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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 617: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2016


The Secretary of State was asked—

Tourism: LIBOR Funding

1. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the amount of LIBOR funding available to museums, galleries and tourist attractions in Scotland. (907316)

Lots of good causes across Scotland have put bids in to the Treasury for the next round of allocations from the LIBOR fund, but I am afraid we will need to be patient and wait for the Chancellor’s autumn statement this afternoon to hear which have been successful.

The Secretary of State knows that there is no greater cause in my constituency than Holmwood House, a fine piece of Alexander “Greek” Thomson’s architecture. Next year is the bicentenary of his birth, and the Secretary of State knows how keen I am, and the Alexander Thomson Society is, to promote that, both around the UK and internationally. Will he assure me that the full weight of his office is behind making that happen?

The hon. Gentleman is to be commended for his efforts in promoting the bicentenary of Alexander “Greek” Thomson, who is perhaps an underappreciated icon of Scottish architecture. I can assure the hon. Gentleman—especially after my own visit to Holmwood House and meeting the Alexander Thomson Society—that the UK Government will do all we can to support and promote that bicentenary.

I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggesting that LIBOR money could be used to help fund opencast coal restoration in Scotland. Has the Secretary of State had any similar discussions with the Chancellor, or has he done nothing about the opencast pledge in the 2015 Green Book?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I—and, indeed, the UK Government—have done a great deal to work with East Ayrshire Council to ensure that opencast restoration could proceed in that area following the collapse of various companies involved in opencast mining. We continue that dialogue with both the Scottish Government and East Ayrshire Council to try bring the matter to a satisfactory resolution.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Scotland has some wonderful tourist attractions, many of which are in the border region and Cumbria. Does the Secretary of State agree that there are real opportunities to promote tourism in the border areas, but that that will involve close co-operation between councils on both sides of the border, and is not just about finance?

My hon. Friend knows that I am very keen to promote cross-border working between Cumbria County Council, his own local authority, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council. That is why I am a very big supporter of the so-called borderlands initiative to bring those councils together to try to secure economic development for the area, in which tourism would play a very important part.

Scotland Act 2016

2. What progress has been made on the transfer of powers to the Scottish Government under the provisions of the Scotland Act 2016. (907317)

We have made significant progress in transferring powers in the Scotland Act 2016 to the Scottish Parliament. A large number of provisions of the Act are already in force and we are continuing to work with the Scottish Government on the smooth transition of remaining powers.

The Scottish National party Government have failed to introduce a single piece of legislation in the past six months; the First Minister prefers grandstanding across Europe to block Brexit. Is it not time she used the powers devolved to her under the Act to start governing, rather than engaging in pointless photo opportunities?

I can update my hon. Friend. The Scottish Government have now brought forward one piece of legislation since the Scottish parliamentary elections in May. He may be interested to know that this Government currently have 19 pieces of proposed legislation before this Parliament. Of course I agree with him, and I think the majority of people in Scotland want the First Minister and the Scottish Government to get on with their day job of running Scotland and seeing to the devolved responsibilities, rather than constantly talking about independence.

The Scottish Government have announced that the new powers over benefits will be used to end the misery being meted out to disabled Scots by the UK Government. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to reduce the need for assessments for personal independence payments and disability living allowance, in particular for those with long-term illness. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to welcome that and urge his UK Cabinet colleagues to follow suit?

What I will welcome when I see it is some detail behind those fine words. We have heard lots and lots of fine words on welfare, but to date we have absolutely no detail as to what the Scottish Government plan to do.

I suppose we should view it as progress that the Secretary of State believes they are fine words, and perhaps he will follow the Scottish Government’s initiative, but it is fair to say that the majority of welfare and economic powers are not being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has no plans to devolve powers to deal with Scottish legal partnerships, and the risks they pose in the fight against global money-laundering and organised crime? I have raised this matter with the Prime Minister and spoken to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he now tell the House what he and the UK Government will actually do about it?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the settlement in the Scotland Act 2016 was the outcome of the Smith Commission. The Scottish legal partnerships issue was not a part of that arrangement and will not be devolved, but I take it extremely seriously. I commend him for the way in which he has highlighted it in this House and elsewhere, and I commend The Herald for the way in which it has highlighted the issue. Colleagues in the UK Government are looking at how we can best take the situation forward to end the abuses, which are evident.

