Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons on 13th February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 13 February.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Later today, this House will have an opportunity to pay tribute to the Clerk of the House, Sir David Natzler. May I take this opportunity to add my own? Sir David has served this House for over 40 years with dedication and tireless devotion. His support and advice on parliamentary procedure and business has been invaluable, and I know that Members from all sides of the House will want to join me in thanking him for his service and wishing him the very best for the future.

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.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

May I too pay tribute to the work of the Clerk of the House?

In January, the mother of a three-year-old girl was convicted of female genital mutilation. It is our first FGM conviction, but a chilling reminder that young girls are still being cut not just in Africa and around the world but here in the UK. Will my right hon. Friend make Government time to progress the Bill of my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith to protect more girls from this abhorrent practice?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this abhorrent practice and to recognise the importance of the first prosecution that took place on female genital mutilation here in the UK. It is only right that we find time for this Bill, and the Government will provide time to deliver it. We have strengthened the law on FGM, leading to that first conviction, and we are helping communities around the world to end this appalling crime, but it is important that we give time to this Bill and act further to ensure that we end what is an absolutely abhorrent crime that scars young girls for the rest of their lives both physically and mentally.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

I am sure the Prime Minister and the whole House will join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the cadet who died at Sandhurst last week. I am sure the Ministry of Defence is supporting the family and fellow cadets at a difficult time, but I also hope it will be reviewing the mental health support it gives to all members of the armed forces at all times.

We also mourn the loss of Gordon Banks, and send our condolences to his friends and family and to the entire football community. He was one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, with 73 caps for England, including playing in every single game during the victorious 1966 World cup campaign, which I remember with joy.

I too want to thank Sir David Natzler for his work as Clerk of the House and wish him well in his retirement. He has been here even longer than I have and has always been a source of advice to all Members, irrespective of their party, and I always admire his dry wit and humour while describing the proceedings of the House. I think we owe him a big debt of gratitude.

The Government’s handling of Brexit has been costly, shambolic and deliberately evasive. Nothing symbolises that more than the fiasco of Seaborne Freight—a company with no ships and no trading history. On 8 January, the Transport Secretary told the House:

“We are confident that the firm will deliver the service.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019;
Vol. 652, c. 193.]

What went wrong?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in the remarks he made about the cadet at Sandhurst. He referenced the issue of mental health. This is an important issue overall, but it is obviously an important issue in our armed forces as well. I would like to pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer for the work that he has done in relation to mental health in the armed forces.

I would also like to send my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Gordon Banks. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I am old enough to remember the 1966 World cup—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Let us be honest in this House; I think that is important.

From being part of that team to something else that I think people remember—the astonishing Pelé save in 1970—Gordon Banks was regarded as one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers. I also know that he did a lot of community work in his local area as well. I know Members from all parts of the House would like to join me in paying tribute to him.

As regards the freight capacity, the Government let three contracts: 90% of that was let to DFDS and Brittany Ferries. Those contracts remain in place, and that capacity has been obtained. Due diligence was carried out on all of these contracts. As the Secretary of State for Transport made clear in this House earlier this week, we will continue to ensure that we provide that capacity, which is important in a no-deal situation, and we will ensure the capacity is there.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

The Transport Secretary told the House that the decision to award the contract to Seaborne Freight had no cost to the taxpayer. This week, the National Audit Office found that £800,000 had been spent on external consultants to assess the bid. Will the Prime Minister use this opportunity to correct the record?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he is a bit late to the party, because I was asked that question yesterday on the statement, I think from the SNP Benches. Labour following the SNP—well, whatever next? Of course, as I just said, when the contracts were all let, proper due diligence was carried out. That included third-party assessment of the companies that were bidding for the contracts. There would have been a cost attached to the process regardless of who the contracts were entered into with.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

I am really impressed that the Prime Minister could keep a straight face while she said that due diligence was carried out. The Transport Secretary said that

“its business and operational plans were assessed for the Department by external advisers”.—[Official Report, 8 January 2019;
Vol. 652, c. 190.]

