House of Commons
Wednesday 23 October 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Rob Vincent CBE to be an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1 January 2020 for the period ending 31 December 2023, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
I remind Members that the private Members’ Bill ballot book is open in the No Lobby today until the rise of the House, when the ballot for this Session will close. The ballot draw will be held at 9 am tomorrow in Committee Room 10. I also remind right hon. and hon. Members that the ballot for the election of the Chair of the Treasury Committee, which is now being held in Committee Room 15, closes at 1.15 pm.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—
UK Elections: Overseas Funding
The Cabinet Office regularly engages with the Electoral Commission on a range of issues, including strengthening the integrity of the electoral framework. We have committed to launch an electoral integrity consultation, which will seek to strengthen the provisions that protect UK politics from foreign influence. We are currently holding discussions with regulators and stakeholders, and we will be publishing the consultation in the coming months.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but may I press him further? The commissioners recommended that the rules on campaign funding are improved in the UK further to support confidence from the electorate. Will the Minister set out a timetable of when he will finish these consultations and implement the commission’s recommendations so that the electorate has faith in where the funding comes from for our elections in this country?
I appreciate the constructive tone with which the hon. Gentleman has put his question. We look to publish the consultation itself over the coming months. We will be engaging with a range of stakeholders, including political parties, because we need to make sure that the system we come up with is not only robust, but fair, while also allowing those who just want to stand up for their own community and engage in our democratic process to do so without having to consult lawyers to take part.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Facebook has recently withdrawn four different networks that were thought to have interfered with elections in the United States and Israel, and perhaps—we do not know—the United Kingdom. Does he think that is a good move or an irrelevant move by Facebook?
We certainly welcome any moves being taken by the social media giants to try to remove those who are looking to distort information or inappropriately influence elections. As part of the consultation we are taking forward, we will try to achieve some consensus about how we can have a modern and up-to-date set of rules that ensures people cannot go online to sidestep rules that are very strong in the physical world.
I must say that perhaps it would have been better to ask that supplementary on the next question, but I will just say that in building confidence in our electoral system, it is vital that we tackle a range of issues. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see what happens when people’s democratic rights are stolen via electoral fraud, he should talk to his hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick).
Voters deserve to have confidence in our democracy, so we will legislate to introduce voter ID, in line with Northern Ireland and many other nations, and to provide greater security for postal and proxy votes. The pilots and the experience in Northern Ireland showed no adverse effect on turnout.
Over the last two years, more than 1,000 people in pilot areas have lost their chance to vote due to ID requirements, which is more than 30 times the number of allegations of polling station fraud across the whole country. Once this pilot is rolled out, thousands upon thousands of people will lose their right to vote—a disproportionate response. Is not the reality that this is just US-style voter suppression?
My wife is Canadian. When I first went to vote with her, she found it extraordinary that people could turn up at the ballot box without any form of identification. Voter ID is what happens in Canada, Switzerland, France and other advanced democracies.
As to the point about lower turnout. In the pilots we undertook, over 99% of people who wished to vote were able to do so.
I welcome the Government’s plans, but do they go far enough? The United States introduced the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1938 to protect that country against covert interference from malign states. Australia passed a similar Act in July 2018. Does the Minister think we need a FARA in this country?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Home Office is reviewing legislation related to hostile state activity following the Salisbury attacks. This is a thorough process to assess whether additional powers are required to clamp down on the activities of hostile states that threaten the UK both here and overseas. As part of this we are considering the legislation of likeminded international partners to see whether the UK would benefit from adopting something similar.
I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman is worried about a measure that is designed to enhance the integrity of our voting system. Any member of the public needs to produce identification to pick up a parcel, for example, or to pick up a book from the library, so why should they not produce identification to engage in the act of voting?
We seem to be importing a lot from across the pond. If it is not Trumpian trade deals weakening workers’ protections and opening our NHS to further privatisation, it is repressive voter ID laws that are well used by right-wing Republicans as an act of voter suppression. Is the Minister ashamed to be part of a Government who are learning lessons from the US Republican party on voter suppression? How many convictions have there been for in-person voter fraud in the last year?
Strength of the Union
The Government are committed to strengthening the links between the four nations of the Union. The Prime Minister is taking personal charge, as Minister for the Union, supported by the Cabinet Office. We have boosted spending across the Union, including a further £300 million of new growth deal funding, which will open up opportunities for cities and regions across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We are arguably the greatest Union the world has ever seen. We have done so much for mankind and democracy across the world for generations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we would be foolish to throw away this most valuable of Unions on what I believe is a passing whim?
As ever, I agree with my hon. Friend. I am pleased to see that his powers of oration have not dimmed. Ours is the most successful political and economic Union in history, and our four nations are safer, stronger and more prosperous together. We are deeply committed to keeping our family of nations together.
In a week in which we have seen a poll indicate that more voters support independence, threatening to split the Union, can my right hon. Friend tell me what work he is doing to build on the last Administration’s work to get UK Departments engaging with, and getting more of a presence in, the devolved nations?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have introduced new measures to ensure that the Union and devolved matters are properly considered as part of the process for developing and agreeing Government policy. Lord Dunlop’s independent review of UK Government capability will report in the autumn and make recommendations on how UK Government structures can continue to strengthen the working of the Union.
This is not the time for yah-boo politics. This is a most serious question—most serious because many experts outside this House believe that we are on course for a break-up of the United Kingdom as a result of the way this Government are handling the European Union and Brexit. Is the Minister not worried about that?
I thought the hon. Gentleman would be greatly heartened by the fact that, finally, the Prime Minister has agreed a deal—one that was voted for by this House last night—that enables a smooth transition out of the European Union, which will do much to enhance our Union.
The Government’s confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP says that the Government will never be neutral in expressing support for the Union, that the DUP will support the Government in all legislation pertaining to Brexit, and that the arrangement will be reviewed after each parliamentary Session. Will the Minister update us on all three points, please?
I find the approach of the nationalist party quite extraordinary—really quite extraordinary. I voted remain. I accept the outcome of the referendum and have supported it at every stage. The hon. Gentleman’s party appears to want to do two things: to ignore two previous referendums and to have two further referendums next year, 2020. It is the last thing the people of this country want.
Does the Minister agree that to strengthen the Union, it is important to have a close dialogue with communities in Northern Ireland about how the detail of the new arrangements for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would work, to reassure them?
Back in the 2014 Scottish referendum, the winning side promised that Scotland’s views would not be ignored in the Union, yet on the matter that has consumed British politics for the past four years, the opinions of the Scottish people and their elected representatives have consistently been sidelined. The Minister will know that that has driven many people to reconsider their faith in the Union. Does he have any regrets about how the Conservative party has approached this matter?
The hon. Gentleman talks about commitments, but I remember the commitment from the leader of the Scottish nationalists in Scotland, who said the referendum was a once-in-a-generation event. As for how many people voted, more people voted to leave in Scotland than voted for the Scottish National party.
Last week, the Government threw the DUP and every Unionist in Northern Ireland under a bus—presumably the bus with lies on the side about NHS funding and the EU that the Prime Minister spent so much of 2016 riding around the country in—providing the SNP with sackfuls of ammunition for its campaign promoting a referendum on independence. Why are the Government more concerned about Brexit than they are about maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom?
The Government remain committed to maintaining the unity of our United Kingdom. That is why the Prime Minister has negotiated a deal that enables Northern Ireland to leave the customs union alongside the rest of the United Kingdom and has a consent mechanism for the arrangements included in that treaty.
