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Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2018

I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with all those caught up in the horrific incident in Strasbourg last night, and we stand ready to give whatever support the French authorities may need.

Today, I will have meetings—possibly many meetings—with ministerial colleagues and others.

Just a normal day in the office then, Prime Minister. I also want to give my condolences for the tragic events in the beautiful city of Strasbourg.

Last year, the Prime Minister told us that there was not going to be a general election, and then there was. This week, she told us that she was not going to pull the meaningful vote, and then she did. Can I ask her now if she is going to rule out having a general election and a people’s vote?

Can I say to the hon. Lady, first of all, that I think that a general election at this point in time, in the middle of our negotiations, would not be in the national interest? Secondly, as she will have heard me say before in this House, I think we should respect the result of the referendum that took place in 2016.

Q6. Given what we could call uncertainty about the future of the withdrawal agreement, could the Prime Minister give people some certainty—that is, EU nationals in the UK—that whatever happens to that deal, they will be allowed to stay on roughly the same terms that are in that draft agreement? (908161)

My hon. Friend raises an important point, because I know that EU nationals living here in the United Kingdom will be concerned about what might happen if a deal is not agreed. We have been very clear as a Government that the withdrawal agreement that we have agreed does respect the rights, and protect and guarantee the rights, of EU citizens living here. But in the unlikely event of no deal, I have been clear that this Government will still protect EU citizens’ rights, and we would wish to know that actually, other EU Governments would respect the rights of UK citizens living in the EU as well.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in joining the Prime Minister in condemning the shootings in Strasbourg and extending our sympathy to the families of those that have been killed or injured there.

I am delighted to see the Prime Minister back in her place after her little journeys. Having told the media this morning that she has made progress, can she now update the House on what changes she has secured to her deal?

I travelled to Europe yesterday and met several Heads of Government, the Commission and the European Council, precisely because I had listened to concerns raised in the House. I took them to Europe, and no one I met yesterday is in any doubt about the strength of concern in the House about the duration of the backstop. I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what progress we have made, because actually he could not care less what I bring back from Brussels. He has been clear that whatever comes back from Brussels he will vote against it, because all he wants to do is create chaos in our economy, division in our society and damage to our economy. That’s Labour. That’s Corbyn.

It is very clear that nothing has changed. If the Prime Minister needed any clarification about the temporary nature of the backstop, she need not have gone to Europe; she could have just asked her Attorney General, who said it endured indefinitely.

As the Prime Minister may recall, when she left on her journey, we were about to start day four of a five-day debate on the deal. Since she has not achieved any changes, either to the withdrawal agreement or to the future partnership, will she now confirm that we will have the concluding days of debate and votes within the next seven days, before the House rises for the Christmas recess?

I had discussions with people yesterday, and I have made some progress, but of course there is an EU Council meeting and further discussions are to be held. The right hon. Gentleman asks about the meaningful vote. The meaningful vote has been deferred, and the date of that vote will be announced in the normal way. The business motion will be agreed and discussed in the usual way. [Hon. Members: “When?”] I will tell Opposition Members when. We had a meaningful vote in the referendum in 2016 and, if he wants a meaningful date, I will give him one: 29 March 2019, when we leave the European Union.

That is totally and utterly unacceptable to this House. This House agreed a programme motion. This House agreed the five days of debate. This House agreed when the vote would take place. The Government unilaterally pulled that and denied the House the chance of a vote on this crucial matter. The Prime Minister and her Government have already been found in contempt of Parliament. Her behaviour today is just contemptuous of this Parliament and this process. Her appalling behaviour needs to be held to account by the House. The people of this country are more and more concerned about the ongoing chaos at the centre of her Government. [Interruption.]

Order. We must have calm on both sides of the House. [Interruption.] Order. The questions will be heard, however long it takes, and so will the answers. Do not try to shout down. All you do is wear out your voices, and you will not succeed. Amen. End of subject.

When the Prime Minister made her Lancaster House speech, she set out her negotiating objectives, and they are worth quoting. The first objective is crucial:

“We will provide certainty wherever we can.”