On the basis of that advice to his Department, he was told that Seaborne was a start-up company with no ships and that the contract was “high-risk”. Why, if he was told that it was high risk, did he proceed with the contract?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that the Government should never look at start-up companies or at opportunities for new companies. It is entirely right that the Government ensured that the majority of the contracts went to established companies, and it is entirely right that a company on which due diligence had been carried out—[Interruption.] It is no good saying it wasn’t, because it was. We will ensure that the ferry capacity is there.

What we are doing in these contracts is ensuring that we are able to deal with the situation were we to enter into no deal. The right hon. Gentleman has said in the past that he does not want any money to be spent on no-deal preparations. He has also said that he does not want us to go into a no-deal situation. That is fine, but if he does not want us to be in a no-deal situation, he is going to have to vote for the deal.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

To be fair to the advisers, it appears that they were instructed to restrict their due diligence to the face value of the presentation put to them by Seaborne Freight—a company that had no trading history. Looking at the directors of Seaborne, it appears that some of them would not have passed a due diligence test.

The Transport Secretary told the House:

“This procurement was done properly and in a way that conforms with Government rules.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019;
Vol. 652, c. 192.]

However, a freedom of information request reveals that the Secretary of State bypassed those rules, because the procurement assurance board—a senior panel of experts and lawyers—was denied the chance to scrutinise the deal. What action will the Prime Minister take over what appears to be a very clear breach of those rules?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The contract was awarded following commercial, technical and financial assurance at a level in line with the company’s status as a new entrant to the market, carried out not only by senior DFT officials but by third-party organisations with experience and expertise in this area, including Deloitte, Mott MacDonald, and Slaughter and May. It was designed in recognition of the risks posed: no money was paid to the contractor and no money would be paid until services were delivered. Therefore, no money has been paid to that contractor.

The right hon. Gentleman has stood here time and again and said that, actually, we should not be doing anything to prepare for no deal. It is entirely right and proper that this Government are taking the action necessary to ensure that, should we be in that no-deal situation—it is not our policy to have no deal; it is our policy to get a deal—we have the capacity we need, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Could I bring the Prime Minister back to the question of Seaborne ferries? Eurotunnel has called the ferry contract procurement a “secretive and flawed” exercise. Taxpayers now face a legal bill of nearly £1 million to contest that—the money goes up and up. The Secretary of State’s decision to award the contract to Seaborne has increased the budget deficit of Thanet Council, the owners of Ramsgate port, by nearly £2 million. When questioned by Craig Mackinlay, the Transport Secretary refused to give a guarantee. Can the Prime Minister today give a cast-iron commitment to the people of Thanet and confirm that they will not be picking up the bill for the failure of this contract?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The Department for Transport and other parts of the Government are in discussion with Thanet Council about the impact of the contract. I remind the right hon. Gentleman why the Department for Transport has taken these actions in relation to ferry capacity: to ensure that in a no-deal situation we are able to guarantee that medicines, primarily, will brought into this country. We are prioritising medicines being brought into this country. Again, that was a question I seem to remember being asked on more than one occasion yesterday by SNP Members who had an interest in that. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be interested in ensuring that we can, in a no-deal situation, provide the medicines that people in this country need. That is what we are doing. That is the sensible approach of a Government who are taking this matter seriously.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Maybe the Prime Minister should follow the advice of the House and take no deal off the table and negotiate seriously with the European Union. It cannot be right that a hard-pressed local council and local taxpayers are footing the bill for the incompetence of the Secretary of State for Transport and this Government.

