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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2019


The Secretary of State was asked—

EU Withdrawal Agreement

9. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the Welsh economy of the EU withdrawal agreement. (908679)

13. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on Wales of the EU withdrawal agreement. (908683)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, before I answer the questions, may I say that I am sure the House will want to join me in paying tribute and respect to Assembly Member Steffan Lewis, who sadly died just over a week ago? He was a bright and dedicated politician who had an exceptional future in front of him, with so much to offer Wales. My prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Shona, and son, Celyn, at this most difficult time.

I can update the House that the UK air accidents investigation branch is working with the relevant rescue and transportation authorities in relation to Emiliano Sala and the pilot who went missing on Monday evening. I am sure that the whole House wishes to join me in hoping for a positive outcome.

The Government are working to identify the broadest possible consensus on a way forward so that we leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly manner. We are engaging with Members on both sides of the House and with representatives of business groups, civil society, trade unions and others.

A recent report by The UK in a Changing Europe has found that almost half of all respondents oppose the Prime Minister’s deal, with only 23% in support. How can the Secretary of State reconcile his position of being Wales’s champion in Westminster when this place is working contrary to Welsh public opinion?

In the first instance, I remind the hon. Lady that Wales voted to leave the European Union in even stronger numbers than the rest of the United Kingdom. The withdrawal agreement sets out the basis on which, and how, we will leave the European Union. In the light of last week’s votes, we are determined to make amendments and to develop a document in consultation with colleagues across the House in order to win the House of Commons’ support.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about Steffan Lewis? He and I worked together as young researchers in the National Assembly for Wales. We must remember the words of our colleague Jo Cox that we do have a lot more in common across this House and across the devolved institutions.

Will the Secretary of State simply rule out now, and make representations to the Prime Minister to rule out, no deal, so that the automotive industry in Bridgend—Ford in Bridgend employs many of my constituents—can have certainty beyond March? This continuing planning for no deal is providing no certainty to anybody.

I would say to the hon. Gentleman that the best way of avoiding no deal is obviously to get a deal. It was interesting that the hon. Gentleman voted against the deal last week. We will continue to engage across the House and with the devolved Administrations, and we are optimistic that we will continue to make amendments to the document that will gain a deal with the European Union.

In an excellent briefing on the 9th, organised by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the effects of leaving the European Union on businesses in Northern Ireland, I was told the slightly unknown fact that 40% of Northern Ireland perishable food exports come through Holyhead. This fact was not known to the people I met then, and is perhaps not known to other Members of this House. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of a no deal on the supply chains that sustain the exports of such foods through the port of Holyhead, and will he confirm what steps he is taking personally to mitigate that impact?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the port of Holyhead. It is the second busiest port in the UK during the summer months, but of course all year round it is pretty critical to the supply chain, particularly for foodstuffs that come from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A ports working group has been in place for quite some time—it involves the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the relevant UK Government agencies—to plan for a deal, and also to plan for no deal, as a responsible Government would do.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that voters in Wales will not forgive this place if we fail to respect the outcome of the 2016 referendum, and that businesses in Wales will not forgive us if we create a set of circumstances that makes their job of creating jobs in Wales even harder? Given those two imperatives, does my right hon. Friend agree that actually passing a withdrawal agreement—passing a deal—is absolutely essential now?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. He obviously recognises the importance of gaining a deal, and I have no doubt he will play a significant part in working with the Government and influencing colleagues in understanding the opportunities and the challenges that we face. He is absolutely right: the ports in Pembrokeshire are extremely important to the Welsh economy—my right hon. Friend regularly highlights those—but he also understands the importance of agriculture and manufacturing, and why a deal is so important to those sectors, too.

What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the opportunities for Wales, once we leave the European Union, of more jobs and investment, and also of the potential for Wales to boom, as opposed to the doom and gloom of the Labour party?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. He will be well aware that, in the past quarter, the UK economy was growing faster than the eurozone economy—the UK grew by 0.6% while the German and Italian economies went into decline. That highlights some of the opportunities that we face but, of course, we can grasp them in the smoothest way only if we manage to get a deal with the European Union.

Given that the Wales CBI has said that a no-deal Brexit will see a £7 billion annual fall in Welsh manufacturing output and output generally in the economy, will he, for goodness’ sake, simply admit that a no-deal Brexit will be bad for Wales? Before he responds, let me say that I do not want a Maybotic answer.

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are many predictions in economic forecasts, but they are forecasts rather than fact. He will have predicted a recession after the 2010 general election—he may well have even predicted a double or treble-dip recession—but I hope that he will recognise the fantastic employment data that was published yesterday showing record numbers of people in work in Wales. The inactivity rates in Wales are at staggeringly positive numbers, matching the rest of the UK for the first time since records began.

I echo the words of the Secretary of State with regard to Steffan Lewis and Emiliano Sala.

The Secretary of State voted for the Prime Minister’s disastrously flawed withdrawal agreement—he was one of the few, not the many. Will he explain why the Government pretend that nothing has changed, despite their suffering the biggest defeat in parliamentary history?

It is no secret that the House did not support the deal that was presented to it last week, but we are committed to working with colleagues across our own Benches, and across the House, to come forward with a proposal that can gather the support of the House of Commons and, obviously, to negotiate with the European Union in order to get a deal. I am sure that the hon. Lady would much prefer to see a deal and I challenge her to say whether she was comfortable being in the same Lobby as some colleagues, from all parts of the House, who would like to see no deal.

