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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2016

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Inward Investment

Before I answer the question, I would like to convey my condolences to the family of Adrian Ismay, the prison officer who sadly died as a result of a terrorist attack in the period since our last Northern Ireland questions. I would like to extend the same condolences to the family of Michael McGibbon, who was brutally murdered in north Belfast, in an attack that has all the hallmarks of a paramilitary assault.

To encourage inward investment in Northern Ireland, the Government have reduced UK corporation tax to the joint lowest in the G20 and legislated to enable the devolution of rate-setting powers to Northern Ireland. Working with the Executive, we are also making progress on the establishment of a new enterprise zone near Coleraine.

I echo the sentiments of condolence expressed by the Secretary of State, and I thank her for her reply. What benefit does she think this inward investment will bring to the local economy of Northern Ireland? In particular, what steps are being taken to ensure that all communities will benefit from it?

There has been significant investment in Northern Ireland in recent years, and it continues to perform beyond many parts of the United Kingdom. Recent good news includes 110 new jobs for Cookstown from CDE; 74 new jobs in Belfast from HighWire Press; and about 70 new jobs in Fermanagh and Omagh. Invest NI reports that it has promoted 37,000 new jobs since 2011 and delivered £2.6 billion of investment to the local economy, benefiting all parts of Northern Ireland.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answers so far. She will be aware that key Northern Ireland companies such as Allstate and Almac have had to look outside Northern Ireland to recruit suitably skilled staff in recent times. Has she any suggestion as to how we might ensure a suitable supply of potential staff who are skilled up to take advantage of opportunities offered by inward investment?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a skilled workforce is crucial for attracting inward investment. Northern Ireland has an excellent workforce, with many highly-skilled individuals, but there is always more that can be done. The UK Government have invested significantly in apprenticeships, which is reflected in Barnett consequentials to the block grant. I know that apprenticeships are also something the Northern Ireland Executive take very seriously, and they are delivering many of them.

Does the Secretary of State agree that airport connectivity is a vital tool in attracting inward investment? Given that Dublin has announced that it will be increasing its airport capacity by 2020, is it not time Her Majesty’s Government took a decision on airport capacity in the south-east of England?

Yes, the Government will be making a decision on the expansion of airport capacity in the south-east in due course. We are clear that new capacity is needed and that a decision will be made shortly.

May I personally thank the Secretary of State for the efforts she made in helping to secure a £67 million contract for the Wrights Group in Ballymena, which was very well received there, and for the work she did behind the scenes in securing that contract? Like me, is she appalled, however, by the scare stories and scare tactics being deployed by the remain campaign, which are turning people away from investment because they are scared of the consequences and all this hate activity that is going on? Will she, like me, ensure that, irrespective of the outcome on 23 June, every effort is made to make sure that moneys released to the United Kingdom will be used to attract inward investment in Northern Ireland?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and his comments on my role in relation to the Wrightbus contract. I did press Transport for London hard to go through with that contract, because I think it is important for job opportunities in Northern Ireland and so that we can have great buses for my constituents. On his question about the referendum, I think it is important for all sides to address the facts of the debate in a measured way, so that on 23 June the people of this country can make a judgment based on the objective facts of the situation.


2. What recent assessment she has made of the level of the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland. (904513)

The threat level from terrorism in Northern Ireland continues to be severe. Although many attacks are disrupted and prevented, the callous murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay highlights the lethal nature of the continuing threat. The UK Government remain vigilant on combating terrorism, giving our full support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and MI5 in their crucial work to keep people safe in Northern Ireland.

I join in the condolences to Mr Ismay’s family. In addition to domestic terror threats in Northern Ireland, what assessments has the Secretary of State made of international terror threats to the Province?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that that is a Home Office lead, but it is something that I discuss regularly with the Home Secretary, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Ireland Justice Minister and other relevant people. The Government take the matter extremely seriously, as the threat from international terrorism is severe. That is one reason why the strategic defence and security review made such a strong commitment to investing in our intelligence services and counter-terrorism spending, which includes a 30% real terms increase in counter-terrorism spending over the course of this Parliament.

I join the Secretary of State in her words about the killing of Adrian Ismay and also in relation to the brutal slaying of Michael McGibbon, a father of four who was shot on Friday in my constituency. Clearly, that was an atrocious event. Will she join me in commending the courageous words of Mr McGibbon’s widow who has called for people to stand together against these paramilitary terrorists who carried out this atrocious attack? Does she agree that it is vital that we all unite against terrorists from all sides and that we get on with implementing the provisions to tackle paramilitaries in the “Fresh Start” agreement?