The spectacular failure of this contract is a symptom of the utter shambles of this Government and their no-deal preparations. The Transport Secretary ignored warnings about drones and airport security; he gave a £1.4 billion contract to Carillion despite warnings about their finances; he oversaw the disastrous new rail timetable last year; and rail punctuality is at a 13-year low and fares at a record high—that is some achievement. And now the Transport Secretary is in charge of a major and vital aspect of Brexit planning. How on earth can the Prime Minister say she has confidence in the Transport Secretary?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what the Transport Secretary is delivering: the biggest rail investment programme since the Victorian era, spending nearly £48 billion on improving our railways to deliver better journeys—20% higher on average every year than under a Labour Government. That is what the Transport Secretary is delivering: commitment to transport in this country and commitment to transport across the whole of this country.

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to focus his questions in that way, rather than asking more general questions in relation to Brexit. There are still a number of issues on Brexit where we do not know his answers to the big questions. We do not know if—[Interruption.] It is no good Labour Members burying their heads in their hands. We do not know whether their leader backs a second referendum. We do not know whether their leader backs a deal. We do not even know whether he backs Brexit. He prefers ambiguity and playing politics to acting in the national interest. People used to say he was a conviction politician—not any more.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

On Friday, I visited Tiverton High School, a great local school rated good by Ofsted. However, Tiverton High School is facing many challenges: the buildings are old and stressed, and there is not enough capacity for all local children to attend Tiverton High School. Tiverton is a growing town and a great town, but poverty is higher than both the county and the English national average. The school buildings are located in a flood zone, so when the River Exe bursts its banks there is a significant risk to life. That means we really do need a new school. Fortunately, we have a site with planning permission and Devon County Council has completed a plan. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister facilitate meetings between me and schools Ministers, that we can together deliver a new school that Tiverton deserves?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that with me. Obviously, the quality of school buildings is an important issue in our education system. That is why we are putting more money into it—we are investing £23 billion in school buildings through to 2021. He raised the specific issue of Tiverton High School, and I will make sure that a Minister from the Department for Education will be happy to meet him—and the headteacher and the council, if that is appropriate—to discuss this issue.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

I congratulate so many of my colleagues on sporting yellow today as a mark of solidarity with those from Catalonia who are on trial for the political principle of supporting self-determination.

Will the Prime Minister rule out bringing the meaningful vote to this House less than two weeks before 29 March?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman was present yesterday when I made my statement to the House and he heard the process that we will be following. Of course, a debate is taking place tomorrow, and then, as we have made clear, if a meaningful vote has not been brought back and passed by this House, we will make a statement on 26 February and have a debate on an amendable motion on the 27th.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

I am afraid that that was no answer from a Prime Minister who continues to run the clock down. This is the height of arrogance from a Government set on running the clock down. Just 44 days from a no-deal scenario, the Prime Minister is hamstrung by her own party and rejected by European leaders. The Prime Minister must stop playing fast and loose. Businesses are begging for certainty; the economy is already suffering. Prime Minister, you have come to the end of the road, rumbled by your own loose-lipped senior Brexit adviser. Will the Prime Minister now face down the extremists in her own party and extend article 50?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman talks about certainty for business. He can give business certainty by voting for the deal—that is what gives business certainty. He complains about no deal, but of course, it was the Scottish National party who wanted to leave the UK without a plan—[Interruption.] Perhaps we should remind the SNP that independence would have meant leaving the EU with no deal.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I will be chairing a Delegated Legislation Committee while the tributes to David Natzler are paid, so I publicly wish him well on his retirement and thank him for all the support he gave me, particularly when I was Deputy Speaker. Thank you, David—good luck.

