May I add my congratulations to Sarah Davies on achieving this position, and say how good it always is to see women in high office?
The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history. As Her Majesty the Queen said before visiting Jallianwala Bagh in 1997, it is a “distressing example” of our history with India. We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused. I am pleased that today the UK-India relationship is one of collaboration, partnership, prosperity and security. Indian diaspora make an enormous contribution to British society, and I am sure the whole House wishes to see the UK’s relationship with India continue to flourish.
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 fully agree with the Prime Minister when she has repeatedly said that we need to honour both the result of the referendum and our manifesto commitments, which mean leaving the customs union and the single market. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that if the best way to do that, rather than delivering a diluted deal that is unrecognisable to many of those who voted to leave, is to go under World Trade Organisation rules, we should grab that opportunity and believe in the ability of the British people and a Conservative Government to make a success of it?
I agree with my hon. Friend that I believe a Conservative Government will make a success of whatever the situation is in relation to Brexit. But I still believe that the best Brexit for the UK is to be able to leave in an orderly way, to be able to leave with a deal, and I want to ensure that that Brexit does indeed honour the result of the referendum. There are Members of this House who do not want to honour the result of the referendum; I do.
I am very pleased that the Prime Minister mentioned what happened in Jallianwala Bagh and the issues of the massacre at Amritsar 100 years ago. I think that the people, in memory of those who lost their lives and the brutality of what happened, deserve a full, clear and unequivocal apology for what took place on that occasion.
I join the Prime Minister and yourself, Mr Speaker, in welcoming Sarah Davies to her appointment. I am sure she is going to be absolutely brilliant. I remember the day she started work in the House, and she has done incredibly well.
Today marks the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, a defining moment in Irish history, which allowed peace to prevail. It was a great achievement, and I pay tribute to the work done by the Labour Government at that time, as well as those on all sides in Ireland, north and south, and in this House in achieving the crucial breakthrough in the peace process, which we have to ensure is maintained.
As we continue discussions to find a compromise over the Brexit deal that could shape our future economic relationship with Europe—protecting jobs, rights and our economy—we should not forget the communities across this country that have been abandoned by this Government in the here and now. Official figures show that nine of the 10 most deprived council areas in this country have seen cuts that are almost three times the average of any other council. Why has the Prime Minister decided to cut the worst-off areas in our country more than the most well-off?
First, the right hon. Gentleman is right to reference the 21st anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which was indeed an important moment in Northern Irish history and which has led to the peace that we have seen subsequently. May I welcome the actions that were taken by politicians of all parties, in this House and elsewhere, to ensure that that peace was possible and that that agreement was possible as well?
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman in relation to the issue of council funding that actually councils do have more money available this year? [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Yes, a real-terms increase. The right hon. Gentleman voted against that money being available. But what we have also done is listen to councils, and given them extra flexibility. For example, they have called for a long time to have the borrowing cap lifted so that they could build more homes, and we have done exactly that—listened to councils and given them what they wanted.
The problem is that child poverty is rising. In councils with the highest levels of child poverty, over £1,000 per household has been taken in funding cuts in the past decade. Some of the wealthiest areas of our country have lost only £5. Take Swindon, for example, where Honda recently announced 3,500 job cuts. Child poverty is over one third higher in Swindon than it is in Surrey, but Swindon will have lost £235 per household in Government funding cuts, whereas a household in Surrey will see more money from central Government. Can the Prime Minister explain why Swindon faces cuts while Surrey gets more money?
Actually, what we see in terms of spending power per home is that the average spending power per home for the most deprived local authorities is over 20% higher than for the least deprived local authorities. That is Conservatives delivering for local councils.
Homelessness is three times higher in Swindon than in Surrey. Today, we learn that two-thirds of councils do not have the funding necessary to comply with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. In Stoke-on-Trent, the council has lost £640 per household, yet child poverty is more than double the rate in Surrey, which has seen an increase in funding. Does the Prime Minister think that areas with the highest levels of child poverty deserve to be facing the largest cuts in their budgets?
What I think is that Members across the House who are concerned about child poverty should take action to ensure that we help families to get more money into their pockets. It is this Government that have frozen fuel duty. It is this Government that have introduced the national living wage. It is this Government that have given lower paid workers the highest increase. It is this Government that on Saturday saw 32 million households see a tax cut. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to help people out there with money in their pockets he should be backing these measures by the Government instead of voting against them.
