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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
26 October 2016
Volume 616

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Northern Ireland Economy

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1. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the Northern Ireland economy. [906757]

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3. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the Northern Ireland economy. [906759]

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Before I answer the questions, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in condemning the murder of Joe Reilly last Thursday in Belfast. My sympathy is with his family and with the local community. It is a stark reminder of why we must all continue to work together to ensure that this sort of violence has no place in Northern Ireland.

The UK and Northern Ireland economies are fundamentally strong. In Northern Ireland, economic activity increased by 1.6% over the year and 64,000 more people are in work compared with 2010. That means that we are well placed to build a stronger economy that works for everyone.

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I welcome the growth of the Northern Ireland economy, and particularly the fact that unemployment has fallen to its lowest levels since Labour’s great recession. I also welcome last week’s excellent news of the investment from Thales. Will my right hon. Friend continue to prioritise making the case for Northern Ireland as a great place to live, work and do business?

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I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I will not tire in talking up the Northern Ireland economy and underlining what a great place it is to do business. He highlights investment; outside London, Northern Ireland is the leading UK region for attracting inward investment across a range of sectors. He is right to highlight the new and innovative investment from Thales, with its space propulsion facilities in Belfast, which underlines what a great place Northern Ireland is to do business.

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The Northern Ireland economy is doing well, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the devolution of corporation tax offers further opportunities to boost the private sector and to build a stronger economy for everyone?

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I certainly underline to my hon. Friend that we stand by our commitment to the devolution of corporation tax powers, subject to the conditions around fiscal discipline and financial stability agreed in the Stormont House and “Fresh Start” agreements. The Northern Ireland Executive have indicated that they would like corporation tax to be set at around 12.5% from April 2018, and they estimate that that could create 30,000 more jobs.

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I join the Secretary of State in his comments about the recent murder. It is important that we all redouble our efforts to ensure that such events are a thing of the past.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, to build and strengthen the economy of Northern Ireland, investment in infrastructure is absolutely vital? The announcement by the Minister for Infrastructure in the Northern Ireland Executive that he was delaying the major York Street interchange project—for access to ports, an airport and a major road thoroughfare through Belfast to the rest of Northern Ireland—is a bit of a blow to that strategy. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to reiterate to the Minister for Infrastructure that all EU projects that are signed off before we leave the EU will be funded even if they continue after we leave the EU?

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The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the continuance of EU funding. He will have noted the statement, which he has referred to, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer underlining that the Government will guarantee funding for structural and investment fund projects that are signed off until the point at which the UK leaves the EU, even where projects continue after we leave. It is important to underline that message. There should, therefore, be more projects coming forward, and we should continue to benefit from EU funding up until the point at which we depart.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for underlining that important commitment, which should allow investment in that much-needed project to go ahead.

On the question of exporters, who have received a boost as a result of the revaluation of the pound, Northern Ireland was the only area last year that grew its exports, by 9.5%. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment that the new Department for International Trade will work closely with Invest NI to continue that really positive news for Northern Ireland, along with many other very positive economic indicators for the Province?

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The right hon. Gentleman is right to underline the fact that the value of goods exported from Northern Ireland increased to £6.6 billion, which emphasises the strength of the Northern Ireland economy. The Secretary of State for International Trade has underlined his all-UK approach to his work, and he will want to work with Invest NI and the Executive to ensure that there is that clear message of seeing further investment and further exports coming from Northern Ireland.

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11. Manufacturing is very important to the Northern Ireland economy. Given the recent job losses at JTI Gallaher and Michelin, what is the Secretary of State doing to safeguard current manufacturing jobs and to help to create more manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland? [906767]

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The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the role that manufacturing plays in the Northern Ireland economy. It directly contributes more than 85,000 jobs—some 10% of employment—and, clearly, it provides high-skilled jobs. As a Government, we will continue to work with the Executive on the issues of skills and pathways into employment. It is notable that we have seen record employment levels. We want to work with the Executive to ensure that that very positive picture continues, underlining the fact that we want to see further investment in the economy.

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The Secretary of State will be aware that the financial and related professional services industry provides jobs for some 31,000 people in Northern Ireland and generates more than 6% of economic output. What are the Government doing to ensure that Northern Ireland will have the benefits of passporting for financial services after the UK leaves the EU so that that industry is not damaged?

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I underline the work I have done as Secretary of State to reach out to the business community. Indeed, I have established a new advisory group, and one of the sectors we have met is the financial services sector. We are listening keenly to the information that it is providing us with as we frame our all-UK approach to the negotiations that lie ahead with the EU.

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On the back of the Chancellor’s comment to Nissan that it will be compensated for losses due to Brexit, the Secretary of State for Scotland said at the Dispatch Box two weeks ago:

“whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 287.]

Given that the manufacturing sector plays such a pivotal role in Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that his Government’s policy will apply to Northern Ireland in the same way as it appears to apply to Scotland and the north of England?

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We take an all-UK approach. That is the way in which the Chancellor has been approaching his announcements about support post the departure from the EU, ensuring that we do have such a UK-wide approach, and indeed his preparations for his autumn statement. The approach will be to support the UK, with Northern Ireland being a core part of that.

Armed Forces Covenant

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2. If he will take steps to work with the Secretary of State for Defence to enhance future funding for the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland. [906758]

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The armed forces covenant is making a real difference in Northern Ireland. Bids for funding from the armed forces covenant fund have been more successful in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK. Grants that have been made include £450,000 for Combat Stress to help veterans with mental health support, and £600,000 for the Somme Nursing Home in Belfast to enable it to add more bed spaces for veterans requiring nursing care.

