The Secretary of State was asked—
Jordan: London Initiative 2019
Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to pay a brief tribute to the Department for International Development staff and partners who were caught up in the terrorist attack in Nairobi last month. Some of them, including a British national, lost their lives that day. Despite the trauma of that event, our staff immediately joined the crisis response team, and I want to thank them, as I am sure the whole House wishes to do, for all that they did.
The Prime Minister will lead the London initiative on 28 February to unlock growth, jobs and investment in Jordan. The UK is convening an international coalition of businesses and political leaders to support Jordan’s stability and self-reliance, generating jobs for all, but, in particular, for young people, women and refugees.
May I associate myself with the comments that the Secretary of State made about DFID staff caught up in the attack in Nairobi?
I was pleased to hear that the Prime Minister will be leading the UK-Jordan initiative at the end of this month. The Secretary of State mentions the importance of the inclusion of refugees and Jordanian women in the labour market. Will the Government be taking steps to draw to the attention of the Jordanians the barriers women face, including those relating to transport, access to childcare and a sense of physical safety?
First, I thank the hon. Lady for her interest in this tremendously important conference, which is a real turning point for Jordan. We are absolutely looking to secure investment in that country to enable the public funds to build that infrastructure to support everyone getting to work. Unless women and refugees are included, we will fail in that task.
May I declare an interest, having recently joined the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on a visit with Oxfam in Jordan? I very much welcome the London initiative. Will urgent steps be taken to take account of the fact that youth unemployment in the country is now some 38%? Not only is there a high level of female unemployment, but the participation rate of women in the workforce in Jordan is even lower than that in Saudi Arabia. Will those urgent objectives be at the heart of what the Secretary of State is trying to achieve?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that that will absolutely be the case. This issue has been a focus for me personally on my visits to Jordan, and I will be focusing on it at the London conference.
Does the Secretary of State realise that one thing holding back development in Jordan is the number of children and young people killed on the roads there? I spoke at a conference in Jordan recently, where we looked at this area. Jordan is one of the better countries in the middle east and north Africa on this, but we need some action to be taken to stop children and young people being killed in Jordan in this way.
I pay tribute to the work the hon. Gentleman has done on this issue. We often think about disease and other such killers of children, but road traffic accidents take an enormous number of lives—I believe that they are the biggest killer of individuals in developing countries. He will know that we have a new programme looking at this, and we will continue to lean in on the issue.
Female Genital Mutilation
The UK leads the world in our support to the Africa-led movement to end FGM. In 2018, we announced the biggest single investment worldwide to date by any international donor: a UK aid package of a further £50 million to tackle this issue across the most affected countries in Africa.
I am sure that I speak for all Members in expressing disappointment that the FGM Bill did not receive its Second Reading in the House last week. I am pleased to see that the Government have committed to bring the Bill back in Government time. Will my hon. Friend confirm that her door always remains open for any Member of this House who wishes to discuss what the Government are doing to stop this appalling crime?
I am pleased to be able to confirm that, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, wearing her gender equalities hat, has reached out to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). She hopes to sit down with him and other colleagues should they wish to discuss this important issue.
Since I got my Female Genital Mutilation Bill through Parliament in 2003, we have had only one successful prosecution. That is a disgrace and I feel embarrassed talking about the eradication of FGM in other countries, but I wish to ask about what is being done in Kurdistan. My past experience leads me to believe there is a problem with FGM there, so are we tackling it?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that FGM happens in many countries in the world. The DFID funding that I mentioned and the work that we have been doing has been focused specifically on 17 African countries. In that regard, I am pleased that 8,000 communities, representing more than 24 million people, have pledged to give up the practice.
Will the Minister tell us why the Government have not introduced legislation—they control the House and could get it through—rather than leave it to the vagaries of a private Member’s Bill? If they are interested in it, they should do something about it.
My hon. Friend would lead me down paths that are best left to the Government Whips and the Ministry of Justice, but the UK does of course believe that we can work with some of the citizen-led movements in Africa to change perceptions around FGM.
The Minister alluded to the Africa-led initiative, which has been positive, but will she not undertake to be much more emphatic in trying to co-ordinate an Africa-wide initiative to eliminate this vile practice?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that this is a worldwide effort. We focus our efforts in countries where the practice is most widespread and where there is the greatest opportunity to work with the African-led movements to really effect change on the ground.
We have just had the first prosecution for FGM in this country; what more can this country do to prevent families from taking their girls abroad to have FGM done to them?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have done a lot in this country to change domestic legislation—for example, to put reporting requirements on parts of the NHS. One must pay tribute to the tireless campaigning by courageous activists, both here and overseas, in respect of changing the practice and changing communities on the ground.
Everyone would agree that we need to tackle female genital mutilation. The Minister will be aware that the private Member’s Bill on the issue was scuppered. In the light of that, does she understand that confidence in the Government’s willingness to deal with the issue has been shaken? It is important that they now move quickly to restore that confidence.
I encourage the hon. Lady to continue with that confidence. We can point to a strong track record of working on this issue, not only in the UK but with some of the African-led initiatives in African countries. She will have heard it announced during the urgent question on Monday that the Chief Whip has committed to taking forward the UK legislation as quickly as possible.
Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with nearly 80% of the population requiring humanitarian assistance. The UN is set to launch a new $4 billion appeal for 2019 later this month, at a pledging conference at which I hope to represent the UK. The UK is providing £170 million this financial year, including enough food for the equivalent of 4 million Yemenis for a month.