The reality is that under this Government 500,000 more children have gone into relative poverty. In Stoke-on-Trent alone, 4,000 food bank parcels were handed out to children last year. If that was not bad enough, it is about to get worse. Tory proposals on the new funding formula for councils will make poorer areas even poorer. They are removing the word “deprivation” from the funding criteria. In a phrase that George Orwell would have been very proud of they have called this the fairer funding formula. Areas like Stoke will lose out even more. Will the Prime Minister explain why she wants to give less funding to the most deprived parts of our country?
No, that is not what we are doing. What we are doing is ensuring that we have a fairer funding formula across local authorities. We are also ensuring that we are making more money available for local authorities to spend. Let us just see what we see from council after council up and down the country. If people want to ensure that they have good local services and pay less in council tax, that is what they see under Conservative councils. There is a clear message: if you want to pay less council tax and have good local services, vote Conservative.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister the truth is that when Labour controls local councils, households pay on average £350 less than those living in Tory areas. The average council tax per dwelling in Labour council areas is £1,169 comparedto £1,520 in Tory council areas. The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives has called the fairer funding formula decision “perverse”. Even before this new formula kicks in, councils are losing out now. A Conservative council leader said earlier this year:
“we are really, really short of money...I mean there is no money” for him to run his services. What does the Prime Minister say to local authorities struggling to make ends meet while her Government continue to underfund the vital services they deliver?
We have over the years asked local councils to take some difficult decisions in relation to living within our means. Why did we have to do that? We had to do that because we were left the biggest deficit in our peacetime history by the last Labour Government.
A political choice to impose austerity on local government has hit the poorest and worst-off the hardest in every one of our communities across the country. Since 2010, 50p of every £1 has been stripped from local authorities by her Government. That is the reality of what life is like for those trying to deliver services.
The evidence is clear: the Tories have abandoned communities across the country. They have left towns and cities to fend for themselves after nine years of vindictive, damaging austerity: 1,000 fewer Sure Start centres—one of the greatest achievements of the last Government; 760 fewer youth centres; and a social care system in absolute crisis. Child poverty is up. Violent crime is up. Homelessness and rough sleeping is also up. This Government stand for tax cuts for the richest and swingeing cuts for the rest. Will the Prime Minister now admit that far from tackling the “burning injustices” that she talked about, her Government’s cruel and unfair policies have pushed councils to the brink and left those “just about managing” not being able to manage at all? That is her legacy.
I am proud to lead a Government who have seen more children in good schools, more doctors, more jobs, lower borrowing, lower unemployment and lower taxes—that is Conservatives delivering across the country for everyone. What would we see with a Labour Government under the right hon. Gentleman? We would see them destroying our defences and abandoning our allies, billions more in borrowing, fewer opportunities and higher taxes for everyone. That is a Labour future and we will never let it happen.
Some argue for completely free markets and self-regulation by big business, but this can lead to harmful content and extreme views being promoted. The tech giants who act as publishers have shown that without regulation they will not act. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the publication of the Online Harms White Paper and support the levelling of the playing field between print and broadcast media and the tech giants?
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point that matters to people up and down the country. The internet can be absolutely brilliant at connecting people and providing them with information, and connecting people not just nationally but across the world, but for too long the companies have not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people, from harmful content. That is not good enough, and that is why we have listened to campaigners and parents. We are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Culture Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the work that they have done on this issue. Online companies must start taking responsibility for their platforms and help restore public trust in their technology.
Today, as we know, is the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement—a peace accord that not only ended violence in Northern Ireland but brought stability for all of us living throughout the United Kingdom. Brexit threatens to undermine that—to drag us out of the most successful peace project in history: the European Union. What a tragedy. It is now one week since talks began between the Tory Government and the Labour party. I want to ask the Prime Minister: at any point during these talks, has a second referendum been offered on the Government side of the negotiating table—yes or no, Prime Minister?
My position on a second referendum and the Government’s position has not changed. The House has rejected a second referendum two times. When we come to a deal, we will have to ensure that legislation goes through this House. Of course, it may be that there are those in this House who wish to press that issue as that legislation goes through, but my position on this has not changed.
It was a very simple question: has a referendum been offered—yes or no? People cannot have faith in a backroom deal cooked up by two leaders who do not possess the ingredients to hold their parties together, never mind hold these islands together. Scotland will not be forced to accept what these two Brexit parties are preparing to serve up. There is no such thing as a good Brexit. There is no such thing as a good Tory-Labour Brexit deal. The Prime Minister must recognise the difference between what she believes is duty, but what the rest of us see as delusion. In her final days as Prime Minister, will she accept the EU offer of a long extension, accept that she has run out of road, and accept that the only choice now is to put this back to the people?
As I have said, I have made my position clear. I think it is a little difficult for many of us in the House to see the right hon. Gentleman, week after week, stand up and say that the UK should stay in the European Union, given that Scottish independence would have meant taking Scotland out of the European Union. [Interruption.]
