The Secretary of State was asked—
Cardiff City Deal
The Cardiff city deal represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise growth levels right across the region, securing Cardiff’s position as one of the best capital cities in Europe and a fantastic place in which to do business. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I met leaders from the Cardiff capital region to discuss the city deal and to ensure that progress and momentum are being maintained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) has long championed the city deal to help deliver even greater success for Cardiff and Wales, but for it to succeed everyone must be as committed to delivering for Cardiff as he and the Secretary of State so clearly are. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the Welsh Assembly Government’s commitment to this city deal and particularly their commitment to funding it?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I discussed the Cardiff city deal proposal on Monday with the First Minister, and I am pleased and reassured that all parties are now strongly committed to it. I think that there are still some questions to be asked about the nature of the financial commitment coming from the Welsh Government, but there is now momentum behind the deal and we look forward to getting it secured as soon as possible.
On financial commitment, last month, I asked the Secretary of State whether his Government would match the £580 million that the Welsh Government are putting towards the Cardiff city deal. Has he got a cheque from the Chancellor yet?
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Lady’s tone. We have already put £125 million on the table to help with rail electrification. The Welsh Government may want to put that into the pot. We have already put £50 million towards the compound semiconductor catapult centre in Cardiff. There is no question mark over our commitment to securing an ambitious city deal for Cardiff. As I have said, there are some questions about the nature of the Welsh Government’s financial support for such a deal, but I am sure that, with the correct attitude, we can work through those issues and land a deal.
I am sure the Secretary of State will join me in welcoming the massive announcement that Aston Martin will be building its new vehicle in south Wales. Does that not emphasise the important nature of the private sector involvement in the city deal, and what is he doing to ensure that the Welsh Government and local authorities engage with the private sector so that they lever in more money?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. First, though, let me put on record our congratulations to him and his wife, Clare, as it is a few days after the birth of their second child. It is wonderful to see him taking a break from paternity leave to stand here today championing the interests of his constituents in Cardiff. He is absolutely right on two counts. The first is on the success of bringing the Aston Martin deal to Wales, which is a great example of the Welsh and the UK Governments working together in a true team Wales approach. The second is on the importance of business and the fact that it is right at the heart not just of helping to create the city deal vision, but of delivering it as well.
Let me pass on my congratulations to the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams). I also congratulate the workforce in the St Athan area—in the seat of the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns)—and the Welsh Labour Government on their support for that project, the Cardiff city deal and the Swansea city deal. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the support will be there for Cardiff and for the proposal by Terry Matthews for an “internet coast” that links Swansea and west Wales as well, as that is where we will drive the jobs into Wales?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of different initiatives all together in one question. The common thread running through them was the nature of partnership working, and we need to see more of that. I am talking about the Welsh Government, the UK Government and local partners all working together. The Aston Martin deal shows the fruit that can be borne when we have the right kind of attitude and commitment from the Prime Minister, the First Minister, the Ministry of Defence and excellent local MPs such as the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. I have discussed the Swansea city deal with Sir Terry Matthews. We are really interested in understanding it in a bit more detail, and we want to work with the Swansea city deal partners as well as our partners in Cardiff.
Is it not the case that Aston Martin moved to St Athan in the Greater Cardiff region partly because of the success of organisations such as Superfast Cymru, which is delivering fast broadband, and particularly because of the skills that now exist in south Wales?
My hon. Friend, who has a great love for and knowledge of Wales, is right. The most important thing for securing big inward investment projects such as Aston Martin, or the continued inward investment of companies such as Airbus, is the excellence of the skills and the workforce that we have now in Wales. We are not complacent about that. There is more progress that could be achieved, but the reason that such companies choose Wales over locations all round the world is the quality of the skills of the workforce, the quality of the infrastructure and the UK Government’s commitment to creating the best environment for economic growth.
Employment in Wales is now at a record high, with more people than ever before having the security of a pay packet to provide for themselves and their family. Aston Martin has been mentioned. That is testimony to the significant investment that Wales is attracting.
As a former student of Aberystwyth University, the oldest and the best law school in Wales, I have been pleased to see that more than 80% of employees in mid-Wales are now employed by small and medium-sized enterprises. Will the Minister join me in acknowledging the significance of that thriving community to the economy in Wales?
My hon. Friend is right and he is a true champion of Aberystwyth and of mid-Wales. He will be pleased to hear that there are 3,500 additional small businesses in that area, with an extra 5,500 people going out to work every day since 2010 as a result of the economic stability we have brought about.
Does the Minister agree that the key to further enhancing employment in Wales is diversification and innovation in the rural economy, just as is happening in East Anglia? What specific measures does he have in mind to increase enterprise in Wales’s more remote areas?
My hon. Friend is a great expert on rural issues in relation to the success in his constituency in North West Norfolk, and I pay tribute to that. Employment growth in rural Wales has outperformed employment increases across the whole of Wales, which demonstrates the dynamism and the broad base on which those policies are being implemented. There is a range of initiatives such as the British Business Bank, the start-up loan scheme and the new enterprise allowance scheme on a UK Government basis, and we are keen to work with the Welsh Government to try to diversify further.
