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Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2016

There is widespread reporting that the UK Government are about to commit to send ground troops to Libya to train Government forces there. Is this true, and why has Parliament not been informed about it?

If we had any plans to send conventional forces for training in Libya we would of course come to this House and discuss them. What we want to see in Libya is the formation of a unity Government. There is progress with Prime Minister Siraj, who can now lead a Government of national accord. We will want to hear from him what assistance and help should be given in Libya. Countries such as Britain, France, America and Italy will definitely try to help that new Government, because right now Libya is a people smuggling route, which is bad for Europe and bad for us, and we also have the growth of Daesh in Libya, which is bad for us and bad for the rest of Europe. If we have any plans for troop training or troop deployment in a conventional sense we will of course come to the House and discuss them.

The UK spent 13 times more bombing Libya than it did on securing the peace after the overthrow of the hated Gaddafi regime. The critics of UK policy even include President Obama of the United States. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment to bring to Parliament the issue of any potential Libyan deployment of any British forces for approval before giving the green light for that to happen? Will he give that commitment—yes or no?

I am very happy to give that commitment, as we always do. I am very clear that it was right to take action to prevent the slaughter that Colonel Gaddafi would have carried out against his people in Benghazi. I believe that was right. Of course, Libya is in a state that is very concerning right now, and everyone has to take their responsibilities for that. What I would say is that after the conflict the British Government did support the training of Libyan troops, we did bring the Libyan Prime Minister to the G8 in Northern Ireland and we went to the United Nations and passed resolutions to help that Government, but so far we have not been able to bring about a Government of national accord that can bring some semblance of stability and peace to that country. Is it in our interest to help the Government do exactly that? Yes, it is, and we should be working with others to try to deliver that.

Q3. My constituency of Gower, which was won for the first time ever by the Conservatives, could be transformed, along with the rest of the region, by the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Having signed a £1.2 billion deal for Cardiff yesterday, will the Prime Minister give an absolute assurance that the Government review of tidal lagoons will do everything to ensure that the wider Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project fits the UK energy strategy, and does he recognise the economic potential it will bring to the Swansea bay region? (904112)

I thank my hon. Friend. I remember visiting his constituency just after his excellent victory last year. I seem to remember that we went to a brewery for a mild celebration. He is right that tidal lagoons do have potential. Last month, we launched an independent review of tidal lagoon power to understand the technology better. We will look carefully at the findings of that review and continue working closely with the developers in order to make a decision on Swansea.

Q4. Wrexham and north Wales is a strong manufacturing and exporting region, but its growth is constrained by lack of access to airports in north-west England. The Office of Rail and Road is currently considering applications for rail paths from north Wales. Will the Prime Minister support a cross-party campaign for fairness for north Wales and for access to airports in north-west England?


The former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), came to see me recently about this. I think there is a very strong argument for how we can better connect north Wales with the north-west of England and make sure we build on the economic strength of both, so I will look very carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says and what my right hon. Friend says about the potential for increasing rail capacity.

Q5. Last week, a High Court judge ruled in favour of a compulsory purchase order for the grade II* listed former north Wales hospital in Denbigh. Years of neglect by its offshore company owner resulted in the buildings being brought to the point of collapse. Thanks to groundbreaking work carried out by Denbighshire County Council and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, their future should now be safeguarded. What can the Prime Minister do to prevent buildings such as these, which are deemed national assets, from falling into the hands of those who are not fit and proper guardians, particularly those outside the control of our judicial system? (904114)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am aware of this case. While heritage is a devolved matter, it is great news that these buildings—I know how important they are—will be safeguarded. It is my understanding that they were bought way back in 1996 by a company and then left completely abandoned. As he says, that is no way to treat a grade II* listed building. That is why we have the powers in place for compulsory purchase orders. In this case, I think Denbighshire County Council was absolutely right to use them. Councils should have confidence in being prepared to use these measures when appropriate.

Q6. Two weeks ago, in front of the Education Committee, the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that “16-19 education should be done in a school-based environment, not in an FE institution.” He went on to say that some pupils who head off to a further education institution“do badly. They get lost, drop out”. Does the Prime Minister agree with him? (904115)

I think we need a range of settings for A-levels and post-16 study. I would say this: there are a lot of secondary schools that would like to have a sixth form. I think there are great benefits, in particular for 11-year-olds going to secondary school who can look to the top of the school and see what girls and boys are achieving at 16, 17 and 18: what A-level choices they are making and what futures they are thinking of. For many people it is very inspiring to go a school with a sixth form, but let us encourage both. Let us have the choice. This is why the academisation of schools is so important, because it gives schools the ability to make these choices for our children.

Q7. In National Apprenticeship Week, I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in thanking employers who have created 6,500 apprenticeships in Gloucester since 2010, the Gloucester Citizen for its support, and all the apprentices themselves, including my first apprentice Laura Pearsall, who is now Gloucester’s youngest ever city councillor. Looking forward, will my right hon. Friend do all he can to hasten the introduction of associate nurses, who will be higher apprentices? They will make a huge difference to the NHS and our health sector more broadly. (904116)

My hon. Friend is right. The south-west has delivered more than 280,000 apprenticeship starts since 2010, so it is absolutely pulling its weight—and well done to his constituents for doing that. He is also right about the introduction of associate nurses. We are working with Health Education England to offer another route into nursing, which I think will see an expansion of our NHS.

