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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 612: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2016


The Secretary of State was asked—

EU Referendum

1. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the economy in Scotland over the next five years of the outcome of the EU referendum. (905593)

6. What assessment he has made of the effect on the economy in Scotland of the outcome of the EU referendum. (905598)

The Scottish economy faces a number of challenges as a result of the vote to leave the EU. Yesterday I began a process of direct engagement with Scottish business leaders to ensure that their voice is heard in the forthcoming negotiations.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Now that the Brexit decision has been made, does he think that it will be easier for the Scottish and UK Governments to support the Scottish steel industry in tackling things like energy costs, procurement and business rates?

Regardless of the vote, the two Governments must continue to work together to support the industry. The Scottish Government have taken steps in relation to the two plants in Scotland, very much supported by me and the Scotland Office and the UK Government. We will continue that support, and the Scottish Government will play a part in the steel council that has been established.

Standard Life, one of the largest private employers in Scotland, ceased trading in its UK property fund this week, and the Governor of the Bank of England has said that the consequences of Brexit are beginning to crystallise. Given that financial services are 7% of Scotland’s GDP and employ tens of thousands of my constituents, what reassurances was the Secretary of State able to give businesses yesterday that not one job will be lost because of the Conservative gamble with this country?

May I begin by commending the hon. Gentleman for his service as shadow Scottish Secretary? No one knows better than me how difficult it is to be your party’s sole representative from Scotland in this House and be shadow Scottish Secretary. He performed the role with great distinction, and I am particularly grateful for his work to ensure the passage of the Scotland Act 2016 in this place. He will be pleased to know that when I met business leaders yesterday Standard Life was represented. One point that its representatives made, which is important for discussions on the future of the Scottish economy, is how important the market outwith Europe is, as well as the market within Europe. Standard Life did not wish us to lose focus on the many business opportunities it pursues, in north America in particular.

When will my right hon. Friend lay out the exciting opportunities there are for Scotland as a result of leaving the European Union for the wider world?

Obviously when I met Scottish businesses I wanted them to address the opportunities for business. I have just referred to a leading Scottish company with significant interests outwith the EU, but businesses in Scotland are naturally concerned to understand the arrangements that will be put in place for our future relationship with the EU.

In Scotland more than 62% of voters voted to remain in the European Union. Since then the Scottish Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to support First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in her efforts to protect Scotland’s place in Europe. That was voted for by the Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Green party. The Tories abstained. Will the Secretary of State finally join the cross-party consensus to protect our economy and our place in Europe, or will he abstain like his colleagues?

The right hon. Gentleman omits one fact. My colleagues were unable to support his party’s motion because the SNP would not take the toxic and divisive issue of a second independence referendum off the table. Anyone who wants to unify opinion in Scotland does not start talking about a second Scottish independence referendum. I hope the First Minister was listening yesterday to Scottish businesses when they said decisively in relation to discussions about the EU that they did not want to hear about Scottish independence.

Tens of thousands of European Union citizens play a massive role in our economy and society in Scotland. The Scottish National party wants to do more than just pay tribute to them; we want them to have guarantees that they can stay in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State act in the Scottish and European interest, and guarantee the rights of fellow EU citizens to remain in Scotland, and end the intolerable worry and concern with which they are being confronted?

I share the right hon. Gentleman’s view of the important role that EU citizens play in Scotland, and we want them to stay in Scotland and have their position guaranteed. We also want British citizens in the rest of Europe to have their right to stay there guaranteed, and I hope that it will be possible to issue both guarantees.

May I start by echoing the compliments paid to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray)? He will be a hard act to follow.

Sitting opposite the Secretary of State reminds me of the many good times that I have spent in his constituency in the great town of Moffat. Friends of mine from Moffat, John and Heather, live on the Old Carlisle Road, where they have a small family farm and a business. They want to know what guarantees have been given about the future of payments that they receive as part of the common agricultural policy, and what benefit they can expect from the £350 million a week that senior members of the Government promised we would get back from the European Union to fund the NHS. How much of that can we expect to go to Scotland and, crucially, when can we expect to see it?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position, and he is welcome in Moffat any time he wants. I have performed his role in the past, but when I did so there were 41 Scottish MPs opposite me, and 15 months later it has come to this. CAP payments will be subject to negotiations, and as someone who argued for a remain vote, I made it clear to farmers in Scotland that there would be a degree of uncertainty if there was a vote to leave. As a result of our withdrawal from the EU, responsibility for agriculture will now rest directly with the Scotland Parliament.

I do not think that John and Heather will be reassured by the Secretary of State’s response, and I note that he did not answer my question on the NHS.

The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee was right yesterday to accuse our hapless Prime Minister of being guilty of a dereliction of duty for failing to set up withdrawal planning units until after the referendum. Will someone please tell the Prime Minister that the words to the song are not: “When the going gets tough, the tough do a runner”? With that in mind, does the Secretary of State believe that the Prime Minister’s policy of placating fruitcakes and loonies has been a price worth paying for the economic crisis that is now upon us, and the risk of the break-up of the United Kingdom?

