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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Service of Northern Ireland

1. What discussions she has had with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive on ensuring the Police Service of Northern Ireland is adequately resourced. (905664)

May I first convey to the House the apologies of the Northern Ireland Minister who is chairing cross-party talks in Stormont today?

It is for the Executive to ensure that the PSNI is properly resourced, and the Government have provided significant additional funding to tackle terrorism, totalling £231 million. We are now working with the PSNI to understand the impact that funding reductions imposed by the Northern Ireland Executive will have on its ability to police the terrorist threat.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is experiencing budgetary shortfalls that the Chief Constable has said will leave it “unrecognisable”, and “put lives at risk.” What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that budget cuts to the PSNI do not undermine the peace process or put lives at risk?

This is a very serious matter, and as the hon. Lady has said, the Chief Constable is concerned about the extent of the reductions proposed. A real concern is that a number of the cuts are in-year cuts, which makes achieving them through efficiency reforms very difficult. The Government will continue to support the PSNI with substantial extra security funding, but the Chief Constable now believes that the reductions proposed by the Executive will impact on his ability to police terrorism. We are working closely with him to ascertain exactly what that impact will be, and to see what steps can be taken to mitigate it.

13. I pay tribute to the PSNI, which does a marvellous job in very difficult circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend consider whether it would be assisted by the National Crime Agency operating in Northern Ireland, and in particular by tackling the gangs that are still operating down in South Armagh—the same gangs that used to shoot and murder British soldiers, and that are still trying to murder police officers? They should be brought to book by the NCA. (905676)

I agree with my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the PSNI, and allowing the NCA to operate with its full remit in Northern Ireland is essential if we are to combat organised crime effectively. This matter does impact on PSNI funding, because its inability to receive the full support of the NCA and having to do the work that the NCA would otherwise do for it places additional pressures on the PSNI.

The Secretary of State will be aware that due to budget cuts the PSNI has effectively ceased all investigations into historical crimes associated with the troubles. Does she accept that that places a greater responsibility on all political parties to agree new mechanisms to deal with the past that put the needs of victims and their families first?

It is very important that political parties in Northern Ireland find a way to agree a fresh approach to the past, and that is one reason why cross-party talks have been convened. We need to listen to the needs of victims, and we must also understand the increasing pressure on the PSNI and the criminal justice system. I believe it is important that we find a way forward on that, not least to relieve pressure on the PSNI so that it can concentrate on the important policing needs of today.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that she will be having discussions with the Executive about Operation Red Field?

I have regular discussions with the PSNI on the question of on-the-runs and Operation Red Field, and I will do so again. It is crucial that the Executive parties reach an agreement on the budget for next year, and that they take into account the crucial importance of appropriate resourcing for the PSNI, and of course the cost of policing the past.

The PSNI certainly needs to have adequate resources, not least to ensure that there are full and proper investigations into the continuing scandals involving Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein in relation to cases of sexual abuse, paedophilia, cover up, and the exiling of people from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic. Does the Secretary of State agree that no amount of waffle or self-serving platitudes from Gerry Adams or the Sinn Fein leadership can distract or take away from the awfulness of those crimes, and the need for them to be brought fully to light?

Any abuse or sex crime is appalling, and I entirely share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the allegations made by Mairia Cahill. It is genuinely a very shocking, disturbing and distressing case, and all such crimes, whether the acts themselves or any purported cover-up, need to be fully investigated by the police. An independent review is set to take place into the way the original case around the allegations made by Mairia Cahill was handled.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her reply and for her reference to the independent investigation by Keir Starmer into Mairia Cahill’s allegations. However, does she understand the concern and anger of people right across the community in Northern Ireland in relation to the allegations against Gerry Adams about the cover-up of the sexual abuse by his brother and his refusal to go to the police or to alert people about what was going on within Sinn Fein and the republican movement, putting other children and young people at risk? We still have not had the publication of the report by the Public Prosecution Service or the police ombudsman. Does she accept that there can be no whitewash of the black sins of Sinn Fein in relation to sexual abuse and paedophilia?

These are indeed shocking crimes and shocking allegations. I certainly would urge Sinn Fein to answer all the questions that have been put to them about this very disturbing case.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is quite intolerable for my constituents in Aldershot who served with the Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland to read in the newspapers that, because of lack of resources in the PSNI, so-called historic crimes will no longer be investigated or are in doubt? It is grossly unfair to my constituents, who have served this country to the best of their ability to try to keep the peace between the warring parties, still to be living with the threat, nearly 60 years on, of prosecution.

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are many people who will suffer as a result of the announcements in recent days in relation to delays in legacy matters and criminal justice in Northern Ireland. That is an important reason to press ahead with a fresh approach on the past, to be agreed through the cross-party talks, but it is also a crucial reason for the Executive to agree a budget and to make sure that they give appropriate priority to the need for police resources when they reach that agreement.

May I just gently point out to the House that we have a lot of questions to get through and we need to speed up?