Leaving the EU: UK Readiness
Making sure that business and the public are ready for Brexit is a priority of the Government. That is why the Prime Minister negotiated with the EU a new withdrawal agreement that will end the uncertainty, secure an implementation period and ensure we leave with a business-friendly deal. Yesterday, the House backed the Prime Minister’s deal but voted to delay Brexit and extend uncertainty for business and citizens alike. As the EU has not responded to Parliament’s letter, the only responsible course of action now is to accelerate preparations for a no-deal outcome. The Government’s EU Exit Operations Committee is now meeting seven days a week. We will maintain our public information campaign, and Ministers and officials will continue to meet businesses of all sizes to provide advice and guidance, building on the thousands of business and other stakeholder engagements already recorded.
In my previous exchange with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I asked him what steps would be taken to support firms and farms affected by no deal and he set out the plans for Operation Kingfisher. How much funding will be set aside for Operation Kingfisher?
We continue to work closely with the farming sector to ensure that it is fully prepared for when the UK leaves the EU. We have pledged to continue the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament and we will do whatever is necessary to protect our farming communities.
The Government have always made it clear that our preferred option is to leave with a deal. We could have done that in a timely manner had this House not voted for delay, but until we have certainty, the only credible and reasonable thing for businesses to do is to continue to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to our officials. I am very proud to say that the preparing for Brexit page on the gov.uk website is the page with the highest traffic, but there is always more we can do to ensure that specific information is passed on to businesses. I will ensure that that is passed on to our officials.
Will the Minister confirm that, for the no-deal preparations in relation to the port of Portsmouth, three companies of soldiers and 180 police are on standby? If that is correct, how many more troops and police have been put on standby for remaining ports around the country?
I have to confess that the details the right hon. Gentleman highlights are not known to me. If he would like to furnish me with that information, I am more than happy to look at it. The broader point I would make is that the Government are taking the appropriate action to ensure that we can leave without a deal if needs be. As I say, that has never been the Government’s preferred option and we could have been in a position to leave with a deal, widely welcomed by businesses and communities across the United Kingdom, if he and others had not voted to prevent it.
I do not answer questions from the Dispatch Box in my capacity as chairman of the Conservative party, but if you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, the clock was not paid for out of public funds. Had Members across this House not voted to delay Brexit, we would have left on time with a deal and in good order.
The Minister continues to emphasise preparations for no deal, but did he not see in the paper yesterday a civil servant describing Operation Yellowhammer as the most expensive but failed bullying exercise in the whole of British history designed to frighten MPs into supporting a rotten Tory deal? Does he agree that there can be no justification for no deal once the EU, in the next few days, extends article 50? Under those circumstances, will the Minister for no deal then declare himself redundant and send the civil service back to do their proper jobs?
Ministers at the Dispatch Box answer questions on behalf of the Government, not civil servants. The point I would make is that preparing for a no-deal Brexit is the pragmatic and sensible thing for the Government to do. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about a no-deal Brexit, he could and should have voted in a way that ensured we left on 31 October with a deal that works for the whole of the UK. He chose not to.
It is my responsibility to prepare this country for Brexit. I am delighted that so many democrats across the House voted for the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill last night, and the universal cry from across this country is: please, get Brexit done.
It depends on which nation of this country we are talking about. At a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed that, as part of his Government’s deal, Northern Irish businesses would have easier access to the European single market than Scottish businesses. Can he confirm how much this clear competitive disadvantage will cost Scottish business?
Scotland’s businesses benefit from being part of our United Kingdom. I gently remind the hon. Lady, as the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General pointed out earlier, that more Scots voted to leave the European Union than voted for the Scottish nationalist party at the last general election.
I know how much work my hon. Friend has put into that issue. The Government have consulted on ways to prevent the loss of retention payments due to abuse or supplier insolvency. We continue to work with the industry and its clients to develop measures that will achieve that aim, and I very much hope that he will help us in that process.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. The infected blood inquiry is a priority for the Government, and it is extremely important that all those who have suffered so terribly can get the answers that they have spent decades waiting for. On the point of compensation, the Government have always made it clear that we will wait for the determination of legal liability, to which the inquiry’s deliberations relate, and then make our determination off the back of that.
As part of delivering our northern powerhouse, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed to 100% devolution across the north of England, but in Greater Manchester, power must come with responsibility. That is why last May, the people of Bolton threw off the yoke of their Labour council after 40 years. The new Conservative leader, David Greenhalgh, will end Andy Burnham’s era of impunity.
Derby is only a short train ride from London and is a welcoming city for business. Will the Minister see which Departments could be moved out of expensive accommodation in London to much better value-for-money offices in Derby?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. I know how seriously she takes these issues. Through the XO Committee, we are working with local resilience forums and with the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that vulnerable groups are protected come what may.
Existing electoral law seeks to control the spending and supervise the message whenever we go into elections. Does the Minister share my concern that it might not be adequate to control and supervise the advertising and campaigning that takes place on social media, where most of our constituents are more likely to get the message and where it is so important to ensure adequate controls?
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s concerns. We will be launching the consultation on electoral funding next year, as I have already outlined in this Session, and we are looking to introduce digital imprints so that electors are well aware of who is targeting them on social media.
The Prime Minister was asked—
The whole House will be shocked by the appalling news that 39 bodies have been discovered in a lorry container in Essex. This is an unimaginable and truly heartbreaking tragedy, and I know that the thoughts and prayers of all Members are with those who lost their lives and their loved ones. I am receiving regular updates. The Home Office will work closely with Essex police to establish exactly what happened, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make an oral statement immediately after this Question Time.
This morning, I had meeting with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I completely associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the tragedy in Essex—I do not normally do that, but on this occasion I am completely with him.
It is good to see the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Until today, I think he had only ever done one—in 100 days. We all know that he has a long list of shortcomings, so could he—[Interruption.] Will he do something about one that he does have some control over and get rid of Dominic Cummings?
I will try to reply with the generosity of spirit that the hon. Lady would expect from me and just say that I receive excellent advice from a wide range of advisers and officials. It is the role of advisers to advise and the role of the Government to decide, and I take full responsibility for everything the Government do.
As so often, my right hon. Friend has spoken with complete good sense. I do think it was remarkable that so many Members of the House were able to come together last night and approve the Bill’s Second Reading. I think that it was a great shame that the House willed the end but not the means, but there is still time for the Leader of the Opposition to do that and to explain to the people of this country how he proposes to honour his promise—which he made repeatedly—and deliver on the will of the people and get Brexit done. Perhaps he will enlighten us now.
I join others who have expressed their deep sadness at today’s news that 39 people have been found dead in a lorry container in Grays. Can we just think for a moment about what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, to end their lives suffocated to death in a container?
This is an unbelievable human tragedy, which happened in our country at this time. We clearly need to look at the whole situation and look for answers to what has happened. I do, however, also pay an enormous tribute to those in the emergency services who went to the scene to deal with it. All of us should just think for a moment about what it is like to be a police officer or a firefighter and about what it was like to open that container and have to remove 39 bodies from it and deal with them in an appropriate and humane way. We should just think for a moment about what inhumanity is done to other human beings at this terrible moment.
Yesterday, before the Prime Minister decided to delay his own withdrawal Bill, he promised to maintain—[Interruption.] Let me finish. Before he decided to delay his own withdrawal Bill—[Interruption.] If Members care to look at Hansard, they will see what it says. The Prime Minister promised to maintain environmental, consumer and workers’ rights. Why, then, did he have those commitments removed from the legally binding withdrawal agreement?
I do not think we could have been clearer yesterday in our commitment to the highest possible standards for workers’ rights and environmental standards. Indeed, I think that one of the things that brought the House together was the knowledge that, as we go forward and build our future partnership with the EU, it will always be open to Members in all parts of the House to work together to ensure that whatever the EU comes up with, we can match it and pass it into the law of this country. That, I think, commanded a lot of support and a lot of assent across the House.
I must say that I find it peculiar that the right hon. Gentleman now wants the Bill back, because he voted against it last night, and he whipped his entire party against it. I think it remarkable that the House successfully defied his urgings and approved that deal. What I think we would like to hear from him now is his commitment to getting Brexit done. That is what the public want to hear, and I am afraid they are worried that all he wants is a second referendum.