Slaidburn health centre serves 1,100 people in the village and surrounding rural areas. It is well used and well loved by an ageing population with no bus service. The contract is up for renewal and people really do fear the salami-slicing of services, or even worse, the closure, so will the Prime Minister publicly give her support to health services such as Slaidburn today and say that either the reduction of services, or even worse, the closure, would be totally unacceptable?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am aware of the issues with Slaidburn country practice, and of course, we are aware of the pressures facing GPs. That is why there is going to be a major new investment in primary and community healthcare. This is a very important element of our national health service, and that has been set out in the long-term plan. In the event of a practice closure, NHS England assesses the need for a replacement provider before dispersing the list of patients at that GP surgery. I understand that in relation to Slaidburn health centre, discussions are ongoing on the future of the practice, and the local clinical commissioning group is currently exploring options.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I am sure that the Prime Minister welcomes the news that Instagram has pledged to crack down on images of suicide and self-harm. However, there are growing online communities that glamorise, encourage and normalise eating disorders, preying on vulnerable people who are going through extremely personal and private battles. Will she agree to meet me and other organisations and charities to discuss ways in which we can combat that?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the action that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is taking on social media sites and the action the Home Office is taking in conjunction with DCMS. We want social media companies to do more to ensure that they do not promote harmful content to vulnerable people. He raised the specific issue of the impact on people with eating disorders. We want to take action in a way that helps to keep people safe in looking at images, and I will ensure that a Minister from the Department meets him to discuss this issue.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Notwith- standing Brussels bar-room chatter, will the Prime Minister rule out a delay to Brexit beyond 29 March and a future customs union arrangement that would prevent us from doing those global trade deals that the Bank of England Governor says could spark a golden age for trade?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As my hon. Friend knows, I and the Government have been very clear in our customs proposals that we want an independent trade policy—it is specifically referenced in the political declaration. We believe it is important, and I am pleased to hear what the Governor of the Bank of England has said today about the importance of free trade around the world.

On my hon. Friend’s first point, I am grateful he has asked me that question, rather than relying on what someone said to someone else, as overheard by someone else, in a bar. It is very clear that the Government’s position remains the same: the House voted to trigger article 50; that had a two-year timeline that ends on 29 March; we want to leave with a deal, and that is what we are working for.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Two weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister to unblock the funding for Dawlish and give us the investment to improve that train line. Two weeks later, we still have no funding. I worry that Brexit is causing the Government to sit on announcements that need to be made on both rail funding and the long-term basing of the Royal Marines in Plymouth. Will she tell the Transport Secretary to get on with it and announce the funding for Dawlish this week without any further delay?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I said previously to the hon. Gentleman, the Department is reviewing Network Rail’s proposals for an effective and resilient solution on the Dawlish line, and there will be an update on funding in due course. The first phase of work to protect the sea wall at Dawlish began in November, of course, as part of the £15 million of wider investment to make the railway at Dawlish and Teignmouth more resilient to extreme weather.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

I know from the doorstep in Corby and east Northamptonshire that local people want to see more police officers out on the beat catching criminals and deterring crime. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling for the additional money she has rightly announced for policing to be invested in frontline presence?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I recognise my hon. Friend’s comments from the doorstep, and I know that he is an assiduous Member who listens to his constituents and brings their views to this Chamber. It is important that we have made more money available to police forces, and I am pleased to say that the number of people joining police forces as officers is at its highest level for 10 years. We made more money available to police forces—£970 million over the next year—although it is a sadness in this Chamber that the Labour party voted against it.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

What has the Prime Minister got against towns in north Wales? In the week following the loss of a £20 billion Hitachi contract in the region, the Government announced the moving of 380 Wrexham tax office jobs to Liverpool and Cardiff city centre. Is it her view that towns across the UK should not have public sector jobs?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No it is not. On Hitachi and the Wylfa site, we offered a package of support that no previous Government had been willing to consider of one third equity, all-debt financing and a strike price of no more than £75 per MWh. Ultimately, we could not at that stage reach an agreement among all the parties, and Hitachi decided on a commercial basis to suspend the project, but it has made clear that it wishes to continue discussions with the Government on bringing forward new nuclear at Wylfa, and we will support those discussions.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

Over the past four years, the number of people stopped and searched by the police has fallen by two thirds. At the same time, the number of stabbings has increased by a third. Does the Prime Minister agree that, carried out in the right way, stop-and-search is an effective part of the battle against knife crime?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I absolutely agree that, carried out in the right way, stop-and-search is an effective tool for our police forces. We recognise the concern felt about violent crime—the hon. Gentleman has raised the specific issue of knife crime—which is why the Home Secretary published the serious violence strategy, and why we established the serious violence taskforce.