Order. There is a lot of noise. Let us hear Dr Murrison.
Surplus waste incinerator capacity is taking pressure off efforts to reuse, recycle and reduce waste. Will the Government strengthen their bid to host the 2020 United Nations climate change conference by putting a moratorium on new incinerator, gasification and pyrolysis applications, including the one in Westbury, in my constituency?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and for highlighting the fact that we are bidding to host COP26. The issue of incineration is crucial, particularly in certain local areas. We want to maximise the amount of waste that is sent to recycling rather than to incineration and landfill. Waste plants continue to play an important role in reducing the amount of rubbish that is sent to landfill, and we welcome the efforts to drive it down further. but if wider policies do not deliver our waste ambitions in the future—including those higher recycling rates—we will consider introducing a tax on the incineration of waste, which would operate in conjunction with the landfill tax and would take into account the possible impact on local authorities.
Charlie Foster, one of my young constituents—aged seven—has cystic fibrosis. When he has an attack, he feels as if he is breathing through a straw. I have never tried the test, but I will when I get back to my constituency. Young people are suffering very badly because a drug called Orkambi has not been licensed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. It increases the lung capacity of these kids by 42%, and it stops them having to be sent straight to hospital when they have an attack. Will the Prime Minister try to get that drug across the line, and give kids like Charlie Foster a better quality of life?
Let me say first that I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with Charlie and his family.
We recognise the significant concerns about access to this drug. On
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has produced an excellent report on leasehold reform. As a result of the doubling of ground rents, outrageous charges for permissions for minor improvements, and the absolute scandal of developers’ selling freeholds without even contacting leaseholders, the market is broken. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot rely on voluntary codes to put this right, and that we need legislation to restore fairness to the housing market?
I thank the Select Committee for its report, and I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he has championed housing issues. His Act is already having an effect on homelessness reduction.
We have committed ourselves to legislation to reduce ground rent on future leases to a peppercorn. As for current leaseholders, we have been working with the industry to ensure that existing leases with onerous ground rent terms are changed to a better deal. Leaseholders of flats have a right of first refusal when their freeholders are planning to sell the properties, and we are considering introducing a right of first refusal for house lessees as well. Last year we made a commitment to consider a range of charges facing leaseholders and freeholders, including permission fees, and to consider in what circumstances they are justified and whether they should be capped or banned. I have asked Lord Best to chair a working group to look into the regulating and professionalising of property agents.
We are considering the Committee’s report carefully, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: if we believe that a market is not working properly, we should act to deal with that.
The Prime Minister will be aware of the Channel 4 “Dispatches” investigation aired last week into the extent of the involvement of both BAE and British military personnel in the tragic war in Yemen. In the programme, it was claimed that BAE carries out 95% of the preparations for Typhoon bombing raids, including the one that killed 40 schoolchildren in August 2018. Will the Government act now to review arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and British complicity in these bombings?
We have one of the toughest regimes in relation to the export of arms across the world. The hon. Lady references the situation in Yemen. We are very clear that that cannot go on. It is four years since the beginning of that devastating conflict, and there needs to be a political settlement. We are working with and backing work that is being done by the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths. The parties have made significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase 1 of the redeployment of forces from Hodeidah, and we are urging all parties to honour the agreements that were made in Stockholm. Our total bilateral commitment to Yemen since the start of the conflict now stands at £717 million. We are backing the UN peace process. The coalition is there and, as has been acknowledged by the United Nations, it is there at the request of the Government of Yemen. We have been backing the United Nations peace process and will continue to do so, and we will continue to provide humanitarian support to the people of Yemen.
Children in Shrewsbury receive, on average, £4,350 per annum for their education. Their counterparts in Hackney receive over 50% more, at £6,590. These huge regional differences in funding for our schools are leading to real problems in Shropshire in supporting children with special educational needs and with the fabric of our school buildings. When will this Conservative Government finally tackle the huge differences in regional funding for our schools?
We are obviously working to improve education for every child, regardless of what part of the country they live in or their background. As I made clear earlier, we are putting more funding into our schools through to 2020. We have recently announced an extra £250 million over two years for the high needs budget, together with extra money for children with special educational needs. My hon. Friend references the funding formula and the distribution of funds. The new national funding formula is about distributing funds more fairly, and historically underfunded schools will be receiving the biggest increases, of up to 6% per pupil, this year through the schools formula. We will also be allocating additional funding to small, remote schools that play an essential part in rural communities. We have recognised the need to introduce a fairer funding formula, and that is what we are doing.
