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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 10 February 2016


The Secretary of State was asked—

Single Market

1. What assessment he has made of the value to the economy in Scotland of UK membership of the single market. (903484)

Mr Speaker, I am sure that everyone, particularly in Scotland, will share your warm wishes to Andy Murray and Kim Sears on the birth of their daughter.

Latest official statistics published last month show that in 2014 around 42% of all Scottish international exports were destined for countries within the European Union. The value of these exports is estimated at around £11.6 billion.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the package that the Prime Minister will discuss in greater detail with his colleagues on the European Council will bring about much needed reform and be a catalyst for further reform in the future, thus making it quite clear that the single market is good for the United Kingdom and, of course, good for Scotland?

In a reformed EU, we could have the best of both worlds—access to the single market while not being a member of the euro or Schengen. I believe that would be good for Scotland and good for the rest of the United Kingdom.

The single European market and the ability to affect the legislation that governs it is hugely important to the Scottish economy, especially the exporting sectors such as whisky. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, regardless of the ongoing negotiations, he will personally campaign for Scotland and the UK to remain within the European Union?

The right hon. Gentleman will know and will, I am sure, be pleased to have heard that the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, Ruth Davidson, has expressed exactly that position.

The good news is that I get a second bite of the cherry, so perhaps at the end of this question the Secretary of State will answer my question about whether he will support Scotland and the UK remaining within the European Union. Making a positive case for remaining in the EU will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead, so will the Secretary of State give a commitment not to repeat the grinding negativity of project fear and condemn ridiculous scare stories such as those from the Prime Minister on immigration and the refugee camp in Calais?

I will make my position known when the negotiations have been concluded, but I make this offer to the right hon. Gentleman: if the reform package goes ahead and if I am campaigning to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom I would be delighted to join him, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and the First Minister on a platform to make that case.

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting the Scotch Whisky Association, which introduced me to some of the finer products from across the border. Simpsons Malt in my constituency produces an enormous amount of the malted barley sold across the border in Scotland to produce this whisky. Does my right hon. Friend agree that expansion into new markets that have nothing to do with the EU is the growth area for the whisky industry?

There are tremendous opportunities for development of the Scotch whisky industry. I think that the Scottish Government, the United Kingdom Government and all parties in the House are united on that. When the President of China was in the United Kingdom recently, we had the opportunity to present his wife with a bottle of her favourite malt whisky from Scotland, and both he and his good lady were able to make clear how important the product is to developing markets in China.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish businesses about the possibility of a UK exit from the European Union, and what concerns have those businesses expressed about the impact it would have on their ability to gain access to, and export to, the single market?

The clearest message that I receive from businesses in Scotland is that they want a short EU referendum campaign so that we can have the minimum amount of uncertainty.

Revised Fiscal Framework

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Ministers of the Scottish Government on negotiation of a revised fiscal framework for Scotland. (903485)

I have regular discussions with the Deputy First Minister to discuss the fiscal framework. The Joint Exchequer Committee met on Monday, and negotiations are ongoing.

Yesterday the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister listing the issues on which agreement still needed to be reached. They were the method for

“block grant adjustment…set-up and administration costs, capital and revenue borrowing, fiscal oversight and dispute resolution.”

Can the Secretary of State confirm that those are all the outstanding issues on which agreement still needs to be reached?

It was established at the start of the discussions that until everything was agreed, nothing was agreed, but considerable progress has been made on all those issues. I was very pleased to learn from the First Minister’s letter that the Finance Secretary would be presenting revised proposals from the Scottish Government. That is what a negotiation involves: it involves both parties presenting revised proposals as the negotiation progresses, and that is exactly what the UK Government are committed to doing.

The starting point of the fiscal framework discussions is the Barnett formula, which means that Scotland’s public spending per capita is 15% higher than the United Kingdom average. Does the Secretary of State believe that that differential will be maintained in perpetuity?

My hon. Friend’s views on the Barnett formula are well known. I do not agree with them, and nor do the Government. The Government’s position is that the formula will remain, even in the post-fiscal framework environment.

The negotiations on the fiscal framework are in a very sensitive and fragile state, and we must be very careful about the language that is used. However, the Secretary of State has used language like “ludicrous” and “chancing his arm” when it comes to one party to the negotiations, which is profoundly unhelpful. If the Secretary of State and the Scotland Office have nothing to offer the negotiations, will the Secretary of State vow to stay right out of it, and leave those who want to find a solution to try to get those negotiations fixed?

I find it a little odd to take a lecture from that particular hon. Gentleman on moderate language.

I do not think anyone can doubt my commitment to ensuring that we have a negotiated fiscal framework, and I am delighted that, in her letter to the Prime Minister, the First Minister set out her strong commitment to achieving such an agreement, because that is the Prime Minister’s position. As I said at the weekend, both sides have done the dance; now let us do the deal.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to have the successful devolution that we all want, we need a firm and sensible framework for fiscal discipline that will last, and will stand the tests of all the unknown economic vicissitudes that may hit the country? Will he assure us that we will not repeat the mistakes that have been made in Spain, where devolved provinces frequently run up unsustainable debts which they then blame on Madrid, causing great difficulties to Spanish Governments who are seeking recovery?

