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Volume 612: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2016

I know the whole House will want to join me in wishing Wales luck ahead of the Euro 2016 semi-final this evening. They have played superbly and we wish them all the best.

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.

I am a Conservative because I believe it is not where you are coming from, it is where you are going that counts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opportunity to succeed no matter what your background is what we want for Britain?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Making sure that all our citizens have life chances to make the most of their talents should be the driving mission for the rest of this Parliament. Yesterday at Cabinet we were discussing the importance of boosting the National Citizen Service, which will play a key role in giving young people the confidence and life skills to make the most of the talents that they undoubtedly have.

I think today it would be appropriate if we paused for a moment to think of those people who lost their lives in the bombings in Baghdad and Medina in recent days—the people who have suffered and their families at the end of Ramadan; it must be a terrible experience for them, and I think we should send our sympathies and solidarity to them.

I join the Prime Minister in wishing Wales well, and I will be cheering for Wales along with everybody else. It is quiet, isn’t it. [Interruption.] Ah, there is life after all.

Thirty years ago the Shirebrook colliery employed thousands of workers in skilled, well-paid unionised jobs digging coal. Today thousands of people work on the same site, the vast majority on zero-hours contracts, with no union recognition, where the minimum wage is not even paid. Does Shirebrook not sum up “Agency Britain”?

First, let me join the Leader of the Opposition in giving our sympathies and condolences to all those who have been the victims of these appalling terrorist attacks, as he says, in Baghdad and Medina, and also in Istanbul.

On the issue of what has happened in our coalfield communities in order to see new jobs and new investment, we have made sure that there is not only a minimum wage, but now a national living wage. The Leader of the Opposition talks about one colliery. I very recently visited the site of the Grimethorpe colliery; there is now one business there—ASOS, I think—employing almost 5,000 people. We are never going to succeed as a country if we try to hold on to the jobs of industries that have become uncompetitive; we have got to invest in the industries of the future, and that is what this Government are doing.

The problem is that if someone is on a zero-hours contract, the minimum wage does not add up to a living weekly wage; the Prime Minister must understand that. May I take him north-east of Shirebrook to the Lindsey oil refinery? In 2009, hundreds of oil workers there walked out on strike because agency workers from Italy and Portugal were brought in on lower wages to do the same job. Just down the road in Boston, low pay is endemic. The average hourly wage across the whole country is £13.33. In the east midlands, it is £12.26; in Boston, it is £9.13. Is it not time that the Government intervened to step up for those communities that feel they have been left behind in modern Britain?

We have intervened with the national living wage. We have intervened with more fines against companies which do not pay the minimum wage. We have intervened, and for the first time—this is something Labour never did—we are naming and shaming the companies involved. Those interventions help and can make a difference, but the real intervention that we need is an economy that is growing and encouraging investment, because we want the industries of the future. That is what can be seen in our country and that is why record numbers are in work—2.5 million more people have a job since I become Prime Minister—and why the British economy has been one of the strongest in the G7.

This Government promised that they would rebalance our economy. They promised a northern powerhouse, yet half of 1% of infrastructure investment is going to the north-east and London is getting 44 times more than that. Is it not time to have a real rebalancing of our economy and to invest in the areas that are losing out so badly?

The right hon. Gentleman is talking down the performance of parts of our economy that are doing well. The fastest growing part of our economy has been the north-west, not the south-east. Exports are growing faster in the north-east, not in London. There is a huge amount of work to do to make sure that we heal that north-south divide, and for the first time we have a Government with a proper strategy of investing in the infrastructure and the training and the skills that will make a difference. For years, regional policy was about just trying to distribute a few Government jobs outside London. We now have a strategy that is about skills, training and growth, and it is delivering.

The idea of redistribution is interesting, because investment in London is more than the total of every other English region combined. Does the Prime Minister not think that such issues should be addressed? In March, Government investment was cut in order to meet their fiscal rule. How can the economy be rebalanced when investment is cut and when what little investment remains reinforces the regional imbalances in this country?

Again, I think the right hon. Gentleman is talking down the north in the questions that he asks. The unemployment rate in the north-west is lower than the rate in London, so I think his figures are wrong.

As for investment, we of course need to have Government investment, and we have that in HS2 and the railways. We have the biggest investment programme since Victorian times and the biggest investment in our roads since the 1970s, but we can invest only if we have a strong, growing economy. We know what Labour’s recipe is: more borrowing, more spending, more debt, and trashing the economy, which is what they did in office. That is when investment collapses.

