The Secretary of State was asked—
Rail Links: Wales and the South-west
It is a pleasure to observe the House’s increased interest in Welsh questions today.
The Government are investing a record amount in the United Kingdom’s railways. The new fleet of inter-city express trains which will be introduced next year on the south Wales and Great Western main lines will significantly enhance the travel experiences of passengers in Wales and the south-west.
The money that has been invested so far has made a real difference to our national transport infrastructure, but does the Minister agree that it is important to ensure that we have the right stations in the right places, so that more and more passengers can have access to trains?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who is well known for his campaigning efforts on behalf of rail commuters. The Government’s investment in the railway infrastructure is at record levels. We are seeing the electrification of the main railway line to Swansea, and we are also seeing great investment in signalling in north Wales. That new capacity will be good for the economy of south Wales and the south-west.
As the Minister will know, there is more economic connectivity between south Wales and the south-west than there is between south Wales and north Wales. Will he undertake to speed up the electrification of the railways, particularly at a time when Brexit is leading to considerable uncertainty about inward investment in Wales?
The hon. Gentleman has made a good point about the importance of rail connectivity to economic development, but I do not think it is a case of either/or. I think it is important to have great connections between north and south Wales, but we should also recognise the need for south Wales to be linked with the London area and the south-west, and the same applies to north Wales. As for “speeding up”, I will take no lessons from the Labour party, which failed to invest a single penny in the electrification of any railway line in Wales during a 13-year period.
By stark contrast with what was done by the last Government, what this Government are doing for the Great Western line—the electrification, and the new trains—is remarkable. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the provision of direct trains from Cardiff Central station to London to build on that capacity and investment?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of railway connections between south Wales and London, and it would be a pleasure to meet him to discuss further developments in a Welsh context. I fully agree that the modernisation and electrification of the south Wales main line will greatly enhance the connectivity between south Wales and London, not least the new link to Heathrow airport.
Improving Cardiff Central station is a vital part of all this. Will the Minister update the House on what recent discussions the Government have had with Cardiff council and others about the modernisation and upgrading of the station?
I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met council leaders in Cardiff to discuss the redevelopment of Cardiff Central station. The Government have already invested in enhanced capacity in the form of additional platforms, but the process needs to continue. We recognise the importance of the station to the economy of not just the capital city but the wider economic area that surrounds it, and talks are ongoing.
The south Wales metro links will clearly be important to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but it should be borne in mind that the amount invested in the Cardiff capital region city deal is £1.2 billion, of which less than 8% is currently earmarked as EU funding, and that the Government have already committed £500 million to that development. I think the hon. Gentleman should be talking up the prospects for the economy of south Wales, rather than highlighting the deficiencies that he sees in the current funding arrangements.
EU Referendum: Political Consequences
The British people have voted to leave the European Union, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that their will must be respected and delivered. We are now preparing for a negotiated exit from the EU, which will involve close engagement with all the devolved Administrations to ensure that the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom are protected and advanced.
Structural funding for Wales is guaranteed until 2020. Given the substantial budgetary savings that will be made after British withdrawal from the EU, can my right hon. Friend confirm that his office will make every effort to ensure that the current level of funding will continue until at least that date?
The Government have a strong record in guaranteeing funds for Wales, most notably the Barnett floor, which was ignored for 13 years by Labour. That demonstrates that we will work hard in prioritising the areas of the UK that rightly need and deserve support.
The hon. Lady raises an important question. Within a week of the Brexit referendum I met a number of business leaders in Cardiff and last week I met a number of business leaders in north Wales. I was struck by their pragmatism and approach—the positivity they were showing. One of the most positive quotes was that entrepreneurs “thrive on change.” They recognise that we are not turning our backs on Europe, but opening up new markets across the globe.
Does the Secretary of State agree that every single Government Minister who has spoken on this issue has expressed their desire to ensure spending remains at exactly the same levels in Wales as it always has done, and that that shows this Government’s commitment to the people of Wales?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and allows me to underline once again the positive financial commitments this Government have made to Wales. In addition to the 115% funding for the Barnett floor that we have introduced, there is a £2.8 billion investment in electrification and £500 million for a city deal, on top of a range of other projects—UK taxpayers’ money being invested in Wales on top of the Barnett consequentials.
Given that Wales will no longer receive funding through the European regional development fund, which is allocated on objective needs-based criteria, and that Holtham saw the Barnett floor as a temporary transition measure, what consideration is the Secretary of State giving to developing a clearly needs-based formula for allocating funding to Wales?
There were many campaigns for a Barnett floor but it was only this Government who delivered on that. On European funds, we have not yet concluded our negotiating position, but simply replacing what are currently EU funds with another source from Westminster misses the point: the EU referendum sent out a number of messages, and those areas that receive most EU funds were the areas, sadly, that voted most strongly to leave the EU. We need to look at models of regional aid in a different way.