I am a democrat. I respect the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom, and that decision will be implemented.

3. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on Scotland. (905595)

4. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on Scotland. (905596)

9. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on Scotland. (905601)

Since the outcome of the EU referendum, both the Prime Minister and I have had discussions with Scottish Government Ministers, and we will continue to do so over the coming weeks and months. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will fully involve the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations as we prepare for negotiations with the European Union.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should respect the outcome of the democratic process, even if some do not agree with the result?

I am clear that the majority of people across the United Kingdom voted for the UK to leave the European Union, and that decision must be implemented. In doing so, we must secure the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is the UK Government’s intention to invite the Scottish Government to participate directly in the EU negotiations?

I confirm that the Scottish Government will be at the heart of the negotiation process. I can also confirm today that I and my Cabinet colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), who is responsible for the European unit within the Government, will meet the First Minister next week to discuss how that might be achieved.

The Secretary of State says he is a democrat. Will he support the long-established position in Scotland that sovereignty rests with the people? Now that the Parliament has said that we wish to negotiate Scotland’s remaining in the single market, will he stand up for those rights? Is he Scotland’s man in the Cabinet, or is he, as we suspect, the Cabinet’s man in Scotland?

I expect slightly more original lines from the hon. Gentleman. My position is clear: I very much welcome any initiative pursued by the First Minister or by the Scottish Government that can be to the benefit of Scotland without being to the detriment of the rest of the United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing from the First Minister when I meet her next week how the various initiatives she is pursuing are going. We want to work together. Businesses in Scotland yesterday made it very clear that they want a Team UK approach: the Scottish Government and the UK Government working in tandem in the best interests of Scotland.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, just as the Scottish referendum was binding for a generation, so too is the United Kingdom’s decision on the European Union? Is it not incumbent on all politicians, including those in the devolved Administrations, now to come together to make this work?

I very much hope that that will be the case. I met Fiona Hyslop, the Minister responsible in the Scottish Government, within hours of the EU declaration being made. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in Scotland today. I am meeting Fiona Hyslop tomorrow, and, as I have already said, I am meeting the First Minister next week. We want to work as closely as we can with the devolved Administrations to get the best outcome for Scotland.

On the previous question, I would point out that Scotland voted by a large majority to remain in the EU. As a self-confessed democrat, will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that he will support the Scottish Government’s efforts to find a mechanism to keep Scotland in the European Union?

The hon. Gentleman may not have read the ballot paper, but the question was not about Scottish independence. It was about whether voters in Scotland wanted the United Kingdom to remain in the EU. I was a part of the 1.6 million people in Scotland who voted to remain in the EU, but I did not do so on the basis that Scotland would then be dragged out of the United Kingdom if I did not get the decision I wanted.

11. With over 1 million people in Scotland voting to leave the European Union last month, what is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of the rush for a second independence referendum on the Union? (905603)

It is important that we respect the views of people we do not agree with. It has become evident that the Scottish National party cannot respect the views of the 2 million people who voted to remain in the United Kingdom in the 2014 referendum and it does not respect the people who voted to leave the EU. I do not agree with the people who voted to leave, but their views need to be respected.

In the light of statements made by the Secretary of State for Justice and the new shadow Secretary of State for Scotland over the weekend, will the Secretary of State for Scotland give us an unequivocal confirmation that the Barnett formula will not be changed or affected as a result of the EU referendum and that Scotland’s budget will be protected?

The Government were elected on a manifesto that made it clear there would be no changes to the Barnett formula. The hon. Lady has been in several political parties over her political career. Perhaps she noticed earlier this week that there is a vacancy at the head of the UK Independence party; that might be her next destination.

12. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what discussions he has had on the possibility of Scotland having to accept joining the euro if, as it claims, it wants to stay in the European Union? (905604)

Clearly the parameters have changed, and if any proposition were put forward for any prospective further independence referendum, it would be carried out on an entirely different basis from what we had with the 2014 proposition, and membership of the euro might well be part of that.

A close relationship between Scotland and the European Union is obviously in the best interests of Scotland. Has the Secretary of State any specific suggestions about how that relationship might be made real in the future?

I think I have set out clearly how I see the way forward on these matters, and it lies with the Scottish Government and the UK Government working as closely as they possibly can together. That is the way we will get the best possible arrangements for Scotland. The message from business leaders I met yesterday was that we need a Team UK approach to get that deal for Scotland.

7. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Ministers of the Scottish Government on the devolution and implementation of social security powers. (905599)

I am committed to working with the Scottish Government to ensure a safe and secure transfer of welfare powers. I met Scottish Ministers in the joint ministerial working group on welfare on 16 June. We had a constructive meeting and issued a joint communiqué about our discussions.

