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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 603: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2015

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Palestinian Territories

I would first like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) for all the work he did during his time in the Department, and to welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) who I know will continue in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield.

The Department for International Development provides assistance and support to poor and vulnerable Palestinians, as well as supporting state building and economic development. Our operational plan for the Occupied Palestinian Territories contains a results framework that is monitored quarterly.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The Prime Minister has been clear that Palestinian incitement will not be tolerated. As many as 25 Palestinian Authority schools are named after Palestinian terrorists, including Dalal Mughrabi, who killed 37 Israeli citizens. Will the Secretary of State assure me that no British aid goes towards such schools or to support the glorification of terrorism?

The Prime Minister and I have been very clear that the UK deplores incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We monitor any allegations of incitement closely and raise instances with both the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities. The UK’s direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which provides civil service salaries, goes only to approved individuals through a World Bank trust fund that has an independent audit.

Palestinian refugees from Syria are suffering enormously—both those within Syria and those who have fled the country. What more can we do and what more can DFID do to ensure that the vital work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has secure funding for the long term?

I had the chance to meet the head of UNRWA only last week with the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), and we discussed the need to ensure that its funding is sustained. UNRWA does critical work, and in the context of the need to improve the international response to more protracted crises, we can learn a great deal from its work with Palestinian refugees.

15 . Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be better if money was put into direct projects rather than through third-party organisations when we cannot really be sure of the outcome? (902762)

I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend that the agencies and organisations with which we work are ones in respect of which we know we can achieve value for money and results on the ground. He knows that I am passionate about being an aid disciplinarian and making sure that we get value for money. Critically, though, we have to work with the organisations that are there. We have a multilateral aid review under way to make sure that improvements in value for money continue progressively over time.

Surely the Secretary of State will be aware of the guidance on the Foreign Office website, which warns UK companies thinking of investing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the “legal and economic risks” if they engage in

“financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements and other economic activities in Israeli settlements or benefitting Israeli settlements”

because of the illegal nature of those settlements and their being an obstacle to peace. Does the right hon. Lady therefore agree that it is perfectly reasonable for both public and private institutions to pay due regard to that advice when they make their own investment and procurement decisions?

They should do that; that is good Foreign Office advice. We have been very clear that we deplore illegal settlements, because they take us further away from a two-state solution and peace in that part of the world, when we need to be taking what could be final steps and final chances to reach a two-state solution.

We welcome the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) to his new Front-Bench position, and on this side we will claim the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) as our first scalp.

Given the worsening situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, how does the Secretary of State justify the decreasing funding to organisations such as UNRWA?

I do not recognise that statement. The United Kingdom has played a leading role in making sure that we get support to vulnerable Palestinians, not only in Gaza but on the west bank. For example, the Materials Monitoring Unit has helped to support the Gaza reconstruction mechanism. I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware of all that, and it would be helpful to have her support for it.

Gaza: Youth Unemployment

2. What information her Department holds on the level of youth unemployment in Gaza; and if she will make a statement. (902749)

Gaza has the highest unemployment in the world. The World Bank estimates that youth unemployment had reached 60% by the end of 2014. Extensive restrictions inhibit employment. The UK continues to promote economic development and private sector-led growth.

Gaza still faces restrictions on access to 35% of its agricultural land and 85% of its fishable waters, and Gazans are rarely allowed to travel outside their territory. Until such restrictions are removed, DFID will continue to work with one hand tied behind its back. Does the Minister not agree that the real problem is the blockade of Gaza?

As I said, the restrictions inhibit employment, but we will not give up. We have a programme for economic development, and it is making progress—slow and frustrating progress, but progress none the less.

May I make it absolutely clear that supporting the Palestinian people has nothing whatever to do with anti-Semitism? I wanted to clarify that at the outset.

Does the Minister not agree that the appalling situation in Gaza—and he has given us the figures—shows the need for the developed democracies to do far more? What hope can there be for the Palestinian people when they are faced with so little hope of obtaining jobs and having a decent life? Should we not be far more concerned with the Palestinian tragedy than we are?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We do everything that we can diplomatically to raise the sights of the world community, and we will continue to do so.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that the ill-considered, short-sighted campaign for boycotts and disinvestment is actually leading to more unemployment among the Palestinian people?

The problem faced by Gaza is restrictions, and the extension of restriction by any means is a block to peace.

Start-up Businesses

3. What steps she is taking to encourage the availability of low-cost credit for start-up businesses in developing countries. (902750)

May I place on record my personal respect for the work done by my predecessor and friend the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), not least his kick-starting of the Energy Africa campaign?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, small and medium-sized enterprises will play a critical role in creating and sustaining much-needed jobs in poor countries. We have a range of programmes that focus on providing support and finance for microbusinesses, SMEs and, I am delighted to say, social enterprises.