The Prime Minister does not answer the question that I put to him, which was about environmental, consumer and workers’ rights. I am not surprised, because he once said that “employment regulation” was “back-breaking”, and he voted for the anti-Trade Union Act 2016, which stripped away employment protections. The provisions in the Bill offer no real protection at all.
Yesterday, during the debate on the Bill, the Prime Minister pledged that the NHS was safe in his hands. If that is the case, will he be backing our amendment in the Queen’s Speech debate tonight, which would undo the very damaging privatisation of so much of our NHS?
The right hon. Gentleman is showing complete ignoratio elenchi—a complete failure to study what we actually passed last night in that historic agreement. It is very clear that it is open to the House to do better, where it chooses, on animal welfare standards or social protections, as indeed this country very often does. We lead the way: we are a groundbreaker in this country. I am afraid to say that the right hon. Gentleman has no other purpose in seeking to frustrate Brexit than to cause a second referendum.
As for the NHS, this is the party whose sound management of the economy took this country back from the abyss and enabled us to spend another £34 billion on the NHS—a record investment—and, as I promised on the steps of Downing Street, to begin the upgrade of 20 hospitals, and as a result of the commitments this Government are making, 40 new hospitals will be built in the next 10 years. That is this party’s commitment to the NHS. [Interruption.]
Two questions and we are still waiting for an answer, although we could do with a translation of the first part of the Prime Minister’s response.
I hate to break it to the Prime Minister, but under his Government and that of his predecessor, privatisation has more than doubled to £10 billion in our NHS. There are currently 20 NHS contracts out to tender, and when he promised 40 hospitals, he then reduced that to 20, and then it turns out that reconfiguration is taking place in just six hospitals. So these numbers keep tumbling down for the unfunded spending commitments that he liberally makes around the country.
The Prime Minister continues to say that he will exclude our NHS from being up for grabs in future trade deals. Can he point to which clause in the withdrawal agreement Bill secures that?
The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in what he says about privatisation of the NHS, and I must resist this, because those 40 new hospitals and those 47,000 extra clinical staff, including 17,000 nurses, were not paid for out of private funds; they were paid for by the NHS, and the reason we are able to pay for them is because the Conservative party and this Government believe in sound management of the economy—not recklessly putting up corporation tax, not recklessly wrecking the economy and renationalising companies in the way that he would do.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the NHS in any future free trade deal, and I understand his visceral dislike of America and his visceral dislike of free trade.
I actually asked the Prime Minister which clause in the Bill protects our NHS, and obviously there is time for him to help us with an answer on that. He should also be aware that no public capital allocations have been made for the funding commitments that he has announced; all he is said is that there is seed funding. I am not sure what seed funding is, but it does not sound like the commitment we were seeking, and it sounds awfully like private finance going into the NHS to deal with the issues it faces.
Less than one year ago, the Prime Minister said that any
“regulatory checks and…customs controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”
“the fabric of the Union”.
Given that this deal clearly does damage the fabric of the Union, does he still agree with himself?
I know that this was raised many times in the House yesterday, and I believe that the Union is preserved, and indeed we are able to go forward together as one United Kingdom and do free trade deals in a way that would have been impossible under previous deals. This is a great advance for the whole UK, and we intend to develop that together with our friends in Northern Ireland. But I must say to the right hon. Gentleman and indeed his colleagues on the Front Bench that I think it is a bit rich to hear from him about his sentimental attachment to the fabric of the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland when he has spent most of his political lifetime supporting the IRA and those who would destroy it by violence.
The Prime Minister has a habit of not answering any questions put to him. Northern Ireland will remain on single market rules within the EU on goods and agricultural products, and the rest of the UK will not. As the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) pointed out yesterday, that will create a very real border down the Irish sea, which the Prime Minister told a DUP conference, in terms, he would never do—and it was not that long ago; it might have been when he was trying to become the Tory party leader.
The Prime Minister told the House on Saturday there would be no checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, yet yesterday the Brexit Secretary confirmed to the Lords European Union Committee that Northern Irish businesses sending goods to Britain would have to complete export declaration forms. Is the Prime Minister right on this, or is the Brexit Secretary right? They cannot both be right.
Let us be absolutely clear that the United Kingdom is preserved, whole and entire, by these arrangements, and indeed the whole of the UK will be allowed to come out of the European Union customs union so that we can do free trade deals together. There will be no checks between Northern Ireland and GB, and there will be no tariffs between Northern Ireland and GB, because we have protected the customs union. This lachrymose defence of the Union comes a little ill from somebody who not only campaigned to break up the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by his support of the IRA but also wants to spend the whole of the next year not just on a referendum on the EU but on another referendum on Scotland. That is what he wants. This is the threat to our United Kingdom—on the Labour Front Bench.
I really do wonder whether the Prime Minister has read clause 21 of his own Bill. The Good Friday agreement was one of the greatest achievements of this House, led by a Labour Government at that time. The Prime Minister unlawfully prorogued Parliament. He said he would refuse to comply with the law. He threw Northern Ireland under a bus. He ripped up protections for workers’ rights and environmental standards, lost every vote along the way and tried to prevent genuine democratic scrutiny and debate. He once said that “the whole withdrawal Bill, as signed by the previous Prime Minister, is a terrible treaty”, yet this deal is even worse than that. Even if he is not that familiar with it, does the Prime Minister accept that Parliament should have the necessary time to improve on this worse-than-terrible treaty?
It is this Government and this party that deliver on the mandate of the people. I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman just said, but has he said it before. They said we could not open the withdrawal agreement, and we did. They said we could not get rid of the backstop, and we did. They said we could not get a new deal, and we did. Then they said that we would never get it through Parliament, and they did their utmost to stop it going through Parliament, but we got it through Parliament last night. This is the party and this is the Government that deliver on their promises. We said we would put 20,000 more police officers on the streets of this country, and we are. We said we would upgrade 20 hospitals, and we are. We said we would upgrade and uplift education funding around the whole country, and, even more than that, we are increasing the minimum wage, the living wage, by the biggest amount since its inception. This is the party that delivers on Brexit and delivers on the priorities of the British people.
Infrastructure: Northern Lincolnshire
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Three things that would encourage investment in northern Lincolnshire and boost the local economy are free port status for the Humber ports, improved access to those ports by upgrading the A15 between Lincoln and the A180, and improved east-west rail freight connections. Will my right hon. Friend confirm his support for those proposals?
I can indeed confirm support for those proposals. I well remember meeting my hon. Friend and his constituents in a corridor in Portcullis House, and they raised with me the issue of the railway crossing at Suggitt’s Lane. I assure my hon. Friend that Suggitt’s Lane is never far from my thoughts and that, in addition to the other pledges I have made today, I have undertakings from the Department of Transport that it will seek to find a solution and a safe means for pedestrians to cross that railway line.
The loss of life that we have learned about this morning in Essex—39 people taken from this earth—should distress us all, and we need to dwell on the fact that it happened in the United Kingdom: people put themselves in such situations in the search of a better life. We must not just brush it off as an incident. We have to learn the lessons of why it happened. Our thoughts and prayers must be with everyone, including those from the emergency services who have had to experience this most shocking sight this morning. We need more than just warm words and that being the end of it. As a humanity, we must learn from this terrible, terrible tragedy.
Within the last hour, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales joined forces to oppose this Tory Government’s damaging Brexit Bill—a Bill that risks jobs, opportunities and our entire economic future. Scotland did not vote for this toxic Tory Brexit or any Brexit. It voted overwhelmingly to remain. Will the Prime Minister stop ignoring Scotland and confirm today that he will not allow this Bill to pass unless consent is given by the Scottish Parliament—yes or no?