In 2010, when the Conservative party took office, child poverty had been falling continuously in Preston for 16 years. Today, according to Government figures, 38% of children in Preston—that is nearly 8,000 kids—are living in poverty. Food banks are being overrun, and what is accelerating that demand? It is the roll-out of universal credit from July 2018. When will the Prime Minister scrap universal credit?
The way to ensure that we develop a sustainable solution to poverty is to have a strong economy and a welfare system that helps people into work. That is what universal credit does—200,000 more people in work as a result of introducing universal credit. Work is the best route out of poverty. The evidence is that a child growing up in a home where all the adults work is around five times less likely to be in poverty than a child from a home where nobody works. We are making sure that we encourage people into the workplace. There are more jobs out there, more people in work, a record level of people in employment. Work is the best route out of poverty.
On Monday, a constituent contacted me to tell me that three men armed with a knife had tried to rob his 15-year-old son as he walked from a friend’s home in a neighbouring borough. He expressed his frustration that police stations are closing and that he never seems to see police on the beat any longer. To keep our young people safe, is it not time that the Mayor of London reversed his decision to close Barnet police station and others in the London suburbs?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that decisions about the closure of police stations across London are a matter for the Mayor of London. We have been protecting police funding. This year, there will be almost £1 billion extra available for the police, and the Metropolitan police are receiving up to £2.7 billion in funding in 2019-20—an increase on last year. We will always ensure that the police have the powers and resources that they need, but it is important that people recognise the responsibilities of the police and crime commissioners and the decisions they take. In London, that is the Labour Mayor of London.
Mr Speaker, I really think it would be unwise of me to mention any hotels in the highlands this week. At Dounreay in Caithness in my constituency, we have a skills pool that is second to none. As Dounreay continues to decommission, it is vital that we redeploy those skills to the maximum benefit of the local economy and the UK economy. Can the Prime Minister give me an undertaking that the Government will work very closely with the management at Dounreay, the relevant local trade unions and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to make sure that redeployment of skills actually happens to the benefit of the UK?
I recognise that this must be a time of concern for staff at Dounreay. It is important that we recognise the skills that have been developed there and make sure we take every opportunity to put them to the benefit not just of local people but, as the hon. Gentleman says, of the United Kingdom. We welcome Dounreay Site Restoration’s statement of support for its staff and its intention to support them through a transition into other employment. I understand that it will develop training and support programmes to put individuals in the strongest possible position to move into another local job in one of the growing local industries, such as space, which the hon. Gentleman has referenced in previous Prime Minister’s questions, or renewable energy.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Government’s commitment. We remain absolutely committed to supporting the region and the staff affected. We will continue to work with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, Cavendish Nuclear, Jacobs and AECOM during this time.
The “Access for All” programme championed by this Conservative Government is helping more disabled people, elderly people and people with prams and pushchairs to access our stations with greater ease. After my campaign in Southport, Hillside station was the successful recipient of some of that funding. Will my right hon. Friend do more in that area so more of our stations right across the country truly give access for all?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his successful campaign to get that access at Hillside station. We need to continue the programme of opening up routes for disabled people by ensuring they have access to stations. We are moving closer to a transport sector that is truly accessible. The changes that will take place at Hillside are an example of that. If the programme continues to be delivered successfully, the Department for Transport will make submissions for further funding in due course. It is absolutely clear that we are providing extra opportunities for disabled people. I am pleased to say that 900,000 more disabled people are now in the workplace. Access is important for them. The campaigns that my hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Friends have run to get access to their stations are an important part of that.
In wishing the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday, I call Luke Pollard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As you may know, there are 53 Mondays this year on which rent is due for people who pay their rent weekly, but there are only 52 universal credit payments this year. The Department for Work and Pensions has acknowledged that that is a problem it is awaiting Government action on. Will the Prime Minister confirm that she recognises that problem and that she will act to ensure that people do not need to find an extra week’s rent or go into debt because of that entirely predictable universal credit fault?
Of course no year contains 53 weeks, so if somebody pays a 53rd rent payment in a year, it will cover some days in the subsequent year and mean that the following month has only four payment dates. As such, the claimant will be overpaid for their housing, and a shortfall is immediately recovered. It is about the way in which the days fall and making sure the system works for everybody.
If the Prime Minister is seeking a year-long extension to Brexit, does she not recognise that that would cost the British taxpayer over £1 billion a month in subscriptions to the EU? Does she not agree that that funding would be better spent on tackling crime, or funding schools and even tax cuts for my constituents and others up and down the country?
