April marks 50 years since the launch of our longest sustained military operation, Operation Relentless, and the beginning of our continuous at sea deterrent. I am sure all Members on both sides of the House will want to join me in paying tribute to all the generations of Royal Navy submariners, their families, who sacrifice so much, and all those involved in protecting our nation.
Tomorrow marks 70 years since the founding of NATO. I assure the House that, under this Government, the United Kingdom will continue to play our leading role in NATO as it continues its mission of keeping nearly 1 billion people safe.
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.
I assure the Prime Minister that I will not raise Brexit, which will be raised later. I want to raise another very important issue. Consultants and doctors at the university hospital in my constituency have raised the issue of the NHS pension scheme and the tapered annual allowance, the consequences of which are that doctors are retiring early and turning down additional shifts for fear of paying higher tax bills to the Government. That is resulting in longer waiting times for patients and a shortage of doctors and consultants. Will she raise this with the Chancellor as soon as possible and inform me of his answer?
I am aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. In fact, the Chancellor and the Treasury are already in discussion with the Department of Health and Social Care on this very issue. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Chancellor is on the Treasury Bench and has heard his point. I will make sure that we confirm to him what comes out of those discussions.
I should just congratulate my hon. Friend on so cleverly working in Southend’s claim to become a city. As he says, it is very important that we see that investment coming to our country. The benefits and opportunities, when we have got over this stage and delivered Brexit, for building that better Britain and building that better future, including in Southend-on-Sea, will be there. It is for all of us to ensure that we can get over this stage, get a deal through, get to Brexit, deliver on Brexit and build that better future, of which I am sure Southend will be a leading part.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing the people of Southend well, and I hope it does become a city. [Interruption.] Is that okay?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s offer of talks following the meetings I have held with Members across the House, and I look forward to meeting her later today. I welcome her willingness to compromise to resolve the Brexit deadlock.
When the Prime Minister began her premiership, she promised to resolve the burning injustices facing this country, so can she explain why, according to the Government’s own official figures, poverty has risen for all ages under her Administration?
No one in government wants to see poverty rising, and we take this very seriously indeed, but, as I have said previously to the right hon. Gentleman, the only sustainable way to tackle poverty is with a strong economy and a welfare system that helps people into work. That is why it is important that we have the lowest unemployment since the 1970s and that the number of homes where no one works is at a record low. But we also need to make sure that work pays. Let me just give the right hon. Gentleman some figures: in 2010, under a Labour Government, someone working full-time on the national minimum wage would have taken home £9,200 after tax and national insurance, whereas now, thanks to our tax cuts and the biggest increase in the national living wage, they will take home more than £13,700—that is £4,500 more under a Conservative Government.
Official figures show that since 2010 child poverty has increased by half a million, working age poverty has increased by 200,000 and pensioner poverty has increased by 400,000. Although the Prime Minister is right to mention the national minimum wage, whose introduction her party strongly opposed, we should just be aware of what the national minimum wage actually means: it is £8.21 for over-25s; for 21 to 24-year-olds it is only £7.70; and for apprentices it is just £3.90 an hour. These are poverty wages. There are now 8 million people in this country in work and in poverty. Many on middle incomes are struggling to make ends meet. Universal credit is failing. Will the Prime Minister today at least halt the roll-out of universal credit and agree to a thorough review of it?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, as we have been rolling out universal credit, we have been making changes to it. One of the early measures we took when I became Prime Minister was to change the taper rate. We have since abolished the seven-day wait. We have ensured that we have taken action to make it easier for those who are transferring on to UC in relation to their housing benefit. But, crucially, there is only one way to ensure that we sustainably deal with the issue of poverty—
A Labour Government.
No, and I will come on to that. It is to ensure that we have a strong economy that delivers jobs, and better jobs, and that people can keep more of the money that they earn. What do we know would happen? From behind the right hon. Gentleman, an hon. Member says, from a sedentary position, that the answer is a Labour Government. But a Labour Government would spend £1,000 billion more than has been proposed; a Labour Government would put up taxes; and the Labour party has opposed tax cut after tax cut. This is how you help working people: tax cuts which keep people in work; better jobs; and high employment. That is under the Conservatives.
