I am sure that all Members from across the House will want to join me in wishing all the home nations teams the very best of luck in the rugby league world cup, which starts this week.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Social care services in England are in crisis. Since 2010, the local council in Manchester has had its annual social care budget cut by £32 million. By March, the Government will have taken £6.3 billion out of social care. Why will the Prime Minister not match Labour’s commitment and invest £8 billion in social care in next month’s Budget?
As I have said in this House before, we recognise the pressure on social care as our population ages. I have said before that there are short-term, medium-term and long-term answers to this. In the short term, we have made extra funding available to local authorities. The announcement made in the last Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was for an extra £2 billion for local authorities. In the medium term, we need to make sure that best practice is observed across all local authorities and NHS trusts. Delayed discharges are higher in some cases than they are in others, and we need to make sure that best practice is followed. In the long term, we need a sustainable footing for our social care system. That is why we will, in due course, be publishing a full and open consultation on ideas and proposals to ensure that we can have a sustainable social care system in the future.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and this is something that we have been looking at very closely over the past year since my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, Damian Green commissioned work on it in September last year, when he was Work and Pensions Secretary. I can confirm that we will be publishing our response to that consultation on Tuesday
I can also say today that as part of our response to the review, we will not be applying the local housing allowance cap to supported housing; indeed, we will not be implementing it in the wider social rented sector. The full details will be made available when we publish our response to the consultation.
As I have said before, we acknowledge the fact that people have raised concerns with universal credit. That is why, as we have been rolling it out, we have been listening to those and changes have been made. Perhaps I could just update the House on where we are on the roll-out of universal credit. Currently, of people claiming benefits, 8% are on universal credit. By January of next year, that will rise to 10%. The roll-out is being conducted in three phases, and the intention is that it will be completed by 2022, so it is being done in a measured way, and I am pleased to say that four out of five people are satisfied or very satisfied with the service that they are receiving. Universal credit helps people into the workplace and it makes sure that work pays, and that is what the welfare system should do.
I would have thought that if only 8% of the roll-out has taken place and 20% of the people in receipt of it are dissatisfied with it, that is a cause for thought and maybe a pause in the whole process. Last week, only one Conservative MP had the courage of their convictions to vote with us on suspending the universal credit roll-out. Then a Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly, Angela Burns, said:
“For the life of me I cannot understand why a 6 or 4 week gap is deemed acceptable.”
She called universal credit
“callous at best and downright cruel at worst”, and concluded by saying she is “ashamed” of her Government. Can the Prime Minister ease her colleague’s shame by pausing and fixing universal credit?
As I have said to the right hon. Gentleman, we have been making changes to the implementation of UC as it has gone through the roll-out, but let us be very clear about why we introduced universal credit. It is because it is a system—[Interruption.]
Order. Members are getting rather over-excited. The question has been put, and the answer will be heard.
We introduced universal credit as a simpler, more straightforward system that ensures that work pays and helps people into the workplace. Let us look at what happened in the benefits system under Labour. Under Labour, the low-paid paid tax and then had it paid back to them in benefits. Under Labour, people were trapped in a life on benefits for years. Under Labour, the number of workless households doubled, and Labour’s benefit system cost households an extra £3,000 a year. What the Conservatives have done is given the low-paid a pay rise, given the workers a tax cut and ensured we have a benefit system that helps people into work.
Under Labour, 1 million children were lifted out of poverty. Under Labour, we introduced the principle of the national minimum wage—opposed by all Tories over there.
“One of the reasons I resigned from Government was I didn’t actually agree with the additional waiting days. This is something the government needs to look at”.
Does the Prime Minister agree with him?
This is the answer that I have given not just three or four times in this PMQs but in previous PMQs: as we look at universal credit roll-out, we look at how we are introducing it. The right hon. Gentleman talks about what happened under Labour, and I am happy to talk about what happened under Labour—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about rolling out new benefit systems, but let us think about what happened when Labour rushed to introduce tax credits. I was not the only Member of Parliament who had people in my constituency surgery who had filled the forms in properly and given information to the authorities only for the Government to come back years later and land them with bills for thousands of pounds. That is what happens when you rush into a system rather than introducing it properly, as we are.