As my right hon. and learned Friend will recognise, the settlement in Spain is entirely different. I agree with him about the need for a sustainable fiscal framework, but, as the Government have made clear in the negotiations, we are willing to accept a review of the arrangements in a few years to ensure that they stand up to scrutiny, and are seen to be fair to both Scotland and to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr Speaker, I join you in congratulating Andy Murray and Kim Sears on the birth of their baby daughter. However, their baby daughter might be winning Wimbledon by the time we get a deal on the fiscal framework. The UK and Scottish Governments have now been negotiating it for more than six months, which is longer than it took to negotiate the Scotland Bill itself, longer than it took to strike the historic international climate change agreement and longer than it took the G20 leaders to negotiate $1.1 trillion of support for the global economy. It is clearly the indexation model that is contentious, so will the Secretary of State tell the House why he thinks the per capita index model is not appropriate for the indexation of the block grant?

I have made it clear in previous discussions that we are not going to have detailed negotiations on this matter on the Floor of the House. I have also said that I very much welcome the fact that the First Minister has indicated that the Scottish Government are going to bring forward a revised proposal, just as we have done through the negotiations. I believe that we are within touching distance of striking a deal and I remain optimistic that we will do so.

The Secretary of State says that he will not provide a running commentary on the fiscal framework, yet both Governments are providing exactly that. The respected economist Anton Muscatelli has said of the fiscal framework:

“I do not understand why it should be such a huge stumbling block.”

The constitutional expert Jim Gallagher has said:

“This fiscal framework is an eminently solvable problem.”

The Prime Minister has spent recent months shuttling around Europe trying to strike a deal on EU reform. Is it not time that he got involved and showed the same enthusiasm for striking a fair deal for Scotland in our own Union as he has shown for the European Union?

The Prime Minister is committed to securing a deal. He has spoken to Nicola Sturgeon about this issue and they have had productive discussions. They are now involved in an exchange of letters, but they are both quite clear that they now want a deal. I am confident, given the position set out in the letter from the First Minister that the Scottish Government are actively engaging in that negotiation process, as are we, that we will be able to get that deal.

North Sea Oil and Gas

3. What discussions he has had with representatives of the North sea oil and gas industry on Government support for that sector. (903487)

On 28 January, the Prime Minister and I held discussions with industry representatives in Aberdeen on further support for the North sea. As a member of the joint ministerial group on oil and gas, I also engage with key stakeholders, such as the Oil and Gas Authority, on a regular basis.

Calor Gas has its largest operational UK site in my constituency in South Leicestershire. A number of residents in the Scottish highlands and other rural areas rely on Calor Gas, which receives a large part of its Scottish gas supply from the North sea. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a result of the support that the UK Government are able to provide, we are much better placed to absorb the fall in oil prices than would have been the case had Scotland been an independent country?

I acknowledge the importance of Calor Gas and all those who supply off-the-network energy to people living in rural Scotland. On my hon. Friend’s wider question, he makes an important point about the ability of the United Kingdom as a whole to absorb the change in the oil price.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor about continued funding for seismic surveys on the UK continental shelf?

I am sure that the hon. Lady welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement when he was in Aberdeen of a £20 million contribution to a second round of new seismic surveys.

The severity of the collapse in global oil prices carries with it the danger that a number of fields in the North sea will suspend production and perhaps never resume it. Given that this would represent a serious loss of national assets and national infrastructure, may I invite the Secretary of State to have further discussions with the Chancellor in advance of the Budget to try to ensure that these fields are not lost forever and that they remain an important part of our national economy?

It will not surprise my right hon. Friend to know that that issue was part of the discussion with the Prime Minister, Fergus Ewing from the Scottish Government and representatives of the oil and gas industry at the recent meeting in Aberdeen. The Prime Minister made it very clear that he would look at any specific request or proposal in relation to supporting the industry in the forthcoming Budget.

Welfare Programme

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effects of the Government’s welfare programme on social and economic inequalities in Scotland. (903488)

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effects of the Government’s welfare programme on social and economic inequalities in Scotland. (903493)

On behalf of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I meet the Secretary of State for Scotland on a regular basis to discuss the devolution of welfare programmes to the Scottish Government; at a meeting just yesterday we discussed the ever-improving labour market in Scotland. I also have regular meetings with my counterparts from the Scottish Government and we have a joint ministerial working group. I will be speaking tomorrow to the Scottish Ministers with responsibility for fair work, and for children and young people.

The Smith agreement devolved employability funding and services to Scotland, but then the autumn statement cut funding for it by an eye-watering 87%, so that the Scottish Government now have only £7 million with which to deliver those services. Notwithstanding the general acceptance that this was a politically motivated decision, what does the Minister have to say to my constituents, who live in one of the areas of highest deprivation in the whole of the United Kingdom and are, after all, the people this will have the largest impact on?