Does this look or feel like certainty? Can she mark her own homework?

Indeed we have at every stage—the right hon. Gentleman said we would not get agreement in December, and we did; he said we would not get the implementation period in March, and we did; he said we would not get a withdrawal agreement and political declaration, and we did. Concerns have been raised about the backstop. As I said, we continue those discussions, and no one yesterday was left in any doubt about the strength of feeling in the House. Of course, we all know what his answer to the backstop is: ignore the referendum and stay in the EU.

If this is an agreement, why will the Prime Minister not put that agreement to a vote of this House?

The Federation of Small Businesses says that planning ahead is impossible. Many, many other people around the country find planning ahead impossible, because all that they see is chaos at the heart of Government and an inability to plan anything for the future. Yesterday the cross-party Exiting the European Union Committee, including Conservative Members, unanimously found that the Prime Minister’s deal

“fails to offer sufficient clarity or certainty about the future.”

Will the Prime Minister give the country at least some certainty and categorically rule out the option of no deal?

The way to ensure that there is no no deal is to agree a deal. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the impact on businesses. I will tell him what will have an impact on businesses up and down the country: what we learnt just a few days ago, that the shadow Chancellor wants to change the law so that—[Interruption.]

Businesses will be affected by the fact that the shadow Chancellor wants to change the law so that trade unions in this country can go on strike in solidarity with any strike anywhere in the world. That may be solidarity with trade unions. It is not solidarity with small businesses, and it is not solidarity with the ordinary working people who would pay the price of Labour.

My question was, would the Prime Minister rule out no deal? She has failed to do that.

Let me tell the Prime Minister that this sorry saga is frustrating for businesses, for workers, and, actually, for many of those behind her as well. Many of them are trying to work constructively to find a solution. Yesterday, her former Brexit Minister said that a new customs union with the EU “could be the basis for a parliamentary consensus”. When will she start listening to people who actually want to find a constructive solution, rather than denying Parliament the right to debate it and vote on her deal?

We all know one group of people who do not want to find a constructive solution: the Labour party’s Front Bench. That is what we see on the other side of the Chamber: no plan, no clue, no Brexit.

The time for dithering and delay is over. The Prime Minister has negotiated her deal—[Interruption.]

The time for dithering and delay by this Government is over. The Prime Minister has negotiated her deal. She has told us that it is the best and only deal available. There can be no more excuses, no more running away: put it before Parliament and let us have the vote. Whatever happens with the Prime Minister’s Conservative leadership vote today is utterly irrelevant to the lives of people across our country. It does nothing to solve the Government’s inability to get a deal that works for the whole country. The Prime Minister has already been found to be in contempt of Parliament. Will she now put this deal before Parliament and halt the escalating crisis which is so damaging to the lives of so many people in this country?

We all know from the multiplicity of changes in plan that we have seen from the Labour party that there is one thing we can be sure about: whatever U-turn comes next in Labour’s policy, the right hon. Gentleman will send out—[Interruption.] He will send out—[Interruption.]

Order. I said a moment ago that the Leader of the Opposition must be heard, and, belatedly, he was; and the Prime Minister will be heard.

Whatever change in Labour policy we see, the right hon. Gentleman will send out his henchman to reveal it all to the world: “The Inconstant Gardiner.” [Interruption.] Somebody will explain that to the Leader of the Opposition a little later. The right hon. Gentleman should be honest with people about his position: he could not care less about Brexit; what he wants to do is bring down the Government, create uncertainty, sow division and crash our economy. The biggest threat to people and to this country is not in leaving the EU; it is a Corbyn Government.