I thought that we had passed a threshold last week and that the Prime Minister was going to answer questions, but we obviously have not achieved that yet. Labour introduced working tax credits to help people on low pay out of poverty and it made a very big difference. The sad truth is that universal credit is in such a mess that councils are forced to pick up the Bill. Let me give an example. Croydon Council, which piloted the scheme, is now spending £3 million of its own budget to prevent tenants from being evicted due to rent arrears caused by universal credit. Does the Prime Minister think that it is right or fair that hard-pressed local authorities, having their budget cut by central Government, should have to dip into what little money they have left to prevent people from being evicted when they know full well that it is this Government and their system of universal credit that are causing the problem?
Labour introduced working tax credits and then clawed thousands of pounds back from people who were working hard. The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of rent arrears and I know that Members have concerns about people who are managing their budgets to pay their rent. For the vast majority of people on universal credit, managing their budgets is not an issue. After four months, the number of people on universal credit who are in arrears has fallen by a third, but we recognise the issue so we are working with landlords. We have built flexibility into the system so that landlords can be paid directly, and I want to be clear that nobody can be legally evicted from social housing because of short-term rent arrears. That is an important point for us to get across to people, but I come back to the essential point about universal credit: this is about a welfare system that helps people into work, makes work pay and does not trap people in a life on benefits for years.
I note that the Prime Minister could not say anything about people being evicted from the private rented sector because of universal credit problems. The costs in the benefit system are being driven by low pay and high rents. In 2015, the then Chancellor, her former friend, promised a £9 an hour living wage. However, in the March Budget it was sneaked out that the Government’s minimum wage would reach only £8.75. The welfare state was not created to subsidise low paying employers and overcharging landlords, so will the Budget in November put the onus back—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Hoare, I expect better of you. You were much better behaved when you were at Oxford University—what has happened to you, man? Calm yourself.
My question is this: will the Budget in November put the onus back on to employers to pay a decent wage so that workers can make ends meet?
Of course we want to ensure that there are higher-paid jobs in this country. That is precisely why we are investing in the economy for the future. It is precisely why we are investing in our infrastructure and investing in skills for young people, and it is why we are introducing a modern industrial strategy. The right hon. Gentleman says the welfare system was not created to subsidise employers who are paying low wages. That is exactly what Labour’s working tax credits system did.
The Government’s own Social Mobility Commission reported that low pay was endemic in the United Kingdom. One in four workers are permanently stuck in low-paid jobs. That is why Labour backed a real living wage of £10 per hour to make work pay. The Government do not really know whether they are coming or going. The Conservative party and the Government say they have full confidence in universal credit, but will not vote for it. They say they will end the NHS pay cap, but will not allocate any money to pay for it. The Communities Secretary backs £50 billion of borrowing for housing, but the Chancellor says it is not policy. The Brexit Secretary says they are planning for a no-deal Brexit. The Chancellor says they are not. Is it not the case that the Government are weak, incompetent, divided and unable to take a decision—[Interruption.]
Isn’t it the case that this Government are weak, incompetent and divided, and unable to take the essential decisions necessary for the good of the people of this country?
Of course we want to see people earning higher wages. Of course we want, as we are doing, to be able to ensure we can invest in our public services. But the way to do that—the way to have a higher standard of living, to have higher wages, to invest in our public services, to have a better future for people in this country—is to build and continue to build that stronger economy. You do not build a stronger economy by losing control of public finances. You do not build a stronger economy by uncontrolled borrowing. You do not build a stronger economy by hitting people with the highest taxes in our peacetime history. You do not build a stronger economy by voting against progress in our Brexit negotiations. You do not build a stronger economy by planning for capital flight and a run on the pound. That is what Labour would do and we will never let it happen.