I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s statement, Mr McGibbon’s widow is an incredibly brave woman. The circumstances of Mr McGibbon’s death are deeply tragic and heartbreaking. I know that the whole House will feel for his family at this time, and it is utterly unacceptable that, in modern Northern Ireland, there are still people who believe that they can take the law into their own hands and administer this violent, brutal treatment of individuals such as Mr McGibbon. It is utterly unacceptable. I agree with him that everyone in Northern Ireland should join the widow in this case and condemn that horrific and brutal murder.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her answer. Will she also take on board the fact that a number of prominent republicans have been arrested in North Belfast recently, including some out on licence? It is important that she reassures the community that she is keeping under review the terms in which people who are under licence are out on the streets, particularly Sean Kelly, the Shankill bomber. Does she also agree that there is great concern in Northern Ireland about the Attorney General’s decision to order a review into the actions of the Royal Ulster Constabulary when it stopped a terrorist from carrying out a terrorist attack? Will she look carefully at that and speak to colleagues about it?

I agree that it is very important to take seriously revocation of licences. There is a very clear legal framework for doing that. Where there is evidence that a licence should be revoked, it is considered with the greatest seriousness. I also agree that it is vital that we press ahead with full implementation of the “Fresh Start” programme to eliminate the lingering influence of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. The time for those groups has passed. They were never justified under any circumstances and any tolerance of them in Northern Ireland today is to be condemned. In relation to the last point about the public prosecutor’s direction, that is a matter for the independent prosecutors.

What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the terrorist threat from dissident republican groups to mainland Great Britain?

The threat level is not as severe as it is in relation to Northern Ireland. It continues to be the case that dissident republican groupings have aspirations to mount attacks in Great Britain, but the indications are that their main focus continues to be Northern Ireland, and the Government will remain vigilant in doing everything they can to protect people, both in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I am deeply sorry that Adrian Ismay became the 31st prison officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland, and I do hope that a memorial garden for prison officers will soon be completed in Northern Ireland. The question I want to ask the Secretary of State follows on from the second question of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). The Secretary of State will know that I have already written to her requesting a meeting to discuss why Sean Kelly’s licence has not been revoked. Gina Murray, a very dignified lady, whose only daughter was murdered in the Shankill Road bombing, wishes to have a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the reasons why his licence has not been revoked. Will the Secretary of State consent to that meeting?

I am certainly happy to have that meeting. In terms of timing, we might have to be careful about the interaction with the decision that I might need to make over the coming days and weeks, but I am sure that we can have a meeting on this matter at some stage.

Despite much progress in Northern Ireland, there remains a terrorist threat, as we saw with the shocking murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay, whose funeral the Secretary of State and I attended. I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State and we send our sincere condolences to Adrian Ismay’s family and colleagues. The Secretary of State will also know that there have been explosives found, bomb-making equipment discovered and murders north and south of the border. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether, in her opinion, these individuals are acting alone or as part of a more organised and co-ordinated terror group?

A number of groupings are active in relation to the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. They tend not to be terribly cohesive and are subject to increasing and regular splits. They have connections both north and south of the border and, were it not for the dedication and effectiveness of the PSNI and its partners in MI5 we would see these individuals mounting attacks resulting in tragedies such as that which has befallen the family of Adrian Ismay in such despicable circumstances.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. She will know that in recent days in Northern Ireland there have been two terrible shootings, one with fatal consequences—that of Michael McGibbon. I associate myself with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and with the words of the widow. Our hearts go out from this House to all the families and those affected. The PSNI says that the attacks have all the hallmarks of paramilitary assaults, so on the streets of this United Kingdom we have shootings and murders linked to paramilitary activity. It is both sickening and totally unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State tell us more about what happened, and what action she, the PSNI and others will take against those who have no respect for human life or the rule of law?

The hon. Gentleman chooses his words correctly; this is absolutely sickening. I feel that this case could be like a number we have seen over recent decades in Northern Ireland and be the point at which people there say that this is completely and utterly unacceptable. The police investigation is progressing, with an individual charged with murder, but it is also imperative, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said, that we implement the “Fresh Start” agreement proposals, including progress on the strategy that the panel is coming up with. We need to ensure that people have the confidence to come forward and give evidence against these individuals. That has been a persistent problem in gaining convictions, as people are afraid to give evidence in such cases. As a society, we need to do all we can to support and encourage people so that they are able to come forward and give evidence to bring these people to justice.

Export Licences: Agricultural Producers

3. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on waiting times for Northern Irish agricultural producers to obtain export licences. (904514)

Too often the biggest barrier to exports of agricultural goods are health and inspection regimes in destination countries. One of our main efforts involves trying to develop the market to China and other countries and that is why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been working closely with Department of Agriculture and Rural Development officials and industry to collate information and to address any concerns from destination countries, hopefully cutting out the delays in gaining export health certificates for Northern Ireland suppliers.

Does the Minister agree that although getting an export licence and getting approvals for Northern Ireland food produce already takes too long, the wait for Northern Ireland farmers would become ever longer if we were to leave the European Union and had to renegotiate our trade relationships with some of our nearest neighbours within the European common market?

It is certainly in the interest of Northern Ireland farmers and all farmers across the European Union that they have access to new markets across the rest of the world. That is one reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is, as we speak, in Washington lobbying hard for more access for UK farmers to sell their beef into the United States. We should recognise that the United Kingdom can do it, but if we do it alongside the EU in things such as the EU-US trade treaty we will gain more markets for our farmers and they will go from strength to strength.