Let me reiterate that we want the police to use stop-and-search properly and lawfully. It is a vital and effective policing tool, but when they use it, we expect them to do so lawfully.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I am sure you recall, Mr Speaker, the halcyon days when the Prime Minister was telling a rapturous Tory conference that she would put an end to rip-off energy companies once and for all. On Thursday Ofgem relaxed the energy price cap, and on Monday E.On announced a 10% price increase. Now we discover that the number of households in official fuel poverty has risen to more than 2.5 million. How does the Prime Minister think she is doing?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

It was, of course, this Government who introduced the energy price cap. That was not done by the previous Labour Government. The cap has protected 11 million households, and energy suppliers will no longer be able to rip off customers on poor-value tariffs. It will save consumers £1 billion a year. Citizens Advice has previously said:

“the cap means people are paying a fairer price now, and will continue to pay a fairer price even if the level of the cap rises”.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee

Since 2014, the number of children being excluded from schools has risen by 67%. In every school week, 4,253 children with special educational needs have been permanently excluded or excluded for a fixed period. That is a burning social injustice. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the Timpson review of exclusions, and will she tell us whether the Government will make schools accountable for the outcomes of the pupils whom they exclude, as recommended by our Education Committee and as suggested by the Education Secretary?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend and the Education Committee for their work on this important issue. Obviously we all recognise that good discipline in schools is essential, but it is also important to ensure that any exclusion is lawful, reasonable and fair. Guidance sets out that headteachers should, as far as possible, avoid permanently excluding any pupil who is subject to an education, health and care plan, and make additional efforts to provide extra support to avoid excluding those with special educational needs. We want to ensure that schools play their part in supporting children who have been excluded, in collaboration with alternative providers and local authorities.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the Timpson review. It is still ongoing, but I can assure him that when it reports in due course, we will look very seriously and very carefully at its recommendations.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Shadow Minister (Wales)

Since 2013, 220 parliamentarians and 450 members of their staff have received mindfulness training in the House. Our cross-party mindfulness all-party parliamentary group has published a report, “Mindful Nation UK”, on the uses of mindfulness in education, health, prisons and the workplace, and it has been well received by the Government. After Brexit negotiations have been concluded—when the Prime Minister might need to de-stress—will she meet representatives of our cross-party group and senior scientists to discuss what more can be done through mindfulness to reduce human suffering and promote human flourishing?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue, and I thank the mindfulness APPG for its work and its recent report. As the hon. Gentleman knows, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for adults with depression.

I am aware of the training that staff have received. A few weeks ago, a constituent came to my surgery to talk about mindfulness. A member of my parliamentary staff who was with me had undertaken that training, and was therefore able to speak about the impact that it had had.

The commissioning of psychological therapies is a matter for NHS England, but I will ensure that it is aware of the report.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk

The honours system is designed to acknowledge and celebrate great public service to our nation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when a small minority of recipients of honours, like Philip Green, bring the system of honours and business into disrepute by being found to have behaved disgracefully, letting down the vast majority of businesses who set the highest standards, then it is right for this party and this Government to be the first to stand up for decent standards and look at beginning a process for seeing whether people who behave in that way should be stripped of their honour?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As my hon. Friend said, the honours system recognises exceptional service and achievement in a wide range of spheres of public life, and if the recipient of an honour brings that honour into disrepute it is important that steps are taken to review that honour. There is a forfeiture process for that purpose; that includes an independent forfeiture committee which gives recommendations to me for Her Majesty’s approval. That is the process, and it is important that we have that so that when anybody who has been in receipt of an honour brings that honour into disrepute steps can be taken to review that.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