From a Government that rolled out austerity and has caused such poverty across the country, the Prime Minister really ought to think for a moment about what she has just said. The last Labour Government halved child poverty; brought in children’s centres and Sure Start; and reduced poverty across the whole country. She seems to be ignoring the true impact of universal credit. The Trussell Trust says that in areas where universal credit has been rolled out, food bank use has increased by more than 50%. This week, we also learned that another 400,000 pensioners are in poverty compared with 2010. So why is the Prime Minister pressing ahead with cuts to pension credit for couples where one person is of pension age and the other is not?
Under a Conservative Government we have seen the triple lock on pensions, which has provided good increases for pensioners year after year, and under this Conservative Government we have seen the introduction of the new pension arrangements for individuals who are pensioners. Let us just remember what we saw under a Labour Government. It is not under a Conservative Government that we saw a 75p rise in pensions—it was under Labour.
The last Labour Government lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty; this Government have put 400,000 more into poverty. Age UK, which I think knows a thing or two about this, says that this proposal by the Government is “a substantial stealth cut”. This year, 15,000 pensioner households could be up to £7,000 a year worse off as a result of this stealth cut.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister mentioned the triple lock, because at the last general election the Government alarmed older people by pledging to scrap the triple lock and the means-tested winter fuel allowance. Will the Prime Minister give an unequivocal commitment that this is no longer Government policy and will not be in the next Tory manifesto?
We have given our commitments to pensioners. We are clear: we are keeping those commitments to pensioners. What we have seen under Conservatives in government is the basic state pension rise by over £1,450 a year. That is in direct contrast to what a Labour Government did for our pensioners. We want people to be able to live in dignity in their old age, and that is what this Conservative Government are delivering.
I am sure that the whole generation of WASPI women will be pretty alarmed at the lack of action by this Government and the lack of justice for them. Additionally, over 1 million over-75s currently receive a free TV licence, a scheme established by the last Labour Government. This Government transferred the scheme to the BBC without guaranteeing its funding. Will the Government take responsibility and guarantee free TV licences for the over-75s?
We have been clear what we want the BBC to do and, frankly, I think that the BBC is in a position to be able to do that with the income that it receives.
The last Labour Government guaranteed free TV licences for the over-75s; this Government appear to be outsourcing that policy to the BBC. I think it should be an item of public policy and not be left to somebody else to administer on behalf of the Government.
The last Labour Government lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty and 2 million children out of absolute poverty, and homelessness was cut in half. Contrast that with this Government, who have has put half a million more children and 400,000 more pensioners into poverty, and doubled homelessness. This, by this Government, is a political choice. There is nothing inevitable about rising poverty, homelessness and soaring food-bank use in the fifth richest country on earth. So yes, let us work to try to resolve the Brexit deadlock, but unless this Government tackle insecure work, low pay and rising pensioner poverty, the Prime Minister’s Government will be marked down for what they are—a failure in the eyes of the people of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman cited the last Labour Government—I did not realise that he was such a fan of the last Labour Government. He seemed to spend the entire time voting against them when he had a Labour Government.
Let us just talk about what is happening under this Government: a record rate of employment; wages growing at their fastest for a decade; debt falling; a long-term plan for the NHS, and the biggest cash boost in the NHS’s history; a skills-based immigration system; more money for police, local councils and schools; the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights for over 20 years; the freeing of councils to build more homes; world-class public services—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Russell-Moyle, you are behaving in a truly delinquent fashion. Calm yourself, young man. I had to have words with you yesterday. You are a bit over-eager. It is not the sort of thing that I would ever have done as a Back Bencher.
World-class public services; better jobs; more homes; and a stronger economy—Conservatives delivering on the things that matter.