I start by hoping that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that in her constituency the claimant count has decreased by 49% since 2010. We have record levels of employment in Scotland. There will be greater devolution for the Scottish Government in welfare, and we would be particularly happy to have discussions with them on employment programmes. Many of those will look at how we take these programmes further to support those who are out of work in Scotland but desperately want to work.

As a result of the changes from disability living allowance to the personal independence payment, thousands of Scots are losing their rights to Motability vehicles. That is particularly devastating in rural areas, where accessible public transport may be limited. Will the Minister end this iniquitous policy?

As I have said, there will be new powers under the devolution deal, which will also include top-up payments; this is still very much based on welfare payments as well. It will be down to the Scottish Government in particular to get on and start making some of these decisions. They have got the powers coming to them so they will have to start deciding how they want to use them.

It was thanks to Labour peers that the Government’s initial cack-handed and unfair cuts to tax credits were brought to an abrupt end, but we now know that the Government want to introduce new changes to income disregard which will leave 800,000 people on tax credits across the United Kingdom worse off come April. Can the Minister tell the House how many people in Scotland will be affected?

I will say, as I have previously said when the House has discussed the issues of welfare reform and welfare changes, that we have the Bill going through the other place right now and the changes we are making are to bring fairness and stability to the welfare bill in this country. We know, and we have made it clear, that despite the figures that the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party leverage constantly, people will not be affected and the right kind of transitional support will be put in place.


The employment rate in Scotland has never been higher, and it now stands at 74.9%. Our employment support offer will build on that, recognising the changing labour market environment, while delivering value for money to the taxpayer.

Erewash has many great examples of businesses whose commercial operations north of the border help to sustain jobs locally, including Rayden Engineering and West Transport. Does the Minister agree that Scotland not only supports jobs for its own population, but creates a great deal of employment across the rest of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that record levels of employment in Scotland have clearly benefited her constituency, as there is a crossover in employment opportunities between her constituency and Scotland. With our growing economy, and the strength of our economy, those levels will continue to grow and grow.

Under the SNP Scottish Government, Scotland’s youth employment is at its highest level since 2005, and is 7% higher than that in the rest of the UK. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that he will make representations to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that Scotland receives a fair share of funding from the apprenticeship levy?

I did not fully hear the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I will certainly take it away. I understand that the Department is already looking at that matter.

It is a very serious situation if Ministers cannot hear the questions. It is also a considerable discourtesy to the people of Scotland if, when we are discussing these important matters, questions and answers cannot be heard. Let us please try to have a bit of order.

West Coast Main Line

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport and Ministers of the Scottish Government on the effect on communities in Scotland of the partial closure of the west coast main line. (903490)

I have had a number of discussions with the Department for Transport and others to ensure that the closure of the Lamington viaduct, which is in my own constituency, is addressed as quickly as possible. We remain absolutely committed to working together with all parties to reopen the west coast line in the first week of March.

I apologise for my lack of voice. The closure of the west coast main line has a huge impact not only on the economy of southern Scotland, but on Cumbria, too, as it is a strategic cross-border crossing on which many businesses in my constituency rely. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that it will be open in the first week of March, as it is so important. Will he confirm that the entirety will be open by 1 March?

I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments because, as she will be aware, my own constituents who use Lockerbie station are among those most affected by these changes. We are determined to get the west coast main line fully reopened in that first week in March.

The Prime Minister claims that he will get a good deal for Britain in the European Union. Would the Secretary of State like to see the United Kingdom play the same role and have the same powers in the EU that he claims Scotland currently has in the UK?

That was quite tangentially related to the west coast main line, but I hope that the dexterity of the Secretary of State will admit of an answer.

Mr Speaker, the west coast main line is one of the most important routes within the United Kingdom to Europe via London. I have set out my position in relation to the EU referendum. If the SNP genuinely wants Scotland to remain in the EU, it is important that, rather than concentrate on process issues, it gets out and campaigns for it.

Devolution and Local Government

7. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on the effect of devolution on the powers and autonomy of Scottish local government; and if he will make a statement. (903491)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to read my speech of 21 December, in which I set out that I fully support the devolution of power from Holyrood to local communities, as Lord Smith recommended in his commission agreement. This is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament to implement, and I encourage them to do so.

Will the Secretary of State condemn those who use devolution to centralise power in Holyrood—whether it is the centralisation of the police, the fire service, health spending, local government spending, courts, colleges and enterprise companies? Will he ensure that he stands together with those who feel that devolution does not stop at Holyrood, but goes down to the Scottish local authorities and to the Scottish people?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I can tell him the best way to achieve it, which is, under Ruth Davidson, to elect more Scottish Conservative MSPs to the Scottish Parliament.