The Minister will know that one obstacle for the agri-food sector, especially the meat industry, is BSE and swine flu certificates. Will he ensure that his Department works hard with the veterinary division to achieve that? We sometimes put all our eggs in one basket with China, but there are many other countries out there with which we can do business.

I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right. That is why, as I said earlier, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in America, trying to get the BSE legacy issues removed so that we can access American markets to sell our beef, which will be great for our beef price. We need to learn from the Republic of Ireland, which has managed to forge ahead with milk exports around the world, which is why it has a better milk price than our dairy farmers.

EU Referendum

4. What discussions she has had with the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive on the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU; and if she will make a statement. (904515)

Ministers have regular discussions with the Northern Ireland parties on a range of issues. The Government’s position on the EU referendum is clear: the UK will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed European Union.

Many of us were interested to see a survey by a highly reputable Northern Ireland business organisation which suggests that 81% of businesses support continuing EU membership. Why does the Secretary of State think she is right on that issue and those businesses are wrong?

The CBI Northern Ireland, 81% of the membership of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association all believe that remaining in the European Union is good for Northern Ireland business and good for the economy. That is why the Government believe we are better off in.

May I join in the condolences that have been expressed by the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, and may I add condolences to the family of Sister Clare Theresa Crockett, the nun from Derry who was tragically killed in the earthquake in Ecuador? Has the Minister heard how many of us are so appreciative of the difference that EU membership has made to the border economy and not just to funding in Northern Ireland under programmes, but to funding models? Has he heard others say that that will be dwarfed by the bounty that we will receive as money is redirected to Northern Ireland instead of Brussels? Does he believe there is a crock of gold at the end of the Brexit rainbow?

Northern Ireland benefits extremely well from money that it receives from the European Union. There is no pot of gold at the end of the Brexit rainbow, so I suggest that we get on and focus on what is right for Northern Ireland, which is remaining in the European Union.

If the UK does decide to leave the EU, there will be an annual £9 billion hole in the EU finances. As other eastern bloc nations look to join to get more slices of a diminishing financial cake, what opportunities does the Minister believe Northern Ireland companies would have in those circumstances to export to Europe and beyond?

The first thing we should recognise is that Northern Ireland business does not agree with the hon. Gentleman and believes that it should remain in the European Union. If people voted to leave the European Union, from 24 June Northern Ireland businesses would unfortunately have to deal with instability for the next two years, which would damage their market.

It will not have escaped your gimlet-eyed gaze, Mr Speaker, that those of us on Opposition Front Bench are united on the subject, but for months we have had uncertainty about what will happen to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the tragic event of Brexit. Two Sundays ago Lord Lawson popped up on the “The Andrew Marr Show” to say we would have a border. Leaving aside the irony of that coming from a French resident whose policy was to shadow the Deutschmark, may we have some clarity on what will happen to the border? Are there any revelations that the Minister would care to share with us?

On 24 June the border will still exist. However, if the United Kingdom chose to leave the European Union, it would step outside the customs union, which would inevitably affect trade across that border on which Northern Ireland is significantly dependent, because of more bureaucracy, more checks and a slowdown of trade.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State must feel quite lonely in Belfast these days, given that her views on Europe are not shared by the overwhelming majority of the population of Northern Ireland. Can we get to the bottom of the question of Brexit and the border? Her colleague, Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor, said that leaving the EU would mean rebuilding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Three days ago she said that that was not the case. They cannot both be right.

One thing myself and my right hon. Friend are completely united on is that there will be no return to barbed wire and watchtowers should we leave or remain in the European Union. What there will be, however, is a Northern Ireland that steps outside the customs union, and that would inevitably affect the free flow of trade across the border.


5. What discussions she has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on increasing the level of exports from Northern Ireland. (904516)

Fixing the public finances to keep interest rates low and deliver economic stability is a crucial part of the Government’s efforts to promote exports. We are also using our diplomatic network around the world to promote exports from Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that UK Trade & Investment and Economist Intelligence Unit information shows that the career aspiration young people want to fulfil most by 2020 is to run their own business? What steps are being taken to help them achieve their aspirations and to become first-time exporters in the UK and Northern Ireland?

To do that, we are delivering economic stability, and we are cutting national insurance contributions for 3.4 million self-employed people. We are also working with the Northern Ireland Executive through the economic pact to deliver things such as our start-up loans programme for young entrepreneurs and through the taskforce on access to banking, which has delivered £60 million in business finance.

At a meeting yesterday involving the oil and gas group, Harland and Wolff from my constituency railed against the religious observance of EU regulations that is required of it, unlike its competitors across the European Union. How can we redress the balance so that it can compete equally with its competitors across the European Union?

