When the new local housing allowance cap for social tenants is introduced in 2019, it will hit people on low incomes in my constituency hard. In places such as Maidenhead, the allowance will often exceed the average rent, but the basic weekly allowance in Merthyr Tydfil is £67, while the rent charged by Merthyr Valleys Homes is £76, which is already one of the lowest social housing rents in Wales. That will mean that tenants, including many older people, will be expected to find nearly £500 a year to put towards their rent. Will the Prime Minister act now? Will she issue clear guidance to exempt older people, at the very least, from these crude cuts, and also to ensure that the local housing allowance is in line with local rents?
Local authorities have a fund and can exercise discretion. There will be some variation across the country, and steps have been taken to ensure that particularly vulnerable people are not affected in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
The lack of large-scale vaccine manufacturing has been described as a national security issue for our country, and it will take many years to build that up. Will the Prime Minister look into what more the Government can do to address this highly critical health and defence concern?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue in that context. The Government take it very seriously. The ability to ensure that we can readily scale up vaccine production in the event of a pandemic is, as she says, vital to our national security. As I am sure she will understand, the precise details are necessarily confidential, but I can assure her that we have provisions in place to ensure that urgently needed vaccines are available in the UK at short notice, including in the event of a pandemic. As an added contingency, we are funding a £10 million competition to establish a world-leading centre for vaccine manufacturing. However, that is only part of the picture, because we are in a strong position: we have one of the most comprehensive and successful vaccination programmes in the world, backed up by £300 million in this year alone.
Last night Bristol City Council set its budget. Very difficult decisions were made more difficult by the abject failure of the previous Mayor to get a grip on the council’s finances. It has taken a Labour Mayor to face up to the challenge, but Government cuts are making his task almost impossible, and devolution simply means asking us to do more with less. We did our bit last night in setting the budget; will the Prime Minister now meet the Mayor of Bristol to discuss the fairer funding deal that the people of Bristol deserve?
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary has indeed had such a meeting to discuss the issue that the hon. Lady has raised.
Seventeen years ago, my constituents Sue and Glyn Jones received a phone call that no parent should ever have to take. The caller told them that their daughter Kirsty, who was backpacking in Thailand, had been brutally murdered. The Thai authorities are due to close their investigation of Kirsty’s murder soon but, as yet, her case remains unsolved, her killer remains free, and her parents have neither justice nor closure. May I ask my right hon. Friend to press the Thai authorities to use recently improved DNA techniques to bring the killer to justice, to endeavour to provide more support for families who have lost loved ones abroad and, finally, to ensure that Kirsty’s personal effects are, at last, returned home to her parents from Thailand?
I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering condolences to the Jones family and in recognising the terrible trauma that they have been through as a result of the killing of their daughter. As I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates, it is not for the British Government to interfere with police investigations that take place in another country, but I understand that the Foreign Office has been providing support and remains ready to do so. Our embassy in Bangkok will continue to raise these issues with the Thai Government, and I am sure that the Foreign Office will keep my hon. Friend updated on any developments.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as I have said consistently, we will be ensuring that when we negotiate trade deals with whichever countries around the world, they will be good deals for the UK.
In the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, we took the power, subject to a consultation and the laying of an order, to give humanists in England and Wales the opportunity to celebrate marriages as they do in Scotland. We have had the consultation, with 90% approval, and there has even now been reference to the Law Commission, which has concluded. Will my right hon. Friend now give her attention to laying this order and giving humanists in England and Wales the same rights and freedoms as they enjoy very successfully in Scotland?
My hon. Friend has been following this issue closely over recent years. I think he recognises that this is an important and complex area of law, and we want to make sure that proposals are considered properly. That is why the Ministry of Justice is carefully examining the differences in treatment that already exist within marriage law, alongside the humanist proposals, so that the differences can be minimised. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is both right and fair to approach this in that way.
My constituent Kevin’s chances of survival from pancreatic cancer were no better than his mother’s, who died of that disease 40 years earlier. This disease is soon to become the fourth biggest cancer killer in the UK. Will the Prime Minister join MPs on both sides of this House to champion a significant increase in spending on pancreatic cancer research which, sadly, currently lags behind that on other cancers?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point that is obviously of particular relevance in the case of the constituent to whom he refers. As he says, pancreatic cancer is one of those cancers that it is very difficult to deal with and treat. There has been a lot of attention over the years on certain cancers, such as breast cancer increasingly, as well as bowel cancer and prostate cancer, but it is important that the appropriate attention is given to cancers that are proving more difficult to deal with, such as pancreatic cancer.
In February 2008, Mr Barry Pring, the brother of one of my constituents, was unlawfully killed in Ukraine. Mr Pring’s Ukrainian wife is clearly implicated in his death. Earlier this year, our coroner in Devon ruled that Mr Pring was tricked into standing on a carriageway before being run down by a car that had stolen licence plates and no lights—death was immediate. However, every time an investigating officer makes progress with the case in Ukraine, they are replaced. This has happened 10 times and the case has stalled. May I implore my right hon. Friend to raise this case with the Ukrainian Prime Minister so that we can get justice and closure for Barry’s mother and brother and the Pring family?
I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering condolences to Barry’s family following his death in 2008. I understand that my hon. Friend has discussed this case with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. As I said in reply to an earlier question, it is not for the British Government to interfere in the legal processes of another country, but the Foreign Office has been regularly raising this case with the Ukrainian authorities and will continue to do so. It is my understanding that UK police have assisted the investigation on a number of occasions and all information from the UK coroner’s inquest will be passed on. I am sure that the Foreign Office will keep my hon. Friend updated on any developments.