In the interests of the record, can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the powers that are being devolved as part of the current Scotland Bill, the Scottish Government will be able to vary rates and bands of the Scottish rate of income tax—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State and the Minister could not hear the question because of a rude eruption of noise. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can ask his question again, and perhaps Members will have the common courtesy to allow him to be heard by their own Ministers.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We are getting used to interruptions. In the interests of the record, can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the powers that are being devolved as part of the Scotland Bill, the Scottish Government will be able to vary rates and bands of the Scottish rate of income tax, allowing the Scottish Government to make progressive choices on these additional powers, and that the half-baked Labour plan to raise Scottish income tax for everyone before these additional powers are transferred—

Order. Members need to learn the merits of the blue pencil. If they used the blue pencil and questions were shorter, they would benefit.

The Scottish Parliament will indeed take on those very significant tax powers, which it will be able to use as it sees fit. I hope it will use them to make Scotland a more attractive place for business and commerce and to grow the Scottish economy and the Scottish population.

Economic Trends

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has had a number of discussions with business organisations, including the Institute of Directors, the Scotch Whisky Association and Oil and Gas UK. It is because of this Government’s commitment to our long-term economic plan and economic prosperity that we have seen such growth in the Scottish economy. Thank goodness that the good people of Scotland voted to stay within a United Kingdom and reject independence.

Research by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers shows that Scottish shop workers could lose up to £1,300 annually as stores increasingly abandon their additional Sunday pay rates in the light of the proposed Sunday trading regulations. Will the Minister take up these concerns with the Business Secretary?

I did not hear all that my hon. Friend said, but I can tell her that we intend to devolve power down to local authorities, so that they make the decisions on what is in the best interests of people locally. That includes local people who may want to shop on a Sunday and the interests of businesses that may want to open more liberally on a Sunday to take full advantage. I think that is a good idea. I hope that my hon. Friend might consider supporting it.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know the whole House has been deeply saddened by the death of Harry Harpham last week from cancer. After a distinguished career as a miner, an adviser to David Blunkett and a Sheffield councillor, he was returned to this place last May, succeeding David Blunkett himself. Although he was in this place only a short time, he quickly became a popular MP, recognised for his commitment to his constituents and his beliefs. It is a measure of the man that he continued to carry out his work as an MP throughout his treatment. We offer his wife Gill and his five children our profound condolences. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

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.

First, may I associate myself, alongside colleagues, with the sentiments expressed at the sad loss of the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough? He came to this House with an excellent record in local government and will be greatly missed. I am sure the whole House sends our condolences to his family at this sad time.

Housing is the No. 1 issue in my constituency—a workable local plan that looks after our green spaces while offering that pure Conservative value, the right to buy. Does the Prime Minister agree that our Help to Buy ISAs, one of which is currently being taken out every 30 seconds, is the right way to promote savings and encourage home ownership?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the most difficult things for young people is to get that deposit together for their first flat or their first house. That is where Help to Buy ISAs, where we match some of the money they put in, can make such a difference. Some 250,000 first-time buyers have opened a Help to Buy ISA, so under this Government we have seen 40,000 people exercise the right to buy their council house. Now we are extending that to all housing association tenants, and we have seen 130,000 people with Help to Buy getting their first flat or house. There is more to do—mostly, building houses—but helping people with their deposits is vital for our country.

I join the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) in paying tribute to Harry Harpham, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, a former miner, who passed away last week. Just a short time ago, Harry used his last question here to ask the Prime Minister about Sheffield Forgemasters and the steel industry. I hope the Prime Minister will reflect on his diligence in representing that industry and his constituency.

Yesterday, I had a chance to have a very nice conversation with Harry’s widow, Gill, and his family. I asked them to say how they would like to remember Harry. She gave me this message, which I will read out:

“We have admired the bravery and courage he showed in his life which was formed during the miners’ strike, and carried him forward for the rest of his life”.

I am sure the whole House and many in the much wider community will remember Harry as a decent, honourable man absolutely dedicated to his community and his constituents. We are very sad at his passing.

Also following the hon. Member for Eastleigh, I have a question on housing. I have an email from Rosie. She is in her 20s—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, the Rosie who has written to me does not have the same good housing that the Chief Whip of our party does, but aspiration springs eternal. The Rosie who has written to me is in her 20s, and she says:

“I work incredibly hard at my job, yet I am still living at home with my parents”.

The lack of housing options is forcing her to consider moving—even leaving the country. She asks the Prime Minister what action he is going to take to help young people and families suffering from unrealistic house prices and uncapped rents to get somewhere safe and secure to live.

First, let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that when you get a letter from the Chief Whip, that normally spells trouble. What I would say to Rosie—the Rosie who wrote to him—is we want to do everything we can to help young people get on the housing ladder. That is why we have got these help-to-save ISAs, and I hope she is looking at that. We are cutting Rosie’s taxes, so this year she will be able to earn £11,000 before she starts paying any taxes. If Rosie is a tenant in a housing association home, she will be able to buy that home, because we are introducing and extending the right to buy. And, of course, she will have the opportunity to register for Help to Buy, which gives people the chance to have a smaller deposit on owning their own home. If Rosie is not earning that much money, but wants to be a homeowner, shared ownership can make a real difference. In some parts of the country, you will only need a deposit of some £1,000 or £2,000 to begin the process of becoming a homeowner. But I recognise, in this Parliament, building more houses, following those schemes, we have got to deliver for Rosie.

