(2 months, 4 weeks ago)Read Full debate
That is a first, Mr Speaker: someone rises to intervene but does not actually do it. I thank my hon. Friend; he represents a community with mixed housing so also has to deal with these issues.
There are serious questions to be asked about what the Government have done, about what has been happening with the funding of the London fire service and, of course, about the performance of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The night of 14 June will never, ever be forgotten. I have never forgotten talking in my office that evening to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad)—who has been and is a wonderful representative for the people there—about what it was like being an MP. She had been an MP for only for a few days. I said, “It’s great, but it’s hard work and you need to get into it slowly.” She went home and had probably the greatest test of her life two hours later. The way she has spoken up for her community and what she has done is something we should all be very proud of.
The shameful fact is that feet have been dragged. The exact same cladding is on similar high-rise blocks; sprinklers have not been fitted; and thousands of people in this country will go to bed tonight, and tomorrow night, not feeling safe. I pay tribute to the firefighters and, most of all, I pay tribute to the dignity and solemnity of the survivors and the bereaved, who continue to campaign for justice so that no one else has to suffer like them.
I welcome Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report and look forward to the second part of the inquiry. I want us to have a properly funded fire service in all parts of the country. I thank Grenfell United and all the survivors for everything they have done to try to bring people together and keep communities together. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has said that an appropriate memorial will be constructed near or on the Grenfell site, but the real memorial will be a properly funded fire service. The real memorial will be safety for people in every tower block throughout the country. Currently, 60,000 people are unsure of their own safety, and there are many more tower blocks with other kinds of composite materials that are just as dangerous. We need very tough regulation to ensure that all our people can sleep safely and soundly in their beds at night, rather than having in their minds the image of that burning monstrosity of a fire, which took the lives of so many wonderful, wholly innocent people.
(6 months ago)Read Full debate
Today marks the final day in office for the Prime Minister, and I pay tribute to her sense of public duty. Public service should always be recognised. Being an MP, a Minister or indeed a Prime Minister is an honour that brings with it huge responsibility and huge pressures personally and, I am sure the Prime Minister and probably the whole House would agree, on those very closest to us, who are often not able to answer back for the criticisms made against them. I hope she has a marginally more relaxing time on the Back Benches. Perhaps, like the Chancellor, she will even help me oppose the reckless plans of her successor. [Interruption.] If I may continue—[Interruption.] I am glad the Government party is in such good heart today, for tomorrow it won’t be.
In the past three years, child poverty has gone up, pensioner poverty has gone up, in-work poverty has gone up, violent crime has gone up, NHS waiting times have gone up, school class sizes have gone up, homelessness has gone up and food bank use has gone up. Does the Prime Minister have any regrets about any of the things I have just said?
Yes, politics is about real life and politics is about what people suffer in their ordinary lives. I did not mention that per-pupil school funding has gone down, police numbers are down and GP numbers are falling. In the 2017 Conservative manifesto, the Prime Minister promised that no school would have its budget cut, that she would protect TV licences for the over-75s and that she would halve rough sleeping. Which of those pledges is the Prime Minister most sorry not to have achieved?
I do not quite know where the Prime Minister gets her figures from on rough sleeping. All I know is that I travel around this country, just like other Members of this House, and I talk to people who have had a disaster in their lives and end up rough sleeping. We are the fifth richest country in the world. It is surely wrong that anyone should end up sleeping on the streets of this country. We can and should do something about it.
I have often disagreed with the Prime Minister and have many criticisms of her policies, but I welcome the reduction in the stake on fixed odds betting terminals, the adoption of the children’s funeral fund and the scrapping of employment tribunal fees. Which of those policies is the Prime Minister most proud of?
The Prime Minister may have noticed that none of those things that I mentioned were actually in the Conservative party manifesto in 2017, but every one of them was a Labour pledge in 2017. On Brexit, the Prime Minister’s own red lines ruled out any sensible compromise deal. Only after she had missed her own deadline to leave did the Prime Minister even begin to shift her position, but by then, she no longer had the authority to deliver. Her successor has no mandate at all. Does she have confidence that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) will succeed where she has not?
We have had three years of bungled negotiations, and we now have the spectacle of a Prime Minister coming into office with no electoral mandate looking for a Brexit deal that has been ruled out by the European Union, or in the case of a no deal, ruled out by the majority in this House and by anyone who understands the dangers to the British economy of a no deal. The next Prime Minister thought the Isle of Man was in the European Union and that the European Union made rules about kippers that, in fact, were made by the Government that he was part of. He also said that the UK could secure tariff-free trade through article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, despite the International Trade Secretary, the Attorney General and the Governor of the Bank of England all confirming that that is not possible.
At the start of 2018, the—[Interruption.] It’s coming, don’t worry. At the start of 2018, the Prime Minister herself set up a new unit to counter fake news, charged with “combating disinformation”. How successful does she think that has been?
Maybe the Prime Minister can have a word with her successor on the way out, but let me conclude—[Interruption.] For today. Let me conclude by welcoming some of the Prime Minister’s notable U-turns over the last couple of years. The cruel dementia tax was scrapped. Plans to bring back grammar schools were ditched. The threat to the pensions triple lock was abandoned. The withdrawal of the winter fuel payments was dumped. The pledge to bring back foxhunting was dropped, and the Government binned their plan to end universal free school meals for five to seven-year-olds. The Prime Minister has dumped her own manifesto. Given that her successor has no mandate from the people—no mandate on which to move into office—does she not agree that the best thing that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip could do later on today when he takes office is to call a general election and let the people decide their future?
(6 months, 1 week ago)Read Full debate
I agree with the Prime Minister’s congratulations to Lewis Hamilton on winning on Sunday and to the fantastic cricket team, which ended up winning the world cup. I also thank New Zealand—what a brilliant final it was, and what a great advertisement for the wonderful game of cricket.
“Time is running out” on climate change—that is what the Environment Secretary said yesterday. Why did the all-party Environmental Audit Committee accuse the Government of “coasting” on climate change?
Break in Debate
This party was the first to introduce anti-racist legislation into law in Britain. This party totally opposes racism in any form whatsoever. Antisemitism has no place in our society, no place in any of our parties and no place in any of our dialogues. Neither does any other form of racism.
Some 60% of Tory party members think Islam is a threat to western civilisation. The Prime Minister has said that she will act on Islamophobia within her own party. I hope she does. I look forward to seeing that being dealt with, as we will deal with any racism that occurs within our own party as well.
Last week, the Committee on Climate Change published its annual report, which described the Government’s efforts on climate change not a bit like what the Prime Minister just said; it described them as being run like “Dad’s Army”. The Government’s target is to reduce carbon emissions by 57% by 2030. Can the Prime Minister tell us how much progress has been made on that?
This party opposes racism in any form whatsoever in our society. And coming from a Prime Minister who encouraged the hostile environment, sent “go home” vans around London, and deported British citizens, which she has now had to compensate them for, I think that she might look to her own party and her own Government’s record as well.
The issue of climate change is obviously crucial, and we support the zero emissions target. The latest figures, however, released in April show that the Government are going to miss that target by 10%—the gap is widening. At the current rate, they will not meet their 2050 target until 2099, and, at that point, it will be too late for our planet and our children. Clean energy investment has fallen three years in a row. Why does the Prime Minister think that that is the case?
It was a Labour Government who introduced the Climate Change Act 2008. It is the Labour party that is committed to dealing with the issues of climate change. Let me give the Prime Minister a few suggestions on why renewable investment is falling: her Government scrapped the feed-in tariff; they failed to invest in the Swansea tidal lagoon; and they slashed investment in onshore wind. If we are serious about tackling this climate emergency, we need to fully acknowledge the scale of the problem. Labour is committed to measuring total UK emissions—not just what we make here, but what we buy from abroad also—so that we have an accurate figure of what the emissions really are by consumption in this country. Will the Prime Minister match that commitment?
I think that we are actually hiding the scale of the problem by passing the buck to other countries as well. If all emissions are counted, the figures would actually be 69% higher in this country.
Every year, air pollution kills 40,000 in this country. In 2017, the Conservative manifesto promised to take action against poor air quality in urban areas. What actions have been taken?
Those are wonderful words, they truly are. The only problem is, air pollution levels breach legal limits in 37 of 43 areas of this country. Two thirds of our children are growing up in an area where pollution breaches legal limits. This crisis is literally suffocating our children and damaging their health. Once again, this Government are dodging their responsibility while Labour leads the way. For example, the Mayor of London is leading the way on better air quality in the capital city.
The Tories promised the greenest Government ever. They have failed on carbon emissions. They have failed on air pollution. They have failed on solar. The Prime Minister says that she wants action, but she supports fracking and has effectively banned onshore wind. The climate emergency simply cannot be left to the market. We all need to take responsibility to secure our common future. Labour led the call to declare a climate emergency and has pledged a green industrial revolution with new jobs. When will this Conservative Government face up to the situation, get a grip on this crisis and deal with it?
(6 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I too regret the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch. I think the comments made about him are beyond unfair and wrong. He has given honourable and good service, and he should be thanked for it. The whole House should join together in deeply regretting his feeling that he has to resign.
I join the Prime Minister in passing condolences to the family of Tammy Minshall, who died providing emergency services to our people.
Many people welcomed the powerful points the Prime Minister made when she was first appointed about burning injustices in Britain. Does she agree that access to justice is vital in order to tackle burning injustices?
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949. That Act, introduced by the post-war Labour Government, gave all people access to justice, not just the rich, and was an essential pillar of a welfare state and a decent society. The Tory-Lib Dem coalition slashed legal aid in 2013 and the results are clearly very unfair. The number of law centres and other not-for-profit legal aid providers has more than halved, and there are now legal aid deserts across the country. Does the Prime Minister think that has helped or hindered the fight against burning injustices?
Some people have very short memories; the Tory-Lib Dem coalition cut legal aid but also brought in fees for employment tribunals. The then Minister for employment relations, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), piloted that through the House. Since that time, my union, Unison, took the Government to court and won, and, as a result, employment tribunal fees were cancelled. The cuts to legal aid affect people such as Marcus, a 71-year-old on pension credit, a leaseholder who is threatened with being evicted. He says:
“I’ve paid taxes and national insurance all my life. How is it right that when I’m being bullied and threatened with homelessness, the state won’t protect me?”
He goes on to say:
“I’ve been working to 2 am every night for the past six months collecting evidence…I’ve got no idea if I’ve prepared my evidence correctly”.
Doesn’t Marcus, trying to save his own home, deserve legal aid, in order to get proper representation in a court and be fairly heard?
Just so that everyone is aware of this, Labour is committed to restoring legal aid funding for family law, housing, benefit appeals, judicial review preparation and inquests, and real action on immigration cases. And, as we announced yesterday, we will end the leasehold scandal.
The Department for Work and Pensions is failing disabled people. The MOJ has spent tens of millions of pounds each year defending appeals, over two thirds of which were won by the claimants. Rather than spending millions defending incorrect and often immoral decisions, would that money not have been better used increasing poverty-level benefits and providing legal aid to disabled people wrongly denied their basic dignity?
My party is totally committed to eliminating racism in any form and antisemitism in any form. While the Prime Minister is about the lecturing, how about the investigation into Islamophobia in her party? [Interruption.]
Break in Debate
This is one lecture the Prime Minister might not want to take from me, but she might care to listen to what the United Nations said when it condemned the UK Government for their “grave” and “systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people. The Windrush scandal has resulted in the Government having to allocate £200 million in compensation to people wrongly deported from this country and denied services, with their lives totally pulled apart. These are people who have given their life to this country and our services. Does she think that scandal would have happened if legal aid had not been slashed by the Government and so many of those people had not been denied any representation in court?
Coming from the Prime Minister who created the hostile environment that brought about the Windrush scandal, who ordered “Go home” vans to drive around London, who refuses to acknowledge Islamophobia in her own party, and whose party consorts with racists and antisemites in the European Parliament and sucks up to those Governments across Europe, we do not need those kinds of lectures.
One legal aid firm said:
“We see people more desperate and in more extreme need than they were five years ago, and there is nowhere to send them. Those people are invisible to the system.”
That is a denial of people’s basic rights. The United Nations says that legal aid cuts have
“overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities”.
Without equal access to justice, there is no justice. Today, in modern Britain, millions are denied justice because they do not have the money. Isn’t that a disgrace? Isn’t that a burning injustice?
(6 months, 3 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I want to say thank you to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for the fantastic campaign she has mounted and the comfort that she has brought to those who have been through the unimaginable strain of losing a child. Those who, sadly, will lose a child in future will at least know that, because of her work, one part of the commemoration of that child’s life will be made a little bit easier. On behalf of so many families, may we just say thank you very much for everything you have done?
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. While this year marks the 20th anniversary of the G20, there is little progress to commemorate in tackling the urgent challenges that we face. Where the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries fail, we look instead to civil society, trade unions and community groups, and to an inspirational generation of young people, for the transformative change that is required.