I know the Minister to be an innovator —he has that reputation—but will he consider carefully one way in which the United Kingdom can help? The UK is now the leading financial technology and crowdfunding centre of the world, and crowdfunding can deliver real opportunities to, in particular, women in the developing world to control their lives, finance start-ups, and do well in life. Will the Minister talk to other people, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the aim of getting some real movement behind this?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is a long-term, passionate supporter of the power of the crowd. If we get the regulation and the technology right, the arrangements will be very sustainable. The hon. Gentleman may not know this, but we have a manifesto commitment to develop crowdfunding, and that is exactly what we are doing. We are backing the Global Village Energy Partnership, which will support 10 to 15 crowdfunding platforms in the energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa, and that is just the start.

Does the Minister agree that businesses that support the conservation of endangered species should be promoted, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group on endangered species to discuss that?

My party also welcomes the new Minister to his post. He has said that he will ensure that small local enterprises can flourish in developing countries, but what reassurances can he give us that funds intended for those purposes do not make their way into the hands of larger conglomerates or multinational companies when it comes to, for example, the building of schools or the provision of education?

What is important to us is the creation of jobs. Those jobs will be created by a range of companies, and we will work with them to create a better economic environment in the countries in which we work. However, we know that 90% of the jobs will come from the private sector, and we know that most of the sustainable jobs will come from small and medium-sized organisations. We therefore give those organisations priority in respect of a number of the programmes that we are developing.

As my hon. Friend will know, that issue is enormously important to the Department and the Secretary of State. Inclusive growth and support for women and girls as part of economic development is a central pillar of our strategic framework for the future. We expect our support over the next seven years to help to mobilise finance for more than 200,000 SMEs, at least a quarter of which will be headed by women.

Small businesses in Rwanda and Burundi face credit costs of up to 20%. I know that DFID’s TradeMark East Africa project is trying to deal with that, but small businesses in Burundi now face an upsurge in ethnic violence, with foreign fighters coming in from Rwanda. May I urge the Minister, as he undertakes the bilateral aid review, to look again at our decision to leave Burundi in 2011 and to look carefully at the potential need to go back in there and have a presence on the ground?

I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the situation. We do not have a bilateral programme there, but we do a lot in terms of humanitarian support. I take on board fully her remark about the costs of capital to small organisations. I refer to my earlier answer: technology can help us to reduce such costs.


4. What plans she has to provide support for economic development in Burma in response to the recent election result in that country. (902751)

I congratulate the people of Burma on their historic elections, which were supported by British-funded trained observers. The elections are an important step towards greater democracy. The UK will support inclusive growth in Burma. We will support improvements to the business climate, including the financial sector. We will help to increase agricultural productivity, diversify livelihoods and encourage more private sector investment in infrastructure.

In the wake of Aung San Suu Kyi’s amazing victory, will my right hon. Friend expand on what her Department is doing to increase the participation of women in Burma’s economy, which has been dominated for far too long by men and the military?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Women face specific barriers to participation in Burma’s predominantly rural economy, and in access to finance, land skills and credit, so we are targeting those issues through programmes that have helped, for example, to provide affordable credit for over 140,000 women. We are also looking at how we can help women to move into other sectors, such as garments manufacture, where often conditions and pay are better.

In assisting the Burmese nation and the new regime with international development, will the Secretary of State ensure that that regime is aware of the ongoing persecution of minorities in Burma, which needs to be dealt with as the new nation state takes shape?

We will of course raise those issues. We know from so many other parts of the world that the Governments that are successful are the inclusive Governments with respect to minorities. One of the pieces of work that will be under way will be to double our support for a governance project that is taking place in the Burmese Parliament. That has seen our House of Commons Clerk go there in recent years. We will be doubling the number of Clerks there to help to ensure that the Burmese democracy can flourish, as ours has.

Gaza: Water and Sanitation

5. What assessment she has made of the quality and availability of water and sanitation facilities in Gaza. (902752)

It is completely inadequate. Demand exceeds supply by a factor of four, and 96% of the extracted water fails World Health Organisation safety standards.

It is a terrible situation. Twenty-six per cent. of all diseases in Gaza, ranging from respiratory and gastric to skin and eye diseases, are directly associated with the poor water supply. Clean water is limited to 70 litres per person a day and that figure will fall drastically over the coming years. According to the UN, the underground coastal aquifer will become unusable by 2016. What can be done about that, or is it just a case of lifting the Israeli blockade and getting on with life?

We are currently spending some €600,000 on a project to assist with desalination. Funds are available through our climate change fund for a long-term solution to this problem, but the level of investment and the marshalling of the factors of production will require a long-term peace process to be viable.

The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) speaks about the blockade, but surely if they did not embrace Hamas and continually fire rockets into Israel, there would not need to be a blockade in the first place.

We work continually with both sides to ease the economic conditions and to bring about a settlement.


This is one of the world’s worst human crises: 80% of Yemen’s 21 million people are in need of assistance. The UK is playing its part. We have committed £75 million and are the fourth largest donor.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he update the House on what role the UK Government are playing to help bring about a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Yemen?