I think that that was a Cairnsbotic answer.

Yesterday, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, cleared Government business in the Welsh Assembly so that he and his Cabinet Ministers could make urgent statements on how a no-deal outcome would be so disastrous for the people of Wales. Will the Secretary of State tell us if he will be voting for amendments put forward in this House to avoid a no-deal outcome, or will he, like his Prime Minister, put party before country?

I can advise the House that the UK Government have laid 75 statutory instruments at the Assembly’s request. We have had countless meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee and the Prime Minister has agreed to invite the First Minister to the European Union Exit and Trade (Preparedness) Sub-Committee. I hope that that demonstrates the joint work that is taking place. The hon. Lady talks about putting party interests first. I cannot understand why the First Minister of Wales is happy to meet the Prime Minister—they will be meeting later today—but the Leader of the Opposition refuses to meet her to discuss the prospect of a deal, yet seems always happy to meet the IRA.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the design of the UK shared prosperity fund. (908671)

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of the UK shared prosperity fund on Wales. (908675)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Welsh Government Ministers on a range of issues affecting Wales, including on the UK shared prosperity fund.

EU structural funds have been crucial for communities across Wales, and it is vital that Wales must not be left behind—we need that assurance. Why has it taken so long to get any detail from the Government on the shared prosperity fund, not least the consultation, which was promised by the Government before Christmas?

I agree that the UK shared prosperity fund will be extremely important to all parts of the UK. My specific interest is protecting Welsh interests in the development of that policy. On 14 January, I spoke to the Welsh Government’s Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles, to update him on the latest stages of the plans for consultation, and I also committed to sharing that with him before we formally consult. Of course we want to engage with a whole load of stakeholders. There is widespread recognition that the current structure does not work, and we have an opportunity to get it right.

Between 2014 and 2020, Wales will have received £2.4 billion in structural funding, or over 20% of the total UK allocation of EU funds. Will the UK Government ensure that Wales continues to receive at least an equivalent share of funding from the shared prosperity fund?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, in which he highlights some of the most recent data. The complete data on the period since European structural funding was introduced show that more than £4 billion has been spent over 17 years, but I am sure he agrees that we have not always got the best value out of that investment—there are several audit reports to that effect. Of course, any quantum of the UK shared prosperity fund is a matter reserved for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor during the comprehensive spending review.

Given the not unreasonable concern in north Wales about Hitachi’s decision to suspend development of Wylfa B, is my right hon. Friend willing to meet representatives of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to discuss ways in which the shared prosperity fund may be used to support the regional economy?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work in securing Hitachi’s interest in Wylfa when RWE and E.ON withdrew their interest from the project. Although last week’s decision is disappointing, our focus is on maintaining momentum towards the development consent. Of course I am happy to meet the board and my right hon. Friend to discuss how we can best use influences such as the shared prosperity fund and the north Wales growth deal. We will happily keep an open mind, but these matters are project-led, and the strength of resource depends on the quality of the project.

The UK shared prosperity fund should be just that—a UK-wide fund. What discussions have my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Scotland had with the Treasury to ensure that the UK Government have a positive impact on the lives of the people of Wales and Scotland?

My hon. Friend has highlighted inefficiencies in the current proposal, and there is a range of options for how we can best work on those. We are going out to consultation very soon. We have cross-Government discussions and consideration of this subject, but I do not want to pre-empt the consultation. I encourage my hon. Friend to engage with me, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Treasury.

In the late 1990s, the Secretary of State’s party was voting against the existence of the National Assembly. In 2005, it had a manifesto option of abolishing the Assembly. Can he understand why many Opposition Members do not believe that he truly wants to involve our National Assembly for Wales in the governance of the UK shared prosperity fund?

That question is a bit rich coming from the hon. Lady, given that her party’s Government left us with the famous legislative consent order motions, which meant that the Welsh Government could not even pass primary legislation in certain areas without Parliament’s explicit control. I point to the Wales Acts 2014 and 2017 and to the referendum, which extended the powers of the Welsh Assembly, as well as countless Joint Ministerial Committee meetings and this afternoon’s meeting between the Prime Minister and the First Minister to discuss how best to manage Brexit.

Universal Credit: Low-income Families

3. What assessment he has made of the effect on low-income families of the roll-out of universal credit in Wales. (908672)

5. What assessment he has made of the effect on low-income families of the roll-out of universal credit in Wales. (908674)

Universal credit is available in every jobcentre in Wales. Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families, and employment in Wales is at a record high.

Twenty-six per cent. of people in Wales have a disability and 39% of them are in poverty—both the highest proportion in the UK. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of people who lost severe disability premium when they transferred on to universal credit and the impact on those individuals, their families and their communities?

In recent weeks, an assessment has been conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State has made it clear that it is vital that we reform to deliver a fair and compassionate welfare system. This is an ongoing piece of work. It is essential that people who have been trapped out of work by a confusing and complex mix of tax credits and benefits are helped into work.

Many organisations in my constituency do great work mitigating the effects of the universal credit roll-out, but it is still causing great hardship. Have Ministers asked the Prime Minister to fully stop the roll-out, or are they simply not standing up for Wales?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is fully committed to not rushing the migration of universal credit; she will proceed with the utmost care and attention. As she has announced, managed migration will be piloted this year, involving 10,000 people, following which the Government will report on their findings. Migration beyond the pilot number will not occur until my right hon. Friend has brought legislation back to this House to extend that migration.

