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Volume 598: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2015

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

Does my right hon. Friend agree that rural businesses in my constituency such as BSW Timber, which he visited during the election campaign, are benefiting from this Government’s long-term economic plan? What more can his Government do to further promote apprenticeships and create jobs in all sectors of the vital rural economy?

First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to his place, and say how much I enjoyed the visit to his constituency and that specific business? It has taken on a lot of employees and apprentices in recent years, and the claimant count in his constituency is down by 54% since 2010. What more we can do is encourage companies like this one to invest in training and apprentices because that is key to our future. We have got to ensure we do that, and that will only happen if we stick to our long-term economic plan.

This week we commemorate the worst atrocity in Europe since the second world war: the Srebrenica genocide. In a genocidal act, 8,372 unarmed boys and men were taken out of what was supposed to be a United Nations safe area and were murdered. Will the Prime Minister commit to doing everything in his power to ensure that this genocidal act is remembered and do everything he can to get the international community to mark this as well?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about this issue: it was the largest act of genocide since the holocaust on the mainland of Europe—as he said, 8,300 people were murdered. The first thing is to be very clear that it was genocide, and to say to people who question that that they are genocide deniers. I am very proud of the fact that Britain has the second largest set of commemorations and events to mark the anniversary of these dreadful events. We have also been holding the pen at the UN in drafting a resolution to try and bring the world together to make sure it is remembered in the right way, and we should continue to do all we can to keep this at the front and centre of European and world politics so people realise this was a genocide, and we must learn the lessons from it.

I commend the Prime Minister on his answer and his efforts, and the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones who is hosting a commemorative event in Cardiff today, and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who is doing a commemorative event in Scotland on Friday, but Bosnia’s suffering has continued since the genocide and the end of the war. Unemployment in Bosnia is more than 40%, among young people it is over 75%, and more than half the young people of Bosnia are considering leaving the country. Will the Prime Minister do everything he can, together with European partners, to support political and economic progress for Bosnia and Herzegovina and give the people there real hope for a better future?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is why I met the Bosnian President this week to discuss some of those issues, as well as to talk about commemorating and remembering Srebrenica. What matters is making sure that the institutions in Bosnia work better, and the politicians work better together in understanding their past and their shared future. It is very important that we keep the door of access to the European Union open, but for that to happen the institutions need improving and issues need to be dealt with properly—corruption and problems need to be addressed. But there is no doubt in my mind that the pathway to membership of the European Union has helped in Bosnia, as it can help in the rest of the western Balkans, and it is vital that we keep that door open.

Q15. Seven-year-old Jagger Curtis from Romsey suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Every day that he waits for first NHS England and now the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to make a decision about Translarna is a day that threatens his mobility. Last week’s decision to delay, potentially for up to five months, was a bitter blow. What action can my right hon. Friend take to make sure that NICE makes that decision with the utmost speed? (900830)

My hon. Friend rightly raises this issue, and I say to her that these are incredibly difficult decisions and we know how hard they are for patients and their families. I think it is right that it is expert clinicians at NHS England and not politicians who make these funding decisions, based on the available evidence. As she knows, NICE has not yet made a final decision on these drugs, so patients and their families, and other experts, can feed into its evidence-gathering and consultation process. She asks what we can do, and I think there are two things. First, when we have these drugs that cost over £400,000 per patient per year, it is right to ask some pretty challenging questions of the companies concerned and we should do so. Secondly, we must keep investing in our rare disease research and in genomics, and making sure that the NHS takes up these treatments rapidly. That is the sort of health service we want to build.

Q3. I put it to the Prime Minister again that in his manifesto for England, which was the only part of the UK where he won the election, he promised on English votes for English laws to:“Consult the House of Commons Procedure Committee prior to seeking approval from the whole House to the proposed Standing Order changes.”We all know that the Committee’s membership has not been agreed by the House and it will not meet until next week, and the EVEL vote will take place next Wednesday. Will the Prime Minister please tell us why he is breaking his manifesto promise? (900818)

We are consulting the whole of the House of Commons, and the whole of the House of Commons will have a vote. When it comes to have its vote, it might want to consider what the leader of the Scottish National party here said in 2007—you might find this interesting. He asked the then Prime Minister whether it is not

“completely iniquitous that although English MPs are not able to decide on matters in Scotland, Scottish MPs from the UK parties vote on matters that affect only England?” —[Official Report, 6 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 25.]

That was the view. Given that our modest proposal would actually restrict the SNP from far fewer votes than its own self-denying ordinance does, I would think it should vote wholeheartedly with the Government on this modest proposal.

