I hope that it is not too late to wish all Members and staff in the House a very happy new year.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I, too, wish members of staff a happy new year.
At least 1.4 million households across the UK have been victims of unfair practices in the leasehold market, including my constituent Emily Martin. In advance of any intended legislation, what commitment will the Prime Minister make to ensure that Emily and thousands of people tied into this PPI-like scandal are compensated by developers now?
We are concerned when we hear of unfair practices taking place. I am sure that the Housing Minister will be happy to hear of this particular case as an example. We are looking to see what action the Government can take to ensure that people are secure in their homes and are not subject to practices that they should not be subject to.
In December, when the Brexit Secretary met Michel Barnier, they hugged. In that spirit, would my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister passionately embrace—not me, Mr Speaker; don’t worry—the agenda that she set out last year to build a Britain fit for the future, to encourage home ownership, improve education, health and life chances, and leave this country in a better place than we found it?
My hon. Friend talks about passionate embraces; I do not think that he has ever had the kiss that he once asked for. He is absolutely right: we are determined to deliver a Britain that is fit for the future. That means that we need to get Brexit right and do a lot more. He references house building; yes, we are committed to building the homes that this country needs. That is why we have made £15 billion of new financial support available over the next five years, and why we scrapped stamp duty for 80% of first-time buyers. We are also improving school standards—there are 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools today—and we are protecting our natural environment. We are building a Britain that can look to the future with optimism and hope.
Mr Speaker, may I wish you, all the House and all our staff a very happy new year? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Everybody is agreed? Yes? Thank you. I know it seems a long time ago, but just before Christmas, I asked the Prime Minister about the 12,000 people left waiting more than half an hour in the back of ambulances at A&E departments. She told the House that the NHS was better prepared for winter “than ever before.” What words of comfort does she have for the 17,000 patients who waited in the back of ambulances in the last week of December? Is it that nothing is perfect, by any chance?
I fully accept that the NHS is under pressure over winter. It is regularly under pressure at winter time. I have been very clear: I apologised to those people who have had their operations delayed and to those people who have had their admission to hospital delayed, but it is indeed the case that the NHS was better prepared this winter than ever before. [Interruption.] Yes. It might be helpful if I let the House know some of the things that were done to ensure that preparedness. More people than ever before are having flu vaccines, and 2,700 more acute beds have been made available since November. For the first time ever, urgent GP appointments have been available across the Christmas period across this country, and more doctors are specialising in treating the elderly in accident and emergency.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the last exchange we had in this House. In our last exchange, he said mental health budgets have been cut; that is not right. Simon Stevens from the national health service has made it clear that mental health spending has gone up both in real terms and as a proportion of the overall spending. So will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise for what he previously said?
The Prime Minister knows full well that child and adolescent mental health services budgets have been raided and many people who need help are not getting that help. We saw on “ITV News” the other night that nurses are spending their entire shift treating people in car parks because of backed-up ambulances. We know the Prime Minister recognises there is a crisis in our NHS because she wanted to sack the Health Secretary last week but was too weak to do it, and if the NHS is so well resourced and so well prepared, why was the decision taken last week to cancel the operations of 55,000 patients during the month of January?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Members on the Labour Front Bench say “Apologise”; if they had listened to the answer I gave to their right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, they will have heard me make it clear that I have already apologised to those whose operations have been delayed, and we will make sure they are reinstated as soon as possible. We are putting record funding into the NHS and record funding into mental health, but the right hon. Gentleman keeps on about the preparations for the NHS and I was very pleased last week to be able to go and say in person a thank you to staff at Frimley health trust from both Frimley Park and Wexham Park hospitals for the work they have been doing to deliver for patients across this period of particular pressure across the winter. Our NHS staff—not just doctors and nurses, but support staff such as radiographers, administrative staff, porters, everybody working in our national health service—do a fantastic job day in and day out, and they particularly do that when we have these winter pressures. In terms of being prepared, this is what NHS Providers said only last week:
“Preparations for winter in the NHS have been more extensive and meticulous than ever before.”
We all thank all NHS staff for what they do, but the reality is that the 55,000 cancelled operations means those 55,000 people join the 4 million already waiting for operations within the NHS.