Now that it is official Government policy to support membership of the European Union in the referendum, will the Minister and the Secretary of State produce a report that shows the benefit of the European Union to jobs and investment in Wales?
Our position is clear. The Government support the deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated. Of course, Europe is important to our exporters and businesses, but it is also important because of the money repatriated from Europe to Wales and the United Kingdom through cohesion funding.
As Aberystwyth’s MP, I reiterate the comments of the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti). If we are serious about creating more jobs, and we are, that means real investment in real infrastructure. Why, then, has the Government’s mobile infrastructure project been such a failure and delivered so little for rural Wales?
The hon. Gentleman raises this issue persistently. As a result of representations from him and others, I met Openreach earlier this week, as well as Broadband Delivery UK. I have plans to meet the mobile operators shortly to discuss what more can be done to improve the mobile infrastructure. With the 4G auction, at least 95% coverage will be gained in Wales. That contrasts significantly with the 3G auction and the low percentage that Wales was left with last time.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent, Mr Sean Taylor, on the further expansion of his company, Zip World? In four years this company has gone from no staff to 220 staff, revitalising the economy of rural north-west Wales, to the benefit of employment and diversification of the local economy.
Many Members will appreciate the difficulties that zip wires can present, but I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a true champion of zip wires and the success and diversification that they bring not only to his own constituency, but to Arfon. We are keen to see the further support and diversification of that business in his area.
Following the excellent news about Aston Martin, I pay tribute to that company, to our dynamic pro-business Welsh Labour Government and to everyone who was involved in securing the deal. As we are discussing trends in employment, and with around 200,000 jobs in Wales dependent on our EU membership, what does the Minister think would happen to trends in employment if we were daft enough to leave the EU?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for recognising the efforts that the UK Government have made to attract investment, particularly with the major Aston Martin investment in my constituency. I think those comments should be underlined. Of course, the Government do not plan to leave the European Union; the Prime Minister has made the case, having negotiated a strong deal, and we are confident that the British people will support that when the referendum comes.
This Government know that supporting our manufacturing industry is vital for rebalancing the economy. Despite challenging global conditions, we have seen 12,000 new manufacturing jobs created by businesses in Wales since 2010, reversing the decline we saw under the previous Labour Government.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the strength of the economic recovery in north Wales. When I travel around Wales, I see that much of what is innovative and exciting is happening in north Wales. We are clear that the economy of north Wales is integrated in a single entity with the economy of north-west England, so there are lots of opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses on both sides of the border to benefit from the emerging northern powerhouse vision. I met the North Wales Business Council earlier this month and, like businesses across north Wales, it is calling out to be part of the northern powerhouse.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the success of the manufacturing industry in Wales, and across the rest of the UK, reflects a growing global demand for our products and is further evidence of the success of the Government’s ambitious Exporting is GREAT campaign?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; there is enormous and growing global demand for high-quality products manufactured in Wales. The Government have set ourselves really ambitious targets for increasing the level of UK exports, and I am clear that I want to see Welsh business sharing in that export surge. That is why UK Trade & Investment’s Exporting is GREAT roadshow truck will be in Deeside in north Wales tomorrow, explaining to small businesses there what export opportunities there are around the world.
One way to rebalance the economy is to decentralise enterprise and services. Therefore, why are the Government closing tax offices and courts in peripheral areas of Wales, given the impact that has on the economy? They talk about decentralisation, but they centralise services when they have the opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman should understand that the Government have a sacred duty to take care of how taxpayers’ money is spent. Despite all the problems we were left with in 2010, the truth is that we maintain a very strong UK Government footprint in Wales, and the growth in private sector jobs in Wales over the past five years far outstrips any reductions we have seen in public sector employment.
Partial income tax powers are of course a welcome step in helping the UK rebalance geographically, but it is vital that those powers are accompanied by a fiscal framework that genuinely preserves non-detriment to Wales. Given the Scottish Government’s successful struggle to achieve a no-detriment agreement, what specific representations has the Secretary of State received from the Welsh Government on their chosen deduction method, and what is his chosen deduction method? Is it not the case that partial income tax powers make it more difficult to achieve genuine non-detriment?
The hon. Gentleman is right about the need to get the details right—we have just seen a very prolonged negotiation on the Scottish fiscal framework—but that is further down the line. We still have an ongoing discussion with the Welsh Government. They want to avoid taking on any income tax powers whatsoever. They want to avoid the additional fiscal responsibility that that would entail. They are running from having that fuller financial accountability that we believe is really important for Welsh democracy.
14. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Severn bridge is key to the economy of south Wales, that the debt will be paid back before the April 2018 prediction and that it offers a golden opportunity to reduce tolls for businesses and hard-pressed motorists in Wales? (903633)
My hon. Friend, who chairs the Welsh Affairs Committee, has been persistent and effective in raising concerns about the burden imposed on businesses and motorists in Wales by the very high tolls on the Severn bridge. We have not made any final decisions about what will happen when the private sector concession ends at the end of 2017, but we and the Treasury will be very keen to hear any specific ideas that he and members of his Committee might have.