This summit’s communiqué did not make the necessary commitments on climate change. Does the Prime Minister agree that President Trump’s failure to accept the reality of man-made climate change, his refusal to back the Paris accords and his attempts to water down the communiqué’s commitments are a threat to the security of us all, all over this planet? Is the Prime Minister concerned that he could soon be joined by one of her possible successors, who has described global warming as a “primitive fear … without foundation”? It is the responsibility of the G20 to lead efforts to combat climate change, as the Prime Minister herself acknowledged. These nations account for four fifths of global greenhouse gas emissions. As I confirmed last week, we back the UK’s bid to host COP 26 next year. In 2017, the Government agreed to:
“Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions”
in developing countries. So can the Prime Minister explain why 97% of the UK’s export finance support for energy in developing countries goes to fossil fuels, and less than 1% is for renewable energy? The Government’s pledge to cut carbon emissions by 2050 is an empty one. They have no serious plan to invest and continue to dismantle our renewable energy sector while supporting fracking.
The Prime Minister says that the international community must stand against Iran’s destabilising activity in the region. The Iran nuclear deal agreement was a multilateral agreement signed up to by President Obama, and a number of other Governments, but reneged on by President Obama’s successor. Beyond just saying that we need to protect the deal, what action has the Prime Minister taken to ensure this? What conversation did she have with President Trump on this issue?
Is it not about time that the Prime Minister’s Government stood up to our supposed ally, Saudi Arabia? She says that she met Crown Prince bin Salman but gives no details. So can I ask her: did she raise the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, did she raise the killing of thousands of Yemenis, and did she pledge to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia? Did she raise with him the Saudis’ financing and arming of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is fighting the UN-recognised Government of Libya, and who, only last night, has been held responsible for an airstrike on a migrant centre in Tripoli that killed 40 people and injured dozens more? The Prime Minister rightly points to the need to protect people from terrorist propaganda, so before she leaves office, will she finally release, in full, the report she suppressed on the Saudi Government’s funding of extremist groups?
The Prime Minister talks of confronting countries that interfere in the democracy of other nations, including Russia. I remind her that it was Labour that delivered amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which introduced the Magnitsky powers. The truth is that the Conservatives have questions to answer about the almost £1 million-worth of donations from wealthy Russians to their party under her watch. If we stand up to corruption and condemn human rights-abusing regimes, then politicians should not be trading cash for access.
The Prime Minister mentioned the worrying outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Could she outline what assistance the Department for International Development is providing in that terrible situation? I welcome the Government’s £1.4 billion for the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. However, the main conclusion from the G20 is that the world deserves better leadership for the urgent challenges facing humanity.
Moving on to the EU summit in Brussels, it has taken leaders three days to come up with a decision on who should take the EU’s top jobs. But a three-day summit pales into insignificance next to the three years of failure that this Government have inflicted on us all over Brexit. I would like to congratulate those who have been appointed or nominated to new roles within in the EU, especially Josep Borrell as High Representative for foreign affairs and security. For as long as we remain in the EU, we should seek reform. That includes increasing our efforts to tackle tax evasion and avoidance; stepping up our co-operation over the climate emergency that faces us all, all over this continent and this planet; and challenging migration policies that have left thousands to drown in the Mediterranean while sometimes subcontracting migration policies to Libyan militias.
Can the Prime Minister explain her decision for the Conservative party to join a political group that includes far-right, Islamophobic parties such as Vox of Spain? It claims that Muslims will impose Sharia law on Spain, turn cathedrals into mosques, and force all women to cover up. It is a party that campaigned to repeal gender violence laws and threatened to shut down feminist organisations. Does the Prime Minister understand the worry that this will cause many people in this country who will rightly be asking why her party has aligned itself with this far-right organisation whose policies are built on division, discrimination and hate?
Finally, does the Prime Minister agree that whoever succeeds her should have the courage to go back to the people with their preferred Brexit option to end the uncertainty and get Brexit resolved?
(6 months, 3 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I am sure the whole House will want to express its condolences to the families of the rail workers who were hit and killed by a train this morning in Port Talbot. There will obviously have to be a full investigation into this, but our thoughts must be with the families and friends of those that were killed and injured.
I join the Prime Minister and others in congratulating Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin on becoming Bishop of Dover. She has been absolutely brilliant as Chaplain to the House, but she was also brilliant when she was a parish priest in Hackney. She shows such empathy for people, and we wish her well on her way. I am sure she will do really well.
I also congratulate the England women’s football team on their successful journey as far as the semi-finals and wish the men’s cricket team well in their current match against New Zealand, which I understand is 134-1 at the moment. Pride this weekend will be a source of great enjoyment. I think of all those who suffered in the past to try to defeat homophobia in our society and will be enjoying the joy of the streets of London this weekend.
The Chancellor says that a no-deal Brexit would cause a £90 billion hit to the public finances. The former Foreign Secretary says concerns about no deal are “confected hysteria”. Who does the Prime Minister think is right?
The Prime Minister should be aware that her deal was rejected three times by the House, and when something has been rejected three times, one might think about an alternative method of doing things. A confidential Cabinet note apparently says that the Government are not properly prepared for no deal, and NHS trusts have warned that it will pose a major risk to NHS services. Furthermore, Make UK, which represents UK manufacturers, recently said:
“There is a direct link between politicians talking up the prospect of no-deal and British firms losing customers overseas and British people losing jobs.”
Is Make UK guilty of confected hysteria or is it speaking up for its members and its very legitimate concerns right across the manufacturing sector?
The Prime Minister could not get her own party to support it. The Opposition parties did not support it either. As the danger of no deal looms ever larger, JLR, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and BMW have all said that no deal would threaten their continued presence in the UK. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said:
“Leaving the EU without a deal would trigger the most seismic shift in trading conditions ever experienced”.
Furthermore, within the last week Vauxhall has said that its decision to produce the new Astra at Ellesmere Port will be conditional on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. What can the Prime Minister say to workers at Ellesmere Port and elsewhere—[Interruption.]
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Why does the Prime Minister not speak to both candidates to succeed her and remind them that as they trade insults over no deal, thousands of jobs are at risk the more they ratchet up their rhetoric?
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The Labour party is about protecting jobs and living standards in this country, not crashing out without a deal. With tariffs up to 40% on some basic foodstuffs, will the Prime Minister set out exactly what impact no deal would have on food prices and on the farming industry in this country?
As I recall, it was this party that put down a motion to take no deal off the table. The managing director of Birds Eye says that no deal would add 20% to the price of some foodstuffs “instantaneously”, and the National Farmers Union says that it would be very damaging to British farming. Both the candidates to succeed the Prime Minister have claimed that they will renegotiate the backstop. Can she confirm that section (12) of the European Council decision to extend article 50 ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement, and therefore the backstop?
We made very clear what the danger of no deal is, and we will do everything to prevent a no-deal exit, because we know the damage it will do to jobs and living standards in this country.
This Government have comprehensively failed on Brexit. Jobs are at risk, inward investment has fallen off a cliff, and manufacturing is at a six-year low. No deal threatens to crash the economy. The Government themselves say that no deal would cut growth by 10%, yet we have two leadership candidates who are threatening no deal, and, indeed, are competing with each other on the rhetoric of no deal. This Government is now an irrelevance. The two candidates to succeed the Prime Minister have only fantasy plans. As she and her successors have no answers, does she not accept that the best thing to do would be to go back to the people and let them decide which way we go?
(7 months ago)Read Full debate
I hope the whole House will welcome today’s mass climate lobby, which is coming to Parliament today. We should be proud of it. This House, after all, became the first Parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. I want to pay tribute to the young people and young climate strikers who have done so much to raise awareness of this issue. I hope Members will take the chance today to meet those who are coming to lobby and learn from them, because they feel very passionately on the issue.
I acknowledge that it is Armed Forces Day—celebrations are going on this week—and I think we should be concerned about the welfare of both serving and former serving members of our armed forces. I join the Prime Minister in congratulating the Lionesses on reaching the quarter finals of the women’s World cup and wish them well tomorrow night against Norway.
I welcome the judgment of the Court of Appeal last Thursday against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Court found that the Government had
“made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law… during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.
Does the Prime Minister dispute that finding?
Germany, as an EU member state, has banned arms exports to Saudi Arabia, so has Denmark, and both the US Senate and House of Representatives have voted to ban arms exports as well.
The UN describes the situation in Yemen as “humanity’s biggest preventable disaster”, but the Government see fit to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia during that situation, so may I ask the Prime Minister a very simple question? Does she believe there are serious ongoing violations of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen—yes or no?
The Prime Minister does not appear to understand the depth of feeling at the UN, Parliaments around the world or even the US Senate and the House on this situation. The UN itself has warned that by the end of 2019, if the war continues, 230,000 people will have lost their lives, of whom 140,000 are children under the age of five. The UK and EU law state that the Government must
“not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items used might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
The Government said they had used the following criteria to judge
“an understanding of Saudi military procedures; continuing engagement with the Saudis at the highest level”
“Saudi public commitments to IHL”.—[Official Report, 20 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 375-6.]
If the Saudi Government say they are respecting human rights, do we then ignore all evidence on the ground in Yemen and continue to sell weapons to the regime, which has led to this appalling death toll already in this conflict?
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If that is the case, why are the Government appealing the judgment instead of promoting a peace settlement in Yemen? Since 2016, for three years, UN experts have been saying that the Saudi coalition has violated international humanitarian law in Yemen. This air campaign has killed tens of thousands of people, and injured and displaced many more. The Government say:
“there can be no military solution to this particular conflict. There can only be a negotiated and political solution.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 380.]
If that is the case, why have they already pumped £4.6 billion of military equipment into this brutal bombardment?
The Trade Secretary said there could not be a military solution to this conflict. Surely the Government should think on this and stop the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. Just last week, the UN special rapporteur, Agnes Kalamar, said that there is credible evidence that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high-level officials are personally responsible for the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Does the Prime Minister accept that assessment?
There is overwhelming evidence that war crimes are being committed in Yemen by Saudi Arabian forces—a state that flouts every human rights norm at home and abroad. Its Government believes that it can kill with impunity journalists or civil rights campaigners, Yemenis or Bahrainis. It funds extremism around the world, but the UK has supplied it with over £4.5 billion-worth of deadly weapons. UK weapons have been used in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in which over 200,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more stand on the brink of famine, starvation and death from wholly preventable diseases. Surely the Court of Appeal judgment should be a wake-up call to the Prime Minister and the Government. Instead of appealing the judgment, why not accept it, stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia now, bring about peace in the Yemen and save those lives?
(7 months ago)Read Full debate
Mr Speaker, I understand that it is 10 years this week since you assumed the Chair of the House. May I just say congratulations on the first 10 years and thank you for being such a popular Speaker and for taking the role of Parliament out to the public in a meaningful way, particularly to schools and colleges all over the country? That has made a big difference.
I thank the Prime Minister for her kind words about John Prescott. We all obviously wish John all the very best. I cannot wait to see him return to full activity and to hear that voice booming out of loudspeakers all over the country exciting people in the cause of Labour, which is what John does so well.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of her statement.
Last week, we came within minutes of the USA launching a military attack on Iran. Britain and other European nations must play a role in defusing, not raising, tensions, and that needs to start with the restoration of support for the Iran nuclear deal.
We note that there will be continuing EU-Morocco trade discussions. I hope that the United Kingdom Government will recognise that there is an ongoing territorial dispute over the Western Sahara and that those issues will be borne in mind during the negotiations.
I echo the European Union’s call on Turkey to cease its illegal drilling in the eastern Mediterranean; I welcome what the EU Council said on that.
I also welcome the EU Council’s discussion of climate change, which emphasises how important it is to continue to work with progressive forces to tackle the climate emergency, which this House declared on 1 May. I welcome the EU’s continued commitment to the Paris climate agreement and to deliver a practical plan of action to meet its obligations, and I also welcome the fact that COP 26 will be jointly hosted by Britain and Italy, with some events being held in London.
Yesterday marked three years since the EU referendum —three wasted years in which the Government’s deal has been rejected three times. We have endured three separate Brexit Secretaries, and we will soon have our third post-Brexit Prime Minister. It has been three years of chaos, in-fighting and incompetence. For too long, the Prime Minister allowed herself to be held to ransom by the wilder extremes in her party, instead of trying to find a sensible majority across this House—[Interruption.] Some of the wilder extremes have absented themselves today, but they are no doubt making their views known elsewhere. By the time the Prime Minister finally did reach out, it was a bit too late, and she was unable to deliver meaningful compromise or change.