Perhaps the Prime Minister could listen to the experience of Vicki. Her 82-year-old mother spent 13 hours on a trolley in a corridor, on top of the three hours between her first calling 999 and arriving at hospital. Vicki says:
“A volunteer first responder from Warwickshire heart service whose day job is in the Army kept mum safe until paramedics arrived.”
Her mother had suffered a heart attack just a week before. This is not an isolated case. Does the Prime Minister really believe the NHS is better prepared than ever for the crisis it is now going through?
Nobody wants to hear of people having to experience what Vicki and her mother experienced. Of course we need to ensure that we learn from these incidents, and that is exactly what we do in the national health service. I am very happy to ensure that that particular case is looked at, if the right hon. Gentleman would like to provide me with the details. But week in and week out in the run-up to Christmas, and now today, he has been giving the impression of a national health service that is failing everybody who uses it. The reality in our NHS is that we are seeing 2.9 million more people going to accident and emergency, and over 2 million more operations taking place each year. Our national health service is something that we should be proud of. It is a first-class national health service that has been identified as the No. 1 health system in the world. That means that it is a better health system than those of Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Germany and the United States of America.
We on this side of the House are all very proud of the principle of the national health service—healthcare as a human right—but the reality is that, in the past year, 565,000 people have spent time on trolleys when they should have been being treated. The number of elderly people being rushed into A&E from care homes has risen by 62% since the Tories took power, and Care Quality Commission figures suggest that nearly a quarter of care homes need improvement. This is not only robbing older people of their dignity, but putting pressure on A&Es and ambulance services. So why, instead of dealing with the social care crisis, has the Prime Minister rewarded the Health Secretary with a promotion and a new job title?
There are many voices across the House, including from the right hon. Gentleman’s party, who have been encouraging me to ensure that we have better integration between health and social care. I am pleased that we have recognised this by making the Department of Health now the Department of Health and Social Care. That has been recognised by Age UK, which has said that this is a
“welcome and long overdue recognition of the interdependence of health and social care”.
I saw for myself last week at Frimley Park the good work that is being done by some hospitals up and down the country, working with GPs, care homes and the voluntary sector, to ensure that elderly people can stay at home safely and do not need to go into hospital, with all the consequences of them coming into hospital beds. That is the way forward, and we want to ensure that we see the integration of health and social care at grassroots level. From the way in which the right hon. Gentleman talks, you would think that the Labour party had all the solutions for the national health service—[Interruption.]
If the Labour party has all the answers, why is funding being cut and why are targets not being met in Wales, where Labour is responsible?
The Prime Minister leads a Government who are responsible for the funding of national Governments, such as the one in Wales, and she knows full well what has been cut from Wales. She is also directly responsible for the NHS in England, and giving the Health Secretary a new job title will not hide the fact that £6 billion has been cut from social care under the Tories. Part of the problem with our NHS is that its funds are increasingly being siphoned off into private companies, including in the Health Secretary’s area of Surrey—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Shelbrooke, calm yourself, man! You are supposed to be auditioning to become an elder statesman, but on present evidence, there will be many more auditions to come. Calm yourself; it will be good for your health.
Even more money is being siphoned out of our NHS budgets into private health companies. In the Health Secretary’s area of Surrey, a clinical commissioning group was even forced to pay money to Virgin Care because that company did not win a contract. Will the Prime Minister assure patients that, in 2018, less NHS money intended for patient care will be feathering the nests of shareholders in private health companies?
First, this Government have given more money to the Welsh Government. It is a decision of Labour in Wales to deprioritise funding for the national health service in Wales. On the issue of the private sector and its role in the health service, under which Government was it that private access and the use of the private sector in the health service increased? [Interruption.] No, it wasn’t.
First of all, we have put more money into Wales, but the Labour Government in Wales have decided to deprioritise funding for the national health service. Secondly, the increase that was seen in private sector companies working in the health service did not happen under a Conservative Government; that was under a Labour Government of whom the Leader of the Opposition was a member.