Severn Bridges Tolls

4. What assessment he has made of the effect on the economy of Wales of removing the tolls from the Severn bridges. (908673)

The removal of the tolls from the Severn river crossings will drive the biggest economic stimulus Wales has seen in decades, putting over £1,400 a year back into the pockets of hard-working motorists and boosting the south Wales economy alone by £100 million.

I am delighted to hear that positive assessment from my right hon. Friend of the impact of removing the tolls, which add a significant cost to doing business between the south-west of England and Wales. Will he advise on what discussions he is having to exploit this opportunity by identifying any job-creating developments this might inspire on the M4/M5 corridor?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in this area to encourage closer working between this super-region that is being developed. The great western powerhouse allows the south-west of England and south Wales to market themselves jointly to start competing with the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. I know that he has a strong interest in the M5 and the business around it. I obviously have a strong interest in the M4, and together we will attract more investment.

May I begin by associating myself with the comments that the Secretary of State made about Steffan Lewis? As his local MP, I always admired and respected him, and his passion for Wales will be greatly missed within the Assembly. It is a loss to Welsh political life.

The closing of the tolls at the M4 bridge creates massive opportunities. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with other Government Departments to bring regional offices and Government jobs to Wales?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for such a question. A number of discussions are going on across Government Departments about the drive to decentralise civil service opportunities from London. He will be aware of the Cardiff hub, and we are looking to where other opportunities exist. But abolishing the Severn tolls has also created challenges. We need better integration for projects such as the Chepstow bypass and other road projects that work cross-border, and we need to harness those as priorities.


The Welsh economy has shown significant progress in recent years. The rate of employment in Wales is at a record high and increased by more than that in any other part of the UK over the last year, with 64,000 more people in work. There is a wealth of world-leading innovation in Wales, with Welsh businesses spending over £450 million on research and development in 2017.

The decision on Wylfa Newydd is a massive setback, not only for Anglesey but for the whole north Wales economy, and the project was a central plank of the north Wales growth deal. When it comes to major infrastructure projects, the Secretary of State has a record of unmitigated failure; he has a kind of reverse Midas touch. When will he start to speak up for Wales in Cabinet? If he is not prepared to speak up for Wales, will he step aside and let someone else have a go?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no greater champion for Wales than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a very serious and important point regarding Wylfa. This does affect the whole region. The Government were willing to offer a significant and generous package of potential support, but despite that, Hitachi decided that the project was still too great a commercial challenge. We are still committed to nuclear sites as part of the UK’s future energy mix, and we will also continue to support the Isle of Anglesey with initiatives such as the north Wales growth deal.

I understand from my colleague Rhun ap Iorwerth AM that, given the economic uncertainty now surrounding Hitachi’s future at Wylfa Newydd, the Welsh Government have indicated that they are prepared to commit further funds to the north Wales growth bid if Westminster makes the same commitment. Will it?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. We are certainly open-minded. Commitments such as this must be project-led. I reiterate that we recognise the significant impact that Hitachi’s decision will have on the region and planned investment, some of which could be co-dependent on the growth deal. We are committing £120 million, as the hon. Lady knows, and we will certainly talk to our partners in Wales. In fact, I am going there next week to talk with Ministers and stakeholders.

I greatly appreciate that the Minister sees the importance of the north Wales growth bid, particularly in relation to the news at Wylfa. It is interesting that the British Government offered Hitachi a one-third equity stake in the £20 billion nuclear power development in Ynys Môn. Now that Wylfa Newydd looks set to be the latest project to join the Welsh infrastructure scrapyard, will the Minister guarantee that his Government will use the previously promised equity to create 850 alternative, permanent and well-paid jobs in north-west Wales?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. We are certainly not abandoning that area of Wales. I reiterate that this was a commercial decision. We are committing £120 million to the north Wales growth deal, which we hope to get over the line as soon as practically possibly. The Government’s decision to agree to take an equity stake, to secure a strike price and to underwrite the debt on that project, was incredibly generous.

Since 2013, we have seen the cancellation of the Atlantic Array wind turbines off south Wales, the cancellation of the Celtic Array wind farms off north wales, the cancellation of the Cardiff-Swansea rail line in 2018, the cancellation of the Swansea bay tidal lagoon in 2018 and—to cap it all, the cancellation of cancellations— the cancellation of Wylfa Newydd last week, which was a £16 billion investment that would have transformed the economy of north Wales. Will the Secretary of State support the establishment of an inquiry, which the CBI in Wales has called for, to uncover why this Conservative Government are incapable of delivering large infrastructure projects in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman seems to miss the fact that these are commercial decisions to put these projects on hold. In terms of Hitachi, it is a suspended project. We will continue to engage with Hitachi regarding options for the site. We are absolutely committed to creating a broad-based, resilient economy through our industrial strategy, and we will continue to work with the private sector, local partners and the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales prospers. I hope that Members across the House welcome the news this week that the employment rate in Wales now matches that of the UK for the first time since my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) was the Secretary of State for Wales.

Fuel Duty Freeze: Low-income Families

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of the freeze on fuel duty on low-income families in Wales. (908678)

The Government recognise that transport is a major cost for households and businesses, so it was announced at last year’s Budget that fuel duty across the UK will remain frozen for the ninth successive year.