The debate on our future in the EU was very badly informed. Will the Secretary of State convene an independent inquiry to identify, quantify and publish the losses, and indeed any benefits, to Wales from leaving the EU and the steps he can take, within his powers, to safeguard our national interest?
A European Union unit is being set up in Whitehall, which will consider all the implications for my right hon. Friend the next Prime Minister in order to form judgments and direct Government policy, but we must recognise that if any country can make a success of leaving the EU it is the United Kingdom, with its proud history as a global trading nation.
I did ask about the Secretary of State’s Department. Anyway, I am concerned about the loss of common agricultural policy and convergence funding, and of research moneys to universities, and about the lost opportunities for young people to live, work and study abroad. But also, being Welsh and European, I feel the closing of our horizons towards a parochial little Britainism. What more can he do to ensure the future of our Welsh cultural London bypass to the rest of our continent?
I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s question. He will understand that I have a close working relationship with the Welsh Government and with the First Minister in particular. What is in Wales’s interest is in the United Kingdom’s interest, and I am determined to do everything possible to maintain that positive relationship as we negotiate to leave the European Union.
The Secretary of State’s answers have been predictably vacuous and ambiguous. I want to give him a chance to boost his promotion hopes today by flouting all parliamentary traditions and giving a straight answer. Brexit is perilous to Wales, especially to the steel industry. There will be an immediate loss of £600 million, and there could be further losses later. The simple question—a one-word answer will do—is this: will he guarantee that under Brexit Wales will not lose any of the funding that it has now?
I can guarantee that Wales will get its fair share, through the Barnett floor and all the other means that I have highlighted. My party can give certainty of leadership with a strong visionary negotiating stance as we approach our departure from the European Union. It is quite obvious that we cannot have that certainty of leadership from the Labour party.
Rebalancing the Economy
This Government are taking unprecedented steps to ensure greater and fairer prosperity right across the UK, and the UK Government’s cities and local growth agenda is revolutionising the way in which we achieve this. The signing of the Cardiff capital region city deal, alongside ongoing negotiations in Swansea and early discussions for a north Wales growth deal, is a clear demonstration of our commitment to rebalancing the economy in Wales.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of transport links for economic growth in north Wales. Last Thursday, I was at a summit in north Wales with the Welsh Government economic Minister and local government leaders. We discussed a proposal for improving rail and road links in north Wales as part of the north Wales growth deal.
Central to rebalancing the Welsh economy are the metro projects and the city regions. Given that during the referendum campaign 13 Government Ministers signed a letter guaranteeing the continuation of EU funding, will the Minister ensure that none of those projects loses out as a result of our leaving the EU?
I think the hon. Gentleman is asking me to give a guarantee in relation to a future Government. That Government will be established by the new Prime Minister from this afternoon onwards. The key point is that the city deal was an initiative that showed the co-operation between the Westminster Government and the Welsh Government. It showed what could be done when Governments work together. The proposed investment in the south Wales metro is something that was not delivered by the previous Government during the 13-year period in which they could have made a difference.
Given the opportunities of the north Wales growth deal for my constituency and for north-east Wales, what steps is the Minister taking to follow the lead of the Treasury to ensure that women business leaders are fully engaged in the north Wales growth deal?
The meetings that we are having in north Wales have been with council leaders, further education leaders and leaders of Welsh businesses, and I am glad to say that they have involved both male and female leaders. The key point is that our approach in north Wales is inclusive and supported by all stakeholders. People realise the potential of north Wales joining the northern powerhouse for the benefit of all the residents of north Wales.
Exports are central to any rebalancing strategy. Unlike the British state, which has a gigantic trade deficit, Wales has a significant trade surplus. It is the best performing component of the UK. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of countries across the world to which Welsh companies export, and the number of trade deals that will therefore have to be renegotiated? Does he not realise that tariff-free access to the single market is vital to the Welsh economy and that—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his passionate question. I agree with him that access to the market is important for the Welsh economy, but he should also recognise that the growth in Welsh exports has been faster to countries outside the European Union. We need a balanced approach and to ensure that we have access to markets throughout the world, so that Welsh manufacturing businesses, such as Airbus, can carry on with their recent success.
EU Referendum: Regeneration Projects
As Secretary of State I am determined to maintain our recent economic success and to ensure that we manage our transition to the new arrangements in a calm and measured way. As we negotiate our way out of the EU, a whole range of decisions will have to be made in due course.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. With EU funds, the road has been mostly turned into a dual carriageway, but some phases of the work have yet to start. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will do all that he can and work with the Welsh Government to provide support and ensure that that project and many like it will not be jeopardised by Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I underline that we remain full, active members of the EU, with all the benefits and obligations that that brings, for at least two years. The project he highlights is one of the more successful EU-funded projects, but not all of them were as successful but had questionable strategies and woolly outcomes. We need to reassess how we support regional aid programmes.