The Chancellor finally did this week what the shadow Chancellor asked him to do in the autumn statement and what I asked the Prime Minister to do last week—he abandoned a key part of the fiscal rule. The deficit was supposed to vanish by 2015, but we now know it will not even be gone by 2020. Is it not time to admit that austerity is a failure and that the way forward is to invest in infrastructure, in growth and in jobs?

What the right hon. Gentleman says is simply not the case. The rules that we set out always had flexibilities in case growth did not turn out the way it did. I would take his advice more seriously if I could think of a single spending reduction that he supported at any time in the past six years. The fact is that this Government and the previous one—the coalition Government—had to take difficult decisions to get our deficit under control. It has gone from the 11% of GDP that we inherited—almost the biggest in the world—to under 3% this year and that is because of difficult decisions. If he can stand up and tell me about one of those decisions that he has supported, I would be interested to hear it.

Concerns about the fiscal rule and investment are obviously spreading on the Prime Minister’s own Benches. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills have seen the light and now agree with the shadow Chancellor about backing the massive investment programme that we have been advocating. Is it not time that the Prime Minister thanked my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for the education work that he has been doing in this House? Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Chancellor’s fiscal rule is dead and that he will invest in the north-east, in Lincolnshire, and in Derbyshire? They are all places that feel, with good reason, that they have been left behind and that investment is going to the wrong places. They are ending up with few jobs on low wages and insecure employment to boot.

If the investment was going to the wrong places, we would not see 2.5 million more people in work and we would not see a fall in unemployment and a rise in employment in every single region in our country.

The only area where I think the right hon. Gentleman has made a massive contribution is in recent weeks coming up with the biggest job-creation scheme that I have ever seen in my life. Almost everyone on the Benches behind him has had an opportunity to serve on the Opposition Front Bench. Rather like those old job-creation schemes, however, it has been a bit of a revolving door. They get a job—sometimes for only a few hours—and then they go back to the Back Benches, but it is a job-creation scheme none the less and we should thank him for that.

Q3. On a day when significant questions have been levelled at the collective decision making of politicians, military leaders and intelligence services, many of our constituents will be seeking reassurance that the lives of their loved ones were not given in vain, and that the mistakes that were made will never happen again. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the lessons learned will be fully examined and acted upon so that the tragic mistakes made over a decade ago can never be repeated? (905681)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I can certainly give that assurance. I am sure that we will have plenty of time this afternoon to discuss the Chilcot report. Sir John Chilcot is on his feet at the moment explaining what he has found. I think that the most important thing we can do is really learn the lessons for the future, and he has laid out the lessons quite clearly. We will obviously want to spend a lot of time talking about the decision to go to war and all the rest of it, but I think that the most important thing for all of us is to think, “How do we make sure that Government work better, that decisions are arrived at better, and that legal advice is considered better?” I think that all those things are perhaps the best legacy we can seek from this whole thing.

Today is hugely important for Muslims, both at home and abroad, as it is the end of Ramadan, and I am sure we wish them all Eid Mubarak. Today is also a day when our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones in Iraq and all those hundreds of thousands of families in Iraq who also mourn their loved ones. The Chilcot report confirms that on 28 July 2002 Tony Blair wrote to President Bush, stating:

“I will be with you, whatever”.

Does the Prime Minister understand why the families of the dead and the injured UK service personnel and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis feel that they were deceived about the reasons for going to war in Iraq?

First, I join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing Muslims in this country and around the world Eid Mubarak at the end of Ramadan. We will discuss the report in detail later and I do not want to pre-empt all the things I am going to say in my statement, but clearly we need to learn the lessons of the report, so we should study it very carefully—it is millions of words and thousands of pages. I think that we should save our remarks for when we debate it in the House following the statement.

The Chilcot report catalogues the failures in planning for post-conflict Iraq and then concludes that:

“The UK did not achieve its objectives”.

That lack of planning has also been evident in relation to Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and, most recently, with no plan whatsoever, to Brexit. When will the UK Government actually start learning from the mistakes of the past so that we are not condemned to repeating them in future?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that what Sir John Chilcot says about the failure to plan is very clear. In the statement that he has given, he says:

“When the invasion began, UK policy rested on an assumption that there would be a well-executed US-led and UN-authorised operation in a relatively benign security environment.