Despite the excellent fuel duty freeze from the Government, oil companies are still hitting motorists across Wales and the UK by increasing petrol prices hugely when the international oil price goes up but taking a long time to reduce it when the oil price goes down. Will my hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Treasury to introduce a “pump watch” regulator, as recommended by FairFuelUK, so that there are fair prices for motorists at the pumps?

There is no greater champion for consumers than my right hon. Friend, but we do not believe that setting up a regulator would be justified, given the costs of doing so. This sector, like every other, is subject to the normal competition and consumer protection law. We are committed to passing on savings to commuters and, due to nine years of fuel duty freezes, the average car driver in Wales and the UK will have saved a cumulative £1,000 by April 2020.

Can the Minister confirm that 30,000 low-income families in Wales will lose £2,500 a year as a result of the imposition of the two-child policy? Does he think that that is fair?

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has announced that she will not extend the two-child limit on universal credit to children born before April 2017, when the policy first came into effect. That will benefit about 15,000 families, and the decision restores the original intent of the policy, which will give parents in receipt of universal credit the same choices as those in work.

Leaving the EU: No Deal

10. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on (a) the economy and (b) public services in Wales of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908680)

As we leave the European Union, our economy is growing faster than the eurozone, employment is at record high levels, and economic activity in Wales is at the highest level since records began.

May I associate myself with the Minister’s comments on Steffan Lewis, who was one of the most able and talented politicians that Wales has ever had?

With days to go until we crash out with no deal, we know the devastating impact. The CBI is warning us, the Army is on stand-by to slaughter lambs set for export, and the Government are refusing to rule out no deal. What does the Minister say about that, given that the Prime Minister is not going to get her deal through?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out our position and is determined to work not only on our side of the House but across the House to introduce proposals that will allow the House of Commons to support a deal. It is interesting that the Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, is prepared to meet her to discuss the proposals, but the Leader of the Opposition refuses to do so, in spite of being more than happy to meet the IRA on other occasions.

I am calling the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) in spite of time constraints. I know that she will ask a commendably brief question.

Baby Deaths and Stillbirths: Cwm Taf University Health Board

12. If he will hold discussions with Ministers in the Welsh Government on investigations into the deaths and stillbirths of babies under Cwm Taf University health board. (908682)

I thank the right hon. Lady for raising this very important issue, and my thoughts are with all those families affected. I recognise her continued and passionate dedication to this issue and to ensuring that we have a health service that is fit for everyone. It is imperative that both the internal and external reviews of maternity services in Cwm Taf are both comprehensive and timely. Those affected will rightly be looking for urgent answers and clear action to ensure improvements in patient care and safety.

I am grateful for that answer. Will the Secretary of State continue to monitor the investigation and report the findings back to the House?

Of course. At present, this is a matter for the Welsh Government and for the health board, but we await the findings of the review, and we will act accordingly. In the meantime, the Government will continue to ensure that the NHS has the funding that it requires. I can assure the right hon. Lady that we will work with her to ensure that we get the right outcomes.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in marking Holocaust Memorial Day this Sunday. It is an opportunity for us to remember all those who suffered in the holocaust and in subsequent genocides around the world. It is a reminder that we must all challenge and condemn prejudice and hatred wherever it is found.

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

May I associate myself with the comments that the Prime Minister made in relation to Holocaust Memorial Day? May I also say as a proud Scot that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the most successful political union that the world has ever known? That said, does the Prime Minister agree that, when Nicola Sturgeon demands a second independence referendum, only four years after we had the last one, the UK Government should side with the majority of the people of Scotland and firmly tell her no?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he points out, Scotland held a referendum in 2014. It was legal, fair and decisive, and the people clearly voted for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. More than that, at the last general election, the people of Scotland again sent a very clear message that they do not want a second divisive referendum, but the SNP sadly is out of touch with the people of Scotland and has not yet heard that message. The last thing we want is a second independence referendum. The United Kingdom should be pulling together, and should not be being driven apart.

Sunday is Holocaust Memorial Day, a time for us all to reflect on the horrors of genocide and to recommit to never again allowing the poison of antisemitism and racism to disfigure our society in any way. The Prime Minister was also right to acknowledge the other genocides that have happened since the second world war. It is up to us to try to prevent such horrors from ever happening again anywhere in the world.

After the overwhelming defeat of the Prime Minister’s deal, she says she wants solutions to the Brexit crisis that command sufficient support in the House. The Chancellor and the Business Secretary agree that there is a “large majority” in the Commons opposed to no deal, so will the Prime Minister listen to her own Cabinet members and take no deal off the table?

What I, members of the Cabinet and the whole Government are doing is working to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal. That is the way to avoid no deal: to leave the European Union with a deal. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that what I have wanted to do—I have been doing it with Members across the House—is sit down and talk about how we can secure support in this House for a deal. He has been willing to sit down with Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA without preconditions, yet he will not meet me to talk about Brexit. In this case, he is neither present nor involved.

Actually I reached out to the Prime Minister last September when I offered to discuss our deals with her. It appears that, while the door to her office may well be open, the minds inside it are completely closed. She has shown no flexibility whatsoever on taking no deal off the table.

The Chancellor reassured businesses that amendments would be put down that

“would have the effect of removing the threat of no deal...which is binding and effective”.

Given that those amendments are now tabled, will the Prime Minister confirm that, if passed, they would rule out no deal?

We have seen amendments that seek to engineer a situation in which article 50 is extended. That does not solve the issue that there will always be a point of decision. The decision remains the same: no deal, a deal or no Brexit. I am delivering on Brexit. I want to do it with a deal. Why will the right hon. Gentleman not come and meet me and talk about it?

