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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 596: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2015

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Occupied Palestinian Territories

1. What recent assessment she has made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (900060)

2. What recent assessment she has made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (900061)

I would like to start by paying tribute to Charles Kennedy, who died a few days ago. Like many Members of this House, I not only found him to be a kind and generous man but had a huge amount of respect for him politically, and I and many others will mourn his passing.

The United Nations assesses that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a protracted crisis with humanitarian consequences. Even before the latest conflict in Gaza, 57% of the population were food-insecure and 43% were unemployed.

First, may I endorse everything the Secretary of State has said regarding Charles Kennedy? He was a gifted politician and a genuinely friendly and funny man, and we will miss him.

Some 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities face displacement from their homes in the west bank to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel says it has the right to build anywhere in the west bank it chooses. My question to the Secretary of State is not whether she opposes that but whether she agrees that European companies have no business trading with illegal settlements east of the green line.

The hon. Gentleman is right that we oppose that illegal building of settlements, and he is shining a light on some of the decisions that companies themselves have to make about whether they will be part of that activity. It is up to them to speak for themselves, but the Government’s position in relation to those settlements is very clear.

May I welcome the right hon. Lady back to her post, which she fulfilled with great distinction in the previous Parliament?

We are all aware of the terrible situation in Gaza, where more than 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed and not one of them has been rebuilt. Will she use her office to persuade the Israelis that, from the point of view of humanitarian need and future peace, provisions should be brought in to rebuild the houses?

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights some of the challenges in getting construction materials into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly Gaza, to rebuild homes that have been destroyed. The Gaza reconstruction mechanism gives us a way to do that, and he will be pleased to hear that just under 90,000 people have now been able to get the equipment they need to rebuild their homes.

As my right hon. Friend knows, there is an urgent need for reconstruction in Gaza, but how can she ensure that materials such as concrete and scaffolding are not used to construct weapons that can be used against the state of Israel and its citizens?

We have been particularly concerned to play our role in managing that issue. DFID is helping to support the materials monitoring unit. That means we can check materials as they enter Gaza and check where they are stored, how they are used and how they are reused. So there absolutely are good controls in place to ensure the materials are used for rebuilding people’s homes and helping them rebuild their lives.

Does the Secretary of State welcome Israeli President Rivlin’s call for an urgent international effort to rebuild Gaza, but on the understanding that the hostilities perpetrated by Hamas against Israel must cease? Does she also agree that the continued incitement to violence by Palestinians against Israel must end?

Clearly, the only way people in Gaza, particularly children growing up there, are going to have a better future is if we have a two-state solution. That requires Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and its transitional Government, to be prepared to do what it takes to get a long-term settlement. That also means not doing things that get in the way of peace talks getting going again.

Illegal Migration

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 80,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea already this year. Some are fleeing conflict, such as that in Syria, or persecution elsewhere; others are economic migrants searching for a better life. Addressing the root causes, not just the symptoms, involves bringing peace and stability, good governance, development and jobs to their countries of origin.

My right hon. Friend will have seen the terrible suffering in the Mediterranean as people are being trafficked from Libya to Lampedusa. What concrete steps is her Department taking to help the Libyan coastguard to police its ports better?

My hon. Friend will know that this is an international problem that requires an international co-ordinated solution, not least from the EU, and the UK is part of that. Getting a stable Government in Libya is a crucial part of how we can start to clamp down on the traffickers who trade in human misery, and I assure him that both DFID and the Foreign Office are a part of that work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Wrong choice!”] You made the right choice.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is right, in that 92% of the 170,000 who have travelled from north Africa to Italy came through Libya. The Khartoum process is clearly not working, and the humanitarian crisis starts in north Africa, goes to Italy and will end in Calais. What further steps can we take to help the people of north Africa?

There are several steps, one being immediately to make sure that the Khartoum process does deliver. It is crucial because it brings together destination countries, transit countries and countries of origin to work more collaboratively. The other key thing is to work upstream, as the situation shows that we cannot simply assume that countries that are not developing and do not have prospects for their young people will deal with the problem. People see the better lives being led in countries such as ours and want to have the same thing for themselves. In the long term, the only real solution is development.

Is not part of the problem that a lot of people are moving up from central Africa? Does the Secretary of State have any plans to apply more of her overseas aid budget to helping people stay in their own countries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and over the past couple of years DFID has dramatically increased the amount of our work that is going on, including on economic development and creating jobs and livelihoods. A World Bank report in 2013 estimated that 600 million jobs will be required over the next 15 years for young people entering the labour market, many of whom are in Africa. It makes sense, and it is crucial, that we provide opportunity for them to fulfil their potential there.