Parades: Disputes Panel

2. What the geographical remit will be of the recently announced panel to discuss parading disputes in Northern Ireland. (905665)

The proposal I announced on 7 October relates to disputed parades in the Twaddell and Ardoyne area of north Belfast, responding to the call by the Parades Commission for a wider, more structured process to address the issues around parades in the area.

I thank the Secretary of State for that clarification, but does she agree that resolution also needs to be found to the dispute in Drumcree in my constituency, which has been ongoing for the past 16 years?

I recognise the grave disappointment that the hon. Gentleman and many in the Unionist and loyalist community feel about the situation in relation to that parade. It is important for all sides, wherever there is a dispute about a parade, to engage in a local dialogue to try to take things forward. In many parts of Northern Ireland that has proved successful in taking the tension out of parading and reaching an agreement with local residents affected.

On parading, does the Secretary of State agree that the current political paralysis in Northern Ireland is undermining already shaky local faith in its elected politicians? Although I wish the Secretary of State well, I do not believe that the Prime Minister has been engaging closely or energetically enough with the parties to ensure that the 2007 settlement remains in good faith. I make no party point on this: from experience, I know that Northern Ireland needs constant care and attention from No. 10 and I hope it will now get that.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that Northern Ireland does get constant care and attention from the Prime Minister, not just with his decision to bring the G8 to Northern Ireland, but everyday in focusing on the security situation and repairing the Northern Ireland economy and, of course, by closely following these talks. I agree that it is vital that we do not let disputes about parades, painful though they are, get in the way of the need to reach resolution on important issues such as the budget, flags and reform of parading decisions.

Economy

The Government’s long-term economic plan is working for Northern Ireland. Unemployment is falling and economic activity is increasing. We continue to work with the Executive on our shared objective to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy.

The Northern Ireland science park recently published figures showing that the knowledge economy in Northern Ireland grew by 33% over the past five years, which is better than pretty much every other region in the UK. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that science and technology play a massive role in the future of the Northern Ireland economy?

The economic pact signed between the Government and the Executive contained an important programme to support aerospace research with Bombardier and to promote Northern Ireland’s economic activity in the aerospace and space sector. That work is going well and will continue.

News that the economy in Northern Ireland is growing is extremely welcome, especially with the increase in employment, but one potential drag on it might be the shortage of HGV drivers. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to encourage young people to take up training opportunities to become such drivers?

These are matters for the Northern Ireland Executive, but the UK Government recognise the crucial importance of the haulage industry, which is one of the reasons why we have frozen fuel duty, which is saving the haulage industry millions of pounds every year.

The Government cite city deals as a way to support the economy in the cities and regions on this island. If the Executive put forward a proposition for a city deal for Derry, would the Secretary of State work with the Treasury and other colleagues to support and deliver that deal as a way of implementing a lot of the key targets of the One Plan?

The economic pact between the Executive and the Government was modelled on some of the approaches we take with city deals, but I would be delighted to talk to the hon. Gentleman about any proposals he might have to replicate the city deal model for Derry/Londonderry.

The Secretary of State will agree that the current political paralysis has a corrosive impact on business confidence and therefore the Northern Ireland economy. Can she clarify whether the all-party talks she is chairing are dealing with all issues simultaneously that are causing the stalemate or focusing exclusively on the budget crisis?

The talks are dealing with a long list of issues. We have taken them day by day—we did the budget, then we moved on to the legacy issues of flags, parades and the past. We will be looking at institutional questions today, and there are also proposals to look at unfinished businesses from the Belfast agreement. All these issues are important, but most crucial is that the budget is agreed, so that it is no longer causing instability in the Northern Ireland institutions.

Economic inactivity and worklessness are major underlying causes of instability and insecurity in Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State therefore undertake to ensure that the Northern Ireland Office gives its full support to the Heenan-Anderson commission, which we have established with a brief to come up with proposals for how the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive can tackle the problems of worklessness in a more effective way?

I am certainly prepared to look at whatever findings that body comes up with. I was slightly surprised to see that Deirdre Heenan had tweeted that Labour did not have any policies, which I thought was quite an unusual start to the commission’s work. It is important to recognise that in this country we have had the largest annual fall in unemployment since records began. In Northern Ireland, the claimant count has fallen for 21 consecutive months. That is providing more peace of mind and security for thousands of people in Northern Ireland and it is the result of the Government’s long-term economic plan.

Youth Unemployment

The October labour market survey reports that the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland for 18 to 24-year-olds has come down 4.2 percentage points over the year. The Government’s policy of reducing the largest structural deficit in UK peacetime history is delivering a sustainable economic recovery and assisting young people into employment.

As the Secretary of State will know, youth unemployment is still stubbornly high in Northern Ireland. Jobs Growth Wales has created 12,000 opportunities for young people living in Wales. Has she had the chance to study the programme with the Executive, with the hope of adopting it?

The Government are working hard to support a balanced economic recovery right across the United Kingdom. We welcome the fact that the UK economy is now growing faster than any major developed economy and that we have seen record falls in unemployment. We will continue to work hard on reducing the deficit, keeping mortgage rates low and reducing business taxes to encourage employers to take on more people in the workplace, particularly young people.