The only consistency in the Prime Minister’s strategy seems to be running down the clock by threatening no deal as an alternative to her dead deal.

The CBI says that the “projected impact” of no deal on the UK economy “would be devastating”. Leaving with no deal would be a hammer blow to manufacturing in this country, costing jobs and damaging living standards.

Last week, the Justice Secretary was asked whether he ruled out a customs union. He said:

“I don’t think we can”.

However, that same day, the Leader of the House said that we cannot be in a customs union. Can the Prime Minister be clear? Do her Government rule out a customs union with the European Union?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about a customs union and I note that he has tabled an amendment. The Labour party used to refer to a comprehensive customs union, then it was a new customs union and now it is a permanent customs union, but the question—[Interruption.] I am happy to sit down to talk to him about what he means by that. Does he mean accepting the common external tariff? Does he mean accepting the common commercial policy? Does he mean accepting the Union customs code? Does he mean accepting EU state aid rules? If he will not talk about it, there is only one conclusion: he hasn’t got a clue.

My question was: does the Prime Minister rule in or rule out a customs union? It is not complicated. She could have said yes, she could have said no. It is a key part of what Labour is putting forward and it is backed by the TUC, representing millions of workers; by the CBI, representing thousands of businesses; by the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland; and indeed by many members of her own party, including apparently her own chief of staff. So can the Prime Minister explain why she is ruling out a customs union as a solution to the crisis? She could for once actually answer the question.

Perhaps I can try to help the right hon. Gentleman here. When many people talk about a customs union, what they want to ensure is that businesses can export to the EU without facing tariffs, quotas or rules-of-origin checks. I agree, and the deal we negotiated delivers just that, but it also allows us to have an independent trade policy and to do our own trade deals with the rest of the world—the benefits of a customs union and the benefits of our own trade policy.

The International Trade Secretary promised 40 trade agreements the second after Brexit. This morning, he could not name a single one. His own Business Minister said that he was not impressed by “sham trade agreements” and

“not prepared to sell business down the river for other people’s political dogma.”

So why is the Prime Minister prepared to sell people’s jobs and living standards down the river, rather than negotiating a customs union that would be part of a sensible deal for the future?

The deal that we negotiated did protect jobs—[Interruption.] And it was rejected by this House. There are some specific issues that Members across this House have raised in relation to that deal and we work on those. We have already responded on a number of issues—parliamentary involvement, workers’ rights, citizens’ rights—as a result of the conversations that we have had with Members of this House. What we want to ensure is that we get a deal that protects jobs, but the right hon. Gentleman is doing exactly what he always does. He just stands up and uses these phrases. The honest answer is that I do not think he knows what those phrases mean and what the implications of those phrases are. We will be protecting jobs in the UK with a good trade relationship with the European Union—enhancing and increasing jobs in the UK, and by the way I see that the right hon. Gentleman has not referred to this week’s employment figures, which show employment up in this country as a result of this Government.

What the Prime Minister clearly did not have time to mention was the rising levels of in-work poverty, personal debt and the problems that people face in surviving at work. The door of her office might be open, but the minds are closed—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister is clearly not listening—[Interruption.]

Order. People making an extraordinary noise from a sedentary position do not have the slightest prospect of being called to ask a question, unless it is on the Order Paper. I hope that they realise that and recognise their own folly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Across the country, people are worried about public services, their living standards and rising levels of personal debt. While a third of the Prime Minister’s Government are at the billionaires’ jamboree in Davos, she says she is listening, but rules out changes on the two issues where there might be a majority: against no deal and for a customs union—part of Labour’s sensible Brexit alternative. If the Prime Minister is serious about finding a solution, which of her red lines is she prepared to abandon? Could she name a single one?

The right hon. Gentleman makes claims about minds being closed and asks about red lines. Why does he not come and talk about it? He talks about what people up and down this country are seeing. I will tell him what we have just seen this week: borrowing this year at its lowest level for 16 years; the International Monetary Fund saying we will grow faster than Germany, Italy and Japan this year; UN figures showing foreign direct investment in the UK up last year; the employment rate up; the number of people in work up; and wages up—and the biggest threat to all of that would be a Labour Government.

Q2. North Warwickshire and Bedworth voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU in 2016, and from the many conversations I have had with constituents since, I am in absolutely no doubt that if they were asked again, they would vote the same way. Does the Prime Minister agree therefore that there is no credibility in the argument for a second referendum and that our constituents want this Parliament to do what it promised and honour the referendum result, which, as Opposition Members seem to have forgotten, was to leave the EU? (908730)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not just he, I and all Conservative Members, but all Labour Members stood on manifesto pledges to respect the result of the referendum and to leave the EU. I have set out several times my concern about returning to the British people in a second referendum. People sent a clear message. We asked them to make a choice, they made that choice, and we should deliver on it.

I join the Prime Minister in marking Holocaust Memorial Day. It is important that we reflect on man’s inhumanity to man at that time and subsequently, most recently towards the Rohingya people. More must be done to eradicate the risk of genocide that is suffered by peoples throughout the world.

Last November, the Government published an economic analysis of Brexit that looked at four scenarios, but it did not include the Prime Minister’s deal. Has she done an economic analysis of her deal?

The right hon. Gentleman obviously looked carefully at the economic analysis, and he will have seen that it looked at the impact of different issues in relation to the trade relationship and set that out very clearly. It made it absolutely clear that the proposal the Government had put on the table was the best in terms of delivering on the referendum result, maintaining people’s jobs and enhancing the economy.