What implications are there for the UK as a result of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference on 29 May in Bangkok?

The hon. Lady rightly points out that while we in Europe grapple with the challenges we face on migration, comparable challenges are being faced by other countries. It is absolutely right that Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are now working far more carefully together, and the UK will be playing its role to support them in doing that.

Can we see illegal migrants to Europe first and foremost as human beings and give them all the dignity, care and respect we can, especially by ensuring the availability of rescue facilities as they cross the Mediterranean?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to see the people behind many of the statistics that we read in the paper. That is one reason why we sent HMS Bulwark and Merlin helicopters—so that this country can play our role in providing search and rescue services to help those people. They are literally putting their lives on the line to get a better life, and we should never forget the stories of the people behind those terrible numbers.

May I begin by welcoming the Secretary of State back to her post and welcoming the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) to his new post? We look forward to working constructively with the Secretary of State in this very important year for development.

We welcome the reintroduction of search and rescue in the Mediterranean—it was a shameful decision to withdraw it, and the Prime Minister was right to make a U-turn—but we know that the most vulnerable Syrian migrants will not make it to a boat, or get here on a plane; they will die in a camp. Given that the whole world community has come together to relocate those most vulnerable people through the UN, why does the Secretary of State insist on running her own scheme?

We are working collaboratively with the UNHCR. In fact, we have helped just under 200 people through that scheme. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, through the asylum system, we have received 4,000 asylum applications from Syrians. Critically, what this all shows is that we need to support people where they are. Some 99% of the refugees from the Syrian crisis are still in the countries that border Syria, and the UK has put £800 million into helping them build their lives there and educating their children.

Palestinian Authority (UK Aid)

Our support has enabled the Palestinian Authority to carry out state-building reforms in public financial administration and security. The international community has recognised that the PA is now ready for statehood.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Is the Minister aware of reports that the Palestinian Authority continues to pay convicted terrorists, and will he investigate whether UK payments are being used for that purpose?

I assure my hon. Friend that no UK payments are made for that purpose. Our support to the Palestinian Authority is paid through a World Bank-controlled trust fund to named civil servants and then independently audited.

More Palestinian civilians were killed last year than in any year since 1967, and the crisis gets worse and worse in the occupied territories, especially in Gaza. I see today that the Foreign Office has called for the Rafah crossing into Egypt to be opened, but what are Ministers doing to ensure that the goods and passenger crossings into Israel are opened? What pressure is DFID putting on the Israeli Government to do that?

We make representations at every level all the time to enable goods and services to be exported into and out of Gaza. There can be no future for Gaza until there is a complete transformation in that process, and for that to proceed, a peace process is required.

Sustainable Development Goals

Since January, UN member states have discussed all aspects of the post-2015 outcome document for September: the political declaration, goals and targets, means of implementation, and monitoring and review. As the hon. Lady may be aware, we have literally just seen the first zero draft of that document. We are looking through it to assess what the UK’s negotiating stance will be.

Last year, I visited Rwanda with Voluntary Service Overseas—I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—and I saw for myself the enduring impact that the collapse of its healthcare system 20 years ago has continued to have on levels of disability and poor mental health. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government have done to ensure that universal health coverage remains an underpinning principle of the sustainable development goals and the aid agenda?

We have advocated very strongly for universal health coverage that truly makes a difference to people and puts them in a position to be able to play a role in helping to develop their country. I assure the hon. Lady that the UK is a strong advocate of that. She is quite right to point out the dramatic progress that has been made in Rwanda. What it shows is that when we make the investment, development happens.

Given the important role the Prime Minister played on the high-level panel on sustainability, will the Secretary of State tell the House what progress has been made in getting a concrete goal on the food, water and energy nexus?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out the Prime Minister’s pivotal role as a co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s high-level panel. It very much shaped the debate that then happened, which has got us to where we are today. Clearly, the interlocking issues of food security, nutrition and sustainability need to be addressed as part of the new sustainable development goals. One of the main changes that we want to see is sustainability, and the early indications are that we will have a good outcome.

What role does the Secretary of State see for the Scottish Government in the ongoing SDG negotiations? Will she commit to ensuring that her counterpart, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs or the Minister for Europe and Internal Development, will be part of the UK delegation to the UN SDG summit in September?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman will know that international development remains a reserved matter, but I am proud of the fact that our joint headquarters is up in East Kilbride. I very much welcome him and his expertise to the House. I have no doubt that Scotland has a key role to play in helping to shape the outcomes, and I look forward to discussing them with him.