Q13. As the Prime Minister knows, my constituency covers four market towns, but our high streets have declined under years of Labour’s neglect. [Interruption.] (900828)

What support can the Prime Minister offer market towns such as Corsham, Chippenham, Melksham and Bradford-on-Avon?

First, let me welcome my hon. Friend to her place. I do know her constituency well and I spent a lot of time there with her before the election. What I would say to her is that the offer of devolution is not limited to cities; we are just as open to proposals from towns, counties and districts. To help our high streets we need a strong economy; to press ahead with these local plans; and to have deregulation of the class orders that sometimes prevent development from taking place. I would also argue, in the case of market towns, that we should make parking easier—and, preferably, free.

Q4. The decision to pause indefinitely the electrification of the TransPennine rail line through Stalybridge and Mossley means that my constituents face many more years of delayed trains, cramped journeys and less frequent services. Are those really the characteristics of a northern powerhouse? (900819)

Is it not typical of the Labour party today that instead of trying to get behind the northern powerhouse and trying to build a balanced economy—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that there is an indefinite pause, but that is not the case. We will be pressing ahead with this investment, and it is right that the Labour party should be supporting it.

Q12. Will the Prime Minister lend his support to plans to extend the Robin Hood line in north Nottinghamshire, so that people living in former coalfield communities can get access to transport and employment, and those people who want to come as tourists can enjoy all that Sherwood forest has to offer? (900827)

The idea of the Robin Hood line is a very positive one. It is something that we want to support and we hope to make progress on it in the months ahead.

Q5. Last Friday at Walsall football club stadium, there were tears, flowers and Walsall shirts and scarves as we remembered Joel Richards, aged 19, Adrian Evans, his uncle, and Patrick Evans, his grandfather, who were all Saddlers fans killed in Tunisia. Will the Prime Minister outline what steps he will take to ensure that bereaved families and the survivors of atrocities can have help immediately and in the future? (900820)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The thoughts and condolences of the whole House go out to the families of her constituents. I am glad to hear that Walsall football club is facilitating this very fitting tribute. I was very moved when I heard about it on television. As I announced to the House last week, I have asked the Cabinet Secretary for advice on a ministerial committee to ensure that work is properly co-ordinated across Government to support all those who have been affected. When I was talking to the victims of the 7/7 bombings yesterday, I was very struck by the way that they had been supported across many years in many different ways, covering all sorts of different issues in their own lives and the way they wanted to commemorate those terrible events in London. I want to ensure that we do it as well in the case of the Tunisian atrocities, and that is exactly what that committee will be set up to do.

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the families of the victims of Tunisia, particularly the family of my constituent, Sue Davey? In the past three years, unemployment in Tamworth has fallen faster than anywhere else in the country. Will my right hon. Friend encourage high-tech firms such as Jaguar Land Rover and BMW to be the motors of the midlands engine, and remind the Labour party that Ed Balls’ comments that our long-term plan would choke off jobs and growth were just plain wrong?

I am delighted that Tamworth has that record, not least because it has such an association with Conservative Prime Ministers down the years and the Tamworth Manifesto. The point my hon. Friend makes is a good one. People who try to say that the jobs we have created are part-time and low paid should look at what is happening in places such as the west midlands where we see growth in manufacturing, engineering and jobs that have long-term successful careers attached to them, and we want more of that.

Q6. If the Prime Minister really is committed to the northern powerhouse, he will know that an essential element of that is improved transport connectivity between the key cities of Manchester and Leeds, and that is now under threat. Given the vague and evasive answer that he gave earlier, will he now join me in welcoming the Manchester Evening News campaign to get the electrification of the TransPennine line back on track? (900821)

I can certainly commit to that, because I said a minute ago that this is a pause and not a stop. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the work goes ahead. We also want to get rid of the Pacer trains that were there all those years under Labour.

Does not the Greek crisis show that, when negotiating with the EU, it is very important to be clear about what one wants and not to accept its first or second offer because it will improve it under pressure?

I am sure that there are all sorts of things to learn from the Greek experience. I fear for the future of that country. Obviously, we want Greece and the eurozone to come to an agreement, but we have to be prepared for all eventualities and to make sure that, whether it is helping British tourists, British businesses or British pensioners living in Greece, we have made all the plans and taken all the precautions that are necessary. My approach to negotiation is a little different from the Greek approach, which is why I have been to see every Prime Minister and President in Europe to talk through what Britain wants to see in terms of change in Europe, and change for our membership in Europe, and I believe that that will be successful.