Last year, the Secretary of State said his ambition was to secure more balanced growth in the Welsh economy, but on his watch we are seeing the loss of hundreds of jobs in our strategically important steel industry. The Government are being painfully slow to heed our warnings on cutting energy costs, and weak and disingenuous when it comes to standing up to Chinese dumping. With EU backing given in December, how much longer will the Government delay the energy compensation package the steel industry in Wales so desperately needs?
I am really disappointed by the slightly tribal and partisan tone the shadow Secretary of State adopts on this issue. If she wants to talk about what has happened to steel jobs under Conservative and Labour Governments, I am happy to do that, and we can talk about the decline in steel jobs on the watch of previous Labour Governments. I am much more interested in getting answers now to the global storm facing the steel industry. This Government have taken a lead in Europe in changing procurement rules and arguing for protection measures against Chinese dumping. We are making sure that the steel industry in Wales has the best possible chance of a sustainable and profitable future.
The Government also have a key role in commissioning large infrastructure projects, which can boost manufacturing and rebalance the economy. Manufacturers across Wales, who are gearing up in earnest to supply the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, share my deep concern that the Government are now planning a lengthy review, which could scupper the project altogether. Will the Secretary of State now give us an unequivocal guarantee that this vital project will not be sunk by his Government?
I notice that the shadow Secretary of State did not stand up and welcome what we saw yesterday—Her Majesty the Queen naming and opening the new Elizabeth Crossrail line, which, by the way, uses 50,000 tonnes of steel made in Wales by Celsa Steel. The hon. Lady should be absolutely welcoming that as a good example of how UK infrastructure investment can drive growth in the steel industry. On the tidal lagoon review, the chief executive of the Swansea tidal lagoon has welcomed it himself. He welcomes the fact that we are looking into this and exploring all options to see whether the project can be financially viable.
13. Does the Minister share my view that a prime mover behind rebalancing the economy is the sense of fairness? Does he agree that the action taken by the Government in freeing generations of people in constituencies throughout Wales is about making the best use of their talents? [Interruption.] (903632)
I did not hear the full question, but what I did hear was a really important point about fairness when it comes to rebalancing the economy. Unlike previous Labour Governments, who stood by while the economy of the United Kingdom became hopelessly imbalanced towards London and the south-east, we do not think that is good enough. We think that there are talents and resources in the north of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the west of England that need to be captured and enhanced to drive growth in the UK.
Air Passenger Duty
This Government have a proud record on devolution in Wales: establishing the Silk commission, devolving landmark new fiscal powers and taking forward the St David’s day agreement through the new Wales Bill. In that agreement, we committed to consider the case for devolving APD to Wales and this work is currently being undertaken and assessed by the Treasury.
Devolving air passenger duty will create a market distortion favouring a state-owned airport against a private one. It will damage the economic viability of Bristol airport and have consequential detrimental effects in the south-west. When my right hon. Friend discusses this with the Chancellor, will he gently reflect on the fact that, had our colleagues not made such great gains in the south-west, there would not be a majority Conservative Government?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend, like me, welcomes the fact that the Government are cutting APD in all parts of the UK. However, let us be clear: I want Cardiff airport to be a success story, but I also recognise that there are serious concerns about the effect APD devolution might have on competition issues in relation to Bristol airport.
I am very aware of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. I recently met the north Wales business council precisely to talk about the importance of a rail link from north Wales into Manchester airport. He makes an important point that we are very mindful of.
Wales is getting back to work. There are 58,000 fewer workless households in Wales since 2010. Our welfare reforms are benefiting the people of Wales, helping them into jobs that will provide a regular wage for themselves and their families.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned this month that universal credit will tend to weaken the incentive for single parents to be in work. What assessment have the Government made of the effect that rolling out universal credit will have on the number of workless households in Wales?
Welfare reform needs to be taken in its totality. It is about incentivising work but also about increasing wages and lowering taxes. I would hope that the hon. Lady would reflect on the positive nature of welfare reform in turning around communities, families and society.
Large Infrastructure Projects
The Secretary of State and I regularly meet stakeholders to discuss the Government’s plans to deliver improvements in infrastructure across the whole of Wales. For instance, next week the Secretary of State will meet Hitachi to discuss its proposals for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa in more detail.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that bringing HS2 to Crewe six years early, as part of the Government’s northern powerhouse, will directly benefit the people of north Wales and spur more economic development programmes in Wales, as well as in north-west England and Cheshire more generally?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. He highlights the fact that the HS2 project is truly a national scheme. The Crewe hub offers significant potential to north Wales and to the northern powerhouse. I recently met the North Wales-Mersey Dee alliance rail taskforce, which also recognises the potential of north Wales for the northern powerhouse and the northern powerhouse for north Wales.