I was concerned to read in The Sunday Times that the Scottish Government are delaying the introduction of the devolved welfare powers. Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether that is the case?

All Members have access to the minutes of the last meeting of the joint welfare group between myself and Scottish Government Ministers. Those minutes confirm that the introduction of the welfare powers in Scotland is indeed being delayed, potentially until 2020.

Will the Secretary of State consider the transfer of power on visas to the Scottish Government? In the Outer Hebrides, fishing boats are currently tied up because the UK Government will not enable non-EEA fishermen to come in and work on them. People are welcome and are required, but they are blocked from economic activity by the UK Government. This threatens jobs and industries in the Outer Hebrides. Will he act and do something about it, or will he do nothing as usual?

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, which others have also expressed. There are specific rules on who can work on fishing boats, but immigration remains a reserved issue and the responsibility of the Home Office.

It is always a pleasure to follow Hurricane Angus. Mr Speaker, may I thank you for your generous indulgence in allowing me to appear at the Dispatch Box in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), who is simply unable to be with us today? I have been immersing myself in Scottish legislation—and Irn-Bru—over the past week.

Many of us on the Labour Benches would give our eye teeth to have the powers contained in the Scotland Act 2016. Does the Secretary of State feel that the apparent reluctance of the Scottish Government to take more advantage of them indicates a surfeit of modesty, or, possibly, a lack of ambition?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box at Scottish questions on behalf of the Labour party. The one question I have is, “Who next?” because we have had a selection of individuals. I say to the hon. Gentleman that these are very significant powers over tax and welfare. The autumn statement in this House is a very important event, but on 15 December we will see the Scottish Budget. For the first time, the Scottish Government will be able to raise income tax at their will in the Scottish Budget. That is a very significant moment in terms of taking responsibility and accountability.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

3. What steps he is taking to ensure that Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises are protected from economic uncertainty. (907318)

The Government will continue to provide an environment where small and medium-sized enterprises everywhere can thrive. That means cutting red tape, keeping taxes low, tackling late payment and improving access to finance. We are committed to ensuring the whole of the UK is a great place to start and grow a business.

Figures produced by the Scottish Government show that SMEs constitute 99% of all private sector enterprise and more than 50% of employment in Scotland. If the economy suffers any form of setback—and the Chancellor is predicting one—these enterprises will be hardest hit. Given their importance, what is the Minister doing to reduce uncertainty and to support their growth?

The UK economy is strong in spite of uncertainty. Scottish SMEs currently benefit from nearly £400 million of investment from the British Business Bank and Innovate UK aimed at helping them to grow and capitalise on new technologies and new export markets.

13. Does the Minister agree, given that the UK market is four times the size of the EU market in Scotland, that it is clear why businesses are saying loud and clear that they do not want talk of another independence referendum, but instead want stability to strengthen the economy? (907330)

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. SMEs in Scotland trade four times as much within the single market of the United Kingdom as with the EU. Indeed, they trade more with markets in the rest of the world than across the entire EU.

One of the key things that the Scottish and UK Governments could do to take away uncertainty for SMEs and businesses across Scotland is to take a second independence referendum off the table. Something else the Government could do—I hope we will hear this in the autumn statement—is conclude the Edinburgh city deal. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor to make sure we hear that in the next few minutes?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for that city deal, but we will have to wait another hour for more detail, and I could not agree more that the uncertainty in Scotland is coming far more from talk of another referendum than from the outcome of the EU referendum.

Yesterday it was announced that over 500 jobs in the Tannochside area of my constituency were under threat, as Ageas Kwik Fit Insurance has announced plans to axe its entire Scottish operation. If these plans proceed, it will be a devastating blow to the local community just before Christmas. What assistance can the Secretary of State and his Government provide for these constituents and families at this difficult time?

Obviously this will be a very difficult time for the Kwik Fit workforce and their families, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I understand that Kwik Fit is consulting on closure by the end of next March, and I hope that the affected workers will quickly be able to move into alternative employment. The UK Government will assist with support from the Jobcentre Plus rapid reaction service, working also with North Lanarkshire Council, to help all those being made redundant.