9. PricewaterhouseCoopers has noted that unemployment in Northern Ireland is falling at half the rate of the rest of the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State discuss with the Northern Ireland Executive some specific proposals, such as Labour’s plan for a one-year national insurance tax break for all small firms that take on new workers? Would that not help to promote employment in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK? (905672)

We are doing better than that. We are actually cutting national insurance contributions for employers across the whole of the United Kingdom. As from April, employers in Northern Ireland—just as in the rest of the UK—will not pay any national insurance contributions at all on the people they employ who are under 21. That is real action, helping young people in Northern Ireland into jobs.

Young people in Northern Ireland can be exploited rather than given employment opportunities. Tomorrow night in Londonderry an event is scheduled to mark the 40th anniversary of a young man of 16, having been recruited to the IRA, killing himself in a bomb explosion. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that Sinn Fein representatives in Northern Ireland should be helping to create employment opportunities for young people rather than trying to rewrite history about a small number of young people being given instructions to carry out bomb attacks who ended up destroying their own lives and the lives of others?

I urge anyone who is planning any form of commemoration to consider the impacts of their decisions and choices on people from all sides of the community. I certainly have concerns about the sort of commemoration to which the hon. Gentleman referred. As well as addressing matters relating to the past, it is important for both the Executive and the UK Government to focus strongly on sustaining the recovery in Northern Ireland’s economy. It is going well—unemployment is falling—but there is, of course, more to do to tackle youth unemployment. This Government will continue to do so through their long-term economic plan.

Welfare Reform

5. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the non-implementation of welfare reform on the Northern Ireland Executive’s budget. (905668)

The failure of the Executive to implement welfare reform means that Northern Ireland is retaining a system that too often fails the people it is supposed to help by trapping them in dependency and discouraging work. This failure also means that financial savings are being forgone and other areas of public spending in Northern Ireland are being cut as a result—for example, the budget for policing and justice.

I think I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that garbled answer. Will she confirm that she is in agreement with all the Northern Ireland parties that the bedroom tax is a pernicious policy? Given that, will she tell us what proportion of the overall budget cuts proposed for Northern Ireland are directly related to the non-implementation of welfare reform?

I believe that of the £87 million of savings forgone for this year, around £16 million relates to the spare room subsidy, which is all about fairness to ensure that the rules for the social sector are the same as those for the private rented sector. I do not think that is an unreasonable position. The reality is that our welfare reforms are about encouraging people into work, reforming the system to ensure that work always pays and ending the perversities and arbitrary cliff edges that saw people trapped on benefits under the old system, which Labour manifestly failed to reform.

Sinn Fein MPs claim to be fighting welfare reform. When did the Secretary of State last directly challenge Sinn Fein MPs to come to this House, to take up their places and to fight it from these Benches? If they are not prepared to do that, when is she going to remove the £600,000 a year they receive for not coming to this House?

I think it would be far better if Sinn Fein took their seats. That would give them the opportunity to debate these important Northern Ireland matters. I know that the contribution of all the Northern Ireland parties who take their seats in this House to the debate on welfare reform was very much welcomed. Now is the time to get on with this. Failing to implement welfare reform is putting severe pressures on departmental spending in a range of other areas for the Executive, including policing.

National Crime Agency

Justice Minister Ford has submitted a paper to the political parties which sets out enhanced accountability arrangements for the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland. I would urge all parties in the Executive to accept the full implementation of the NCA’s remit without further delay.

Bearing in mind last week’s statement by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) that the consequences of not acting on the NCA was potentially devastating, with drugs and violence on our streets, children being abused and vulnerable people defrauded, how can the Secretary of State justify that Minister going on to say

“If agreement is not reached, we will have to accept that the NCA will not be fully operational for the foreseeable future”?—[Official Report, 22 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 967.]

Surely that is an intolerable situation, handing a veto to Sinn Fein.

The Government take their obligations under the devolution settlement very seriously, but there is no escaping the fact that this is a matter for the political parties in Northern Ireland to decide, and that choice has consequences. As the hon. Gentleman said, the decision by the two nationalist parties to reject the NCA’s remit means criminals not arrested, assets not seized, and victims suffering.

Order. These are very important matters appertaining to Northern Ireland. Let us have a bit of quiet for Lady Hermon.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. That was very gracious of you.

In the absence of the operation of the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland, what steps are this Government taking to ensure that Northern Ireland does not again become a honeypot for human traffickers, drug traffickers and other gangs of organised criminals?

We have been working with the NCA, Minister Ford and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to ensure that the NCA can do everything possible to help Northern Ireland, within the constraints of being able to operate only within the devolved field. It is able to do some work on human trafficking, for example, and significant effort has gone into ensuring that it can take over the cases involving proceeds of crime that it inherited from the Serious Organised Crime Agency. We are doing all that we can to maximise the support that the NCA can give in Northern Ireland, within the limitations set by the Executive.