Last weekend Millwall Lionesses from my constituency played and beat Lewes FC in the fourth round of the FA cup. In the women’s competition, the Lionesses received £2,000 in prize money; the winners in the same round of the men’s competition received £180,000. Is the Prime Minister willing to put pressure on the FA to equalise prize money for the men’s and women’s competition as Wimbledon did in 2007?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As president of the Wargrave girls football club, I am very willing to commend all those girls and other females who play football. Members across this House have been concerned to hear of the disparity between the winnings that the hon. Lady has raised with the House. Obviously this is a matter for the football authorities, but I am sure they will have heard the concern expressed in this House about the current position.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

It takes courage and leadership to admit difficult things, because that is how we start to recognise the need for change, so I would like to thank the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for acknowledging that there has been a link between accessing universal credit and food bank usage. But it is not the case that there has been a link; there is a link. Will the Prime Minister please urgently review the five-week wait and the benefit freeze? Both must go, because the unpalatable truth is that our welfare safety net is no longer holding up those most vulnerable in society; it is tangling around their feet and dragging them under the water.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend and I have discussed universal credit and its roll-out in the past. As she will know, as we have been rolling this out slowly and carefully, we have taken a number of measures to address issues that have arisen. Shortly after I became Prime Minister we cut the taper rate so people could keep more of the money they earned. Subsequently we have of course scrapped the seven-day waiting. We have introduced the two-week overlap in relation to those in receipt of housing benefit. And of course we have also ensured that 100% of a full monthly payment is available to people at the start, for those for whom that is necessary. So we have been taking steps and will continue to look at universal credit, but universal credit is a system that encourages people into work and makes sure that work pays, compared with the legacy system from the Labour party that left 1.4 million people for nearly a decade trapped on benefits.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire

Despite the Prime Minister’s party’s manifesto promise, nearly 7,000 pensioner households in my West Lancashire constituency could lose their free TV licences. Often the television is their only source of company. Are the Government going to keep their manifesto promise by taking back the responsibility they have outsourced to the BBC, to ensure that older people keep their TV licences?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I recognise the value that people across the country place on having a television, and for many elderly people the connection that brings with the world. That is why the free licences for the over-75s are so important. We have been clear that we want and expect the BBC to continue free licences when it takes over responsibility for the concession in 2020. May I just say that taxpayers rightly want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure that it delivers fully for UK audiences?

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

My constituent, Ben Seaman, receives employment and support allowance benefits and was awarded £20,000 after the recent court ruling on ESA underpayments. Ben has to spend a lot of this within a year in order to avoid having more than £16,000 of assets and risk losing his eligibility for ESA. Clearly this is an unintended anomaly, so will my right hon. Friend encourage the Work and Pensions Secretary, who I know is sympathetic to the situation, to resolve this as soon as possible through an exemption for Ben and for any others who are similarly affected?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

This is a concerning case that my hon. Friend has raised with me. I understand that the Department for Work and Pensions is aware of it and I am assured that it is looking into the issue, and I will ensure that he receives a response as soon as possible.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

The Prime Minister’s determination has been widely acknowledged, but the truth is that she cannot get her deal through unless something fundamentally changes in that deal. However, there is a way in which she can get it through unchanged and which would also help with the reconciliation of our country on the other side. It would mean following the example of the Good Friday agreement and having confirmation from the people afterwards, but there would be fundamental benefits from that happening. I am not asking her to pass judgment on this at the Dispatch Box right now, but will she agree to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), just to briefly talk it through and explore the possible benefits?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I think the hon. Gentleman knows my view in relation to a second referendum; I have expressed it many times in this House and it has not changed. I believe it is important that we deliver on the first referendum, but my colleagues and I are meeting Members from across the House to discuss the issues that they wish to raise in relation to the Brexit matter, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sedgefield can meet, if not with me then with an appropriate Minister.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