Q7. What does the Prime Minister have to say in response to new figures from Age UK showing that more than 1 million elderly people are not getting the basic help that they need to be washed, dressed or fed? (900822)

We need to see a continued improvement in social care, and we need to continue to help pensioners. Pensioner poverty is at an all-time low because this party has kept its promises to uprate the basic state pension, to support pensioners’ benefits and to make sure that people have dignity in their old age.

When my right hon. Friend speaks to President Hollande in the immediate future, will he make it plain that he expects the port of Calais to be kept open, now and in the future, for lawful travel in both directions?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I had a very good discussion with President Hollande last week. We have seen more action by the French police in arresting the ringleaders and trying to keep roads and ports open. As I have said at this Dispatch Box before, it is important that we do not engage in finger pointing with the French, but recognise that this is a shared problem. Our juxtaposed border controls in Calais work well for Britain and, I believe, can work well for France, and we should continue to work together to deal with this problem.

Q8. My constituents are still waiting for universal credit to be rolled out to them. In fact, they are still waiting for a timetable of planned rollout. We are about to hear about the latest stages of the Government’s welfare reforms. When will the Prime Minister finish the last one? (900823)

I make absolutely no apology for taking universal credit at a deliberate pace. Many of us in this House can remember what happened when Labour introduced tax credits in one go and people came to our constituency surgeries with problem after problem. It is quite right to roll out universal credit at a deliberate pace, but I can promise the hon. Lady that it will be coming to Bristol South soon.

Every child deserves the best start in life, not least those who need adoption. Will my right hon. Friend set out how the £30 million of extra funding will help even more children find a loving home?

I welcome my hon. Friend. It is important that we get this right. We saw a big increase in adoption during the last Parliament because of the changes that we made, and what we are putting on the table in this Parliament is not only extra money but the proposal to create regional adoption agencies so that counties and other adoption agencies can come together. What matters above all is finding a loving family and home for the child, rather than ensuring that it is in the precise geographical area where that child is in care.

Q9. I am told that the Prime Minister may be planning a vote shortly using EVEL to repeal our hunting laws. Will this be a case of English hunting for English foxes? (900824)

No, it will be an opportunity for the House of Commons to debate an issue and then have a vote, as we were discussing earlier. I do not know what everyone else came here for, but I think that that is quite a good idea.

Q10. I am sure that the Prime Minister had time to study the “Building Great Britons” report from the 1001 critical days all-party group earlier this year, which put the cost of perinatal mental illness and child maltreatment at £23 billion a year. Will he commit to focusing the welcome additional child and adolescent mental health services spending on a pre-troubled families programme which invests in strong attachments between parents and babies at the outset as the best way to secure well-rounded children brought up in strong, loving families? (900825)

My hon. Friend, who has great experience in these matters, makes a good point. We are looking at how to have proper parity between mental and physical health. Everything we can do to help to strengthen families should be part of our agenda of genuinely tackling poverty. We want to tackle the causes of poverty, and alongside worklessness, debt, addiction and the rest of it, family breakdown is a big cause of poverty, so the work he talks about is vital.

With people queuing to access food banks in my constituency, does the Prime Minister think it is a priority for the country to bring back foxhunting?

I think the priority for the country is to keep going with a growing economy that has seen 2 million more people in work, an economy that is going to see 3 million apprentices in the next Parliament, and an economy that is cutting taxes for hard-working people. That is the priority, and that is what the House is going to hear about in a minute or two.

Q11. Derbyshire is at the heart of the midlands engine, powering the economy of the country. Will the Prime Minister congratulate the workers of Bombardier on winning the £358 million contract to supply 45 more trains for London, securing local jobs for the next 35 years? (900826)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Just as the automotive industry has been so important for the west midlands, the growth in the train industry has been important for the east midlands in recent years, and the progress at Bombardier is truly impressive. I had the great pleasure of visiting the company earlier in the year, and was even allowed to drive a train. I was not very successful at that, but the company is doing very well: it is investing for the future, providing trains for our country, and pulling through jobs and skills for the whole region.

Q14. I was surprised to learn from responses to questions from myself and others that the Government do not know where the northern powerhouse is, so—[Interruption.] (900829)

Order. We do have a bit of other business to get on to, but the hon. Gentleman must be heard. Mr Madders.

So given the recent cancellation or pausing of major transport projects in the north, is it not the case that the only place where the northern powerhouse can be found is in the Prime Minister’s imagination?

The truth is that the Labour party ignored the north for years, and Labour Members cannot bear the fact that it is a Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative Chancellor sitting for a seat in the north-west who are putting those issues firmly on the agenda and funding them.