Unemployment

8. What steps she is taking to ensure that the change in Northern Ireland’s unemployment rates is similar to that of the rest of the UK. (905671)

Northern Ireland’s claimant count has fallen for 21 consecutive months, which shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan is working. The latest labour market survey shows that the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland is 6.1%, which is only marginally higher than the United Kingdom figure.

As the Secretary of State well knows, unemployment has been reduced in parts of Northern Ireland, but we can do more. The agri-industry in my constituency can provide more jobs if it is helped to do so, and the same applies to the pharmaceutical industry and tourism. What can the Secretary of State do, along with other Ministers here on the mainland, to enable those sectors to expand and provide more employment for young people and those aged over 50?

One of the main ways in which we can help is through the tax system. That is why we have cut corporation tax, which will be the lowest in the G20 by April, and why we are cutting job taxes for employers for the benefit of, in particular, young unemployed people. We think that it is vital for more people to have the security of a pay packet to take home to their families, and our tax policy has been driven by that.

Parades Commission

10. What the cost to her Department was of the Parades Commission in each of the last five years. (905673)

The cost of the Parades Commission was £1.01 million in 2013-14. In the preceding four years it was £1.37 million, £0.93 million, £1.07 million and £1.01 million respectively.

Rather than reducing the tension surrounding parades, the Parades Commission has actually contributed to further tension because of its bias against the Orange Order, its incompetence, and its propensity to give in to republican protesters. Does the Secretary of State agree that we now need a root-and-branch change in the way in which contentious parades are dealt with in Northern Ireland?

The Parades Commission faces a hugely difficult task in adjudicating on highly sensitive parades, and I think that it performs that task well. If the political parties in Northern Ireland want a different system for parading, that is open to them, but the only way in which to achieve that is to get round the table and consider future reform in the cross-party talks that are now under way.

Cross-Party Talks

11. What lessons have been learnt from the previous talks processes, and what outcomes she expects from the current round of talks. (905674)

Previous talks processes have demonstrated what can be achieved when political parties engage seriously and constructively, and are prepared to make difficult decisions in order to reach an accommodation.

The lack of serious political engagement in the current round of talks, which is characterised by the fact that parties are still squabbling over whether or not they are attending the talks, does not bode well for the future. Meanwhile, in my constituency, a young man has been hospitalised with head injuries, police officers have been injured, and pensioners have been terrified in their own homes after three successive nights of violence. What sanctions will the Secretary of State impose on the parties that fail to show the will to resolve the outstanding issues in this process?

It is important that all the five parties are engaging in this talks process, and I would encourage them to take this very seriously. It is crucial that we find a way forward on these matters. I wholeheartedly condemn what has gone on in the hon. Lady’s constituency not just over the last few days but over a series of weeks. There have been continuing problems with that interface. It is utterly disgraceful that the teenage boy was hospitalised as a result of this sectarian violence, and I hope it will be tackled with the full force of the law.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.

As I walked to Parliament this morning past the increasing numbers of people who are sleeping on Victoria street pavement, I reflected that this Government are the first since the 1920s to have presided over a real-terms fall in average wages for their people. Is this record of failure really the best this Prime Minister can offer to the United Kingdom?

What we have actually seen under this Government is a record fall in the number of unemployed people over the last year. Also, the hon. Gentleman might want to make reference to the fact that this morning, the Office for National Statistics has produced the figures to show that the number of workless households going down by 671,000 in our country. The number of children growing up in a home where nobody works is down by 387,000. What that means is all those children growing up seeing one of their parents going out to work, putting food on the table, providing for that family, proving a role model for their children. That is a record to be proud of.

Nicola Sturgeon this morning has called for a separate majority for Scotland in the event of an EU referendum, which is a reserved matter in respect of the Scotland Act 1998. Will the Prime Minister refuse her request—or demand—and will he also condemn the Liberal Democrats for what appears to be a veto over our referendum Bill?

We are one United Kingdom, there will be one in/out referendum and that will be decided on a majority of those who vote. That is how the rules should work. I am very disappointed that we will not be able to take forward the referendum Bill in this Parliament—it was not possible to get agreement on a money resolution—but people should be in no doubt: if they want an in/out referendum, there is only one way to get it, and that is to return a Conservative Government.

A vital tool that has helped to bring murderers, rapists and paedophiles to justice is the European arrest warrant. Why is the Prime Minister delaying having a vote on it?

I am not delaying having a vote on it. There will be a vote on it. We need, in order to have a vote on it, the small matter of a negotiation to take place within Europe, which up to now the Spanish have been blocking. I think the Spanish will shortly remove their block, and at that moment we will be able to have a vote.

We all know the reason why the Prime Minister is not having a vote: it is the by-election in Rochester and Strood. He is paralysed by fear of another Back-Bench rebellion on Europe. So I want to make an offer to him. We have a Labour Opposition day next week. We will give him the time for a vote on the European arrest warrant, and we will help him to get it through.

There is only one problem with the right hon. Gentleman’s second question: we are going to have a vote, we going to have it before the Rochester by-election—his questions have just collapsed.