Much is rightly made of trends in employment in Wales, but average full-time workers’ pay in my constituency has dropped by 12% in the past two years. What is the Secretary of State doing to bring infrastructure projects, along with science and technology salaries, to Llanbedr and Trawsfynydd in Dwyfor Meirionnydd?
The hon. Lady is naturally a true champion not only of her own constituency but the whole of north Wales. She will welcome the significant investment in the prison in Wrexham and the £20 billion investment that Wylfa Newydd will bring. She has also shown interest in the modular nuclear projects at Trawsfynydd. I recently met the leader of Gwynedd Council to discuss the prospects that could result from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget making £250 million available for this scheme.
Eight young boys in my constituency were abused in the 1980s. They have waited all this time for some conclusions. It is ridiculous that in the past two months Government Departments have been sitting on Lady Macur’s report. What is going on? I understand that redactions are taking place. What confidence can we have that when the report is eventually published it is a true report without interference from Government?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. We are discussing something incredibly serious and sensitive. Let me put on record my thanks to her for the tireless work that she has put in over the years to fight for justice for those who have suffered horrendous abuse. We are talking about some of the most shameful episodes in the history of the nation of Wales.
We have the report, and it is being looked at by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police. Lady Justice Macur recommended to the Government that certain redactions might need to be made. The commitment that I give to the right hon. Lady and the House today is that we will make redactions only where they are absolutely necessary, and we will provide a full explanation of why we are making those redactions. We owe that to the victims.
12. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is concern about attention in the report to the language issue? The only attention that was given to the language issue in the Waterhouse report was to say that the children swore a great deal, as well they might have. (903631)
The Wales Council for Voluntary Action criminal records unit, which provides free disclosure and barring checks for the third sector, will close on 31 May. The last paper application will be accepted this Friday. The WCVA has provided a bilingual service, which will cease on Friday. Does the Secretary of State share my concern about that cut?
The Prime Minister was asked—
The House will be aware of the dreadful accident that occurred at Didcot power station yesterday afternoon, in which one person died and three are missing. I know that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of the victim and our best wishes to those who are still missing or injured. I pay tribute to the quick and incredibly brave actions of our emergency services, who dealt with the incident with typical professionalism. The Health and Safety Executive will carry out a full investigation to find out what led to the tragedy.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I would like to associate myself and the people of Wiltshire with the Prime Minister’s sentiments about the occurrence in Didcot.
Wiltshire has successfully integrated a number of Syrian refugees, including babies and children, who might otherwise have frozen or starved to death in the camps. However, there has been a serious delay by the Home Office, despite Wiltshire Council’s claims to have tried to introduce more refugees into the area. Will the Prime Minister tell us what more he can do on the matter? Will he look into it? Will he also outline what we can do to fulfil our moral duty to those desperate people?
Let me pay tribute to Wiltshire Council and to the many councils up and down our country that have done a magnificent job of integrating and taking in Syrian refugees and their families, finding them homes, finding them schools and, I hope, in time, finding them jobs, too. If we look at what has happened across Europe with the relocation and resettlement programme, we see that Britain has done far better than any other country. We said 1,000 by Christmas, and we have delivered 1,000 by Christmas.
My hon. Friend asked what more we can do. First of all, I will make sure that she can meet the Home Office to talk about how we can make sure the system works well. We will continue to invest in the Syrian refugee camps, not least with the $11 billion that we raised at the landmark London conference. We will continue to do what we can to deliver the 20,000 Syrian refugees we said we would take into our country.
I want to echo the Prime Minister’s tribute to all the emergency services in dealing with the major incident in Didcot. Our thoughts are with the families of the person who died and those who are missing or injured. We rely on our emergency services and we should make sure they are always there for all of us.
The NHS staff survey published yesterday shows that nine out of 10 junior doctors already work extra hours beyond their normal contract. The survey also showed falling morale among that vital group of staff. What does the Prime Minister think the Health Secretary’s veto of a deal and the imposition of a contract will do to their morale?
First, the Health Secretary did not veto a deal. For four years we have had discussions about how important it is to have an NHS that works on a more seven-day basis. Let me pay tribute to the fact that so many in the NHS work so hard already at the weekends, but what matters is making sure we can have a genuine seven-day NHS.
What I would say to junior doctors is that no junior doctor working legal hours will receive a pay cut. This contract will not impose longer hours. In fact, it has tougher safeguards to make sure it reduces the hours that are worked. We are not seeking to save money from the new contract. Nights, Saturday evenings and Sundays continue to attract unsocial hours payments. This is a good deal from a Government putting £10 billion more into our NHS.
This dispute with the junior doctors has been on the basis of misrepresented research about weekend mortality. I will read the Prime Minister what the researchers themselves say:
“It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.”
Are the Prime Minister and his Health Secretary being “rash and misleading” with these figures?
Let me agree with the right hon. Gentleman about something, which is that this dispute has been plagued by scaremongering and inaccurate statistics. The British Medical Association, in its first intervention, said that this was a 30% pay cut. That was completely untrue. In fact, it was so untrue that it had to take its pay calculator off its website, and it never put it back up again.