The Government are certainly doing all they can to ensure that the UK, including Northern Ireland, is one of the most competitive places in the world to do business, which is one reason why we have reduced corporation tax. We are bearing down on unnecessary regulation. I will certainly look into the matters the hon. Gentleman raises in relation to the industry.

Voluntary Sector: Legacy of the Past

6. What assessment her Department has made of the role of the voluntary sector in dealing with the legacy of the past. (904518)

In working to build consensus for the Stormont House agreement institutions on the past, I have held a number of very constructive meetings with voluntary groups who support and represent victims, as well as with victims themselves.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the reconciliation work performed by the Peace Centre, which is based in Warrington. Support is given to those on both sides of the Irish sea affected by terrorism, although the majority of the funding is provided by the Irish, not the UK, Government. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and members of the Foundation for Peace to discuss whether we can do more on this issue?

I would be very happy to do that. I enjoyed my visit to the Peace Centre, and I have the highest regard for the work done by the centre and its various programmes to support the victims of Northern Ireland terrorism and other victims.

Order. We are discussing matters appertaining to the victims of terrorism, and that matter must be treated with respect, as must the hon. Member.

How much recognition and cognisance does the Secretary of State give to victims’ groups representing innocent victims in Northern Ireland?

I have met a wide range of groups representing victims in Northern Ireland. It is very important that we listen to their point of view in attempting to reach a consensus on how we best address the legacy of the past and establish the Stormont House institutions.


The promotion of tourism to Northern Ireland is primarily a devolved matter, but the Secretary of State and I take every opportunity to support it. The new British-Irish visa scheme in China and India will enable visits to both Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland, on a single visa of either country, thus encouraging tourism, business links and inward investment.

According to Lord Lawson, the chair of the increasingly absurd Vote Leave campaign, a British vote to leave the European Union would result in the return of border posts and passport controls between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. What modelling has the Minister done on how that might affect the £750 million tourism industry in Ulster?

I do not think I need to do much modelling; we should let the businesses of Northern Ireland speak for themselves. They believe it would be wrong to leave the European Union. The free flow of tourists between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is good for Northern Ireland, good for the island of Ireland and good for the United Kingdom economy.

Whenever I visit the Milwaukee Irish Fest, I hear that when people travel to Dublin and to Shannon airport, they holiday only in southern Ireland. What discussions is the Minister having with Tourism Ireland to ensure that people come to Northern Ireland and enjoy our tourism facilities, which are much better than those in the south?

The single biggest challenge for Northern Ireland tourism is advertising its great offerings. The British Open golf championship will be held in Portrush in 2019, and other events include the North West 200, the Ulster Rally, the Giro d’Italia cycling event and the Balmoral show. If we can tell people that those events are out there and that they are on, more people will come north from the south.

Will the Minister consider joining up the Northern Ireland tourism strategy with that for the rest of the United Kingdom, so that we can work together rather than just with Ireland?

In all tourism, the best thing to do is to play to our strengths. I will certainly explore that option, and I am also keen to make sure that tourism in the Republic of Ireland dovetails with the offering in Northern Ireland, so that we can encourage people into both Dublin and, indeed, the north of Ireland. We also look forward to, I hope, capitalising on the next series of “Game of Thrones”, which is due out very soon and was filmed in Northern Ireland, north of the wall.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

On her 21st birthday in 1947, a young woman declared that her whole life, whether long or short, would be dedicated to the service of our nation. Nobody could possibly argue that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has done anything other than fulfil her promise to the nation with dignity and grace.

People across the country will be marking the Queen’s 90th birthday tomorrow in many different ways. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have joined their women’s institutes in the Clean for the Queen initiative, tidying up our neighbourhoods. Some will raise a small glass and many will have a proper knees-up tomorrow.

When the Prime Minister next has an audience with the Queen, will he pass on my best wishes and those of the whole House to our remarkable monarch? Long may she reign.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter. I will certainly pass on his best wishes and those from right across Yorkshire. Tomorrow is an important landmark, not only for Her Majesty the Queen, but for our country and for the Commonwealth as a whole. She has served our nation with such dignity and ability for so many years—64 years —on the throne. It is right that the House will have the opportunity tomorrow to pay tribute to what she has done, and I know that the whole country and the whole House will want to join me in saying, “Long may she reign over us.”

I am also looking forward to wishing her a happy birthday tomorrow, but until then, could the Prime Minister explain why he is intent on forcing good and outstanding schools to become academies against the wishes of teachers, parents, school governors and local councillors?

The short answer is that we want schools to be run by headteachers and teachers, not by bureaucrats. That is why we support the policy. We also support it because of the clear evidence of academies. If we look at converter academies, we will see that 88% of them are either good or outstanding, and schools started by academies see a 10% improvement, on average, over the first two years. The results are better, education is improving and I say let us complete the work.

The Prime Minister has not managed to convince the former Chair of the Education Committee, his hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), who said:

“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children.”

Why is the Prime Minister ignoring evidence of Select Committee Chairs, and so many others, on this issue?