11. In 2011, British climate scientists said that the famine in Somalia was caused in part by low rainfall, to which climate change contributed. Does the Secretary of State agree that tackling climate change as a single, stand-alone target should be included in the SDGs, or will the Government continue to treat it as an afterthought? (900070)

I do not think that the hon. Lady is right to characterise our approach that way. For many years, the UK has been a leader in the debate and the challenge of tackling climate change, which is included in the SDG negotiation that is under way. We have argued for tough targets, and of course we will be arguing for them in the Paris summit that is coming up later this year, so I can reassure her that we are playing a leading role in making sure that the next set of development goals are sustainable and that they include tackling climate change.


The Department for International Development is one of the biggest international donors in Rakhine state. We have just increased our support by a further £6.2 million, bringing our support since 2012 to £18 million.

Does the Minister agree that the time is long overdue for Burma to address the persecution and poverty that force the Rohingya to flee? Does he think that the time is now right for the UN Secretary-General to lead the negotiations, so that humanitarian non-governmental organisations can gain access to Rakhine state?

Yes, and a director general of DFID is in Rakhine state as we speak, and we take every opportunity to push forward these matters.

Surely, the plight of thousands of Rohingya people adrift in the bay of Bengal must call for greater leadership from not only the United Nations but the United Kingdom. Should we ensure not only that we make representations in meetings with ambassadors but that our taxpayers’ aid and access to our diplomatic doors are made contingent on ensuring proper recognition of the Rohingya and full respect of human rights?

Absolutely. I have taken every opportunity to raise this matter with Burmese Ministers. My caution with respect to my hon. Friend’s suggested course of action is that I am not prepared to withdraw British aid from poor people simply because of the regime under which they suffer.

15. What is the UK doing to encourage a co-ordinated response to the south-east Asian boat migrant situation? (900074)

Our ambassador attended the recent conference with Malaysia and Bangladesh. We participated with a démarche of Burmese Ministers, along with the United States and the French, and we are doing everything that we can precisely to make this a regional response.

Topical Questions

Following the devastating earthquake in April, I visited Nepal last month to see for myself the work that the UK is doing and announced £10 million in funding for a new health programme, so that children can continue to be immunised, women can continue to deliver babies safely and we can start rebuilding damaged health facilities. We are now providing more than £33 million to that response, making us the largest donor to the relief operation.

In addition, I can today confirm that the Department for International Development has approved more than £9 million to support Burundian refugees in Tanzania, and those funds will help to provide essential shelter, water and sanitation infrastructure, healthcare and food rations. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation but we must be able to hear the Secretary of State’s replies and I want to hear what might be the first topical question from Christina Rees.

From Doha to Rana Plaza, workers all over the world risk exploitation, abuse and violence, but the Secretary of State’s Government cut support for the International Labour Organisation. Will she admit that her Government got it wrong and reverse the decision now?

The hon. Lady will be reassured to hear that we are still working with the ILO. In fact, in Bangladesh, we have a very effective programme that is helping to improve workplace security and health and safety. That was introduced in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. Therefore, I can reassure her that we take those matters seriously and we are actively working with the ILO.

T6. What assistance does her Department give to Indian ocean islands such as the Maldives and Seychelles in tackling climate change issues? (900055)

The UK provides support through a number of multilateral organisations, including Climate Investment Funds and the Global Environment Facility, as well as through contributing to EU programmes that support affected countries.

May I begin by paying tribute to Charles Kennedy and by sharing the sadness of Members on both sides of the House about his untimely death? He was a brilliant man, a great orator and wit and his death is a huge loss to his party and to his country. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.

The whole House will welcome Sepp Blatter’s resignation as FIFA president and the Swiss authorities’ investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World cup to Qatar. There have been horrific human rights abuses of the migrant workers who are working on the infrastructure there. An estimated 1,200 have died. What steps will the Secretary of State take to support those migrant workers and prevent their brutal exploitation?

The most important thing we can do is to help those people’s countries develop successfully so there are opportunities where these young people are growing up. It is aspiration that is driving them to try to make a better life for themselves and to find work in other countries. The best thing we can do is to get behind the economic development work that DFID is ramping up to ensure that there are jobs in the countries where those young people are growing up.

The Secretary of State talks about aspiration, but those workers’ aspirations have led them to a life of bonded labour and modern slavery. That is what is happening. Workers’ rights are human rights. The whole House will welcome the news that the owner of the Rana Plaza complex, along with 42 others, is going to be prosecuted for the deaths of the 1,100 workers who died when that building collapsed, yet two years after that tragedy the victims compensation fund is still $8 million short of its target. Fourteen fashion brands, including Lee Cooper, Carrefour and JC Penney, which sourced garments from that complex, have not yet paid into the victims fund. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that they do?