I can guarantee that for the next two years at least no EU-supported project will lose out. We have of course not yet concluded our negotiating position, and simply replacing one source of funding with another misses the point. The EU referendum sent out a clear message from the communities that are purported to benefit the most from European aid that they simply did not want what was being offered to them.
Tidal lagoons have the potential to make a significant contribution to the UK energy mix, and exciting projects in Wales such as the Swansea bay lagoon deserve serious consideration. That is why we have commissioned an independent review of tidal lagoons, and I look forward to reading its findings in the autumn.
I thank my hon. Friend for his passionate remarks. He is right that that potential exists, and that is why we have commissioned an independent review that will report in the autumn. It needs to look carefully at the costs and benefits of a potential tidal lagoon. We are supportive of the concept, but we have to ensure that we balance the development against the cost to the UK taxpayer.
As the Minister will know, many renewable energy projects depend on EU funding—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Mr Speaker, I did not know I was that popular! Such projects include the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. Will the Minister provide a cast-iron guarantee that the UK Government will meet that funding if it is lost as we exit the EU?
The Hendry review team has met representatives of business and civic society right across Wales. The tidal lagoon infrastructure project is a massive economic opportunity for Wales and my constituency in particular. Will the Minister assure the House that he will emphasise to the Hendry review how much support and enthusiasm there is for this project, and how important it is that this vital scheme is completed as a matter of urgency?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Front Bench. I fully accept the comments made about support for the concept in the Swansea area, and I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already met Charles Hendry to discuss the project. It is not my position to prejudge an independent report, but I assure her that the views of the residents and local authorities in south Wales are known to Charles Hendry.
11. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of the farming sector to the economy in Wales. (905794)
The farming sector is the economic backbone of the Welsh rural economy. The total income from farming in Wales is estimated at more than £175 million, but more important is the contribution that Welsh agriculture makes to our rural communities. It is crucial and this Government will continue to support it. [Interruption.]
Does the Minister share my concerns and those of the Welsh farming unions about the administration of the single farm payment scheme in Wales, particularly in relation to cross-border issues? Will he agree to meet the farming unions at the Royal Welsh show next week to discuss this serious issue?
I agree completely with my hon. Friend that any delays in payments to the farming community are problematic. This issue is devolved to the Welsh Government and it is one I have already discussed with farming unions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be at the Royal Welsh next week, subject to the decisions of the next Prime Minister, and meetings have been arranged with farming unions at that event, which is undoubtedly the premier farming event of the whole United Kingdom.
Welsh, and indeed British, farmers are responsible for producing some of the finest food in the world. Now that we are to leave the EU, what effort is my hon. Friend making to make sure that the Department ensures that all of the UK’s fantastic home-grown produce is promoted to international markets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the quality of food produced in Wales is second to none. We produce the best lamb in the entire world, and the contribution of such produce to the economy is crucial. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have already met business leaders, including food producers, to give them confidence that they can still access international markets following the EU referendum result.
The Royal Welsh show next week in Builth Wells will indeed show the very best of Welsh agriculture. When the Secretary of State goes there, he will get the same question that I have received in the past few weeks, since 23 June: what guarantees are there that the support for the family farm at its current level will remain in the future to sustain the essential rural economy, in west Wales and more generally?
The hon. Gentleman is a champion of the agricultural sector—there is no doubt about that. I can assure him, once again, that the Wales Office has already had meetings with the farming unions. We can certainly offer the guarantee that the current funding arrangements will be in place until at least 2018, but the ongoing support for Welsh farming will be subject to agreements involving this Government, the way in which we exit the European Union and the decisions taken by the future Prime Minister.
As the hon. Lady knows, I argued for Wales and the UK to stay within the EU, but the reality is that Wales voted to leave. It is therefore crucial that we support the industries that are dependent on exporting to the EU. We have a quality product offered by Welsh agriculture, so it is imperative that we talk up that market and support the sector to the best of our abilities. Again, I give assurance to the farming unions that the current funding situation is in place until 2018.
We need to look at the way in which Government spend money. If there is to be a funding mechanism in the future for Welsh agriculture, it must be looked at in the totality of Government spending. However, it is pretty important to state that more than 60,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on the agriculture sector, and it would be short-sighted in the extreme for any Government to turn their back on a sector that puts Wales on the international map.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know that the whole House will join me in congratulating Andy Murray, Heather Watson, Jordanne Whiley, Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett on their stunning success at Wimbledon.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Other than one meeting this afternoon with Her Majesty the Queen, the diary for the rest of my day is remarkably light.
May I echo the Prime Minister’s congratulations to Andrew Murray and all the other winners? We thank the Prime Minister for all his hard work and his leadership—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear”!]—particularly his commitment to the Union and to Northern Ireland, visiting it often and swimming in Lough Erne. Perhaps he would like to come and swim in Lough Neagh. The Ulster Unionist party looks forward to working with the next Prime Minister. I am told that there are lots of leadership roles out there at the moment—there is the England football team and “Top Gear”. Even across the Big Pond, there is a role that needs filling. I will if I may go into my pet subject.