I can only take it from that answer that there is no analysis of the Government’s plan. According to the paper last November, Brexit will lead to the loss of up to 9% of GDP throughout the UK. That will cost jobs. It is the height of irresponsibility for the Prime Minister to bring to Parliament a deal for which we have not seen the economic impact. People up and down the UK are going to lose their jobs and economic opportunities because of the ideology of this Government. It is important that the House reflects on that and on the economic security of our citizens. We have to be honest with people. We need to go back to them, have a people’s vote and let them determine what should happen.

We have been reflecting on the economic security of our citizens across the whole of the UK, and that is why we put forward the proposals that we did last summer and why the proposals in the deal—in the political declaration—we negotiated with the EU set out an ambitious future trade deal. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to reflect on the interests of the citizens of Scotland, he should reflect on the fact that being part of the UK—[Interruption.] He says he wants to know the figures and the economic analysis. In that case, it is no good his dismissing the figures and the economic analysis that show that being part of the UK is worth £10 billion in additional public spending and nearly £1,900 for every single person in Scotland. If he is interested in economics, he should want to stay in the UK and stop his policy of independence.

Q3. I can tell the Prime Minister that the people of Romford remain rock solid for leaving the European Union on 29 March. They do not want an extension of article 50; they do not want another referendum; they want out, deal or no deal. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that she will deliver on the biggest vote of the British people in history, come what may? (908731)

Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not just an arbitrary date. It is a date to which the House effectively agreed when it triggered article 50, because it understood that the article 50 process was a two-year process, and, as I said in response to the Leader of the Opposition, that process will end on 29 March 2019. I do not believe that extending article 50 resolves any issues, because at some point Members must decide whether they want a no-deal situation, to agree a deal, or to have no Brexit.

Q4. My constituent Denis Omondi is a British citizen. He has uncontested custody of his young daughter Ann, who is in Kenya. Although he visits her as often as he can, she has been denied a visa because the Home Office claims that he has not spent enough time with her. The problem is that Denis is a serving soldier in the British Army. He is stationed at Fort George, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cyprus at the behest of the UK Government. Does the Prime Minister believe that this situation is fair? Will she look into how this loyal soldier and loving father can be reunited with his daughter? (908732)

Let me first thank Denis for his commitment to serving in our armed forces. All our armed forces do an incredibly important and brave job for us.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to be able to look at the details of the case at the Dispatch Box on the Floor of the House, but I will ask the Home Secretary to look into it and respond to him.

Q5. Prime Minister, your Government is stuffed full of remainer Ministers who do not want to leave the European Union. Will you replace them with colleagues from these Benches who actually believe in upholding the decision of the British people to leave the European Union on 29 March? (908733)

I have heard some job applications in my time, but that was quite an interesting one.

My position, and the position of this Government and Ministers across this Government, is very clear. It is our duty to deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union, and the two-year process ends on 29 March. That is the position of the Government. Of course I am always happy to consider job applications from my hon. Friend, but I have to say that the basis of his application was not correct, because the Government are committed to taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

Q6. Britain is facing a homelessness crisis, and homelessness, like food banks and child poverty, is linked to deprivation. How can the Prime Minister justify removing the deprivation levels from her new council funding formula, and taking money away from the weakest and the poorest in society just so that she could bail out failing Tory councils like Northamptonshire? (908734)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are many cases in which some of the measures that have been used do not properly reflect the situation on the ground, but obviously we look very carefully at the formula to ensure that we have that fair funding between local authorities.

Q7. To mark Holocaust Memorial Day a Chichester choir will be coming to Parliament to perform “Push”, a moving opera about the life of Simon Gronowski, who was pushed off a train by his mother to spare him from certain death at Auschwitz. His mother and sister died but Simon will be here to share his story, which shows us the best and worst of humanity. At a time when antisemitism is rising across Europe and here in our communities, does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that we learn the lessons of history to eradicate antisemitism, and will she, if possible, join us at the performance in Speaker’s House next Monday? (908735)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue and highlighting that case, which shows the horrors that so many people went through during the holocaust. We welcome the Chichester choir to Parliament performing “Push”, and I commend it on its work in keeping alive the remarkable story of Simon Gronowski. As I have just indicated, his story reminds us of the millions who were killed in the concentration camps and the absolute horror of the holocaust. We should all remember that, and remember genocides that have, sadly, occurred since, and condemn hatred and prejudice in all its forms, including antisemitism wherever it is found. There is no place for racial hatred in our society. I apologise because I suspect I may not be able to attend the performance my hon. Friend referred to, but I hope she will pass on my thanks to the choir for coming here and for the work it is doing.

Q8. The Prime Minister promised after the Grenfell Tower fire that she would do whatever it takes to keep our people safe. Today, 19 months on, the vast majority—85%—of the hundreds of blocks draped in exactly the same highly flammable cladding are still covered in it. The Shurgard fire in Croydon shows that Grenfell is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of council and private buildings across the country do not have sprinklers, despite the fire services saying they are essential. The Government do not even collect data on the number of fires in tower blocks. As the Prime Minister wastes billions on her no-deal gamble there is a stench of complacency about these things that matter too. When will the Prime Minister be able to tell this country that she has honoured her promise? (908736)

It is obviously very important for all of us that people are able to feel and be safe in their homes, and I understand residents’ concerns over this issue of cladding. We fully expect building owners in the private sector to take action and make sure that appropriate safety measures are in place. Interim measures are in place where necessary on all of the 171 high-rise private residential buildings with the unsafe ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding, but permanent remediation is rightly the focus, and we have repeatedly called on private building owners not to pass costs on to leaseholders. As a result of our interventions 212 owners have either started, completed or have commitments in place to remediate; 56 owners are refusing to remediate. We are maintaining pressure on this but we rule nothing out.