10. Given the importance of exports to England from Scotland, what is my hon. Friend’s estimate of the number of jobs involved in this process, and does that figure not demonstrate the importance to Scotland and its economy of staying in the UK? (907327)

The answer should relate specifically to SMEs, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman intended to mention.

The unemployment rate in Scotland is lower than that in the rest of the UK, and SMEs in Scotland, as my hon. Friend points out, benefit from this trend as much as any other businesses in Scotland.

On 12 October, in response to a question about the deal struck with Nissan, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and said—you can probably quote it verbatim, Mr Speaker—that

“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.]

Is the Secretary of State or the Minister willing to confirm that this is still the case? If so, will they provide us with more detail of the support? SMEs need to know.

My right hon. Friend was exactly right in what he said about the Nissan deal. The same level of support will indeed be available to Scottish businesses, but, as for the detail, the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait another hour for the autumn statement.

I am very grateful to the Minister, especially for my promotion to the Privy Council. I welcome her commitment, which I am sure will reassure SMEs and businesses of all sizes, but there must have been an analysis of the costs. What assessment has been made of the cost of this support?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making an assessment of the costs and the benefits of all such deals on an ongoing basis.

EU Convergence Uplift Funding

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on achieving a fair allocation of the convergence uplift funding from the EU. (907322)

The Secretary of State for Scotland has had numerous discussions with me about the intra-UK budget allocations under the common agricultural policy. I have also had discussions on this issue with the National Farmers Union Scotland, Scottish Members of Parliament and the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.

The convergence uplift is worth €230 million, and the UK Government are withholding that money, which should be supporting Scotland’s rural economy. Scotland’s farmers deserve fairness. When will Scotland’s man in Cabinet, by which I mean the Secretary of State for Scotland, do something about this, or will he continue to do nothing?

I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that we will provide an update on the review of CAP allocations before the end of this year. I add that the context has changed fundamentally, following the decision to leave the EU. Some argue that the area-based payments as required under the CAP have never suited Scotland very well. Indeed, NFU Scotland has previously raised concerns about the level of payments going to very large landowners, arguing that we should instead direct support to farmers and producers through livestock payments. We now have an opportunity to look at all of these issues, and I shall work closely on that with NFU Scotland and its talented team of officials.

What we really seek in Scottish questions is the confirmation that the Secretary of State for Scotland backs Scottish farmers and will get this promised money delivered. It is fantastic that we have the Minister with responsibility for farming here, but all we have heard so far is no detail and “just warm words”, to quote the Secretary of State. Can we have the detail put in place and give Scottish farmers what they deserve?

I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. As I made clear, the Secretary of State for Scotland discusses this issue with me regularly. I am passionate about Scotland, and I have discussed this issue with NFU Scotland from January onwards. We are working on joint proposals and joint agreements as regards post-Brexit agricultural policy.

Leaving the EU: Scottish Businesses

6. What discussions he has had with Scottish businesses and other groups on the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU. (907323)

Since the referendum, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has held 60 meetings with well over 100 Scottish organisations to hear their views. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has met businesses in Aberdeen, while the Minister for Trade has met business leaders in Edinburgh.

Will my hon. Friend encourage Scottish businesses to seize the opportunities of our new relationship with Europe and the wider world, including, of course, my own constituency of Louth and Horncastle? Will she urge the Scottish Government to support their businesses, stop moaning about referendums and get on with governing?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I am happy to give that encouragement. The message that the UK Government have heard loud and clear is that businesses in Scotland want stability and not another divisive referendum. Talk of independence is disruptive. What people want now is the economic stability that can be provided only by Scotland remaining in the UK.

12. In July, the party leader of the Secretary of State told the BBC:“I want to stay in the single market, even if the consequence of that is maintaining free movement of labour.”Ruth Davidson was 100% correct, so can the Secretary of State explain the shoddy U-turn? (907329)

There was no U-turn whatever on that. The UK Government will seek the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. That will include limits on free movement and the best possible access to, and trade within, the single market for British companies.