Brexit really threatens the Union. Will the Prime Minister work with his successors to ensure that we have somebody that will pull together all the countries of the Union and the overseas territories so that we can all work and thrive together?
Let me thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and fascinating suggestions for future jobs, most of which sound even harder than this one, so I think I’ll pass. I believe that Northern Ireland is stronger than it was six years ago—58,000 more people in work, the full devolution of justice and home affairs delivered under this Government, the Saville report published, record inward investment and the creation of new jobs. Like him, I care passionately about our United Kingdom, as do all of us in this House. We need to make sure that, as we leave the European Union, we work out how to keep the benefits of the common travel area. Hard work is being done now with civil servants in Northern Ireland, Whitehall and the Republic of Ireland, and the pace of that work needs to quicken.
Q4. I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the hard work that he has done leading this great country for the past few years. My right hon. Friend’s lasting legacy will include supporting the Kurds whose peshmerga are bravely fighting Daesh in all our interests. Having visited the peshmerga on the frontline, I know that our airstrikes, weapons and training are crucial, but peshmerga injuries could be reduced with additional equipment such as body armour, respirators and front-line medical facilities, and we possibly could provide some beds in our specialist hospital in Birmingham to the most seriously injured. Does he agree that that is a relatively small investment that would make a huge difference to our allies in our common fight to defeat the evil of terrorism? (905836)
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is absolutely right that the Kurds are incredibly brave fighters and are doing valuable work against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. I will look carefully at his suggestion of using the Birmingham hospital. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has excellent facilities for battlefield casualties. Our Army is already providing medical instruction to the peshmerga to help them deal with the situation, but we will look to see whether more can be done. Let us be frank, the strategy is working. Daesh is on the back foot: it has lost 45% of the territory that it once held in Iraq; its finances have been hit; more than 25,000 Daesh fighters have now been killed; desertion has increased; and the flow of foreign fighters has fallen by 90%. I have always said that this will take a long time to work in Iraq and Syria, but we must stick at it and we must stay the course.
May I start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the British winners at Wimbledon—Andy Murray, Heather Watson, Jordanne Whiley, Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid? Also, I think it would be nice if we congratulated Serena Williams on her fantastic achievement.
It is only right that after his six years as Prime Minister, we thank the right hon. Gentleman for his service. I have often disagreed with him, but some of his achievements I welcome and want to recognise today. One is helping to secure the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo Bay; another is legislating to achieve equal marriage in our society. I am sure he would like to acknowledge that it was Labour votes that helped him to get the legislation through. Will he express some concern at the way that homelessness has risen in this country for the past six years and looks like it is going to continue to rise?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I join him in paying tribute to Serena Williams, who has now overtaken Steffi Graf’s amazing record of 22 grand slams.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about Shaker Aamer. That was a case that this Government raised again and again with the US Government, and we are pleased that it has been resolved. I thank him also for what he said about equal marriage. There are 30,000 gay people in our country who, in the past six years, have been able to get married. That is real progress. I will never forget the day at No. 10 when one of the people who works very close to the front door said to me, “I’m not that interested in politics, Mr Cameron, but because of something your lot have done, I am able to marry the person I’ve loved all my life this weekend.” There are many amazing moments in this job, but that was one of my favourites.
As for homelessness, it is still 10% below the peak that we saw under Labour, but the key is building more homes. We have built 700,000 homes since I became Prime Minister, but now we need to quicken the pace of that. The key to building more homes is, yes, programmes such as Help to Buy; yes, the reforms to the planning system, but the absolute key is a strong economy.
I have been listening carefully to what the Home Secretary has been saying over the past few days. She said:
“It’s harder than ever for young people to buy their first house.”
Does the Prime Minister think that is because of record low house building or his Government’s apparent belief that £450,000 is an affordable price for a starter home?
First, let me say at the Dispatch Box how warmly I congratulate the Home Secretary on becoming leader of the Conservative party. When it comes to women Prime Ministers, I am very pleased to be able to say that pretty soon it is going to be 2:0, and not a pink bus in sight.
On the issue of housing and homelessness, as I said, 700,000 homes have been delivered. The right hon. Gentleman asked about affordability, which is key. When I became Prime Minister, because of what had happened to the mortgage market, a first-time buyer often needed to have as much as £30,000 to put down a deposit. Because of the combination of Help to Buy and shared ownership, some people are able to get on the housing ladder now with a deposit of as little as £2,000. With the low mortgage rates and the new houses we are building, we are making good progress.
The malaise seems a little deeper still. The Home Secretary said, talking of the economy,
“so that it really does work for everyone. Because it is apparent to anybody who is in touch with the real world that people do not feel our economy works that way”.