I note carefully what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, but, as he knows, the Scottish Parliament has no role in approving this deal. On the contrary, it is up to the Members of this Parliament to approve the deal. I am delighted to say that they did, although it did not proceed with the support of many Scottish nationalist MPs—[Interruption.] Or any of them. But if he really still disagrees with this deal and with the way forward, may I propose to him that he has a word with the other Opposition parties and joins our support for a general election to settle the matter?
There we have it. The legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament is meaningless in the Prime Minister’s eyes. So much for the respect agenda, and so much for the message in 2014 that we were to lead the United Kingdom and that this was a Union of equals—torn asunder by the disrespect of this Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Well, Conservative Members do not like the truth, but the people of Scotland have heard it from the Prime Minister today: our Parliament does not matter. That is what this Prime Minister thinks of our Government in Scotland.
Last night, the Prime Minister was yet again defeated by this House. He said that he would pull his Bill, but he has not. He wants Scotland to trust him, but how can we? Fired twice for lying, found unlawful by the courts, the Prime Minister has sold Scotland out time and again. Parliament and Scotland cannot trust this Prime Minister. If he so desperately wants an election, Europe is willing and waiting, so what is stopping him? He must now secure a meaningful extension and bring on a general election. Let the Scottish people decide our future in Scotland.
Well, what an exciting development! Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might pass some of his courage down the line.
On the point the right hon. Gentleman raises about our commitment to the Union, he should know that, thanks to Scotland’s membership of the Union, Scotland this year received the biggest ever block grant— £1.2 billion—with £200 million more secured for Scottish farming thanks to the hard work of Scottish Conservative MPs. Who is letting down Scotland? It is the Scottish National party, with its lackadaisical Government: the highest taxes anywhere in the UK; declining educational standards; inadequate healthcare; and a European policy that would take Scotland back into the EU and hand back control of Scotland’s fish to Brussels. If that is their manifesto, I look forward to contesting it with them at the polls.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I can say to him that our policy remains unchanged: we should leave the EU on 31 October, at the end of this month. We will leave the EU on 31 October if Opposition Members will comply. That is what I will say to the EU, and I will report back to the House in due course. On his other two requests of a—
I thank the hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right to raise this issue. If I may say so, this is an appalling state of affairs, and the House will be aware of what is happening in northern Syria. The British Government have actively deplored this, and I have spoken twice to President Erdoğan on the matter, both last weekend and this most recent weekend. I urged him to cease fire and for a standstill. Everybody in the House shares the hon. Gentleman’s feelings about the loss of civilian life. It is particularly unsettling to see some of our close allies at variance. The UK is working closely now, as he would expect, with our French and German friends to try to bring an understanding to President Erdoğan of the risks that we think this policy is running, and of course to persuade our American friends that we cannot simply turn a blind eye to what is happening in Syria. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct in what he said.
I am grateful for Members’ comments about the tragic events that unfolded in my constituency this morning. To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil. The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to all those who attended the scene this morning and showed incredible leadership and professionalism? Let us remember that the scenes they witnessed will stay with them forever.
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend and, indeed, other colleagues in the Chamber have already said. As the Leader of the Opposition said, it is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those members of the emergency services as they were asked to open that container and expose the appalling crime that had taken place. I share my hon. Friend’s strong desire that the perpetrators of that crime—indeed, all those who engage in similar activity, because we know that this trade is going on—and all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice.
The fishing communities of Scotland will have a fantastic opportunity, by the end of next year, to take back control of their entire coastal waters—all 200 miles of them—and to manage their fisheries in the interests of Scotland and thereby drive an even better deal for even better access to European markets. That opportunity would be wantonly thrown away by the abject, servile policy of the SNP, which would hand back control of Scottish fishing to Brussels.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend achieved the first landmark of his premiership by getting the House to vote, by a comfortable majority, in favour of Brexit. If he now proceeds in the reasonable and statesmanlike way I would hope for, he can go on to deliver Brexit in a month or two’s time, before having a general election on the sensible basis of a mandate for a Government on the fuller negotiations that will follow. Will my right hon. Friend get over his disappointment and accept that 31 October is now just Halloween, devoid of any symbolic or political content, and will rapidly fade away into historical memory? Having reflected, will he let us know that he is about to table a reasonable timetable motion, so that the House can complete the task of finalising the details of the withdrawal Bill? We can then move on, on a basis that might begin to reunite the nation once again for the future.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a reasonable case; alas, we cannot know what the EU will do in response to the request from Parliament—I stress that it was not my request but a request from Parliament—to ask for a delay. We await the EU’s reaction to Parliament’s request for a delay.
I must respectfully disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend, perhaps not for the first time, because I think it would still be very much in the best interests of this country and of democracy to get Brexit done by 31 October. I will wait to see what our EU friends and partners say in response not only to the request for a delay from Parliament but to Parliament’s insistence that it wants a delay. I do not think the people of this country want a delay and I do not want a delay. I intend to press on, but I am afraid we now have to see what our EU friends will decide on our behalf. That is the result of the decision that the Leader of the Opposition took last night.
To the best of my knowledge, there are more EU nationals living and working in this country than ever before, and, in many ways, that is a great thing, but we have, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the EU national settlement scheme to encourage people to come forward to register if they are in any doubt about their status. We will bring forward an Australian-style, points-based immigration system to make sure that all sectors have access to the labour they need.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on achieving so many things that the establishment said were impossible. In the light of that, may I ask him to instruct the Cabinet Office to examine how we can bring an end to male primogeniture and the ridiculous rules in the honours system that value women less than men—hopefully before he makes good on his undertakings to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess)?
Speaking as the oldest son who has never seen any particular benefits from that rule, I understand completely what my right hon. Friend says. I will reflect on her request. I think that she speaks for many people around the country who wish to see fairness and equality in the way we do these things
I understand that people who require the medical use of cannabis are going through desperate difficulties, and, of course, it is right that we have changed the way we do things. The chief medical officer and NHS England have made it clear that cannabis-based products can be prescribed for medicinal use. It must be up to doctors to decide when it is in the best interests of their patients to do so. I can tell that the hon. Gentleman does not find my answer satisfactory, so I will take up the matter personally with him and with the Secretary of State for Health so that he gets the satisfaction that he needs, and, more importantly, his constituent gets the reassurance they need.
When a high-profile person has been wrongly accused of a sexual crime and has had his livelihood and reputation destroyed, following which the police, it seems, would rather fight him in court than compensate him, might the Prime Minister consider making it clear to the police that it is their duty to address injustice rather than create and perpetuate it and that they should pay compensation rather than waste taxpayers’ money on malicious litigation designed to avoid doing so?
Yes, I completely agree. There is obviously a very difficult balance to be struck, because clearly we do not wish in any way to discourage the police from investigating and prosecuting offences, wherever they may be and no matter how high in office the people in question may be. None the less, where the police do get it wrong and where they have manifestly got it wrong, there should be a duty on them not just to apologise, but to make amends.
The BBC has the funds, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well, and it should be funding those free TV licences. We continue to make that argument vigorously with the BBC. The hon. Gentleman asks me to put the screws on the BBC. Believe me, we certainly will.
Telford needs its A&E and its women and children’s centre. The town will have a population of 200,000 within the next 10 years. It is a new town—a former mining town—with pockets of deprivation and poor health outcomes and, while funding is being pumped into the affluent county town of Shrewsbury some 20 miles away, Telford is losing vital services. Will my right hon. Friend reverse the decision of the Health Secretary to approve this plan, and urge him to listen to the needs and concerns of my constituents and the representatives of the local area?
As I have seen myself, my hon. Friend is a battler for the people of Telford; she does a great deal of good work for them. As a first step, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has called on the A&E at the Princess Royal Hospital to stay open as a local A&E, but has asked the NHS to come forward with further proposals for better healthcare in Telford. However, I will certainly take up my hon. Friend’s further points with him.