As this week is World Autism Awareness Week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to encourage all Departments to follow the examples being set by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care, which are taking initiatives to improve their engagement with people who have autism in their families? I also ask her to endorse the autism awareness training course for Members of Parliament—offered through the all-party parliamentary group on autism and the National Autistic Society—which will be held in this House on 1 May. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act 2009, it would be good to see every MP go through that training course to better help their constituents.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that she did to bring in the Autism Act 2009. It was very important; it was groundbreaking. It was the first piece of parliamentary legislation to be linked to the condition of autism. I thank her and the members of the all-party parliamentary group on autism for their work on this important issue, including in highlighting the awareness week, and in ensuring that autism training is available for Members of Parliament. I hope, as she does, that Members from across the House take that up. We are reviewing our autism strategy to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, because we want to know what is working and where we need to push harder to transform our approach, so we will continue to look at the issue, which she rightly highlighted in her work on the Act. I welcome that, and congratulate her on the work that she continues to do on the issue.
It is well known that the SNP supports a people’s vote and has supported revocation, but all the way through this process, right back to 2016, the SNP and the Scottish Government have sought compromise. We have published document after document, including “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which we know Michel Barnier has read; he says it is an interesting document. Why does the Prime Minister continue to ignore Scotland’s voices? Why has she restricted herself to inviting the Leader of the Opposition to formal talks? Why has she not invited the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government? Why is it that Scotland’s voices are being ignored by this Prime Minister and this Government?
I am meeting the First Minister of Scotland later today, and we will be talking to her about Scotland. [Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman asked a question, and the Prime Minister is answering it. Let us hear, fully and courteously, the answer.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I say, I am meeting the First Minister of Scotland, and the First Minister of Wales, later today. The right hon. Gentleman asks why I offered to meet the Leader of the Opposition. I am happy to meet Members from across the House to discuss the Brexit issue, but I think I am right in saying that the Leader of the Opposition and I both want to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal, whereas of course the right hon. Gentleman, as he has just said, has a policy of revoking article 50. That means not leaving the European Union at all.
I asked about formal talks. I am well aware that my friend and colleague is meeting the Prime Minister this afternoon. [Interruption.]
Order. Members are becoming very over-excited. The right hon. Gentleman has a right to be heard, and he will be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me make it clear that the voices of Scotland will not be shouted down by Conservatives in this House. The important factor here is that the Prime Minister is having formal talks with the Leader of the Opposition. Scotland will not accept a Tory or a Labour Brexit. Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, and we simply will not be dragged out against our will. Will the Prime Minister now engage in formal talks with the Scottish Government, the Scottish National party and other Opposition parties to make sure that our voices are heard, and that the desire to stay in the European Union—the best deal for all of us—is listened to and respected?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, because we have met to talk about these issues, just as I have met other party leaders from across the House, I am always happy to meet party leaders from across the House. I want to find a way forward that delivers on the referendum and delivers Brexit as soon as possible, but in a way that means that we do not have to fight the European parliamentary elections, and in an orderly way for this country. He talks about voices from Scotland; I can assure him that there are indeed strong voices for Scotland in this House—they sit on the Conservative Benches.
Can I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, on behalf of all the people of Selby, to put her weight behind the campaign for step-free access for Selby railway station? [Interruption.] I am sorry to disappoint colleagues with my line of questioning, but this matter is very important for the people of Selby. In this day and age, it is totally unacceptable that those who are unable to walk up stairs—people with disabilities—are denied access to public transport. The people of Selby demand action.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his service as a Government Minister since 2017. He has worked extremely hard, serving as both a Wales Office Minister and a Government Whip simultaneously, and I am sorry that he has resigned. I also thank him for raising the important issue of access to public transport, particularly access to stations for people with disabilities. He asked me to add my weight to the campaign, but I have to say that his considerable weight has been behind the campaign for a long time. [Laughter.] As a campaigner!
Order. The Prime Minister was referring to the hon. Gentleman’s qualities as a campaigner. That is what she was saying. She was not looking at the hon. Gentleman when she made that remark; she was saying it on the basis of her knowledge of him.
As I said, my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard on the issue for some time. I understand that the Department for Transport will announce tomorrow the stations that will benefit from funding for accessibility, if my hon. Friend can have just a little patience and wait for the announcement.
