tradeable commodities. As we mark the 25th anniversary of relations between our two Parliaments, may I invite my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to declare the continuing support of the United Kingdom for the maintenance of an independent sovereign state in Ukraine, which has been subjected to the most outrageous annexation of part of its property by Russia?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in confirming our commitment to the independent sovereign state of Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary has been doing a lot of work with other Foreign Ministers on this issue. We provide significant support to Ukraine, and I hope to be able to meet President Poroshenko soon and talk about the support we provide.
As I also said in my speech last week, I expect that we will be able to negotiate a good trade deal with the European Union, because it will be in our interests and the interests of the European Union to do so. There will be a vote on the deal for this Parliament. If this Parliament is not willing to accept a deal that has been decided on and agreed by the United Kingdom Government with the European Union, then, as I have said, we will have to fall back on other arrangements.
It was a great pleasure to welcome my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Cabinet to Sci-Tech Daresbury earlier this week. I welcome the Government’s industrial strategy, which will bring high-skill, high-wage jobs that will help close the north-south divide. The message is that Britain is open for business.
I and the whole Cabinet were very pleased to be able to visit Daresbury. I was pleased to sit down and meet small businesses on that particular site and to hear their support for what the Government are doing in the industrial strategy. We should be very clear that Britain is open for business. We will be out there trading around the world. We will be a global leader in free trade, bringing jobs, economic growth and prosperity to every part of this country.
I think the number of petitions presented in this Parliament is a matter for the House authorities. The hon. Gentleman also knows that the Government have already taken action in relation to the issue of women’s pensions by reducing the changes that will be experienced by women and putting extra money into that.
Following her excellent EU speech last week, will the Prime Minister consider unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK? Not only is that the decent thing to do, but, by taking the moral high ground, it will be a source of strength going forward in the negotiations. We can always return to the issue of non-reciprocation by the EU, if necessary, later in those negotiations.
I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has raised, but my position remains the same as it always has been. I expect, intend and want to be able to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom, but, as the British Prime Minister, it is only right that I should give consideration to the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in what will be the remaining 27 member states of the EU. That is why I want that reciprocal arrangement, but, as I said in my speech last week, I remain open to this being an issue that we negotiate at a very early stage in the negotiations. There are a good number of other European member states that want that too. Some do not, but I am hoping to settle this at an early stage.
The hon. Lady raises an important issue about disabled people in the workplace. It is one of which we are aware. Of course, as we see unemployment going down, the ratios do change to an extent. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking very seriously at how we can ensure that there are more disabled people in the workplace. I am sure that he will see the requests that she has made in relation to the APPG.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s meeting with the President of Turkey on Saturday, when we can show our solidarity in the fight against terrorism and deepen our trading relationship? Will she also seek support for a united and independent Cyprus, free from Turkish troops?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter. There are important issues that I will be discussing with President Erdogan and with the Prime Minister of Turkey when I meet them on Saturday. On Cyprus, I am hopeful that the talks will continue and that we will come to a solution—we are closer to a solution now than we have been before. I have already spoken to Prime Minister Tsipras and to President Erdogan about the need to ensure that we are creative in the thinking and in the finding of a solution. I had a further telephone call with Nicos Anastasiades over the weekend about this very issue. We stand ready as a guarantor to play our part in ensuring that we see a successful conclusion of these talks and the reunification of Cyprus that people have been working towards for some time.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing a speedy recovery to the police officer who was shot and injured in my constituency in north Belfast on Sunday night. Thankfully, he was not killed—but of course that was not the terrorists’ intention. It is clear that the political instability brought about by Sinn Féin’s collapse of the Assembly is not in anyone’s interests in Northern Ireland. It is also clear that it is Sinn Féin’s intention to try to rewrite the history of the past. Will the Prime Minister make it very clear that the one-sided legal persecution of police officers and soldiers who did so much to bring peace to Northern Ireland will not be allowed to continue?
As the right hon. Gentleman indicates, political stability in Northern Ireland has been hard earned over some considerable time, and none of us wants to see that thrown away. He raised the issue of the current situation with a number of investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland into former soldiers and their activities in Northern Ireland. It is absolutely right that we recognise that the majority of people who lost their life did so as a result of terrorist activity, and it is important that that terrorist activity is looked into. That is why one of the issues that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is looking at is the legacy question and how the issue of investigation on all sides can take place in future.
Social care provided by Labour-led Derbyshire County Council is failing miserably, with serious errors in process leading to shameful consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in my constituency. It is clearly not about funding, as the council sits on reserves of about £233 million. Will my right hon. Friend instigate an urgent review of social care practice at the county council, because the people of Derbyshire deserve better?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The success of social care is not wholly about funding. It is about practice on the ground, which is why we have made it clear that it is important to see integration between social and health care at a local level, and local authorities should play their part in delivering that. This is an issue that needs to be addressed for the longer term as well. It has been ducked by Governments for too long in this country, which is why this Government are determined to introduce a sustainable programme for social care in future.
The right hon. Gentleman never knew he was quite that popular.
I was going to say, Mr Speaker, that it brings back memories.
As the first foreign leader to meet President Trump, the Prime Minister carries a huge responsibility on behalf not just of this country but of the whole international community in the tone that she sets. Can I ask her to reassure us that she will say to the President that he must abide by, and not withdraw from, the Paris climate change treaty? In case it is helpful, can she offer the services of UK scientists to convince the President that climate change is not a hoax invented by the Chinese?
I recognise the role that the right hon. Gentleman has played in looking at the issue of climate change, and I hope that he recognises the commitment that the Government have shown to this issue, with the legislation that we have introduced and the changes that we have brought about in the energy sector and the use of different forms of energy. The Obama Administration signed up to the Paris climate change agreement, and we have now done so. I would hope that all parties would continue to ensure that that climate change agreement is put into practice.