I must correct the hon. Gentleman, who just said this is our decision. It is the decision of the BBC. [Interruption.] No, come on, Opposition Members should be clear about what is happening. It is up to the BBC to fund these licences. The hon. Gentleman’s point about scamming is a reasonable one. We will ensure that we give people the protection and security they need—not least through another 20,000 police officers on the streets of our country.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; it gives me great pleasure to be called. As you have pointed out, this may unfortunately be my penultimate Prime Minister’s questions and will unfortunately be your penultimate Prime Minister’s questions, but I hope that it will not be my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s penultimate Prime Minister’s questions.
Is the Prime Minister aware that many Members who, like me, voted for his Bill last night but voted against the programme motion would be delighted to accept a reasonable compromise for the proper scrutiny of the Bill, and that this was not a vote for revocation in disguise?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I thought he was going to ask about the hospital in Watford, which I am delighted to say is going to be rebuilt, along with many others across the country. I congratulate him on being the Conservative Member of Parliament for Watford. I am delighted with all the work he has done for his constituency.
On the Bill, I am delighted that the House voted in favour of it. Unfortunately, as I say, it willed the end but not the means. The House of Commons has, alas, voted to delay Brexit again. We must now see what the EU says about that request for a delay, and I will be studying its answer very closely to see how we proceed.
I was with the hon. Lady until her last point. I certainly think that racism in football is utterly disgusting and should be stamped out at every possible opportunity. She will have seen what happened in Bulgaria. I am delighted to say that the head of the Bulgarian football association was dismissed from his position as a result of what happened in that match. We will certainly be making sure that we do everything we can to stamp out racism of any kind, wherever it takes place in this society and whatever form it takes.
Connectivity across Angus is one of the most urgent issues in my constituency and I want to see full coverage: mobile roll-out throughout my constituency. I therefore wholeheartedly support the shared rural network initiative, which is a joint initiative between the Government and the four main mobile providers ensuring that we have masts in “not spot” areas and reciprocal agreements between the operators to ensure that my constituents, and constituents across the United Kingdom, have that access. Will the Prime Minister assure me that he understands that connectivity is a top priority in Angus, and will he ensure that the funding that needs to go into this initiative to get it going will be given?
Once again, the voice of Scotland—the voice of Angus. I thank my hon. Friend very much. We are indeed engaged in not just levelling up the provision of gigabit broadband across the whole of the country but improving the 4G mobile signal as well. It is our ambition to have 95% of the UK covered by the 4G mobile signal. We have made changes to the regulations and the planning laws to make it easier for the infrastructure to be put in place—and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has just assured me that her particular request is going to be addressed.
I am as scandalised as the hon. Gentleman about the failure of the Mayor of London to improve air quality, if that is what I understood him to have just said. When I was Mayor of London, just to pick a period entirely at random, we cut NOx—nitrous oxide—emissions by, I think, 16% and we cut particulates by 20%. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that this Government have the most far-reaching ambitions of any society in the EU to improve air quality. As for the Heathrow third runway, it remains the case that I have lively doubts about the ability of the promoters of that scheme, as I think he does, to meet standards on air quality and noise emissions, and we will have to see how the courts adjudicate in that matter.
In this House, we defend forever the right to peaceful protest, yet on 15 August, and just three weeks ago, pro-Pakistani organisations held violent protests outside the Indian high commission. This Sunday, there is the threat of 10,000 people being brought to demonstrate outside the Indian high commission on Diwali—the most holy day for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. What action will the Government take to prevent violent protests this Sunday?
I join my hon. Friend, who speaks strongly and well for his constituency, in deploring demonstrations that end up being intimidating in any way. He will understand that this is a police operational matter, but I have just been speaking to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and she will be raising it with the police. We must all be clear in this House that violence and intimidation anywhere in this country are wholly unacceptable.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, because he raises something that is of great importance to all our constituents. We are delivering a strong package of reforms. We will legislate to ban new leasehold houses, reduce future ground rents to zero in all but exceptional circumstances and close the legal loopholes that currently subject leaseholders to unacceptable costs. He raises a very important issue, and believe me, we are on it right now.
A toxic and carcinogenic bromate plume is threatening my constituency. There are plans to drill a new gravel quarry in Smallford, which may disturb the plume and cause it to enter the watercourses. Will the Prime Minister use his good offices to ensure that the Environment Agency does not allow quarrying on this gravel pit until the toxicity of the bromate plume has been fully assessed?
The hon. Lady raises a crucial issue that many people in this country feel is not being sufficiently addressed. That is one of the reasons we have expanded the provision of independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual abuse advisers. Every woman in this country who is a victim or a potential victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse should have the certainty of knowing that there is somewhere she can go and someone she can turn to for reassurance and support. It is vital that, as a society, we ensure that. I do not believe that, as a country, we are doing enough to bring rapists to justice. The level of successful prosecutions for the crime of rape is frankly inadequate, and I wish to raise that with the criminal justice system, because I have looked at the numbers, and they are not going in the right direction. Women must have confidence that crimes of domestic violence and sexual abuse are treated seriously by our law enforcement system.
I know that the Prime Minister, like me, is a big supporter of Spaceport Cornwall, where we aim to launch satellites into space from Europe’s first horizontal spaceport by 2021. To achieve that, we need Government agencies to ensure that the contracts and regulations are in place. Will he ensure that the UK Space Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority have the resources they need and work at pace to make the most of this exciting opportunity?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he is doing to promote the prospects of the new spaceport in Newquay which this Government are constructing; he is doing an outstanding job. I think we all have a favourite candidate for the person who is best placed to trial one of the new vessels that we propose to send into space. If it is a horizontal spaceport, I am anxious that it will take off at a horizontal trajectory, in which case, even if we were to recruit the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) to be the first pilot, there is a risk that he would end up somewhere else on earth—maybe Venezuela would be a good destination.
As I said in the House on Saturday, there are clearly two schools of thought—two sides of the British psyche—when it comes to this issue. The House has been divided, just as the country has been divided. I happen to think that, after 47 years of EU membership, in the context of an intensifying federalist agenda in the EU, we have a chance now to make a difference to our national destiny and to seek a new and better future, as a proud, independent, open, generous, global free-trading economy. That is what we can do. That is the opportunity that this country has, and I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman will support it and help us to deliver Brexit, deliver on the mandate of the people and get it done by 31 October.
Last week saw damaging US tariffs applied to many iconic Moray products such as single malt Scotch whisky and shortbread. These industries have nothing to do with the dispute between the US and the EU, so what are the Government and the Prime Minister doing to get those tariffs removed as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend campaigns valiantly on that issue, and he is absolutely right. Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have raised the matter personally with our counterparts in the United States. It is a rank injustice that Scotch whisky is being penalised in this way, and we hope that those tariffs will be withdrawn as soon as possible, but it has been raised repeatedly at the highest level.
I would like to associate myself and my Liberal Democrat colleagues with the remarks made earlier about the horrific deaths of 39 people in Essex.
It is good manners to say thank you when our friends help us out, so would the Prime Minister like to express his gratitude to the 19 Labour MPs who voted for his deal last night and to the Leader of the Opposition for meeting him this morning to help push through his bad Brexit deal?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me that opportunity, and I do indeed express my gratitude, as I think I did last night. I am happy to repeat that today, for the avoidance of doubt, to all Members of the House who have so far joined the movement to get Brexit done and deliver on the mandate of the people. I do not think I can yet count her in that number. Perhaps I could ask her, in return, to cease her missions to Brussels, where, to the best to my knowledge, she has been asking them not to give us a deal. That was a mistake. They have given us an excellent deal, and I hope that, in the cross-party spirit that she supports, she will endorse the deal.