Mr Blair told the Inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance.”

He then says:

“We do not agree that hindsight is required.”

Sir John Chilcot is very clear on that point.

What I will say to the right hon. Gentleman about planning is that the things I put in place as Prime Minister following what happened in Iraq—a National Security Council, proper legal advice, properly constituted meetings and a properly staffed National Security Secretariat, including proper listening to expert advice in the National Security Council—were all designed to avoid the problems that the Government had had in the case of Iraq. The only other point I will make is that there is no set of arrangements or plans that can provide perfection in any of these cases. We can argue whether military intervention is ever justified; I believe that it is. Military intervention is always difficult, as is planning for the aftermath. I do not think that we in this House should be naive in any way about there being a perfect set of plans or arrangements that could solve these problems in perpetuity, because there is not.

Q4. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Southend Council, which is once again under the control of the Conservative party, on swiftly acting to sort out the mess left by the previous, hopeless administration? Does he agree that Southend-on-Sea being the alternative city of culture next year will produce a considerable boost to the local economy? (905682)

Let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his long-standing efforts to promote Southend and all it has to offer. Although Hull is the official city of culture next year, I am sure that Southend will benefit from the tireless campaign that he has run. I certainly join him in encouraging people to go and see this excellent seaside town for themselves.

Q2. Is the Prime Minister aware that, two miles north of Shirebrook, which has already been mentioned, is a town called Bolsover and that, at the same time as local people were seeing notices on the bus saying, “£350 million for the NHS”, the Government decided, with the help of the local people, to close the hospital at Bolsover? We need the beds—I am sure that he understands that. When the hospital is closed, it is gone forever. I want him today to use a little bit of that money—not very much—to save the Bolsover hospital, save the beds and save the jobs. The press might have a headline saying, “The Prime Minister—Dodgy Dave—assists the Beast to save the Bolsover hospital.” What a temptation! Save it! (905680)

I do not have the information about the exact situation at the Bolsover hospital; I will look at it very carefully and write to the hon. Gentleman. What I will say is that we are putting £19 billion extra into the NHS in this Parliament. As for what was on the side of buses and all the rest of it, my argument has always been, and will always be, that it is a strong economy that we require to fund the NHS.

Q6. Last week, I held my first apprenticeships fair in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that apprenticeships are an absolutely vital part of economic development in our proud northern towns and cities? (905684)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why we have set the target of 3 million apprentices during this Parliament. I think that is achievable, just as we achieved the 2 million apprentices trained during the last Parliament. I wish her well with what I hope is the first of many apprenticeship fairs in her constituency.

Q5. Before I ask my question, may I thank the Prime Minister for the support he gave my campaign to get an inquiry into a drug called Primodos, which was given to pregnant women in the 1960s and ’70s and resulted in thousands of babies being born with deformities?Our universities are global success stories, outward looking and open for business with the world, and attracting the brightest and the best students and researchers to produce ground-breaking research in areas from cancer to climate change. In the last year, UK universities received £836 million— (905683)

Order. I need a single-sentence question. Forgive me, but there are a lot of other colleagues who want to take part.

What assurances can the Prime Minister give that, in the light of the fact that we are now out of the European Union, that money will be safe?

First, let me thank the hon. Lady for her thanks. She has raised the case of Primodos many times. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has been gathering evidence for a review by an expert working group on medicines, and it has met on three occasions. I think we are making progress.

On universities, until Britain leaves the European Union, we get the full amount of funding under Horizon and other programmes, as we would expect. All contracts under them have to be fulfilled, but it will be for a future Government, as they negotiate the exit from the EU, to make sure that we domestically continue to fund our universities in a way that makes sure that they continue to lead the world.

Q7. As my right hon. Friend will know, the potential closure of the BHS store in Torquay town centre with the loss of more than 100 jobs has again raised the need for major regeneration of town centres across Torbay. Will he outline what support will be made available by the Government to ensure that plans can be taken forward? (905685)

First, it is worth making the point that it is a very sad moment for those BHS staff who have worked so long for that business. For them, it was not simply a high street brand; it was a job, a way of life and a means of preparing for their retirement and their pensions, and we must do all we can to help them and find them new work. There are many vacancies in the retail sector, and we must ensure that there is help for them to get those jobs. As for our high streets, we have put around £18 million into towns through a number of initiatives, and we should keep up those initiatives, because keeping our town centres vibrant is so vital. This sits alongside the biggest ever cut in business rates in England—worth some £6.7 billion in the next five years—and we need to say to those on our high streets that they should make the most of that business rate cut.