Q8. A few weeks ago Ben McKenzie from Neilston, a pupil at Eastwood High School, took his own life, having been the victim of cruel online threats and bullying on social media and his mobile phone; he was just 13 years old. Nearly £10,000 has been raised in his memory for Beautiful Inside and Out, a Scottish charity that supports the families of victims of child suicide. Can the Prime Minister set out what this Government are going to do to tackle cyber-bullying not just to support and empower victims, but to deter and prevent children who might be engaging in these acts without realising the consequences they can have, because no family should be enduring a Christmas without their child due to suicide? (908163)

My hon. Friend has raised an extremely serious issue and I am sure the thoughts and condolences of the whole House are with Ben’s family at this terrible time after this terrible tragedy. We need to address cyber-bullying in both ways, as my hon. Friend said: both working with the internet companies on what is put out on their platforms and with schools to help people recognise this material and deal with it, and supporting those children who could, as my hon. Friend said, be the victims or who might be carrying out these attacks. Our consultation last year on internet safety showed that despite a range of voluntary initiatives and good work by a range of charities—I commend the work of the Scottish charity Beautiful Inside and Out and the amount of money that has been raised—this remains a serious issue for millions of people. I know the Scottish Government have been addressing this with their “Respect for All” approach, and we have funded the UK Safer Internet Centre, which is providing guidance for schools, but we should all be taking this issue seriously and the Government will continue to work on this.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on cyber-bullying and indeed on the terrible tragedy yesterday in Strasbourg?

We were promised “strong and stable” and we were promised a vote on the Brexit deal, but this Prime Minister cannot even do her own job because of the Tory civil war. This Government are an embarrassment. Christmas is just two weeks away; will the Prime Minister bring forward her meaningful vote on the Brexit deal next week?

As I have said, we are having discussions with European leaders and others and those discussions will continue. What matters is that they are in no doubt about the strength of feeling in this House on the issue of the duration of the backstop and they are in no doubt about the strength of feeling in this House that that should be addressed in a way that has legal force, and that is what we are discussing and continuing to negotiate with the European Union. As I said earlier, the date of the deferred vote and debate on this will be announced in due course in the normal way.

That is contemptuous of Parliament. Parliament voted for a meaningful vote; we should be having the vote and it should be happening next week. This Government are a farce: the Tory party is in chaos, the Prime Minister is a disgrace through her actions. The reality is that people across Scotland and the UK are seeing this today. Prime Minister, take responsibility, do the right thing: resign.

The right hon. Gentleman makes his remarks about deferring the vote, but it is precisely because I and my colleagues in Government have listened to the views of people across this House that we are pursuing this issue further with the European Union. That is being respectful of the views that have been raised in this House.

Q10. Many businesses up and down the country have put their plans on hold while waiting for us here in Parliament to agree our future trading relationship with our biggest and closest neighbour. Does the Prime Minister agree that their interests, and those of their workers, their suppliers and the country as a whole, are best served by concluding the agreement with the remaining 27 and by those on this side of the House supporting her in the vote this evening? (908165)

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I agree with him, particularly on the need to ensure that we do not increase or create more uncertainty. The public voted to leave the EU and they want us to secure a deal that delivers on that result. We should not risk handing control of the Brexit negotiations to Opposition MPs in Parliament, because that would risk delaying or even stopping Brexit. None of that would be in the national interest, so I think we need to get on and deliver a good Brexit for the country.

Q2. When I stood for election, I vowed not to vote for any Brexit deal that was not in the best interests of Lewisham West and Penge. After pulling the Brexit vote, the Prime Minister must now concede that her deal is doomed. The House and her own party appear to have no confidence in her, but will she have confidence in the people and give them a say with a people’s vote, including an option to remain in the EU? (908157)

We have deferred the vote on the agreement. On the issue that the hon. Lady raises about putting the vote to the people, I say to her, as I said to the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and as I have said on many occasions in this House, that the House put its faith in the votes of the people of this country when we decided to give them the referendum in 2016. People voted to leave the European Union and it is now our duty to deliver on that.