Some people in Plymouth are campaigning, by way of a petition, to say that lifeboats must be launched immediately when a fishing vessel is overdue. I believe this is irresponsible and puts our valiant lifeboat crews in peril if they do not know where they are going. We know this in Cornwall. Will the Prime Minister look at making safety grants available, so that all fishing boats can have an AIS, or automatic identification system, locator beacon on board? This would cost well under £4 million, even if every registered fishing vessel under 15 metres got a grant to cover the whole cost. My late husband had one aboard his boat.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. As she has just said, I know this is an area where she tragically has personal experience. I would like to commend her for the work she has done in this important area and for championing these causes. She is right: launching a lifeboat whenever a fishing vessel is overdue may be the wrong decision. It could, as she says, be dangerous for the crew involved. That is why the coastguard takes the time to gather valuable information before deciding how best to respond. On the issue she raises, a number of grants are available from various safety schemes. I encourage all those involved in fishing to make the most of the grants that are available.
What is absolutely key is ensuring we have controlled migration in this country. That is what the people of this country want and what the Government are delivering.
An American couple, the Felbers, moved to Scotland and invested £400,000 to run an award-winning guesthouse in Inverness. They contribute to their community and the local economy, yet they will be deported because of a retrospective change to Home Office rules. Will the Prime Minister meet me and their MP, my hon. Friend Drew Hendry, to discuss this case and the systemic problems with UK migration?
There are no systemic problems with UK migration. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss the case he has raised, but it is absolutely right that the Home Office work to ensure that the immigration rules are properly applied and that action is taken according to those rules.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Our job is to get the best Brexit deal for Britain. I believe we can get it and that it will benefit all parts of the UK, including his constituents, and that we will maximise the benefits of leaving the UK while maintaining the greatest possible access to EU markets. That is what we are continuing to work on and the vision I set out in my Florence speech, and as we know, the EU is now preparing its response.
Apprenticeships are important. Under the Government from 2010 to 2015, we saw 2 million more apprenticeships created, and we are committed to a further 1.9 million being created. This is important. The important point about apprenticeships is that they are an opportunity for young people not to feel encouraged down an academic route when that does not work for them. When I meet apprentices, many say that it is the best thing they have done, and we want to make sure they are available for all those who could benefit from it.
First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend and say how pleased I am that Cherwell District Council is doing what we want to do and what we recognise we need to do to tackle our dysfunctional housing market, which is to build more homes? She is right, however, that infrastructure is also an important part of that, which is why we have committed £15 billion for our road investment strategy, why over half a trillion pounds will be spent on the NHS during this Parliament, and why a record £41 billion will be spent on core funding for schools this year. That, I am pleased to say, is the record of Conservatives in government.
In 24 hours, the people of Dundee will wave off the bid for the 2023 European Capital of Culture. It is a fantastic bid that will generate 1,500 jobs and add 5% to local GDP. Will the Prime Minister, notwithstanding her current difficulties with Europe, back this bid, given that it comes from the most innovative and forward-looking city in the whole UK?
Of course we are always willing to back bids from any city in the United Kingdom to become the European city of culture. I welcome the fact that Dundee has put forward a bid and is part of the process, but, as I have said, we want to support all cities in the United Kingdom that are submitting bids.
It is a criminal offence for those, such as teachers, who are in a position of trust to have sexual relationships with young people under 18. However, a constituent came to me recently distressed about exactly such a relationship between his 17-year-old daughter and a middle-aged driving instructor. While—if consensual—that is not illegal, I am concerned about the possibility that young drivers might be at risk of being groomed by predatory instructors. Does the Prime Minister agree that driving instructors are, by the nature of their work, in a position of trust, and should be covered by the same rules as teachers? If so, will she ask the relevant Minister to work with me on the issue?