All I can say is that I look forward to us walking through the Lobby together to vote for the European arrest warrant: two parties working together in the national interest—or maybe, given the Prime Minister’s Back Benchers, one and a half parties working together in the national interest.

Turning from Home Office dithering to Home Office incompetence, can the Prime Minister explain why the number of asylum applicants awaiting a decision has risen by 70% in the last year?

First of all, let me just add some details of the vote on the European arrest warrant, because this is an important issue. What we have achieved with the Justice and Home Affairs opt-out is the biggest transfer of power from Brussels back to Britain by opting out of over 100 measures, but it is important that we take action to keep Britain safe, particularly from serious criminals and terrorists, and the European arrest warrant offers the best way of doing that. I would stress to those who are concerned about this that the European arrest warrant is very different from the arrest warrant that was first introduced under the last Labour Government. A person cannot now be extradited for something that is not a crime in Britain, and judges are now able to reject European arrest warrants and have done so in many cases. Nor can a person be extradited if there is going to be a long period of detention. These are all important considerations.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is looking forward to walking through the Lobby with somebody, because he has had rather a lonely week, with the loss of his leader in Scotland, the total shambles in Yorkshire and all the other problems that he has. His next question was, I think, about asylum and immigration. Let me just say that we inherited from Labour a complete and utter shambles: a Department that was not fit for purpose, computer programmes that did not work and an immigration system that was a complete mess. Before he asks his next question, he might want to apologise for the mess that Labour made.

On this day of all days, there is only one person who should be apologising on immigration, and it is the right hon. Gentleman, for his total failure. He is not putting it right; he is making it worse. Since 2010, the backlog has gone up, not down, and this Government have wasted £1 billion on failed IT projects and lost track of 50,000 people. What was his promise before the election? He said that he would reduce net immigration to tens of thousands a year. What is net migration now?

Net migration is down a quarter from its peak under Labour, and net migration from outside the European Union is down to its lowest level since 1998. The right hon. Gentleman talks about records; I am happy to contrast our records any time. Under Labour, net migration quadrupled and 2.5 million extra people came into our country. In 2004, Labour gave eight new European countries unrestricted access to our labour markets. He forgot to mention immigration in his conference speech altogether. And of course there was that remark by Peter Mandelson admitting that the last Labour Government sent out “search parties” to look for extra migrants to bring to this country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman again: get up and apologise for your record.

The right hon. Gentleman could not tell us the figure. He made a promise of tens of thousands, but it is now 243,000. He published his contract with the British people at the election. On immigration, he said:

“If we don’t deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years’ time.”

Why does he not just own up? He has broken his promise.

We have cut immigration from outside the EU by a third, we have closed down 700 bogus colleges and we have introduced new rules on benefits—all this clearing up the shocking shambles and mess left by the last Labour Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman just accept one thing—namely, that in 2004, the decision to allow every single new member state to come to Britain was a catastrophically bad decision? We opposed it at the time and I ask him again: will he apologise for that appalling decision?

The right hon. Gentleman has been Prime Minister for four and a half years, and it has got worse, not better. On immigration, this Government combine callousness with incompetence. They do not show basic humanity, saying that rescuing drowning people is a “pull factor” for immigration, and they are so incompetent that they cannot deliver their basic promises. Why does he not just admit that, on immigration, he has failed?

On immigration, we inherited the biggest mess this country has ever seen. Immigration from outside the EU down, benefits restricted and proper rules when new members join the European Union—all that is clearing up the mess made by Labour. What did we hear today? Not a single word of apology from a party that sent out search parties to look for more migrants. The British people know we are making every effort to control migration and that the right hon. Gentleman would make no effort at all, because he has got no leadership.

If the Prime Minister wants his European Union (Referendum) Bill to proceed, as he claims he does, all he needs to do is demonstrate a level of mature engagement on the granting of money resolutions. Is he proud of the fact that his party is abusing the privilege of Executive power and denying the clear will of this House by denying the money resolution for the private Member’s Bill to protect the vulnerable and disabled from the bedroom tax?

I am afraid the problem with my hon. Friend’s point is that his Bill is literally a bill: it would cost more than a billion pounds for the British taxpayer. That is why it would not be right to give it a money resolution. But if he believed in democracy, he would recognise that the European Union (Referendum) Bill passed this House with a massive majority and went into the House of Lords. We should reintroduce it as a Government Bill—that is what ought to happen.

Q2. The tax gap has been calculated at a massive £119.3 billion, even a quarter of which would transform public finances, yet the Government have chosen to cut Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ staffing by more than 11,000 since 2010 and have utterly failed to close that tax gap. Instead, they are squeezing the poor and cutting the real wages of millions of low-paid workers. Are the Government simply protecting their fat-cat billionaire pals from paying their taxes? (905714)

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what is actually happening on taxation: we have taken 3 million of the lowest-paid people out of tax altogether, and the fact that that means less work for HMRC is welcome; and the top 1% of taxpayers are paying 27% of all income tax—a higher percentage than ever happened under the last Labour Government.