Q12. This House has a duty to ensure that the next generation live better lives tomorrow than we live today, so how does my right hon. Friend respond to the audit carried out by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that found that three quarters of the hundreds of babies who die or suffer brain damage each year could be saved by better care? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that every expectant mother and unborn baby receives appropriate monitoring? (908167)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. I know that it is close to the hearts of many Members of the House. Every death or injury of a child is a tragedy, and we have a commitment to halving the rates of stillbirth, neonatal death and brain injury after birth by 2025. That is supported by system-wide action under our national maternity safety strategy. We are increasing midwifery training places by 25% and investing millions of pounds in training for staff and in new safety equipment to ensure that the NHS can provide world-class care for mothers and babies, but we recognise that we need to continue to ensure that we do all we can, and I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that we will do that.

Q3. As the right hon. Lady reflects on her premiership, may I ask her which of the following judgments she most regrets: laying down red lines before the Brexit talks had even begun; wasting precious negotiating time on a general election; or consistently failing to face down the hardliners on her own Benches and reach out to forge a consensus in this House and the country? (908158)

I will tell the hon. Gentleman the judgment that was the right one. It was to accept the vote of the people in the referendum, to deliver on the vote of the people in the referendum and to deliver a good Brexit for the future of this country.

Q15. Small businesses are the backbone of my constituency. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced a revitalisation fund for our high streets. May I ask my right hon. Friend when it will be made available? It will prove a vital lifeline for my constituency, because of the anti-business policies of Labour-controlled Sefton Council. (908170)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the help that we have announced for the high street. He is absolutely right that the Leader of the Opposition may stand up and claim to be interested in business and small businesses, but we so often see Labour councils up and down the country doing exactly the opposite. We have provided £675 million in the future high streets fund so that plans can be made to help to make high streets and town centres fit for the future, and we will be publishing a prospectus for the fund shortly.

It is important that we deliver on Brexit for the people of this country. I believe that we should do that with a good deal with the European Union, and I believe that that is what we have negotiated. I also believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) said from a sedentary position, that the worst thing for this country would be a Labour Government.

At a time of grave national crisis on an issue that we all agree is of huge importance to future generations, can my right hon. Friend think of anything more unhelpful, irrelevant and irresponsible than for the Conservative party to embark on weeks of a Conservative leadership election?

My right hon. and learned Friend has raised an important issue. It is about the impact that the weeks of that campaign would have on the decision that the House has to take and that we have to take as a country in relation to leaving the European Union, because there is no doubt that the process would go beyond the legislated date of 21 January. That would mean that one of the first things that the new leader would have to do—were a new leader to come in—would be either to extend article 50 or rescind it, which would mean either delaying or stopping Brexit.

Q5. Away from the madness of the Prime Minister’s own MPs, may I welcome her back to the real world? Last week, Marian was forced to queue outside St George’s hospital, Tooting, with a badly infected left leg because the A&E was full. Knowing what happened to my constituent, will the Prime Minister tell me how long that queue will be should the local NHS get its way and move the A&E at St Helier hospital to leafy, wealthy Belmont? (908160)

I am concerned to hear the case that the hon. Lady raises about her constituent. It is absolutely right that decisions on delivery of services should be taken by local clinicians, because they are best placed to assess local need. I understand that the local NHS is looking at the considerable challenges facing Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust and at the options for future services, but that process is at an early stage. Knowing the hon. Lady as I do from when we both sat on Merton Council, I am sure that she will continue to raise the concerns of her constituents, and I would encourage her to do so.

Shortly, 34,000 copies of “Your Money Matters”, a free personal finance textbook, will wing their way to every secondary school in the land. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying thank you to Martin Lewis, who is its funder, Young Money, which is the organisation behind it, the all-party parliamentary group on financial education for young people, which I chair, and, not least, the Department for Education for making this fantastic resource for our young people happen?

My hon. Friend has done an important thing today by raising people’s awareness of this booklet, which will be extremely important for secondary schools. It is a really good piece of work, and I congratulate all those involved. I know that my hon. Friend, through his chairmanship of the APPG, has taken this matter seriously and has been championing it for a long time. I hope that he is pleased to see this piece of work being done, and I am sure that he will want to carry on to ensure that financial education is taking place and that young people are prepared for their future lives.