More than 3 million people have been internally displaced and thousands killed in Yemen, mainly as a result of the Saudi coalition bombing campaign. Last year, the cholera outbreak affected 200,000 people. More than 22 million people are reliant on humanitarian aid and millions of children are unable to go to school. When will the Government stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and work towards an end to the conflict?
The situation in relation to the conflict has moved on a degree with the fragile peace agreed in the Stockholm agreement. That fragile ceasefire and redeployment of forces continues, as a result of which the humanitarian situation is improving. The latest figures I have show that in January commercial and humanitarian imports via sea, over land and via container met 94% of monthly food requirements and 83% of monthly fuel requirements. The situation in Yemen was caused not by the Saudi coalition but by a Houthi-led insurgency.
Before Christmas, there was much discussion about the ceasefire around the port of Hodeidah and the prospects that it would bring for improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen. What further progress does the Minister expect to be made in helping those who have suffered for so long in Yemen?
The ports of Hodeidah and Salif are open and they are taking in more ships. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the test of whether the political agreement in Stockholm is having an impact will be measured by success on the humanitarian front. We will continue to do all we can to support the UN efforts to find peace in Yemen.
The Stockholm agreement is indeed very welcome, but the Minister is right that it is also fragile. One of the features is the World Food Programme supplies, to which it is hard to get access. Will he update the House on the prospects of getting that access because the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that there is a risk that the food will simply rot and therefore not be available for consumption?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I spoke to the World Food Programme director, David Beasley, last week. The situation is that it has been difficult to get to the Red sea mills because of mining. There is a concern that some food not only has rotted, but has been stolen by illicit elements, so we have to find out what is there. The continuing progress in relation to peace will make access to those mills more likely, and we will continue to press for that.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend and his Department are doing in this tragic situation. What more can the UK do to make sure that children in particular who are suffering so much are helped more?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his words. The best thing that we can do is, first, support the negotiations to ensure that the conflict comes to an end—that is the best thing. Secondly, we should keep up our support for humanitarian aid and assistance, which has been significant. In relation to the children, we should back things such as a nationwide measles and rubella vaccination campaign, which is under way and which will target 13.3 million children in Yemen between 9 and 14 February. That demonstrates how much we owe to the aid workers who are involved there and also the contribution that the UK is making.
There is no doubt that the Minister has done a huge amount of work on this issue, but the key is the resumption of the peace talks. The parties last met on 18 December. When will they meet again? That will unlock the corridor and unlock the humanitarian needs.
The right hon. Gentleman of course knows as much about Yemen as anyone in the House. The peace talks are built on confidence, and the next round will take place when UN envoy Martin Griffiths believes that there is sufficient confidence for those talks to proceed. At present, the ceasefire, although fragile, has held. Confidence is building up between the parties, and when the time is right, we will be able to move forward to the next stage.
Infectious Disease Surveillance
Infectious disease surveillance is vital to global health security. The UK supports global, regional and national efforts to strengthen surveillance, including through the World Health Organisation, the global fund and the global polio eradication initiative. The Department for International Development’s tackling deadly diseases in Africa programme and Public Health England are helping to strengthen regional and national surveillance capacity.
The eradication of polio in the next few years represents an incredible achievement of both vaccination and international co-operation, but the infrastructure and staffing of the global polio initiative has provided a lot of the surveillance that helped to detect epidemics such as Ebola. How does the Minister plan to replace the polio resources and ensure that both vaccination and surveillance continues?
The hon. Lady, who understands this issue very well, is right to point to the importance of the global polio eradication initiative, which has been the bedrock for disease eradication efforts. Innovative approaches have helped to provide timely and high-quality surveillance. What we need to do is ensure, through both in-country programmes and the work being done through WHO, that surveillance on polio does not slacken off because of potential eradication, and we will continue to do that.
What potential is there for the work that the Department did last year with the Met Office, NASA and other US scientists on cholera in Yemen to be scaled up and used in other crisis situations to prevent the spread of disease?
My right hon. Friend points to a remarkable innovation that, recognising the importance of wet and damp weather for the spread of cholera, used the resources of the Met Office to ensure that accurate support was provided in areas of risk. It is a very good use of modern technology, which we intend to see replicated elsewhere.
The Minister will be aware of some of the excellent work done by researchers in universities across the UK, including the University of St Andrews and the University of Dundee, in tackling illnesses such as AIDS, TB and malaria. Given the drop in aid to health spending recently, will he commit to ensuring a fully funded global fund?
We have been one of the leading donors to the global fund, and there is no suggestion that that should end. My father was a graduate of St Andrews and was also at Dundee, and we will be making sure that good research facilities remain key to the United Kingdom’s support efforts.
I associate the Labour party with the Secretary of State’s comments in respect of DFID staff in Nairobi.
We in the United Kingdom are rightly proud of our publicly run national health service, and it is thanks to our incredible NHS staff that we are able to effectively tackle the causes and symptoms of infectious diseases here. Does the Minister agree that this experience should underpin the Department’s work on health and that our overseas development work should therefore focus explicitly on supporting Governments and citizens to invest in their own universal healthcare systems?
Absolutely. Much of our work in global health is designed to support particular projects to eradicate individual diseases, but it is also crucial that we support and sustain health systems where they are. These health systems will do an incredibly valuable job in looking for the sort of illnesses and infectious diseases, such as antimicrobial resistance, that could spread around the world.