The purpose of meeting the Leader of the Opposition today is to look at the areas on which we agree. There are actually a number of areas on which we agree in relation to Brexit: we both want to deliver on leaving the EU with a deal; we both want to protect jobs; we both want to ensure that we end free movement; and we both recognise the importance of the withdrawal agreement. We want to find a way forward that can command the support of this House, to deliver on Brexit and the result of the referendum, and to ensure that people can continue to have trust in their politicians doing what they ask us to do.
Robert Small and David West were two young men from the Fareham area with their whole lives ahead of them. While suffering with mental health problems and under the care of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, they tragically took their own lives. Few can imagine the grief endured by their families, who have since been campaigning for a change at Southern Health, which has struggled with systemic issues and problems for some years. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the Government will work with me and other Hampshire MPs to secure vital changes at Southern Health so that such tragedies may be avoided?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the constituents she referred to. These incidents are very concerning. I understand that the local trust and the county council have pledged to work together more closely to resolve issues, but we remain absolutely committed to transforming mental health services around the country. We are providing record investment for these services, and we have an ambitious plan to increase the workforce and deal with the issues. I reassure my hon. Friend that action will be taken to ensure that we can prevent such incidents from happening in the future. They were terrible incidents, and our sympathies are with the family and friends of the victims.
As I believe I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, when any allegations of Islamo- phobia are made, against elected Conservatives or members of the Conservative party, we take them very seriously and action is taken in relation to those individuals. He referred to the attacks on mosques. I absolutely condemn any attacks against mosques, or indeed against any place of worship. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has increased the funding available to help protect places of worship against attacks. This has no place in our society and we should all be working to ensure that people can go to their place of worship and feel safe and secure in this country.
Does it remain the Prime Minister’s position that the Leader of the Opposition is not fit to govern?
Yes, I think my right hon. Friend will know, having heard my remarks about what I think a Labour Government would do to the economy, that I do not think the Labour party should be in government. It is the Conservatives who are delivering for people. The Leader of the Opposition and I have different opinions on a number of issues, and I will highlight just one. When this country suffered a chemical weapons attack on the streets of Salisbury, it was this Government, with me as Prime Minister, who stood up to the perpetrators. The right hon. Gentleman said that he preferred to believe Vladimir Putin than our own security agencies. That is not the position of someone who should be Prime Minister.
The hon. Gentleman should look at the funding that has been made available to Wales by this Westminster Government. He talks about the Government of Wales. There are indeed issues there that I think we should be focusing on, such as the national health service in Wales under a Labour Government. [Interruption.] Yes, Members may well point. That is what we see when Labour is in office: a national health service that has not met its A&E target for over a decade.
According to polling that has just been published, over 58% of the British public have expressed a wish to have a final say on the Brexit process. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that, with the ongoing impasse here in Westminster, and despite her best endeavours to pass her deal, and indeed the ongoing endeavours of the House to find a compromise, the British public are right increasingly to think that they should have a final say before proceeding with Brexit?
I know how passionately my hon. Friend has campaigned on this issue for some time now. He refers to the deal that the Government have put forward being rejected. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition’s deal has also been rejected by this House, as has a second referendum. What I believe we should be doing is delivering on the result of the first referendum, which is why I will be sitting down with the Leader of the Opposition later today.
The hon. Lady again raises the important issue of autism. I am sure that, as constituency MPs, we all see cases where parents have found it very difficult to get support for their children who are on the autistic spectrum. It is important to ensure that there is the awareness and the ability to deal with this issue. As I said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), we are looking again at our autism strategy, because we want to ensure that we have in place all we need to support those with autism.
Last week in this Chamber, the Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition is
“The biggest threat to our standing in the world, to our defence and to our economy”—[Official Report, 27 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 313.]
In her judgment, what now qualifies him for involvement in Brexit?
Every Member of this House is involved in Brexit. I want to deliver Brexit. I want to deliver Brexit in an orderly way. I want to do it as soon as possible. I want to do it without us having to fight European parliamentary elections. To do that, we need to get an agreement through this House on the withdrawal agreement and a deal. The House has rejected every proposal that has gone before it so far, as well as a second referendum and revoking article 50. I believe that the public want us to work across the House to find a solution that delivers Brexit, delivers on the referendum and gives people faith that politicians have done what they asked and actually delivered for them.