The creative industries in Scotland are one of the most successful areas of Scottish business, but there is real concern about the regulatory regime that Ofcom presides over and about what the future relationship with the European Union will look like. What discussions has the Minister had concerning that regulatory regime?

My ministerial colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will have had discussions, and I will ask one of them to notify the hon. Gentleman of their outcome.

In the Northern Isles some of our most important exporting businesses are in the very successful food and drink sector, but representatives of the sector tell me that it is almost impossible for them to plan for their future until they know what access they will have to EU markets. Will the Minister ensure that their voices are heard in these negotiations, as well as those of the big boys in financial services and the automotive industries?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has regular meetings with representatives of the Scottish fishing industry and the agriculturel sector, and Ministers throughout the Government engage in many discussions with representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association about how they can continue to build on the strengths of their exports beyond the EU as well as within the single market.

During a live televised debate two days before the Brexit vote, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said that the EU provided “a level playing field” for small businesses, and that if the UK were to leave the EU, the rest of the EU would impose tariffs and taxes. Will the Minister please tell us how many of the 1.2 million jobs provided by small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland she estimates will be at risk from those tariffs and taxes once they come into force?

As I have said, the Government are committed to gaining maximum access to the single market and trade within it for all British companies, and that includes Scottish SMEs.

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. A number of very loud private conversations are taking place. Let us have some order for a very senior and respected Member of the House of 33 years’ standing, Sir David Amess.

Food and Drink Industry

7. What discussions the Government have had with food and drink companies in Scotland on the importance of the UK market for that industry. (907324)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland held round-table discussions with representatives of the Scottish food and drink industry in August and October, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met representatives of a range of food and drink businesses during her visit to Scotland earlier this month.

Given that Scotch whisky is the finest in the world and such a valuable export, does my hon. Friend agree that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union may result in even more opportunities?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Scotch whisky is a fantastic success story for this country: in 2015, overseas sales were worth £3.9 billion. Earlier this year I attended an event in Tokyo to promote great British drinks, including Scotch whisky, which is particularly popular in Japan.

Order. I do not think that the hon. Lady has ever fully realised the extent of her own popularity on the Government Benches.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the value of exports from the rest of the UK to Scotland is more than £50 billion? That is more than the value of Scotland’s exports to the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, regardless of any constitutional arrangements that may be made in the future, the trading relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is important to both constituent parts?

I think that what the hon. Lady has said underlines the fact that the union that is really vital to this country is the United Kingdom, because there is very close trade within it.

Independent Fiscal Commission

8. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the work of the Independent Fiscal Commission. (907325)

I have regular meetings with Scottish Government Ministers. I last met the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution at the Finance Quadrilateral on 21 October. Both Governments are committed to providing all necessary support for the Scottish Fiscal Commission and the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a core principle of stable, accountable, mature government that Governments must not fiddle their own forecasts, but must instead answer for their choices, and the consequences of those choices, to the people whom they govern?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and the transfer of income tax and welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament does just that. No longer will the SNP and the Scottish Government simply be able to complain. If they genuinely have ideas, they will be able to do something about it, and the people of Scotland will understand the tax implications.

9. Exports from the services sector could be cut by 60% if the UK is out of the single market. That would result in a £2.3 billion hit for Scotland. Given that, can the Secretary of State tell us why his Conservative colleagues at Holyrood voted against the Scottish Government motion to protect Scotland’s position? (907326)

With reference to the work of the Independent Fiscal Commission, I call the Minister to answer.

I am sure that the Independent Fiscal Commission will have noted that my colleagues in the Conservative group in Holyrood voted against the SNP’s motion because we have absolutely no idea where the SNP stands in relation to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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

“Bairns come first” is the title of a report recently produced by a number of organisations, including Fife Gingerbread and Citizens Advice and Rights Fife. It found that a third of families who should have been claiming child maintenance support did not apply, that a major barrier to applying was the £20 application fee, and that the 4% collection fee had a serious impact on family budgets. Will the Prime Minister undertake to review those unfair charges?

Trying to ensure that those responsible for children actually pay for their children when a family has broken up has been a long-standing question which this House has addressed. There have been various ways of dealing with it through the agency that has been responsible. It is right that the changes that have been introduced are on a more level basis and more people are able to access the support they need as a result.