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I thank the Minister for his response. Northern Ireland is in 10th place among all the regions of the United Kingdom for small grants. Beyond the Battlefield has applied for LIBOR funding for four years running, with a substantial and detailed business plan, but it has not been successful. Does the Minister consider that to be fair? What steps will he take to address that imbalance, and to help groups and bodies such as Beyond the Battlefield to prepare successful applications?

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I commend the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends for making sure that they have secured the largest proportion of the big pot, although I appreciate that he is now going after the small pot. His point about how to secure the funding is really important, and I am more than willing to sit down with him to talk about how we can support that package.

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Will the Minister confirm that he and the Secretary of State have the determination and the will to eliminate all impediments to the full implementation—I do mean the full implementation—of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland?

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I do not think I need to go further to reassure the hon. Lady than to say that I want the best possible services for our veterans. I want the covenant to be implemented in full, and I will do everything I can to ensure that that happens.

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May I add to the comments of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and to those of other hon. Friends representing Northern Ireland? When I went there as the Minister with responsibility for veterans, I was, frankly, deeply struck—perhaps only an English person can say this—by the complete lack of drive to ensure that all its local authorities signed up to the military covenant, as local authorities have done across the whole United Kingdom. There is no reason why the covenant should not be in effect in Northern Ireland just as much as it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

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I agree with my right hon. Friend that every council should participate. I get the opportunity to meet lots of councils, and I know that a lot of them are making a massive contribution, but where they are not I reassure her that I will push those councils to do so.

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May I disagree with the Minister? The armed forces covenant is not working especially well in Northern Ireland. There is £100 million in the LIBOR funds for the whole military covenant. Can some of that be used to make sure that the mechanisms work—that is, that we get a nominee on to the covenant reference group, that the reserve forces and cadets association gets the support it needs to help all soldiers and that the champions get some help?

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I know that there are opportunities to get on to the committee that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I will support him if he wants to do that. I know it is a big issue, and I say this as ex-services personnel myself: I want to make sure that this works, and that every partner—not just councils but health authorities and housing authorities—works together. But this is devolved, and it is up to the Executive to make it work. However, as someone with a history in this area, I will assist him in every way I can to ensure that that is delivered.

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The shadow of the past hangs heavily over the questions that have been asked and there are many unquiet graves still on the island of Ireland. Bearing in mind that it is now 42 years since the atrocity of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and in view of the vote in the Dáil Éireann, what contact and communication is the Minister having with the Irish Government on this question?

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I agree that that act 42 years ago was appalling, and offer my sympathies to the families of those who were lost. There is a continuing dialogue with the Irish Government and their Foreign Minister. We will continue that and I am quite happy to have discussions with the hon. Gentleman if he wants further information about the progress we are making.

Leaving the EU: Republic of Ireland

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4. What recent discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on the UK’s decision to leave the EU. [906760]

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6. What discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on the Government’s negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. [906762]

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7. What recent discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on the UK’s decision to leave the EU. [906763]

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I have met and will continue to meet counterparts in the Irish Government as we work through the challenges ahead. The UK-Irish relationship has never been stronger. It is a unique relationship, and in the coming months we will strengthen co-operation to help to secure the best outcome from the EU negotiations.

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I think my right hon. Friend will agree that both the common travel area and the open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have served us well for decades. Will he do everything he can to ensure those arrangements continue and that there is no establishment of hard borders within the island of Ireland or within the UK?

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I agree with my hon. Friend that the common travel area has served us well over many years; indeed, we were party to it before we joined the European Union. It is a priority that we do not see a return to the borders of the past.

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I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State reassure us that the common travel area is a key priority. Does not the fact that citizens of EU countries will be able to move freely to live and work in the Irish Republic make a nonsense of the leave campaign claims that Brexit means that somehow we can take back control of our borders?

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No. This Government are very clear that the EU referendum underlined that free movement cannot continue as it does today. We are considering carefully the options in relation to migration policy as well as border policy, to ensure that both work in the best interests of the United Kingdom.

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Security co-operation between our two countries is vital to fight against organised crime and terrorism. As we leave the EU, will the Secretary of State ensure that that continues to be a priority in his ongoing discussions?

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I entirely agree. There are very strong relationships and connections between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other UK Government agencies. Those have been and will continue to be really valuable and we are determined to maintain them.

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A number of institutions have been established for discussing these matters with the Government of the Irish Republic, including the North South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those are the bodies through which discussions take place, and not some ad hoc arrangement?

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The right hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the structures that have been in place since the Belfast agreement, such as the North South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, which will meet again in a few weeks. They are really important and valuable structures that can and will be used in supporting the negotiations ahead; there is of course the new Joint Ministerial sub-committee as well.

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Given that Her Majesty’s Government, the Irish Government and political parties in Northern Ireland want to see the special relationship and soft border continue, is it not incumbent on the European Union to allow us to exit on terms that will enable us to preserve that relationship?

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My hon. Friend underlines a very significant point, which is the support that other EU member states have provided to the political process in Northern Ireland over many, many years. That is a point we have underlined and the Irish Government have underlined. We will continue to do so as we look towards the negotiations.