Under this Government, Virgin Care got £200 million-worth of contracts in the past year alone—50% up on the year before. The Prime Minister needs to understand that it is her policies that are pushing our NHS into crisis. Tax cuts for the super-rich and big business are paid for—[Interruption.] Yes, Mr Speaker, they are paid for by longer waiting lists, ambulance delays, staff shortages and cuts to social care. Creeping privatisation is dragging our NHS down. During the Health Secretary’s occupation of the Prime Minister’s office to keep his job, he said that he would not abandon the ship. Is that not an admission that, under his captaincy, the ship is indeed sinking?
This Government are putting more money into the national health service. We see more doctors and nurses in our NHS, more operations taking place in our NHS, and more people being treated in accident and emergency in our NHS, but we can only do that if we have a strong economy. What would we see from the Labour party? We have turned the economy around from the recession that the Labour party left us with. What do we know about the Labour party’s economic policies? Well, we were told all about them in a description from the shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, who I see is not in her place on the Front Bench today—
I do apologise. I did not realise that the shadow Education Secretary was undergoing medical treatment, so I apologise unreservedly for that comment. However, I have to say that she described the economic policies of the Labour party in unparliamentary terms, which included the word “bust”, saying that the Labour party’s economic policy was “high-risk”. That means high risk for taxpayers, high risk for jobs and high risk for our NHS. That is a risk that we will never let Labour take.
Moving on to a positive note about the NHS, my NHS trust, Morecambe Bay, has turned around from being one of the worst in the country—it was safe to say that five years ago—to one of the best. That happened due to injections of huge amounts of cash, but the staff were amazing and turned the hospital around. Jackie Daniel, the chief—
Order. I gently invite the hon. Gentleman to be sensitive to time. We want not a long spiel, but a short question with a question mark at the end of it.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of staff at the Morecambe Bay trust. I particularly wish Dame Jackie well, and I recognise and pay tribute to her work in turning that trust around. This is just another example of the huge gratitude we owe to our NHS staff, who work so tirelessly on our behalf.
Mr Speaker, I wish you, all staff and all Members a guid new year.
The Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is quite simply
“not fit for purpose and must be changed.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 632, c. 731.]
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that we have said we will look to improve clause 11. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made it very clear when he was answering questions earlier that we continue to look to amend clause 11. However, as I discussed with the First Minister before Christmas, we are looking to work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we put the right frameworks in place so that, when we come to bring forward any amendment, it is done in the best possible way in the interests of all concerned. I thought that had been accepted by the Scottish National party, but we will be looking to bring forward amendments in the Lords.
That is simply not good enough. The Secretary of State for Scotland promised a “powers bonanza” for Scotland and that, crucially, amendments would be tabled ahead of next week’s debate. Yesterday it was revealed that no amendments will be tabled. The Tories always promise Scotland everything and deliver nothing. The Prime Minister has one last chance. Will she assure the House that amendments will be tabled ahead of next week, as promised?
The SNP says it wants to work with us on the future frameworks; we are doing exactly that. It says it wants clause 11 amended; we are doing exactly that. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is intensifying his discussions with the Scottish Government and, indeed, with the Executive in Wales as part of that. We will be bringing forward amendments. Ian Blackford says this is a Government who never deliver for Scotland. An extra £2 billion as a result of the Budget—that is delivering for Scotland.
Speaking of delivering for Scotland, the Stirling and Clackmannan- shire city region deal is a massive investment in Scotland’s economy and a huge vote of confidence in Scotland by a Conservative and Unionist Government. With projects such as the UK Institute of Aquaculture and the national tartan centre, which will have UK-wide impact and global reach, will the Prime Minister now confirm that the UK Government are ready to sign off the heads of agreement with the Scottish Government and the local councils so that we can get to work?
I am very happy to give that commitment to my hon. Friend. This is another example of how this is a Government who are delivering for Scotland. I know the importance of the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal, which will be transformative. He has championed this cause since he was elected, and he is doing a great job for his constituents. We are all working to get an agreement as soon as possible.