The primary purpose of the prosperity fund is to reduce poverty through sustainable and inclusive economic growth in middle-income countries. Other Departments are responsible for ensuring that their overseas development programmes from this fund meet the requirements of the International Development Act 2002.
Climate change will hit the world’s poorest people hardest, so why on earth is 29% of the energy component of the prosperity fund being spent on oil and gas extraction, including supporting fracking in China?
I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my commitment to doing what we can to tackle the incredibly important issue of climate change. We should be wholeheartedly supporting opportunities that work as climate change initiatives to move power beyond coal.
What a pleasure to call a west country knight, no less—Sir Gary Streeter.
I strongly support DFID Ministers’ approach to the prosperity fund, which looks to promote economic reform in middle-income countries, where 70% of the world’s poorest people live. Are not trade and economic reform still the most effective ways to lift people out of poverty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that the way in which the world will end poverty is by having sustainable and inclusive economic growth. To achieve the sustainable development goals, we need to crowd in not just development finance, but $2.5 trillion annually for development.
Alleviating poverty should be at the core of everything that DFID does. As such, I am sure that the Secretary of State will be just as deeply concerned as I was to see the former Foreign Secretary throw his weight behind a report published this week that calls on changing the Department’s purpose from poverty reduction to further
“the nation’s overall strategic goals”.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that the Department will not become a subsidiary of the Foreign Office and that the 0.7% of GNI will be firmly committed to poverty reduction?
Yes, I can confirm that that is the Government’s policy.
Leaving the EU: Developing Countries
Our Departments are working together to ensure that development stays at the heart of UK trade policy. For example, we are creating a trade preference scheme that will continue to provide the same level of market access to about 70 countries as is provided through the EU’s generalised scheme of preference.
As we learned today that only six of the promised 40 trade deals will actually be in place by the end of March, it seems that the International Trade Secretary is in competition with the Transport Secretary for who can do the worst job. What assurance can this Secretary of State give to the House that we will see full impact assessments on the social, environmental and human rights impacts of any trade deals before they come into force?
What the hon. Lady says is not the case. We are looking at the EPAs—economic partnership agreements—and other arrangements. The numbers she gave are not accurate. Our first priority is obviously trade continuity, and after that we will then be able to introduce the UK’s trade preference scheme, which will grant duty-free, quota-free access to 48 least-developed countries, and grant generous tariff reductions to about a further 25.
Is it not an absolute disgrace that coffee producers in the developing world are, at the moment, not allowed to do the value-added bits of putting coffee into packaging, selling and marketing it, and all the rest of it? Under EU rules, that has to be done within the EU. Brexit will enable those countries now to do the value-added bits in their own countries, thereby being of huge benefit to developing countries.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We want people to be able to trade their way out of poverty, and it is high time that we walked the walk as well as talked the talk.
I am sure that the whole House will be deeply concerned to see the distressing images of the suffering of the Venezuelan people, with the UN estimating that 4 million people are suffering from malnutrition. UK aid will deliver an additional £6.5 million aid package focused on dealing with the most severe health and nutrition difficulties. We have had staff deployed in the region last year and will keep our humanitarian efforts under review. I would call on all actors to ensure that we have unhindered humanitarian access. [Interruption.]
I understand the predictable air of anticipation in the Chamber just before Prime Minister’s questions, but I would remind the House that we are discussing the plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet. I think some respect is in order.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, and there are few parts of the world that see more vulnerable people than Gaza. Medical Aid for Palestinians reports that since March last year at least 250 Palestinians have been killed as part of Israel’s use of force against the Great March of Return protests. Among them were three health workers, killed by Israeli forces while trying to reach, treat and evacuate wounded demonstrators. A further 600 health workers have been injured. What are our Government doing to ensure the safety of health workers in Gaza and to hold the Israeli Government to account for these actions?
I look forward to reading the right hon. Gentleman’s treatise in the Official Report tomorrow.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East does as he asks on a regular basis. With regard to the humanitarian work that we are doing, he will know that we have stepped up our offer—in particular, looking at providing additional medical support. We will continue to do that.
I know that my hon. Friend will want to tell the schoolchildren of Dudley, who are supporting this campaign, of the great work that is done through UK Aid, which has ensured that some 7 million children have had access to a decent education.
Why does the Secretary of State believe that the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of national income on aid is unsustainable?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to remind the House that it was under a Conservative-led Government that the commitment to 0.7% was introduced, and it is a Conservative Government who have retained that commitment. What we want to do in future, though, is look at maintaining that with public funds but reducing the burden on the taxpayer.
I ask that because the former Foreign Secretary has called for the Department to be closed, and the Secretary of State has said nothing. Her party colleagues have called for aid to be redefined away from poverty reduction, and she has said nothing. Is it not the sad truth that Conservative Members who are now circling the Prime Minister know that their leadership prospects are buoyed by appealing to the tiny number of Tory party members who hate aid as much as they want to bring back capital punishment? Why should anyone trust a Government who have pushed 14 million of their own citizens into poverty to stand up for the world’s poorest people?
They should trust me as the Secretary of State and as someone who has been an aid worker. They should trust this Government because we introduced the policy and are retaining it. The hon. Gentleman mischaracterises the comments of certain colleagues. For example, the former Foreign Secretary has not said that he wishes to abandon the 0.7%. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to talk about the global goals at the Dispatch Box. We want to deliver them, and to do so, we need additional funding of $2.5 trillion going into developing countries. That is what this Government are focused on delivering.