Q8. According to the statistics provided by the House Library, there are an estimated 280,000 problem gamblers in the United Kingdom. Will the Prime Minister indicate when the Government will take forward the 2010 report prepared for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport? Does he agree that the money from dormant betting accounts should be used to support those whose lives have been destroyed by gambling? (904117)

We will study the report carefully. We did take some action in the previous Parliament in the planning system and on the way fixed odds betting terminals worked to deal with problem gambling. I am very happy to keep examining this issue and to act on the evidence. I will be discussing it with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Q10. The systematic killing of Christians and other minority groups by the so-called Islamic State across the middle east has reached unprecedented proportions, so the action being taken by Her Majesty’s Government is just. What more will my right hon. Friend do, working with the international community, to halt this genocide being committed against Christians by what I would rather call the satanic state? (904119)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to Daesh’s persecution of Christians and those of other faiths, including Muslims it disagrees with. We must keep to the plan. We have shrunk the amount of territory it holds in Iraq by about 40% and we are seeing progress in Syria as well, but this will take time, and we must show the patience and persistence to make sure we rid the world of this evil death cult.

Q9. The Prime Minister’s energy policy is a complete shambles and wholly dependent on the troubled and eye-wateringly expensive new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. There is barely a plan A, let alone a plan B. Is the Prime Minister seeking to build the world’s most expensive power station or the world’s biggest white elephant? (904118)

We are planning to continue with a successful energy policy that is seeing cheaper and lower carbon energy at the same time. The strength of the Hinkley Point deal is that there is no payment unless the power station goes ahead and is built efficiently by EDF. That will be good for our energy supplies because, if we want low-cost, low-carbon energy, we need strong nuclear energy at the heart of the system.

Q11. Antibiotic Research UK, situated in my constituency, is the world’s first charity to tackle antimicrobial resistance, which is a looming global danger of disaster-movie-style proportions. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me to see how we can fund this vital research, so that this time it is not the Americans who save the world but the British? (904120)

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to raise this issue. Owing to the growing resistance to antibiotics, which in many cases now do not work, we face a genuine medical emergency around the world. That is why Britain must put this issue squarely on the G20’s agenda; why it was a large part of our discussions with the Chinese during their state visit last year; and why we are investing £50 million in an innovation fund, working with the Chinese Government to take it forward. I hope that the organisation in my hon. Friend’s constituency can benefit from some of this research.

The Prime Minister will know that his Home Secretary is once again trying to deport Afghan interpreters seeking sanctuary in the UK. These brave people risked their lives serving our armed forces, yet they now face being sent back, where they will be at the mercy of the Taliban or have to join hundreds of thousands of people rotting in refugee camps. Is this how Britain should repay those who put their lives on the line for us? Instead, will the Prime Minister do the right thing and do whatever is possible to ensure that they are offered safe haven here?

The last Government, in which the hon. Gentleman’s party played a role, agreed a set of conditions for Afghan interpreters to come to the UK and be given sanctuary, but we also provided for a schemee so that those who wanted to stay and help rebuild their country could do so. I would still defend that scheme, even if his party has changed its mind.

Q12. My constituent Deborah Reid and her sister watched their mother Joan waste away in hospital due to inadequate care after a fall, as has been admitted by the consultant in charge. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary hosted a global summit on patient safety and announced the creation of the new healthcare safety investigation branch. What more can the Government do to ensure that patient safety is at the heart of the NHS and to prevent such instances from occurring in the future? (904121)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise such cases, which are obviously horrendous and should be properly investigated, but, as she said, we then need to learn the lessons from them. I think we have made some progress. The proportion of patients being harmed in the NHS has dropped by over a third in the last two years, and MRSA bloodstream infections have fallen by over half in the last five years. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary was absolutely right to hold the conference and to examine what other industries and practices have done to ensure a zero-accident safety culture. We have seen it in other walks of life, and it is time we applied it to the NHS.

Just eight days ago, Oliver Tetlow popped to the shops and was brutally shot dead. The community is shocked and saddened by the murder of an innocent young man, and has asked for more community local policing and greater youth engagement. Will the Prime Minister meet me and community champions to discuss how we can make our streets safer?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. What we have seen in London is a reduction in gun crime. She refers to a tragic case, and our hearts go out to the family of the person she talked about, but as I say, we have seen a reduction—and more active policing in our communities and better intelligence policing for dealing with gun crimes. We must keep that up. I shall certainly arrange whatever meeting is best to ensure that the voices the hon. Lady mentions are listened to.