I have been contacted by 11 constituents who are frightened, many of them suicidal, because they have been told either by Hull clinical commissioning group or by East Riding of Yorkshire clinical commissioning group that their desperately needed pain infusion treatment will be stopped. This is the cruel reality of the NHS having to ration treatment due to funding cuts. Will the Prime Minister personally intervene to ensure that the Hull and East Riding CCGs review their decisions and guarantee my constituents the additional funding that will allow this treatment to be delivered?
We are putting extra money into the national health service. We are not cutting funding for the national health service. CCGs will be taking individual decisions about how they apportion their funding, but to stand up here and suggest that we are cutting funding for the national health service is plain wrong.
Telford is a rapidly growing new town where thousands of new houses are built every year. People come to Telford to buy their home on a new-build estate and live their dream, but for far too many the reality is unfinished communal areas, unadopted roads, non-compliance with section 106, developers failing to take responsibility and the local council passing the buck. Colleagues on both sides of the House see similar problems in their constituencies. Will the Prime Minister agree to strengthen the rights of home owners on new-build estates so that people can come to Telford, or to any other new-build area, and buy a new-build home confident that they can live their dream?
I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that of course we recognise the concern she has raised; this is a similar issue to the one raised by Mike Amesbury. I understand that it is Telford’s 50th anniversary, so I congratulate it on that. We are committed to legislating in relation to the unfair practice my hon. Friend has identified, because it is only fair that freeholders should have the same rights as leaseholders to challenge the reasonableness of the service charges they are being submitted to.
On a scale between one and 10, how does the Prime Minister think her Brexit is going, with 10 meaning everything is going perfectly, we know what we want to achieve and we know how to get it; and one being chaotic cluelessness? I know what I would give the Prime Minister, but what would she give herself?
Order. Let me just say to Pete Wishart, whom I have known for a long time, that when he comes to reflect on his conduct, he will know that he can do better than that.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I say to the hon. Gentleman that anybody who saw the success we had in negotiating phase one of Brexit, and getting that sufficient progress, will say that this Government know what they are doing, and that they are getting on with the job and doing well.
Environmentalists across the UK were delighted with the announcement of co-operation with the Woodland Trust to develop the new northern forest, but will the Prime Minister assure us that plans to create new landscapes will not obscure the need to protect existing areas of outstanding natural beauty? Will she confirm her commitment to protecting the Chilterns AONB as we pursue the Government’s economic and housing development plans?
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on becoming a Dame in the recent new year’s honours—it is very, very well deserved. I assure her that we are committed to maintaining the strongest protections for AONBs and other designated landscapes. As regards the Chilterns AONB, I have to say to her that I enjoy walking in the Chilterns. I recognise the value of that particular environment, and we are committed to protecting AONBs.
I was a teacher and a headteacher for 34 years, so I know that I speak on behalf of thousands of teachers and support staff when I ask the Prime Minister this: in the light of the recent announcement of a fall in teacher training application numbers by a third, will the Government listen to professionals and fully and fairly fund our schools and colleges; end the toxic culture of targets and tests; deliver a broad and balanced curriculum; and, most of all, return the joy of teaching and learning to our classrooms?
We are putting record sums into our schools. More than that, we are ensuring that we are seeing increasing standards in our schools. That is why today there are 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010, and I hope the hon. Lady would welcome that.
The Prime Minister will be aware that there is great potential in the south-west to increase prosperity and productivity. Will she therefore confirm how her Government will be backing the south-west, in particular on the need to invest in our vital road, rail and digital infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that, and he is a great champion for the needs of the south-west. We do want to increase prosperity and productivity in the south-west—and indeed right across the country—and we are taking some particular steps. Across the country we are committing significant sums in relation to infrastructure investment and the road investment strategy. We are committed to creating an expressway to the south-west, which will be part of an important development. We are investing more than £400 million into the rail network in the area. I am pleased to say that more than 600,000 homes and businesses in the south-west now have access to superfast broadband as a result of our superfast broadband programme. There is more we can do for the south-west, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend in doing that.
The Secretary of State for Health said that the Government wanted the UK to be the best in the world for cancer diagnosis, treatment and care. Today, according to a memo from the head of chemotherapy at Churchill Hospital in Oxford, terminally ill cancer patients will have their chemotherapy cut because of a massive shortfall in specialist nurses. Will the Prime Minister apologise to cancer patients and their families for this appalling situation?