The results speak for themselves. Under this Government, 1.4 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools. Let me take the right hon. Gentleman to a school near where he lives. Let us try the Downhills primary school, which is not far from his constituency. It was in special measures and taken over by an academy, and two years later it was a good school. The question I put to the Leader of the Opposition, and to so many other Labour MPs, is this: why do you want to stand on a picket line under a banner saying “Save our failing school”?

As the Prime Minister well knows, every teacher, parent and pupil wants the best that they can get for their schools, and a good education system. Many are concerned about top-down reorganisation. If he will not listen to the former Chair of the Education Committee, will he listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)? He said this:

“if a school is well governed, well run and performing well, it should be left alone and allowed to do its job.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 445.]

Will the Prime Minister explain why good school leaders should focus their time and resources not on educating children but on arbitrary changes imposed from above?

Let me make two points on that specific issue. I would say to outstanding or good schools that they have nothing to fear from becoming academies, but a huge amount to gain, and we want even outstanding or good schools to be even better. In truth, academies and greater independence, and letting headteachers run their schools, has been hugely effective. This is something that was started by the Labour Government and given rocket-boosters by this Government. We have seen massive improvements in our schools because of academies, and we say, “Let’s get on with it, finish the job, and give all our children a great opportunity.”

I am sure the Prime Minister is aware of the views of people in Oxfordshire on this issue. Councillor Tilley, the Conservative cabinet member for education in the Prime Minister’s county, said:

“I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that.”

The Prime Minister claims to be an advocate of devolution. Is he not concerned about criticisms from his hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who says that

“there is little accountability or parental involvement”?

Does the Prime Minister understand the anger that so many people feel because a system that they do not want is being imposed on them and on what are often already very good if not outstanding schools?

It is always good to get a lecture on diktats from someone whose press secretary is an avowed Stalinist, but I will pass over that. Creating academies is true devolution because we are putting power in the hands of headteachers and teachers. Of course we will find people in local government who want to keep things exactly as they are, but one of the reasons I so strongly support academies is that when they fail, they are intervened on so much faster. Local authority schools are often left to fail year after year after year, and I think that one year of a failing school is one year too many. Let us encourage academies, build a great education system, and have opportunity for all our children.

Last week, I spent an interesting afternoon at a local school in my constituency. I visited Duncombe primary school, which is a good to outstanding school, and I had a long discussion with the headteacher, parents, parent governors, and year 6 pupils. The year 6 pupils were very interesting. Hawan, Tasnia, Eamon and Maryanne asked me to ask the Prime Minister: why are you doing this? They love their school, and they like it the way it is. They do not want any top-down reorganisation. He has not even convinced the former Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker, who said that he does not “quite know why” the Government are doing this. What is the Prime Minister’s answer to those smart pupils in year 6?

My answer to those pupils in year 6 is very much the answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave. I have been following his tour of the school, and this is what he said:

“I want to see a family of schools and I want to see them properly funded.”

Of course, with our reform to the national funding formula, there will be fair funding right across the country. With our plans for academies, there will be genuine families of schools that choose to group together. Here is the point about outstanding schools. Not only will they be able to get better, but in groups of academies, they will be able to help other schools to improve. That is why we need this reform: to make good schools even better and to help to raise the aspiration of all. That is what it is all about.

We appear to be heading into some kind of fantasy land. The Institute for Fiscal Studies states that school spending

“is expected to fall by at least 7% in real terms”

in the next four years—the biggest cut since the 1970s. So why on earth is the Prime Minister proposing to spend £1.3 billion on a top-down reorganisation that was not in his manifesto? Teachers do not want it, parents do not want it, governors do not want it, headteachers do not want it and even his own MPs and councillors do not want it. Can he not just think again and support schools and education, rather than forcing this on them?

Let me answer the question about spending very directly. We protected spending per pupil all the way through the last Parliament and all the way through this Parliament. We are spending £7 billion on more school places to make up for the woeful lack of action under the last Labour Government. That is the truth on spending.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about fantasy land, and I think the Labour party this week entered fantasy land. The Labour party is abandoning Trident in Scotland and it has selected in London someone who sits on platforms with extremists. When I read that the Labour party was going to ban McDonnell from its party conference, I thought that was the first sensible decision it had made, but it turns out that it was not the job destroyer that the Labour party wanted to keep away from its conference; it was one of Britain’s biggest employers. No wonder Labour MPs are in despair. Frankly, I’m lovin’ it.

Q3. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees with the Treasury forecast issued on Monday, which warns that if we stay in the European Union, there will be 3 million more migrants by 2030? Last year, my right hon. Friend and I were elected on a clear manifesto pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. How will we be able to deliver on that pledge unless we leave the European Union? (904564)

The point about the Treasury forecast is that it takes the Office for National Statistics figures and the Office for Budget Responsibility figures and it does not alter them; it is trying to make a very clear and pure argument—backed by the Governor of the Bank of England yesterday—that shows what would happen if Britain left the EU. There is a demand out there for independent and clear statistics, and that is exactly what the Treasury has provided.