Across this House, we all have a responsibility to ensure that we deliver Brexit and that we do it as soon as possible and in an orderly way. It is entirely right, and I think members of the public expect it, for us to reach out across the House to find a way through; they want a solution. The country needs a solution, and the country deserves a solution, and that is what I am working to find.
In the past fortnight there have been two incidents involving knife crime in my city of Chelmsford, and my constituents are extremely concerned. Can my right hon. Friend give us an update on this week’s knife crime summit?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of her constituents. It was a very important summit that we held on Monday. I was pleased to bring together people from the police, across Government Departments, community groups, the judiciary, healthcare and a wide range of activities to recognise the importance of taking a holistic, collective approach to dealing with knife crime. We will be consulting on a statutory duty to deal with knife crime as a public health issue, which is important, to ensure that everybody plays their part.
After the summit I was able to meet a number of families who had lost children—I say children, because these were teenagers—as a result of serious violence involving knife crime and a shooting. The horror and devastation of these attacks is brought home when sitting down and listening to the families who have seen promising young lives cut short in this tragic way. We are committed as a Government to working not just across Government but with society as a whole to deal with the scourge of serious violence, which is taking so many young lives.
We remain committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of our nuclear submarines as soon as is practically possible. The MOD continues to act as a responsible nuclear operator by maintaining its decommissioned nuclear submarines to meet the necessary safety and security standards. I think its commitment is illustrated by the recent success in the initial dismantling of the submarine Swiftsure, which has been followed immediately by the initial dismantling of Resolution. The MOD will continue to work with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to achieve steady-state disposal of our laid-up submarines as soon as possible. We are working on this. The Labour Government had 13 years as well, and what work did they do during those 13 years on this decommissioning issue?
Why is a Conservative Prime Minister, who repeatedly told us that no deal is better than a bad deal, now approaching Labour MPs to block a WTO Brexit when most Conservative MPs want us to leave the European Union with a clean break in nine days’ time?
I say to my right hon. Friend that I was absolutely right: no deal is better than a bad deal, but we have got a good deal. We had a chance last Friday to ensure that we would leave the European Union on 22 May, and I am grateful to all colleagues who supported that motion, some of whom, I know, doing so with a very heavy heart. But I want to ensure that we deliver Brexit. I want to ensure that we do it in an orderly way, as soon as possible, without fighting European elections, but to do that we need to find a way of this House agreeing the withdrawal agreement and agreeing the way forward. It is on that basis that I have been sitting down with Members across the House and will continue to do so in order to ensure that we can find a way forward that this House can support.
I commend Grace for the work that she has been doing on this issue—sadly, coming out of her own personal experience. I think the hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue. We want to make sure that people with invisible disabilities are able to access public toilets and can do so in a way that does not lead to the abuse that, sadly, Grace suffered. I fully recognise the campaign that she is fighting, and I think it is an excellent campaign.
The people of Sleaford and North Hykeham—like myself, like the country—voted for Brexit and want to see it delivered. I understand the Prime Minister’s saying that we have to look at the balance of risk. Indeed, I looked at the balance of risk myself and supported her deal, and I urge others in our party to do so. But if it comes to the point when we have to balance the risk of a no-deal Brexit versus the risk of letting down the country and ushering in a Marxist, antisemite-led Government, what does she think at that point is the lowest risk?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the support she has shown for the Government’s deal and for the encouragement she is giving to others to support that deal. I want to see that we are able to deliver for her constituents and for others across the country and that we, as I say, deliver Brexit, and do it as soon as possible. In delivering Brexit, we need to ensure that we are delivering on the result of the referendum. That is what I said yesterday, and that is what we will be looking to do.
I am going to be in discussion with the Leader of the Opposition, but as I indicated earlier, I think the Leader of the Opposition and I both want to deliver leaving the EU and to deliver that with a deal. I think we both agree that the withdrawal agreement is a part of any deal. I think we both agree that we want to protect jobs and ensure high standards of workers’ rights. I think there are a number of areas on which we agree; the question is, can we come to an agreement that we can both support that would command the support of this House? That is what the talks will be about.