Q7. The economy is stalling, business investment is falling, and we have the grotesque—[Interruption.] (908162)

Order. I could not care less what somebody chuntering from a sedentary position says is or is not the truth; what I care about is that the hon. Lady will not be shouted down any more than any other Member in this place will be shouted down. Be quiet and listen.

The economy is stalling, business investment is plummeting and we have the grotesque spectacle of Tory MPs putting party interest before the public interest. If the Prime Minister survives tonight’s vote, will she finally rule out no deal, face down her hard Brexiteers, let this place vote down her deal and put it back to the public in a people’s vote?

First, if the hon. Lady wants to ensure no deal, the way to ensure no deal is to agree a deal. That is the best way to ensure there is not no deal. She talks about the economy: employment is at a record high, wages are growing and we have had 23 consecutive quarters of growth, the longest run in the G7. That is a balanced approach to the economy. That is Conservatives delivering for the people of this country.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to take her mind back to September 1997, when a referendum was held in Wales? The result of that referendum was 50.3% in favour of an Assembly and 49.7% against, on a turnout of 50%. Nobody questioned whether we should accept the referendum. Does that hold any future reference for us?

I thank my right hon. Friend for making a very important point about the principle that was accepted at that time, which was, however small the margin, the overall result of the vote should be accepted and acted on.

Q9. Last week, I hosted an event to raise money for Hallam FM’s Mission Christmas, a charity doing fantastic work helping children in need in my constituency, and for the local food bank. Indeed, many of the 41% of children living in poverty in my community will really need help this Christmas. What message does the Prime Minister have for those working hard to make ends meet but who will find themselves forced to rely on food banks for their family’s Christmas meal and Mission Christmas for their children’s presents? (908164)

First, may I say how good it is that Hallam FM has been doing this work? There are many charities up and down the country that work to provide a better Christmas than many children would otherwise have. That is important. We do not want to see people relying on food banks, but the way to ensure that people are able to provide for themselves without having to rely on food banks is to ensure that people are in work, that that work is well paid and that work always pays, which is exactly what we are doing.

Residents in Erewash are clear that we need a strong Government to deliver on Brexit and on our domestic agenda. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for us to unite on the Conservative Benches, as the real threat to our great nation is the party opposite and a Labour Government?

I echo my hon. Friend’s comments. Many members of the public want us to get on with Brexit and to ensure that we are delivering for them on the domestic agenda, like the record number of new homes we have seen being built—the best number ever, bar one year, in the last 31 years. It is important that we get on to that domestic agenda, and to do that we must unite as a party and bring our country back together again. She is absolutely right that the greatest threat to the jobs, livelihoods and futures of her constituents, and constituents around the United Kingdom, would be a Labour Government.

Q11. Last month, a 16-year-old boy was tragically killed in a knife attack in my constituency. This came as knife crime has almost doubled in Coventry over the last five years. I know that some good multi-agency work is happening in this field, but does the Prime Minister still think that we have enough police officers on our streets to be able to fight crime and the fear of crime? (908166)

I extend my condolences to the family of the hon. Lady’s constituent who suffered this terrible attack. Obviously there is a concern, and I recognise that concern, about the rise in violent crime, which is why the Government have produced the serious violence strategy. Members on both sides of the House, on a cross-party basis, sit on the serious violence taskforce. We are giving extra powers to the police to tackle knife crime through the Offensive Weapons Bill, and we have strengthened firearms control through the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

This is not just about police action. We have announced the £200 million youth endowment fund, which will help to work with young people who otherwise might find themselves drawn into gangs and the use of knives, to prevent them from doing so and to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns and those of my constituents about the further delays and increased costs of Crossrail, and the failures of Transport for London and the Labour Mayor of London?

I absolutely share my right hon. Friend’s concerns and his constituents’ concerns, and indeed my constituency is also affected by the delay of Crossrail. Yes, we should recognise the role that TfL and the Labour Mayor of London have played in this. We want to see Crossrail. It is going to be of benefit to my right hon. Friend’s constituents and mine, and the Labour Mayor needs to get his finger out on this.