Peace talks began today, and yesterday a ceasefire commenced. I would urge all parties to observe the ceasefire. Her Majesty’s ambassador and DFID are in the margins of the peace conference affording what assistance they can.

I welcome all the efforts that have been made by the Government, including the ceasefire, but the real problem is getting aid into Yemen. What can we do to raise the blockade?

We have invested £1.7 million in the UN vessel investigation mechanism. I hope that that will have a quantum effect on the number of vessels that are able to dock in the ports—60 last month, 55 the month before. It is getting better, but we are far, far short of what is necessary.

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of the recent report by Save the Children that highlighted the devastating impact of the conflict on medical facilities in Yemen, with some 69 hospitals destroyed or damaged by the end of October. While one wishes the peace talks well, what can the Government do in the interim to ensure the combatants are dissuaded from targeting medical facilities?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That report is being scrutinised and investigated. We call on all combatants to observe international law, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made this point very forcefully on his recent visit.

Following that reply, does the Minister agree that there is an overwhelming case for the United Nations Human Rights Council, which in the last year has referenced international humanitarian law 17 times, to call for an investigation into breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen?

The conflict in Yemen has seen 6,000 dead and 30,000 injured. The World Health Organisation says health services are on the brink of collapse. As it was world universal health coverage day yesterday, will the Minister today commit to help rebuild Yemen’s crippled system?

We have already committed £75 million to this, the worst crisis in the world, and I do give that commitment. We are already planning for the reconstruction of Yemen.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Foreign Office about concerning reports from Amnesty International and others that British-made weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the conflict, in breach of human rights laws?

The UK has the toughest standards for the export of weapons. The hon. Lady should be aware that the coalition is acting in support of the legitimate Government of Yemen after an illegal coup by an armed—[Interruption]—force.

For a moment I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to be inaudible, which is pretty rare.

Topical Questions

Since the last session of DFID questions, the House will welcome the news that Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak is officially over, and my thanks go to all those across Government, our armed forces and British non-governmental organisations who helped save an estimated 56,000 lives.

In terms of my written ministerial statement in 2012, we are on track to end our traditional aid programme to India by the end of this year, shifting to a relationship based on technical assistance and investment, and last month I became the first Development Minister ever to chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York, discussing the crisis in Syria and the importance of development to delivering peace and security.

Britain has a lot to be proud of in its international development spending, but does the Minister agree that some brutal states continue to undermine the UK’s good efforts in the third world? With this in mind, does she agree that Qatar should be stripped of the World cup because the number of migrant, third world workers slaughtered there in the run-up to the World cup will be greater than the number of professional footballers playing there?

I am sure that the people running FIFA will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point very clearly. He will be aware that some of the work we do in DFID involves improving workers’ conditions, not least in places such as Bangladesh.

T2. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given the vital importance of a rebuilding process for Syria after the conflict, what discussions is my right hon. Friend’s Department having with our international partners and what financial commitments have been made to develop a long-term plan for that process? (902739)

My hon. Friend will be aware that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has signalled, the UK has pledged to commit at least £1 billion to Syria’s reconstruction. We are already updating our existing planning for reconstruction, working with donors, United Nations agencies and the World Bank. The expertise of the UN, international financial institutions and the private sector will be essential. [Interruption.]

Order. There is a lot of noise—probably animated discussions about Christmas shopping and the like—but we must hear the questions and the answers.

The Prime Minister will be giving an update on that shortly, but I think we can be proud of the role that the United Kingdom has played in leading the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, and of all the support we have provided, right from day one, to the refugees affected by the crisis.

T4. What steps can the Secretary of State take to assist Syrians displaced in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, especially over the coming winter months? (902742)

In this financial year, we have provided nearly £13 million to 11 partners who are helping to prepare for and respond to the onset of winter across Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. That is going to help to provide warm clothing, blankets, fuel and cash to vulnerable families.

T3. Two million Syrian children live in areas that are beyond the area of humanitarian assistance. In the light of the recent strikes, what action is the Secretary of State taking to try to reach those desperate children? (902741)

We are constantly working with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations to try to improve our access within Syria. We estimate that there are probably around 500,000 people, including children, that we cannot reach, but we will try our level best to ensure that we maintain our existing network and to reach into those areas as the fighting stops.

T8. Does the Secretary of State agree that her Department has a vital role to play in delivering on the UK Government’s commitments that were signed at the climate change conference in Paris last week? (902746)

Absolutely. In fact, DFID is scaling up our renewable energy work in Africa. We are expanding the provision of climate risk insurance in vulnerable countries, and we are also supporting increased investment in low-carbon technology and clean energy research.

T6. Given the increasing loss of life in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic and the escalating situation in Burundi, does the Secretary of State agree that the Government would benefit from applying a mass atrocity prevention lens in order better to focus their policy? (902744)

The hon. Lady might be aware that, in our recently published aid strategy, we committed to investing around 50% of our DFID investment in so-called fragile and conflict states, precisely because we need to recognise that this is not just a matter of dealing with conflict after it has happened, and that we need to work to prevent it and to deal with fragility prior to issues taking place and causing huge distress.