I am very pleased that the Prime Minister wants to help deliver decent housing for Rosie. She lives and works in London, and as the Prime Minister knows, London is very, very expensive. He talks about people getting on the housing ladder, but the reality is that home ownership has fallen under his Government by 200,000—it actually rose by 1 million under the last Labour Government. His record is one, actually, of some years of failure on housing. He said that council homes sold under the right to buy would be replaced like for like. Can the Prime Minister tell us how that policy is panning out?

First, let me start with what happened under Labour with right-to-buy sales. What happened was one council home was built for every 170 council homes they sold. That is the record. We have said that we will make sure that two homes are built for every council home in London that is sold. That is because my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) insisted on that in an amendment to the housing Bill. Now, these take some years to build, but they will be built, or the money comes back to the Treasury.

The Prime Minister ought to be aware that just one home has been built for every eight that have been sold under his Government. People are increasingly finding it very difficult to find anywhere to live. The Chancellor’s crude cuts in housing benefits for those in supported housing are putting at risk hundreds of thousands of elderly people, people with mental health conditions, war veterans, and women fleeing domestic violence who need support. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what estimate housing providers have made of the impact of this policy on supported housing?

First, we are going to increase housing supply in the social sector through an £8 billion housing budget during this Parliament that is going to build 400,000 affordable homes. When it comes to our reforms of housing benefit, yes, we have cut housing benefit because it was completely out of control when we came into government. There were families in London who were getting £100,000 of housing benefit per family. Think how many people—think how many Rosies—were going to work, working hard every day, just to provide that housing benefit for one family. We support supported housing schemes, and we will look very carefully to make sure they can work well in the future, but I make no apology for the fact that in this Parliament we are cutting social rents, so that the Rosies who are living in social houses and going out to work will have lower rents under this Government.

I am pleased the Prime Minister finally got on to the question of supported housing. Housing providers estimate that nearly half of all supported housing schemes will close. One in four providers is set to close all their provision. This is a very serious crisis. I assume the Prime Minister is not content to see the elderly, people with mental health conditions and others with nowhere to live, so can he assure the House now that the warm words he has just given on supported housing will be matched by action, and that he will stop this cut, which will destroy the supported housing sector?

We will continue to support the supported housing sector. The report that the right hon. Gentleman quotes from was an opinion poll with an extremely leading question, if he actually looks at what he was looking at. The changes that we are making are reducing social rents by 1% every year for four years. That is good news for people who go out to work, who work hard and who would like to pay less rent. That goes with the lower taxes that they will be paying and the more childcare they will be getting. The other change that we are making, which does not actually come into force until 2018, is to make sure that we are not paying housing benefit to social tenants way above what we would pay to private sector tenants. The simple point is this, and this is where I think Labour has got to focus: every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you cannot spend on building houses. So let us take this right back to Rosie, in the beginning. She wants a country where we build homes. She wants a country where you can buy a home. She wants a country with a strong economy, so you can afford to buy a home. All those things we are delivering, and you will not deliver them if you go on spending more and more money on subsidised housing and housing benefit. One day Labour has got to realise that welfare bills have to be brought under control.

Shelter estimates that the measures in the housing Bill will lose 180,000 affordable homes over the next four years. The Prime Minister is actually overseeing a very damaging housing crisis. It is pricing out people from buying and it is not providing enough social housing. Therefore, many people are forced to rely on the private rented sector. Those on the Benches behind him recently voted against an amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for homes to be fit for human habitation. Labour invested £22 billion in government in bringing social homes up to the decent homes standard. There are now 11 million people in this country who are private renters. Does the Prime Minister know how many of those homes do not meet the decent homes standard?

In the last five years, we built more council houses than the previous Labour Government built in 13 years. Where was the right hon. Gentleman when that was going on? Thirteen years, and an absolutely hopeless record on housing. What we are doing is this: an £8 billion housing budget that will provide 400,000 new affordable homes, a target to build a million homes during this Parliament, getting housing benefit down so we can spend money on housing, and having a strong economy that can support the housing we need.

I was asking the Prime Minister how many of the 11 million renters are living in homes that do not meet the decent homes standard and are, therefore, substandard. I will help him. One third of homes in the private rented sector do not meet the decent homes standard. Shelter has found that six out of 10 renters have to deal with issues such as damp, mould and leaking rooves and windows. It is simply not good enough.

Millions are struggling to get the home that they deserve. More families are slipping into temporary accommodation. The elderly are threatened with eviction. Homelessness is rising. Too few homes are being built. Social housing is under pressure. Families are being forced into low-standard, overpriced private rented accommodation. Young people are unable to move out of the family home and start their own lives. When is the Prime Minister going to realise there is a housing crisis in Britain? His Government need to address it now so that this dreadful situation does not continue.