With the return of the Royal Air Force Tornadoes from operations for the last time, will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute not only to this remarkable jet, which has given 40 years of operations from the cold war through to the mountains of Afghanistan, but to the remarkable men and women who have flown and maintained her?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Tornado and to the men and women who have flown and maintained the fleet over the last 40 years. He has referenced the cold war and the mountains of Afghanistan. From the Gulf war through to operations against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the Tornado has also been an integral and vital part of RAF operations. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said last week, it is with a heavy heart but enormous pride that we bid farewell to the Tornado from operations after it has played that vital role in keeping Britain and the allies safe. It will of course be replaced with worthy successors in the improved Typhoon and the new F-35s, which will keep us as a world leader in air combat, but I am happy to pay tribute from the Dispatch Box to the plane and to all those men and women who have flown and maintained it over those 40 years.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The UK’s democracy is defunct. Its economy and society are chronically unequal. Britain is breaking. Let us speak as others find us. This plain truth has not gone unnoticed. In pubs, clubs and homes, on pavements, at schools and workplaces, and at a Yes Is More gig in Cardiff on Friday, people are talking about this place and about how Westminster is failing them. When will the Prime Minister lift her gaze above party interests and the Westminster interest? When will she work with others to remake this island as three self-sufficient, thriving nations, rather than perpetuating the assumption of privilege for one?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

When I became Prime Minister, I was very clear that I wanted a country that worked for everyone, and that was the entire United Kingdom. I note that in her question the hon. Lady failed to recognise that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. We want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. I also say to her that democracy is not defunct. Democracy in this country will be shown by this House recognising the vote that took place in 2016, delivering on the result of the referendum and voting for a deal for us to leave the EU.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield

Despite our comparative size, the UK has more Government Departments than even the USA. We hear in this place all the time about the challenges of cross-departmental working. Will my right hon. Friend commit to looking carefully in the spending review at opportunities to shrink the size of government and instead focus our spending on public services?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The question of the size of government is something that several colleagues raise from time to time. I must put my hand up and admit the role that I played in that by creating the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade, and of course we are also employing more civil servants to ensure that we deliver on Brexit, something which I believe is close to my hon. Friend’s heart.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Maryam is just six months old, and she is beautiful. She was recently diagnosed with a devastating form of muscular dystrophy. Her brother had the same condition and died tragically young. Spinraza is a new and highly effective drug produced by Biogen that is available in 23 countries, but not in England. If Maryam lived in the west of Scotland instead of West Ham, she would get it. Negotiations between the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Biogen have been unsuccessful, leaving Maryam and two other babies as tiny pawns in an argument about price and profit. Will the Prime Minister please intervene and help prevent Maryam and others from suffering an early and painful death?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Lady raises that case with great passion, and I will ensure that a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care looks at the matter and responds to her.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

The consumption of dog and cat meat goes against our British values. They are our companions. They are not food. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a ban on consumption here, where, astoundingly, it is still legal, would put us in a leading position and send a clear message to the rest of the world that the sickening and horrific suffering that the animals experience during slaughter should be stopped? If so, will she commit to the change, which has cross-party support, as demonstrated by my amendment to the Agriculture Bill?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s amendment, and I thank him for raising the issue. Animal welfare is a priority for this Government. I am pleased that it is illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK. No abattoirs are licensed to slaughter dogs and, thankfully, there is no evidence of human consumption of dog or cat meat in the UK. I certainly hope that other countries will join the UK in upholding the highest standards of animal welfare.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker—21 again.