How much has my right hon. Friend’s Department spent in the past two years on humanitarian assistance in Syria and in the neighbouring countries that are receiving Syrian refugees?

Over the course of the entire conflict, we have provided around £1.1 billion. That is our biggest-ever response to a humanitarian crisis. About half of that has been provided inside Syria, and around half has been used to support people in the region. There are now 4.4 million refugees outside Syria. It is vital that this work should continue, and we will continue to lead it.

T7. Following the report produced by the University of Sussex for the Department, what does the Minister consider to be the main risks posed to most favoured nation low-income countries from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? (902745)

Not only is our aid policy helping to improve the prospects and the lives of millions of people in poverty around the world, but it is in our national interest. I have just talked about how what we are doing is important for UK security and international security, but it is also important in terms of prosperity. The international rules that the hon. Gentleman talks about can be a key way of enabling prosperity through allowing freer trade, which can help developing countries to trade their way out of aid dependence.

What is DFID doing to stop the problem with malaria in the north of Uganda, which I am going to visit over the new year? I know that DFID is working hard there, but will she tell the House specifically what it is doing?

We have a range of programmes, including in Uganda, that have helped with the cheap intervention of providing bed nets. We have seen over the past 15 years that the number of deaths from malaria has fallen by two thirds, which is important because some countries spend 40% of their health budget purely on responding to malaria.

T9. Is the Secretary of State aware of the recent arrest in Malawi of two men for having consensual sex? Will the Government make urgent representations to the Malawian Government, echoing the calls of the US ambassador, calling on them to live up to their international human rights obligations and ensure that these charges are dropped? (902747)

We will be making representations, and the hon. Lady is absolutely right to flag that up as a key area of human rights that needs to be addressed, wherever it takes place.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing Major Tim Peake well as he begins his six-month stay at the international space station. We all watched his exciting take-off yesterday and as he is the first Briton to visit the international space station it signals a landmark in this country’s involvement in space exploration. I am proud that the Government took the decision to fund it, and we wish him the best of luck.

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.

May I welcome today’s fall in unemployment to 5.2%, the lowest level in almost 10 years?

Stalking is a horrible crime. Dr Eleanor Aston, a GP in Gloucester and resident of Cheltenham, was harassed for several years by a stalker who slashed her tyres, hacked her water pipe, cut off her gas supply and put foul items in her letterbox. She and her family suffered dreadfully. The judge, in sentencing, said that if he could have given more than the maximum of five years, he certainly would have done. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) has raised the issue of sentencing guidelines with the Justice Secretary. Will the Prime Minister today give his support for greater flexibility and longer sentencing where it is clear that a stalker is a real menace?

First, let me say how much I agree with my hon. Friend that stalking is a dreadful crime. That is why we have introduced two new stalking offences during this Parliament. I will certainly make sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham has his meeting with my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary. I cannot comment on the individual case without looking at it in more detail, but we are taking the action necessary and we will continue to do so.

On unemployment, I am sure that the whole House will want to welcome the fact that there are half a million more people in work in our country in the last year alone. We have had wages growing above inflation every month for a year and the claimant count is at its lowest level since 1975. I am sure that will have a welcome right across the House.

May I start, Mr Speaker, by wishing you, all Members of the House and all staff here, and Major Tim Peake, who is not on the planet at this time, a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year?

The number of days that patients are being kept in hospital because there is nowhere safe to discharge them to has doubled since the Prime Minister took office. On 4 November, I asked him if he could guarantee that there will be no winter crisis in the NHS this winter. He did not answer then, so I wonder whether he will be able to help us with an answer today.

First, let me join the right hon. Gentleman and be clear that I do not want to wish him the season’s greetings; I want a full happy Christmas for him and everyone in the House. He specifically asked about the NHS, so let me give him a specific answer. The average stay in hospital has actually fallen since I became Prime Minister from five and a half days to five days. One reason for that is that we kept our promises on the NHS. We put in an extra £12 billion in the last Parliament, and will be putting in £19 billion in cash terms in this Parliament.

For the record, I did say happy Christmas. Perhaps the Prime Minister was not listening at the time. If he is so happy about the national health service, will he explain why he has decided to cancel the publication of NHS performance data this winter? There was a time, not that long ago, when the Prime Minister was all in favour of transparency. It was in 2011 when he said:

“Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats.”

Is it because the number of people being kept waiting on trolleys in A&E has gone up more than fourfold that he does not want to publish those statistics?

First, the data that the right hon. Gentleman quoted in his first question were not published before this Government came into office. Let me quote some data about the NHS: on an average day, there are 4,400 more operations and 21,000 more outpatient appointments than there were five years ago when I became Prime Minister. Yes, there are challenges in A&E, but there are 2,100 more people being seen within four hours than there were five years ago, and there are more data published on our NHS than there ever were under Labour.