Let me just take one of the figures that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. Homelessness today is less than half what it was at its peak under the last Labour Government. There is a simple point here. You can only invest in new houses, you can only restore existing houses, you can only build new houses and you can only support people into those houses if you have got a strong economy. We inherited mass unemployment, an economy that had completely collapsed and a banking crisis. Now we have got zero inflation, wages growing, unemployment at 5%, an economy growing and people able, for the first time, to look to their future and see that they can buy and own a house in our country.

Q2. Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman, was 19 years old when Daesh came to her village. They killed most of her family, they tortured her, they raped her and they made her their slave. Nadia’s story is the same as those of thousands of Yazidi women, except that thousands of Yazidi women are still held in captivity and Nadia managed to escape. In fact, she is in the Public Gallery today. Will the Prime Minister join me in acknowledging Nadia’s resilience and her bravery—the essential qualities that have allowed her to triumph over Daesh—and will he do everything in his power to redouble his efforts to support Yazidi women and to eradicate Daesh? (903570)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue in such a way. Let me welcome Nadia Murad, who is here with us today. She and the Yazidi community have suffered appallingly at the hands of this murderous, brutal, fascist organisation in Syria and in Iraq. We must do everything we can to defeat Daesh and its violent ideology. We are playing a leading role in this global coalition. In Iraq, where so many Yazidis have suffered, Daesh has lost over 40% of the territory that it once controlled. We are making progress, but, as I said at the time of the debate about Syria, this is going to take a long time. Building up Iraqi security forces, working with Syrian opposition forces, building the capacity of Governments in both countries to drive this evil organisation out of the middle east—however long it takes, we must stick at it.

We on the SNP Benches join in the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in relation to Harry Harpham, and we pass on our best wishes to his family at this sad and difficult time.

The Prime Minister made a vow, and his party signed an agreement, that there would be no detriment to Scotland with new devolution arrangements. Why is the UK Treasury proposing plans that may be detrimental to Scotland to the tune of £3 billion?

We accept the Smith principles of “no detriment”. There are two principles: first, no detriment to Scotland, quite rightly, at the time when the transfer is made in terms of Scotland having these new tax-raising powers; and then, no detriment to Scottish taxpayers, but also to the rest of the United Kingdom taxpayers, whom we have to bear in mind as we take into account this very important negotiation.

I have had good conversations with the First Minister, and negotiations are under way. I want us successfully to complete this very important piece of devolution in a fair and reasonable way, and these negotiations should continue. But let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that if we had had full fiscal devolution—with oil revenues having collapsed by 94%—the right hon. Gentleman and his party would be just weeks away from a financial calamity for Scotland.

In the context of the referendums, whether in Scotland or across the UK on EU membership, do not voters have a right to know that what is promised by the UK Government can be trusted and will be delivered in full? Will the Prime Minister tell the Treasury that time is running out on delivering a fair fiscal framework, and that it must agree a deal that is both fair to the people of Scotland and fair to the rest of the United Kingdom?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman everything that has been committed to by this Government will be delivered. We committed to this huge act of devolution to Scotland, and we have delivered it—we committed to the Scotland Bill, and we are well on the way to delivering it—with all the things we said we would, including those vital Smith principles.

There is an ongoing negotiation to reach a fair settlement, and I would say to the Scottish First Minister and the Scottish Finance Minister that they have to recognise there must be fairness across the rest of the United Kingdom too. But with good will, I can tell you that no one is keener on agreement than me. I want the Scottish National party, here and in Holyrood, to have to start making decisions—which taxes are you going to raise, what are you going to do with benefits? I want to get rid of, frankly, this grievance agenda and let you get on with a governing agenda, and then we can see what you are made of.

Q3. The skills shortage in engineering in Wiltshire is a particular problem. It is threatening and undermining all the work we have done in job creation and also in supporting businesses. It is, quite simply, a ticking time bomb. May I ask the Prime Minister what more he can do to remove the stigma, misunderstanding and problems associated with STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects and STEM careers? (903571)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. There are special circumstances in Wiltshire, because it has the enormous success of Dyson, which is hiring engineers and skilled mathematicians and scientists from every university in the country, and long may that continue. What we will do is help by training 3 million apprentices in this Parliament, and we are giving special help to teachers of STEM subjects and encouraging them into teaching. I think there is a lot that business and industry can do to help us in this by going into schools and talking about what these modern engineering careers are all about—how much fulfilment people can get from these careers—to encourage people to change the culture when it comes to pursuing these careers.

Q4. Young people afraid of losing their homes, women denied the pensions that they were expecting and, increasingly, the needy left exposed without the social care they need to live a decent life: when will the Prime Minister address these scandals? (903572)

What we are doing for pensioners is putting in place the triple lock so that every pensioner knows there can never be another shameful 75p increase in the pension that we saw under Labour. They know that, every year, it will increase either by wages, prices or 2.5%, and that is why the pension is so much higher than when I became Prime Minister. Of course we need to make sure there is a fair settlement for local government, too—we will be hearing more about that later today—but the ability of local councils to raise special council tax for social care will help an area where there is great pressure.