Does the Prime Minister now regret that she continued to legitimise the idea of no deal instead of warning of its disastrous implications? The two Tory leadership candidates still say that if they cannot renegotiate the backstop, which EU leaders last week said was not possible, they would pursue a no-deal exit. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she believes that no deal should be on the table as a viable option? What would be worse: crashing out with no deal in October, or putting this issue back to the people for a final say? Given the—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, it is normal for the Leader of the Opposition to ask questions of the Prime Minister, and that is exactly what I am doing.
Given the shambolic no-deal preparations so far, which were paused in the spring, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will not be ready to crash out in October? Neither of the Tory leadership candidates has a credible plan. One even claims that we can crash out on WTO terms and still trade without tariffs, which is interesting. The Governor of the Bank of England was clear when he said:
“Not having an agreement with the EU means that there are tariffs automatically because the Europeans have to apply the same rules to us as they apply to everyone else”.
Will the Prime Minister confirm whether the Bank of England Governor is correct on no deal? The former Foreign Secretary also told us that under his no deal plan he could
“solve the problem of free movement of goods in the context of the Free Trade Agreement… that we’ll negotiate in the implementation period.”
Will the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no implementation period if there is no deal?
It is deeply worrying that those who seek to lead this country have no grip on reality. The Prime Minister said that the Council reiterated its wish to avoid a “disorderly Brexit”, but I am unsure whether it will have been reassured by the statements of her potential successors.
Labour put forward a plan that could bring this country back together, but the Prime Minister refused to compromise. Whoever the next Prime Minister is, they will barely hold the support of this House, so they will certainly have no mandate to force a disastrous hard-right Brexit on this country. I want to make it clear that Labour will work across the House to block no deal. Whatever plan the new Tory leader comes up with, after three long years of failure they should have the confidence to go back to the people to let them decide the future of this country.
(7 months, 1 week ago)Read Full debate
Today does mark two years since the terrorist attack on Muslim people in Finsbury Park outside the mosque, and the murder of my constituent Makram Ali. With the far right on the rise both in our country and across the world, we can all send a message to all those who seek to sow hatred and division in our society that we will not be divided. Our diversity is our strength, and I believe it always will be.
I concur with the Prime Minister about the need to support people who have suffered as a result of the floods over the weekend, and about the work of the emergency services in helping them.
On Friday, I was honoured to join Grenfell residents and survivors to mark the two-year anniversary of that terrible tragedy. With great dignity, they are campaigning for justice and change. Across this House, we have a duty to ensure that such fires can never happen again. That is why I have signed up—I hope the Prime Minister will do so as well—to the “Never Again” campaign, which is run by the Fire Brigades Union with the support of the Daily Mirror. Three days after the Grenfell fire, the Prime Minister said:
“My Government will do whatever it takes to help those affected, get justice and keep our people safe.”
So two years on, why do 328 high-rise buildings—homes to thousands of people from Newham to Newcastle—still have the same Grenfell-style cladding?
Obviously, the inquiry must go on and we await its response to what actually happened at Grenfell, but the answer that the Prime Minister gave is of no comfort to the 60,000 people living in high-rise tower blocks across the country. They are worried—their communities are worried.
Although Government funding is, of course, necessary and welcome, but not yet available, more than 70 block owners still have no plan in place to get the work done. Will the Prime Minister set a deadline of the end of this year for all dangerous cladding to be removed and replaced? Will she toughen up the powers for councils to levy big fines and, where necessary, to confiscate blocks to get this vital safety work done if the block owners simply fail to do it?
The question was: will the Prime Minister ensure that this is done by the end of this year? Under the current rate of progress, it will take three years for even the social housing blocks to be done.
But the issue goes wider: 1,700 other buildings, including hospitals, care homes, schools and hotels, are clad in other potentially combustible materials. If landlords will not act, will the Government step in and act on those buildings as well? The 2013 coroner’s report into the deadly Lakanal House fire recommended that sprinklers should be retrofitted to all social housing. Currently, only 32 of 837 council tower blocks of above 30 metres have sprinklers. Two years after Grenfell and six years after that coroner’s report, will the Prime Minister now accept that recommendation and set a deadline for all high-rise blocks to have sprinklers retrofitted?
The coroner’s report made it very clear that she thought that sprinklers would make blocks safer; I do not think we should be playing around with semantics—we should be making sure that all the blocks are safe across the whole country. Only 105 of the 673 new- build schools have sprinklers. Labour would make sure that all new schools had sprinklers fitted.
Grenfell survivors say, “We were victims before the fire.” Radical change is needed in our system of social housing. Tenants raised concerns about safety; they were ignored. Two years on from Grenfell, when will we see Government legislation to strengthen tenants’ rights and apply the Freedom of Information Act to all housing associations as well as local authorities?
That is all well and good, but just how long does it take to amend the Freedom of Information Act to make sure it applies to social housing run by housing associations as well as local authorities?
The Government spent £1,013 million on fire services in 2016-17. This year, the figure is £858 million— £155 million cut from fire services. Every fire authority across the country, from the 11% cut in Greater Manchester to the 42% cut in Warwickshire, is going through the same experience. We cannot put a price on people’s lives. We cannot keep people safe on the cheap. The Prime Minister told the country at the Conservative party conference last autumn that austerity is over. Will she now pledge that her Government will increase fire service funding and firefighter numbers next year?
The legacy of this Tory Government is 10,000 firefighter jobs cut since 2010 and 40 fire stations closed, including 10 in London under the previous Mayor.
The Prime Minister claimed that action on Grenfell would be part of her legacy, but in two long years, too little has changed. She has met the Grenfell survivors, as have I. Their pain is real and palpable, and it continues. A big test for the next Prime Minister will be to make good the failings of this Government over the past two years—a failure to rehouse all the survivors, a failure to give justice to the Grenfell community, a failure to make safe other dangerous high-rise blocks, a failure to retrofit sprinklers and a failure to end austerity in the fire service. Does the Prime Minister believe that by the third anniversary next year, the Government will be able to honestly say with conviction to the country and to the Grenfell survivors, “Never again.”?
(7 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
Today would have been the 90th birthday of Anne Frank had she survived, but she died in the Nazi Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. In her diary, she wrote many things, but one that really applies to all of us at all times is:
“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness.”
We should remember her life and all that she has inspired in so many others ever since the second world war.
Later this week, I will be joining those families and survivors commemorating the second anniversary of the Grenfell fire, in which dozens of people died. As Sunday’s fire in the flats in Barking reminds us, there is still much more to do to ensure that people are safe in their homes in all parts of this country.
As is traditional, I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming the new Member for Peterborough, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Lisa Forbes), who is sitting behind me today.
The country is in crisis over Brexit. Manufacturing is in crisis. The Prime Minister’s Government have brought us to this point and now the Conservative party is, once again, in the process of foisting a new Prime Minister on the country without the country having a say through a general election. This Prime Minister created the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July 2016. Has the Prime Minister actually delivered an industrial strategy since then?
The answer the Prime Minister gave has a sort of unreality about it all really. [Interruption.] Let me explain, as I am trying to help Conservative Members. If they could contain their excitement for a moment, I thought I would remind them that the labour force survey shows that compared with 2016, when BEIS was set up, there are now 147,000 fewer people working in manufacturing in Britain, that apprenticeship starts are down 25%, and that manufacturing output fell by 3.9% between March and April this year, which is the largest fall for nearly two decades.
In the last year, Jaguar Land Rover, Honda, Vauxhall, Ford and Nissan have all announced UK job losses. Does the Prime Minister think her Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been good for that industry?
Last week, Ford announced it would end production at its Bridgend plant. UK car production has been virtually halved in the last 11 consecutive months. Ford has also said that a no-deal Brexit would put a further 6,000 UK jobs at risk, with thousands more at risk in the supply chain. Nissan, Toyota, BMW and JLR have all made similar statements. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reiterate her Government’s assessment that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for Britain? I think some of her colleagues sitting behind her and alongside her need reminding of that.
The Prime Minister may not have noticed, but her deal was rejected three times by Parliament.
Another industry failed by the UK Government is UK steel. Why did the Government not agree a deal to support our steel industry?
Since the Government did nothing to protect the steel industry in Redcar, I hope that they will do a bit better in Scunthorpe, where 5,000 jobs are at risk. The Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy raises questions about whether the Government actually entered into the negotiations in good faith.
Another sector that has been failed by the Government is the renewables industry. Solar installations are down by 94%, onshore wind is coming to a grinding halt, and they have failed to back the very important, very exciting and innovative Swansea bay tidal lagoon. They are failing on cars, on steel, and on renewables. I know that the Tory leadership candidates have been falling over themselves to confess to their past indulgences, but can the Prime Minister name an industry that is legal that her Government Ministers have actually backed?
The legacy of the Prime Minister’s Government is one of failure. They claimed that they would tackle burning injustices; they failed. They told pensioners that their benefits were safe; now, they are taking away free TV licences for the over-75s. They promised action on Grenfell; two years on, there is still flammable cladding on thousands of homes across this country. They promised a northern powerhouse; they failed to deliver it, and every northern newspaper is campaigning for this Government to power up the north. They promised net zero by 2050, yet they have failed on renewables, and are missing—[Interruption.]
Break in Debate
They promised net zero by 2050, yet they have failed on renewables and are missing their climate change targets. They promised an industrial strategy; output is falling. Which does the Prime Minister see as the biggest industrial failure of her Government: the car industry, the steel industry, or the renewables industry? Which is it?
(8 months, 1 week ago)Read Full debate
I join the Prime Minister in commemorating all the victims of the Manchester bombing two years ago. Our thoughts are with the friends and families of all those who were killed, the survivors, and the emergency service workers who gave such heroic service that night. They will live with the horrors of that night for the rest of their lives and 10.31 tonight will be a very poignant moment for many people in Manchester.
I want to pay tribute to the last survivor of the Hull “headscarf revolutionaries”, Yvonne Blenkinsop. She is visiting Parliament today. She led a campaign for basic safety in the UK fishing fleet in the 1960s. As a result, many lives were saved. People like her have made such an enormous contribution to our national life. They should be recognised for it.
I also want to express, on behalf of the Labour party, my outrage that the Government have again failed our steel industry, putting 5,000 jobs at risk at British Steel and 20,000 more in the supply chain. The Government have failed those people. Even at this late stage—there is a statement later today—they must step in and save those jobs.
Why are schools having to close early on Friday afternoon due to spending cuts?
That would explain why 26 schools close early on a Friday every week because they do not have enough money to keep themselves open. More than 1,000 schools across England are turning to crowd- funding websites with a wish-list of things they want to raise money to buy—really exotic things such as pencils, glue and textbooks. Why are they forced to do that if they allegedly have enough money in the first place?
I do not know if the Prime Minister has had a chance to listen to or read the words of the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. He said:
“The fact so many schools are doing this should be ringing serious alarm bells for the government”.
The Prime Minister does not seem to be aware of the crisis that is facing so many in education at the present time, so can she be very clear with the House: has per pupil funding risen or fallen since 2010?
I can help the Prime Minister out in two ways. One is that a Labour Government would properly fund our schools—it would not short-change our children—and we would not use Orwellian words like “fair funding” while we are cutting. Per pupil funding —just so the Prime Minister understands it—has fallen by 8%. For sixth forms, it is 24%.
At the end of last year, the Prime Minister said “austerity is over.” Maria, who describes herself as a
“teacher in an underfunded school”
wrote to me this week and asked this—[Interruption.] Maria is a teacher in an underfunded school—I think Conservative Members need to listen to her. She asked:
“when will the government stop making false claims of increased funding for schools and start to tackle the serious problems faced by teachers?”
When will the cuts end for our children’s schools?
What this Government have squandered is what they inherited: children’s centres, Sure Start, children taken out of poverty. They squandered the future for so many of our children. [Interruption.]
Break in Debate
The Department for Education’s funding chief met school leaders recently and told them:
“the first thing to say is obviously they are not generous budgets”—
he is very cautious with his words—
“They are budgets which leave schools with real pressures to face”.
Everyone agrees that the creative industries in this country are an enormous strength to our economy, so why have the arts borne the brunt of the Government’s brutal cuts to school funding? So many children are losing out on music and creative arts in our schools because of decisions by central Government.
My question was actually about funding for arts and creative subjects in schools. A survey has shown that nine out of 10 secondary schools have cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one of the creative arts subjects. Are the artists and actors of tomorrow only to come from the private schools, while the Prime Minister continues to cut the funding for state schools?
When the Prime Minister says that school funding has been protected, she is denying the daily experience of teachers, parents and pupils. She is denying the incontrovertible evidence of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, education bodies and teaching unions. She is actually in outright denial. When the wealth of the richest 1,000 people has increased by £50 billion in the last year alone, do not tell us that the money is not there for our children’s schools. This Government have cut vital public services to give tax cuts to the privileged few. Can the Prime Minister name a more damaging policy—a more short-sighted policy—than cutting investment in our future: our children?