Is she not right that too many people in too many places in Britain feel that the economy has been destroyed in their towns because the industries have gone, there are high levels of unemployment or under-employment, and a deep sense of malaise? Do not we all need to address that?
If we are going to talk about the economic record, let us get the facts straight. We have cut the deficit by two thirds. There are 2.5 million more people in work in our country. There are almost a million more businesses, and 2.9 million people in apprenticeships have been trained under this Government. When it comes to poverty, 300,000 fewer people are in relative poverty and 100,000 fewer children are in relative poverty. If I am accused of sloth in delivery by the right hon. Gentleman, let us take the past week. We have both been having leadership elections. We got on with it. We have had resignation, nomination, competition and coronation. The Opposition have not even decided what the rules are yet. If they ever got into power, it would take them about a year to work out who would sit where.
Democracy is an exciting and splendid thing, and I am enjoying every moment of it.
Talking of the economy, the Home Secretary said that many people
“find themselves exploited by unscrupulous bosses”—
I cannot imagine who she was referring to. In his hand-over discussions with the Home Secretary, could the Prime Minister enlighten us as to whether there is any proposal to take on agency Britain by banning zero-hours contracts, clamping down on umbrella companies, repealing the Trade Union Act 2016 or, preferably, all three?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that democracy is a splendid thing—I have to agree with him about that. Let me answer very directly on exploitation in the workplace. It is this Government that, for the first time, has introduced a national living wage—that is a huge change. It is this Government that has massively increased the power of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. There are record fines for businesses that do not pay the minimum wage, and there is much more policing and many more prosecutions taking place. All of those things have changed under this Government. As for zero-hours contracts, they account for fewer than one in 40 people in work. Some 60% of people on zero-hours contracts do not want to work more hours. It was this Government that did something the Labour party never did, which was to ban exclusive zero-hours contracts—13 years of Labour, but it took a coalition Conservative Government to do it.
Let me say something to the right hon. Gentleman about the democratic process of leadership elections, because I did say a couple of weeks ago—[Interruption.] I have to say that I am beginning to admire his tenacity. He is reminding me of the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. He has been kicked so many times, but he says, “Keep going, it’s only a flesh wound.” I admire that.
I would like the Prime Minister to address another issue that the House voted on last week. I have a question from Nina—[Interruption.] It is a question from somebody who deserves an answer. She says:
“I would like to know, if there is any possibility, that an EU citizen, that has lived in the UK for thirty years can have their right of permanent residence… revoked and deported, depending on the Brexit negotiations”.
There has been no clear answer to this question. It is one that worries a very large number of people, and it would be good if, in his last Question Time, the Prime Minister could at least offer some assurance to those people.
Let me reassure Nina that there is absolutely no chance of that happening to someone in those circumstances. We are working hard to do what we want, which is to give a guarantee to EU citizens that they will have their rights respected—all those who have come to this country. The only circumstance in which I could ever envisage a future Government trying to undo that guarantee would be if British citizens in other European countries did not have their rights respected. I think it is important to have reciprocity. The new Prime Minister will be working to give that guarantee as fast as we can.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman mentions emails, because, actually, I have an email as well. I got this—I am not making this up, I promise—on 16 September 2015 from someone called Judith, and she said this:
“Please, please keep dignity, and not triumphalism during the first PMQs today with Jeremy Corbyn.”
She gave this reason:
“Tom Watson, who may oust Jeremy Corbyn…is a very different kettle of fish. He is experienced, organised and far more dangerous in the long run.”
She goes on:
“Sensible, sober, polite answers to Mr Corbyn…let him create his own party disunity.”
After this is over, I have got to find Judith and find out what on earth happens next.
I have had the pleasure of asking the Prime Minister 179 questions—[Hon. Members: “More!”] Thank you. There are plenty more to come to his successor—don’t worry about that.
Before I ask the Prime Minister my last question, could I just put on record that I wish him well as he leaves office? I also wish his family well—Samantha and their children. We should all recognise that while many of us really do enjoy our jobs and our political life, it is the loved ones nearest to us and our families who actually make enormous sacrifices so that we may be able to do this. I would also like him to pass on my thanks to his mum for her advice about ties, suits and songs. It is extremely kind of her, and I would be grateful if he would pass that on to her personally. I am reflecting on the lesson that she offered.
I have one rumour that I want the Prime Minister to deal with. There is a rumour going round that his departure has been carefully choreographed so that he can slip seamlessly into the vacancy on “Strictly” that was created this morning by Len Goodman’s departure. Is that his next career?
I do not really have a pasa doble, so I can promise that that is not the case.
Let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and good wishes to my amazing wife Samantha and my lovely children, who are all watching from the Gallery today. He is absolutely right: the pressure in these jobs often bears hardest on those we love around us. Let me send my best wishes to his family as well.
I have done a bit of research, Mr Speaker. I have addressed 5,500 questions from this Dispatch Box; I will leave it for others to work out how many I have answered. Because of your belief in letting everyone have their say, I think I have done a record 92 hours of statements from this Dispatch Box, as well as some very enjoyable Liaison Committee appearances and other things.