Q8. One of my constituents who I have been working with for some time has had her mobility car removed after falling victim to a flawed personal independence payment assessment by Atos. After the involvement of my office, Atos has since admitted its error, yet my vulnerable constituent still remains housebound and without a suitable car. Will the Prime Minister offer his full assistance to rectify this cruel situation, and will he look again at the regulations that allowed this situation to occur in the first place? (905686)

Let me congratulate the hon. Lady on taking up this constituency case. Many of us have done exactly the same thing with constituents who have had assessments that have not turned out to be accurate. If she gives me the details, I will certainly look at the specific case and see what can be done.

Q9. A report recently commissioned by Transport for the North, a body created by this Government, highlights the opportunity to halt the growing divide between north and south and to create 850,000 new jobs and £97 billion of economic growth by 2050. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to build on our economic prosperity, we need to continue to rebalance infrastructure spending from London to the regions, particularly to the north of England? (905687)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The report shows that, if we do not take the necessary actions, we will see a continued north-south divide, which is why we are committed, for instance, to seeing increased spending on transport infrastructure go up by 50% to £61 billion in this Parliament. In his area, for example, we are spending £380 million on upgrading the A1 from Leeming to Barton, which will be a big boost for the local economy.

Q10. I recently met Yemi, whose husband, Andy Tsege, a British citizen, has been on Ethiopia’s death row for over two years. Andy was kidnapped while travelling and illegally rendered to Ethiopia. He was sentenced to death six years ago at a trial that he was neither present at nor able to present any defence whatsoever to, in direct contravention of international law. He has been denied access to his wife and children, has spent a year in solitary confinement and has had no access to legal representation. Recent reports suggest that he is suicidal. Prime Minister, in your final weeks in office, will you finally demand the immediate release of Andy Tsege and bring him home to be reunited with his wife and children? (905688)

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are taking a very close interest in this case. The Foreign Secretary was in Ethiopia recently. Our consul has been able to meet Mr Tsege on a number of occasions and we are working with him and with the Ethiopian Government to try to get this resolved.

One report that perhaps will not get so much attention is the Care Quality Commission’s report into North Middlesex University hospital, which confirms that the emergency care there is inadequate. Why has it taken so many years and why does it need regulators to tell us what many of my constituents know: for too long, there has been inadequate care and too few doctors and consultants? Will the Prime Minister assure me that we now have in place the right plans and the right numbers of doctors and consultants to ensure that my constituents get the care that they deserve?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which is that the CQC is now acting effectively at getting into hospitals, finding bad practice and reporting on it swiftly. In some cases, that bad practice has always been there, but we have not been as effective as we should have been at shining a light on it. North Middlesex University hospital has one of the busiest emergency departments in the country. Its practice was unacceptable. We now have a new clinical director at the trust, additional senior doctors in place at A&E and a change in governance. Under this Government, we set up the role of the chief inspector of hospitals, to have a zero-tolerance approach to such practice and to ensure that things are put right.

Q11. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has stated that he wants the UK to borrow tens of billions of pounds to create a Growing Britain fund worth up to £100 billion. Is this a formal plan, or is it merely an attempt to conjure up a plan amid a leadership vacuum in the UK Government? (905689)

We are spending billions of pounds on the British economy and on investment, as I have just shown, and that has clear consequences under the Barnett formula for Scotland. Clearly, my colleagues, during a leadership election—at least we on this side of the House are actually having a leadership election, rather than the never-ending—[Interruption.] I thought you wanted one? You don’t? Hands up who wants a leadership election. [Laughter.] Oh, they don’t want a leadership election! I am so confused: one minute it is like the eagle is going to swoop, and the next minute it is Eddie the Eagle at the top of the ski jump not knowing whether to go or not. Anyway, in case you hadn’t noticed, we are having a leadership election.