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Charlie Flanagan said in Derry on Friday night:

“I view my role as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement as a solemn duty and—together with the Taoiseach—will be working to ensure that all aspects of that international agreement are fully respected in the new arrangements between the EU and the UK. Ireland has a seat at the EU table which we will use in the best interests of the whole island.”

Does the Secretary of State recognise that that will include the need for a bespoke and explicit reflection of the key constitutional precepts in annex A of the Good Friday agreement in any new EU-UK treaty?

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The Irish Government and the UK Government are co-signatories to the Belfast agreement. I have said on a number of occasions that we stand behind our commitments. There are unique circumstances that operate on the island of Ireland: the common travel area, the single electricity market and so on. We are determined to find the right solutions that serve Northern Ireland well and all of the all-Ireland issues.

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10. In the recent referendum, Northern Ireland voted to remain. In large part, that was due to issues relating to the border with the Irish Republic. This is a key issue for the Secretary of State, but more so for working families, so will he tell us what the Government’s policy is in relation to the border? [906766]

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As I have already underlined, the Government are determined not to see a return to the borders of the past. We want to strengthen the common travel area. Work with the Irish Government has been ongoing for many months and will continue, reflecting the important issues the hon. Gentleman highlights on the movement of people, the movement of goods and services, and the sense of politics and identity, which is why this is such a priority.

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13. The Secretary of State says he wants to take back control of our borders, in particular this border. At the same time, he says he wants to keep the common travel area and the current arrangements. Is that not contradictory nonsense? In the end, will it not it be the EU that decides, because it is the Republic’s border? What conversations has he had with the EU on that matter? [906770]

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The hon. Gentleman wants to get into negotiations that have not yet started. I underline the shared will and commitment of ourselves, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to support the common travel area and to ensure we do not return to the borders of the past. That is the work we have ahead of us.

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We have already heard the huge concerns in Northern Ireland about the specific problems posed by Brexit. One fundamental issue that has not been addressed so far is the fate of the Good Friday agreement, which is an international agreement formally registered with the United Nations. Will the Secretary of State tell the House today what specific measures he and civil servants in Northern Ireland have taken to ensure that this important issue is not left behind in the wake of Brexit?

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The Government remain fully committed to the political settlement and the institutions set out in the Belfast agreement and all its successors. The key principles established there, the details that have been taken over successive Governments, are things that we do not want to unsettle and that we will maintain. I assure the hon. Gentleman of the focus we are giving to this matter.

Leaving the EU: Northern Ireland Economy

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5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the Northern Ireland economy of the UK leaving the EU. [906761]

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Following my appointment, I established an advisory group to ensure the voice of business is heard. It is clear that our focus now needs to be on what we can achieve in terms of trade, jobs and exploiting the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU.

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The Secretary of State referred a few minutes ago to taking a whole-country approach to the EU referendum negotiations. The Chancellor recently spoke to the British Bankers Association about the specific needs of the banking industry. If special privileges in terms of the single market are afforded to the City of London, will the Secretary of State be asking for the same privileges for Northern Ireland?

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I set up the advisory group and am speaking to individual sectors within the Northern Ireland economy precisely to ensure that their voice is heard as we prepare for the negotiations ahead, and to ensure that, where there are specific issues and concerns, they are heard as part of those preparations and are reflected in the negotiations.

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Does my right hon. Friend not agree that leaving the European Union will enable the Northern Ireland economy to be rebalanced in favour of the private sector rather than the public sector? [Interruption.]

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Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I could scarcely hear the dulcet tones of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), and I feel considerably disadvantaged.

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My hon. Friend identifies—I think rightly—the opportunities for bringing about greater focus on enterprise in the Northern Ireland economy, where there has been significant reliance on the state to support employment. We need to work with the Executive on skills and opportunities, which is precisely what we will be doing. [Interruption.]

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Order. We are discussing matters appertaining to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Members must be heard.

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I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the businesses in Northern Ireland, especially the small and medium-sized enterprises, are second to none, and that whatever they face with Brexit, they are up for the challenge.

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I have heard that message very clearly. There are some fantastic, innovative businesses and some great family businesses in Northern Ireland. We want to support them to take that next step, to grow their business and to look at the new opportunities for exports. I think they now have a great opportunity to do that.

Leaving the EU: Northern Ireland Economy

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8. What discussions he has had with the European Commission and Governments of other EU member states on the free movement of people, goods, capital and labour between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after the UK has left the EU. [906764]

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The Government take part in regular direct discussions with the Irish Government through a number of forums, including the upcoming British-Irish Council. We will ensure that we engage closely with all relevant partners to secure the best outcome for Northern Ireland.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s earlier comments about the increase in employment, which is very important, but in light of the significant damage to the British economy, the dramatic fall in the value of sterling and the increase in the price of food and fuel as a result of the referendum, does he accept that many businesses in Northern Ireland are frightened that damage to the Northern Ireland economy will be magnified relative to the British economy?

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I reiterate for the hon. Gentleman the strong base that we see, with record levels of employment, exports that have grown significantly and continuing foreign direct investment. I will continue to champion business in Northern Ireland and to underline the fact that Northern Ireland remains open for business. A number of firms are continuing to invest and create jobs, which we will continue to welcome.

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Four counties in the Republic of Ireland border my constituency, so what specific issues will the Secretary of State raise with his counterparts in the Republic of Ireland to ensure that cross-border trade can continue?

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I have already had two meetings—with the Taoiseach and with the Irish Foreign Minister—and there are more meetings and discussions to come. The British-Irish Council meeting is coming up in just a few weeks’ time. Border issues such as protecting the common travel area and not seeing a return to the borders of the past are a priority, and also a shared objective between the two Governments. [Interruption.]