Q10. Non-surgical cosmetic treatments is an industry with no proper regulation. My constituent Rachael Knappier suffered a terrible injury after a Botox filler was administered incorrectly. Will the Prime Minister assure me and this House that her Government will look into appropriate regulation of non-surgical cosmetic treatments? (908738)

First, may I extend my deepest sympathies to Rachael Knappier? We recognise that this growth in non-surgical treatments increases the need for consumer protection, and we are currently working with stakeholders to strengthen the regulation of cosmetics procedures. We are committed to improving the safety of cosmetic procedures and there are a number of ways in which that can be done: better training and robust qualifications for practitioners, but also clear information so that people can make informed decisions about their care. We would urge anyone seeking a cosmetic procedure to take the time to find a reputable, safe and qualified practitioner who is subject to statutory regulation or on an accredited voluntary register. My hon. Friend has raised an important issue.

Q9. In May 2018, Michel Barnier said that the only frictionless model for the future relationship with the UK would be Norway-plus—Norway being part of the single market, plus a customs union. This means that a Norway-plus Brexit would eliminate the need for the backstop and would also be agreed rapidly, thereby eliminating the need to extend article 50. If the Prime Minister really wants to do away with the backstop and really wants to leave the EU on 29 March without the need for an extension, why does she not pivot to the Norway-plus option today? (908737)

First, it is not the case that that is the only way to provide frictionless trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Other options have been put on the table. The question of the extent of that frictionless trade will be a matter for the second stage of the negotiations.

West Midlands Economy

Q11. What recent assessment she has made of the prospects for the economy in the west midlands; and if she will make a statement. (908739)

I am pleased to say to my hon. Friend that thanks to our economic record there are 90,000 more small businesses in the west midlands since 2010, that the national living wage is giving more than 170,000 people a pay rise in the west midlands this year and that employment in the west midlands has risen by 252,000 since 2010. I can also tell him that we will continue to support the region by investing more than £430 million as part of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull local enterprise partnership.

As ever, that is great news for the west midlands and it shows our firm economic policy, but will my right hon. Friend now welcome the new Birmingham airport masterplan, which addresses its growth in services for businessmen and holidaymakers for the west midlands? Will she also commit the Government to work with the airport to help it to expand its long-haul route network, which is so important for the businesses and holidaymakers of Lichfield and beyond?

We are certainly supporting airports beyond Heathrow, such as Birmingham, to make the best use of their existing runways. I am happy to welcome Birmingham’s decision to publish this masterplan because I understand that, as my hon. Friend says, it aims to attract new long-haul routes in addition to the routes that it already runs. We are also committed to improving access to Birmingham airport. For example, by 2026 the airport will be served by HS2, which will significantly reduce journey times to London and dramatically increase the catchment area of the airport.


Q13. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 23 January. Even though Brexit is turning out to be very different from what voters were promised by the leave campaign, is the Prime Minister now effectively saying to voters, in opposing a people’s vote, that they had their say three years ago and they must now just put up and shut up? (908742)

What we are saying is that this House overwhelmingly voted to have the referendum in 2016 and for people to be asked for their choice as to whether to leave or to stay in the European Union. There will have been a variety of reasons why people voted to leave the European Union in 2016. Many wanted an end to free movement, and that is what we will be delivering. For many, it was about sovereignty, and that is why ending the jurisdiction of the European Court is important. Independent trade policy is also part of it, and that is what the Government are delivering. We are delivering on the vote that took place and ensuring that we do it in a way that protects jobs and gives people certainty for the future.

Q12. Ten years ago, I had a cervical smear test that picked up some abnormalities which, if they had been left untreated, could have developed into something much more serious. Unfortunately, cervical screening is at 21-year low and more than a quarter of women do not take up this life-saving test. We all know that it can be a bit uncomfortable, and it can be embarrassing for some women, but will the Prime Minister please urge all women up and down the country to take up this life-saving test? (908740)

My hon. Friend’s experience shows exactly why it is so important for women to take up this test. We need to do more to encourage women to take up their cervical screening tests, and Public Health England will shortly launch a national campaign to highlight the risks of cervical cancer and encourage women to attend the screening appointments. I can stand here as the Prime Minister and say that I know what it is like to go through a cervical smear test, and it is not comfortable. For some it will be embarrassing, and it is sometimes painful, but those few minutes can save lives, so I would encourage all women to take up their smear tests.

On the Monday before Christmas, my constituent Nathan Garrett, aged 18, was referred by his GP for emergency mental health support. On the Tuesday, he was helping others and delivering my Christmas cards, just as he had delivered many election leaflets over the years. Later, he asked the crisis team for emergency help, but none was forthcoming. On the Wednesday, Nathan went missing. On the Thursday, I learned at the volunteers’ event that we hold every Christmas, when I was expecting to see Nathan, that it had all got too much for him and that he had taken his own life.