I will certainly send the right hon. Gentleman’s best wishes back to my mother. He seems to have taken her advice and is looking absolutely splendid today.
This gives me the opportunity to put a rumour to rest, as well—it is even more serious than the “Strictly Come Dancing” one. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate this because El Gato, his cat, is particularly famous. This is the rumour that somehow I do not love Larry; I do, and I have photographic evidence to prove it. Sadly, I cannot take Larry with me; he belongs to the house and the staff love him very much, as do I.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 33 years in this House watching five Prime Ministers and several ex-Prime Ministers, I have seen him achieve a mastery of that Dispatch Box unparalleled in my time? That is not just because of his command of detail and his wit, but because he commands the respect of friend and foe alike, who know that he is driven not just by legitimate political ambitions and ideas, but by a sense of duty that always leads him to try to make this country more prosperous, more solvent, more tolerant, more fair, and more free. He will command the respect of generations to come.
Those words mean a lot from my right hon. Friend, who has spent so much time in this House. It is a special place. I think Prime Minister’s questions, for all its theatrics, does have a purpose, because it is a time when every week the Prime Minister has to know absolutely everything that is going on in Whitehall. Often you find out things that you want to stop pretty quickly before 12 o’clock on a Wednesday. I believe that politics is about public service in the national interest, and that is what I have always tried to do.
This session does have some admirers around the world. I remember when I was doing the Leader of the Opposition’s job and I met Mayor Bloomberg in New York. We walked down the street and everyone knew Mike Bloomberg. Everyone came up and said, “Mayor, you’re doing a great job.” No one had a clue who I was, until eventually someone said, “Hey, Cameron. Prime Minister’s questions—we love your show!”
I join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party in paying tribute to all the winners at Wimbledon.
This week we mark the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. As this is one of the few political causes that the Prime Minister and I both wholeheartedly support, I hope he will impress on his successor the importance of supporting the Remembering Srebrenica organisation and all the good work that it does across the UK.
Notwithstanding our differences, I genuinely extend my best personal wishes to the Prime Minister and his family; I wish them all the best. However, the Prime Minister’s legacy will undoubtedly be that he has brought us to the brink of being taken out of the European Union, so we on these Benches will not be applauding his premiership. What advice has he given his successor on taking Scotland out of the EU against the wishes of Scottish voters?
First, let me join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all those who lost their lives in Srebrenica. We should make sure that we commemorate the event properly every year. This year there will be a service in the Foreign Office, where commemoration will be given and testimony read out. We should think of it alongside the terrible events of modern history such as the holocaust. This also reminds us that while, as we often debate in this House, there is a price for intervention, there is also sometimes a price from non-intervention. We should remember that.
In terms of what the right hon. Gentleman says about Scotland, the United Kingdom and Europe, my advice to my successor, who is a brilliant negotiator, is that we should try to be as close to the European Union as we can be for the benefits of trade, co-operation and security. The channel will not get any wider once we leave the European Union, and that is the relationship we should seek. That would be good for the United Kingdom and good for Scotland.
The Prime Minister’s successor is very well known in Scotland at present—this is across all the front pages—because of the threat to deport the very much loved and liked Brain family from the highlands. The first vote of her premiership is likely to be on imposing Trident against the wishes of almost every single MP from Scotland. Meanwhile, she says that she plans to plough on with Brexit, regardless of the fact that Scotland voted to remain in the EU. How does the outgoing Prime Minister think that all that will go down in Scotland?
First of all, specifically on the Brain family, Mrs Brain came to this country on a tier 4 student visa to study for a Scottish history degree. She completed it and her husband and son came as dependants. We have given them an extension until 1 August to put in an application for a work visa in the normal way, and I very much hope that will happen.
On Trident, there will be a vote in this House. It is right that this House should decide. Actually, many people in Scotland support our nuclear deterrent, maintaining it and the jobs that come in Scotland.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the record of this Government when it comes to Scotland. I will tell him what it is: 143,000 more people in work in Scotland; massive investment in the renewable industries in Scotland; the two biggest warships in our history built in Scotland; a powerhouse Parliament; a referendum that was legal, decisive and fair; and, I might add, a Scotsman winning Wimbledon twice while I was Prime Minister. Never mind Indy 2; I think it is time for Andy 2.