Seventy years after the founding of NATO, will the Prime Minister find time today to look at the situation facing Northern Ireland veterans, some of whom are being arrested and charged with murder, nearly 50 years after the alleged events and where there is no new evidence? What signal does that send to youngsters looking to join the armed forces? Will she try to make solving this part of her legacy?
I recognise the issue that my hon. Friend has raised, and obviously the concern has been shared by our hon. and right hon. Friends and others across the House. The current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well for anyone. As I have said previously in this Chamber, around 3,500 were killed in the troubles, and the vast majority were murdered by terrorists. Many of these cases require further investigation, including the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. The system to investigate the past needs to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles and to ensure that our armed forces and police officers are not unfairly treated. The Ministry of Defence is also looking at what more can be done to ensure that service personnel are not unfairly pursued through the courts in relation to service overseas, including considering legislation, and we continue to look at how best to move forward in relation to the issues of the legacy in Northern Ireland.
I understand that South Wales Police has been given extra funding in relation to dealing with knife crime. It is important that we deal with this issue. The hon. Gentleman raised Brexit, and it is also important that we deliver on the result of the referendum and do what is necessary to ensure that we are prepared for leaving the European Union, which is exactly what the Government are doing. However, we are focusing on the issue of serious violence, as witnessed by the knife crime summit that we held earlier this week.
In agreeing with the 14 members of the Cabinet who are happy for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union next week, can I ask my right hon. Friend whether she will set out her vision for the benefits that will come to the United Kingdom from no deal?
I say to my hon. Friend, first, that he should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers; the Cabinet came to a collective decision yesterday. Secondly, I have always been clear that I think the opportunities for the United Kingdom outside the European Union are bright. I believe we can build that greater Britain and that brighter future for everybody. I believe we will do that better by leaving with a good deal. I believe we have a good deal, and that is why I have been working to ensure that we can leave, do so as soon as possible and in an orderly way, and build that brighter future.
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), any allegations made in relation to the Conservative party are investigated carefully by the Conservative party and action is taken. This Government have been doing more to ensure that the police can deal with issues around hate crime. When I was Home Secretary, I required the police to ensure that they were properly recording incidents of hate crime, so that we could better identify Islamophobia. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friends the Communities Secretary and the Home Secretary recently chaired a roundtable on anti-Muslim hate crime. It is being taken seriously by the Conservative party and by the Government.
It is worth everyone in this place remembering that for people outside there is far, far more to life than Brexit, as illustrated by many of the questions today. In Loughborough, we are very proud of Loughborough University being the best university in the world for sports-related subjects. One group of athletes who have been much undersung in recent weeks are our Team GB athletes who took part in the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi. One hundred and twenty-seven athletes returned with 169 medals, over 60 gold. Will the Prime Minister congratulate them, and does she think it might be time for GB to host the next Special Olympics?
I will look very carefully at my right hon. Friend’s suggestion in relation to the Special Olympics. I am very happy to join her—I am sure everybody across the whole House will—in congratulating our GB team on the significant haul of medals they brought back from the Special Olympics. May I also say how much we value Loughborough University and the work it does on sports-related matters?
The hon. Lady knows that we are increasing the funding—£1.3 billion extra—available to schools. I am sure she will want to welcome, as I do, the fact that there are 22,500 more children in the Bristol local authority area in good and outstanding schools since 2010.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), I thank the Prime Minister for the invitation she extended to me to her knife crime summit on Monday. Does she agree that, while the numbers and powers of police officers are important, we need to send a message to people who would never wear a t-shirt made in a sweatshop and look carefully at the air miles of the food they buy, yet seem not to make the connection between the drug use they have in their personal lives and the damage done to young people on our streets? Will she send a message that it is not acceptable?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. If we look at the extent to which knife crime is gang and drug-related, many people across our society need to ask themselves what they are doing to ensure we deal with knife crime and not see drug-related gangs committing these crimes, so that we are able to rid our society of what I believe to be the curse of drugs. I believe they have those impacts. They are bad, and that is why it is important that, as a Government, we have a very clear drugs strategy to take people off drugs and ensure we deal with this issue. My hon. Friend makes a very important point: it is a matter not just for Government or police, but for all of us across our society to deal with these issues.