The preposterous demand for more British money for Brussels is a small part of a much bigger picture. The big picture is that the eurozone is failing and threatening global financial stability. Countries in the eurozone have higher unemployment, lower growth and a higher risk of deflation. Why should Britain be paying for the failures of the eurozone? Does the Prime Minister agree that European leaders’ denial of the reality of the eurozone is turning it into the European economic horror version of the emperor’s new clothes?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that there is a risk the eurozone could go into its third recession in just six years, given how low growth rates are at the moment, and obviously we are not immune from that. So one of the problems we have, whether on the EU budget or on the issue of migration, is that we are the victims of the success of our economy and its growth in comparison with the eurozone. Just on the issue of the £1.7 billion bill, it is worth recalling what the Dutch Finance Minister said in an interview yesterday. He said:

“I must be able to defend it in front of the Dutch people and Parliament. As long as I can’t see the numbers, I can’t defend it and then I won’t pay before 1 December.”

I think he is right.

Q3. I am sure the Prime Minister cares about families, particularly those under great stress. Is he aware that up and down our country there are stressed families with a challenged or challenging child who cannot obtain any help from mental health services. Research that I have conducted shows that in two thirds of our country the access is not there—not in three months, not in six months and not in a year. What can we together do to stop this dreadful system? (905715)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of mental health services. We have taken some important steps forward, for instance, giving parity of esteem for mental health in the NHS constitution, and recently announcing additional money and additional waiting time targets for mental health services. We all know from our constituency surgeries how many people are in need of these services, which may actually help them and prevent there being further pressures on the NHS if they are given.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the outstanding work done at Porton Down in my constituency to combat Ebola. However, Public Health England has refused to evaluate fully an option to create a UK centre for global response to infectious diseases at Porton and instead persists with its recommendation to move many key scientists elsewhere. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss that matter and ensure that the future of public health, the life sciences industry and the taxpayer are well served by the decision ultimately made for public health in England?

Let me, through my hon. Friend, thank everyone at Porton Down for the vital work they do on these sorts of diseases and indeed for the work they are doing on testing for Ebola, as it requires brave and courageous people to carry it out. On the meeting that he wants, the Health Secretary is sitting next to me and he says he is happy to meet him to discuss this issue in detail. We want to see life sciences and these areas succeed in Britain, and Porton Down has an important role to play.

Q4. I have held a dozen public meetings on immigration over the past few weeks, and it is absolutely clear that my constituents in Dudley do not think it is fair that people should be able to come to the UK to be unemployed. They do not think that people should be able to claim benefits as soon as they arrive, or, as the Prime Minister proposes, after a few short months. They think that people should have to work and contribute and pay into the system first. They certainly do not think it is fair that people should be able to claim child benefit for children living abroad. When will he be able to sort out those things? (905716)

I do not want to be uncharitable to the hon. Gentleman, who put his question in a reasonable way, but I long remember the years when he sat behind the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, and I do not think that he whispered any of those things into his ear—he whispered quite a lot of other things into his ear by the way. I absolutely agree that we need to deal with this issue about sending benefits home, and we will . We have already lengthened the amount of time that people have to be here before they claim benefits, and we want to go further on that. But we must be frank about this: the British people are our boss, and they want this issue sorted. It is not simply about people coming here to claim or to abuse the system, but about the pressure on our health and education systems and on our schools and communities. The people want it addressed and they know that, with this party, we will address it.

Q5. I thank the Prime Minister for meeting Lawrence Dallaglio and me to discuss the lack of innovative radiotherapy, and I welcome his help in trying to solve the problem, but is he aware that NHS England overspent the cancer drugs fund by £30 million last year and that it has taken that money from the radiotherapy budget? Will he look into that and get NHS England to put that money back into radiotherapy? (905717)

I very much enjoyed meeting the hon. Lady and Lawrence Dallaglio, who is doing excellent work on these more innovative radiotherapy treatments that should become more widespread; the case that he makes is extremely powerful. The overspend on the cancer drugs budget was the result not of some sort of maladministration but of more cancer victims wanting more drugs, and under this Government they are getting them. That is not disadvantaging other parts of the health service, but I will look very carefully at what she has said and ensure that these treatments go ahead.

Given that the Prime Minister said that the Barnett formula is here to stay, is it not high time now to give Wales parity of funding with our friends in Scotland, and, once and for all, to give fair funding to Wales?

I know what I said about the Barnett formula, and I will not go away from that. What we need to see in Wales is a real debate about what I call a double yes—yes to another referendum on tax-raising powers and yes to those powers so that the Welsh Assembly takes greater responsibility for raising and spending more of its own money. That is the right pathway.

Q6. As there has never been a major hospital in Montgomeryshire, my Welsh constituents have always accessed treatment in England. They have to wait a minimum of 26 weeks for treatment. Their close neighbours living over the border wait a maximum of only 18 weeks. Does the Prime Minister think that that is fair? (905718)

I know that there are some real issues of fairness here, and that there are many more patients travelling from Wales to England than there are from England to Wales. Waiting times are quite different. For example, the typical average waiting time for a hip replacement in England is 70 days, but in Wales it is 170 days. That is not right. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They want to blame the politicians in England for the NHS, but they take absolutely no blame for the appalling state of the NHS in Wales.