(8 months, 1 week ago)Read Full debate
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. In fact, I received it yesterday when she made an appeal entitled, “Seeking common ground in Parliament”. Where did she make that appeal? Not in Parliament, but in a small room just down the road.
It is now clear: the bold new deal that the Prime Minister promised is little more than a repackaged version of her three times rejected deal. The rhetoric may have changed, but the deal has not. I thank the Prime Minister for her letter, but it offers no change on a customs union, no change on single market alignment, and no dynamic alignment on environmental protections. This Government are too weak, too divided, to get this country out of the mess that they have created. For more than two years, the Prime Minister bullishly refused to consult the public or Parliament.
She did not seek a compromise until after she had missed her own deadline to leave, and by the time she finally did, she had lost the authority to deliver. That became evident during the six weeks of cross-party talks that ended last week—talks that were entered into constructively on both sides to see if a compromise was possible.
But while those talks were going on, Cabinet Minister after Cabinet Minister made statements undermining what their colleagues in the room were offering. The Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House, the International Trade Secretary and the Treasury Chief Secretary all made it clear that they would not tolerate a deal that included a customs union, while Tory leadership contender after Tory leadership contender took it in turns to make it absolutely clear that any compromise deal would not be honoured. Therefore, no matter what the Prime Minister offers, it is clear that no compromise would survive the upcoming Tory leadership contest. The multiple leaks reported from the Cabinet yesterday show that the Prime Minister could not even get the compromise deal she wanted through her own Cabinet, and it is clear that the shrunken offer that emerged satisfied no one—not her own Back Benchers, not the Democratic Unionist party and not the Official Opposition either. No Labour MP can vote for a deal on the promise of a Prime Minister who only has days left in her job.
Even if the Prime Minister could honour her promises, the deal she is putting before us does not represent a genuine compromise. Her 10-point plan is riddled with contradiction and wishful thinking. First, the Prime Minister pretends she is delivering something new with a temporary customs union. This is not a compromise— it is just accepting the reality. Under the withdrawal agreement, we will already be in a temporary customs union through the transition period, which can last up to four years, and if not, we will enter the backstop, which, in effect, keeps us in a customs union, too, without any say.
Secondly, why would this House legislate for a plan that has already been comprehensively rejected by the European Union? The Government want to align with the European Union on goods to keep frictionless trade, but they also want to pursue trade deals that would undermine this process. It is simply not compatible. The technology they need to continue to pursue their Chequers plan simply does not exist. It has already been ruled out by the EU as illegal, impractical and an invitation to fraud. The Government have failed to provide any economic analysis to show that this would make us better off. Why would the House support such a chaotic and desperate approach?
Labour set out a sensible compromise plan over a year ago, including a comprehensive and permanent customs union with the EU that gives us a say, which would allow us to strike trade deals as part of the world’s biggest trading bloc, bringing investment, while maintaining the highest standards. It is credible and achievable, and the best way to protect industry, manufacturing and jobs—something that this Government are woefully indifferent to, as the latest crisis in the steel industry shows today. The Government must be prepared to step in and take a public stake to save thousands of high-skilled jobs at British Steel—a foundation industry for any major economy. Instead, the Tory obsession is for striking trade deals with the likes of Donald Trump. They prioritise chlorinated chicken, further NHS privatisation and deregulation over protecting supply chains and jobs in this country.
On workers’ rights, we have yet to see the full package the Government intend to bring forward, but many people in the trade union movement remain very sceptical. As Frances O’Grady of the Trades Union Congress said yesterday:
“This reheated Brexit deal won’t protect people’s jobs and rights.”
On environmental protections, it is clear that the Prime Minister is not offering dynamic alignment and that under her proposals the UK would fall behind in a number of areas, with only a toothless regulator under the control of the Environment Secretary in place of binding international commitments to protect our environment.
Finally, on a confirmatory vote, I am sure that nobody here will be fooled by what the Prime Minister is offering. Will she tell us now, if this offer is genuine: will she give her party a free vote on this issue or will she, as before, whip against a confirmatory referendum? If the Government truly believe this is the best deal for the economy and for jobs, they should not fear putting that to the people.
For too long, our politics has been seen through a prism of leave or remain. This is dividing our society and poisoning our democracy. It means that vital issues are being neglected—the crisis in our schools and hospitals, the housing crisis and the cruelty of social security policy and universal credit. Our country needs leadership to bring us together. However, this Prime Minister is not the person to do that. Throughout the last three years, she has made no attempt to unite the country. She has been focused only on keeping her divided party together—and it has not worked. Her time has now run out. She no longer has the authority to offer a compromise and cannot deliver. That is why it is time for a general election to break the Brexit deadlock and give the country a say.
(8 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I join the Prime Minister in acknowledging Mental Health Awareness Week. I want to send my support to all those campaigning all across the country to raise awareness of mental health, and a message that all of us can do something about it by reaching out and talking to people going through a mental health crisis, and also ensuring that there is proper funding for our mental health services.
I would like to pay tribute to the former Labour MP for Birmingham, All Saints, Brian Walden, who passed away this week. He was a very formidable figure in this House and a very strong political interviewer who every politician really loved being interviewed by at the time—but they only said that afterwards.
I think it would also be only right that the House of Commons pays tribute to a leading Hollywood icon and campaigner for animal welfare, Doris Day, who passed away this week. I am tempted to quote some Doris Day songs, but I won’t. [Interruption.] All right—“Whip-Crack-Away!” [Interruption.] No, no, no. [Interruption.] I do apologise, Mr Speaker—I have obviously started a parliamentary singalong here.
Speaking of icons, it would be right to acknowledge that it is 40 years since my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) were both elected to this Parliament for the first time in the 1979 election.
In the last two years, nine of the UK’s richest hedge fund tycoons have donated £2.9 million to the Conservative party. Is this a Government for the many or one in the pockets of an elite few?
The Nobel prize-winning economist Sir Angus Deaton said that the UK risks having extreme inequality levels of pay, wealth and health. Of the G7 countries, only the United States is more unequal than the UK. Is that something the Prime Minister is proud of?
Real wages are lower than they were 10 years ago. How can it be fair that we live in a society where the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 company now earns 145 times the annual average salary in this country? Some of the lowest rates of pay are among young workers. That is why at the weekend, I announced that the next Labour Government will abolish the youth rates, because, quite simply, if you are old enough to do the job, you are old enough to be paid the wage to do the job. Does the Prime Minister agree with that principle?
I seem to recall that it was the Conservative party that opposed the national minimum wage in 1997. I seem to recall that it was the Conservative party that predicted millions of jobs being lost because we wanted decent pay for people.
Why do this Government continue to punish our young people? Since 2010—[Interruption.] Well, since 2010, the Conservative party, with its Liberal Democrat accomplices, has trebled tuition fees, abolished the education maintenance allowance and cut child benefit. While wages remain lower than a decade ago and housing costs have soared, more and more food banks are opening up in Britain. In Great Yarmouth, one has just been opened for pupils at a school, and last week the Department for Business established a food bank for its own staff in its building on Victoria Street. Can the Prime Minister tell us what is going wrong in modern Britain when a Government office in the centre of London has a food bank for some of its very low-paid staff to get something to eat?
Break in Debate
My question was about food banks in a Government office—[Interruption.]
Break in Debate
My question was about a food bank in a Government Ministry, which seems to suggest that in-work poverty is the problem in Britain.
The Trussell Trust handed out 1.6 million food parcels last year, half a million of which went to children. A new report out today by the End Child Poverty coalition shows that child poverty has risen by half a million and is becoming the new norm in this country. The End Child Poverty coalition called on Ministers to restore the link between inflation and social security. Will the Prime Minister do that, to try to reduce the disgraceful levels of child poverty in this country?
They may have changed the name, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that child poverty will rise to over 5 million by 2022 at the current rate because of the strategies being followed by the right hon. Lady’s Government.
When the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain has increased by £50 billion in one year, but there is not enough money to properly feed our children or pay workers a decent wage, we have failed as a society. This country is seeing the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, while the Government are in the pockets of a super-rich elite. More children in poverty, more pensioners in poverty, more people struggling to make ends meet: when are the right hon. Lady and her Government going to reverse the tax giveaways to the super-rich and make sure they pay their fair share of taxes, so we can end the scandal—and it is a scandal—of inequality in modern Britain?
(8 months, 3 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I join the Prime Minister in sending condolences to the family and friends of Guardsman Mathew Talbot, who died while on anti-poaching activities. It is a reminder of the diverse work that the armed forces do, and we thank them for it and for the help they are giving to the people of Malawi. I join her also in welcoming the birth of the baby to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and, along with all of us, in recognising and enjoying Ramadan and Vaisakhi at this time. It is important to show the diversity of this country and celebrate all religious festivals.
I hope the whole House will also join me in congratulating a great football team: Manchester City, on winning the women’s FA cup. In view of Liverpool’s amazing performance last night, perhaps the Prime Minister could take some tips from Jürgen Klopp on how to get a good result in Europe.
Our national health service is our country’s greatest social achievement. Its staff show amazing dedication, but this Government’s failures are taking their toll. An NHS staff survey found that 40% of staff had reported suffering work-related stress in the past year alone. Can the Government explain why staff are being so severely let down by this Government?
Under the last Labour Government, NHS investment rose by 6% a year, but under this Government it has barely reached 1.5%. Five thousand nurses and midwives from European Union countries have left the NHS in the past two years, and there are 100,000 staff vacancies across the NHS in England alone. The Royal College of Radiologists recently said the shortage of cancer doctors “puts care at risk”. What is the Prime Minister doing to remedy this dangerous situation?
Nobody on this side of the House ever talks down the NHS—it is Labour’s greatest achievement. The principle of healthcare free at the point of need as a human right was a Labour achievement, and every Tory MP voted against it.
Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. As for all cancers, the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is essential. In February, almost a quarter of patients waited more than two months to start cancer treatment following a GP referral—the worst performance on record. Will the Prime Minister apologise to the thousands of cancer patients who are enduring weeks of unbelievable stress and worry while they wait to start the treatment that, to have a better chance of survival, they should be able to start quickly after they have been referred?
Under the NHS in Wales, more people are surviving cancer than ever before. We should welcome the work that has been done.
The Royal College of Radiologists said,
“our workforce projections are increasingly bleak”,
and almost half of all women with ovarian cancer reported having to visit the GP three times before they were referred for a test. Today, we learned that GP numbers are experiencing their first sustained fall for 50 years. GPs often play the vital role in the early identification of cancers and other serious problems. Does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable that one third of people who need an urgent GP appointment on the day that they ask for one are being turned away because of the shortage of GPs?
Mr Speaker, if you go to any A&E department in the country, you will find that staff are under enormous pressure precisely because there is a shortage of GPs available to see people in the first place. At the same time as he promotes private GP services, the Conservative Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is overseeing the biggest drop in NHS GPs for 50 years. One in 10 GPs are now seeing twice as many patients as is safe for them to see—that is the pressure they are under. The NHS has failed to meet its A&E waiting time target for nearly four years. In March this year, more than one in five patients waited more than four hours to be seen. Will the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, apologise to the tens of thousands of people waiting for too long in deep distress just to get seen at an A&E department, because of the pressure A&Es are under?
The reality is that, under a Tory Government, spending and investment in the NHS is less than it was under Labour, and, even with the Prime Minister’s funding announcements, that remains the case. The complacent attitude and platitudes hide the reality that, under the Tories, our health service is going through the longest funding squeeze in history: 20,000 jobs in mental health units are unfilled; public satisfaction with GP services is the worst on record; cancer treatment delays are the worst on record; A&E waiting times are the worst on record; and, tragically, infant mortality is rising. Will the Prime Minister admit that the Government have failed the health service, failed NHS staff, and, therefore failed the patients who rely on the NHS?
(9 months ago)Read Full debate
I join the Prime Minister in congratulating all those who ran the London marathon. I think that the shadow Health Secretary getting a personal best shows just how fit the Labour Health team is.
I should like to take this opportunity to wish the House and people across the country a very happy May Day on International Workers Day.
Tomorrow, many people across England will go to the polls to vote in local elections. For many of them, the Government have delivered nothing but failure. On her first day in office, the Prime Minister promised to fight against the “burning” social “injustices” that plague our society. Yesterday, an independent Government body confirmed that inequality was entrenched in our society from birth to work. Will the Prime Minister now admit that her Government have completely failed to take action to tackle the burning injustices?
The reality is that social mobility is going backwards and things are getting worse under this Government. I will give an example: life expectancy in Britain is falling for the first time since 1945. Where does the Prime Minister think this Government have gone wrong when we have reached the point where people now expect to live shorter lives than others did in the past?
Life expectancy has fallen by six months, and infant mortality is up and rising. This month, we also learned that a record 1.6 million food parcels were given out last year alone. Under this Government, things are getting worse. Does the Prime Minister agree with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that this Government’s policies have meant that, in one of the richest countries on earth, food banks are now handing 14 million meals a year to people, some of whom are in work, who simply do not have enough to eat?