Seventy of my staff are embedded in the Department for International Trade, forming a new post-Brexit trade offer, and a great deal of that effort is looking at what we can do to enable developing countries to trade their way out of poverty.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that critical issue. The Foreign Office is doing a tremendous amount and is meeting its counterparts in not only the US and Canada but in the region to see what more we can do. We stand ready to do more, and what we do will be driven by what we find on the ground. He will understand that this is sensitive, because some of our partners with whom we work in the region are very vulnerable if we identify precisely who they are and what they are doing, but I assure him and the House that we will stand by the people of Venezuela.
My right hon. Friend will know that the restrictive common agricultural policy has damaged agriculture in Africa. After Brexit, what can we do to stimulate trade, particularly with farmers in sub-Saharan Africa?
I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that there is already a lot that we can do. There are many products, such as avocados and cashew nuts, that we simply cannot grow in the UK, and I know that UK consumers and African producers will benefit from growth in those areas in years to come.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Later today, this House will have an opportunity to pay tribute to the Clerk of the House, Sir David Natzler. May I take this opportunity to add my own? Sir David has served this House for over 40 years with dedication and tireless devotion. His support and advice on parliamentary procedure and business has been invaluable, and I know that Members from all sides of the House will want to join me in thanking him for his service and wishing him the very best for the future.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I too pay tribute to the work of the Clerk of the House?
In January, the mother of a three-year-old girl was convicted of female genital mutilation. It is our first FGM conviction, but a chilling reminder that young girls are still being cut not just in Africa and around the world but here in the UK. Will my right hon. Friend make Government time to progress the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) to protect more girls from this abhorrent practice?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this abhorrent practice and to recognise the importance of the first prosecution that took place on female genital mutilation here in the UK. It is only right that we find time for this Bill, and the Government will provide time to deliver it. We have strengthened the law on FGM, leading to that first conviction, and we are helping communities around the world to end this appalling crime, but it is important that we give time to this Bill and act further to ensure that we end what is an absolutely abhorrent crime that scars young girls for the rest of their lives both physically and mentally.
I am sure the Prime Minister and the whole House will join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the cadet who died at Sandhurst last week. I am sure the Ministry of Defence is supporting the family and fellow cadets at a difficult time, but I also hope it will be reviewing the mental health support it gives to all members of the armed forces at all times.
We also mourn the loss of Gordon Banks, and send our condolences to his friends and family and to the entire football community. He was one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, with 73 caps for England, including playing in every single game during the victorious 1966 World cup campaign, which I remember with joy.
I too want to thank Sir David Natzler for his work as Clerk of the House and wish him well in his retirement. He has been here even longer than I have and has always been a source of advice to all Members, irrespective of their party, and I always admire his dry wit and humour while describing the proceedings of the House. I think we owe him a big debt of gratitude.
The Government’s handling of Brexit has been costly, shambolic and deliberately evasive. Nothing symbolises that more than the fiasco of Seaborne Freight—a company with no ships and no trading history. On 8 January, the Transport Secretary told the House:
“We are confident that the firm will deliver the service.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 193.]
What went wrong?
First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in the remarks he made about the cadet at Sandhurst. He referenced the issue of mental health. This is an important issue overall, but it is obviously an important issue in our armed forces as well. I would like to pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) for the work that he has done in relation to mental health in the armed forces.
I would also like to send my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Gordon Banks. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I am old enough to remember the 1966 World cup—
Let us be honest in this House; I think that is important.
From being part of that team to something else that I think people remember—the astonishing Pelé save in 1970—Gordon Banks was regarded as one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers. I also know that he did a lot of community work in his local area as well. I know Members from all parts of the House would like to join me in paying tribute to him.
As regards the freight capacity, the Government let three contracts: 90% of that was let to DFDS and Brittany Ferries. Those contracts remain in place, and that capacity has been obtained. Due diligence was carried out on all of these contracts. As the Secretary of State for Transport made clear in this House earlier this week, we will continue to ensure that we provide that capacity, which is important in a no-deal situation, and we will ensure the capacity is there.
The Transport Secretary told the House that the decision to award the contract to Seaborne Freight had no cost to the taxpayer. This week, the National Audit Office found that £800,000 had been spent on external consultants to assess the bid. Will the Prime Minister use this opportunity to correct the record?
I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he is a bit late to the party, because I was asked that question yesterday on the statement, I think from the SNP Benches. Labour following the SNP—well, whatever next? Of course, as I just said, when the contracts were all let, proper due diligence was carried out. That included third-party assessment of the companies that were bidding for the contracts. There would have been a cost attached to the process regardless of who the contracts were entered into with.
I am really impressed that the Prime Minister could keep a straight face while she said that due diligence was carried out. The Transport Secretary said that
“its business and operational plans were assessed for the Department by external advisers”.—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 190.]
On the basis of that advice to his Department, he was told that Seaborne was a start-up company with no ships and that the contract was “high-risk”. Why, if he was told that it was high risk, did he proceed with the contract?
The right hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that the Government should never look at start-up companies or at opportunities for new companies. It is entirely right that the Government ensured that the majority of the contracts went to established companies, and it is entirely right that a company on which due diligence had been carried out—[Interruption.] It is no good saying it wasn’t, because it was. We will ensure that the ferry capacity is there.