This week, Jamshed Javeed, a young science teacher from Bolton, a husband and a father, has pleaded guilty to serious terrorist offences. Like hundreds of others, he has been radicalised by a poisonous ideology. The Home Secretary promised in her conference speech to make Prevent a statutory duty on all public sector organisations, and she promised a counter-extremism strategy that would tackle all forms of extremism. When will the Prime Minister take action and make the resources available necessary to implement that promise?

As the right hon. Lady knows, I have great sympathy with her views. I think there is cross-party agreement between at least me and her about the importance of combating not just violent extremism but all forms of extremism. She will be delighted to know that the Home Office is drawing up this strategy, and we had our first discussion of it in the extremism taskforce. Progress is good, and we do want, as she said, to put these arrangements on a statutory footing. There may be opportunities in the anti-terrorism legislation that will come before the House, and I want us to make progress on all these issues.

Q7. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the field of poppies at the Tower of London is a stunning and deeply moving way of honouring all those who lost their lives in the first world war? Does he further agree that it serves as a timely reminder that in any conflict there can be a terrible loss of human life? (905719)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a stunning display, and it is extremely poignant and reminds us of how many people gave their lives not just in that conflict, although obviously the slaughter was horrendous, but in so many conflicts since then where our armed services personnel have been defending our freedoms and our way of life. Perhaps it is particularly poignant in this week when we think about the final troops returning from Afghanistan, and the 453 servicemen and women who were lost and the many hundreds who will be living with life-changing injuries whom we must make sure we look after for the rest of their lives.

Last week, A and E figures showed that the four-hour waiting time target has been missed for the 65th week in a row. Does the Prime Minister honestly think this is acceptable?

Of course, we want to meet the A and E targets every week of the year, and that is our aim, and that is why we put £12.7 billion extra into the NHS. There are 800 more doctors working in our emergency departments than there were when I became Prime Minister. One of the pressures that we face is 1.3 million more patients every year going into accident and emergency. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] There are a lot of shouts of “Why” from Opposition Members. They might start with their own GP contract. They might think about that. We need to enhance GP services, put the resources into A and E, improve public health, help with our frail elderly—all the things set out in Simon Stevens’ excellent plan, which needs to be backed by the money and the successful economy that this Government are delivering.

Q8. More people live in Essex than voted yes in the Scottish referendum. With fairness needed for citizens in all parts of the United Kingdom, does the Prime Minister agree that what Scotland gets, so should the people of Essex and East Anglia? (905720)

This is becoming something of a theme in my hon. Friend’s questions. The best answer I can give is that if we are to keep all our promises to the people of Scotland in terms of additional powers to the Scottish Parliament, including tax-raising powers, as I believe we should, we must make sure that Members of Parliament for Essex or other counties and towns in England, have the ability to vote on these issues as they affect England in this House. My concern is that the Labour party seems to have completely given up on this issue. It is happy to have an all-party agreement when it comes to Scottish powers, it is happy to have an all-party agreement when it comes to Welsh powers, but for some reason, when it comes to England, it has absolutely nothing to say.

Q9. Will the Prime Minister explain why, in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, it has been possible to reach a settlement with the Fire Brigades Union on the question of pensions and early retirement, yet in England, where the new Minister was having constructive discussions, last week somebody above her said, “No, no more”, and now we face a four-day strike? Will the Prime Minister intervene, show some common sense, get the FBU round the table and sort this, because it could be sorted tomorrow? (905721)

I hope that the hon. Lady is right that this could be sorted out tomorrow, because I think that is what everyone wants to see. I am sure that all Members have met members of the Fire Brigades Union in our constituency surgeries and listened to their arguments, but in the end this has to be settled by the employers and the trade union. I know that the Minister will have listened very carefully to what the hon. Lady has said.

Q10. Is the Prime Minister aware of Shropshire’s economic success? Over the past few months we have seen more jobs created in the county than ever before. In fact, since the previous Labour Government left office, we have seen a dramatic fall of up to 46% in the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance. In fact, today we have the lowest unemployment record ever in the county, and in The Wrekin parliamentary constituency it is just 1.9%. Is not that more evidence that the Government’s long-term economic plan is working? (905722)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to the House’s attention. The fact is that the claimant count in his constituency of The Wrekin is down by 40% over the past year alone, and we now have 2 million more people employed in the private sector since the election. As I said at the outset of Prime Minister’s questions today, the figures for the fall in the number of workless households—homes where no one has been working—including homes with children, are not just statistically important; it is a socially and morally important fact that children will grow up in homes where someone is working. The employment rate for lone parents has also gone up. [Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not want to hear good news, but the fact is that, because our long-term economic plan is working, we are getting the British people back to work.