Let me answer very directly the question about excess deaths. The 6,000 figure for excess deaths was based on a question asked by the Health Secretary of Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS. Now that we have had time to go into these figures in more detail, I can tell the House this: the Health Secretary was indeed guilty—he was guilty of an understatement. The true figure for excess deaths at the weekend are 11,000, not 6,000. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now withdraw his totally unjustified attack on the Health Secretary. Will he withdraw it, now he knows the figures?
It is just worth reflecting for one moment that there is no dispute with the junior doctors in Scotland or in Wales, because their Governments have had the sense to reach an agreement with the junior doctors. The Prime Minister must also be aware that the vast majority of the public in England are on the side of the junior doctors, not the Secretary of State.
The situation actually gets worse. A freedom of information request by the BBC today reveals that, when asked for the source of the Health Secretary’s statistics, civil servants in the Department of Health decided to
“offer up the most bland statement possible, that would neither confirm not contradict”
the Health Secretary’s
Is it not time that the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary actually apologise for what they have done and correct these statements, and indeed, while they are about it, reach an honourable settlement with the junior doctors?
I think the best that can be said is that the right hon. Gentleman wrote that question before he heard my answer. I have given the fullest possible description of how the figure of 6,000 excess deaths was arrived at—the true figure being 11,000—but I note that there is absolutely no withdrawal of his accusation against the Health Secretary, even after he gets those figures.
The right hon. Gentleman says there is no dispute in Scotland and Wales with the junior doctors. The reason for that is that Scotland and Wales are not trying to create more of a seven-day NHS. That seven-day NHS was not only in our manifesto—I want to make sure that hard-working people can access health services at an equal rate right through the week, because they do not just get ill on weekdays; but if he reads his own party’s report on its election defeat, he will see that it admits that the concept of a seven-day NHS was a very popular concept, and it is.
The right hon. Gentleman can see that in England, we are putting £10 billion more into the NHS, we have got 10,000 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses, we are treating more patients, we have a settlement of the GP contract and we now have a settlement of the junior doctors contract. We are building a strong NHS for patients—that is what this is about.
We all want a strong and successful NHS, but that will not be achieved by provoking industrial action, misrepresenting research or failing to get a grip on the cost of agency staff in the NHS, which now amounts to £4 billion. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s own local NHS trust has overspent on staffing costs by £11 million this year, yet has managed to spend £30 million on agency staff. Will the chair of the Oxford anti-austerity campaign be writing another letter to himself on behalf of his constituents, asking for the Health Secretary to intervene to support his local NHS?
If we are talking of motherly advice, my late mother would have said, “Stand up for the principle of a health service free at the point of use for everybody.” That is what she dedicated her life to, as did many of her generation.
We are more than three quarters of the way into this financial year. The NHS deficit is already £2.26 billion, and 53% of NHS trust finance directors say that the quality of care in their local area has worsened this year. What will the deficit be by the end of next month?
We will get deficits down because we are clamping down on the staffing agencies and expensive management consultants, and introducing better public procurement.
The right hon. Gentleman has to recognise that we said we would back the Simon Stevens plan, which meant at least £8 billion more going into the NHS, but we have put £10 billion more into the NHS. At the last election and subsequently, Labour has refused to back that extra money. My mother is as proud of the NHS as I am, and she would be pleased to know that in the NHS today, there are 1.9 million more people going to A&E, 1.6 million more operations, 10,700 more doctors and 11,800 more nurses. I think that if Nye Bevan were here today, he would want a seven-day NHS, because he knew that the NHS was for patients up and down our country.
Nye Bevan would be turning in his grave if he could hear the Prime Minister’s attitude towards the NHS. He was a man with vision who wanted a health service for the good of all. I tell you, Mr Speaker, our health service is run by brilliant people—brilliant doctors, brilliant nurses and brilliant staff. I have a question for the Prime Minister from one of those brilliant doctors, whose name is Ashraf:
“As a doctor I know full well the stresses on the NHS and the shortcomings. We already have a 7 day emergency service. How does increasing elective work improve safety at the weekend? If a truly 7 day NHS is wanted, we need more nurses, admin staff, porters, radiographers, physios”—
all the other vital workers. Will the Prime Minister today commit to publishing the Department of Health’s analysis of the real cost of introducing a seven-day NHS? Is he prepared to pay for it, rather than picking a fight with the junior doctors who want to deliver it?
What I think is not clear is whether or not Labour supports a seven-day NHS. We support a seven-day NHS and that is why we are putting in £10 billion, 10,000 more doctors, and 11,000 more nurses. Crucially, yes, that is why we are looking at the contracts in the NHS to ensure that it can work on more of a seven-day basis. The truth is that there are hospitals today in our country, such as the Salford Royal in the north-west of England, that already operate on a seven-day basis within existing budgets. That is good, because they are using all the equipment on a seven-day basis, they are carrying out consultations seven days a week and they carry out some operations seven days a week. That is good for the hospital, good for the staff working in it and, above all, good for patients. We do not just get ill Monday to Friday. I want a world-class NHS. We are funding a world-class NHS. We have world-class people working in our NHS and together we will build that seven-day NHS.