Q7. I thank the Prime Minister for the leadership he has shown, particularly in his support of women in the Conservative party. The Prime Minister’s legacy for me, however, and for fellow cancer survivors, is the personal support that he has shown for the cancer drugs fund. Today I ask him to show the same support for those who have been affected by contaminated blood. Will he please update the House as to whether they, too, will have a legacy? (905839)
I thank my hon. Friend for what she says about the cancer drugs fund, which has helped many people and families in our country. She is absolutely right to raise the issue of contaminated blood, and I can today announce that we will spend the extra £125 million that we have identified. A much fairer and more comprehensive scheme will guarantee that all those infected will, for the first time, receive a regular annual payment. That will include all those with hepatitis stage 1, who will now receive £3,500 per year, rising to £4,500 per year by the end of the Parliament. For those with hepatitis C at stage 2 or HIV, or who are co-infected with both, annual payments will increase over the lifetime of the Parliament, and we will enhance the support for those who have been bereaved and those who will be in future, significantly boosting the money for the discretionary payments. Last year I apologised to the victims on behalf of the British Government for something that should never have happened. Today I am proud to provide them with the support that they deserve.
Although it is not right to pick out two individuals, I think that people should know that they can come to constituency surgeries, make their point to their Member of Parliament and campaign, as these sufferers have done. In my case, David Leadbetter and Matthew Davies repeatedly came to my surgery, saying, “This mustn’t stand. More must be done.” I know that not everyone will be fully satisfied with what is being done, but it does show our democracy working and compassion in replying to this terrible problem.
On the economic record, 2.5 million more jobs, the deficit cut by two thirds, 2.9 million apprenticeships, a million more businesses, and a growth rate that has been at the top of the developed world are all because of the choices that we made. Because we did that, we have been able to back our NHS with a 10% funding increase, which is more than £10 billion in real terms in this Parliament. As for Europe, we have to settle these issues. It is right that, when trying to settle a really big constitutional issue, you not just rely on Parliament, but ask the people as well. We made a promise and we kept a promise.
Q12. I am very sorry that this turns out to be my last question to the Prime Minister. I want to thank him for everything he has done for my constituency, where every school is now good or outstanding and the jobless total is down 64% since he took office. As he prepares to leave Downing Street, I encourage him to return to the big society agenda that I know he is so passionate about. Does he remember saying, shortly before becoming Prime Minister, that politicians are a mixture of egotism and altruism, and that“you just hope that the”right one“wins out and that people do the right thing rather than the politically convenient thing”?It seems to me that he has stayed on the right side of that divide in the past six years, not least in the manner of his departure. I think that this country is going to miss him a great deal. (905844)
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. When it comes to education, there is a very strong record to build on. We have 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. We have seen the free school movement really take off, with over 300 free schools open. I visited one yesterday that is outstanding, as a quarter of them are, which is an amazing record when we think how little time they have had to get going. I think that we should build on that record.
As for the big society, yes, we should use a stronger economy to build a bigger and stronger society. One thing we are doing is introducing the National Citizen Service. Some 200,000 young people have taken part in that programme and I hope that, by the end of this Parliament, it will be the norm for 16-year-olds to take part. We talk about the soft skills that are necessary to give people real life chances. Many people do not get those chances, and the National Citizen Service will help them.
Q3. I thank the Prime Minister for the courteous way he has always answered the questions I have managed to ask him. I have always listened carefully to his answers but, until I had two eye operations, I was not able to see him very clearly. Is he as concerned as I am about newspaper reports that people who are not entitled to NHS cataract operations are jumping the queue and preventing people who are entitled to NHS operations from having that treatment? (905835)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I try to answer questions from this Dispatch Box, but it is difficult sometimes when I have not seen the specific story, and I have not in this case. I recall from previous occasions that we are still investing in cataract operations and that the number of people receiving them is going up. However, I will look carefully—this afternoon—at the question he asks about the danger of queue jumping and get back to him.
Q13. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend, unemployment in my constituency has dropped from 5.1% in May 2010 to 1.9% in May this year. That is a record to be proud of and one for which I would like to thank him. Does he agree that that has been possible only thanks to his firm focus on jobs, apprenticeships, skills, a strong economy and investment? (905845)
The figures are remarkable—when a constituency gets to an unemployment rate of 1.9%, that is very close to full employment. We had 2.4 million apprenticeships in the previous Parliament, and there are already an extra 500,000 in this Parliament, taking us towards the target of 3 million in this Parliament. I am confident that we can achieve that target if we work hard. These are not just numbers on a page; they are real people who have experience of the workplace, who are learning a trade and who are taking their first steps in their career. What I want is that, when they get that career, we not only have the national living wage, but make sure that people do not start paying income tax until they are earning a good wage. We have taken 4 million of the lowest paid people in our country out of income tax altogether—that is a record to be proud of.
Q5. This week is Black Country Week. Yesterday, black country manufacturers were in Parliament demonstrating the high-quality products that are exported worldwide. Will the outgoing Prime Minister impress on the incoming Prime Minister the huge importance of maintaining access to the EU single market during Brexit negotiations so that we can maximise the black country’s contribution to exports, productivity and jobs? (905837)
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have seen in the west midlands 173,000 more people in work under this Government. We have seen something of a renaissance in manufacturing, particularly in the automotive sector, some of which is, indeed, in the black country. It is vital for that industry that we have proper access to the single market. I think he is right; this is one of the things we absolutely have to focus on. I want these high-quality automotive and aerospace manufacturing firms to go from strength to strength in our country, and making sure we get that access to Europe is going to be vital.