I am concerned to hear about the constituency case that my hon. Friend has raised. I recognise the position, and the role that driving instructors play. I will ask the appropriate Department to look into the matter, and to get in touch with my hon. Friend to obtain further details of that case.
In March 2017, the Prime Minister told the House that Parliament would be given a meaningful vote on the terms of the Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill. This morning, in the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Secretary of State told us that that vote might not take place until March 2019. Will the Prime Minister please explain how it is possible to have a meaningful vote on something that has already taken place?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are in negotiations with the European Union. The timetable under the Lisbon treaty allows the negotiations to take place until March 2019, but, because it is in the interests of both sides, and it is not just this Parliament that wants to have a vote on the deal—there will be ratification by other Parliaments—I am confident that we will be able to achieve that agreement and that negotiation in time for Parliament to have the vote to which we committed ourselves.
We enter a week of commemorations of the centenary of the Balfour declaration. Will my right hon. Friend re-dedicate us to the pursuit of peace and justice for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, but will she also celebrate with pride our small national contribution to the creation of a democracy in the middle east, a sanctuary for those who have suffered from anti-Semitism and fear its rise again, and, in the state of Israel, a true friend of the United Kingdom?
We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the state of Israel, and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride. I am pleased about the good trade and other relationships that we have with Israel, which we are building on and enhancing. However, we must also be conscious of the sensitivities that some people have about the Balfour declaration.
We recognise that there is more work to be done. We remain committed to the two-state solution in relation to Israel and the Palestinians, which is an important aim. I think it important for us all to recommit ourselves to ensuring that we can provide security, stability and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through such a lasting peace.
As the hon. Lady well knows, that raises a number of complex issues. We were grateful to Charles Hendry for his review. The relevant Department —the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—is still considering his report, and we will respond in due course.
Does the Prime Minister agree that as we leave the EU and take control of our land management policy, our manifesto commitment to plant 11 million trees is a critical part of the holistic countryside management framework that we can now build to ensure long-term home-grown wood for our housing industry, as well as increasing our natural carbon capture potential and reducing flood risks?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we did commit in our manifesto to plant 11 million trees. We are putting that at the heart of our work to protect the environment for future generations. I am pleased to say that since April 2015 we have planted just over 2 million trees, but we do have much more to do, and we will be continuing to work with landowners and stakeholders on this issue. My hon. Friend is also right that it is not just about the look of the countryside; it is also about the role that trees play in reducing flood risks and helping to hold carbon dioxide.
The Prime Minister has spoken on mental health, and I thank her for that. When she was Home Secretary, she outlawed police cells being used for those in mental health crisis. Today, however, parts of our mental health system are in crisis. In my North Durham constituency children, young people and families are waiting two years for autism assessments. The Secretary of State agrees that that is unacceptable. What is the Prime Minister going to do to turn her well-intentioned statements on mental health into action?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are taking a number of courses of action in relation to mental health, but he raises the specific issue of the autism diagnosis, and the length of time that takes in his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has promised to look into this and will be doing so, because we are very clear that we want to ensure that adults and children should not have to face too long a wait for an autism diagnosis. The Department of Health is working with partners to help local areas address these issues where there are long waiting times for an autism diagnosis, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published clinical guidance which sets out that assessments should begin within three months of referral. Obviously it is for the Department of Health to be working with those local areas to make sure it is possible to achieve that.
Tomorrow at Cornwall Newquay airport the Bloodhound will carry out its first live test run in the next step on its quest to achieve the land speed record. Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing the whole Bloodhound team, especially driver Andy Green, a successful test run, and does she agree that such projects show that the UK continues to lead the world in innovation in science and engineering?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in wishing the Bloodhound team well; indeed, I have met some of the members of the team in the past. I also agree with my hon. Friend’s other point: this continues to show what a world leader in science and innovation the United Kingdom is. We have some of the world’s best universities, with four of them in the world’s top 10, and we have more Nobel prize winners than any country other than the United States. This is a record of which our country can be proud, and I am sure we will all be proud of the Bloodhound team and its achievements.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the potential downgrading of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary— 479 professionals lost, over 300 hospital beds cut, and a 90-minute journey to the nearest A&E—is not in the best interests of my constituents? Will she meet me to discuss the detrimental impact this will have on Colne Valley and the surrounding area?