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If I may say politely to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell): spit it out succinctly, man.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that over the past few months there have been reports from the retail trade in Northern Ireland of a veritable multi-million pound boom along the border in shoppers from the Irish Republic, and that we should do more to encourage that as business continues to make progress?

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Yes, I have seen those reports. When I visited towns in and around the border area, they certainly underlined some of the growth in business opportunities that they were seeing—something we clearly warmly welcome.

Security

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9. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland. [906765]

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The threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism continues to be “severe”, meaning that an attack is highly likely. Our response to terrorism and paramilitary activity is co-ordinated, effective and fully resourced. This Government’s focus is on keeping people safe, and we will ensure that terrorism never succeeds.

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Does the Minister agree that it is damaging both to the security situation in Northern Ireland and to the peace process when former members of the armed forces who have been cleared on multiple occasions are now arrested for offences that are alleged to have taken place more than 40 years ago? Will he agree to meet me to discuss the broader issues surrounding the case of Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings?

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Criminal investigations and prosecutions are a matter for the police and the prosecuting authorities, who act independently of Government and politicians. The Government therefore cannot comment on individual cases. However, I am more than willing to discuss with the hon. Gentleman the broader issue that he has raised.

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In the past two years, 1,631 police officers—a quarter of Northern Ireland’s police force—have been injured or assaulted while on duty. When will the Northern Ireland Office fund and support a new recruitment drive to return the number of officers to the 7,800 required under the Patten settlement?

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I condemn all those attacks. They are absolutely appalling. This is, however, a devolved matter, and it is for the Northern Ireland Executive to make decisions on recruitment and numbers.

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Does the Minister agree that the best way of tackling paramilitarism and criminality in Northern Ireland is to adopt the community-wide approach that was outlined by the SDLP during last year’s Stormont House talks, rather than throwing money at paramilitary organisations?

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I understand what the hon. Lady is saying, but I can give her some comfort. We have ensured that £25 million is available specifically to counter paramilitary activity, and we are working with the Executive to deliver that. We look forward to seeing the report in the near future.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

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Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 26 October. [906807]

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This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

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In the black country, in the west midlands, we are very proud of our long industrial heritage. We are also very proud of the recent revival in the fortunes of the black country, which is seeing new jobs and investment in the local economy. Does the Prime Minister agree that one way to create an economy that works for everyone is to devolve further powers and funds to the west midlands to drive investment, and to combine that with the strong leadership and vision that can only be provided by Andy Street, the Conservative candidate for the position of west midlands mayor?

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My hon. Friend speaks up well for the black country, and I am pleased to echo his comments about economic growth in the west midlands. Since 2010, we have seen the creation of over 220,000 more jobs and 55,000 more new businesses in the region. However, he is right to say that the devolution deal is important. It is the biggest devolution deal that is being done for the west midlands. A crucial part of it is the election of a directly elected mayor, and I think that, given both his local knowledge and his business experience, Andy Street will drive economic growth.

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Let me start by welcoming the child refugees who have arrived in Britain in the last few days. They are obviously deeply traumatised young people, and we should welcome, love and support them in the best way that we possibly can.

Irrespective of party, when Members go through health problems we reach out the hand of support, solidarity and friendship to them. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) for the message that he sent through social media this morning. It showed amazing humour and bravery. We wish him all the very best, and hope that he recovers fully.

There are now to be regular sessions of the Joint Ministerial Council to discuss Brexit, but it seems that the Prime Minister’s counterparts are already feeling the same sense of frustration as Members of the House of Commons. The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has said that there is a “great deal of uncertainty”, but that it is clear that there must be “full and unfettered access” to the single market. Can the Prime Minister help the First Minister of Wales—and, indeed, the other devolved Administrations—by giving them some clarity?

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Let me first—in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s opening comments—commend the Home Office for working so carefully and in the best interests of the child refugees so that they have the support that they need when they come to the United Kingdom. Let me also join the right hon. Gentleman in commending my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) for his willingness to be so open about his health problem. We wish him all the very best for the future, and for his place here in the House.

On the issue of clarity on the Government’s aims in relation to Brexit, I have been very clear and I will be clear again. There are those who talk about means and those who talk about ends; I am talking about ends. What we want to see is the best possible arrangement for trade with and operation within the single European market for businesses in goods and services here in the United Kingdom.

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I thought for a moment the Prime Minister was going to say “Brexit means Brexit” again. [Interruption.] I am sure she will tell us one day what it actually means. The Mayor of London also added that this is causing “unnecessary uncertainty”.

It would also be very helpful if the Prime Minister provided some clarity over the Northern Ireland border. Will we continue membership of the customs union or are we going to see border checks introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic?

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The Leader of the Opposition tries to poke fun at the phrase “Brexit means Brexit”, but the whole point is this: on Brexit, it is this Government who are listening to the voice of the British people. “Brexit means Brexit” means we are coming out of the European Union. What the right hon. Gentleman is trying to do is frustrate the will of the British people by saying that Brexit means something completely different.

In relation to the Northern Irish border, a considerable amount of work was already taking place with the Irish Government to look at the issues around the common travel area, and that work is continuing. We have been very clear, the Government of the Republic of Ireland have been very clear, and the Northern Ireland Executive have been very clear that none of us wants to see a return to the borders of the past, and I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that the common travel area has been in place since 1923, which was well before either of us joined the European Union.