What we are doing in these contracts is ensuring that we are able to deal with the situation were we to enter into no deal. The right hon. Gentleman has said in the past that he does not want any money to be spent on no-deal preparations. He has also said that he does not want us to go into a no-deal situation. That is fine, but if he does not want us to be in a no-deal situation, he is going to have to vote for the deal.
To be fair to the advisers, it appears that they were instructed to restrict their due diligence to the face value of the presentation put to them by Seaborne Freight—a company that had no trading history. Looking at the directors of Seaborne, it appears that some of them would not have passed a due diligence test.
The Transport Secretary told the House:
“This procurement was done properly and in a way that conforms with Government rules.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 192.]
However, a freedom of information request reveals that the Secretary of State bypassed those rules, because the procurement assurance board—a senior panel of experts and lawyers—was denied the chance to scrutinise the deal. What action will the Prime Minister take over what appears to be a very clear breach of those rules?
The contract was awarded following commercial, technical and financial assurance at a level in line with the company’s status as a new entrant to the market, carried out not only by senior DFT officials but by third-party organisations with experience and expertise in this area, including Deloitte, Mott MacDonald, and Slaughter and May. It was designed in recognition of the risks posed: no money was paid to the contractor and no money would be paid until services were delivered. Therefore, no money has been paid to that contractor.
The right hon. Gentleman has stood here time and again and said that, actually, we should not be doing anything to prepare for no deal. It is entirely right and proper that this Government are taking the action necessary to ensure that, should we be in that no-deal situation—it is not our policy to have no deal; it is our policy to get a deal—we have the capacity we need, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Could I bring the Prime Minister back to the question of Seaborne ferries? Eurotunnel has called the ferry contract procurement a “secretive and flawed” exercise. Taxpayers now face a legal bill of nearly £1 million to contest that—the money goes up and up. The Secretary of State’s decision to award the contract to Seaborne has increased the budget deficit of Thanet Council, the owners of Ramsgate port, by nearly £2 million. When questioned by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), the Transport Secretary refused to give a guarantee. Can the Prime Minister today give a cast-iron commitment to the people of Thanet and confirm that they will not be picking up the bill for the failure of this contract?
The Department for Transport and other parts of the Government are in discussion with Thanet Council about the impact of the contract. I remind the right hon. Gentleman why the Department for Transport has taken these actions in relation to ferry capacity: to ensure that in a no-deal situation we are able to guarantee that medicines, primarily, will brought into this country. We are prioritising medicines being brought into this country. Again, that was a question I seem to remember being asked on more than one occasion yesterday by SNP Members who had an interest in that. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be interested in ensuring that we can, in a no-deal situation, provide the medicines that people in this country need. That is what we are doing. That is the sensible approach of a Government who are taking this matter seriously.
Maybe the Prime Minister should follow the advice of the House and take no deal off the table and negotiate seriously with the European Union. It cannot be right that a hard-pressed local council and local taxpayers are footing the bill for the incompetence of the Secretary of State for Transport and this Government.
The spectacular failure of this contract is a symptom of the utter shambles of this Government and their no-deal preparations. The Transport Secretary ignored warnings about drones and airport security; he gave a £1.4 billion contract to Carillion despite warnings about their finances; he oversaw the disastrous new rail timetable last year; and rail punctuality is at a 13-year low and fares at a record high—that is some achievement. And now the Transport Secretary is in charge of a major and vital aspect of Brexit planning. How on earth can the Prime Minister say she has confidence in the Transport Secretary?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what the Transport Secretary is delivering: the biggest rail investment programme since the Victorian era, spending nearly £48 billion on improving our railways to deliver better journeys—20% higher on average every year than under a Labour Government. That is what the Transport Secretary is delivering: commitment to transport in this country and commitment to transport across the whole of this country.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to focus his questions in that way, rather than asking more general questions in relation to Brexit. There are still a number of issues on Brexit where we do not know his answers to the big questions. We do not know if—[Interruption.] It is no good Labour Members burying their heads in their hands. We do not know whether their leader backs a second referendum. We do not know whether their leader backs a deal. We do not even know whether he backs Brexit. He prefers ambiguity and playing politics to acting in the national interest. People used to say he was a conviction politician—not any more.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that with me. Obviously, the quality of school buildings is an important issue in our education system. That is why we are putting more money into it—we are investing £23 billion in school buildings through to 2021. He raised the specific issue of Tiverton High School, and I will make sure that a Minister from the Department for Education will be happy to meet him—and the headteacher and the council, if that is appropriate—to discuss this issue.
I congratulate so many of my colleagues on sporting yellow today as a mark of solidarity with those from Catalonia who are on trial for the political principle of supporting self-determination.
Will the Prime Minister rule out bringing the meaningful vote to this House less than two weeks before 29 March?
The right hon. Gentleman was present yesterday when I made my statement to the House and he heard the process that we will be following. Of course, a debate is taking place tomorrow, and then, as we have made clear, if a meaningful vote has not been brought back and passed by this House, we will make a statement on 26 February and have a debate on an amendable motion on the 27th.