The principle that we want to base all these decisions on is that service changes should be based on clear evidence and led by local clinicians who best understand the local healthcare needs. I understand that Calderdale and Kirklees Councils have referred the proposed changes to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, and I know he will be considering the issues very carefully, and will be coming to a decision in due course.
It is important that we mark this centenary next year, and recognise the role that women have played in this House and in public life. I want young women and women to be able to see this House as a place they actively want to come to—that they want to contribute to their society and respond to the needs of constituents and make a real difference to people’s lives. That is what I am in it for, that is why I have encouraged more women to come into this House, and I am pleased to say that we have more women on our Benches than ever before.
Finally, all of us in this House should have due care and attention to the way in which we refer to other people and should show women in public life the respect they deserve.
Yesterday, the Scottish Parliament voted by 91 votes to 28 to ban fracking in Scotland. May I ask the Prime Minister why she would not consider following Scotland’s lead and introduce a moratorium in the rest of the United Kingdom in order to carry out a full evaluation of the health and environmental consequences of this controversial technology, and in order for the public to be consulted?
This is an issue on which the hon. Gentleman and I are simply going to disagree. I think that shale gas has the potential to power economic growth in this country and to support thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industries and in other sectors. It will provide a new domestic energy source. We have more than 50 years’ drilling experience in the UK, and one of the best records in the world for economic development while protecting our environment. The shale wealth fund is going to provide up to £1 billion of additional resources to local communities, and local councils are going to be able to retain 100% of the business rates they collect from shale gas developments. We will be bringing forward further proposals in relation to this during this Parliament. This is an important potential new source of energy, and it is right that we should use it and take the benefits from it for our economy, for jobs and for people’s futures.
I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware of the terrifying incident on Sunday in which a gunman held hostages at a bowling alley in my neighbouring constituency of Nuneaton, a facility that is enjoyed by my own constituents of North Warwickshire and Bedworth. Will she join me and my hon. Friend Mr Jones in praising the excellent work of Warwickshire police and the West Midlands ambulance service in ensuring that the situation was brought to a swift conclusion without any casualties?
Of course we were all concerned to hear about that incident as it was taking place, and I am happy to join my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton in commending the professionalism and bravery of the Warwickshire police in bringing it to a swift conclusion and of the ambulance service in ensuring that there were no injuries. Our emergency services do an amazing job in protecting us; they do not know, when they put on their uniforms in the morning, whether they are going to be called out to exactly this sort of incident. I was pleased to welcome a number of our emergency services personnel to a reception in Downing Street on Monday. What they always say is that they are just doing their job, but my goodness me, what a job they do for us!
On 29 March, I asked the Prime Minister whether she would help the people of New Ferry after the huge explosion that had devastated the town centre. She said that she was be happy to help and that support would be offered to the community in the future. Two weeks later she called a general election, and her Government seem to have all but forgotten about the people in New Ferry. Well, she may have forgotten but my constituents have not, so I ask her again: precisely when will her Government put their hands in their pockets so that the people in New Ferry can rebuild their town and their lives?
I am very happy to commend the work of all those at RAF Benson and indeed all those in our military and the volunteers who were able to provide support after the devastating hurricanes that took place in the Caribbean. I am also happy to agree with my hon. Friend that, contrary to some of the stories that were being put about, we were there, we were there on time and we were able to act very quickly to give people that support.
We can all agree that no one should ever be persecuted on account of their sexuality. Last week at the awards, the Prime Minister said that we had come a long way on LGBT+ rights, but there is still much more to do. May I ask her to start on that remaining work today by promising that the Home Office will never again deport LGBT+ asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to be persecuted with the instruction that they pretend to be straight?