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On Monday the Prime Minister said that the customs union was “not a binary choice”. I cannot think that whether we have a border or do not have a border is anything other than a binary choice; there is no third way on that one. On Monday her friend the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) expressed concern about the automotive and aerospace industries, while the British Bankers Association said that its members’

“hands are quivering over the relocate button.”

Every day the Prime Minister dithers over this chaotic Brexit, employers delay investment and rumours circulate about relocation. This cannot carry on until March of next year; when is the Prime Minister going to come up with a plan?

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The fact that the right hon. Gentleman seems to confuse a customs union with a border when they are actually two different issues shows— [Interruption]— why it is important that it is this party that is in government and dealing with these issues and not his.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the plan. I have been very clear that we want to trade freely—both trade with and operate within the single European market. I want this country to be a global leader in free trade; the Labour party is against free trade. I want to introduce control on free movement so that we have an end of free movement; the Labour party wants to continue with free movement. I want to deliver on the will of the British people; the right hon. Gentleman is trying to frustrate the will of the British people.

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There was no answer on the border, which was what the question was about. On Monday the Prime Minister told the House:

“We have a plan, which is not to set out at every stage of the negotiations the details of those negotiations”.—[Official Report, 24 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 31.]

I have been thinking about this for a couple of days, and—[Interruption.] I think when we are searching for the real meaning and the importance of the Prime Minister’s statement, we should consult the great philosophers. [Interruption.] The only one I could come up with—[Interruption.]

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Mr Cleverly, calm yourself. You are imperilling your own health, man, which is a source of great concern to me.

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The only one I could come up with was Baldrick, who said that his “cunning plan” was to have no plan. Brexit was apparently about taking back control, but the devolved Governments do not know the plan, businesses do not know the plan and Parliament does not know the plan. When will the Prime Minister abandon this shambolic Tory Brexit and develop a plan that delivers for the whole country?

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I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman chose to support Baldrick. Of course, the actor who played Baldrick was a member of the Labour party, as I recall. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what we are going to deliver. We are going to deliver on the vote of the British people. We are going to deliver the best possible deal for trade in goods and services, both with and operationally in the European Union. And we are going to deliver an end to free movement. That is what the British people want and that is what this Government are going to deliver for them.

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Three years ago, the United Kingdom backed Saudi Arabia for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council. On 28 October, there will again be elections for the Human Rights Council. A UN panel has warned that Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen has violated international law. Amnesty International has stated that

“executions are on the increase…women are widely discriminated against…torture is common…and human rights organisations are banned”.

Will the Government again be backing the Saudi dictatorship for membership of that committee?

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As the right hon. Gentleman knows, where there are legitimate human rights concerns in relation to Saudi Arabia, we raise them. In relation to the action in the Yemen, we have been clear that we want the incidents that have been referred to properly investigated, and if there are lessons to be learned from them, we want the Saudi Arabians to learn those lessons. I reiterate a point that I have made in this House before: our relationship with Saudi Arabia is an important one. It is particularly important in relation to the security of this country, to counter-terrorism and to foiling the activities of those who wish to do harm to our citizens here in the UK.

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Taher Qassim, a Yemeni man who lives in Liverpool, told me this week:

“Yemen is quickly becoming the forgotten crisis. If people aren’t being killed by bombs, it’s hunger that kills them. The UK needs to use its influence to help the people of Yemen”.

Bombs exported from Britain are being dropped on Yemeni children by Saudi pilots trained by Britain. If there are war crimes being committed, as the United Nations suggests, they must be investigated. Is it not about time that this Government suspended their arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

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The issues are being investigated, and we have taken action. The right hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the humanitarian crisis in the Yemen, and this country is one of those at the forefront of ensuring that humanitarian aid is provided. That is a record of action of which I believe this country and this Government can be proud around the world. There was a cessation of hostilities in the Yemen over the weekend. It lasted 72 hours. As I said in the House on Monday, I spoke to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi at the weekend, and one of the issues we discussed was the importance of trying to find a political solution in Yemen and to see whether that cessation of hostilities could be continued. It has not been continued, but we are clear that the only solution that is going to work for the Yemen is to ensure that we have a political solution that will give stability to the Yemen.

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Q2. Twenty years ago, a Conservative Government agreed that the Christchurch and East Dorset Councils could retain their sovereignty, independence and control over their own destiny. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will not agree to the abolition of either Christchurch Council or East Dorset Council against the will of my constituents? [906808]

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My hon. Friend is right to speak up for his constituents. He is also right that there is no single model that will work in every part of the country. That is why it is important for local people to come together to determine what is right for them. My hon. Friend is trying to build a consensus in Dorset on the right way forward. It is right that local people are able to respond to the consultation and that their concerns are listened to.

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The Scottish poppy appeal launches today for parliamentarians, so may I take this opportunity to praise all the fundraisers, volunteers and veterans involved? I am sure that colleagues in other parts of the House will commend the efforts to raise money for the poppy appeal in the rest of the United Kingdom.

One of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes of our time is in Syria, specifically Aleppo, where we expect the ceasefire to end shortly and an onslaught to begin. Will the Prime Minister tell us what efforts the UK is currently undertaking not only to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but to deal with those who are exacerbating the situation?

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I join the right hon. Gentleman in commending and praising the work of all those across the United Kingdom who give their time and effort to raise money for the poppy appeal. It is important that we never forget those who have given of themselves for our safety and security through many conflicts. It is important that we recognise that and give generously to the poppy appeal across the country.