Break in Debate
Many of those people receiving food parcels, the number of which has increased by 600,000 in four years, are actually in work, and that is down to their low wages. Indeed, wages have been frozen for many over the past 10 years. Even the Prime Minister’s own Secretary of State admitted that universal credit has caused people to rely on food banks.
The number of older people now not getting the care they desperately need has risen to 1.4 million. Think about that—1.4 million people in need of social care. Things are getting worse. Does the Prime Minister agree with Labour’s plan to fund social care properly or with her former deputy, who wants to tax the over-50s and take away their benefits?
The Prime Minister seems to have her head in the sand. The reality is that £7 billion has been cut from adult social care since 2010. The system is teetering on the brink of collapse as care companies go into administration, and the stress on the residents of those homes and their families is unbelievable. We need a serious strategy that ensures people get the social care they need when they need it.
Under this Government, things are getting worse on our streets, too. Violent crime is up by 19%, robberies are up by 18%, knife crime is at the highest level on record and 2.3 million criminal investigations have closed because the police were unable to identify a suspect—I believe because they have insufficient staff to do it.
Does the Prime Minister accept there is a violent crime epidemic that has arisen on her watch and is tearing our communities and our families apart? It has to be addressed by investment in our communities.
If the Prime Minister does not believe me, perhaps she will believe her own Home Secretary. He said in March:
“Serious violence is on the rise. Communities are being torn apart and families are losing their children.”—[Official Report, 4 March 2019; Vol. 655, c. 667.]
Twenty-one thousand fewer police officers is a pretty obvious connection: there is likely to be a rise in crime and disorder as a result.
Under this Government, things in this country are getting worse. Their cuts and incompetence have left communities struggling and pushed public services into crisis. They have cut council budgets by 50%, poverty is up, waiting times are up and violent crime is up, all under a Government who seem to care more about pushing their very damaging austerity agenda than tackling the burning social injustices. Ahead of tomorrow’s elections in England, can the Prime Minister explain why, from social care to crime and from life expectancy to poverty, things are getting worse under her Government?
(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. Yesterday, EU leaders agreed to grant the United Kingdom an article 50 extension until 31 October. This means that Britain will now have to start the process of holding European elections in the extraordinary situation of not knowing whether new MEPs will take their seats, or for how long. This has come just three weeks after the Prime Minister told the House that she was not prepared to delay Brexit any longer than 30 June. This second extension in the space of a fortnight not only represents a diplomatic failure, but is another milestone in the Government’s mishandling of the entire Brexit process.
A measure of this could be seen in this House on Monday when one third of her party voted against her own policy to request a short delay and four of her Cabinet members abstained. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the request by the Leader of the House on Tuesday for the EU to reopen the withdrawal agreement has also been rebuffed? The Prime Minister stuck rigidly to a flawed plan and now the clock has run down, leaving Britain in limbo and adding to the deep uncertainty for business, workers and people all across this country.
I welcome that the Prime Minister finally decided to reach out to the Opposition last week and open talks to try to find a breakthrough. The fact that the invitation did not even come at the eleventh hour, but at five past midnight three days after the Prime Minister had missed her own Brexit deadline of 29 March, is a reflection of the Government’s fundamental error in not proceeding by consensus. However, I can report to the House that the talks now taking place between the Opposition and the Government are serious, detailed and ongoing, and I welcome the constructive engagement that we have had. Although this view may not be universally shared on the Conservative Benches, I also welcome the indications from the Government that they may be willing to move in the key areas that have prevented the Prime Minister’s deal from being supported on this side of the House. If these talks are to be a success, resulting in an agreement that can bring our country back together, the Government will have to compromise. That is why it was with disappointment that I read the Secretary of State for International Trade’s letter this week, in what seemed to be an attempt to scupper meaningful talks by all but ruling out Labour’s customs union proposal—a proposal, I might add, that is supported by business and industry bodies as well as by all leading trade unions in this country. It is a proposal that European Union leaders and the Irish Taoiseach just yesterday said is both credible and negotiable.
Labour will continue to engage constructively in talks, because we respect the result of the referendum and we are committed to defending jobs, industry and living standards by delivering a close economic relationship with the European Union and securing frictionless trade with improved rights and standards. If that is not possible, we believe all options should remain on the table, including the option of a public vote. We see no advantage in the proposals of the Secretary of State for International Trade to create distance and divergence in our trading relationship with our largest trading partner.
This House must also bear in mind that after a deal has passed, the current Prime Minister has said that she will step down. We have no idea who may succeed her, so with that in mind, we have to entrench any agreement, because some of those already throwing their hats into the ring have said that they would scrap the Human Rights Act, they would rip up burdensome regulation, or they would even prefer to leave without any deal at all. Some on the Conservative Benches want nothing more than to use Brexit to create a race to the bottom, opening up our economy to US big pharma companies in our national health service and hormone-treated beef on our plates, to slash workers’ rights and consumer standards, and to have the UK become a virtual tax haven on the shores of Europe.
Let me be clear to the Prime Minister and to the country: Labour will not support any deal that would leave us open to such a dystopian vision for the future of this country. It is incumbent on all of us now to find a way forward. We must continue to talk to each other, and if the Government are serious, the red lines must move and we must see a real compromise. I look forward to the discussions in the coming days and, even at this late stage, to working to find a deal that can command the support not only of this House, but, perhaps more importantly, of the public across this country too.
(9 months, 3 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I am very pleased that the Prime Minister mentioned what happened in Jallianwala Bagh and the issues of the massacre at Amritsar 100 years ago. I think that the people, in memory of those who lost their lives and the brutality of what happened, deserve a full, clear and unequivocal apology for what took place on that occasion.
I join the Prime Minister and yourself, Mr Speaker, in welcoming Sarah Davies to her appointment. I am sure she is going to be absolutely brilliant. I remember the day she started work in the House, and she has done incredibly well.
I also welcome my hon. Friend the new Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) who is here today. I believe that she is a very worthy successor to the late Paul Flynn.
Today marks the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, a defining moment in Irish history, which allowed peace to prevail. It was a great achievement, and I pay tribute to the work done by the Labour Government at that time, as well as those on all sides in Ireland, north and south, and in this House in achieving the crucial breakthrough in the peace process, which we have to ensure is maintained.
As we continue discussions to find a compromise over the Brexit deal that could shape our future economic relationship with Europe—protecting jobs, rights and our economy—we should not forget the communities across this country that have been abandoned by this Government in the here and now. Official figures show that nine of the 10 most deprived council areas in this country have seen cuts that are almost three times the average of any other council. Why has the Prime Minister decided to cut the worst-off areas in our country more than the most well-off?
The problem is that child poverty is rising. In councils with the highest levels of child poverty, over £1,000 per household has been taken in funding cuts in the past decade. Some of the wealthiest areas of our country have lost only £5. Take Swindon, for example, where Honda recently announced 3,500 job cuts. Child poverty is over one third higher in Swindon than it is in Surrey, but Swindon will have lost £235 per household in Government funding cuts, whereas a household in Surrey will see more money from central Government. Can the Prime Minister explain why Swindon faces cuts while Surrey gets more money?
Homelessness is three times higher in Swindon than in Surrey. Today, we learn that two-thirds of councils do not have the funding necessary to comply with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. In Stoke-on-Trent, the council has lost £640 per household, yet child poverty is more than double the rate in Surrey, which has seen an increase in funding. Does the Prime Minister think that areas with the highest levels of child poverty deserve to be facing the largest cuts in their budgets?
The reality is that under this Government 500,000 more children have gone into relative poverty. In Stoke-on-Trent alone, 4,000 food bank parcels were handed out to children last year. If that was not bad enough, it is about to get worse. Tory proposals on the new funding formula for councils will make poorer areas even poorer. They are removing the word “deprivation” from the funding criteria. In a phrase that George Orwell would have been very proud of they have called this the fairer funding formula. Areas like Stoke will lose out even more. Will the Prime Minister explain why she wants to give less funding to the most deprived parts of our country?
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister the truth is that when Labour controls local councils, households pay on average £350 less than those living in Tory areas. The average council tax per dwelling in Labour council areas is £1,169 comparedto £1,520 in Tory council areas. The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives has called the fairer funding formula decision “perverse”. Even before this new formula kicks in, councils are losing out now. A Conservative council leader said earlier this year:
“we are really, really short of money...I mean there is no money”
for him to run his services. What does the Prime Minister say to local authorities struggling to make ends meet while her Government continue to underfund the vital services they deliver?
A political choice to impose austerity on local government has hit the poorest and worst-off the hardest in every one of our communities across the country. Since 2010, 50p of every £1 has been stripped from local authorities by her Government. That is the reality of what life is like for those trying to deliver services.
The evidence is clear: the Tories have abandoned communities across the country. They have left towns and cities to fend for themselves after nine years of vindictive, damaging austerity: 1,000 fewer Sure Start centres—one of the greatest achievements of the last Government; 760 fewer youth centres; and a social care system in absolute crisis. Child poverty is up. Violent crime is up. Homelessness and rough sleeping is also up. This Government stand for tax cuts for the richest and swingeing cuts for the rest. Will the Prime Minister now admit that far from tackling the “burning injustices” that she talked about, her Government’s cruel and unfair policies have pushed councils to the brink and left those “just about managing” not being able to manage at all? That is her legacy.
(9 months, 4 weeks ago)Read Full debate
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?
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?
Break in Debate
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?
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?
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?
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.
(10 months ago)Read Full debate
We in the Labour party are very proud of the Good Friday agreement and the peace achieved in Northern Ireland as a result, and nobody in the Labour party wants to do anything to undermine this great achievement.
As the shadow Solicitor General, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), said, article 184 of the withdrawal agreement commits the Government to negotiate expeditiously on the terms of the political declaration. That would be a deal based on a very wide range of potential outcomes for the country, and who would decide which direction we go in? Now that the Prime Minister has announced her own departure, we do not know if the future is to be chosen by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), or maybe even the jobbing Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). The Labour party will not play roulette with this country’s future, especially when the roulette wheel is rigged by the Conservative party.
Labour respects the result of the referendum—we reiterated that in our manifesto and again in our party conference last year—but the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit has been nothing short of a shambles. The choices facing our country post Brexit have been decided solely by what is in the interests of the Conservative party, not the country. The Prime Minister announced her red lines and went to negotiate without any consultation with the House, without any attempt to build consensus. Those red lines were opposed by the representative bodies of workers, businesses and industry, who are now tearing their hair out in exasperation at the Government’s incompetence and the uncertainty that they face.
The first Brexit Secretary said that he would get a deal that would deliver the exact same benefits as now. The current Brexit Secretary obviously felt that that was far too good for the country because, only two weeks ago, he went into the Lobby to back no deal and oppose an extension. That would leave the UK crashing out in just 10 days with no preparations and chaos at our ports and airports, leading to a crisis in factories, shops and hospitals.
What did the Government forecasts say about the Brexit Secretary’s preferred no-deal option? That it would make the economy not 4% worse off, but nearly 10% worse off. So it is no wonder that, faced with a choice between the Prime Minister’s bad deal and a disastrous no deal, this House has given a clear no to both, repeatedly. The Government suffered the largest defeat by any Government ever in parliamentary history in January. The Prime Minister said then:
“It is clear that the House does not support this deal.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 1125.]
So what was the Government’s response? They tried begging, bullying and bribery, and still they were defeated by the fourth largest majority in parliamentary history.
The Prime Minister told us that we must leave on 29 March, and even wrote it into primary legislation. She herself then voted against leaving on 29 March. She then went to Brussels to negotiate an extension and, almost unbelievably, even turned that into another negotiating failure. This Government’s Brexit negotiations have been a litany of failure, culminating today with a Prime Minister who has been forced to announce her own departure tabling only half the deal she has negotiated. This really is a half-baked Brexit.
When she became Prime Minister two and a half years ago, she said that it was her mission to deliver Brexit. She has failed. She also stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised that her Government would tackle burning injustices. Since then, she has failed on every test. Homelessness is up. Life expectancy is falling. Infant mortality is rising. Crime is rising. Police numbers have fallen. This year, the NHS had its worst ever month—people waiting longer in A&E, for an operation and to start cancer treatment—and just yesterday, we learned that more children are in poverty and the scourge of pensioner poverty is increasing again.
The job of Government is to make people’s lives better, and this Government have failed. A botched and half-baked Brexit deal like the one before us today would compound that failure. On Wednesday, the House sought to find an alternative—a new negotiating deal for the Government. Labour’s plan, I believe, provides the best compromise for a deeply divided country and a deeply divided House. It is backed in large part by major organisations in industry and business and by trade unions. It is based around the certainty of a permanent customs union, close alignment with the single market and a dynamic alignment on rights and protections.
