Christmas Adjournment — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:44 pm on 20th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 2:44 pm, 20th December 2018

A more succinct description I could not give. The gene pool is now so diluted that individual Scottish wildcats that have been caught and tested in the wild are almost impossible to distinguish from domestic cats. That is the nature of cats generally, but it is disappointing that we have reached that stage. The only gene pool with a guarantee of wildcat status exists in the 100 or so that are kept in zoos and wildlife parks around the world.

I thank the teachers and teaching staff of East Lothian and those who work for East Lothian Council, as well as the pupils who have done so much this year, such as those at North Berwick High School who held a UN model assembly at which schools from around Scotland gathered to debate important matters. It was a great privilege to go into what were effectively committee sittings and listen to highly intelligent and articulate young people discussing such important matters—indeed, some of their ideas and proposals merit consideration in this House. I feel very hopeful for the future and for politicians to come. At primary schools I have visited, children have asked questions that I just could not answer; I had to do the honest thing and tell them that I did not know, but would go and find out.

I want to mention people who have invisible disabilities, and the work of Grace, a campaigner from Prestonpans in East Lothian who created Grace’s Sign. I also want to mention Judith Dunn, whom I invited to Parliament on #AskHerToStand day. It was such a wonderful day: so many women came from all around the country, and it speaks so positively of what we can achieve.

The Civil Nuclear Constabulary is a strange and almost unknown group of police officers who protect our nuclear establishments, but who are separate from the police force and are a civilian group. They are the armed backup to our police forces. They have been in a pension dispute for a long while now; I was able to ask a question about it this morning in business questions. This Government have kicked down the road the question of their pension settlement and when they can retire. I had hoped that for this Christmas they would have had a present of knowing what was going to happen to them; I sincerely hope that by next Christmas they have an understanding.

I wanted to talk about universal credit, which has been in my constituency since 2016. We are not a constituency where it is being rolled out; we were one of the test beds. East Lothian reflects the statistical make-up of the United Kingdom and particularly Scotland very accurately, so it was a test bed for universal credit, and it has not gone well. We have problems with universal credit that go beyond that roll-out. It was a great pleasure to hear hon. Members making points earlier about the significant difficulties where there are two payments in one month and then nothing follows in the next month, and the pressure that that brings to bear on families and individuals. Other people are persuaded—I use that word carefully—by advice from the Department for Work and Pensions to set up their own business and then, 11 or 12 months down the line, are let down by the very system that persuaded them to set up their own business because their earnings are such that they suddenly lose their benefits.

I want to talk about the WASPI women—the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign. Many women in my constituency, who are well through their administrative complaints procedure, have received a letter that their case is now being stopped because of the High Court case to allow the judicial review. My understanding is that that letter is incorrect and actually all that has happened is that their case has been postponed until the outcome of the hearing. However, again, it is an indication of how communication from the Government to our constituents is so far from being clear and understandable that it brings more challenges.

With only 99 days to go, however, I want to spend two minutes mentioning the real threat of a no deal. It has come up before and I fear it will come up again, but it needs to come up for a reason. I asked the Prime Minister who she would blame if there was no deal, and she indicated that it would be Parliament’s responsibility. It may well, in one view of it, be Parliament’s responsibility, but the Government are the Executive, with the power to ensure that that does not happen.

I can talk about the announcement today that the word “unlikely” has been dropped from the preparation notes that have been issued. I can talk about the 3,500 troops who have been placed on standby, the cut to any holiday requests from 1 April, the reversion to World Trade Organisation rules, the fact that we do not have an immigration policy that can come in in just over six weeks’ time, the fact that the problem at the Irish border will not be resolved by then and the bottom-line forecast that no deal will be an economic disaster into the future.

Some people have suggested that it is a ruse—that it will never happen. Some people have said, “It could well happen. We don’t know.” Some people have said, “Oh, don’t worry about it,” and some people have said, “Everything will be fine.” People see many versions of the future, but I know it rests with the Prime Minister and within the power of the Government to say, “No deal won’t happen.” I disagree vehemently with leaving the European Union, as do my constituents, but putting that political decision to one side, I find the executive decision about whether to put the country in a position where it will leave with no deal saddening, upsetting, annoying and frustrating. I also find it—I choose this word carefully—irresponsible, and I would expect far, far more of any Government of the United Kingdom.

At Christmas, I urge that the risk of no deal be removed so that we can move on in whatever way suits the United Kingdom. That will remove the fear. As the children said to me at a high school when I asked them about Europe, “But it’s our future.” It is their future. I am not asking to stay in Europe or for a people’s vote, both of which would be brilliant; I am saying, “Please remove this option, which has no agreement across the House.” For whatever reason it is still on the table, but it is the one thing that should be removed.

I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a very peaceful and prosperous new year.