I am afraid that that was no answer from a Prime Minister who continues to run the clock down. This is the height of arrogance from a Government set on running the clock down. Just 44 days from a no-deal scenario, the Prime Minister is hamstrung by her own party and rejected by European leaders. The Prime Minister must stop playing fast and loose. Businesses are begging for certainty; the economy is already suffering. Prime Minister, you have come to the end of the road, rumbled by your own loose-lipped senior Brexit adviser. Will the Prime Minister now face down the extremists in her own party and extend article 50?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about certainty for business. He can give business certainty by voting for the deal—that is what gives business certainty. He complains about no deal, but of course, it was the Scottish National party who wanted to leave the UK without a plan—[Interruption.] Perhaps we should remind the SNP that independence would have meant leaving the EU with no deal.
I am aware of the issues with Slaidburn country practice, and of course, we are aware of the pressures facing GPs. That is why there is going to be a major new investment in primary and community healthcare. This is a very important element of our national health service, and that has been set out in the long-term plan. In the event of a practice closure, NHS England assesses the need for a replacement provider before dispersing the list of patients at that GP surgery. I understand that in relation to Slaidburn health centre, discussions are ongoing on the future of the practice, and the local clinical commissioning group is currently exploring options.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the action that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is taking on social media sites and the action the Home Office is taking in conjunction with DCMS. We want social media companies to do more to ensure that they do not promote harmful content to vulnerable people. He raised the specific issue of the impact on people with eating disorders. We want to take action in a way that helps to keep people safe in looking at images, and I will ensure that a Minister from the Department meets him to discuss this issue.
As my hon. Friend knows, I and the Government have been very clear in our customs proposals that we want an independent trade policy—it is specifically referenced in the political declaration. We believe it is important, and I am pleased to hear what the Governor of the Bank of England has said today about the importance of free trade around the world.
On my hon. Friend’s first point, I am grateful he has asked me that question, rather than relying on what someone said to someone else, as overheard by someone else, in a bar. It is very clear that the Government’s position remains the same: the House voted to trigger article 50; that had a two-year timeline that ends on 29 March; we want to leave with a deal, and that is what we are working for.
As I said previously to the hon. Gentleman, the Department is reviewing Network Rail’s proposals for an effective and resilient solution on the Dawlish line, and there will be an update on funding in due course. The first phase of work to protect the sea wall at Dawlish began in November, of course, as part of the £15 million of wider investment to make the railway at Dawlish and Teignmouth more resilient to extreme weather.
I recognise my hon. Friend’s comments from the doorstep, and I know that he is an assiduous Member who listens to his constituents and brings their views to this Chamber. It is important that we have made more money available to police forces, and I am pleased to say that the number of people joining police forces as officers is at its highest level for 10 years. We made more money available to police forces—£970 million over the next year—although it is a sadness in this Chamber that the Labour party voted against it.
No it is not. On Hitachi and the Wylfa site, we offered a package of support that no previous Government had been willing to consider of one third equity, all-debt financing and a strike price of no more than £75 per MWh. Ultimately, we could not at that stage reach an agreement among all the parties, and Hitachi decided on a commercial basis to suspend the project, but it has made clear that it wishes to continue discussions with the Government on bringing forward new nuclear at Wylfa, and we will support those discussions.
I absolutely agree that, carried out in the right way, stop-and-search is an effective tool for our police forces. We recognise the concern felt about violent crime—the hon. Gentleman has raised the specific issue of knife crime—which is why the Home Secretary published the serious violence strategy, and why we established the serious violence taskforce.
Let me reiterate that we want the police to use stop-and-search properly and lawfully. It is a vital and effective policing tool, but when they use it, we expect them to do so lawfully.
It was, of course, this Government who introduced the energy price cap. That was not done by the previous Labour Government. The cap has protected 11 million households, and energy suppliers will no longer be able to rip off customers on poor-value tariffs. It will save consumers £1 billion a year. Citizens Advice has previously said:
“the cap means people are paying a fairer price now, and will continue to pay a fairer price even if the level of the cap rises”.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the Education Committee for their work on this important issue. Obviously we all recognise that good discipline in schools is essential, but it is also important to ensure that any exclusion is lawful, reasonable and fair. Guidance sets out that headteachers should, as far as possible, avoid permanently excluding any pupil who is subject to an education, health and care plan, and make additional efforts to provide extra support to avoid excluding those with special educational needs. We want to ensure that schools play their part in supporting children who have been excluded, in collaboration with alternative providers and local authorities.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Timpson review. It is still ongoing, but I can assure him that when it reports in due course, we will look very seriously and very carefully at its recommendations.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue, and I thank the mindfulness APPG for its work and its recent report. As the hon. Gentleman knows, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for adults with depression.
I am aware of the training that staff have received. A few weeks ago, a constituent came to my surgery to talk about mindfulness. A member of my parliamentary staff who was with me had undertaken that training, and was therefore able to speak about the impact that it had had.
The commissioning of psychological therapies is a matter for NHS England, but I will ensure that it is aware of the report.
The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) is obviously a beneficiary of mindfulness himself. He seems a very calm and phlegmatic fellow these days, which was not always the case in the past.
The honours system is designed to acknowledge and celebrate great public service to our nation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when a small minority of recipients of honours, like Philip Green, bring the system of honours and business into disrepute by being found to have behaved disgracefully, letting down the vast majority of businesses who set the highest standards, then it is right for this party and this Government to be the first to stand up for decent standards and look at beginning a process for seeing whether people who behave in that way should be stripped of their honour?