There are huge pressures on the NHS, and they are largely due to the pressures on the adult social care system, which is under enormous stress at the moment. Indeed, there have been huge cuts in adult social care because of cuts in local government funding. The NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, has called for a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. Does the Prime Minister agree that cutting these crucial services is a false economy?

We are increasing the money that councils can spend on social care through the 2% council tax precept. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Simon Stevens, but our NHS plan is Simon Stevens’s plan. For the first time, the NHS got together and wrote its plan. It asked for £8 billion, and it asked for the money up front. We committed to that plan, unlike Labour at the last election, and we funded it up front, which is why we see a bigger and better NHS. None of that would have been possible, including the action that we are taking on social care through the better care fund, without our having achieved a growing economy and an increase in jobs.

The problem is to do with adult social care. This morning on BBC Radio 4, the NHS Confederation said that

“cuts to social care and public health will continue to pile more pressure on hospitals and will worsen deficits in the acute sector.”

What was announced on social care in the autumn statement falls well short of what is needed. The Health Foundation estimates that there will be a funding shortfall of £6 billion by 2020. How will the Government meet that shortfall?

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman listens to the “Today” programme. Perhaps he might even bother to go on it one of these days. A bit of transparency and sunlight would be very welcome. If he wants to swap quotations, this is what the chairman of the Local Government Association says:

“The LGA has long called for further flexibility in the setting of council tax… Today’s announcement on council tax will go some way to allowing a number of councils to raise the money needed…The £1.5 billion increase in the Better Care Fund announced today is good news”.

It is this Government who funded the NHS; Labour did not. It is this Government who set up the better care fund; Labour opposed it. It is this Government who have the strong and growing economy. I note that we are on question four and there is still no welcome for the unemployment figures.

The issue of adult social care and cuts in local government spending is very much the responsibility of central Government. Will the Prime Minister confirm that NHS trusts are forecasting a deficit of £2.2 billion this year? I understand—and he, as part of the Oxford anti-austerity movement, will be concerned about this—that his own local healthcare trust is predicting a £1.7 million deficit. There is a problem of NHS funding. Has he forgotten the simple maxim that prevention is cheaper and better than cure?

How can the right hon. Gentleman possibly complain about NHS funding when his party did not commit to fund the Stevens plan? We are spending £19 billion more on the NHS—money that would not be available if we had listened to the Labour party. Now he says that social care is a responsibility of Government; everything is a responsibility of Government, but in fact, local councils decide how much to spend on social care, and with the better care fund, they have more to spend. But I challenge him again: how do we pay for the NHS? We pay for it by having more growth, more jobs, more people having a livelihood. Is he going to welcome that at Christmas time, or does he not care about the reduction in unemployment?

I have a question from Abby, who wants to train to be a midwife, and she says:

“I am 28 years old. This year I left my successful career to go back into university to re-train as a Midwife. I already have a debt of £25,000 from my first degree.

Well over half of my cohort have studied a first degree in another subject and many of my fellow colleagues have children and partners and elderly parents and mortgages.

Many people will be put off by the lack of financial support and massive debts.”

In the spirit of Christmas, will the Prime Minister have a word with his friend the Chancellor, who is sitting next to him—it can be done very quickly—to reverse the cuts in the nurse bursary scheme, so that we do get people like Abby training to be midwives, which will help all of us in the future?

First of all, I want Abby to train as a midwife, and I can guarantee that the funding will be there for her training, because there are thousands more midwives operating in the NHS today than when I became Prime Minister. Now the right hon. Gentleman mentions the question of nurse bursaries. The truth is that two out of three people who want to become nurses cannot do so because of the constraints on the system, and our new system will mean many more doctors and many more nurses. Since I became Prime Minister, we have already got 10,000 more doctors in the NHS and 4,500 more nurses. But all of this is happening because the economy is growing, the deficit is falling, unemployment is coming down, you can fill up a tank of gas at £1 a litre and wages are going up. Britain is getting stronger as we go into Christmas, because our economy is getting stronger, too.

Q5. Yesterday, colleagues from both sides of the House formed a new all-party group on the armed forces covenant, which aims to scrutinise and support the fulfilment of the Government’s pledges to service personnel and their families. Will the Prime Minister join me in praising the incredible dedication of our armed forces and their families, especially those in my constituency at RAF Boulmer, at this festive time, when many are separated from their loved ones? Will he reaffirm his personal commitment to the House to delivering his armed forces covenant in practice and in full? (902727)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question; she is absolutely right. As all of us get ready hopefully to spend time with our families this Christmas, there will be many in our brave armed services who cannot because they are serving abroad or at home, so we wish them the very best as Christmas comes. On the military covenant, one of the things of which I am proudest in the last five years is that we put that into law, adding to it every year by giving veterans priority in healthcare, increasing funding for veterans’ mental health services and prioritising school places for children. Every year we have made progress on the armed forces covenant, and every year I stand at this Dispatch Box we will continue to do so.

