Happy new year, Mr Speaker. Sir Ivan Rogers, in his resignation letter, said that people may have to deliver messages to the Government that Ministers may find disagreeable. So here is a message that the Prime Minister may find disagreeable: her lack of priority for the single market is putting jobs in Scotland and the economy at risk. That means her Government are as big a threat to the Union as the SNP. Her Government are not worthy of the trust of Scots, let alone their blind trust, so will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to apologise for threatening the Union and give a solemn promise to every single person in this country that they will not be a penny worse off after a Tory Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman will be very well aware that I want to see the best possible trade deal for the United Kingdom with the EU and the best possible deal for trading with and operating within the single European market. When we enter the negotiations, obviously, that is one of the issues that I have said that I want to see, and we will be out there and be delivering on it. Unlike the sort of downplaying that the hon. Gentleman does about the approach that we are taking, I have to say that it is this Government that is ambitious for the opportunities that are available to this country once we leave the European Union.
Cheshire schools in areas of rurality and areas of high deprivation will receive some of the lowest per-pupil funding rates in the country under the new proposed funding formula. Does the Prime Minister agree that these discrepancies must be addressed to ensure that Eddisbury pupils get the best possible start in life?
I think everybody recognises that the way that schools have been funded in the past has been unfair and many pupils have been missing out. That is why I think it is right for us to look at bringing forward a new fair funding formula, making sure that funding is attached to children’s needs. Of course we recognise the particular issues of rural areas in this, and that is why, within the fair funding formula, additional funding for such schools has been included. But, of course, the Department for Education has this out for consultation at the moment, and I would urge my hon. Friend to make her representations as part of that consultation.
Dewsbury hospital A&E is set for a downgrade this year. Over Christmas, I had constituents who were waiting 20 hours for a bed in a facility that might not even exist next year. Will the Prime Minister please face reality and act now to stop this vital A&E service from disappearing?
Order. There is far too much noise. I must say to Paula Sherriff that if she were behaving like this in another public place she would probably be subject to an antisocial behaviour order.
I return to the point, Mr Speaker. Decisions about services in the local area are rightly taken by the local national health service, because we believe that it is local clinicians, and also local patients and leaders, who know what is best for their areas. So it is about trying to tailor the services to provide the best possible services for the needs of local people, modernising the care and facilities, and making services appropriate to the local area. This trust has an extensive improvement plan to ensure that both hospitals within it can care for patients attending accident and emergency in as timely a way as possible.
Next Thursday evening, I will host the first session of the Bedford community business school, free of charge and open to all, with 250 local people sharing a passion for entrepreneurship and learning tips about business from national and local business leaders. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that her forthcoming industrial strategy has at its heart the passion and the interest of Britain’s small business leaders and entrepreneurs?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that commitment. What is important is that the industrial strategy will be looking to the economy of the future—what sort of economy we want in this country. Crucial to that will be the growth that is generated by entrepreneurs and by small businesses—by the very passion that he has spoken about. We want to see an environment in which those who can grow can emerge and develop to provide future jobs for people and contribute to the strength of our economy. That is what the industrial strategy is about; I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
The Prime Minister, I am sure, will understand, despite the reassurances, that there are genuine and really serious concerns among staff across the NHS and the care system, and patients and their families, about the pressure that they are under. For that reason, MPs from her own party, from the Labour party and from my party have come together to call for the Government to establish an NHS and care convention to engage with the public, so that we can come up with a long-term settlement for the NHS and care. Would the Prime Minister be prepared to meet us to discuss it, so that she can hear our case?
I recognise, obviously, the interest and the attention that the right hon. Gentleman has given to these issues—of course, he is a former Health Minister—and I would be happy to meet him and others, as he suggests.
There can be nothing as distressing for a parent as the death of their child, particularly where that child has been murdered. That is what happened to the two ladies, one of them a constituent of mine, who set up Justice After Acquittal, successfully campaigning for voluntary national standards of support by the Crown Prosecution Service and by the police for the families of murder victims following an acquittal. Those standards are due to be launched here next Tuesday. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the determination and energy with which they have campaigned for their cause, and will she continue to ensure, as she always has done, that the voices of the victims of crime and their families are always listened to?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I am very happy to join him in paying tribute to these two campaigners. Indeed, I am sure that the whole House would want to pay tribute to the work that they are doing. As he says, I remain committed to ensuring that the voices of victims are heard. That is what I did when I was Home Secretary, if we look at issues such as introducing new measures to tackle modern slavery, strengthening the Independent Police Complaints Commission and legislating in relation to police complaints and discipline systems to strengthen public confidence in policing, and a number of other actions that I took. I am very pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary is taking that same passion to ensuring that the voices of the victims of crime are heard and is taking that forward.
Across the United Kingdom, many banks are accelerating their closure of local branches, with adverse effects on vulnerable and older people and adverse effects on the high street. The Royal Bank of Scotland is closing down branches across Scotland, including those at Juniper Green and Chesser in my constituency. Local convenience stores are taking the strain of processing bills and often face exorbitant bank charges for the privilege of doing so. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss how we can realise a situation where banking across the UK services customers and the real economy?
The issue of bank branches and, indeed, of the accessibility of bank services is one that is for individual banks themselves to take and consider, and of course there are many ways in which people are now accessing bank services other than by going physically into an actual bank branch, but I will certainly look at the issue that the hon. and learned Lady has raised.
