The proposals for the configuration of health services in local areas is a matter that is being determined by local commissions in the best interests of services in the local area.
I am interested that the hon. Lady refers to the views of her constituents in Darlington. She has said of the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of her party:
“My constituents in Darlington have made it clear to me that they cannot support the Labour party under your leadership.”
How can they possibly support him as leader of the country?
May I welcome the fact that, because the Conservatives have managed the economy so well, there is record school funding this year? East Sussex, for example, has some of the best performing schools in the country, and they are set to receive an increase of 3%. However, in Lewes, in my constituency, many of my small rural primary schools are set to see a reduction. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that she will look at the issue of rural primary school funding so that we can even out the distribution of money?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the record levels of funding that are going into schools. It is also the case, as I said earlier, that over the years there has been a general acceptance across this House that the current system of funding is not fair in certain parts of the country. That is why we want to end that postcode lottery and look at a system that is fairer and more up to date and that will support our plan for a society where progress is based on merit and not on privilege. I am very happy to look at her concerns. I recognise that small rural schools have particular issues, and I am happy to look at them to ensure that we get the funding formula right and that we can spread the money as fairly as possible.
Currently, significant sums of money are going to children in certain schools, sometimes double the amount going to a child in another school. We need to find a fairer system. We have consulted on that system and we will be responding to that consultation.
I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of his party. He said:
“He’s not fit to rule. The public see this is a man who doesn’t take responsibility seriously and that he can’t take the party forward other than in a divisive way.”
If he cannot take the party forward, how can he hope to take the country forward?
Small businesses provide the lion’s share of jobs in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly. The difficulties of attracting credit, rising operational costs and red tape make running a small business an increasingly difficult task. What can my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister do to help small businesses so that they can continue to be the engine of rural economies like West Cornwall’s?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that small businesses are the engine of the economy. I know that he has been a champion of small businesses in his constituency. He recognises that if we are to ensure that we can create those jobs, we have to encourage small businesses. That is why in the Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor provided £435 million to support businesses in England facing the steepest business rate increases, why we will cut business rates by nearly £9 billion over the next five years, and why we have listened to small businesses and given more than 3 million of them an extra year to prepare for Making Tax Digital. I recognise the importance of small businesses in Cornwall, and I look forward to visiting in the next few weeks and being able to talk my hon. Friend and others about the importance of small businesses in the county.
I join the Prime Minister in the expressions of condolence that she led earlier.
This election can change the direction of our country, from the consequences of a potential hard Brexit outside the single market to the future of our NHS and social care, our schools and our environment. The British public deserve to hear the party leaders set out their plans and debate them publicly, but the Prime Minister has refused to take part in televised leaders debates. Back in 1992, when she and I were both candidates, we debated publicly, forcefully and amicably. Indeed, she called out the then incumbent for not showing up for some of those debates. Why will she not debate those issues publicly now? What is she scared of?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will be debating these issues publicly across the country, as will every single member of the Conservative team. We will be taking out there the proud record of a Conservative Government, but, more than that, we will be taking our plans for the future of this country, for making Brexit a success and delivering a stronger Britain. He talks about the possibility of changing the future of this country. What do we know that the leader of the Labour party, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the leader of the Scottish nationalists have in common? Corbyn, Farron and Sturgeon want to unite together to divide our country, and we will not let them do it.
The Government wish to pursue a national industrial strategy. Cumbria has some specific strengths, such as tourism, agriculture and nuclear, but it also has some weaknesses. Will the Prime Minister agree that any industrial strategy in the next Parliament must take into account regional and sub-regional factors, and will she be receptive to a Cumbrian industrial strategy that works within a national one?
My hon. Friend points to a very important part of our plans for a stronger Britain for the future, which is the modern industrial strategy that we are developing, because we want an economy that works for everyone, delivers good, high-skilled, high-paid jobs and creates conditions for competitive world-leading businesses to prosper here in the United Kingdom. But he is right to say that as we look at that industrial strategy we also need to look at particular factors in particular parts of the country. He has long been a champion not just for Carlisle but for Cumbria. I recognise the need, as does the Business Department, to tailor the industrial strategy according to the needs of particular areas of the country.