The hon. Lady will be aware that after the Rana Plaza tragedy we got many of the UK companies that are working in Bangladesh into DFID to talk to them about these very issues. I think we should be proud of the role that our companies are playing in improving working conditions in Bangladesh. She is right to highlight other companies that are not playing the role they should in solving these issues.

T10. We made a manifesto commitment to lead on the humanitarian response to emergencies, as we have demonstrated to the people of Nepal. Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to visit Nepal to see the devastation and the response of the UK? (900059)

Yes, I have. I was able to go there a couple of weeks ago. Unique to the UK’s response is that it leverages the whole of our Government to help people in a country such as Nepal. Not only is that led by DFID, but there has been fantastic work by the Foreign Office in providing consular assistance and by our amazing Gurkhas and armed forces in helping us to get supplies to some of the remotest areas. We should be proud of the work we are doing as a country and realise that we are valued across the world for the role we play in helping people in their hour of need.

Order. I fear that the microphones are not working as well as they should today, so Members probably need to speak up a bit.

T2. Up to 18,000 civilians are cut off in Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus. This week, the UN co-ordinator described the situation as absolutely critical. What are the Government doing either to get assistance into Yarmouk, or to get more civilians out of Yarmouk? (900051)

There are two pieces to this. We must make sure that the Security Council resolution on humanitarian access remains in place so that we have the right structures to be able to get aid across the border. But it is absolutely key that the UK should continue to play our role in enabling UN organisations and NGOs, which do incredibly dangerous work to try to reach these people, to get the food, medical supplies and shelter that are so desperately needed. The only thing that will truly alleviate the situation is a political settlement, but we all recognise that that is some way off.

It is fair to say that my right hon. Friend’s Department led the world in putting together an earthquake preparedness plan for Nepal. She will be looking at what worked and what did not when the inevitable happened. Will she conduct a full review of what did and did not work, so that we can be ready for the inevitable repeat of this tragedy?

We always look at the lessons that can be learned from our response to all tragedies. My right hon. Friend should be very proud of the role that he personally played in putting the programme in place. It meant that tarpaulins, food and medical supplies were already pre-positioned for when the earthquake hit and that we enabled hospitals to get back up and running quickly. Critically, it also meant that there was a humanitarian staging area close to the airport that prevented the airport from getting even more clogged up than it already was. As the World Food Programme said, all that brought forward the relief effort by three weeks, which undoubtedly saved lives.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

During the general election, my blue-collar conservatism resonated very well with my constituents in Elmet and Rothwell. They are very keen that the economic recovery continues on track. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in this Parliament we must achieve lower taxation for working people and a higher minimum wage and that we must ensure that the lowest paid are taken out of tax altogether, to show that we are a true one nation Government?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his return to the House, having doubled his majority. There were a number of results in his part of Yorkshire in which I took a particular interest and was pleased to see happen. He is absolutely right that at the heart of our plan is making work pay: that is the best way to help people out of poverty and give them more security—creating jobs, cutting taxes, seeing increases in the minimum wage and legislating so that people working 30 hours on the minimum wage do not pay income tax. That is our plan for working people.

We all agree about the importance of home ownership, and the Prime Minister has said that he is going to increase it. Can he tell us whether, since he became Prime Minister in 2010, the percentage of people owning their own home has gone up or down?

It has been a very challenging time for people to buy their own homes, but what we are responsible for is almost 100,000 people being able to buy their own homes because of the right to buy and Help to Buy—two schemes opposed by Labour.

The answer is that since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister the percentage of people who own their own home has fallen. He mentioned his plan to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. He has promised that, under this new scheme, sold off properties will be replaced on a one-for-one basis. He promised that on council homes in the last Parliament. Can he remind us whether he kept that promise?

If the right hon. and learned Lady is complaining about home ownership, will she confirm that she will support the extension of the right to buy to housing associations? Will she support that approach? [Interruption.] There we are. There we have it: a landmark manifesto commitment—let us expand the right to buy to housing associations—but, as ever, the enemies of aspiration in the Labour party will not support it.

We support more people owning their own homes, which is not what happened in the last five years, during which the right hon. Gentleman has been Prime Minister. We support more people having an affordable home as well, but that did not happen in the last five years, when he has been Prime Minister, either. He promised that for every council home sold another one would be built. That did not happen: for every 10 sold, only one has been built. Less affordable housing means that people have to be in more expensive private rented accommodation, which means a higher housing benefit bill. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that for every affordable home sold and not replaced, the housing benefit bill goes up?