That trust has made it clear that there are absolutely no plans to delay the start of chemotherapy treatment, or to reduce the number of cycles of treatment given to cancer patients. Simon Stevens has said that over the past three years the NHS has had the highest cancer survival rates ever. The latest survival figures show that over 7,000 more people are estimated to be surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment, compared with three years prior. There are 3,200 more diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers than in May 2010. We will continue to look at this issue and we are continuing to put in the funding that is enabling us to improve treatment for cancer patients.
With record funding, our NHS is doing more than ever, but when the UK is in the bottom third of countries for heart-attack deaths, when we have significantly worse survival rates for stroke than France and Germany, and when our closest matches for cancer survival are Chile and Poland, is it not time to act on calls from all parts of the House, backed this week by the Centre for Policy Studies, to establish a royal commission on health and social care in this, the 70th anniversary year of our most cherished national institution?
My hon. Friend is right that we need to continue to look at the national health service and ensure that we continue to improve its performance in a variety of areas. The independent Commonwealth Fund has been clear that the national health service is the best healthcare system in the world, and that it is better than systems such as those in Germany, France and the other countries I listed earlier, but of course we need to look at what more we can do. That is why we are putting more funding in and looking at the better integration of health and social care on the ground. It is about making sure that we are making a change and doing that integration now, because that is when it is going to make a difference to people.
The Prime Minister said that she had reshuffled her Ministers so that they look more like the country they seek to represent. I am not sure about that, but in that spirit, will she acknowledge the massive problems in the private rented sector with absentee private landlords? Will she commit to come to visit Easington to gain her own appreciation of the scale of the problems that face many working-class communities? In the spirit of good will, will she support and give free passage to the Bill on homes fit for habitation that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) is promoting?
I have many fond memories of the time I spent in the north-east when I was a candidate up there. We do need to ensure that we have a good private rented sector in this country, but the one set of policies that would damage the private rented sector are the policies put forward by the Leader of the Opposition.
I was delighted last week to hear the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirm the Government’s commitment to supporting farmers after we leave the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the unique needs of Scottish farmers and, indeed, crofters will be taken into account in the design of any new system?
My hon. Friend is right that as we leave the European Union, we will of course be able to put in place our own policy of support for farmers. We want that policy to recognise the particular needs of farmers in all parts of the United Kingdom, and that will of course include the particular needs of farmers in Scotland.
My constituency office and local citizens advice bureau are receiving ever-increasing complaints about personal independence payment claims. Assessments are being refused and 65% of decisions are currently overturned on appeal at tribunal. The growing number of appeals means that the tribunal process is taking longer—anything from four to seven months. Does the Prime Minister agree that the PIP assessment process is fundamentally flawed? What action can she take to avoid the unnecessary expense of going to court and, more importantly, the undue stress and hardship being caused to my constituents and others throughout the country?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about ensuring, as we want to, that these assessments are being conducted as well as they can be, and that people are getting the awards that they should be getting and that they are entitled to. Since we introduced the personal independence payment, we have carried out around 2.9 million assessments, 8% of which have been appealed, but only 4% of those decisions are changed following an appeal. In the majority of cases, that is because new evidence is presented at the appeal, which was not presented when the original case was put forward. The Department for Work and Pensions continues to look at ensuring that, when these assessments are made, they are done properly and that people get the right results.
My constituent, Justin Bartholomew, was just 25 when he committed suicide late last year. His family is convinced that his intake of high-energy drinks—more than 15 cans a day—increased his anxiety and contributed to his death. Given the increased safety concern around the high-energy drink market and the actions of people such as Jamie Oliver and Waitrose, will the Prime Minister consider introducing a national ban on the sale of these energy drinks for the under-16s?
My hon. Friend has raised a tragic case, and I know that the thoughts and the sympathies of the whole House will be with the family and friends of Justin Bartholomew. We have introduced the soft drinks industry levy. We recognise that there are issues around drinks that are high in sugar and we know that energy drinks high in sugar can be damaging to children’s health. We are supporting schools and parents to make healthier choices and to be able to identify those through clearer labelling and campaigns. Of course this is an issue that the Department of Health and Social Care will continue to look at, and it will continue to look at the scientific evidence in relation to these drinks.