Labour urged support for four of the options tabled by members of different parties on different sides of the House. We did so not because we would be equally happy with each of those outcomes but because we recognise that we have to compromise to get this resolved. The whole House knows that the current uncertainty is damaging businesses, reducing investment and costing jobs now and in the future. The stress of people in work is palpable as we travel around the country and talk to people in all parts of the country.
I hope that on Monday, when the House retakes control, parties and Members on both sides will enter into those debates and votes in the spirit of trying to find an acceptable compromise. We need to get a better deal, the country deserves a better deal, and I am convinced that a better deal can be negotiated and, if Members decide, a chance for people to have a final say. If we cannot do that on Monday, I will say—and many others will agree with me—that ultimately there will be no alternative other than to have a general election to decide who rules this country in the future.
To enable the Prime Minister to have sufficient time to respond to the debate, I say this in conclusion. I urge Members to act in the best interests of their constituents and to vote down this unacceptable deal. There are many people who fear for their jobs, for their industry and for whether they and their friends have a future in this country. That is causing immense stress to many people. However they voted in the 2016 referendum, they are united in their stress and concern about their future and that of their communities.
We need to rebuild our country and invest in our communities, too many of which have been neglected, ignored and underfunded for years. A botched and half-baked Brexit deal such as the one before us today would only deepen those problems and divisions. This deal, even the half of it that we have before us today, is bad for our democracy, bad for our economy and bad for this country. I urge the House not to be cajoled by this “third time lucky” strategy and to vote it down today.
Break in Debate
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is now the third time that the Prime Minister’s deal has been rejected. When it was defeated the first time, she said:
“It is clear that the House does not support this deal”.—[Official Report, 15 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 1125.]
Does she now finally accept that the House does not support the deal? She seemed to indicate just now that she will return to this issue again.
On Monday this House has the chance and—I say to all Members—the responsibility to find a majority for a better deal for all the people of this country. The House has been clear: this deal now has to change. An alternative has to be found. If the Prime Minister cannot accept that, she must go—not at an indeterminate date in the future, but now—so that we can decide the future of this country through a general election.
(10 months ago)Read Full debate
This chaotic and incompetent Government have driven our country into chaos. We know the scale of the crisis when the TUC and the CBI are united in writing to the Prime Minister saying:
“A Plan B must be found—one that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border”.
My question on Monday went unanswered, so will the Prime Minister now say what is her plan B?
The only problem with the Prime Minister’s answer is that her deal has been twice defeated in this House, in one case by the largest ever majority by which a Government have lost a vote in our recorded parliamentary history. Reports today suggest that a former Conservative Prime Minister is telling Conservative MPs that pursuing a customs union with the EU is the best way to get Brexit over the line. Does she agree with him, and will she be supporting any motions for a customs union this afternoon?
The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that our policy is for a customs union to protect jobs and society. She will also know that the TUC and the CBI have called for a customs union as part of a deal. In fact, the letter they wrote to all MPs yesterday said that
“a deal that delivers a customs union and strong alignment with the UK and the EU rules is the preferred outcome for the business community”.
It is a bit strange when a Conservative Prime Minister says she does not want what the business community wants. These are indeed strange times. Can she say why she will not include a customs union in the options that will be discussed today?
The Prime Minister does not seem to realise that she does not have a deal that has been supported by this House. Our proposals for a customs union give us alignment on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections; they do not begin with a race to the bottom, which is what she and many of her Front Benchers actually want. Earlier this week, the Business Minister resigned from the Government saying that the Government’s approach to Brexit was
“playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country”.
Why is she prepared to carry on risking jobs and industry in another attempt to yet again run down the clock and try to blackmail the MPs behind her into supporting a deal that has already been twice rejected?
In answer to a straight question to the Prime Minister, she was unable to guarantee what is called dynamic alignment with European standards. She knows full well that Labour’s proposals are to use EU standards as a baseline from which we would improve them, including giving workers full rights at work from day one of their employment, ending zero-hours contracts and many other things.
In the former Business Minister’s resignation letter, he also said to the Prime Minister that he hoped that she would
“now act in the national interest and enable Parliament this week to find a consensus… negotiating position”.
If today or on Monday a consensus alternative plan emerges across the House, will the Prime Minister accept that decision of the House and accept it as the basis for the UK’s negotiating position with the EU henceforth?
That sounds awfully like a recipe for regression away from those standards and for damaging workers’ rights.
After the two largest defeats in parliamentary history, surely the Prime Minister should be listening to Parliament. She did not answer my question about whether an agreement reached in this House would become the Government’s negotiating position. I think that the House and, perhaps more importantly, the whole country deserves to know the answer to that question.
This country is on hold while the Government are in complete paralysis. The vital issues facing our country, from the devastation of public services to homelessness and knife crime, have been neglected. The Prime Minister is failing to deliver Brexit because she cannot build a consensus and is unable to compromise and reunite the country. Instead, she is stoking further division and is unable to resolve the central issues facing Britain today. She is, frankly, unable to govern. The Prime Minister faces a clear choice—the one endorsed by the country and many in her party—which is either to listen and change course or to go. Which is it to be?
(10 months, 1 week ago)Read Full debate
I thank the Prime Minister for advance copy of her statement and for the meetings that we have had in recent days.
The Government’s approach to Brexit has now become a national embarrassment. After two years of failure and broken promises after broken promises, the Prime Minister finally accepted the inevitable last week, voted to extend article 50 and went to Brussels to negotiate. Last week’s summit represented another negotiating failure for the Prime Minister. Her proposals were rejected and new terms were imposed on her. We now have an extension until mid-April, or 22 May, but despite the clearly expressed will of this House, we still face the prospect of a disastrous no-deal Brexit. This is even more remarkable given that the Minister for the Cabinet Office told this very Chamber that
“seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless”.—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
This failure has been compounded by the Prime Minister’s attempts last week to pin the blame for this debacle on others. It was wholly inappropriate, last Wednesday, for her to try to pit the people against MPs—elected MPs doing their duty to hold the Government of the day to account, which is what Parliament exists for. In a climate of heightened emotions where MPs from all parts of the House have received threats and intimidation, I hope that she will further reflect and think again about making what I believe to be such dangerous and irresponsible statements.
Every step of the way along this process the Government have refused to reach out, refused to listen and refused to find a consensus that can represent the views of the whole country, not just those of the Conservative party. Large parts of our country continue to be ignored by this Government. It is no wonder that so many people felt compelled to march on the streets or to sign petitions over the weekend. Even the most ardent of leavers think that this Government have failed. It is easy to understand the frustration at this chaos—it exists in this House, in Brussels, and across the country.
The Government have no plan. For them, it is all about putting the Conservative party before the country. Given that the Prime Minister has admitted that she does not have the numbers for her deal, will she accept today that her deal is dead and that the House should not have to waste its time giving the same answer for a third time?
The Prime Minister has succeeded in unifying two sides against her deal. The CBI and TUC’s unprecedented joint statement last week demanded a plan B that protects jobs, workers, industry and communities. Does the Prime Minister have a plan B? The Government have failed, and they have let the people down whether they voted leave or remain. The country cannot afford to continue in this Tory crisis. It is time for Parliament to take control, which is why, later today, we will be backing the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin).
You made it clear last week, Mr Speaker, that, for the Prime Minister to bring back her deal, there must be significant changes. There are none. Rather than trying to engineer a way to bring back the same twice-rejected deal, will she instead allow plans—rather than fight plans—for indicative votes? She cannot accept that her deal does not have the numbers and also stand in the way of finding an alternative that may have the numbers. It is ridiculous to suggest that Parliament taking control is “overturning democratic institutions”. It is not; it is Parliament doing its democratic job of holding Government to account. Will the Prime Minister agree to abide by the outcome of these indicative votes, if they take place on Wednesday?
The Labour party will continue cross-party discussions to find a way forward, and I thank Members who have met colleagues of mine and myself to have those discussions. I believe that there is support in this House for a deal—one that is based on an alternative that protects jobs and the economy through a customs union, provides full single market access, and allows us to continue to benefit from participation in vital agencies and security measures. If the Government refuse to accept this, we will support measures for a public vote to stop no deal or a chaotic Tory deal.
The Government have had more than two years to find a solution, and they have failed. It is time that we put an end to this, move on from the chaos and failure, and begin to clean up the mess. It is time for Parliament to work together and agree on a plan B. If the Prime Minister is brave, she will help to facilitate this. If not, Parliament must send a clear message in the coming days. I hope that where the Government have failed, this House can and will succeed.
(10 months, 1 week ago)Read Full debate
I start by sending my condolences to all the families and friends of victims of the terror attack in New Zealand last week. The terrible events in Christchurch should remind us all that there is no place for hate. I pay tribute to the way in which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has responded with such dignity and such compassion to this crisis. I absolutely agree with the comments of the Prime Minister concerning the events at Stanwell and Utrecht. I am sure the whole House will join me and her in sending our deepest sympathies to all those who lost their loved ones and homes in the terrible cyclones that have caused devastation in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. I support the Government in sending £6 million of aid. I hope, if more aid is required, we will be able to respond urgently and generously to any demand for help from people who are so desperately suffering at the present time.
We are now in the midst of a full-scale national crisis. Incompetence, failure and intransigence from the Prime Minister and her Government have brought us to this point. Parliament has rejected her deal. It has rejected no deal. The Prime Minister now has no plan. In an effort to break the deadlock, I have held meetings with Members across the House and am having further meetings today to find a compromise that supports jobs and living standards. Tomorrow, I am meeting EU Prime Ministers and officials in Brussels. This is a national crisis. Will the Prime Minister meet me today to discuss our proposals as a way forward to get out of this crisis?
I am not sure that there was an answer to my question there. I wanted no-deal taken off the table; the House has taken no-deal off the table; it is time the Prime Minister took no-deal off the table. The CBI said:
“The extension vote is a welcome dose of common sense…Put in place a new process. Drop red lines…Every MP must show leadership through compromise.”
Will the Prime Minister drop the red lines? Is she prepared to compromise to get through this crisis?
The last time the Prime Minister tried her meaningful vote, she only managed 242 votes—slightly up on the previous attempt, but nevertheless a decisive rejection. Our plan received 296 votes—rather considerably more. Her Government are in chaos and she has ignored the House, ignored trade unions, ignored businesses and ignored the concerns of communities all around the country. She told the House that the EU would allow an extension of article 50 only if there was a clear purpose. She is travelling to the Brussels summit tomorrow morning to meet EU leaders. What is her clear purpose?
It was not clear at all, other than that the Prime Minister is going to try again with what we will now term MV3. Surely, after two big rejections by the House, she must have noticed that there is not much support for the deal that she negotiated.
We learned this morning that the Prime Minister will ask only for a short extension, which directly contradicts what the Minister for the Cabinet Office told the House:
“In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted only last night”.—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
Who is “downright reckless” here: the Prime Minister, ploughing on with an unachievable, unsupported deal, or others in this House who want to achieve something serious and sensible to prevent damage to the British economy, jobs and living standards all over this country?
Break in Debate
To describe the parliamentary process as one of indulgence does not show much respect for the democratic process that sent us here in the first place. The House has twice rejected the Prime Minister’s deal, and she is trying to come back for another attempt on Monday. Further to your ruling on Monday, Mr Speaker, she has to come up with something a bit different from what she has come up with so far. What significant changes will there be either to the withdrawal agreement or to the political declaration that will even allow her to table it on Monday?
The job of Parliament is to hold Government to account, but the Prime Minister does not seem to understand that. When she was first defeated, she promised legally binding changes—I have not seen those legally binding changes; all she is doing is running down the clock after a second heavy defeat. Today marks 1,000 days since the referendum, and the Government have led the country and themselves into crisis, chaos and division. We are still legally due to leave the EU in nine days. Months of running down the clock and a concerted campaign of blackmail, bullying and bribery have failed to convince the House or the country that her deal is anything but a damaging national failure and should be rejected. They have run out of time; they have run out of ideas. People all over the country are anxious and frustrated with the Government’s utter inability to find a way through the crisis. If she cannot get changes to her deal, will she give the people a chance to reject it and change the Government?
(10 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I absolutely concur with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the disaster of the air crash in Ethiopia, and indeed the earlier crash in Asia that affected the same type of aircraft. I commend the Civil Aviation Authority and the European Union for taking prompt action about the safety of the aircraft concerned. We need to ensure that all air passengers are as safe as they possibly can be.
The Prime Minister has been stubbornly declaring that the only choice is between her deal and no deal. Last night’s vote finished off her deal. Tonight she is not even showing the leadership to whip on no deal. Just a few weeks ago, she whipped her MPs against ruling out no deal. So how will she be voting tonight?
Well, there may well be other votes, and the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy is clearly in tatters. Her deal has been twice rejected and is now dead, and she is not even asking her MPs to support her on it tonight.