It is believed that the recent murder of Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah was religiously motivated. This week, Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim faith leaders launched a campaign across Scotland entitled United against Extremism. Will the Prime Minister join me and colleagues from all parties in supporting the aims of that campaign to support and foster understanding and stand up to extremism?

I will certainly join the right hon. Gentleman. This was an absolutely shocking murder. What it demonstrates, and what his question hints at, is that we need to stand up not only against acts of appalling violence such as this, but against the extremist mindset that sometimes tries to justify such events and other such outrages.

I am in total agreement with the Prime Minister. The murder of Asad Shah is just the most recent example of sectarian extremism targeting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the UK, including reports of Ahmadiyya being refused employment, businesses being boycotted, schoolchildren being bullied and shunned, and people such as Aamer Anwar who have worked to bring faith leaders together facing death threats. Does the Prime Minister agree that such extremism is totally unacceptable in a country where we believe in free speech and religious tolerance? The time has come for all community and all faith leaders of all religions to stand up against extremism.

I certainly agree that faith leaders can play a huge role in standing up against extremism and I welcome what they do, but we need to be very clear about what we are facing. The attack on Ahmadiyya Muslims by other Muslims demonstrates once again that what we face is not some clash of civilisations between Islam and Christianity or Islam and Buddhism. What we are seeing is a small minority within one of the great religions of our world, Islam, believing that there is only one way—a violent, extremist way—of professing their faith. This is a battle within Islam, and we have to be on the side of the moderate majority and make sure that they win it. We have to really understand what is happening, otherwise we will take the wrong path.

Q6. The future of services provided by Paignton hospital has been thrown into doubt this week by news that the clinical commissioning group and the local trust are about to launch a consultation that could see it closed with no replacement. Does the Prime Minister share my concerns, and does he agree that it is vital that services are replaced and that the trust and CCG justify their actions? (904567)

I am aware of the draft proposals concerning Paignton hospital. I understand that no decision has yet been made. The plans are due to be considered by the clinical commissioning group’s governing body. Let us remember that these bodies are now, by and large, clinically-led, and I think that is important. Decisions about what services are required will be taken by that group, but if there are significant changes, they still have to meet four key tests: support from clinical commissioners, strengthened public and patient engagement, clarity on the clinical evidence base and support for patient choice. All those things have to be satisfied.

Q2. The air in our cities is both toxic and illegal, with diesel fumes contributing to 800 deaths a week—that is 40,000 a year—so why is the Prime Minister, instead of removing the most heavily polluting vehicles from our streets, lobbying the EU in Brussels, with the Mayor of London, to weaken plans to improve our air quality and save lives? (904563)

We are investing in better air quality. Since 2011, we have committed over £2 billion to help bus operators upgrade their fleets. We have seen air quality improve between 2010 and 2014, with emissions of nitrous oxides coming down by 17%. When it comes to these standards that we all have to meet, we are working with our car industry. I want a strong car industry in Britain. I am proud of the fact that it has recovered so strongly that the north-east of England now makes more cars than the whole of Italy and that we are a major investor in and builder of diesel engines, but we are going to make sure that it has the resources it needs to meet the higher standards that are set out.

Q7. It is a truth universally acknowledged that fish and chips taste best on the beaches of Skegness, and that is why 4 million people visit those beaches every year. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should work with the Environment Agency, the local enterprise partnership and local councils, build on the work of this Government that has brought jobs and growth, and extend the tourist season and build a billion-pound coastal economy by the end of this decade? (904568)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why I announced the five-point plan for tourism last year to encourage people to visit UK resorts—both people from overseas and British people—and that is exactly what is happening. Is it not interesting that in the week when we on this side of the House are supporting fish and chips, those on the other side of the House are banning McDonald’s?

Q4. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition, started by Allisons Chemist in Cockermouth in my constituency, calling on the Government not to cut the funding of community pharmacists. Given the major reports last week regarding the actions of Boots, which now faces investigation by the regulator, is it not time that the Prime Minister and his Government supported independent pharmacists, such as Allisons, which are a vital lifeline for our community and help to keep our high streets alive?


We are supporting rural pharmacies —there is a specific scheme to help there—but in the last five years there has been a massive increase in pharmacy spending. As we make sure that as much of the NHS’s resources as possible go to the frontline—the doctors and nurses, the operations and the A&E we want—we have to make sure we are getting value for money in pharmacy, while also protecting the rural pharmacies the hon. Lady speaks about.

Q10. Given his earlier important comments, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the duty of all Members to condemn without caveat all extremism and never to share a platform with any extremist?


My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we are going to condemn not just violent extremism but the extremism that seeks to justify violence in any way, it is very important that we do not back these people or appear on platforms with them. I am concerned about Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, who has appeared again and again and again—

The leader of the Labour party says it is disgraceful, so let me tell him: the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has appeared on a platform with Suliman Gani nine times; this man supports IS. He even shared a platform—[Interruption.] The Opposition are shouting down this point because they do not want to hear the truth. Anyone can make a mistake about who they appear on a platform with, and we are not always responsible for what our political opponents say, but if someone does it time after time after time, it is right to question their judgment.