We built more council homes in the last five years than were built under 13 years of the previous Labour Government. I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that she cannot ask these questions about supporting home ownership unless she answers the simple question: will you back housing association tenants being able to buy their homes—yes or no?

The Prime Minister broke his promise on the replacement—one for one—of affordable council homes. He broke that promise, and as a result housing benefit has gone up. At the same time, he says he wants to take £12 billion out of welfare, so where is it coming from? Earlier this week, his spokesperson confirmed that the Government would not make any changes to child benefit, and that is a commitment for the whole of this Parliament. Will he confirm that now?

We made very clear our position on child benefit in the election, and I confirm that again at the Dispatch Box. Let us be clear—absolutely no answer from the Labour party about housing association tenants. We are clear: housing association tenants should have the right to buy. We can now see that the new Labour backing of aspiration after the election has lasted three weeks. That is how long they have given to aspiration. Let me give the right hon. and learned Lady another chance. We say housing association tenants get the right to buy. What does she say?

The Prime Minister’s commitment not to cut child benefit during the course of this Parliament has not even lasted a few days. That is what his spokesperson said, and he has not been committed to it. Will he tell us about another issue of importance to families, which is whether he is going to rule out further cuts to working families tax credits?

Again, we have said we are freezing tax credits in the next two years because we need to get the deficit down and we want to keep people’s taxes down. But is it not interesting that, for the whole of the last Parliament, Labour Members came here and opposed every single spending reduction, every single welfare saving, and they have learned absolutely nothing. Labour is still the party of more spending, more welfare, more debt. It is extraordinary: of the two people responsible for this great policy of theirs, one of them lost the election and the other one lost his seat—the messengers have gone, but the message is still the same.

The Prime Minister promised £12 billion of welfare cuts, and I am asking where those welfare cuts are coming from. Before an election, it is about promises; now they are in Downing Street, it is about the delivery. The Prime Minister spent the last five years saying everything that was wrong was because of the previous Prime Minister. Well, he cannot do that for the next five years because the last Prime Minister was him. I hope he will bear in mind, when things go wrong over the next five years, that there is no one responsible but him.

First, we are still clearing up the mess the right hon. and learned Lady’s Government left behind. She asked for an example of a welfare cut; let me give her one. We think we should cut the welfare cap from £26,000 per household to £23,000 per household. In her speech in reply to the Gracious Speech, it sounded like she was going to come out and support that. Let us see how Labour is going to approach this: will you support a cut in the welfare cap?

The right hon. and learned Lady has had her six questions. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Everyone should be clear about that.

My right hon. Friend will be well aware that there is considerable concern on both sides of the House at the proposition that Britain might withdraw from the European convention on human rights. Will he take the opportunity today to make it clear that he has no plans for us to do so?

We are very clear about what we want: British judges making decisions in British courts, and the British Parliament being accountable to the British people. The plans that were set out in our manifesto do not involve us leaving the European convention on human rights, but let us be absolutely clear about our position if we cannot achieve what we need—I am very clear about that. When we have these foreign criminals committing offence after offence, and we cannot send them home because of their “right to a family life”, that needs to change. I rule out absolutely nothing in getting that done.

May I begin by expressing my sadness at the untimely death of Charles Kennedy? I know that we will pay tributes a little later.

It is a stain on the conscience of Europe that thousands and thousands of refugees have been dying in the Mediterranean, when many lives could have been saved. Does the Prime Minister agree that the role of the Royal Navy, the Italian coastguard and the navies of other European countries is making a profound difference? However, much more needs to be done, including offering refuge and asylum to those who need it.

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention Charles Kennedy. We will rightly have those tributes after Prime Minister’s questions.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to praise the role of the Royal Navy in dealing with this tragedy in the Mediterranean. HMS Bulwark, the flagship of the Royal Navy, has been playing a key role in saving lives. However, I part company with him on his next suggestion. We need to do two things to solve this crisis. First, we need a Government in Libya that we can work with, so that it is possible to return people to Africa and stop this criminal trade. Secondly, we need to break the link between getting on a boat and achieving residence in Europe. That is what needs to be done. In the meantime, everything that Britain can do as a moral and upstanding nation to save lives, we will do, and we should be proud that we are doing it.

Eighty years ago, that is what the United Kingdom did, when it offered refuge and asylum to those who were being pursued by the Nazis. We all know about the Kindertransport and the children who were accepted and given refuge in the UK. Now, in contrast, the UK has an appalling record on the resettlement of Syrian refugees and is not prepared to co-operate with other European nations on accepting refugees who have been rescued in the Mediterranean. Why does the Prime Minister think it is fair for Sweden, Germany and other countries to accept those refugees, while the UK turns its back on them?