A couple of months ago, the Chancellor, who is here today—we will hear from him later—reassured business leaders that the threat of a no-deal Brexit would be taken off the table, while the Business Secretary said that a no-deal Brexit would be “ruinous” to the UK economy. Indeed, the Government’s own forecasts suggest that no deal would knock 10% off the economy, damaging jobs and industry. Why is the Prime Minister still ambivalent about the outcome?
The Prime Minister does not seem to understand. Her deal has been flatly rejected twice by this House by unprecedented majorities. Even this morning, the CBI said that no deal would be a “sledgehammer” to the economy and went on to say that there has been “no consultation with business”, adding:
“This is no way to run a country.”
The reason the Prime Minister’s deal is now dead is that at every step of the way, she has refused to listen—refused to listen to manufacturers and refused to listen to trade unions about the best way to protect jobs in this country, which is to agree a customs union. Manufacturing is now in recession. Many companies have laid off many workers. Her own deal has been decisively rejected. When will she listen to workers who are concerned about their jobs and to businesses that are concerned about their future and accept that there has to be a negotiated customs union with the EU?
It would be rather reckless for the Prime Minister to rule out any option at the present time, I would have thought. I do not think her answer will help workers at Honda in Swindon, those at Nissan in Sunderland or many others who are very concerned about their future because of the danger to the manufacturing industry.
Britain’s food producers are also in despair. A coalition of UK producers asked the Prime Minister to call for tariff-free access to the single market. With her red lines now in tatters, will she back the view of UK food producers and back close alignment to the single market, to secure their industry? After all, she promised at Chequers that there would be frictionless trade.
Former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), said while campaigning to leave in the referendum—this is not the kind of language I would use—that
“Only a madman would actually leave”
the single market.
The Prime Minister has previously said that we cannot just reject no deal; we need to be for something. With her own deal now so decisively rejected, can the Prime Minister inform us what she is now for? Does she recognise that the Labour alternative—the five pillars we put forward—is the credible show in town, available and ready to be negotiated? Is it not time she moved on from her red lines and faced the reality of the situation she has got herself, her party, this Parliament and this country into?
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I do have sympathy for the Prime Minister with her voice, and I hope it soon recovers. I understand how painful this is.
The Prime Minister’s deal has failed, and she no longer has the ability to lead. This is a rudderless Government in the face of a huge national crisis. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) recognises it, saying that the Government
“is not fit for purpose. We are not doing what we need to do, which is govern the country properly and effectively.”
Where the Prime Minister has so obviously failed, this House needs to listen to the country—listen to unions, people in work fearful for their future, manufacturers and businesses, workers, European Union citizens who have made such a fantastic contribution to our society and British citizens across Europe who are all facing uncertainty. With jobs and industry at risk and the country in crisis, she needs now to show leadership, so can the Prime Minister tell us exactly what her plan is now?
(10 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
After three months of running down the clock, the Prime Minister has, despite very extensive delays, achieved not a single change to the withdrawal agreement: not one single word has changed. In terms of the substance, literally nothing has changed.
On 29 January, the Prime Minister backed an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), which called for the backstop
“to be replaced with alternative arrangements”.
On 12 February, the Prime Minister said that the Government were seeking three potential changes to the backstop:
“a legally binding time limit… a legally binding unilateral exit clause”,
“the ideas put forward by the Alternative Arrangements Working Group”.—[Official Report, 12 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 731.]
There is no unilateral exit mechanism, there is no time limit, and there are no alternative arrangements.
So let us be clear: the withdrawal agreement is unchanged, the political declaration is unchanged, the joint statement is a legal interpretation of what is in the withdrawal agreement, and the unilateral statement is the UK Government trying to fool their own Back Benchers, because the European Union has not even signed up to it.
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The Labour party has put forward very clear proposals. I shall come to them later in the speech, but, for the avoidance of doubt, they are about a customs union, access to the market, and the protection of rights. We have put those proposals forward, and we continue to put them forward. What the British people are not looking forward to is either the chaos of leaving with no agreement or the problems that are involved in this agreement, which will therefore be strongly opposed by Members tonight.
I spend a great deal of time listening to people: people working on the shop floor in factories, people in small businesses, people who are worried about the future of their families. They want some degree of certainty. The Prime Minister’s deal does not offer that degree of certainty at all, as she knows very well. Our proposals are a basis for agreement, and a basis for negotiation.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government have been defeated again by an enormous majority, and they must now accept that their deal, the proposal that the Prime Minister has put forward, is clearly dead and does not have the support of the House. Quite clearly, no deal must be taken off the table—we have said that before and we will say it again—but this does mean that the House has to come together with a proposal that could be negotiated. The Labour party has put forward that proposal, and we will do so again, because the Prime Minister carries on threatening us all with the danger of no deal, knowing full well the damage that it would do to the British economy. This party will again put forward our proposals on a negotiated customs union, access to the market and the protection of rights. We believe that there may well be a majority for them, but there will also be the potential to negotiate on them. The Prime Minister has run down the clock, but the clock has run out on her. Maybe, instead, it is time we had a general election so that the people can choose who their Government should be.
(10 months, 3 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lord Bhattacharyya, who died last week. As she said, he was a champion of the car industry and manufacturing in general, and he played a key role in saving Jaguar Land Rover, not only safeguarding jobs but, crucially, ensuring that international research is done in the UK. We thank him for everything he did.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and I am delighted that for the Opposition the debate will be opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), who is herself the daughter of people from the Windrush generation. We will be making the case for closing the gender pay gap, as we are determined to improve the lot of women in our society. In that vein, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) on giving birth to a son this morning?
I join the Prime Minister in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who have lost young people. Yousef Makki and Jodie Chesney, both 17 years old, were the ninth and 10th teenagers murdered already this year. Two hundred and eighty-five people have been stabbed to death in the past year—the highest level ever. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has announced that Cobra is being convened, but what extra funding is being provided to address the root causes of both knife crime and the increasing levels of violent crime on the streets of all our towns and cities?
Many of us in this House will have sat in the living rooms of homes where a young person has lost their life through knife crime and will never forget that experience and never forget that feeling of hopelessness and loss that those families are going through. We owe it to those families and those young people who have lost their lives to do far more about knife crime and far more about ensuring that there are sufficient resources for the police to deal with it. Sara Thornton of the National Police Chiefs Council said:
“We think we need much stronger leadership from Government…and there needs to be more funding.”
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said yesterday that, of course,
“there is some link between violent crime on the streets…and police numbers.”
A total of 21,000 police officers’ jobs have been cut. Violent crime is at the highest level since comparative records began. If there are sufficient police numbers, can the Prime Minister please explain why, yesterday, the Defence Secretary was offering to send in the military to assist with knife crime?
The police clearly do not have the resources to deal with the problem: safer neighbourhood teams have been cut and community police officers have been cut. Many areas see no police officers at all. There is nobody to supervise these special orders that the Prime Minister is talking about. Perhaps she will listen to Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor of Greater Manchester. Tragically, his 17-year-old relative was recently stabbed to death in Birmingham. He said:
“When you reduce police numbers by 21,000…there isn’t the intelligence any more, there isn’t the neighbour policing any more”.
Does the Prime Minister now regret the cuts in police numbers, and in this review will she undertake to restore them to their former level?
Violent crime has doubled under the Tories’ watch. I have had a letter from Mike in Gosport—[Interruption.] Yes, it is important; he has something to say. Mike says:
“The crime rate has run out of control because there is no police presence…it has become a really unsafe town to live in”.
I think Mike speaks for millions of people around the country. When are towns such as Gosport and others going to get resources for the safer neighbourhood teams, and the local police they need to tackle rising violent crime and to provide the intelligence from which arrests can be made of those who have committed these crimes?
Crime went down when Labour was in office. We increased the numbers of police officers and the safer neighbourhood teams. Police officers are telling me that there is simply not enough of them to do the job. Hampshire alone has lost 1,000 police officers, and its funding has been cut by £70 million. Does the Prime Minister understand the scale of need here?
The Local Government Association says that local services face a funding gap of £3.2 billion this year. By the way, that is double—in one year alone—what the stronger towns fund is offering over seven years. The number of rapes, murders and other serious crimes committed by offenders on parole has risen by more than 50% since the privatisation of the probation service was introduced four years ago. At least one company wrongly classified offenders as low risk in order to meet Government targets. Do the Government now accept that privatising the probation service to profit-making companies has been a disaster that should be reversed, and that the probation service should be brought back completely into the public service?
The problem is that violent crime has doubled. The rise has been driven by austerity—something that the Prime Minister told us a few months ago was over. Cuts to police and rising poverty; the police and the Home Office recognise the link, even if the Prime Minister does not. But the issues are wider: the privatisation of the probation service has been a disaster; mental health services are under-resourced; youth and children’s services are in crisis; more than 600 youth centres have been closed; 3,500 youth workers have lost their jobs; funding for colleges and schools has been cut; and exclusions are rising. The public services that were there to support young people have been systematically stripped away, and everyone can see the consequences. Can the Prime Minister not recognise that there has to be a holistic response? We cannot keep communities safe on the cheap, with cuts and privatisation. We have to invest in all our communities in every part of this country—something that this Government are incapable of doing.
(11 months ago)Read Full debate
There is an urgent question coming up on Kashmir, but I will just say that from our side of the House we strongly support rapid dialogue between India and Pakistan in order to reduce the tension and deal with the root causes of the conflict before more lives are lost.
I also join the Prime Minister in wishing Eve a very happy retirement, Mr Speaker. She has been absolutely brilliant in your office over the many years of people rushing in and out and making totally unreasonable demands. She has always sorted it out. Could you pass on to her the thanks of lots and lots of Back Benchers over many years?
The Bank of England forecasts that growth for this year will be the slowest in over a decade. Does the Prime Minister blame her shambolic handling of Brexit or her failed austerity policies for this damaging failure?
I know that the Prime Minister is very busy—I understand that—and she possibly has not had a chance to look at the Bank of England forecasts, which suggest that there is a one in four chance of the UK economy dipping into recession. Manufacturing is already in recession, car manufacturing has declined at the steepest rate for a decade—down 5% in the past quarter alone—and Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan have announced cuts to either jobs or investment in recent months. Does she blame her shambolic Brexit or her Government’s lack of an industrial strategy for this very sad state of affairs?
As manufacturing industry declines, it is skilled well-paid jobs that are lost. But the Prime Minister is right—there is something that is increasing, and that is the income of the top fifth richest people in this country, which went up by 4.7% last year while the incomes of the poorest fell by 1.6%. With the poorest people worse off, will the Prime Minister now commit to ending the benefit freeze, or does she believe that rising poverty is a price worth paying?
Some of us cannot forget that it was the Conservative party that so opposed the principle of the national minimum wage from the very beginning. Perhaps the Government could start by tackling the scourge of low pay in their own Departments. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Justice pay some of their central London workers as little as £7.83 an hour, and they have been on strike again this week, hoping to get a London living wage. Will the Prime Minister intervene and ensure that they do get the London living wage so that they can continue doing their valuable work for both those Departments?
Low pay means that many workers have to claim universal credit just to make ends meet. This month, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions admitted that universal credit is driving people to food banks. Is it not time to stop the roll-out and get it right, or does the Prime Minister believe that rising poverty is a price worth paying?
Can I just give one example of what is happening? Take the food bank in Hastings, which is represented by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, where demand went up by 80% after universal credit was rolled out, and the Trussell Trust said that a significant proportion of referrals are related to benefit changes, delays or sanctions. It is a huge increase in food bank use.
Some 4.1 million of our children are growing up in poverty, and the Resolution Foundation said last week that UK child poverty was on course to hit record levels. Will the Prime Minister act to prevent that? Will she start by ending the two-child limit? Will she end the benefit cap? Will she restore the 1,000 Sure Start centres that have been lost under her Government?
It clearly is not working, because so many people who are themselves working very hard, some doing two or even three jobs, have to access food banks just to feed their children. The Prime Minister used to talk about the “just about managing.” Well, they are not managing anymore. Income inequality— up. In-work poverty—up. Child poverty—up. Pensioner poverty—up. Homelessness—up. Austerity clearly is not over. People on low incomes are getting poorer, while those at the top are getting richer. The economy is slowing, manufacturing is in recession and this Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit—[Interruption.]
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Austerity clearly is not over. People on low incomes are getting poorer, while those at the top get richer. The economy is slowing, manufacturing is in recession and this Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit is compounding years of damaging austerity. Their policies are driving people to food banks and poverty in the fifth richest economy on this planet. Are any of these burning injustices a priority for the Prime Minister?
(11 months ago)Read Full debate
I would like to start by thanking the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
I have lost count of the number of times the Prime Minister has come to this House to explain a further delay. They say history repeats itself—the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce—but by the umpteenth time it can only be described as grotesquely reckless. This is not dithering; it is a deliberate strategy to run down the clock. The Prime Minister is promising to achieve something she knows is not achievable and is stringing people along, so will she be straight with people? The withdrawal agreement is not being reopened. There is no attempt to get a unilateral exit on the backstop or a time limit.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, the Prime Minister said that
“a delay in this process, doesn’t deliver a decision in parliament, it doesn’t deliver a deal”.