On Syria, it is important to approach the matter on a number of tracks. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been involved in discussions with the US Secretary of State, Senator Kerry, on such issues, looking for the way forward. I raised the issue of Russian action in Syria, in particular the bombing of Aleppo, at the EU Council at the end of last week, where it was on the agenda only because the UK had raised it. As a result of that discussion the EU agreed that, should the atrocities continue, we will look at all available options for taking action to put pressure on Russia in order to stop its indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians.

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I commend the Prime Minister for those endeavours, but it is widely expected that the onslaught on Aleppo will be unleashed by the Russian airpower that is aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov, currently steaming across the Mediterranean with its battle group. In recent years, more than 60 Russian naval vessels have refuelled and resupplied in Spanish ports, so will the Prime Minister join me and EU and NATO allies in unequivocally calling on Spain to refuse the refuelling?

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The right hon. Gentleman refers to the passage of Russian naval ships. They are of course able to travel as they wish on the high seas—although they were accompanied by royal naval vessels when they went through the English channel. We have sadly seen that the Russians are already able to unleash attacks on innocent civilians in Syria. What matters is that we put pressure on Russia to do what everybody agrees is the only way that we are going to resolve the issue, which is to ensure that we have a political transition in Syria. That is where we should focus our attention.

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Q4. My constituency forms part of the new west midlands combined authority, where new powers will be devolved to the authority and the mayor. Will the Prime Minister tell me how those new powers will help my constituents and local businesses in sectors such as manufacturing, the automotive industry, and bricks and ceramics? [906810]

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I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the proposed deal will provide the west midlands with £1 billion over 30 years to spend on local projects that will drive economic growth. That is the important part of the deal and is why it is so important to have a mayor, Andy Street, who not only understands the local area but has business expertise to ensure that those economic projects are developed with the interests of the locality as the prime focus. The deal will deliver more jobs and economic prosperity across the west midlands. It is good for the west midlands and her constituents. It is good for the rest of the country as well.

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Q3. The independent inquiry on child sexual abuse was established to deliver long-awaited justice for victims and survivors, and to do so it must have their confidence. The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association represents more than 600 survivors of abuse that took place in Lambeth Council-run children’s homes and has recently raised serious concerns about changes to the inquiry. Will the Prime Minister meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and representatives from the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association to discuss their concerns and take action, so that confidence can be restored? [906809]

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The hon. Lady makes a very important point: the whole purpose of this inquiry was to be able to provide justice for those whose voices had not been heard for too long and who felt that people in positions of power and institutions of the state, and other organisations, had not heard their voice, and had not been prepared to listen to them and properly to investigate what had happened to them. It is important that victims and survivors have confidence in the inquiry. Of course, the inquiry is an independent inquiry and it is up to its chairman to work with survivors and victims, as I know the inquiry chairman has been doing. But I will ensure that the Home Secretary has heard the representations the hon. Lady has made, and we will take what she has said to us today away and consider it very carefully. We all want this inquiry to work properly, and to work in the interests of survivors and victims.

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Q9. The Prime Minister will be aware that our nation’s commitment to our current and former armed forces personnel and their families by way of the armed forces covenant is a work in progress, and that although we have made important moves there is still much more to do. Will she take this opportunity to assure this House of her personal commitment to the values and promises set out in the covenant, and to pledge to lend her support to efforts to continue the good work begun, and to ensure that personnel, veterans and their families face no disadvantage arising from their service and the sacrifice they have all made for our country? [906815]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know she has championed the armed forces covenant and is a great proponent of our veterans and the armed forces. It is absolutely right to say that everybody in this House owes a great debt of gratitude to our veterans and to those serving today in our armed forces for what they do to keep us safe and secure. That is why it is so important that the covenant is not just a responsibility for the Government, but a national responsibility; we should all be working to ensure that those who have served us, and served us well, do not face disadvantages. That is why we have been doing things such as putting money into a forces Help to Buy scheme to help them with houses—I believe the figure is £200 million. We must continue to do this, and I absolutely commit to ensuring that this is a Government who continue to support our veterans and the members of our armed forces.

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Q5. . Last year, my 25-year-old nephew Matty committed suicide after a very short period of depression. His GP had referred him for talking therapy counselling but warned him that it would be at least six months before he got an appointment. These treatments in the NHS are often a waiting game—a dangerous waiting game—and a postcode lottery. What is the Prime Minister doing to sort this crisis out? [906811]

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First, I recognise and commend the hon. Gentleman for raising his personal experience of the terrible tragedy that can occur when mental health problems are not properly dealt with. He raises a very serious issue—it is a serious issue for everybody in this House—about how the NHS treats mental health. This is why we have established the concept of parity of esteem for mental health and physical health in the NHS, and why we are seeing record levels of funding. He raises the question of talking therapies, which are very effective, and we have been introducing waiting time standards in relation to them. However, I accept that there is more for us to do in this area to ensure that those with mental health problems are properly treated, and are properly given the care and attention they need. This is an issue not just for them, but for the whole of our society.