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman. This country has an asylum system and a record of giving people asylum that we should be proud of. When people are fleeing torture and persecution, they can find a home here in Britain. But let us be clear: the vast majority of people who are setting off into the Mediterranean are not asylum seekers, but people seeking a better life. They have been tricked and fooled by criminal gangs. Our role should be going after those criminal gangs, sorting out the situation in Libya, turning back the boats where we can and using our generous aid budget—this Government achieved 0.7%—to mend the countries from which these people are coming. That is our moral responsibility and one that I am proud to fulfil.

Q2. Thanks to the careful financial stewardship of this Government, York’s economy continues to grow, with unemployment a fraction of what it was five years ago. Will the Prime Minister assure me that his offer of devolution will percolate right through the great county of Yorkshire, empowering rural communities, as well as cities such as York, to deliver a Yorkshire powerhouse that rivals Manchester and London? (900036)

I certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. He talks about the strength of the Yorkshire economy. The claimant count in his constituency —the number of people claiming unemployment benefit—has come down by 74% since 2010. We see the northern powerhouse as the linking of the great northern cities as a counterpoint and a counterpoise to the strength of London. We are making good progress on that, but we certainly want more money, resources and powers to be devolved to those cities. The York, North Yorkshire and East Riding local growth deal, for example, is creating at least 3,000 jobs and allowing 4,000 homes to be built. We have made good progress, but there is more to be done in this Parliament.

Q3. In March, the Prime Minister rightly apologised for successive Governments who had failed to address properly the claims and the righteous indignation of the families whose lives were torn apart and of those who lost their lives in the contaminated blood scandal. He also said in response to a question that he would deal with this matter as a priority if he was re-elected. Can he update us now on his commitment to and progress on that issue, so that it is dealt with finally and fully for all those people who have lost their lives and for those who live with the damage caused by this scandal? (900037)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. All of us as Members of Parliament have come across people who, through no fault of their own, were infected with blood with either HIV or hepatitis C, which has had very serious consequences for them.

In terms of what we are going to do about it—as the Scottish National party Member, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), shouts from a sedentary position—I said very clearly before the election that we have made available £25 million to help those families, and there will be a full statement by the Government before the summer recess to make sure that we deal with this issue in the best way we possibly can.

Q4. A national health service free at the point of use was at the heart of the Conservative general election campaign. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will continue to deliver the shorter waiting times, better ambulance response times, better access to cancer drugs and more funding that make the NHS the envy not just of the world but of my constituents in Monmouthshire? (900038)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. I absolutely say to him that under this Government the NHS will remain free at the point of use, and, more to the point, we are backing the Simon Stevens plan with an extra £8 billion of spending, a commitment that the Labour party still refuses to make. That is not surprising given the Labour record in Wales, where it has cut the NHS, in stark contrast to the decision we made to increase investment in the NHS. That is why we see in the Welsh NHS performance worse figures on A&E, on waiting times and on cancer, and I urge the Labour party in Wales even at this late stage: “Change your approach. Do a U-turn. Put the money into the NHS like we’re doing in England.”

Q5. The fragility of our economic recovery in my constituency is demonstrated by the impending closure of Dixons Carphone in the area, with the loss of 500 jobs and £8 million to the local economy. Will the Prime Minister intervene to keep Wednesbury working—to save these jobs—or at the very least ensure that the company provides appropriate compensation and support for employees to secure alternative employment? (900039)

I shall look very closely at the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Obviously, everything that Jobcentre Plus can do to find employment for those people should be done. He talks, though, about the “fragility” of the economy. In his constituency, the claimant count has fallen by a third over the last year, so jobs are being made available. But as I say, where Jobcentre Plus can help with finding people work, we will certainly make sure that it does.

The UN Secretary-General has described the refugee situation in Jordan and Lebanon as

“the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”

What more can Britain do, in tandem with other countries, to help relieve the suffering, and to learn from the lessons of history to ensure that poorly resourced refugee camps do not become breeding grounds for extremism?

The first thing that we can do is to continue our investment, using our aid budget as—I think—the second largest bilateral donor in providing refugee support and refugee camps, whether in Jordan or elsewhere in the region. We should continue with that, but clearly the answer to this problem is to allow those people to go back home, whether to Iraq or to Syria, so what we need is a Government in both those countries that can represent and work with all their people.