I can only assume she was being self-critical. She has so far promised a vote on her deal in December, January, February and now March, and she only managed to put a vote once—in January, when it was comprehensively defeated. The Prime Minister continues to say that it is her deal or no deal, but this House has decisively rejected her deal and has clearly rejected no deal. It is the Prime Minister’s obstinacy that is blocking a resolution, so if the House confirms that opposition, then what is the Prime Minister’s plan B?
I pay tribute to others across the House who are working on such solutions—whether that is the proposal that is commonly known as Norway-plus or other options. Labour, I would like to inform the House, will back the Costa amendment if tabled tomorrow, and I also confirm that we will back the amendment drafted by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) on securing citizens’ rights for EU citizens here and for UK citizens in Europe, some of whom I met in Spain last week.
The Prime Minister has become quite the expert at kicking the can down the road, but the problem is that the road is running out. The consequences of running down the clock are evident and very real for industry and for people’s jobs. For now, the Prime Minister states that the can can be kicked until 12 March, but the EU cannot now ratify any deal until its leaders summit on 21 March. After all, section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act states that the final agreement will be laid before this House before it can be voted on, so can the Prime Minister confirm how there can be a vote in this House if the EU has not yet agreed any final exit, or is the Prime Minister now saying that there will be no change to either the withdrawal agreement or to the political declaration, so we will be voting again on the same documents?
Every delay and every bit of badly made fudge just intensifies the uncertainty for industry, with business investment being held back, jobs being lost and yet more jobs being putting at risk. The real life consequences of the Prime Minister’s cynical tactics are being felt across the country, with factories relocating abroad, jobs being lost and investment being cancelled. Thousands of workers at sites across Britain’s towns and cities are hearing rumours and fearing the worst. The responsibility for this lies exclusively with the Prime Minister and her Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit. Even now, with just one month to go before our legally enshrined exit date, the Prime Minister is not clear what she wants in renegotiations that have now dragged on since it became clear in December that her deal was not even backed by much of her own party, let alone Parliament or the country at large.
Labour has a credible plan—[Interruption.] Labour has a credible plan that could bring the country together, provide certainty for people, and safeguard jobs and industry. It is based around a new customs union with the EU to protect our manufacturing industry, close alignment with the single market to protect all of our trading sectors and keeping pace with the best practice on workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer safeguards. The people of this country deserve nothing less. The Prime Minister talks about giving commitments on future developments, but that is way short of a commitment to dynamic alignments on rights and standards when we know many on her Front Bench see Brexit as an opportunity to rip up those vital protections.
In recent weeks, I have been speaking to businesses, industry organisations and trade unions. Last week, along with our shadow Brexit Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) and Baroness Chakrabarti, I travelled to Europe to meet EU officials and leaders to discuss the crisis and explain Labour’s proposals. We left with no doubt whatsoever that our proposals are workable and could be negotiated, so tomorrow we will—[Interruption.]
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Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Tomorrow, we will ask Parliament to vote on these proposals—they are workable and negotiable—which back the demands of working people all across this country and industry all across this country. I urge Members across this House to back that amendment to respect the result of the 2016 referendum and to safeguard jobs, investment and industry in this country. Labour accepts the result of the 2016 referendum, but we believe in getting the terms of our exit right, and that is why we believe in our alternative plan.
The Prime Minister’s botched deal provides no certainty or guarantees for the future, and was comprehensively rejected by this House. We cannot risk our country’s industry and people’s livelihoods, so if it somehow passes in some form at a later stage, we believe there must be a confirmatory public vote to see if people feel that that is what they voted for. A no-deal outcome would be disastrous, and that is why we committed to backing the amendment, in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), to rule out that reckless cliff-edge Brexit.
The Prime Minister appears to be belatedly listening to the House. Any extension is necessary only because of the Prime Minister’s shambolic negotiations and her decision to run down the clock, but until the Prime Minister is clear about what alternative she would put forward in those circumstances, then she is simply continuing to run down the clock. She promises a short extension, but for what? If the Government want a genuine renegotiation, they should do so on the terms that can win a majority in this House and on the terms, backed by businesses and unions, that are contained within Labour’s amendment, which I urge the whole House to back tomorrow.
(11 months, 1 week ago)Read Full debate
May I start, Mr Speaker, by joining what you said on Monday in paying tribute to my friend and yours, Paul Flynn? He served in this House for over 30 years as the Member for Newport West. He was courageous, he was warm, he was witty. As the Prime Minister pointed out, he served briefly on the shadow Front Bench. When he came to his first shadow Cabinet meeting, he welcomed my
“diversity project to promote octogenarians”
to the shadow Cabinet. His book on how to become an MP is absolutely a must-read. He was respected all across the House and I think we are all going to miss his contributions, his wit and his wisdom. Our deepest condolences to his wife Sam and all his family, and to his wider family across Newport and Wales. He was a truly wonderful man and a great and dear friend.
I also hope that the House will join me in paying tribute to Baroness Falkender, who died earlier this month, and send our condolences to her friends and family. When Marcia served with distinction as political secretary to Harold Wilson, she was subjected to a long campaign of misogynistic smear and innuendo. She suffered a great deal as a result, and we should remember the great work that she did as political secretary to Harold Wilson.
The Prime Minister just responded to a question on antisemitism. I simply say this: antisemitism has no place whatsoever in any of our political parties, in our life, in our society—[Interruption.]
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As I was saying, antisemitism has no place whatsoever in our society or in any of our political parties, and my own political party takes the strongest action to deal with antisemitism wherever it rears its head.
Last week, an EU official said the UK Government were only “pretending to negotiate”, adding that there was
“nothing on the table from the British side,”,
so with just 37 days to go, can the Prime Minister be clear about what she will actually be proposing today when she travels to Brussels?
It sounds like it might be quite confusing for the European Union to understand exactly what the Prime Minister is turning up with, actually. She has had three groups of Back Benchers working on three proposals: first, to remove the backstop; secondly, to make the backstop time-limited; and thirdly, to give the UK the right to exit unilaterally. Which of these proposals is the Prime Minister negotiating for today: one, two or three?
Last week, a Foreign Office Minister said categorically:
“We are not leaving without a deal”,
but sadly he does not speak for the Government. The Prime Minister’s Business Minister says he is
“very conscious of the damage that not ruling out a hard Brexit is having on business and industry”.
People’s jobs and livelihoods are in the Prime Minister’s hands. Will she stop playing games with people’s jobs and make it very clear that no deal is absolutely ruled out?
I did write the Prime Minister a very nice letter setting out our views. I am sure she received it and read it and I hope she will think on it.
It appears that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) was right when he said last week that in the event that the Prime Minister’s deal does not succeed
“this Government…and this Prime Minister…would prefer to…head for the exit door without a deal”.—[Official Report, 14 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1108.]
He went on to say that it was “a terrifying fact”. Thousands of car workers in Derby, Sunderland, Birmingham and Swindon are facing redundancy. Does that matter to the Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister does not seem very interested in listening to those companies and industry bodies that are saying they need a customs union. When she talks about jobs, will she also talk about those doing two or three jobs to make ends meet, those on zero-hours contracts, those so low paid they have to access food banks just to survive, and those suffering from in-work poverty—on her watch, under her Government.
Last year, investment in the car industry halved. Brexit uncertainty is already costing investment, and where investment is cut today, jobs are cut tomorrow. That uncertainty would not end even if the Prime Minister’s rejected deal somehow got through, because it promises only the certainty of a “spectrum” of possible outcomes. Will she see sense and offer business and workers the certainty of a customs union that could protect jobs and industry in this country?
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Child poverty halved under the Labour Government. We invested in Sure Start—in children’s centres—and a future for young people. The Prime Minister should get out a bit more and hear the anger of so many young people around this country at what they are suffering under her Government and on her watch.
The chair of the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK said yesterday:
“I am saddened by the way that some of our politicians have put selfish political ideology ahead of the national interest and people’s livelihoods and left us facing the catastrophic prospect of leaving the EU next month with no deal”.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Food and Drink Federation, the National Farmers Union and the CBI all want a disastrous no deal ruled out. Along with the TUC, many also support the UK being in a permanent customs union.
There is a little over a month to go and the Government have failed to put the country first. There is the crisis of jobs going and industries under threat, and the Prime Minister indulges in what her own Business Minister calls “fanciful nonsense”. When is she going to put the interests of the people of this country before the interests of the Conservative party?
(11 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I am sure the Prime Minister and the whole House will join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the cadet who died at Sandhurst last week. I am sure the Ministry of Defence is supporting the family and fellow cadets at a difficult time, but I also hope it will be reviewing the mental health support it gives to all members of the armed forces at all times.
We also mourn the loss of Gordon Banks, and send our condolences to his friends and family and to the entire football community. He was one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, with 73 caps for England, including playing in every single game during the victorious 1966 World cup campaign, which I remember with joy.
I too want to thank Sir David Natzler for his work as Clerk of the House and wish him well in his retirement. He has been here even longer than I have and has always been a source of advice to all Members, irrespective of their party, and I always admire his dry wit and humour while describing the proceedings of the House. I think we owe him a big debt of gratitude.
The Government’s handling of Brexit has been costly, shambolic and deliberately evasive. Nothing symbolises that more than the fiasco of Seaborne Freight—a company with no ships and no trading history. On 8 January, the Transport Secretary told the House:
“We are confident that the firm will deliver the service.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 193.]
What went wrong?
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The Transport Secretary told the House that the decision to award the contract to Seaborne Freight had no cost to the taxpayer. This week, the National Audit Office found that £800,000 had been spent on external consultants to assess the bid. Will the Prime Minister use this opportunity to correct the record?
I am really impressed that the Prime Minister could keep a straight face while she said that due diligence was carried out. The Transport Secretary said that
“its business and operational plans were assessed for the Department by external advisers”.—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 190.]
On the basis of that advice to his Department, he was told that Seaborne was a start-up company with no ships and that the contract was “high-risk”. Why, if he was told that it was high risk, did he proceed with the contract?
To be fair to the advisers, it appears that they were instructed to restrict their due diligence to the face value of the presentation put to them by Seaborne Freight—a company that had no trading history. Looking at the directors of Seaborne, it appears that some of them would not have passed a due diligence test.
The Transport Secretary told the House:
“This procurement was done properly and in a way that conforms with Government rules.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 192.]
However, a freedom of information request reveals that the Secretary of State bypassed those rules, because the procurement assurance board—a senior panel of experts and lawyers—was denied the chance to scrutinise the deal. What action will the Prime Minister take over what appears to be a very clear breach of those rules?
Could I bring the Prime Minister back to the question of Seaborne ferries? Eurotunnel has called the ferry contract procurement a “secretive and flawed” exercise. Taxpayers now face a legal bill of nearly £1 million to contest that—the money goes up and up. The Secretary of State’s decision to award the contract to Seaborne has increased the budget deficit of Thanet Council, the owners of Ramsgate port, by nearly £2 million. When questioned by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), the Transport Secretary refused to give a guarantee. Can the Prime Minister today give a cast-iron commitment to the people of Thanet and confirm that they will not be picking up the bill for the failure of this contract?
Maybe the Prime Minister should follow the advice of the House and take no deal off the table and negotiate seriously with the European Union. It cannot be right that a hard-pressed local council and local taxpayers are footing the bill for the incompetence of the Secretary of State for Transport and this Government.
The spectacular failure of this contract is a symptom of the utter shambles of this Government and their no-deal preparations. The Transport Secretary ignored warnings about drones and airport security; he gave a £1.4 billion contract to Carillion despite warnings about their finances; he oversaw the disastrous new rail timetable last year; and rail punctuality is at a 13-year low and fares at a record high—that is some achievement. And now the Transport Secretary is in charge of a major and vital aspect of Brexit planning. How on earth can the Prime Minister say she has confidence in the Transport Secretary?
(11 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I usually thank the Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of her statements, but this one was handed to me just as I was leaving my office to come down here, so I can only assume that she entrusted it to the Transport Secretary to deliver it to me.
Our country is facing the biggest crisis in a generation, yet the Prime Minister continues to recklessly run down the clock. We were promised that there would be a deal last October; it did not happen. We were promised a meaningful vote on a deal in December; it did not happen. We were told to prepare for a further meaningful vote this week, after the Prime Minister had again promised to secure significant and legally binding changes to the backstop; that has not happened. Now the Prime Minister comes before the House with more excuses and more delays.
In her statement, the Prime Minister has failed to answer even the most basic questions. What progress has she made on identifying and working up the alternative arrangements? Have they been presented to the European Union? If not, when will they be presented? Will she set them out before this House and ask for its approval of them? In truth, it