The Prime Minister will shortly meet the Heads of State and of Government of the European Union. Will he heed the advice of former Prime Minister John Major and stop “flirting” with leaving the European Union, which would, in his words, be

“very dangerous and against our national interests”?

What I will be doing is getting the best deal for Britain. That is what we should be doing. This Government were the first to cut the EU budget, the first to veto a treaty, the first to bring back substantial powers to Britain. We have a great record on Europe and we will get a good deal for the British people.

We were reminded this week that there is a very strong majority in Scotland to remain within the European Union, and the Prime Minister has failed—[Interruption.] I know his side does not like to hear it, but the Prime Minister has failed to give any guarantees that Scotland will not be forced out of the EU by the rest of the UK. Does he have any idea of the consequences of taking Scotland out of the EU against the wishes of voters in Scotland?

This is a United Kingdom and this is a United Kingdom issue. Why is the right hon. Gentleman so frightened of listening to the people and holding this historic referendum, passed through both Houses of Parliament in the past week? I say get a good deal for Britain and then trust the people.

Q6. The Prime Minister has previously visited RAF Waddington in my constituency and I am sure he will, like me, wish all the service personnel and their families well as they carry out operations during the Christmas period. Given that the United Kingdom is now conducting airstrikes over Syria as well as over Iraq, and in the light of the Leytonstone attack, why is our country still not at the highest level of threat? (902728)

First, let me join my hon. Friend in praising those at RAF Waddington who work round the clock to keep us safe in our country and are doing such vital work. As he will know, the threat level in this country is set not by politicians but by the joint terrorism analysis centre, JTAC, which currently sets it at “severe”, the second highest level. I can confirm what I said to the House on 26 November: the UK is already in the top tier of countries that Daesh is targeting. I can also confirm that that part of my statement was cleared in advance by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The threat level today is “severe”, which means that a terrorist attack is highly likely; that has been the case since August. The highest level is “critical”, which means that an attack is believed to be imminent. Were we to go to that level, it would be for JTAC to advise, not for Ministers.

Q2. I am proud to represent a constituency that boasts seven synagogues, four mosques, over 35 churches and two temples. However, last night Donald Trump reiterated that members of one of those communities would not be allowed into America simply because of their religion, seemingly unaware how divisive this is. In our country we have legislation that stops people entering the country who are deemed not to be conducive to the public good. Does the Prime Minister agree that the law should be applied equally to everyone, or should we make exceptions for billionaire politicians? (902724)

Let me join the hon. Lady in being proud of representing a country which I think has some claim to say that we are one of the most successful multiracial, multi-faith, multi-ethnic countries anywhere in the world. There is more to do to build opportunity and fight discrimination. I agree with her that it is right that we exclude people when they are going to radicalise or encourage extremism. I happen to disagree with her about Donald Trump. I think his remarks are divisive, stupid and wrong, and if he came to visit our country I think he would unite us all against him.

Q7. By the time the House next meets for questions, many people will have started their new year’s resolutions. For many, one resolution will be to give up smoking. Given that Public Health England recently stated that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than tobacco and half the population is unaware of that fact, will the Prime Minister join me in highlighting the role that e-cigarettes can play in helping people give up tobacco for good? (902729)

Certainly, speaking as someone who has been through this battle a number of times, eventually relatively successfully, lots of people find different ways of doing it, and clearly for some people e-cigarettes are successful. We need to be guided by the experts, and we should look at the report from Public Health England, but it is promising that over 1 million people are estimated to have used e-cigarettes to help them quit or have replaced smoking with e-cigarettes completely. We should be making it clear that this a very legitimate path for many people to improve their health and therefore the health of the nation.

Q3. During the referendum the Prime Minister pledged to deliver carbon capture and storage at Peterhead, something he reiterated in the Tory party manifesto, yet on the eve of the Paris climate talks he pulled the plug. Which does he see as the greatest betrayal—that of Scotland, that of his manifesto, or that of the entire planet? (902725)

Of course the greatest success is the Paris climate change talks. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who was one of the key negotiators who helped to deliver this global goal, which is so much better than what happened at Copenhagen and better even than what happened at Kyoto.

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman directly on carbon capture and storage. In government you have to make tough choices. You have to make decisions about technology that works and technology that is not working. We are spending the money on innovation, on energy storage, on small nuclear reactors, and on other things such as energy heat systems for local communities that will make a difference. To govern is to choose, and we made the right choice.

Q10. This Friday sadly sees the closure of Britain’s last deep coal mine at Kellingley in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in thanking the hundreds of workers who will be working their last shift this Friday, and praise the thousands of workers whose bravery and hard graft over the past 50 years has helped warm our homes, power our factories, and keep our lights on? (902732)

My hon. Friend speaks very strongly for his constituents. I am very happy to join him in thanking people who have worked so hard at that mine and elsewhere. Obviously it is a difficult time. As part of the closure process, the Government have put in nearly £18 million to ensure that the workers receive the same package as the miners at recently closed Thoresby. That finance has allowed the mine—[Interruption.] It is all very well Opposition Members shouting, but may I just tell them something? This is the official policy of the Labour party:

“We must take action…to keep fossil fuels in the ground”.