What assurances can the Secretary of State give that Scotland will be no worse off with the devolution of new social security powers?

I certainly hope that individuals in Scotland will be no worse off. Inevitably, the devolution of these powers means that specific decisions about their use will be made by the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. The amount of certain payments and their shape and nature will be matters for them.

14. Will the Secretary of State update us on discussions on the devolution of the social fund funeral payments? (905606)

I am hoping to move forward with a commencement order for those powers before this Parliament goes into recess. That effectively means the transfer of the arrangements to the Scottish Government.

I have asked the Scottish Secretary twice via written questions when he last visited a food bank. The answer has been the same on both occasions—he has not visited a food bank in his capacity as Secretary of State for Scotland. Will he therefore today agree to visit a food bank with me in my constituency so that he can see at first hand the devastating effect of Tory sanctions and welfare policies?

The hon. Lady is very well aware that I have visited a food bank and understand the issues that surround them.

The agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government set out exactly how the new Scottish welfare budget will be agreed. Will the Secretary of State explain what would happen in the event of the UK Government abolishing a specific benefit that has been devolved to Scotland? In that circumstance, will the Scottish Government retain the budget or will they lose it?

The financial arrangements for the transfer of powers were dealt with in the fiscal framework, and that circumstance was contemplated in it. There are two sets of benefits that are subject to transfer: one is a set of benefits for which the Scottish Government will have full responsibility and can therefore shape and make a new benefit or change benefits; and the other set involves powers to top-up existing UK benefits. Clearly, if an existing UK benefit did not exist, the power to top it up would not exist either, but the power to create an equivalent might well do.

Womenomics Report

8. What progress the Government are making on implementing the recommendations of the Womenomics report on the role and contribution of women in the Scottish economy, published in March 2015; and if he will make a statement. (905600)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for commissioning the Sawers report. The Government have published their response, and, following the elections in May, a ministerial group is being put together from all the Administrations in the United Kingdom—it will include my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice—so that we can begin to make progress. Meanwhile, the gender pay gap is diminishing to an all-time record low.

As we tackle the economic challenges that face Scotland as a result of Brexit, removing barriers to the full economic contribution of women to Scotland’s economy becomes more important than ever. Professor Sawers’s report offers the Government a road map. Will the Minister ensure that someone in the Scotland Office blows the dust off it, and implements some of the very good, solid recommendations that it contains?

As I have said, the report is very good, and it is critical for everyone to work together. The Scottish Parliament now has more devolved powers specifically to address the problems of gender equality, which, of course, includes any disadvantage for women.

Steel Industry

I was delighted to be present at the Dalzell plant in April for the handover of that plant and Clydebridge from Tata to the Liberty Group. I think that if we continue the excellent process of working together, the prospects for the steel industry in Scotland must be good, and I am going to be positive about its future.

I thank the Minister for that encouraging answer. What discussions is she having with the First Minister and with other Departments to ensure that the Scottish steel industry receives all the help and support that it needs?

We work together hand in glove, which I think is very important. It is also important to note that the Steel Council, which the Government established, contains a number of representatives of both the Scottish and the Welsh Governments. Together, we can ensure that throughout the United Kingdom we have a strong and sustainable steel industry.

Brexit will be helpful to the British steel industry, including the steel industry in Scotland. It was a good day when we came out. Will the Minister welcome it?

What I will say is this: I think that we must all work together now, however we voted and whatever our views, to ensure that we do the very best for our country. We should be under no illusions about the fact that we face some very big challenges and some very difficult months and years, not just days. What is important now is coming together and putting the past behind us.

Public Procurement: Small Businesses

13. What plans he has to work with the Scottish Government on ensuring that more public procurement is directed towards small businesses; and if he will make a statement. (905605)

Procurement has been an important part of the Government’s work. We are determined to deliver our target of central Departments spending 33% of their budgets with small and medium-sized enterprises by 2020. The last set of results showed that we were increasing the proportion to 27.1%.

Does the Minister agree that rather than setting specific percentage targets for small business procurement, the Scottish Government should follow best practices in counties such as Norfolk, and also work in close co-operation with the United Kingdom Government?

North Sea Gas and Oil Industry

In the 2015 Budget, the Government introduced a £1.3 billion package of tax measures to help our oil and gas industry. Today I am launching the inter-ministerial group’s oil and gas workforce plan, which sets out how we can retain talent in this sector and opportunities for workers in other sectors.

The North sea oil and gas industry supports a range of supply chain partners, including businesses on the south coast. Will the Minister continue to support those businesses as they diversify by exporting their expertise?

Yes, because we fully understand the difficulties in the oil and gas sector at the moment. That is why we have launched this plan. By working together we can improve the lot, but these are difficult times for the oil and gas sector.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr Mak), who posed the question succinctly but comprehensively, and to the Minister for succinctly but comprehensively answering it, so that it is now time for Prime Minister’s questions.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.