There is some progress in Iraq with the Abadi Government in Iraq, and we need to make sure that they can represent Sunnis as well as Shi’as. In Syria, the situation is far, far worse, but we should still continue, with others, with the plan of training the moderate Syrian opposition and trying to bring about a transition, so we get rid of the Assad regime and Assad himself, who is one of the biggest drivers of terror in the region, because of what he has done to his people. That is the strategy we should pursue, for however long it takes to succeed.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place and congratulate her on her election success. The first question she asks is about fiscal responsibility and sustainability. I take that as a sign of progress. I would say to her: there is a leadership election on, throw your hat in the ring. In that one question she has made more sense than all the rest of them put together—go for it!

Q7. A push for greater diversity in employment is a key part of my plan for Portsmouth. Can the Prime Minister assure my constituents that the leasing of part of the dockyard to Magma Structures will be confirmed in due course, as we look forward to welcoming yet another high-tech company to the city? (900041)

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election success and on standing up already for Portsmouth, on all the work she did as a candidate and all the things I know she will do as a Member of Parliament? We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the Portsmouth ship hall is used in the most effective way to deliver capability, to create jobs and to boost growth in the region. The developments in Portsmouth at the moment are exciting, whether in ship servicing, welcoming the carriers when they come to Portsmouth or the Ben Ainslie centre that is being constructed with Government support. May I just say how good it is that Portsmouth is going to be represented in this place by strong Conservative women?

In Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech last week, the Government made a commitment to legislate to implement the Stormont House agreement. As the Prime Minister knows, the agreement has the Democratic Unionist party’s full support. The agreement was signed by all five main parties in Northern Ireland, and by the British and Irish Governments. Now that it has been reneged on—certainly the welfare reform aspect—by Sinn Féin, with vulnerable people being hurt, public services hit as a result of the implementation of £2 million-a-week fines and a black hole in the Northern Ireland budget, does he agree with his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, following the talks yesterday, that all parties that signed up to the agreement, including the SDLP and Sinn Féin, should implement it? If they fail to do so, will he take steps to preserve the integrity of the agreement?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that everyone who was party to those talks—they were exhaustive and lengthy talks, ending in an agreement—should implement that agreement in full. The agreement did include welfare reform. That is the first point and he is absolutely right. Whatever happens, we need to make sure that Northern Ireland and the Assembly have a sustainable and deliverable budget, so I hope that even at this late stage people will look at what they can do to make sure that happens.

Q8. Last year saw record numbers of adoptions and prospective adopters, but there are still more than 3,000 children in care waiting to be adopted, with half of them having waited for more than 18 months. What plans does my right hon. Friend, who has a strong commitment on this issue, have to enable more children to be placed in a loving, stable family home sooner rather than later? (900042)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Speeding up the rate at which adoptions take place, and making sure more adoptions can take place, is absolutely key to giving more children a better start in life. In the past three years we have seen a 63% increase in adoptions, so we have made progress. In the Gracious Speech and in the Bill being published today there are the plans to create regional adoption agencies, bringing together the many agencies there are in this country. I think that is right because it matters far more that a child gets a loving home than whether that home is in a particular county council area. Let us get on and create these agencies and make sure more adoptions take place.

The UK steel industry is a key foundation industry for Britain, but it is in crisis. Will the Prime Minister join me and the rest of the all-party group for the steel and metal-related industry to call on the leadership in Mumbai to intervene directly in this situation and get their colleagues in Tata Europe to get back around the table and avoid potentially the worst crisis in the steel industry in 35 years?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is very important that the Government talk intensively to the leaders of the steel industry, Tata in particular, about what we can do to try to make sure that we safeguard the growth and the jobs that there have been in the steel industry over previous years. We have started those discussions—we have had discussions, for instance, about the steps we are taking for high energy-intensive industries and the help that we can give—but at the heart of a successful steel industry is always going to be a successful economy and a successful construction industry, which is why we should stick to the long-term economic plan.

Q9. Today, Tidal Lagoon Power, headquartered in Gloucester, announces that China Harbour Engineering is the preferred bidder for a £300 million investment in the world’s first ever tidal lagoon, in Swansea bay. There will be high UK content in the supply chain and there is a commitment to pursue tidal projects together in Asia. This confirms our ability both to attract Chinese investment and to create new export opportunities. Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that the Energy Secretary will soon agree the development consent order needed and also agree soon on the pricing of power from this exciting example of British innovation and engineering? (900043)

My hon. Friend is right to raise this specific case, and also the general case of wanting to attract Chinese investment to Britain. We have seen something like a 73% increase, between 2010 and 2013, and that is partly because this Government have pursued Chinese investment and attracted it to Britain. On the specific case of the Swansea tidal lagoon, it is obviously subject to a planning decision, but I think tidal power has significant potential. I have seen some of the plans for myself and I hope this is something we can make progress on; and obviously, attracting investment to this country to help make it happen is a win-win for both countries.