I am pressing the case for the extension that I wrote to Donald Tusk about last week, which was in fact endorsed by Parliament last night. We could actually have been outside the European Union by now, if we had managed to get the deal through. I am continuing to work to ensure that we can deliver Brexit in a way that works for people across the country.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I am proud of the Government achieving. We see more people in work than ever before. We have seen tax cuts for 32 million people, we are seeing wages rising, the deficit falling and debt coming down. We are restoring this country’s finances to build a brighter future for all our constituents.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am very happy to congratulate Ruth Cairnie on achieving that role as chairman of Babcock. The Government have been working and have done a lot since 2010 to see more women on the boards of companies, as that is very important. The greater the diversity we have on those boards, the better those companies will do.
Before the Prime Minister’s visit to Brussels, I have a little light reading for her. It is a graph of police funding from the Government, in Gwent. It shows clearly that police funding is going down, not up. Will she study this carefully, and come back to the House with an accurate statement about what is really happening to police funding in this country?
We have been protecting police funding since 2015. This financial year, nearly £1 billion extra is available to police, and we have indeed put extra money into police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the £100 million extra that is going into key areas in relation to dealing with knife crime, and we have been protecting police funding since 2015.
I am happy to welcome the contribution that the Indian diaspora make to our country. My hon. Friend has referenced the economic contribution they make through their taxes, but many of them run successful businesses that employ people up and down the country, many of them are successfully exporting from this country and supporting our economy, and they also play an important role in our society. I am very happy to welcome that and to congratulate them on it.
This Friday, young people across the UK will again be calling for more urgent action on the climate emergency. So far every party leader except the Prime Minister has agreed to meet members of this extraordinary uprising. Following a speech at Davos and a meeting with Pope Francis, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who sparked this global uprising, will visit Parliament on 23 April. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet Greta and hear direct from young people when she is here?
The hon. Lady asks whether I will meet and hear direct from young people about the issues they are concerned about in relation to the environment and climate change. I do that, and this gives me an opportunity to congratulate a school in my own constituency, St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, which has won five green flag awards in the past 10 years and last year won the first ever national green heart hero award. I assure her that I often hear young people tell of the importance of climate change. This Government have a fine record on climate change. One day, the hon. Lady will actually stand up in this House and welcome the efforts that this Government have made.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is still this Government’s firm commitment to leave the common fisheries policy and to negotiate as an independent coastal state no later than December 2020?
I thank my hon. Friend; he has been consistent in his campaigning on this issue, which I know is of great importance to his constituents. We remain committed to establishing fairer fishing policies that truly work for coastal communities. The deal that we have agreed with the European Union would see the UK leave the common fisheries policy, providing the UK with full control of its waters as an independent coastal state. We remain committed to coming out of the common fisheries policy.
The Department for Work and Pensions has stated in ministerial responses to written questions that
“Universal Credit should not leave councils out of pocket”,
yet despite Highland Council providing evidence to show costs of £2.5 million, including £640,000 in additional administration, it still has no offer from the Prime Minister’s Government. They are doing a runner, and every household in the highlands is bearing the costs of universal credit. Is it not time that her Government paid their bill?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers I gave earlier in relation to universal credit and the importance of this system, which is encouraging people into work—200,000 more people are in work under universal credit and 700,000 people are getting money that they were entitled to but not receiving before. Universal credit is helping people into work and making sure that work pays.
My constituents, Mark and Panna Wilson, have a little son, Aadi, who has the terrible condition of spinal muscular atrophy. He desperately needs the life-changing drug Spinraza, which is available in many other countries. I know that the Health Secretary is working on this urgently. Will the Prime Minister intervene to create a new route to market for this important drug, so that my constituents can get the life-saving treatment that their son needs?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. Obviously, as he will appreciate, it is important that we ensure, first, that patients get access to cost-effective innovative medicines, but at a price that is fair and makes best use of NHS resources. That is the independent system that we have through the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which reviews the evidence. I understand that Biogen has submitted a revised submission to NICE in relation to Spinraza and that a meeting of NICE’s independent appraisal committee took place early in March to consider its recommendations. It is clear that everyone at the Department of Health and Social Care and in NICE recognises the significance of this drug, but we need to ensure that the decision taken is made on the basis of the clinical aspects, together with cost-effectiveness. That is what NICE will do in looking at the new offer.
When Melrose Industries took over GKN last year, it promised Ministers that it would back British manufacturing and not reduce the company’s defence capacity without the Government’s permission. Last week, GKN announced that it intended to close the Kings Norton plant, which makes windscreens for military and civilian aircraft. Will the Prime Minister tell GKN that the Government expect the company to abide by both the spirit and the letter of the undertakings given by Melrose last year?
I was not aware of the particular issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. If I may, I will look into it and respond to him in writing.