I say to the hon. Gentleman in all courtesy that points of order come later. I am playing for time, as Members beetle out of the Chamber, before I call the Home Secretary. I merely note en passant that there is a distinguished orthodontist observing our proceedings today, accompanied by his splendid wife—I wish them a warm welcome to the House of Commons; it is good to see them. Momentarily, when Members have completed their beetling out of the Chamber quickly and quietly, we will be able to proceed with the statement by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
Major Incident in Essex
Following the tragic discovery of 39 bodies in a shipping container in Essex this morning, I want to take this opportunity to update the House on the facts that are available so far.
At 1.40 this morning, Essex police were alerted to an incident at the Waterglade industrial park on Eastern Avenue, Grays. At the scene, Essex police discovered a lorry container with 39 bodies inside. Early indications suggest that 38 of those found were adults and that one was a teenager. From what the police have been able to ascertain so far, the vehicle is believed to be from Bulgaria and to have entered the country at Holyhead in north Wales, one of the main ports for ferries from Ireland, on 19 October.
Essex police have now launched a murder investigation. A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder. He remains in police custody as inquiries continue.
The whole House will agree that this is a truly shocking incident. My thoughts and condolences are with the victims and their loved ones at this utterly terrible time. I am sure the whole House will convey its condolences at this sad time.
While the nationalities of the victims are not yet known, I have asked my officials to work closely with the investigation and to provide all the assistance we can in these horrific circumstances. That is on top of the joint working that is taking place already between the police, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies to ascertain exactly how the incident occurred. Day in and day out, they work tirelessly to secure our borders against a wide range of threats, including people trafficking. We will continue to work with international partners to keep people safe.
This is a tragic loss of life. I and everyone in my team will continue to update the House as more facts on this dreadful incident become known.
I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of her statement.
Any death under these circumstances is truly appalling. The fact that there are 39 reported deaths in this incident makes it a terrible tragedy—one of the worst of its kind. Each of the 39 will have partners, family and friends who perhaps even now do not know how their loved one died and in what horrible circumstances. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts, prayers and wishes go out to the bereaved and all the loved ones of the victims.
I commend the emergency services for their work and share with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) the horror that these emergency service workers will have seen sights that will live with them forever.
It is important to remember that these 39 poor, unfortunate people are the victims in this; they have been preyed on by the greedy, the unscrupulous and people with a wilful disregard for the lives of others. However, we should take account of the wider context. Nobody leaves their home on such a journey, with so much risk and fear, on a whim. They often do it because they are desperate; they can be the victims of economic privation, war, famine, catastrophic climate change. There are many adverse conditions that people flee from, but we should not lose sight of the fact that these people are victims.
I would like an assurance from the Home Secretary that the co-operation with the EU27 on people trafficking, which is vital to ensure that such events do not happen in the future, will not become harder or be imperilled by our leaving the EU.
It is important to raise the general conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. The Opposition have long argued that the Government should establish safe and legal routes for genuine refugees to make their way here. If they do not, I fear there may be further tragedies like this. When one thinks about the events of this incident, when one thinks about how these people died and how terrifying their deaths must have been, it should remind us that whenever we talk about migration, refugees and asylum, these people are people. There is an obligation on us to ensure that where people are moving legally, we provide safe and legal routes.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and reflections following the tragic incident this morning. She was, of course, right in a number of the points she made, such as about our emergency service workers who are dealing with the incident on the ground. We will work collaboratively with the investigation teams—not just with Essex police, but with the National Crime Agency, Border Force and many others—to further the investigation into this appalling incident.
It is important to emphasise a few other points. This is now a murder investigation. We are still ascertaining various facts, but given the sheer humanity that we all feel following the deaths of 39 individuals in such circumstances, some fundamental points arise: potential links to criminality, and also what we should be doing as a country to make sure we stand by those who really should not be trafficked in any way.
As a country, we lead the world in many of our ways of working internationally, on modern-day slavery and through our own legislation. Fundamentally, there is always the point of international co-operation and collaboration—we must never lose sight of that—whether it is with our EU counterparts, as the right hon. Lady said, or with other international counterparts through the many multilateral forums we work with to prevent upstream migration, illegal human trafficking and all the terrible things we want to stop and prevent. At the end of the day, we must do the right thing as a country and uphold the right kind of values, to ensure that particularly for those who are fleeing war zones, conflicts and some of the most horrendous situations we see in the world, we are able to give people asylum in the right kind of way, which is exactly what we do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. I thank her in particular for offering to make her resources available to identify these people, because the fact of the matter is that their loved ones have no idea what has happened to them. They think that their loved ones have gone to a better life, and that is an absolute tragedy.
Sadly, this is not the first time people have been found in metal containers in my constituency. I am sorry to say that it is an all too regular occurrence. It was only a matter of time before it ended in tragedy.
I endorse what my right hon. Friend said: this is a multinational problem that we need to fix. We will not be able to stop people trafficking just in this country alone. It needs to be worked on through international partnerships to ensure that we root out these evil people who profit from people’s hope while actually putting them into misery.
I thank my hon. Friend for her very considered remarks in the light of what has happened in her constituency today. We should reflect upon the fact that this is not the first example of such a horrific incident in her constituency. This incident was in an industrial park, but there have been equally horrific examples at the ports in her constituency.
My hon. Friend was right to reflect, as she did earlier with the Prime Minister, on the work of the emergency workers on the scene, who will have witnessed horrors that will live with them probably for the rest of their lives. We owe it to them to provide the support that they need post this event.
There is a fundamental issue here: we as a Government are naturally always committed to working with our law enforcement partners and multinational agencies to prevent all sorts of things of this nature from ever materialising and happening. We are committed to breaking up criminal gangs. We do, of course, work upstream and with our international partners. Perhaps I could highlight a few examples. Previous Governments have committed to legislation such as the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which, in fact, our previous Prime Minister very much campaigned for and secured. I have myself worked in the international sphere through my work in the Department for International Development, and DFID itself is obviously doing a great deal now when it comes to upstream work, working through the multinational agencies, the United Nations and other organisations.
There is so much more we can do internationally, because the fact of the matter is that where there is instability globally and a great deal of displacement, we see such awful events like this happening.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, and I think we all share the same sense of shock and horror at this unspeakable tragedy and terrible crime. The thoughts and prayers of my party are certainly with the victims and their families. We wish Essex police and their partners every success in bringing to justice those who are culpable.
As a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Freight Transport Association has pointed out, the route that this vehicle took in this case appears “unorthodox”, and he raised the prospect that it had been designed to avoid increased security at Dover and Calais. As she ponders a response to this horrific event, will the Home Secretary accept the general point that focusing security and checks on one route is not going to work if security and checks elsewhere are weaker? Most importantly of all, does she accept that a sole focus—an obsession almost—on border securitisation will never stop desperate people using desperate means and routes to try to get here? In fact, such a focus simply means desperate people taking even more desperate and dangerous routes.
Finally, does the Home Secretary accept that it is crucial that we are also generous in responding to this tragedy in the way that we provide safe legal routes for those with strong connections and ties to the UK—the very people who are most likely to risk their lives? Does she accept that there is much more this country can do to provide such safe legal routes through schemes such as Dublin, family reunion, relocation and resettlement?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for the questions he has posed. I am sure he will recognise, as will the whole House, that the United Kingdom is very proud of its record when it comes to a lot of the work on national resettlement schemes. He has alluded to principles such as Dublin, under which we do support resettlement. Those are absolutely the right principles that we as a nation stand by, and nobody would doubt or question that at all.