My constituent Harriet recently gave birth to her baby three months premature. When Harriet was due to return to work, her baby had only recently come out of hospital, and she had to choose between taking additional time off work but struggling to pay the bills or returning to work but missing crucial bonding time with her baby. The Government had committed to reviewing the issue by the end of January, but we are now halfway through February. Will the Prime Minister commit to taking action and to extending parental leave for the parents of children who end up in neonatal wards?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

First, happy birthday to the hon. Lady. We are reviewing the situation, and we are also looking at what applies in other circumstances, such as miscarriage. I will ensure that she receives a written response.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

The Leader of the Opposition has shown today that a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. He chose to ask about Seaborne Freight and Ramsgate port, which is in my constituency, but he does not speak for South Thanet; I do. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the people of Thanet are ready and prepared to keep the port open for Brexit eventualities? Can she give a commitment to Thanet District Council that it will be indemnified for costs here on in?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No one can doubt the passion and vigour with which my hon. Friend speaks up for the people of his South Thanet constituency. He mentions Ramsgate port, and I am aware of the discussions between the council and the Department for Transport, and I believe that they are continuing. Obviously, I recognise the significance of the possibility of ensuring that suitable capacity is available at Ramsgate harbour, and I will ensure that the Department for Transport looks at the specific issue that he raises.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. Yes, on this occasion I will take a point of order from Ian Blackford because I gather that it appertains to the session that has just concluded. I very gently say to him that I hope that this is not a cheeky ruse to be deployed on a weekly basis to secure for himself a third question, which our procedures do not allow. That would be very wrong, and I am sure he would not knowingly do anything very wrong. We will put it to the test. [Interruption.] There is a certain amount of chuntering from a sedentary position, not least from Anna Soubry, who suggests that she thinks that he might engage in such behaviour. I am a charitable chap, and I am prepared to give him a chance.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Heaven forbid that anyone would abuse the privilege that you afford us on such occasions.

We all recognise our responsibility for the language we use in the discourse that we have in this House. I want to be helpful to the Prime Minister because she perhaps inadvertently misled the House when she said that there was no plan for Scottish independence. Unlike the Brexit campaign, which was no more than a slogan on the side of a bus, we had—[Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is brandishing a document. I have a feeling it will feature in his next press release. He has made his point with force and alacrity, and it requires no reply. I hope he is satisfied with his prodigious efforts. We will leave it there.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate your comments. For clarification, given that Ian Blackford held up a copy of the SNP’s White Paper, how can I put on the record the fact that it contained many errors and omissions? For example, it did not include any transition costs, it wildly overstated the predicted revenue from oil and, interestingly, many of the proposals in it related to powers that the Scottish Government and the SNP already had in Holyrood in Edinburgh.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

The hon. Gentleman has found his own salvation, as he well knows. Hitherto, I had always thought that Angus Brendan MacNeil was a notably cheeky chappie in the Chamber, but I realise that the role of cheeky chappie is not confined to the Scottish National party. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Moray, who has made his point and looks very delighted with his efforts. We will leave it there.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar looks very happy. We do not need to hear from him further at this time. I remind him that he also has cerebral status as the Chair of a Select Committee and should behave with due decorum to reflect the very high standing he enjoys, possibly in Scotland but certainly in the House.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Children and Families), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Equalities), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Disabilities)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is something that has been troubling me for a few weeks now. When I first came here, I was told that the protocol of the Chamber is that hon. Members must never cross the line of sight between you and whoever is speaking. However, on multiple occasions this Chamber has emptied when my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford has stood up, to the point at which people cut off your line of sight when you are in the middle of speaking to Members. Could you advise us on how that can be corrected?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

What I would say to the hon. Lady is twofold. First, it is a breach of the conventions of this House for a Member to walk past a Member who has the Floor on that side of the House. That is unseemly and discourteous behaviour, and it falls into the category that the hon. Lady is helpfully deprecating.

Secondly, I hope the hon. Lady will not take it amiss if I say that it is regrettable that her prodigious efforts on behalf of her party leader have not been witnessed by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber himself, for the simple reason that he has already exited the Chamber. However, the saving grace for the hon. Lady is that her efforts have been observed by no less a figure than the Chief Whip of the Scottish National party, Patrick Grady. That probably bodes well for her in the future. We will leave it there for now.