Q5. The Spitfire was a crucial element in our winning the battle of Britain 75 years ago and keeping our country free from tyranny. However, there are some who fear that our independent nuclear deterrent could be as obsolete as the Spitfire. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assure the House and the country that that is not the case? (903573)

It takes quite a talent for a shadow Defence Secretary to insult Spitfire pilots and our brave submariners all in one go. Another week, another completely ludicrous Labour position on defence. The last word should go to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon)—thank you Twitter for this one—who, as she came out of the parliamentary Labour party meeting, tweeted:

“Oh dear oh dear omg oh dear oh dear need to go rest in a darkened room”.

I expect that she will find the rest of her party there with her.

Q7. At the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee today, the Business Secretary confirmed that the Government will not support the European Commission in raising tariffs on dumped steel from countries such as China. Why will the UK Government not stand up for UK steel? (903575)

We have repeatedly stood up for UK steel, including by supporting anti-dumping measures in the EU, but that is not enough. We need to get behind public procurement for steel, and that is what we are doing. We need to get behind reducing energy bills for steel, and that is what we are doing. We need to support communities, like the hon. Gentleman’s, that have seen job losses, and that is exactly what we are doing. We recognise what a vital part of Britain’s industrial base the steel industry is, and that is why we are backing it.

Q6. Julian Assange is accused of rape and is on the run. Despite that, a United Nations panel that nobody has ever heard of declared last week that he has been “arbitrarily detained” and is somehow deserving of compensation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that was a nonsensical decision, that Mr Assange should hand himself over to the Swedish prosecutors and that if anyone is deserving of compensation, it is the British taxpayer, who has had to pay £12 million to police his Ecuadorian hideout? (903574)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was a ridiculous decision. This is a man with an outstanding allegation of rape against him. He barricaded himself in the Ecuadorian embassy, yet claims that he was arbitrarily detained. The only person who detained him was himself. What he should do is come out of the embassy and face the arrest warrant against him. He is being asked to stand trial in Sweden—a country with a fair reputation for justice. He should bring to an end this whole sorry saga.

Q8. Women’s aid groups, including my own in Angus, have raised the serious concern that changes in housing benefit may force the closure of many refuges. Will the Prime Minister undertake to specifically exclude refuges from the changes and to protect this vital service for vulnerable women and children? (903576)

As I said in my answers to the Leader of the Opposition, we want to support the supported housing projects that work in many of our constituencies. We have all seen how important they are. The changes to housing benefit that we are talking about will not come into place until 2018, so there is plenty of time to make sure that we support supported housing projects.

Q10. Next month, Milton Keynes will host the first ever national apprenticeship fair. We have a strong record in expanding apprenticeships, but is there not still a need for a cultural shift in careers advice to show that high-level apprenticeships and university places are equally valid? (903578)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The careers advice that we need to give young people is that every school leaver has the choice of either a university place, because we have uncapped university places, or an apprenticeship, because we are funding 3 million of them in this Parliament. We need to go on to explain that if someone becomes an apprentice, that does not rule out doing a degree or degree-level qualification later on during their apprenticeship. The option of earning and learning is stronger in Britain today than it has ever been.

Q9. Does the Prime Minister agree that how we protect human rights in the legal systems of the United Kingdom deserves full and careful consideration? Will he give an assurance that his consultation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act will not conflict with the pre-election purdah periods in Scotland and the other devolved Administrations? (903577)

We will look very carefully at all those issues, but I say to the hon. and learned Lady and Opposition Members that the idea that there were no human rights in Britain before the Human Rights Act is ludicrous. This House has been a great bastion and defender of human rights, but we will look carefully at the timing of any announcement that we make.

Q15. I have spent most of my working life in children’s hospices, which rely heavily on donations from organisations such as Children in Need, which has a long and proud association with the town of Pudsey. Last week, Children in Need’s most famous celebrity sadly passed away. Will my right hon. Friend join me and the people of Pudsey in paying tribute to Sir Terry Wogan, who did so much to inspire millions of pounds to be donated to these causes? (903583)

I am very happy to do that. My hon. Friend, who represents a constituency—Pudsey—which has such a connection with Children in Need, is absolutely right to raise this. Terry Wogan was one of this country’s great icons. Like many people in the House, I felt almost as if I had grown up with him, listening to him on the radio in the car, watching him present “Blankety Blank” or all the many other things he did. Perhaps many people’s favourite was the “Eurovision Song Contest”, to which he brought such great humour every year. You did not have to be a “TOG” to be an enormous fan. I think that we were all fans, and he will be hugely missed. His work with Children in Need was particularly special.

Q11. On Monday, I attended the Work and Pensions tribunal appeal hearing for my constituent, Mrs Jackie Millan, a brave, inspiring woman who has dwarfism. Despite being unable to climb staircases except on all fours, she was awarded zero disability points by her assessor. Has the Prime Minister, as a constituency MP, attended any tribunal hearings? If so, did he find the process fair, dignified and compassionate? (903579)

I am very happy to look into the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises. As a constituency MP, of course I have people coming to my surgery with inquiries about either employment and support allowance or indeed, disability living allowance. I also have the experience, having had a disabled son, of filling out all the forms myself. I am looking forward to the new system, which I think, with a proper medical check, will work out better. I have listened to the arguments, but we have to have an adjudication system that is independent of politicians.