Q5. News overnight of a management and worker buy-out at Tata Steel Port Talbot will bring hope to the 18,000 people whose livelihoods are supported by the company across the supply chain. It is critical that the UK Government provide all the support they can. Will the Prime Minister become the company’s head of sales and meet personally with Port Talbot’s 20-biggest customers, who make up about 50% of its sales, to ensure that no orders for Welsh steel are lost? (904566)

We will certainly do everything we can to help the company, including with its customers, during this difficult time. Right now, we are talking with the board of Tata to make sure we answer all the questions it needs answered, because we want to have a proper sales process, with proper buyers coming forward. We want to be very clear that the Government are prepared to support that process and the outcome, and that is exactly what we will do.

Q14. The EU’s security is only as strong as its weakest border, so does the Prime Minister share my concerns not only over Chancellor Merkel’s apparent legitimisation of President Erdogan’s reservations about freedom of speech but crucially over her decision to liberalise restrictions on Turkish visas, given that that country has such a porous Syrian border and such booming identify fraud? Is he concerned that currently Chancellor Merkel seems to be outstripping everyone in making the case for Brexit? (904576)

First, it is certainly true that a country in the Schengen zone is only as strong as its weakest border—that is absolutely right—but we, of course, are not in the Schengen zone. Secondly, the Schengen zone has decided to offer visas to Turkish nationals, but we have not made that decision, and will not be making that decision. Let us remember, however, that a visa is not a right to go and live and work or reside; it is a right to visit, so let us also be clear that Turks with visas visiting Schengen countries do not have those rights or the right automatically to come to Britain. It is very important to get this clear.

Q8. In the last hour, we have had the devastating news that British Gas proposes to close its Oldbury site, with the loss of 700 jobs. Will the Prime Minister instruct his Ministers immediately to contact the company and the unions and to arrange urgent meetings either—preferably—to save these jobs or, if that proves impossible, to establish a taskforce to create alternative opportunities for this loyal and hard-working workforce? (904569)

I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. I heard the news shortly before Question Time. We will make sure that a ministerial taskforce is available to talk to the company and the local community and to provide assistance in terms of retraining and other things.

Mrs Thatcher used occasionally to organise seminars for Ministers, with senior academics, for colleagues like me whose knowledge of modern science, she thought, needed to be improved. Will the Prime Minister contemplate similar seminars for some of his senior and very respected Cabinet colleagues with businessmen on the nature of international trade in today’s world, because some very respected figures appear to believe that one simply turns up and sells goods and services that comply with British-made rules, and that they do not have to comply with any rules agreed with the country to which one is selling. Will he include some of the many businessmen who are putting investment decisions on hold now because of the uncertainty about Brexit after 23 June, which illustrates the dangers we would run if we made our whole future trading arrangements with the outside world as uncertain as some people are trying to make them?

I always listen very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend and will consider such seminars. I hope they will not be as frightening as seminars sometimes used to be under Margaret Thatcher. I remember that one of the very first times I met her, I was responsible for trade and industry research. She asked me what the day’s trade figures were and I did not know. I have never wanted the floor to open up and swallow me any more than at that moment.

The point my right hon. and learned Friend makes, which is absolutely right, is that just because we have friendly relations with a country does not mean that we automatically get good trade relations. We are very pleased that President Obama is coming here this Friday, but it is worth noting that even though we have the friendliest relations with the United States of America, we currently cannot sell beef or lamb to it. The point is that we do not just need good relations; we need nailed down trade arrangements.

Q9. At the Budget, the Chancellor announced the creation of a northern schools strategy, which I broadly welcome. However, I am concerned that all the progress that that might make could be reversed by the forced academisation plans. Why are the Government pushing those plans, which parents in my constituency do not want—plans that even a former Tory Education Secretary describes as plain daft and unnecessary? (904570)

The hon. Gentleman should wait for the outcome of the review that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set up. The point I would make is that some schools that have been failing for year after year have been left in that state by local authorities. We have found that the way to help succeeding schools fly and failing schools to improve is to have academies. The evidence is right there in front of us. That is why we are so keen on progressing this.

One reason why my right hon. Friend led this party to victory at last year’s general election was our pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Can he therefore tell us, further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), why the Office for Budget Responsibility projects immigration to be above 200,000 a year for the rest of this decade? By what assumptions did it reach that figure, and can he give us some details?

To give my right hon. Friend some details, the OBR did not take into account, for instance, the agreements we have just reached with the European Union over welfare and other immigration restrictions. The Treasury document is very clear that it is not about making all sorts of different assumptions about variables, but takes a very clear set of statistics established by the OBR. That is why it was interesting when the Governor of the Bank of England came out and said that it was an analytically robust process. As for the detail, it does not take into account the agreement that we reached in Europe.