We want to ensure we have a migration system that enables us to welcome people into this country on the basis of the skills they will bring and the contribution they will make to this country, not of the country they happen to come from. When people voted to leave the European Union in 2016, they sent a clear message that they wanted things to change. One of the things they wanted to change was to bring an end to free movement and to ensure that it is the UK Government who are able to make decisions about who can come to this country.
As the Prime Minister seeks to get her short extension upon the short extension, will she make it absolutely clear to the European Union that if they turn around and say that it has to be a long extension and that we will have to fight the European Union elections, she will say no, no, no?
We had the opportunity on Friday to cement that extension to 22 May and ensure that we left on 22 May. As I said earlier, I am grateful to all who supported that motion. Some did so with some difficulty, and with a very heavy heart. I now want us to find a position where we can, across the House, support the withdrawal agreement and a deal that enables us to leave on 22 May without having to hold European parliamentary elections. We can only do that if we come together and find a way forward that this House is willing to support.
We are looking seriously at issues around Yorkshire devolution. I know that it has caused some concern and there are different opinions about how it should be taken forward. The hon. Gentleman references Geoffrey Boycott, and one thing that I have always admired about Geoffrey Boycott is that he stayed at the crease, kept going and got his century in the end.
Further to the last question, once the Prime Minister has dealt with the rather tricky issue that is Brexit, as I am sure she will, will she move on to the much more difficult problem of devolution in Yorkshire? Now that the Secretary of State has ruled out devolution to the whole of Yorkshire, will the Prime Minister consider a devolution deal to the York city region, to include the city of York and the glorious county of North Yorkshire?
We recognise that there is in Yorkshire, as I have just said, enthusiasm for and dedication to the concept of devolution, and its potential to release and harness local people’s sense of identity with Yorkshire and be of ongoing benefit to the people of Yorkshire. We need to find the right proposals that will suit the area, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary has met the Yorkshire leaders. Discussions are continuing with them about a localist approach to devolution in Yorkshire different from the One Yorkshire proposal, which did not meet our criteria.
Reports from the Cabinet yesterday suggest that two proposals were put forward for cross-party co-operation to solve the Brexit crisis. One of them was to work with the Leader of the Opposition to deliver a Labour Brexit. The other was to work with the 280 MPs across the House who will support the Prime Minister’s deal subject to a confirmatory referendum. Why does she trust the Leader of the Opposition more than the people?
I want to ensure that we find a resolution that the House can support, such that we can deliver Brexit in a timely fashion. I believe it is important to do that as soon as possible, and I want us to do it without having to fight the European elections. I believe it is absolutely right, and the public would expect us, to be willing to work across the Chamber to find a resolution to this issue.
Conservative-led Redditch Borough Council has recently submitted its bid for the future high streets fund. Will the Prime Minister add her support to that bid, because the people of Redditch deserve to have our town unlocked? Does she agree that it is only with Conservatives in our town hall that we can continue to unlock Redditch after years of Labour neglect?
I commend Conservative-led Redditch council for the work that it is doing to unlock the town and to unlock the high street. My hon. Friend tempts me to support one bid over others, but there will be other of our hon. and right hon. Friends who wish me to support bids from their towns. It is important that we have made this money available, and I congratulate Redditch council, under the Conservatives, for all that it is doing to ensure the vitality of the town.
I find myself in a slightly curious position, sandwiched between the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh nationalists. I reassure my constituents and hon. Members that I remain a progressive Conservative while I am, sadly, independent in this House.
The Prime Minister’s late conversion to compromise is welcome, but I am sure she will understand the scepticism of those of us who have been working on a cross-party compromise for many months. Can she reassure me that she will enter discussions with the Leader of the Opposition and other parties without the red lines that have bedevilled the Brexit negotiations so far?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s indication that he remains a progressive Conservative in his thinking on various issues. I approach the discussions in a constructive spirit, because I want to find a resolution of this issue. I want to ensure that we can do what people told us we should do, which is to deliver Brexit in an orderly way that is good for this country.