Q11. I know that the Prime Minister, like me and the rest of the Democratic Unionist party, is fully committed to the full implementation of the military covenant. Why, then, have the Government failed to keep records for all the 30,000 personnel who served in Afghanistan and returned to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, many of whom came back with injuries that should have been given priority for treatment under the military covenant? What steps will he take to rectify that situation? (905723)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we want to see the military covenant honoured properly in every part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and I am happy to help with that. On the issue of how we keep in touch with veterans, I think that we have made some breakthroughs. The veterans information service now contacts all those who have been discharged from the armed forces a year after they leave, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) in his report. We are copying from the best countries around the world on how we help our veterans, and because we are taking the LIBOR funds—multimillion pound funds from the City—and putting them into veterans charities, there is real money to support our veterans.

Does the Prime Minister agree with senior US officials who said last week that Qatar is still a permissive jurisdiction for terrorist finance? Will he press the emir and report back to the House on what action is being taken within Qatar and on those individuals named on the UK sanctions list?

The Prime Minister: I will be talking to the emir very shortly, and of course we will discuss all these issues, particularly how we can work together to combat extremism. Qatar has recently introduced a new Act to ensure that charities are not abusing charitable status and giving money to inappropriate organisations, and we will want to ensure that that is working properly. I commend my hon. Friend for his persistence on this issue, because it really does matter that we work with all our allies to ensure that extremist and terrorist groups do not get the support that they seem to be.

Q12. Research published this week shows that there are now more than 5 million workers stuck in low-paid jobs, women’s wages are lower now than they were a year ago and the gender pay gap is widening. We on the Opposition Benches have been clear about how we would strengthen the national minimum wage. What is the Prime Minister going to do to make work pay? (905724)

What we need is more jobs, which we are getting. We need to see the minimum wage increase, which it just has. Then we need to lift people out of tax by raising the tax threshold. We are doing all three of those things. On the minimum wage, we have just seen it go up to £6.50. What we have seen from the Labour party is a plan to put it up to £8 by 2020, but reasonable assumptions about inflation rates show that the minimum wage will have gone beyond that level by 2020. These geniuses on the Opposition Front Bench thought all summer about what would be a really good plan to help people, and they decided to cut the minimum wage. No wonder they are melting down in Scotland, they have a crisis in South Yorkshire, nobody trusts the shadow Chancellor and nobody believes the leader. It is the same old Labour party—a complete and utter shower.

At 3.30 this afternoon, 120 members of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will march through Carriage Gates down to the North Door of Westminster Hall in commemoration of all they have done for this nation in Afghanistan and across the globe. Will the Prime Minister, other Members from both Houses and staff throughout the Palace find time to join me at the great North Door of Westminster Hall to thank them for all they have done?

I will certainly encourage all hon. Members to do this and I will examine my own diary to see whether there is any chance that I can come along too. We should take every opportunity to thank our armed services personnel, particularly for what they have done in Afghanistan. Fourteen long years we have served and many people have been there once, twice or even on three different tours. They deserve our thanks and congratulations for their service and courage.

Q13. Last week, the Prime Minister was asked why 16 health organisations, which include doctors, nurses and patients, say that health and social care services in England—that is the bit he is responsible for—are at breaking point. He has made a lot of allegations about the position in Wales. Can we now have an English answer to an English question? (905725)

What I would say to the right hon. Lady is that of course there are pressures in the NHS but I think it is worth listening to the new chief executive of NHS England—someone who worked for the Labour party when it was in government—who said:

“Over the past five years…the NHS has been remarkably successful…We’re treating millions more patients than five years ago...the NHS has become some £20 billion more efficient”.

Those are things that we should recognise. Of course there are pressures, but what we need, and Simon Stevens says this very clearly, is improved efficiency and to make sure that we get rid of unnecessary demand for the NHS by investing in public health—and, yes, money is required. But as Simon Stevens puts it, we get more money only if we have a successful economy. As he said,

“a tax-funded health service requires a healthy UK economy”.

We have a healthy UK economy, and we will have a strong NHS.

Q14. A recent TaxPayers Alliance study revealed that the amount of taxpayers’ money being spent on union office space is the equivalent of £27.4 million at London market value, with a square footage equivalent to that of the Kremlin. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for further political funding reform? (905726)

I think it is necessary to cap the donations that unions make to parties and that should be introduced. My hon. Friend comes up with an ingenious idea: if trade unions have so much extra space, maybe they should do what the Government are doing and make additional space available to entrepreneurs so that we can have more start-ups and more enterprise. That is a contribution that the trade unions could make.

Q15. May I tell the Prime Minister that sadly my constituent better known as Boomer, Port Vale football club’s beloved mascot, had a stroke last week? He was discharged home only to be told that he could face an eight-week wait for urgent speech and language therapy. Can the Prime Minister set out how the Government will ensure that there are community stroke specialists and speech and language teams giving the right community care support from day one, in both Stoke-on-Trent and the rest of England? (905727)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need to do better in treating the consequences of a stroke. The NHS has made some very big improvements on diagnosing and treating stroke victims as a stroke happens; we have seen that with the better arrangements for taking people to hospitals that have that expertise. But what is now required is more effort really to look at how we can make someone who has had a stroke have a better quality of life. More money is going into that. More research and effort are being done, and I am happy to look at her particular case.