That is their policy. They have also got a policy, by the way, of reopening coal mines, so presumably what they are going to do is dig a big hole in the ground and sit there and do nothing. What a metaphor for the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership of his party!

Q4. The Prime Minister promised during the election campaign that he would not restrict child benefits to two children. Since then, he has not only reneged on that but, as a result, brought in the rape clause for women in order for women to receive child benefits. Since July, I have asked a number of his Ministers a number of times, and nobody has been able to tell me how this will work. Will he now drop the two-child policy and the rape clause? (902726)

First of all, we have made it absolutely clear, and let me make it clear again, that there is no question of someone who is raped and has a child losing their child tax credits or their child benefit—no question at all. But is it right for future claimants on universal credit to get payments for their first two children? I think that it is.

Q12. Is my right hon. Friend aware that thanks to the Chancellor’s protection of the police budget, 108 more police officers are being recruited to protect the people of Hampshire? While there is more to do in tackling crime in more rural areas, does he agree that this is an important step in prioritising the frontline, and that the Home Office and the Hampshire constabulary have made real progress in making our police more effective, more efficient, and more resilient? (902734)

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in saying that it was the right decision to make sure we have this extra funding for the police. By the end of the spending settlement, it is actually an increase of £900 million in cash terms by 2019-20. I am delighted that there will be more officers on the streets in Hampshire. I come back to the same point: you cannot fund the NHS, you cannot fund the Home Office, and you cannot fund the police unless you have a growing economy with more jobs, people paying their taxes, and making sure you have got a strong and stable economy, and that is what is happening in Britain today.

Q8. In his farewell speech, the outgoing director of the British Museum said:“The British Museum is perhaps the noblest dream that parliament has ever dreamt. Parliament decided to make a place where the world could be under one roof, where the collection would be free to all native or foreign, where every citizen would have the right to information and where all inquiry would be outside political control.” Does the Prime Minister agree that the partnership working of the British Museum, such as that with the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for its multi-faith gallery next year, is important, but that such work will not happen unless our museums and galleries continue to be funded properly? (902730)

Let me join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute not only to the British Museum, which is an absolute jewel in the British cultural crown, but to Neil MacGregor, who gave it such extraordinary leadership. Given her heritage, perhaps she will be amused by the fact that I took Chancellor Merkel to the museum to show her the brilliant exhibition about Germany—it was fantastic—but the next thing I knew, the Germans had poached Neil MacGregor to run their cultural institute in Germany. None the less, in the spirit of European co-operation, which is going to be vital this week, I am happy to see that happen. I want to see the British Museum complete all its partnerships, not just across the United Kingdom but internationally. The right hon. Lady will have seen in the autumn statement that the British Museum got a funding settlement with which it was, rightly, very pleased.

Q13. According to Oxfam, the UK has donated a generous 229% of its fair share of aid in support of Syrian refugees —the highest percentage of the G8—yet worldwide only 44% of what is needed by those refugees has been donated. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is critical that other countries step up to the plate, as the UK has more than done, and will he update the House on progress in support of Syrian refugees? (902735)

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Britain is doing its moral duty in terms of funding the refugees and the refugee camps. We are going to hold a conference in February, bringing the world together to make sure there is more funding in future. That is going to be absolutely vital. In terms of the number of refugees that we have resettled, I made a promise that we would resettle 1,000 by Christmas and I can confirm today that we have met that commitment. The charter flights that arrived yesterday at Stansted and Belfast mean that over 1,000 have been settled. Another charter flight is coming today. The Government have provided funding so that all those refugees get housing, healthcare and education.

I thank all the local authorities and all those who have worked so hard, including the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), who has led the process so ably. I said that Britain would do its duty, and with those 1,000 we have made a very good start.

Q9. Three years ago, the Prime Minister could not have been any clearer: his EU renegotiation would mean returning control over social and employment law. Is he still seeking that? (902731)

I always find it hard to satisfy the hon. Gentleman: he joined the Conservative party when we were not committed to a referendum and he left the Conservative party after we committed to a referendum, so I am not surprised that he is giving his new boss as much trouble as he used to give me. With that, I wish them both a very festive Christmas.

Q15. The triumphant “Star Wars” saga began life at Elstree studios in my constituency, which continues to produce hits such as “The King’s Speech” and “Suffragette”—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman is banging on very eloquently about “Star Wars” and I want to hear him. Will the Prime Minister join me in pledging support for our thriving British film industry, which makes such a valuable social, cultural and economic contribution in Hertsmere and across the United Kingdom? (902737)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. This film is not only very exciting for children—I have to say that quite a lot of parents are looking forward to it, too—but it was made in Britain, with many British actors and some brilliant British technicians, showing the strength of the British film industry. I would say this, but it is also backed by the British Government and British taxpayers with the excellent resources we provide. As I have worked with my hon. Friend for so many years and in so many different ways, I know that he will never join the dark side.