Q11. In 2009, Michelle Samaraweera was brutally raped and murdered in Walthamstow. Since 2011, a man who is wanted in connection with that crime and seven other counts of sexual violence in my constituency has been evading extradition from India. There have been more than 30 court appearances to date and another one is planned for tomorrow, yet despite the severity of the crime and the delay in those proceedings, there is no record of any ministerial or diplomatic representations from either the Foreign Office or the Home Office. Will the Prime Minister personally commit today to putting that right and to raising the matter directly with his counterpart, Narendra Modi, so that we can finally seek justice for Michelle? (904572)

I am very happy to give the hon. Lady that assurance. The British Government always raise all these individual cases if that is what the victims want us to do, just as we raise cases where there are British people stuck in the Indian justice system. I was not aware of the specific case, but if she gives me the details I will make sure that we raise it appropriately.

With the President of the United States visiting the UK later this week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to raise the issue of the Chagos islanders? In a report last year, the Government rightly concluded that the islanders have a right of resettlement. Given the US military presence on Diego Garcia, will he raise the case of US assistance for the right of return of the Chagos islanders to the British Indian Ocean Territory?

I will certainly discuss that issue, and it is right that my hon. Friend raises it, because many Chagossians live in his constituency of Crawley. What he said is not entirely correct; the National Security Council and the Cabinet have been looking at the situation of the Chagos islanders and reviewing all the options for how we can help with their future. Those discussions have taken place and obviously we need to come to a conclusion about the best way forward.

Q12. Some people think that the worst case that has been made so far to vote to leave the EU is the claim that England is an island. Will the Prime Minister tell the House the worst argument that he has heard from the Brexiters?


I think it is probably that we would get out of the Eurovision song contest. Not only would that be incredibly sad, but given that Israel and Azerbaijan, and anyone anywhere near Europe seems to be able to enter—[Interruption.] Australia, too, so we are pretty safe from that one.

Will my right hon. Friend point out to President Obama that in a series of European Court judgments such as those in the cases of Davis and of Schrems, using EU data protection laws and the EU charter of fundamental rights, the EU has established its jurisdiction over our intelligence data and sought to prevent our intelligence sharing with the United States? Will he therefore warn the President that if we vote remain, far from gaining influence in the EU the United States will lose control and influence over her closest ally?

I am sure that the President will take all of these calculations into account before saying anything that he might have to say. Let me just make two points. First of all, this decision is a decision for the British people, and the British people alone. We are sovereign in making this decision. Personally, I believe that we should listen to advice from friends and other countries, and I struggle to find a leader of any friendly country who thinks we should leave. My second point is that, when it comes to the United States, it is worth looking at what so many Treasury Secretaries have said, going back over Republican or Democrat Administrations. It may not be the determining factor for many people—or indeed for any people—but listening to what our friends in the world say is not a bad idea.

Q13. The average property price in my borough of Hackney is £682,000, the median lower quartile rent for a two-bedroom flat for a month is £1,500, and overcrowding and demand for social housing are the highest I have seen in 20 years. Will the Prime Minister tell my constituents how on earth the Housing and Planning Bill is going to help them? (904575)

It is going to help them because we are building starter homes for the first time for people to buy, we are extending the right to buy to housing association tenants so they can buy homes—[Interruption.] I notice Lady Nugee giving us the benefit of her wisdom, but many people in her constituency would love to buy a council house or a housing association house. We also have the Help to Buy scheme, which is helping many people get on the housing ladder, and shared ownership as well. All of those things will help. Since 2010, 101,000 homes have been built in London, including 67,000 affordable homes. We need to build many more and to make them accessible to people who work hard and do the right thing. That is whose side we are on.

On a slightly environmental note still, woodland is much valued—not least for recycling much of our hot air—and ancient woodland is especially valued. With only 2% remaining, it is as precious as the rain forests and its biodiversity cannot be replaced. The Prime Minister has 331 ancient and veteran trees in his constituency; does he agree that this precious habitat ought to be protected in line with heritage sites and national monuments?

I am very lucky to have in my constituency an ancient forest, the Wychwood forest, which probably contains many of the trees that my hon. Friend mentions. I shall look carefully at what she says. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to make sure that we plant more forests, trees and woodland, on which this Government have a very good record.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said recently and rightly that politics in Northern Ireland was on a more stable footing than it has been for some time. For our part, we will continue to offer strong leadership for a better future in Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland are, however, concerned about a two-sided approach to the past, as exemplified by the decision taken this week to investigate a police officer who bravely stopped an IRA bomber from trying to kill police officers at a police station 25 years ago. Does the Prime Minister agree that we have to get behind our security forces, praise them for the work they did in Northern Ireland and not persecute them as we go forward?

Let me first pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his Members of Parliament and Assembly Members. It is right to say that politics in Northern Ireland is more stable and, frankly, more productive than it has been for many years. Obviously, these issues around the acts of the past still cause a huge amount of pain and difficulty on all sides of the debate. One thing we have to hold on to is the fact that we have an independent and impartial justice system.