On the potential route that the lorry took and the hon. Gentleman’s specific remarks, it is important to reflect on the fact that across all avenues and all entries—through our ports, and our airports in fact—the UK operates intelligence-led controls, and we obviously have Border Force doing checks at every single level. However, the fundamental principle we cannot ignore is that the fact of the matter is that we are dealing with those who are using people for the most appalling purposes. What we have seen and are witnessing today is one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity and crimes against individuals. That is why, because we do not know the full facts or have the full details behind what is going on, we must give the police and other agencies the space to investigate what has happened, and then we can obviously look at what more we can do to prevent instances such as this from happening again.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are barely words available to cover the full horror of this, but she will also be aware, to pick up one of the points just made, that most of the efforts of Border Force in combatting the disgusting and murderous crime of people trafficking have been concentrated on the channel ports and on unorthodox, non-official transport across the channel. Can she reassure the House that Border Force will be able to spread its efforts to cover not just Holyhead, as in this case, but other ports around the country where, if lorries are coming in regularly, this disgusting trade could clearly take place? It is going to require the defence of the whole United Kingdom if we are to be successful in saving lives in the future.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen today just one example or incident—a horrible, horrific incident in Essex—but my right hon. Friend has alluded to other examples, such as small boats coming to Kent or to Dover, and a great deal of work has taken place in preventing people trafficking through those particular routes. He is right and, in answer to his question, we are absolutely committed not just with Border Force but with our other agencies and through our intelligence network to work far more collaboratively to ensure, yes, that all ports are prepared— our staff are looking out for some of the most appalling behaviours and some of the examples we are speaking about in the House today—but, importantly, that we do more collectively as a Government to work with our international partners to stop this happening in the first place.
I am shocked and saddened at this incident and the appalling loss of life, and my thoughts go out to the families of those 39 victims. The Secretary of State mentioned the port of Holyhead, the busiest seaport with the Republic of Ireland. On 19 October, the lorry allegedly came through the port of Holyhead. I know it is early days, but can she tell the House how many checks were made on lorries at the port of Holyhead on that day? It is important because I know the important work that multinational agencies do on people trafficking and drug trafficking through that very important port.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I cannot tell the House that information right now; it is obviously subject to the investigation. I will of course come back to him directly myself, as this investigation unfolds, with the specific information that he has asked for, but I can assure him that of course everything had been done in terms of checks coming through Holyhead.
Those on both Front Benches and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) have spoken for the entire country at this horrific event. Is not one of the most specific lessons that the existing international conventions simply do not work any more, because of the events of recent years? We have seen this in the Mediterranean—off the coast of Libya—as well as in the channel in events such as that of today. This is what the modern equivalent of the slave trader is perpetrating. Will she use her past experience to try, along with other members of the Government, to persuade the United Nations to modernise and introduce a new convention that will, I hope, be more fit for purpose and avoid these terrible events happening in the future?
My right hon. Friend raises such an important point, and he speaks with great experience, insight and knowledge on this issue. He is right that as the world has changed and conflict has changed, we are seeing all sorts of desperate situations around the world. There is much more that we can do in leveraging in our own voice and our own influence with the big organisations such as the United Nations. There is no doubt that there is much more that can be done. He will also be familiar with the UN migration compact—I think it came about in 2015—which is doing great work. In fact, the United Kingdom stood up and spoke very convincingly about doing much more in this space. He is absolutely right that there is much more that we can do internationally.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. It is really unbearable to imagine people losing their lives in this awful way. Although we obviously cannot pre-empt the investigation, she is right to say that people trafficking is one of the most vile crimes there is. People are profiting from putting other people’s lives at risk and from other people’s desperation. Will she tell the House what engagement has taken place with the Irish police, the Bulgarian police and the European Migrant Smuggling Centre to make sure that there is full international co-operation on this awful crime and that more lives are not put at risk?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She will appreciate that this is now a murder investigation. As a result, all avenues of inquiry and collaboration are now under way. I will report back to the House in due course, and directly to the right hon. Lady too, once we are able to share much more specific information. This is of course highly sensitive because this is now a live investigation. As I have said, all collaboration is now taking place.
May I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who is my constituency neighbour, and express my own shock and horror at the loss of 39 poor souls? I pay tribute to all the emergency services, but also to the local authority officers who I know are involved in dealing with this in a very professional way in very difficult circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend commit to supplying them with all necessary resources to be able to conduct their investigations and deal with the situation as speedily and as effectively as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, his comments and the points he has raised. He is right that our emergency services are obviously under great strain in dealing with this horrendous incident. At the same time, our local authorities and our emergency services—Essex police and others—will be coming together for support. As I said, we will provide all the necessary support that is required not just for the murder investigation but to provide help on the ground, because this is obviously a deeply traumatising time. It is complicated because other agencies are involved and now, of course, there is a murder investigation, too.
I share the horror and sadness at the news of these deaths. What these individuals went through is unimaginable. Although I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about more international action and her recognition of the need for safe legal routes to sanctuary, does she agree that we have to look at our own immigration system and repair it to ensure that what we provide is fair, compassionate and effective for those who want to come here?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about what has happened. Today is not the time to be talking about our immigration system. We have migration challenges, which we see across the world. People are being displaced in record numbers, and many are being preyed upon by the appalling behaviour of organised criminal gangs.
At this stage it is right that, as a country, we work with all our partners, both domestically and internationally, and with law enforcement agencies to do our utmost to stop this horrific crime. [Interruption.]
I had the pleasure of serving as a firefighter at the old Hogg Lane fire station in Grays. When the firefighters and other emergency crews went on duty last night, never in their wildest dreams would they have expected to witness the sort of trauma they saw when that container was opened. And it will not just be the emergency services; it will be the local authority workers and even the mortuary attendants, who will never have seen such destruction of life. I ask the Home Secretary, not just for now but going forward, that all the post-traumatic stress support is made available to them, because it does not always show straightaway. Sometimes it takes months or years, as I have experienced with my firefighter colleagues.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He speaks with great personal insight and experience, and he is right that the trauma following such an incident will be shattering for all those involved in the recovery and emergency services. It is an important point that, for anyone who works in a frontline service or an emergency service, the trauma and post-traumatic stress of being involved in such incidents, as well as in life-saving incidents, comes back later. We will therefore not only be investing but ensuring that we support those individuals who are doing so much work locally today.
This was an act of unconscionable criminality organised by gangs across Europe. Has the Home Secretary approached Europol? We are still a member of Europol, which has, at its heart, a three-year plan to tackle criminality and gangs through co-operation across Europe to track down the perpetrators of this type of crime.
This is now a live murder investigation, so all agencies will be activated in sharing information and working together. As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is a degree of organised criminality and, whether we are inside or outside Europe, we will always stand firm against this and make sure that we collaborate with all our partners.
These international serious and organised crime gangs, which are trading in weapons, drugs and humans, are ruthless, and we need to be just as ruthless in our prosecution of them. We have to end this wicked trade in human misery, and I saw at first hand the huge efforts in the Home Office, working with our international partners across Europe, to tackle this issue. Will my right hon. Friend redouble our efforts in countries like Bulgaria and Romania, where so many people are coerced, bribed or persuaded to participate in human trafficking, to prevent it?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and reflections. She speaks with great experience from her previous work in this area, and she knows what happens in other countries—the criminality, the coercion, the pressure put on people and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals. We want that to stop, and we will continue to work collaboratively. The way to do it is to have the right deterrents in place and to ensure that we can prosecute through the criminal justice system.
For those who missed the announcement yesterday, I advise colleagues of a notable event, namely the re-election of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. He has now discharged the role with consummate skill for a number of years. More particularly, he is a most extraordinary specimen in this place, in that he has secured re-election unopposed, which is a commentary on the esteem in which he is held.
I am even more grateful than usual, Mr Speaker. Thank you very much.
In my constituency of Gateshead, the bulk of my face-to-face casework is with refugees and asylum seekers. I am very mindful that we need to establish the identity of the victims as quickly as possible. We need to identify them and their points of origin, because many of the victims may well have relatives and friends who are already settled in this country. They are our constituents. We need to think about what we will do to assist those people when they discover the dreadful fate of their loved ones who died in this container today.
With our international hat on, we also need to think about we will do as a country to assist the families and relatives of the victims back in their points of origin. Those people will not know that their loved ones are dead. They will think they have gone off to a better life in Britain, only to find they have died dreadfully in the back of a steel box in Grays, Essex.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his considered remarks, and I congratulate him on his election.