Nathan Garrett was a brilliant, engaging, kind young man. He was a county athletics champion, a talented and brilliant musician, and incredibly popular. His parents and his grandmother are here today. Does the Prime Minister agree that when a teenager needs emergency mental health support, that support should be available within 24 hours? Will she ask the appropriate Minister to meet me and Nathan’s family to push that matter forward today?

I am sure that all Members will join me in sending our deepest condolences to Nathan’s family and friends and to all those who knew him. From what the hon. Gentleman said, it sounds as though he was an incredible young man. Every life lost is a tragedy, and incidents of suicide are deeply concerning, which is why we are taking action in relation to suicide prevention. The hon. Gentleman has also raised the issue of mental health provision. We recognise the importance of increasing provision for people who are suffering from mental health problems. I am happy to ensure that the hon. Gentleman can meet the appropriate Minister to discuss the matter.

Q14. Almost a year ago, the authorities in Telford agreed to commission an inquiry into child sexual exploitation in our town after a lengthy campaign by victims and their families, who were seeking justice and answers. The promised inquiry has not happened. There is no chairperson and no start date. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the failure to hold the promised inquiry lets down victims, survivors and our community? Will she join me in urging the Telford authorities not to sweep the matter under the carpet, but to deliver on their promises and to start the inquiry now? (908743)

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. The crimes were utterly appalling. That is why we have given tackling child sexual abuse and exploitation the highest priority, and it is concerning, as my hon. Friend said, that the inquiry has taken so long to start, having been announced in the spring of last year. It is in the interests of victims and survivors that the inquiry is up and running as soon as possible. People deserve to see that inquiry taking place, and I will ensure that a Home Office Minister meets my hon. Friend to discuss that further.

At Prime Minister’s questions last October, I asked the Prime Minister about my constituent Hassan Mirza and his 10-year battle simply to renew his passport. I wrote to the Prime Minister and received a holding response two months ago. Since then, Hassan’s uncle has passed away, but he could not attend the funeral. His wife is ill, but he cannot visit her or his children. This is unacceptable. When will the Prime Minister finally give me a detailed answer, and when will she get a grip on the failings in the Home Office?

I can only apologise to the hon. Gentleman that he has not had a detailed answer from me before now. I will ensure that he gets one but, more than that, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is happy to meet him to discuss the case.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to my constituent Bob Woodward, who sadly died on Sunday? When Bob’s son Robert was diagnosed with cancer aged eight in 1976, he founded the charity CLIC—Cancer and Leukaemia in Childhood. Over the following decades, he changed lives by raising over £100 million in support of worthy causes. He was an inspirational figure and a great and compassionate man, and he recently had a new Great Western Railway train named after him. Will my right hon. Friend also join me in offering our condolences to his friends and family?

I am certainly happy to join my hon. Friend in expressing our sympathies and condolences to Bob Woodward’s friends and family and in paying tribute to Bob. After tragically losing his son to cancer, as my hon. Friend pointed out, he dedicated his life to young cancer patients and their families and was able use his success as a property developer to provide residences where families of young cancer patients could live while their child is receiving treatment. It is a fitting legacy that there are now 10 of these properties in the UK, and CLIC is now a global organisation raising funds for the care of families around the world. Bob Woodward suffered a terrible tragedy with the loss of his son, but he ensured that his work throughout his life is benefiting others.

This morning I received a letter from Santander saying that it is closing the branch in Middleton and suggesting that my constituents should avail themselves of banking services at Middleton post office, which in turn is being franchised into the back of WH Smith. Can the Prime Minister say what her policy is for our high street, other than just managed decline?

Obviously individual banks take commercial decisions, and it sounds as if there will still be post office services available on the high street to which the hon. Lady refers. We are concerned about helping to manage our high streets and ensuring that we have good high streets for the future. That is why, in the Budget, the Chancellor announced funding that is available to local authorities to work on plans for their high streets.

Will the Prime Minister join me in reassuring the people of North Wiltshire and, indeed, the nation that, despite yesterday’s announcement that he is to move his corporate headquarters and two senior executives to Singapore, the commitment of Dyson to Britain remains undiminished, as evidenced by the £200 million he is investing in his research and development site at Hullavington and by the £40 million he is investing in the engineering and design college at Malmesbury? He is totally and utterly committed to Great Britain, and yesterday’s announcement has no effect at all on that commitment.

Dyson is clear that it will continue to have a long-term future in the UK, and it has trebled its workforce to 4,800 over the past five years. Of course, what matters to companies like Dyson is having a Government who are unapologetically pro-business, which this Government are, and a Government who are ensuring that our balanced economic policy sees increasing employment, exports and foreign direct investment in UK companies at record highs.

Mr Speaker, may I wish you, the Prime Minister and everybody here a very happy Cumbria Day? A vast array of produce is available: beer from Kirkby Lonsdale; relish from Hawkshead; pies; and tea and coffee from Penningtons—all the stuff the Prime Minister might need for a packed lunch if she is considering a walking holiday anytime soon. I remind her that, after London, Cumbria contains Britain’s biggest tourism destination, but today Cumbria has come to London. I invite her and, indeed, everybody here to come and join us in the Jubilee Room straight after PMQs to sample the best of Cumbria.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) has done a good job of promoting the benefits of Cumbria, and I am sure he will be joined by my hon. Friends and others from across the House. I thank him for listing the very many items I might want to put in my packed lunch when I go on a walking holiday, but I am afraid I am bound to say that, although I recognise that Cumbria has good produce, Berkshire has good produce, too.