Q15. Ten years ago today, I was applying to become the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Labour-held Worcester as my right hon. Friend was uniting the then Opposition and preparing them for government. Like many Conservative Members, I entered this House in the week when he became Prime Minister. Since that time, unemployment in Worcester has halved and apprenticeships have doubled. We have more good and outstanding schools, and are beginning to receive fairer funding. Wages are up and taxes are down. May I thank my right hon. Friend for all his service to our nation and for the legacy of improved life chances that he will leave behind? (905847)
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We have seen unemployment fall in all these constituencies and the claimant count going down. More importantly, we now see 450,000 fewer children in households in which nobody works. Think of the effect of having a parent or a loved one in work helping to put food on the table and providing a role model for their children. That is really what this is all about, and I thank him for his kind remarks.
Q8. Between broken vows, Brexit and the likely renewal of weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, the Prime Minister has done more for Scottish independence than many SNP Members could ever hope to do. As he contemplates a move to Aberdeenshire, will he now make his commitment to Scottish independence official by visiting snp.org/joinus? (905840)
What I say to the hon. Lady, and indeed to all SNP Members, is that when Lord Smith himself says that the vow to create a powerhouse Parliament was kept, the SNP should pay attention to that, and recognise that a promise was made and a promise was delivered. I have talked many times at this Dispatch Box about creating this powerhouse Parliament; what I have not seen is the SNP using any of the powers that it now has.
May I first join with all who have thanked the Prime Minister for the statesmanlike leadership that he has given to our party and to the country for the past six years? I thank him particularly for the debating eloquence and also the wit and humour that he has always brought to Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesdays. Although, no doubt, he will have plans for a slightly more enjoyable and relaxed Wednesday morning and lunchtime in the future, may I ask that he will nevertheless still be an active participant in this House as it faces a large number of problems over the next few years? As no two people know what Brexit means at the moment, we need his advice and statesmanship as much as we ever have.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his very kind remarks. I remember that one of the toughest conversations I had in politics was when I was Leader of the Opposition and I was trying to get him to join my Front Bench. He was on a bird-watching holiday in Patagonia; it was almost impossible to persuade him to come back.
Not many people know this, but my right hon. and learned Friend’s first act as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to fire me as a special adviser. I am proud of the fact that one of my first acts was to appoint him to my Cabinet in the coalition Government. The then Deputy Prime Minister will join me in saying that my right hon. and learned Friend provided great wisdom, thoughtfulness and ballast at a time of national difficulty with the advice that he gave us. He is not always the easiest person to get hold of—Tory modernisation has never quite got as far as getting Ken Clarke to carry a mobile phone. He did briefly have one, but he said, “The problem is that people keep ringing me on it.” In opposition, I seem to remember that we had to move our morning meeting to accommodate his 9 o’clock cigar.
I will watch these exchanges from the Back Benches. I will miss the roar of the crowd and I will miss the barbs from the Opposition, but I will be willing you on. When I say “willing you on”, I do not just mean willing on the new Prime Minister at this Dispatch Box, or indeed just willing on the Government Front Bench and defending the manifesto that I helped to put together. I mean willing all of you on, because people come here with huge passion for the issues they care about and with great love for the constituencies that they represent. I will also be willing on this place. Yes, we can be pretty tough, and we test and challenge our leaders—perhaps more than some other countries—but that is something we should be proud of, and we should keep at it. I hope that you will all keep at it, and I shall will you on as you do.
The last thing I would say is that you can achieve a lot of things in politics and get a lot of things done; in the end, public service and the national interest is what it is all about. Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said, I was the future once. [Applause.]
Order. I will come to the hon. Lady—how could I forget her? Her point of order will be heard, but we will first deal with the presentation of Bills.
Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (Amendment)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Craig Mackinlay, supported by Sir Roger Gale, Caroline Lucas, Paul Scully, James Cleverly, Martin Vickers, Mr David Nuttall, Kelly Tolhurst and Craig Tracey, presented a Bill to amend section 33 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to allow local authorities to proscribe, in certain circumstances, the transport of live animals for slaughter abroad via facilities that local authorities control and operate; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 November, and to be printed (Bill 52).
UK Environmental Protection (Maintenance of EU Standards)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Geraint Davies, supported by Mary Creagh, Caroline Lucas, Kerry McCarthy, Mr Mark Williams, Liz Saville Roberts, Chris Stephens, Margaret Greenwood, Sir Alan Meale, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Liz McIness and Gill Furniss, presented a Bill to make provision about the safeguarding of standards of environmental protection derived from European Union legislation, including for water, air, soil, flood protection, and climate change, after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be a Second time on Friday 28 October, and to be printed (Bill 53).