As my hon. Friend said, the honours system recognises exceptional service and achievement in a wide range of spheres of public life, and if the recipient of an honour brings that honour into disrepute it is important that steps are taken to review that honour. There is a forfeiture process for that purpose; that includes an independent forfeiture committee which gives recommendations to me for Her Majesty’s approval. That is the process, and it is important that we have that so that when anybody who has been in receipt of an honour brings that honour into disrepute steps can be taken to review that.
As president of the Wargrave girls football club, I am very willing to commend all those girls and other females who play football. Members across this House have been concerned to hear of the disparity between the winnings that the hon. Lady has raised with the House. Obviously this is a matter for the football authorities, but I am sure they will have heard the concern expressed in this House about the current position.
It takes courage and leadership to admit difficult things, because that is how we start to recognise the need for change, so I would like to thank the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for acknowledging that there has been a link between accessing universal credit and food bank usage. But it is not the case that there has been a link; there is a link. Will the Prime Minister please urgently review the five-week wait and the benefit freeze? Both must go, because the unpalatable truth is that our welfare safety net is no longer holding up those most vulnerable in society; it is tangling around their feet and dragging them under the water.
My hon. Friend and I have discussed universal credit and its roll-out in the past. As she will know, as we have been rolling this out slowly and carefully, we have taken a number of measures to address issues that have arisen. Shortly after I became Prime Minister we cut the taper rate so people could keep more of the money they earned. Subsequently we have of course scrapped the seven-day waiting. We have introduced the two-week overlap in relation to those in receipt of housing benefit. And of course we have also ensured that 100% of a full monthly payment is available to people at the start, for those for whom that is necessary. So we have been taking steps and will continue to look at universal credit, but universal credit is a system that encourages people into work and makes sure that work pays, compared with the legacy system from the Labour party that left 1.4 million people for nearly a decade trapped on benefits.
I recognise the value that people across the country place on having a television, and for many elderly people the connection that brings with the world. That is why the free licences for the over-75s are so important. We have been clear that we want and expect the BBC to continue free licences when it takes over responsibility for the concession in 2020. May I just say that taxpayers rightly want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure that it delivers fully for UK audiences?
My constituent, Ben Seaman, receives employment and support allowance benefits and was awarded £20,000 after the recent court ruling on ESA underpayments. Ben has to spend a lot of this within a year in order to avoid having more than £16,000 of assets and risk losing his eligibility for ESA. Clearly this is an unintended anomaly, so will my right hon. Friend encourage the Work and Pensions Secretary, who I know is sympathetic to the situation, to resolve this as soon as possible through an exemption for Ben and for any others who are similarly affected?
This is a concerning case that my hon. Friend has raised with me. I understand that the Department for Work and Pensions is aware of it and I am assured that it is looking into the issue, and I will ensure that he receives a response as soon as possible.
I think the hon. Gentleman knows my view in relation to a second referendum; I have expressed it many times in this House and it has not changed. I believe it is important that we deliver on the first referendum, but my colleagues and I are meeting Members from across the House to discuss the issues that they wish to raise in relation to the Brexit matter, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sedgefield can meet, if not with me then with an appropriate Minister.
With the return of the Royal Air Force Tornadoes from operations for the last time, will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute not only to this remarkable jet, which has given 40 years of operations from the cold war through to the mountains of Afghanistan, but to the remarkable men and women who have flown and maintained her?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Tornado and to the men and women who have flown and maintained the fleet over the last 40 years. He has referenced the cold war and the mountains of Afghanistan. From the Gulf war through to operations against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the Tornado has also been an integral and vital part of RAF operations. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said last week, it is with a heavy heart but enormous pride that we bid farewell to the Tornado from operations after it has played that vital role in keeping Britain and the allies safe. It will of course be replaced with worthy successors in the improved Typhoon and the new F-35s, which will keep us as a world leader in air combat, but I am happy to pay tribute from the Dispatch Box to the plane and to all those men and women who have flown and maintained it over those 40 years.
The UK’s democracy is defunct. Its economy and society are chronically unequal. Britain is breaking. Let us speak as others find us. This plain truth has not gone unnoticed. In pubs, clubs and homes, on pavements, at schools and workplaces, and at a Yes Is More gig in Cardiff on Friday, people are talking about this place and about how Westminster is failing them. When will the Prime Minister lift her gaze above party interests and the Westminster interest? When will she work with others to remake this island as three self-sufficient, thriving nations, rather than perpetuating the assumption of privilege for one?
When I became Prime Minister, I was very clear that I wanted a country that worked for everyone, and that was the entire United Kingdom. I note that in her question the hon. Lady failed to recognise that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. We want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. I also say to her that democracy is not defunct. Democracy in this country will be shown by this House recognising the vote that took place in 2016, delivering on the result of the referendum and voting for a deal for us to leave the EU.
Despite our comparative size, the UK has more Government Departments than even the USA. We hear in this place all the time about the challenges of cross-departmental working. Will my right hon. Friend commit to looking carefully in the spending review at opportunities to shrink the size of government and instead focus our spending on public services?
The question of the size of government is something that several colleagues raise from time to time. I must put my hand up and admit the role that I played in that by creating the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade, and of course we are also employing more civil servants to ensure that we deliver on Brexit, something which I believe is close to my hon. Friend’s heart.
Maryam is just six months old, and she is beautiful. She was recently diagnosed with a devastating form of muscular dystrophy. Her brother had the same condition and died tragically young. Spinraza is a new and highly effective drug produced by Biogen that is available in 23 countries, but not in England. If Maryam lived in the west of Scotland instead of West Ham, she would get it. Negotiations between the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Biogen have been unsuccessful, leaving Maryam and two other babies as tiny pawns in an argument about price and profit. Will the Prime Minister please intervene and help prevent Maryam and others from suffering an early and painful death?