Right from the start, this United Kingdom has been an outward looking international trading nation. I am glad to see that the Trade Minister, Lord Price—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Worcester is entitled to be heard and his constituents are entitled to be represented.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am glad to see the Minister for Trade and Investment out in Hong Kong today talking up the prospects for investment in the British economy, but what steps can the Prime Minister take to bolster the resources available to UK Trade & Investment and the Foreign Office to make sure we attract as much trade and investment in the wide world as possible?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. A clear instruction has gone out to all our embassies around the world and to UKTI, and Ministers are very clear that we should be doing all we can to engage as hard as we can with other parts of the world and to start to think about those trade and investment deals and the inward investment we want in the UK. Businesses have been clear to us as well: whether they agree or disagree with the decision the country has made, they know we have to go on and make the most of the opportunities that we have.

Q12. With the real prospect of a recession on the horizon, the offer from the Chancellor is to cut corporation tax, yet companies worry whether they will make a profit in the UK, not how much tax they will pay on it. Can the Prime Minister tell us what immediate action his Government will take to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods right now? (905690)

Immediate action has been taken, not least the Bank of England decision to encourage bank lending by changing the reserve asset ratios it insists on. That is important because it is a short-term measure that can have some early effect. The Chancellor was talking about how we need to make sure that we configure all our policies to take advantage of the situation we are going to be in. That means changes to taxes and the way UKTI works, and a change in focus for the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We can make a start on all those things, irrespective of the fact that the hon. Lady and I were on the same side of the referendum campaign.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) about UKTI, may I remind the Prime Minister that next Monday the greatest airshow in the world takes place at Farnborough in my constituency, which all right hon. and hon. Members are expected to attend? Last time, two years ago, deals worth $201 billion were signed at the Farnborough airshow, so may I prevail on my right hon. Friend, who may have a little more time on his hands, to come and open the show on Monday and encourage all other Ministers to attend?

I am one of the first Prime Ministers in a while to attend the Farnborough airshow and I am happy to announce that I will be going back there this year, because it is very important. We have, I think, the second-largest aerospace industry in the world after the United States, and it is a brilliant moment to showcase that industry to the rest of the world and to clinch some important export deals, both in the military and in the civilian space. I will always do everything I can, whether in this job or in the future, to support British industry in that way.

Q13. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recently joined the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in expressing serious concerns about this Tory Government’s brutal welfare cuts. How much more international condemnation will it take before the Prime Minister drops his regressive two-child policy and scraps his rape clause? (905691)

What we have seen under this Government is many more people in work, many fewer households where no one works, and many fewer households with children where no one works; all those have been a huge success. Of course, the hon. Lady and her party have an opportunity, now that we have made some huge devolution proposals, including in the area of welfare: if they do not think that what we are doing on a UK basis—[Interruption.] I do not know why you are all shouting. You are getting these powers; instead of whinging endlessly, you ought to be starting to use them.

As Sir John Chilcot finds that the only people who came out of the 2003 invasion of Iraq well were servicemen and civilians, will the Prime Minister look at how he can make sure that the precedent that he set last autumn for transparency and scrutiny ahead of military action becomes the norm for his successor?

I think we have now got a set of arrangements and conventions that put the country in a stronger position. I think it is now a clear convention that we have a vote in this House, which of course we did on Iraq, before premeditated military action, but it is also important that we have a properly constituted National Security Council, proper receipt of legal advice and a summary of that legal advice provided to the House of Commons, as we did in the case of both Libya and Iraq. These things are growing to be a set of conventions that will work for our country, but let me repeat that even the best rules and conventions in the world do not mean that we will always be confronted with easy decisions, or ones that do not have very difficult consequences.

Q14. The Prime Minister will no doubt be aware of my constituent Pauline Cafferkey, a nurse who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014, when she was there as part of the response that the Department for International Development organised to the outbreak. She and around 200 other NHS volunteers acting through UK-Med have not received an equivalent to the £4,000 bonus awarded to 250 Public Health England staff. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me to discuss how DFID can rectify that? (905692)

I am very pleased that the hon. Lady raises this issue, because Pauline Cafferkey is one of the bravest people I have ever met, and it was a great privilege to have her come to No. 10 Downing Street. I am proud of the fact that she—and many others, I believe—have received a medal for working in Sierra Leone, which is something Britain should be incredibly proud of. We took the decision to partner with that country to deal with Ebola, and it is now Ebola-free. I will look specifically into the issue of the bonus—I was not aware of it—and I will get back to the hon. Lady about it.