Q13. In 1997, the British Prime Minister issued an apology to the people of Ireland for Britain’s historic role in the great famine—a famine that saw 1 million people die and 1 million people be displaced from their homeland. That apology sent out a powerful and important message. Will this Prime Minister condemn any notion and any suggestion that food shortages in Ireland will be used to strengthen Britain’s negotiating hand during the Brexit negotiations? (908168)

I am happy to absolutely give that assurance. We would not use that issue in any sense in the negotiating strategy. We want to work with the Irish Government to ensure that we are providing a good Brexit for the UK and for Ireland, and I believe that would be a good Brexit for the European Union.

One of my constituents in Oadby has written to me to say, “I voted for Brexit and I urge you to support our Prime Minister unreservedly and vote for this Brexit deal.” Another constituent in Great Glen says, “The Prime Minister has done a terrific job in trying circumstances. The headbangers from all sides and the supine attitude of the Labour party has meant she has had an impossible job, but she has done so well.” Finally, a third from Saddington writes, “I am an employer of 30 people in the Harborough constituency. To vote against the deal will cause political chaos and open the door to the worst possible scenario for this country—a far left Labour Government.” Does the Prime Minister agree with me that my constituents have got a lot more common sense than the Members opposite, who want to stop Brexit and fundamentally damage our democracy?

Q14. The self-serving chaos unleashed on this Parliament this week is emblematic of the way in which this Government have consistently treated the people of our country. In the light of the Prime Minister’s conduct, the pound has fallen by 2% in the past 48 hours—her Budget’s equivalent of running the entire NHS for six weeks. Does she believe that this is a price worth paying for her Brexit deal? (908169)

The hon. Lady talks about what the Government are doing for the NHS. It is this Government who are establishing a 10-year plan for the sustainability of the NHS and putting the biggest cash boost in its history into the NHS to ensure it is there for all our constituents, now and in the future.

Does the Prime Minister agree that we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to our police officers, prison officers and probation staff, who are in the frontline of keeping us all safe, which is the first duty of any Government? In that regard, may I ask her to take a close and personal interest in the 2019-20 police funding settlement?

First, let me agree with my hon. Friend; we do owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all those who are on the frontline, putting themselves potentially at risk for us—not only police officers, but prison officers and probation officers, whom he referenced. I assure him that, as he has, I have been looking, with the Home Secretary, at the 2019-20 police funding settlement.

The plotters behind her know that any replacement Prime Minister would face exactly the same party arithmetic and exactly the same deadlock on Brexit. This deadlock can be changed only by going back to the people. Today, The Times also said that is her only chance of saving her job and saving her deal. So can she tell the House: what exactly is she afraid of?

The issue is that this House overwhelmingly voted to give the choice to the British people as to whether or not to leave the European Union. The British people chose to leave the European Union and I strongly believe it is the duty of Members of this House to deliver on that vote.

What does the Prime Minister consider most important: playing parliamentary parlour games in this place, or protecting jobs and businesses by going back to the negotiating table and thrashing out a deal that will pass through this House?

It is in the interests of employers and in the interests of people whose jobs are at stake to make sure that we get a good deal with the European Union. That is why it is important that I was in Europe yesterday and will continue to be in Europe doing exactly as my hon. Friend says: negotiating the deal that I believe can get the support of this House to ensure we can move forward and deliver a good Brexit.

Does the Prime Minister judge that it is more welcome or more appropriate to face a no confidence motion from her Back Benchers or from the Leader of the Opposition?

Obviously, one of those will take place. What I think is important for everybody in this House is to recognise that we have, I believe, a solemn duty to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. I believe the best way of doing that is with a good Brexit deal with the European Union that protects jobs and honours the referendum. I believe that is the deal we have negotiated.

Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman, whose mellifluous tones we listened to only a few moments ago, that I am very happy to entertain a point of order, but that it should come after the urgent question. I am sure he will retain the thrust of it in his head and he will share it with the House in due course. We will await that with eager anticipation, but not until we have had the urgent question from Emily Thornberry.