Q13. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, Highways England is consulting on a new lower Thames crossing, with the preferred option being so-called option C, which will divert 14% of traffic away from the existing Dartford crossing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that before spending billions on the new crossing, we should sort out the problem at the existing crossing, not only to help a greater number of motorists, but to address illegal levels of poor air quality and restore resilience to the M25 motorway network? Will he meet me to discuss these matters further? (904122)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As we discussed earlier, we need to tackle congestion and air quality. Stationary traffic is more polluting than moving traffic, so sorting out the problems at the existing Dartford crossing is important, but I believe we have to look at the options for a new crossing. As I understand it, two locations are now on the table as a result of early detailed work, and these are the best available options. Highways England has looked in detail at both locations, taking into account economic and community impact. We look forward to seeing what it recommends. When it does, I hope we can make progress. This is a vital set of arteries for our country’s economy, and we need the traffic to be flowing smoothly.

On reflection, was it wise of the Chancellor to bank on the theory of a £27 billion windfall when it has gone and vanished in the space of only the last three months?

We will be hearing quite a lot from the Chancellor in a minute or two. What I would say is that we have a fundamentally strong economy that is facing a very difficult set of world circumstances. Here in Britain, with unemployment at 5%, inflation at virtually 0%, unemployment figures showing a fall again today and wages growing at 2%, that is a better record than most other countries in the developed world can boast. A lot of that is down to the very clear plan set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and followed these past six years.

Q14. Last week was English tourism week, and I was delighted to welcome an international delegation to the Eden Project to promote Cornwall as a destination for international tourists. Visitor numbers are up in Cornwall, but there is still more we can do to attract overseas visitors out of London and into the regions of our country. What more can the Government do to support the tourist industry and particularly to get more overseas visitors to come to Cornwall? (904123)

My hon. Friend knows that, as far as I am concerned, there is nothing finer than getting out of London and down to Cornwall. There is no better place than Polzeath beach when the sun is setting, the waves are big and my phone is working—and the Daily Mail photographer has gone home. That helps. We need to get people who come to our country to visit the wonders of London also to spend some time outside London. That is what some of the new schemes that we have announced—the £40 million Discover England fund, for instance—are all about. I urge the authorities in Cornwall to make the most of it.

In 2014, we exported £12.8 billion-worth of food products, with 73% of the total going to other European states. It is no wonder that 71% of Food and Drink Federation members want us to avoid Brexit. Does the Prime Minister think that our prospect of further improving the export profile of food manufacturing will be strengthened by staying in the European Union?

The view from food manufacturers, farmers and indeed the wider business community, 81% of which said yesterday that they wanted to stay in a reformed Europe, is very clear. The arguments on food are particularly clear. Our farmers produce some of the cleanest and best food anywhere in the world, and they know that they have access to a market of 500 million consumers without tariffs, without quotas and without any problems. We should not put that at risk. When we look at some of the alternatives to being a part of the single market—a Canadian-style free trade deal, for example—we can see that there are restrictions. Quotas on beef are one example, and I do not want to see that applying to British farmers who have so much to be proud of.

Q15. Does my right hon. Friend agree that having an inspirational mentor can give young people opportunities from which they would never have benefited before? Can he tell me how the £14 million that the Government will be putting into a new national mentoring scheme will benefit some of the most disadvantaged children in our society? (904124)

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I think that one of the most important things that our schools can seek to do in the future is encourage mentors from business, the public sector and charities into their schools to give that extra one-on-one help from which young people benefit so much. I visited a Harris academy in Southwark yesterday to see how well that is going. Every child who is studying for GCSEs who wants a mentor can have one, and I think that that makes a huge difference to those children’s life chances.

The £14 million that we are putting in should allow an extra 25,000 of the most disadvantaged people in our country to have a mentor, and I urge all schools to consider that. There are so many people in business, the public sector and charities who would love to take part and help young people to achieve their potential.

The Prime Minister likes to suggest that he is the champion of localism, but today his Government are seeking to gag local communities with a crass forced academies policy that will stamp out local consultation and dissent. Can he explain to the vast majority of parents and residents in Brighton and Hove who recently roundly rejected academy status for two local schools why their views will count for nothing in the future?

I would argue that academy schools represent true devolution, because the parents, the governors and the headteacher end up having full control of the school and are able to make decisions about its future. If that does not convince the hon. Lady, I ask her to look at the results. She will see that primary sponsored academies have better records and are improving faster, and she will see that 88% of converter academy schools have been rated good or outstanding. This is true devolution: making sure that every headteacher is in charge of his or her school and providing the great education that we want for our children.

My constituent Jacci Woodcock has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. She has shown outstanding courage in her fight against the disease, but unfortunately she did not receive support or compassion from her employer, who wanted to dismiss her through capability procedures. Now her former partner, Andy Bradley, is trying to have the house that they own together repossessed, leaving her homeless while she is dying. Does the Prime Minister agree that we require better protection for working people who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, and will he join me, and Jacci, in supporting the changes outlined in the TUC’s Dying to Work campaign?

The points my hon. Friend has made are absolutely right, and I will look very carefully at the case that she has raised. The truth, in all these things, is that as well as clear rules, we need organisations—employers, housing associations, landlords or, indeed, trade unions—to act with genuine compassion, and to think of the person, the human being, at the other end of the telephone.