The devolution of powers to our nations, our regions and our great cities will be one of the themes of this Parliament, but does the Prime Minister accept that Londoners, under their elected Mayor, will expect at least the same powers that are being devolved to the northern powerhouse?

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point, and there has been an ongoing discussion with the Mayor of London about what more powers can be—[Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] He is running London, that’s where he is, and he is doing a very, very good job. He is doing an excellent job—very good. But I think the hon. Lady is right: we have devolved powers to London and we are very happy to go on having discussions, about transport and about other economic powers. London has created half a million more jobs over the last five years. It is a staggering performance and we want that to continue.

Q10. Does the Prime Minister agree that any onshore wind farm proposal not already granted planning permission should not expect to receive any public subsidy? (900044)

I am very glad to see my hon. Friend back in his place. He campaigned very hard on this in the last Parliament, and in our manifesto we made it very clear that there should be no more subsidies for onshore wind farms. It is time to give local people the decisive say. That is what will happen in England; in Wales, obviously, the subsidy regime will be changed because it is a reserved issue, so I think that his desire has been met.

Q11. The Prime Minister might be aware of the ongoing case of my constituent Dr Steve Forman, who, despite his immense contribution to the music and creative scene in Glasgow, Scotland and around the world, the Home Office is seeing fit to try to deport back to the United States. Will the Prime Minister tell the House why people such as Dr Forman do not seem to be welcome in this country? If the Prime Minister cannot run an immigration policy that works for Scotland, I know a Government up the road that would be very happy to take on the job. (900045)

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election. I am not aware of the specific case that he raises, but I will look at it urgently after Prime Minister’s questions and see what I can do.

Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the ways forward in the European Union is to have two pillars, the first being countries that want a single currency, a common fiscal policy and ever closer political union, and the second being countries that want none of those, but instead want a free trade area—a common market?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. One of the arguments going on in Europe is about trying to get people to accept what is already the case, which is that there are countries like Britain at the heart of the single market but not involved in the Schengen agreement or likely to join it, and not involved in the single currency, which, in my view, we should never join. We should accept that this sort of flexibility is here to stay. I think the challenge for Europe is to build a European community that is flexible enough for the single currency countries to be happy that their problems and issues can be sorted out, while also flexible enough for countries like Britain at the heart of the single market, but not wanting to be part of the ever closer union, to be comfortable with their membership, too. That is the aim of my renegotiation, and it will be followed by an in/out referendum.

Q12. I welcome the Prime Minister’s confirmation that there will be no cuts in the rates of or eligibility conditions for child benefit, but will he also confirm the commitment he made during the election that there will be no cuts in the benefits paid to disabled people? (900046)

What we have actually done is to increase the benefits paid to disabled people by bringing in the personal independence payment, which is more generous to those who are most disabled. May I say how much I enjoyed meeting the right hon. Gentleman during the general election when we both addressed the Festival of Life in the ExCeL centre in his constituency? I do not know about him, but it is certainly the only time in my life that I have talked to 45,000 people at the same time, and I suspect the same goes for him.

Q13. The Prime Minister referred to Libya earlier. We have exchanged views and had many debates on Libya since our military involvement in that country in 2011, yet the situation is getting worse and worse. What new steps and initiatives is the Prime Minister going to bring, in conjunction with the allies of Egypt and Italy, to ensure that the situation is resolved? (900047)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this, and there will be some discussions at the G7 in Germany this weekend. We have got to a position in which Special Representative León from the UN has been bringing everybody together to try to form a national unity Government. We need to give everything we can to support that process, so that there is some prospect of Libya having a Government, from which can flow some security, from which can flow the ability to start to deal with this migrant crisis in the way I discussed earlier.

Q14. Under the right-to-buy plan, three social houses will need to be sold to generate enough revenue to build one new one, leaving 1,500 families in York without a home for well over two years. Is that what the Prime Minister means by aspiration? (900048)

First, let me welcome the hon. Lady to the House and congratulate her on her election victory. There are two things we are doing to provide these replacement houses. One is obviously that for every housing association that sells a home, it has that receipt and is able to build a new house. We are also making sure that councils sell off the most expensive council houses when they become vacant. In parts of London, there are council houses worth over £1 million, with which many more houses can be built. What is clear from this Question Time is that Conservative Members understand home ownership, aspiration and people wanting to get on. Labour Members, after the most catastrophic election defeat in years, cannot even begin to spell aspiration.