The hon. Lady raises that case with great passion, and I will ensure that a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care looks at the matter and responds to her.
The consumption of dog and cat meat goes against our British values. They are our companions. They are not food. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a ban on consumption here, where, astoundingly, it is still legal, would put us in a leading position and send a clear message to the rest of the world that the sickening and horrific suffering that the animals experience during slaughter should be stopped? If so, will she commit to the change, which has cross-party support, as demonstrated by my amendment to the Agriculture Bill?
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s amendment, and I thank him for raising the issue. Animal welfare is a priority for this Government. I am pleased that it is illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK. No abattoirs are licensed to slaughter dogs and, thankfully, there is no evidence of human consumption of dog or cat meat in the UK. I certainly hope that other countries will join the UK in upholding the highest standards of animal welfare.
Order. In wishing the hon. Lady a very happy birthday and hoping that the House will join me in doing so, I call Rachel Reeves.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—21 again.
My constituent Harriet recently gave birth to her baby three months premature. When Harriet was due to return to work, her baby had only recently come out of hospital, and she had to choose between taking additional time off work but struggling to pay the bills or returning to work but missing crucial bonding time with her baby. The Government had committed to reviewing the issue by the end of January, but we are now halfway through February. Will the Prime Minister commit to taking action and to extending parental leave for the parents of children who end up in neonatal wards?
First, happy birthday to the hon. Lady. We are reviewing the situation, and we are also looking at what applies in other circumstances, such as miscarriage. I will ensure that she receives a written response.
The Leader of the Opposition has shown today that a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. He chose to ask about Seaborne Freight and Ramsgate port, which is in my constituency, but he does not speak for South Thanet; I do. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the people of Thanet are ready and prepared to keep the port open for Brexit eventualities? Can she give a commitment to Thanet District Council that it will be indemnified for costs here on in?
No one can doubt the passion and vigour with which my hon. Friend speaks up for the people of his South Thanet constituency. He mentions Ramsgate port, and I am aware of the discussions between the council and the Department for Transport, and I believe that they are continuing. Obviously, I recognise the significance of the possibility of ensuring that suitable capacity is available at Ramsgate harbour, and I will ensure that the Department for Transport looks at the specific issue that he raises.
Order. Yes, on this occasion I will take a point of order from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) because I gather that it appertains to the session that has just concluded. I very gently say to him that I hope that this is not a cheeky ruse to be deployed on a weekly basis to secure for himself a third question, which our procedures do not allow. That would be very wrong, and I am sure he would not knowingly do anything very wrong. We will put it to the test. [Interruption.] There is a certain amount of chuntering from a sedentary position, not least from the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who suggests that she thinks that he might engage in such behaviour. I am a charitable chap, and I am prepared to give him a chance.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Heaven forbid that anyone would abuse the privilege that you afford us on such occasions.
We all recognise our responsibility for the language we use in the discourse that we have in this House. I want to be helpful to the Prime Minister because she perhaps inadvertently misled the House when she said that there was no plan for Scottish independence. Unlike the Brexit campaign, which was no more than a slogan on the side of a bus, we had—[Interruption.]
Order. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is brandishing a document. I have a feeling it will feature in his next press release. He has made his point with force and alacrity, and it requires no reply. I hope he is satisfied with his prodigious efforts. We will leave it there.
Ah! The hon. Gentleman ought to know about good behaviour in the Chamber and elsewhere as he is a distinguished football referee.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate your comments. For clarification, given that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) held up a copy of the SNP’s White Paper, how can I put on the record the fact that it contained many errors and omissions? For example, it did not include any transition costs, it wildly overstated the predicted revenue from oil and, interestingly, many of the proposals in it related to powers that the Scottish Government and the SNP already had in Holyrood in Edinburgh.
The hon. Gentleman has found his own salvation, as he well knows. Hitherto, I had always thought that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) was a notably cheeky chappie in the Chamber, but I realise that the role of cheeky chappie is not confined to the Scottish National party. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Moray, who has made his point and looks very delighted with his efforts. We will leave it there.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar looks very happy. We do not need to hear from him further at this time. I remind him that he also has cerebral status as the Chair of a Select Committee and should behave with due decorum to reflect the very high standing he enjoys, possibly in Scotland but certainly in the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is something that has been troubling me for a few weeks now. When I first came here, I was told that the protocol of the Chamber is that hon. Members must never cross the line of sight between you and whoever is speaking. However, on multiple occasions this Chamber has emptied when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) has stood up, to the point at which people cut off your line of sight when you are in the middle of speaking to Members. Could you advise us on how that can be corrected?
What I would say to the hon. Lady is twofold. First, it is a breach of the conventions of this House for a Member to walk past a Member who has the Floor on that side of the House. That is unseemly and discourteous behaviour, and it falls into the category that the hon. Lady is helpfully deprecating.
Secondly, I hope the hon. Lady will not take it amiss if I say that it is regrettable that her prodigious efforts on behalf of her party leader have not been witnessed by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber himself, for the simple reason that he has already exited the Chamber. However, the saving grace for the hon. Lady is that her efforts have been observed by no less a figure than the Chief Whip of the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). That probably bodes well for her in the future. We will leave it there for now.