Q3. With such a large number of schools in Brecon and Radnorshire facing the prospect of closure, what can my right hon. Friend do to encourage the Welsh Assembly to convert state schools into free schools and academies so that my constituents can benefit from the improvements to education that English pupils are seeing and so that we hopefully save these excellent schools from closure? (903646)
Obviously, education is devolved in Wales and the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. I urge them to focus on how a good education depends not only on the finance, which is there because of the way that the Barnett formula works and because of the decisions we have taken about funding the NHS in England, but on high standards and the publication of league tables, so that people can see how their children are doing. Crucially, it requires structural reforms—free schools, academies—introducing some diversity and competition in getting organisations that are passionate about education to provide state education. We want all the best organisations in there providing the best education for our children.
May I begin by associating the Scottish National party with the comments made by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party about the tragedy in Didcot? Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected.
Will the Prime Minister congratulate the Scottish Government and his own colleagues who secured a deal on financial arrangements for the next phase of Scottish devolution? The Treasury position initially endangered £7 billion of public funding in Scotland. At the beginning of this week, that was reduced to £3 billion and yesterday morning it was £2.5 billion. What changed the mind of the Treasury and helped it agree to a deal that will make Scotland no worse off?
Let me agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is an excellent deal. It is an excellent deal for Scotland, but it is also an excellent deal for the United Kingdom. For those of us who want to keep the United Kingdom together, we have just demonstrated that we can have full-on devolution with a powerhouse Parliament and a fair fiscal settlement inside the United Kingdom, and that is something to be celebrated. Now we will move to a situation in which the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament will have to start talking about policies and decisions rather than processes. I am happy that the negotiations went as they did, I am happy that we have a good outcome, and I am happy that Lord Smith, who is responsible for so much of this work, put out a statement saying that this delivers Smith and the principles “in full”. No more grievance, no more fussing about process, no more arguments about the arrangements: now is the time to get on and govern.
We are indebted to Scotland’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney, and to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for securing a no-detriment deal for Scotland. The Prime Minister is right that all parties will have to lay out their plans in advance of the May election, so will he answer this question? Is it true that in this time of austerity his party, the Conservative party, is planning tax cuts for higher earners in Scotland?
It will be Ruth Davidson, who is the only proper Opposition figure in Scotland, who will be sending out the plans. If someone in Scotland is worried about having a bit of a one-party state and a lack of accountability, and if they think that the Labour party in Scotland has lost its way, there is only one choice, and that is Ruth. I think there are opportunities to cut taxes, sharpen incentives and attract businesses and people into Scotland, and I am sure that Ruth will be making those arguments. As she does, and whatever she decides, she will have my full and unequivocal support.
Q5. A recent survey undertaken by Blaby District Council showed that 96% of the 1,100 residents surveyed were satisfied with my council’s services. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Conservative leader of the council, Terry Richardson, his councillor colleagues, and all the officers in Blaby District Council who, while making savings that are necessary, are continuing to deliver a first-class service to the residents of South Leicestershire? (903648)
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in doing that, and he makes an important point. Yes, we had to make difficult spending decisions, not least over the past five years, but satisfaction with local government services actually went up. I think that proves a larger point, which is that we can reduce spending levels, find efficiencies, and provide better services at the same time.
Q2. My constituent Frank Wason is on long-term sick leave due to severe depression, but he is no longer entitled to sick pay. He was turned down for employment and support allowance, and he cannot claim jobseeker’s allowance due to his job being kept open for him. Mr Wason cannot leave his highly skilled job as a chef due to the threat of punitive sanctions, leaving him with no income. Will the Prime Minister consider Mr Wason’s case specifically, as well as the wider issue of expecting people with mental health issues who are unable to work to live on fresh air? (903645)
I am happy to look at the individual case, because the way that our benefit system should work is clear: if someone is unable to work, but with help could work, they should go on to employment and support allowance and the work-related activity group and get that help. If they are unable to work, they go on to the support group and get a higher amount of money that is not means tested or time limited. For people who have mental health issues and difficulties there is the new personal independence payment system, which can address some of those issues. Quite rightly for a generous and compassionate country, we have a benefit system that supports those who cannot work, while ensuring that those who can work are encouraged to do so.
Q6. It is fantastic news that unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 62% since 2010, but I am committed to helping even more residents back into work as we work towards our target of full employment. That is why on 18 March I will be holding a community and jobs fair, bringing together employers and the voluntary sector, for residents to find out the many ways that they can get suitable employment and support from charities. I invite the Prime Minister to come along to that event and see for himself the resources that the residents of Erewash have. (903649)
I thank my hon. Friend. I am sure I will be touring the country quite a lot in the weeks to come, and perhaps a visit to Erewash would be very worth while. I have visited her constituency before. We now have a much lower unemployment rate, and looking across Europe, our rate of just above 5% is one of the lowest in Europe. Even at that rate, there is still a lot more to do to match the jobs that are being created to the people who want to work, and jobs fairs, apprenticeships and training programmes are absolutely essential so that we deliver on what we promised, which is full employment.