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Q12. . My right hon. Friend became Prime Minister in dramatic and extraordinary circumstances, and she has proved more than capable of rising to the many challenges that—[Interruption.] It was not her fault that the Chilcot report took seven years and cost more than £10 million, but now that we know that Parliament was misled will she reassure me that she has a cunning plan to ensure that action is taken? [906818]

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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The Chilcot report was an important task. Although it looked at and criticised the way in which information had been handled, it did not say that people had set out deliberately to mislead, and it is important to recognise that. It is important also that we learn the lessons from the Chilcot report, which is why the National Security Adviser is leading an exercise to do precisely that. This was a long time coming. It was a serious report. There is much in it, and we need to ensure that we do learn the lessons from it.

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Q6. The Prime Minister will be aware that much of the foundation and many of the elements of the 1998 settlement and peace agreement in Northern Ireland were referenced and rooted in EU approaches and processes of laws and that leaving the EU will significantly destabilise the foundations of that settlement. Has the Prime Minister given any consideration to the extent of the potential damage the withdrawal from the European Union could do to that Good Friday/Belfast agreement and the 1998 political settlement? Does she have any plan at this stage to protect that settlement? [906812]

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There is no reason to believe that the outcome of the referendum will do anything to undermine the absolute rock-solid commitment of this Government and the people of Northern Ireland to the settlement that was set out in the Belfast agreement. There is, and remains, strong support for the entirely peaceful future for Northern Ireland. That has been determined by democracy and consent. We remain committed to that and to work with others to ensure that entirely peaceful future.

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Q13. General Electric has shown its confidence in the UK economy and my constituents by starting construction of the second of its two new world-class research and manufacturing facilities on Staffordshire County Council’s Redhill Business Park. Will the Prime Minister meet General Electric and other west midlands manufacturers to hear just how important supply chains and markets free of tariffs and bureaucracy are to them and their hundreds of thousands of staff? [906819]

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I am delighted to hear of the commitment that GE has made to Stafford, but it is more than a commitment to Stafford; it is a commitment to the United Kingdom and to the future of our economy. I understand that the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade has already met GE to discuss its interests in trade and what we can be doing to promote free trade. As I said earlier, I want the UK to be a global leader in free trade. We are listening to businesses around the country and to the importance that they place on free trade as we look at the negotiations for exiting the EU.

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Q7. Is the Prime Minister aware of the recent reports showing the continuing and alarming increase in average alcohol consumption in the UK, particularly among women? Given the numerous health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, will her Government, together with the drinks industry, re-examine the case for mandatory health warnings on all alcoholic products? [906813]

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I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes from the figures that we have seen recently, particularly the figures in relation to women and the use of alcohol. As Home Secretary, I was part of the development of the alcohol strategy that the Government produced a few years ago. I am pleased to say that, at that time, we were working well with industry to encourage it to ensure that it could take steps to impact on the drinking habits of the nation.

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Q14. Given the imminence of the final decision on the eastern route of HS2, phase two, it is imperative that we invest in new road infrastructure to support the additional traffic that that will bring to the areas around the new station hubs. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend back my campaign for a new junction 25a of the M1 to ensure that Erewash residents do not get stuck in a jam? [906820]

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I seem to recall that I first met my hon. Friend when she was campaigning in relation to motorways. She is right that in order to support the rail infrastructure, we need to ensure that the right road infrastructure is in place. That is why we are investing £15 billion in the road investment strategy, which is about boosting local economies and further economic growth. I understand that Highways England is looking at the issues in the east midlands and at bringing forward significant new road enhancements around the expected site of the new east midlands HS2 station. Going forward it is looking at an audit of roads in the area. I trust that on this issue my hon. Friend will make her voice heard, and that of her constituents, as she has in the past.

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Q8. May I take the Prime Minister back to the answer that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner)? The Conservative manifesto promised shorter NHS waiting times for those who need help with their mental health, but as prescriptions for anti-depressants continue to rise my constituents in Wirral who need talking therapies have to wait a month for referral and well over four months for treatment. Was that Tory manifesto just words, or will the Prime Minister ever deliver? [906814]

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I gave a serious answer to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), which is that we have been looking at the whole issue of talking therapies, their availability and the waiting times for them. We do want to improve the options that people have for access to talking therapies, precisely because they have been shown to be so successful in so many cases. The Government are working on this and we will continue to work on it to provide, as we have said, that parity of esteem between mental health and physical health in the national health service.

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Q15. As a former Wimbledonian, my right hon. Friend will understand the significance of transport for south-west London and in particular for Wimbledon. Can she assure me that the Government still support Crossrail 2, and will she ask the Secretary of State for Transport to set out the timetable for the delayed consultation? [906821]

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I can absolutely give the commitment that we continue to support Crossrail 2. We are waiting to see a robust business case and a proper funding proposal for Crossrail 2. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will in due course set out the timetable for that, but as a former Wimbledonian I can assure my hon. Friend that we are well aware of his interest in the Wimbledon to Waterloo aspects of the project, and that the needs of the local area are being taken into account.

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Q10. In Indian-occupied Kashmir over the past three months 150 people have died, 600 have been blinded by the deliberate use of pellet guns, and more than 16,000 injured, many critically. There have been unexplained disappearances and shortages of food and medicine. Will the Prime Minister meet me and cross-party colleagues to discuss the human rights abuses and the issue of self-determination for Kashmiri people, as was set out in the UN resolution in 1948? Will she raise the matter with the Indian Prime Minister? [906816]

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The hon. Lady sets out her case and the issues that she has identified. I take the same view as this Government have taken since they came into power and previously, which is that the issue of Kashmir is a matter for India and Pakistan to deal with and sort out. The Foreign Secretary has heard her representations and I am sure will be interested in taking up those matters with her.