Building a country that works for everyone means doing even more to tackle the economic and social deprivation that has come to afflict pockets of seaside towns such as Rhyl in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend therefore support Growth Track 360, a locally developed plan to invest in rail infrastructure to help unlock the true potential of the north Wales and Mersey-Dee economic region as an integral part of the northern powerhouse, connected to the rest of the country via the proposed HS2 hub at Crewe?
I welcome the establishment of the north Wales and Mersey-Dee rail taskforce and the work that it is doing. The plan that my hon. Friend mentions sets out an ambitious programme of improvements for the area, and I am sure it will be prioritising the most promising options. I can say to him that the Department for Transport will continue to work closely with the taskforce and with the Welsh Government to consider what can be jointly accomplished.
As Pensions Minister, Steve Webb misled the public about the value of the single-rate pension. He also gave us the Pensions Act 2011. He was rightly booted out by the voters, yet is now deemed suitable for a knighthood. Does the Prime Minister not understand that, unless this Government take action to help the struggling WASPI women, that knighthood will be the final insult to these women?
Action has been taken on the issue in relation to women’s pensions. The Government took action to ensure that the number of people who were affected and the period for which they were affected would be reduced, and money was put in to ensure that that was possible. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the new structure that is being put in place for pensions, he will see that women will actually be some of the greater beneficiaries of the new structure.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has raised awareness of the importance of child mental health this week, not least because 65% of young people requiring mental health support in south Warwickshire last year had to wait over 12 weeks before starting treatment. Will my right hon. Friend outline how the new proposals will improve our support network for such vulnerable young people?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which was of course alluded to earlier in this session of Prime Minister’s questions. We are investing more in mental health than ever before—we are spending a record £11.4 billion a year—and it was of course the Conservative-led Government that introduced parity of esteem between mental and physical health, but as I said earlier, there is more for us to do in ensuring that appropriate care is available for people. I cited an example earlier of where I saw excellent work being done to provide care and support for people in the community, which was relieving pressure on accident and emergency, but also ensuring that people were getting the best possible care for them, and that is obviously what we want to see.
The strained accident and emergency provision in my constituency is under review, and the community further up the Cumbrian coast risks losing 24-hour access to accident and emergency and to consultant-led maternity from its local hospital. I understand that the Prime Minister will say that these decisions are to be made locally, but will she at least say that she can understand the anxiety of expectant mums who face a 40-mile journey on difficult roads, which are often blocked, if they have a difficult birth?
The problems that are facing the health service in Cumbria are widely recognised, and I do understand the concerns of local people about the services that will be available for them. We have put robust national support in place to address some of the long-standing challenges in Cumbria, and we are developing a lasting plan to deliver the high-quality, sustainable services that patients rightly expect.
The hon. Gentleman is right that these specific decisions are being taken locally, and no final decisions have been taken. I recognise the concern that he has raised previously, particularly about services at West Cumberland hospital. There will be considerable involvement in taking those decisions, but as I say, we do recognise the local concerns about some of the long-standing challenges for health service provision in Cumbria.
I know from my career in medicine that the men and women of our East Midlands ambulance service do a brave and sterling job for the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham and others, saving people’s lives every day. East Midlands ambulance service responded to a total of 11,662 999 calls over the Christmas bank holiday weekend alone, 2,500 of which were in Lincolnshire. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to their dedication, particularly over the busy winter period, and tell the House what more the Government can do to support our ambulance services and improve response times in rural areas such as Sleaford and North Hykeham?
May I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and also for bringing her personal experience as a medical professional to this issue? I am very happy to join her in paying tribute to the men and women of the ambulance service for the dedication and commitment that they show. She asks what the Government have been doing. We recognise that ambulance services are very busy, which is why we see over 2,000 more paramedics now compared with 2010, and we are increasing paramedic training places by over 60% this year. Also, the Department of Health, NHS Employers and ambulance unions have agreed changes to the compensation for paramedics, potentially giving them a pay increase of up to £14,000 as they progress. We recognise the excellent work that they do.
May I commend the Prime Minister for her considered statement last night and, indeed, for the words that she has given this afternoon? She knows our commitment to the institutions in Northern Ireland, but would she agree that nothing can be, or should be, gained from threatening the peace process, the progress that we have made or the institutions that we have fought so hard to sustain in Northern Ireland?
The progress that has been made in Northern Ireland has been hard won, and we must all recognise that we do not want to put that progress in jeopardy. That is why it is so important for the Government, and for all parties, to work as hard as we can to see a resolution to this issue, so that we can see a return to the power-sharing institutions and ensure that the hard-won progress can be continued.
I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend said about children’s mental health earlier this week, but may I draw her attention to another burning injustice? My constituent Paula Edwards has been battling cancer for four years. She is recovering from an operation and has taken 28 weeks off work. She is still employed and is on half pay, yet her working tax credits have been stopped, which means that she is worrying about how to make ends meet rather than focusing on her recovery. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Treasury to look at this, perhaps in the course of Budget preparations?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments about the mental health announcements that I have made. I am sorry to hear of the particular difficulties that her constituent is experiencing and the distress that they have caused her. Of course, working tax credits provide support for low-income families in work and are designed to incentivise people to increase their working hours. With the new universal credit system, we will obviously have a system of benefits with single, streamlined payments that encourages work, but I am sure the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would be happy to look at the individual case that my right hon. Friend has raised and the issue that she has set out.