Q4. The Prime Minister likes to go on about the importance of returning sovereignty to this House. May I remind him that on 7 January we debated the women’s state pension and the fact that women are being discriminated against by the pace of the state pension increase. The House divided that day with 158 votes to zero, and it asked the Government to mitigate the effects of that measure. Why have the Government not respected the sovereignty of the vote of this Parliament? (903647)
First, I would argue very strongly that we are not discriminating against women. We are ensuring that there is an equal age of retirement, which is right. Women have been discriminated against in the pension system in the past, and the single-tier pension means that many more women will be retiring with a full pension. As they do so, they have the triple lock of knowing that pensions will always go up by wages, prices or 2.5%, whichever is the highest. That is why pensioner poverty is at a record low, and why pensioners know that they can live in security and dignity in our country.
Q7. South Thanet lags behind much of the south-east across very many indices. I have launched a new body locally, the Ramsgate regeneration alliance, which brings together businesses and community groups. May I invite my right hon. Friend and the Minister responsibility for coastal communities to this gem on our doorstep to see for themselves what it could and indeed should be? (903650)
I am very happy to put Ramsgate on my tour list for the coming months. We all remember the historic battle my hon. Friend fought in that constituency. We have set up the coastal communities fund and have a dedicated Minister in the Government to try to help coastal communities. I will make sure that officials from his Department meet the new alliance and the Ramsgate coastal community team to see what they can do to help.
Q8. For two years, my constituents and I campaigned against the development of a luxury skyscraper. The local councillors listened and rejected the plans, but then the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government called in the decision and overturned the wishes of the community, showing utter disrespect for local democracy. The Prime Minister preaches localism, but will he finally admit that his Government believe only in the devolution of blame for cuts, not the devolution of actual power to local communities? (903651)
We have a long-standing system not only for local planning but for being able to call in decisions. That system operated the whole time under the previous Labour Government. If anything, our local planning system is actually putting more power in the hands of local people, because once they have completed their local plan it is then much easier to say yes to developments that are within that plan and no to developments that are outside it.
Q9. Last Friday, I made separate visits to three families, all of whom have a child suffering from acute mental health difficulties that the families felt had not been adequately assessed at the early stages by child and adolescent mental health services. Colleagues from across the Chamber will be all too familiar with such visits. I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent commitment to reform mental health provision for young people. Will he consider reviewing the provision of initial stage treatment and continue to be the champion for these vulnerable and brave children? (903652)
Let me thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right that children and young people’s mental health is a priority for the Government. I think we can all agree across this House that for many years this area has not had adequate attention or adequate investment. I would highlight in particular the problems of psychosis, sometimes caused by drug use. I would also raise the huge problem of eating disorders; we are seeing a rapid increase in the number of people suffering. We have gone a long way in increasing the number of talking therapies. Something like 740,000 more people are accessing those therapies than when the Government came into office. We recognise that there is more to be done and that is why we are investing £1.4 billion in system-wide transformation across child and adolescent mental health services.
Q10. Last week, Scottish Power refused to attend an evidence session with the all-party parliamentary group on Scottish Power cashback mis-selling, where crucial new evidence was uncovered. As a former consumer litigator, I am utterly convinced that more than 2,000 of my constituents and more than 500,000 people in the UK are owed cashback from Scottish Power. Given that this is potentially a scandal of huge proportions, will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and the cross-party group to discuss how we can ensure that these ordinary hard-working people receive the cashback they were promised from Scottish Power? (903653)
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised this. It has been raised on previous occasions by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) and I know the cross-party group has done some very useful work. My understanding is that any alleged wrongdoing should be fully investigated. Ofgem can impose fines if it finds companies have breached their licence. I am very happy to arrange for a meeting between him and other members of the all-party group with the relevant Ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, so that we can try to get this fixed.
Q11. Does my right hon. Friend agree that with the NATO summit in Warsaw pending, the threat of expansionism from Putin’s Russia and the national security threat from Daesh, the Government are right to support putting 2% of our GDP towards defence? Is he not shocked at the failure of the Labour party to do likewise? (903654)
My hon. Friend makes an important point—we face an insecure and unstable world, particularly given what Putin has done in the Ukraine and particularly in view of what we see in Syria. That is why I think 2% spending on defence and making sure we renew our nuclear deterrent is the right answer.
To be fair to the Labour party, it has an answer. It is not going to spend 2% and it is not going to renew our Trident submarines, but it has come up with a really brilliant answer. They are bringing back as their spokesman and spin doctor Damian McBride. Six months ago, the Leader of the Opposition said:
“We can win in 2020, but only if we spend the next five years building this movement and putting forward a vision for the new kind of politics: honest, kinder and more caring.”
Six months on, Damian McBride is back. That says it all. [Interruption.]