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Several months ago I raised with the former Prime Minister at his last Prime Minister’s questions the issue of enhanced medical assistance for the Kurdish peshmerga. I then wrote to the new Prime Minister. Now, with the campaign to liberate Mosul under way, will my right hon. Friend agree to meet with me and representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government to discuss whether we can provide specialist medical facilities here in the UK—for instance, 10 beds for seriously wounded peshmerga—and to ensure that the forces on the ground are getting all the support they need? I understand that they are short of heavy weapons and basic infantry kit such as helmets and body armour.

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My hon. Friend is right and I recognise that this is a matter that he has raised before. We have seen that the coalition activity that is taking place is having some impact, and is having an impact, as we wish it to, in relation to Daesh. There are no plans at present either to do what he suggested in his question or to provide a field hospital and field medical capabilities from the United Kingdom, but we continually review what we are doing in support of the coalition, and the training that we are providing for the peshmerga includes training in the provision of medical facilities.

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Q11. I am sure that we all recognise that the removal of the camp at Calais is not a long-term solution to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. What will the Government do to learn from the experiences in Calais and speed up the acceptance of vulnerable individuals, as they committed to do under Lords Dubs’s scheme? [906817]

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Individuals are already being brought to the United Kingdom under the Dubs amendment, in addition to the resettlement scheme for vulnerable Syrians—the 20,000 who will be brought here over the course of this Parliament—and in addition to the 3,000 vulnerable people, children and others, who will be brought here from the middle east and north Africa. We are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure that it is right for those individuals to come to the UK and that they have support when they get here. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this country is the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid in the Syrian region, and we are able to support and provide for more people in-region, which I think is absolutely the right thing to do.

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Around Heathrow legal air quality limits are being breached, and over Twickenham noise pollution has increased, according to Heathrow data. Can the Prime Minister explain how a third runway can be delivered and comply with legal pollution requirements? Does she agree that, environmentally, Heathrow is not good enough and cannot possibly be both bigger and better?

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The Government looked very closely at the issue of air quality and the environmental impact of all three schemes proposed by the Airports Commission. We took extra time, from the decision to increase airport capacity in the south-east, because we wanted to look particularly at the air quality issues. The evidence shows that air quality standards can be met, as required by all three schemes, including the north-west runway at Heathrow. My hon. Friend raises an issue that is actually about more than airports, because air quality is also about road transport. That is why we are looking to do more in relation to air quality. It is why, for example, I am pleased to see that we are at such a leading edge in the provision of electric vehicles.

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The Prime Minister’s real plan for Brexit seems to be to pick winners: to cut a special deal for the City of London and let the bankers avoid the dire consequences of leaving the economic union. Wales has an exporting economy, with a £5 billion trade surplus last year, and 200,000 jobs dependent on trade with the European Union. It is a soft Brexit for her friends in the City, and a hard Brexit for everybody else. Will she cut a similar deal for Wales?

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I will be cutting the best deal for the United Kingdom—all parts of it.

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Every year, hundreds of people are diagnosed with, suffer and usually die prematurely from rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis and rare cancers, for which there has been no treatment, or for which the latest drugs are prohibitively expensive. This week sees the final report of our accelerated access review, which sets out a new model for the NHS to use its genetic and data leadership to get quicker access and discounted prices. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the review, which is strongly supported by patients, charities and the life sciences sector, and in encouraging the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and NHS England to implement it speedily?

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I certainly join my hon. Friend in welcoming the publication of the review. This is important in enabling patients to get quicker access to drugs and treatments. The United Kingdom has established a leading role in life sciences, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the role he has played in that. I know that the Department of Health will be looking very closely at the report’s specific recommendations, recognising that where we can take opportunities through the national health service to encourage the development of new drugs to benefit patients, we should do so.

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The Prime Minister has just told us that record levels of spending are going into our mental health services. Her Health Secretary stood at that Dispatch Box on 9 December and told us that the proportion of funding going into mental health from every one of our clinical commissioning groups should be increasing. Why is it, then, that 57% of CCGs in our country are reducing the proportion of spend on mental health? It is yet another broken promise. When will we have real equality for mental health in our country?

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The fact that I set out—that we are spending record levels in the NHS on mental health—is absolutely right, but I have said in response to a number of people who have questioned me on this that we recognise that there is more for us to do in mental health, and I would have thought that we should have cross-party support on doing just that.

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Speaking outside 10 Downing Street on the day she became Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend said:

“If you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help to hand.”

I welcome her commitment to mental health, expressed on that day and in her responses today. What steps is she taking to make sure the bold ambitions of the Government’s five-year forward view for mental health are achieved?

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I am pleased to say that, in fact, what we see—far from the impression that is given by some of the comments from Opposition Members—is that, since 2009-10, around 750,000 more people are accessing talking therapies and 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day, compared to 2010, so that is up by 40%. But my hon. Friend, who I know has a particular interest and a particular expertise in this area, is right that we need to do more, and that is why we are continuing to invest in mental health services and continuing to increase the standards that we provide.

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Just 20 children are diagnosed with inoperable brain tumours as a result of tuberous sclerosis every year. Yet, despite earlier indications, NHS England turned treatment down for funding, despite it being affordable. Will the Prime Minister meet me, the Tuberous Sclerosis Association and families to discuss how we can get through this blockage and get the treatment that these children need?

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I am very happy to look at the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised and to look in detail at what can be done to take that forward.