The Prime Minister yesterday said that she was calling a general election because Parliament was blocking Brexit, but three quarters of MPs and two thirds of the Lords voted for article 50, so that’s not true, is it? A month ago, she told her official spokesman to rule out an early general election, and that wasn’t true either, was it? She wants us to believe that she is a woman of her word. Isn’t the truth that we cannot believe a single word she says? [Interruption.]
Order. The House is rather over-excited. The question has been heard. The answer will be heard.
This House and this Parliament voted to trigger article 50, but the Labour party made it clear that it was thinking of voting against the final deal, the Scottish nationalists have said that they will vote against the legislation necessary to leave the European Union, the Liberal Democrats say that they are going to grind Government to a standstill, and the House of Lords has threatened to stop us every inch of the way. I think it is right now to ask the British people to put their trust in me and the Conservative party to deliver on their vote last year—a Brexit plan that will make a success for this country and deliver a stronger, fairer, global Britain in the future.
I have seen rats and fly-tipping as a result of bins not having been emptied for up to three weeks across Lib Dem-run Sutton following a shambolic change to refuse collections. When bin collections get into the national headlines, you know something has gone wrong. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in accepting greater delegated powers, elected councillors must consult residents properly, plan major changes carefully and take full responsibility as accountable representatives when things go wrong?
I do not know why there are howls of derision from the Opposition Benches, because my hon. Friend raises an important point about an issue that actually matters to people up and down the country. It is our goal to reduce littering and litter in England to ensure that our high streets, villages and parks are the cleanest and most pleasant places that they can be. We have published the first ever national litter strategy for England, and we are supporting comprehensive and frequent bin collections. But what my hon. Friend says the Liberal Democrat-run Sutton Council is doing shows not only that the Liberal Democrats charge the highest council taxes, which we already knew, but that under the Liberal Democrats you pay more and get less.
As the hon. Lady will know, we have already shown our commitment to growth deals in Scotland with the deals that have already been agreed. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has met the Scottish Government to discuss the growth deal for Ayrshire. We are in discussions about that deal, but we have shown our commitment through the deals that have already been struck—for example, for Aberdeen.
As part of Southend’s celebrations as the alternative city of culture, stilt walkers will walk non-stop from Southend to No. 10 Downing Street on the morning of Monday 1 May to raise money for the Music Man Project to help people with learning difficulties, and for a charity for child refugees. Will my right hon. Friend arrange, on the morning of Tuesday 2 May, for someone on her behalf to receive the stilt walkers and accept from Southend’s town crier the proclamation that in this, the 125th anniversary of the founding of the borough, Southend be declared a city?
When I first heard about the stilt walkers, I thought it sounded a bit of a tall order, but I am sure they will be making great strides as they approach Downing Street. I am pleased to hear what my hon. Friend says about the Southend celebrations, but also about the efforts that are being made to raise funds for very, very important causes. We will certainly look very carefully at what can be done in Downing Street when the stilt walkers arrive.
Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that no Tory MP who is under investigation by the police and the legal authorities over election expenses in the last general election will be a candidate in this election? If she will not accept that, this is the most squalid election campaign that has happened in my lifetime.
I stand by all the Conservative MPs who are in this House and who will be out there standing again, campaigning for a Conservative Government who will give a brighter and better future for this country.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Obviously we have committed to meet our NATO pledge of 2% of GDP being spent on defence every year of this decade. We are delivering on that. We have got a £36 billion defence budget that will rise to almost £40 billion by 2020-21—the biggest in Europe and second largest in NATO. We are meeting our UN commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas development assistance. I can assure him that we remain committed, as a Conservative party, to ensuring the defence and security of this country and to working for a stronger world.
Finally, Christian Matheson.
Schools in Cheshire West and Chester were already underfunded by about £400 per pupil on average before the new national fair funding formula came in, and now every school in Chester is cutting staff and raising class sizes. That is how the Government have protected the education budget, so will the Prime Minister explain to the House why the national funding fair formula provides neither fairness nor funding?
As I have said in this Chamber before, we need to look at the funding formula. We have published proposals for fair funding, we have consulted on those proposals, and in due course the Government will respond to those proposals.
I was very interested to see the hon. Gentleman being interviewed yesterday and being asked whether he would put a photograph of the Leader of the Opposition on his election literature. Sadly, he said that the only photographs he wanted on his election literature were his own; he was not prepared to support the leader of his own party.