Q12. Last week, together with several of my hon. Friends, I visited Palestine, where we went to the home of Nora and her family, who have lived in the old city of East Jerusalem since 1953. Israeli settlers, however, are now trying to force Nora from her home of over 60 years. There are many other cases like that. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that illegal settlements and constructions are a major roadblock that hinder peaceful negotiations? What are this Government doing to help prevent these infringements into Palestinian lives and land? (903655)
The hon. Gentleman’s question is incredibly important. I am well known as a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say that the first time I visited Jerusalem, had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what has happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem—occupied East Jerusalem— I found it genuinely shocking. What this Government have consistently done and go on doing is to say that we are supporters of Israel, but we do not support illegal settlements and we do not support what is happening in East Jerusalem. It is very important for this capital city to be maintained in the way it was in the past.
Q14. One of my constituents, Alex Bagnall, is fighting to have his son brought back to the UK after he was taken to Poland by the mother illegally, as per The Hague convention. Will the Prime Minister outline what interventions the Government can make on the EU and Polish authorities with regard to The Hague convention in order to help British families with the safe return of their abducted children, offering hope to devastated families such as my constituents, the Bagnalls? (903657)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise a case like this. Sadly, there are far too many of them in our country. The straight answer is that the return decision is, of course, for the Polish court, and Governments cannot interfere in the decisions or processes of another country’s justice system. However, we have the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit at the Ministry of Justice, and it has been in constant touch with Mr Bagnall. It is processing his paperwork and chasing its counterparts in Poland for information. I will make sure that the Foreign Secretary is made aware of this case and does everything he can to help my hon. Friend and her constituent.
Q13. Oil and gas has contributed over £300 billion to Treasury coffers. The Scottish Government, trade unions and Oil and Gas UK are calling for reductions to the headline rate of tax to support the industry in its hour of need. Yet instead of the so-called “broad shoulders” of the UK, what we see are the slopey shoulders of the Prime Minister, repeatedly dodging his responsibilities. Will he commit to reduce the tax level on oil and gas, and support this vital industry? (903656)
In the Budget last year, we reduced the burden of tax on oil and gas—something that we were able to do because of the broad shoulders of the UK. Now let us just examine what has happened since that time. Oil and gas revenues are down by 94%. If it were not for the broad shoulders of the UK Government and if instead this was a genuinely fiscally independent Scotland, there would be a massive black hole in its budget, and it would be cutting welfare, cutting spending, putting up taxes and facing a financial catastrophe.
Q15. Every week two women are killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner. The perpetrator is the problem: the question is not “Why doesn’t she leave?” but “Why doesn’t he stop?” The Sussex police and crime commissioner is piloting a programme called Drive, which aims to change the behaviour of offenders. In advance of his new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Katy Bourne on tackling domestic violence throughout Sussex? (903658)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. We have got better at tackling the crime of domestic violence, but there is still so much more to do. Katy Bourne, whom I know, does an excellent job as the police and crime commissioner. I think that police and crime commissioners, who have a higher profile than police authorities ever had, can give a real lead on this sort of thing, and I urge others around the country to do exactly that. We also need to make sure that we are policing these incidents properly, and we need to change the culture, but I think that police and crime commissioners such as Katy Bourne can help to lead the way.
As the Prime Minister knows, resources were ring-fenced following the fresh start agreement in November to help Northern Ireland to deal with legacy cases. Will the Prime Minister consider releasing some of that money—this has been hinted at by the Secretary of State—to help the Police Service of Northern Ireland as it faces increasing pressures on front-line policing? Will he also take this opportunity to reaffirm that there will be no rewriting of the past in Northern Ireland to legitimatise terrorism, or to promote a pernicious narrative that tries to make the security forces equivalent to terrorists?
The fresh start agreement was a good agreement, and an important part of it was dealing with legacy cases and ensuring that they were dealt with more quickly. To me, it has always been about trying to heal the hurt of the legacy cases rather than trying to write new narratives.
I shall consider carefully what the right hon. Gentleman has said about resources. We need to make sure that the policing of Northern Ireland continues to be properly resourced, not least because we still face a terrorist threat today.
The United Kingdom endorses the Code of Good Practice on Referendums, published by the European Commission for Democracy through Law, which states:
“Equality of opportunity must be guaranteed for the supporters and opponents of the proposal being voted on.”
It also states:
“Equality must be ensured in terms of public subsidies and other forms of backing.”
Yesterday, Sir Jeremy Heywood sent a letter to Departments preventing Ministers from having access to civil service briefings. Has the Prime Minister checked whether that letter was compatible with the guidelines on neutrality?
I am very happy with the letter that was sent out, for this reason. The Government have a position on this issue: the Government’s position is that we would be better off in a reformed European Union. Ministers are able to depart from that position, and campaign in a personal capacity. That is, I think, a very important statement. It is right in terms of how we go about it, but it does not mean that the Government are neutral. It does not mean that the civil service is neutral. The Government have a policy from which people can depart.
As for the funding of the referendum campaign, we now have very clear laws and rules in place—and the Electoral Commission—to make sure that both campaigns are funded properly, and I think that that is good for our democracy.