There are a number of points. As there is a live investigation, it is right that we focus on identifying the countries of origin of the victims of this horrendous crime. It is fair to say that all Members need to work together, and I am happy to assist any hon. Member who has family connections in their constituency. This is not just about case management. We have to consider the impact on those people, who may themselves also be part of the lines of inquiry on the routes through which the victims travelled.
We definitely need to consider the international routes but, right now, we have to give the police space to investigate. I will, of course, pick up with every single hon. Member should there be anything specific to their constituency.
Finding those responsible and bringing them to justice will be a priority for our police, our border agencies and, I am sure, the Home Secretary. May I urge her to ensure that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service use the full force of the law that this Government have put in place to tackle modern slavery, particularly by freezing, at an early stage, the assets of those who could be involved so that they are not able to squirrel away their criminal funds from such a murderous activity?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. There have been recent cases where that has taken place, and rightly so. Criminals must be pursued and prosecuted, and we must use every single lever of law enforcement to confiscate their funds and assets. I know that has recently happened in other cases.
My right hon. Friend is right that, as a country, we have levers in our own legislation that enable us to send out a very strong signal internationally. We must do more of that.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments and the tone with which she made them. We are all horrified by what has happened. May I stress the importance of international co-operation and ask the right hon. Lady to make herself of aware of the work going on in the Council of Europe? Led by the Foreign Secretary, the aim is to improve concerted action on human trafficking in all Council of Europe member states and beyond.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I think him for his work through the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery. He gives a good example of collaboration not just in the House but across other organisations—in the Council of Europe and across Governments multinationally. We must pursue that, because of what we are witnessing and experiencing right now. One case is too many, but when 39 people die in our country in such an awful way, that is not acceptable. We have to do much more work together to stop such things from happening.
This is a shocking incident involving appalling loss of life. Although the vehicle appears to have begun its murderous journey in Bulgaria, there is less clarity about where the victims began their dreadful journey to death. Is the Home Secretary working with international agencies and forces here, including immigration forces, to ascertain where these people’s journey began, so that contact can be made with their families and loved ones?
My hon. Friend is right to make that point. That is an active line of inquiry in the full-on murder investigation. The investigation is led by Essex police, working with other agencies including the National Crime Agency, and they will be able to determine the countries of origin. I pay tribute to Essex police for their leadership in an incredibly challenging investigation—any police force would find such a dreadful case deeply challenging.
I thank the Home Secretary for the tone and content of her remarks. I want to press her further on international co-operation. She rightly praises the work of the Council of Europe and the cross-party, cross-national co-operation to expand refugee resettlement and other safe and legal routes. Does she think it would be a good idea to expand that further, so we could increase the very low number—only 27—of countries worldwide that take refugees on the resettlement route via the UN, which is a safe and legal route that we have much to offer? We do very well, but what will the Home Secretary do to increase other countries’ involvement?
As I said, and as the hon. Lady recognised in her remarks, we lead the way. We have led other countries through multinational forums, through much of our engagement and through migration compacts. It is pretty clear that more could be done and the United Kingdom Government, working with our counterparts, will continue to do that work. In such an unstable world where we see such great displacement of people, with more people on the move than since the second world war, because of terror and conflict and the awful events we see in the news every single day, we can lead others and we have great skill and experience in doing so.
This incident is beyond horrific. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for speaking for all the people of Essex today. As an Essex MP, I think in particular of the Essex police. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will have seen how police and emergency services in Essex go out day after day, night after night, working on the frontline to keep the rest of us safe. I thank all the Essex MPs in the Chamber today, including the Home Secretary, who I thank also for her reassurance that our emergency services will get the support, both short term and long term, for all their needs. Will she also assure us that, no matter what happens in the coming days over Brexit, we in the UK will continue to work with police forces across Europe and agencies such as Europol and Interpol to make sure that such crimes do not happen again?
I thank my hon. Friend for her considered and thoughtful remarks. She is right that all MPs feel a strong sense of solidarity with Essex police as they undertake the investigation. I think our police provide a remarkable service and do remarkable work. The chief constable of Essex, BJ Harrington, and his team will deal with this case in the right way in challenging circumstances. My hon. Friend is also right about our continued work with agencies across the European Union. That work is always ongoing—it is part of our way of working and our international collaboration—and that will not change. We work collaboratively to keep our country safe, and we can do more collaborative work to make sure that those who perpetrate such awful crimes are brought to justice.
To give some scale, there are approximately 39 or 40 Members sitting on the Opposition Benches right now. That gives us a way to measure visually the sheer loss and devastation caused. Without prejudicing the investigations the Home Secretary has announced today, may I ask her to look further into paramilitary and organised crime groups in Northern Ireland, which use unauthorised and illegitimate transport and trade links to carry out their own horrible and despicable crimes, and to see whether additional measures need to be placed both on our existing border in Northern Ireland and, in co-operation with the Garda Siochana, on ports in the Republic?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions and comments. There are a number of points to make in response. First and foremost, a police investigation is taking place specifically into the events in Essex today. He is right about criminality, and we work collaboratively across all our agencies, including the National Crime Agency, and with other police forces, including the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a key partner. We will continue to investigate all avenues to make sure we stop this criminality happening—stop it flourishing—and bring its perpetrators to justice.
TRiM—trauma risk management—is a protocol adopted by Gloucestershire police to provide swift support to police officers who have witnessed deeply traumatic episodes. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that if the support Essex police provide to their officers requires them to reach out to other police forces for additional advice, assistance and resources, they will not hesitate to do so? Gloucestershire police will be on hand to help.
I thank my hon. Friend and Gloucestershire police for that offer of support. He is right to highlight trauma management, which all police forces provide in some form. I will pick up his point with the chief constable of Essex to ensure that all officers involved in the current case and investigation are supported in the right way. If we need to go elsewhere and to collaborate with another police force, we will certainly do so.
The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Home Secretary have clearly expressed the nation’s concern and horror at what has happened. It is a terrible tragedy. Of course a police investigation is ongoing so we should not speculate, but I think we are all entitled to reach a number of conclusions about what has happened. It is not the first time that this has happened and we must do all we can to make sure it is the last time. We all strongly suspect that this will prove to be an international operation, not confined to the continent of Europe but extending well beyond, and a huge and complex investigation will be required into what is, no doubt, a long and complex chain of criminality, which has resulted in this terrible incident. Will the right hon. Lady assure us that all the agencies in this country will have all the resources they need to do a full and proper investigation, and to ensure that the people responsible are brought to justice for, we hope, the last time?
The right hon. Lady is right. The focus of my comments has very much been on collaboration across all agencies based in the UK, with other countries and the agencies based there and with international agencies. Our level of collaboration is first class. We will bring the skillsets together and ensure that all the resources are in place, so that we can bring the perpetrators to justice and stand up for the victims who lost their lives to this incident.
This is clearly an awful tragedy. The people in the container will have endured an unimaginable experience. It will also have had a profound impact on the emergency services who attended the scene in the early hours of this morning. I echo the comments of a number of Members that those emergency workers need to be given the necessary support. No amount of training can prepare them for such an experience. I know the Home Secretary cares deeply about the people of Essex and its emergency services. Will she commit to ensuring that support is provided, both in the short term and the long term?
I can absolutely give that commitment. Essex police and all our police forces deal with horrendous scenes day in, day out. It is a part of our public duty to them that we continue to support them, not just on the day when things happen but going forward. Having recently visited Kent constabulary, I have seen the first-class work it does for my hon. Friend’s constituents in Kent.
I appreciate that the investigation is at a very early stage, but given what we know about Bulgaria being used to support smuggling operations, is it right to assume that there are normally enhanced checks on vehicles that enter this country from Bulgaria? At some stage, will the Home Secretary ask whether something went wrong this time?