This is an issue that we take seriously. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that it was a Conservative Government that actually changed the rules on asylum seeking to introduce the category of those who could face persecution in their country of origin because of their sexuality. I am pleased that that was able to be done, and I am sure that the Home Office treats all these cases—I want to them to treat all these cases—with the sensitivity that is appropriate.
As of 2016, 17% of premises in Scotland were without superfast broadband, compared with just 11% for the UK as a whole. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Scottish Government to do more and to engage constructively with Departments here in Westminster to deliver this crucial service to communities in Scotland?
Order. All sorts of very curious hand and finger gestures are being deployed, each trying to outdo the other in terms of eccentricity and, possibly, of prowess, but I am interested in hearing the Prime Minister’s reply.
I say to my hon. Friend that we all recognise the importance of broadband and of fast broadband being available to people in our constituencies. He is absolutely right—the Members of the Scottish National party come down here and spend a lot of time talking about powers for the Scottish Government, but actually it is time that the Scottish Government got on with using their powers for the benefit of the people in Scotland.
In the past fortnight, we have heard the announcement of the loss of many hundreds of jobs in Lancashire at BAE Systems sites at Warton and Samlesbury, which comes as a hammer blow to workers and their families. Today, I want to raise the proposed closure of the Alstom factory on Strand Road in Preston, which will mean the loss of another 180 jobs. We keep hearing hype about the so-called northern powerhouse, so why are aerospace companies and train manufacturers in the north shedding jobs by the hundred?
I recognise that this is a worrying time for the workers involved. We will obviously ensure through the Department for Work and Pensions that they have the support they need to look for new jobs, and that does include the rapid response service, which gives particular support to people in these areas. However, in relation to the decision by BAE Systems, for example, I can assure the House that we will continue to promote our world-leading defence industry, and I hope that all Labour Members will continue to promote our world-leading defence industry. I am very pleased that just last month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence signed a statement of intent with Qatar, committing it to the purchase of 24 Typhoons and six Hawks from BAE. Last year, the Ministry of Defence spent £3.7 billion with BAE and is working with it to maximise export opportunities for Typhoons and Hawks in the future to ensure that we can retain jobs here in the United Kingdom.
When it comes to tackling homelessness, prevention is better than cure, so I am delighted that the Government backed my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. However, one of the obstacles for people who choose to rent is putting together the deposit and getting help with the rent. Will my right hon. Friend look at a scheme that would provide 32,000 people a year with the opportunity to rent for an investment of £3.1 million a year? Not only would it do that, but it would save the public purse up to £1.8 billion over a three-year period.
I thank my hon. Friend. He has long campaigned on homelessness and its prevention, and I am pleased that we were able to support his Homelessness Reduction Act, which will be an important contribution in this particular area. On his specific issue, he has made a pre-Budget representation to the Chancellor, who I am sure will be looking at it very carefully. On the more general issue of helping people to buy and helping them with deposits, I am of course pleased that we have been able to announce an extra £10 billion for our Help to Buy scheme, which does make a real difference to people and enables them to get into homes.
The workforce, the unions and the management at Bombardier in Belfast deserve enormous credit for the way in which they have responded to the threats to their jobs and livelihoods coming from the United States, and from Boeing in particular. Can the Prime Minister assure us that she will continue building on the good work that has already happened through herself, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and that she will continue to work with us, the unions and management to ensure that the threat of tariffs is removed, that the C series is a success story and that thousands of jobs in Belfast and across the United Kingdom are protected?
I am very happy to give that commitment. A lot of work has been done in relation to this issue by me, the Business Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers with our opposite numbers in America and Canada. We will certainly continue that work. Obviously, the most recent announcement in relation to Airbus and the C series is important. We want to ensure that those jobs stay in Northern Ireland, because we recognise the importance of those jobs to the economy of Northern Ireland and, obviously, also to the people and their families.