Q11. Despite the ongoing efforts of the Scottish steel taskforce, my constituents at the Dalzell steel plant and the neighbouring Clydebridge works are starting to receive redundancy notices. Given the urgency of the situation, will the Prime Minister put pressure on the EU now to reach a quicker decision on permitting the energy intensive industries compensation scheme? If such permission is granted, will he also commit to implementing the scheme as soon as possible to provide a much needed breathing space for our steel sector and to give some hope to my constituents this Christmas? (902733)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this. We are working as hard as we can in Europe to try to get the energy intensive industries plan cleared. I can confirm to her that as soon as it is cleared, the money will be available for British steelmaking companies. We expect this to be in place no later than April 2017, but it should be much earlier than that, and we are working round the clock to try to get that done.

The tragic stabbing in Abingdon Poundland last week has shocked local residents. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending our condolences to the family of father of two Justin Skrebowski, who was killed in the attack, and to honour the bravery of those who overpowered the attacker with no thought of the risk to themselves. In the light of this attack, does the Prime Minister agree that it is now time for the Government and retailers to work together to make it more difficult for offenders to get hold of offensive weapons in the first place?

As my hon. Friend’s constituency neighbour, I was very shocked by what happened in Abingdon, and my heart goes out to the family of those who have suffered. She is right to ask the question about offensive weapons and how available they are, and I am very happy to look at that. Given that attack and the, although unrelated, Leytonstone attack, it is right to look at the resources that our police have in terms of their equipment—there is a very different usage pattern for Tasers, for instance, across the country—and this is something that the Home Secretary, the Metropolitan police and I are discussing.

Q14. There is nothing I believe in more passionately than the Union. With Scottish nationalism, English votes for English laws, various powerhouses and city deals, and the creation of numerous other measures that may threaten the Union, what is the Prime Minister’s vision of that Union and holding the four countries together? Will he come to speak to the all-party group on the Union at some stage, and even more important, will he help with the campaign throughout the Union because we are better together? (902736)

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am passionate about our United Kingdom. I believe we can make it stronger by accepting that it is a partnership of nations, and a partnership of nations where we should treat each other with respect. [Interruption.] I do not want to listen to SNP Members: they do not want a partnership; they want a separation. Actually, one of the things that is so strong about the United Kingdom—I think other countries, frankly, are quite envious of this—is that we have demonstrated that you can have multiple identities: you can be proud of being an Ulsterman and a Brit; you can be proud of being a Hindu and a Scot; you can be proud of being both Welsh and British. We have solved one of the problems that the rest of the world is grappling with, and that is why we should keep our United Kingdom together.

Order. There was some noticeably eccentric gesticulation taking place, Mr MacNeil, but you should desist. Calm yourself, man. Go and celebrate if you wish, but we must hear the hon. Gentleman—and he will be heard.

As we approach the festival marking the birth of Jesus Christ, may I invite the Prime Minister to send a message of support to the millions of fellow Christians around the world who are suffering persecution? May I also invite him once again to remind the British people that we are a country fashioned by our Christian heritage, and which has resulted in our giving refuge to so many of other faiths over so many centuries, but that we will not tolerate those who abuse our freedom to try to inflict their alien and violent fashions upon us, particularly in the name of Islam?

I join my hon. Friend in saying that we should do everything we can to defend and protect the right of Christians to practise their faith the world over. That is an important part of our foreign policy. Let me commend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the excellent work he does in that regard.

Yes, Britain is a Christian country. I believe that the fact that we have an established faith and that we understand the place of faith in our national life makes us a more tolerant nation and better able to accommodate other faith groups in our country. That is why, as I said earlier, we should be proud that this is one of the most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-religion democracies anywhere in the world. That is not in conflict with our status as a predominantly Christian country; that status is one of the reasons why we have done it.

I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the flooding that has taken place in my constituency and the damage to the town of Cockermouth. I had a call from a constituent this morning who said that insurance companies are refusing to help my constituents until they have paid the excess in full. Does he agree that that is absolutely outrageous? Some of the excesses are up to £10,000. What can be done to ensure that insurance companies fulfil their obligations to my constituents?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that matter. First, the Minister for Government Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), has had meetings with the insurance companies to make sure that that sort of practice does not happen. Secondly, we have announced that we are putting money into the community funds that will form hardship funds that will potentially help people who do not have insurance. The third vital thing is the establishment of Flood Re, which will mean that, in future, all homes are able to get that insurance. That was a decision made by the last Government and we are putting it in place.

We will come to points of order, but we have an urgent question and a statement. Thereafter, I will be happy to entertain points of order from the hon. Lady and others.