Tens of thousands of disabled people on the Motability scheme have had their cars removed by this Government. In November, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said that they will be looking at allowing personal independence payment claimants to keep their cars pending appeal. Next week, my constituent Margaret Gibson will lose her car, which she regards as a lifeline, despite a pending appeal and two decades of receiving higher rate disability living allowance. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the progress of this review to help Margaret and thousands like her?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue about the way in which these assessments are made and the implications of the decisions taken. He referred, I think, to a review in relation to PIP payments and the Motability element of that. If I may, I will write to him with further details.
It was a year ago this week that the Edward Hain community hospital was temporarily closed due to fire safety concerns. There are now no community beds in the towns of St Ives, Penzance and St Just, or in the rural areas in between. GPs, residents and local campaigners agree with me that this valued community hospital needs to be reopened as an urgent priority. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister apply pressure to NHS Property Services and to Cornwall’s NHS managers to find a way of getting that building work done and reopening those community beds?
This is obviously a concern for my hon. Friend’s constituents—he is right to raise it. I am sure that he recognises that the first priority must be to ensure that patients are treated in a safe and secure environment, and I understand that the local clinical commissioning group and the NHS have been working closely to ensure that community hospital facilities in Cornwall are fit to deliver that expectation. I think that a review has already been undertaken into the repairs and improvements needed to bring the Edward Hain community hospital up to a safe standard, and the CCG will be looking at the infrastructure and facilities that it needs, once a final local plan has been agreed. Obviously my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has heard my hon. Friend’s representations.
The Government’s business rates hike could devastate the local economy in my constituency. Brighton pier is facing a 17% increase, the World’s End pub a 123% increase, and Blanch House hotel a 400% increase. Does the Prime Minister recognise that Brighton will be disproportionately affected? Will she urgently set up a discretionary fund to support small and micro-businesses, and agree to a full review of the whole system?
If we just stand back, we can see that business rates are based on the rental values of properties. Those values change over time—they can go up and down—and it is right that business rates change to recognise that. That is the principle of fairness that underpins the business rates system. However, we also want to support businesses and we recognise that, for some, business rates will go up when the revaluations take place. That is why we have put significant funding in place for transitional relief. I recognise that there has been particular concern that some small businesses will be adversely affected as the result of this revaluation, and that is why I have asked the Chancellor and the Communities Secretary to ensure that there is appropriate relief in those hardest cases.
My right hon. Friend gave a sympathetic answer to my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis and I know that she has taken particular interest in the matter that he raised. May I put it to her that, for many of us, there is something profoundly wrong with a criminal justice system that can pursue veterans who have risked their lives for this country 40 years on, long after there is any possibility of new evidence, while it is at the same time capable of paying out £1 million to a terror suspect?
In relation to the issue in Northern Ireland, the legacy bodies were part of the Stormont House agreement and we are working to deliver on that agreement. As I said in reply to my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, the overwhelming majority of our armed forces in Northern Ireland served with great distinction and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. The situation at the moment is that cases are being pursued against officers who served in Northern Ireland, and we want to see the legacy body set up under the Stormont House agreement taking a proportionate, fair and balanced approach. As I said earlier, we recognise that the majority of individuals who suffered did so at the hands of terrorists.
On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister pledged to end the “burning injustice” of so few working-class boys going to university. Will she tell me how cutting every single secondary school in Leigh, Wigan, Rochdale, Trafford and Manchester through her new schools funding formula will do anything other than make that injustice even worse?
I want to ensure, through the education system that we provide, that there is a good school place for every child. I am pleased to say that under Conservatives in government, we have seen 1.8 million more children in good or outstanding schools. We are looking at the funding formula for schools and listening to the comments that have been made, but everyone across the House will recognise that it has been said for some time now that the existing formula is not transparent or fair. We are looking at a new formula, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that our education policy is about ensuring that every child has the opportunity to go as far as their talents and their hard work enable them to go.
Mr Speaker, you saw at first hand what a cup run means to a town and a club such as Sutton. With AFC Wimbledon out of the picture, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Sutton United on such a spirited performance on Monday, and in wishing Lincoln City well for keeping the non-league spirit alive in the next round of the FA cup. Finally—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard.
If I may say so, that was a neat reference to pie at the end of the question.
I am happy to congratulate Sutton on their extremely good run in the FA cup. It makes a huge difference to a local area when its football club is able to progress to that extent, to be up there with the big boys, and to do as well as Sutton did. I am also happy to congratulate Lincoln City—I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln is sitting next to my hon. Friend Paul Scully—on their success. We wish them well for the future.
Finally, I call Michelle Thomson.
The UK Green Investment Bank, which is co-located in Edinburgh, is being sold, and recent newspaper reports suggest that the contract could be concluded soon. That is happening despite the UK’s stated focus on research and development, and the fact that no realistic guarantees have yet been given as to the continuation of a proper headquarters and board based in Edinburgh. Will the Prime Minister commit to looking again at why a sale at this time is not in the best interests of Edinburgh, the green agenda or UK taxpayers?
Before I respond to the hon. Lady’s question, I am afraid that I owe a couple of apologies. I am sorry for mixing up my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and for Lincoln (Karl McCartney). I was obviously getting carried away with the football fever that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam introduced into the Chamber.
Michelle Thomson mentioned the Green Investment Bank. If I may, I will write to her with a response to her question.
I think it is fair to say that in dealing with the matter the Prime Minister has deployed a very straight bat.