I have a constituent who escaped an abusive relationship and has been passed from pillar to post between the old Child Support Agency and the new child maintenance service. After four and a half years of that, she has now been told by the CMS that she has to start the whole process all over again. On top of that, it is insisting that she passes on her personal and her bank details directly to her ex-partner to receive payment. Will the Prime Minister agree to help resolve this problem and to look at the system that has allowed this abuse to continue?
The hon. Lady raises what is obviously a distressing case; I recognise that. Arrangements are in place that ensure, as I understand it, that an individual does not have to pass on their bank details directly. The fact that her constituent has been asked to do so is something that should be looked into. I am sure that if she passes those details to the appropriate Department, it will look into the matter.
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. People across the UK want to see controlled immigration—that is people in Scotland as well as people in the rest of the United Kingdom. As we leave the European Union, we will be able to introduce our own immigration rules and to control that immigration to Britain from Europe. The only point of differentiation is that, of course, we do have a Scotland-only shortage occupation list to recognise the particular labour market needs in Scotland. For the most part, that actually matches the UK-wide shortage occupation list, which shows that this is an issue for the whole of the UK, and that we need the same policy approach.
In a March 2005 interview, the Prime Minister said:
“Not getting things done;
and seeing people’s lives hurt by government bureaucracy” makes her depressed. In light of that comment, can the Prime Minister tell me whether she considers it reasonable and acceptable for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to withhold the licence of my constituent, Mr Coleman, for more than 18 months despite evidence showing that he was fit and able to drive, as she has not responded to my letter of
I will ensure that the hon. Lady receives a response to her letter. She has raised a particular case in this House. I will need to look at the details of that case and I will respond to her letter.
Last week, Cleveland Potash announced 230 job losses at Boulby mine in my constituency, which is devastating for Loftus and the wider east Cleveland community, where the mine is by far and away the largest employer. Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, Anna Turley and I all agree that it would be incredibly helpful if some of the funds remaining from the 2015 SSI rescue package could be repurposed to support people leaving Boulby. Will the Prime Minister agree to look into that with the Business Secretary, and will she make a commitment that Government agencies will do everything they can to support people affected by this dreadful news?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this case. It is obviously a worrying time for the workers who are affected by the announcement by Cleveland Potash. We will help people to find other work, and support those affected through the rapid response service of the Department for Work and Pensions. We will co-ordinate with the Tees Valley combined authority to ensure that we work together to make the best possible support available and ensure that it is aligned. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will look at the situation and the specific issue that my hon. Friend has raised.
Ava has been a foster-carer for years. When her privately rented home failed the inspection for an electrical certificate, which she needed to continue fostering, her landlord evicted her because he did not want to do the repairs. Now Ava and the kids are living in temporary council accommodation in a converted warehouse in the middle of a working industrial estate in Mitcham. The council that placed her there is going to withdraw her right to foster because her accommodation is not good enough. Can the Prime Minister tell Ava, kids in care who need foster-carers and the overworked British taxpayer how that makes sense?
As the hon. Lady has set it out, that does not appear to make sense: as a result of what has happened, we will lose someone who has been a foster-carer. I would like to pay tribute to the work that her constituent has done in foster-caring. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those who care for people as foster-parents. As the hon. Lady has raised this in the House, I am sure that the local council will want to look at it again.
Finally, Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. While most of us were celebrating on new year’s eve, the crews of the Poole-based tug, Kingston, and the Swanage and Weymouth lifeboats were battling mountainous seas and 70 mph winds off the coast of Dorset to prevent a cargo ship from being blown on to the rocks. Thanks to the skill of the tug’s crew the tow was fixed and a disaster prevented. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the professionalism, courage and determination of all those involved, not least the volunteers of the RNLI?
I am very happy to do that, and to praise all those involved in averting a disaster—both the tug crew and the RNLI. Indeed, I would like to go further. RNLI volunteers do a fantastic job around our coastline day in, day out, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.