When I was growing up, I always knew I was nearly home when I saw the iconic cooling towers of the Rugeley power stations on the horizon. On Monday, the owners of the remaining power station announced its likely closure this summer. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to meet me to discuss further the Government support that can be given to the 150 workers, and the provision that can be made to ensure that the site is redeveloped as quickly as possible?

I will certainly arrange for that meeting to take place. We should thank everyone who has worked at power stations that come to the end of their lives for the work that they have done to give us electricity to keep the lights on and our economy moving. My hon. Friend is right: as coal-fired power stations come to the end of their lives, we must ensure that proper redevelopment takes place so that we provide jobs for constituents like hers.

Q12. The Football Supporters Federation is considering calling on fans to hold mass walk-outs to get their voices heard about ticket prices. Will the Prime Minister act to give fans a place at the table in club boardrooms so that their voices can be heard when issues such as ticket prices are discussed? (903580)

I will look very carefully at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion because there is a problem whereby some clubs put up prices very rapidly every year, even though so much of the money for football comes through sponsorship, equipment and other sources. I will look carefully at what he says.

The vital debate and vote on the Trident successor submarine should have been held in the last Parliament, but was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Given the fun that the Prime Minister had a few moments ago at the Labour party’s expense over Trident’s successor, it must be tempting for him to put off the vote until Labour’s conference in October. However, may I urge him to do the statesmanlike thing and hold that vote as soon as possible because everyone is ready for it and everyone is expecting it?

We should have the vote when we need to have the vote, and that is exactly what we will do. No one should be in any doubt that the Government are going to press ahead with all the decisions that are necessary to replace in full our Trident submarines. I think the Labour party should listen to Lord Hutton, who was Defence Secretary for many years. He says:

“If Labour wants to retain any credibility on defence whatsoever, it had better recognise the abject futility of what it’s leadership is currently proposing”.

I hope that when that vote comes, we will have support from right across the House of Commons.

Q13. In the light of today’s damning National Audit Office report on teacher shortages, will the Prime Minister take urgent steps to help excellent schools such as those in my constituency to recruit and—crucially—to retain the best teachers, including by extending the so-called inner-London weighting to all Harrow schools and other suburban schools in London? (903581)

Obviously we will look carefully at the report. There are 13,100 more teachers in our schools than when I became Prime Minister, and our teachers are better qualified than ever before—[Interruption.] People are shouting about increased pupil numbers, but they might be interested to know that we have 47,500 fewer pupils in overcrowded schools than in 2010, because we put the investment in where it was needed. Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that we need schemes such as Teach First and our national leadership programme, which are getting some of the best teachers into the schools where they are most needed.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister deserves great credit for the results of the Syria replenishment conference that was held under his co-sponsorship in London. He will be aware, however, that that can only address the symptoms, and not the causes, of the catastrophe that is Syria today. Will he tell the House what more he thinks the British Government can do to try to promote the political track and ensure that it reaches the most speedy possible success?

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he says about the Syria conference, and that gives me the opportunity to thank my co-hosts, the Norwegians, the Germans, the Kuwaitis, and the United Nations Secretary-General. In one day we raised more money than has ever been raised at one of these conferences—more than $10 billion—and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development who did a lot of the very hard work. That money helps because it will keep people in the region, feed and clothe them, and make sure that they get the medicine they need. But we do need a political solution and we will go on working with all our partners to deliver that. That requires all countries, including Russia, to recognise the need for a moderate Sunni opposition to be at the table to create a transitional authority in Syria. Without that, I fear that we will end up with a situation with Assad in one corner, and Daesh in the other corner—the worst possible outcome in terms of terrorism, and for refugees and the future of Syria.

Q14. I am sure that the Prime Minister is looking forward to visiting Hull next year, and as the UK city of culture, we are already backed by many prestigious organisations such as the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, we could do much more to make this a real national celebration of culture. Will the Prime Minister join me in urging the many London-based national arts organisations to do their bit and contribute to the success of Hull 2017? (903582)

The hon. Lady makes an important point, which is that our national cultural institutions have an immense amount of work and prestige that they can bring out to regional galleries and centres when there is a city of culture event, or indeed more broadly, and I talk to them about that. I am looking forward to visiting Hull, and as it is the city of Wilberforce, I am sure my hon. Friends will want to join me. Hull is a city of poets, including Andrew Marvell, and it was home to Philip Larkin for many years, and, of course, Stevie Smith—sometimes one might want to contemplate what it looks like “not waving but drowning.”

Order. Before large numbers of hon. Members file out of the Chamber, I remind them that the election for the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is now taking place in Committee Room 16. Voting will continue until 1.30 pm. Voting on a deferred Division is taking place in the No Lobby, and that will continue until 2 pm.