Q3. The Government have rightly focused on economic growth, jobs and prosperity—something all of us on the Conservative Benches can get behind. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister back our highly competitive bid for funding for the north-west relief road in Shrewsbury, which will not only deal with the congestion our town is facing but dovetail into that narrative? (907428)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. I know that the issue of the north-west relief road in Shrewsbury has been of particular concern to him; it is a priority for him and it has received considerable local backing. I understand that the local Marches LEP has put in a bid for feasibility funding so that it can prepare a business case for the scheme. What I can say at the moment is that the announcement of the successful bids for feasibility funding is expected very shortly indeed.

The Government’s sustainability and transformation plans for the national health service hide £22 billion of cuts to our service, according to research by the British Medical Association. That risks

“starving services of resources and patients of vital care.”

That quote comes from Dr Mark Porter of the BMA. When he calls this process “a mess”, where is he wrong?

The national health service is indeed looking for savings within the NHS which will be reinvested in the NHS, and I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is this Government who are providing not just the £8 billion of extra funding that the NHS requested, but £10 billion of extra funding. Sustainability and transformation plans are being developed at local level in the interests of local people by local clinicians.

It is very strange that the Prime Minister should say that, because the Select Committee on Health, chaired by her hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), says that the figure is actually £4.5 billion, not £10 billion; there is quite a big difference there.

Part of the reason for the strain on our national health service is that more than 1 million people are not receiving the social care they need. As a result of that, there has been an increase in emergency admissions for older patients. Margaret wrote to me this week—[Interruption.] It is not funny. She described how her 89-year-old mother suffered two falls leading to hospital admissions due to the lack of nursing care, and went on to say,

“My mother is worth more than this.”

What action will the Prime Minister take to stop the neglect of older people, which ends up forcing them into A&E admissions when they should be cared for at home or in a care home?

Of course social care is an area of concern, and it is a key issue for many people. That is why the Government have introduced the better care fund and the social care precept for local authorities, and why we are encouraging the health service and local authorities to work together to deal with precisely the social care and bed blocking issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised.

We have introduced the better care fund and the social care precept, but let us just look at what the Labour Government did in their 13 years. They said that they would deal with social care in their 1997 manifesto. They introduced a royal commission in 1999, a Green Paper in 2005 and the Wanless review in 2006. They said they would sort it in the comprehensive spending review of 2007, and produced another Green Paper in 2009: 13 years, and they did nothing.

As the Prime Minister well knows, health spending trebled under the last Labour Government and the levels of satisfaction with the health service were at their highest ever in 2010. This Government’s choice was to cut social care by £4.6 billion in the last Parliament, at the same time as they found the space, shall we say, to cut billions from corporate taxation bills. This is affecting patients leaving hospital as well. In the last four years, the number of patients unable to be transferred from hospital due to the lack of adequate social care has increased by one third. Will the Prime Minister ensure that her Government will guarantee all our elderly people the dignity they deserve?

I recognise the importance of caring for elderly people and providing them with the dignity they deserve. The right hon. Gentleman says that this Government have done nothing on social care, but I repeat that we have introduced the social care precept, which is being made use of by my local authorities and by his local authority. We have also introduced the better care fund. He talks about support for elderly people, but let me remind him which Government it was who put in place the triple lock for pensioners. That has ensured the largest increase in pensions for elderly people.

The precept is a drop in the ocean compared with what is necessary for social care. I shall give Members an example. I am sure the whole House will have been appalled by the revelations in the BBC’s “Panorama” programme this week. They showed older people being systematically mistreated. The Care Quality Commission’s assessment is that the care homes run by the Morleigh Group “require improvement”, and it has issued warning notices. The commission goes on to say that the owner

“has allowed the services to deteriorate even further. She has utterly neglected her duty of care to the residents of these homes.”

What action are the Government going to take to protect the residents of those homes?

The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the quality of care that is provided in homes and the way in which elderly people are treated. I am sure everybody is appalled when we see examples of poor and terrible treatment being given to elderly and vulnerable people in care homes. What we do about it is ensure that the Care Quality Commission is able to step in and take action and that it has powers to ensure that nobody in the chain of responsibility is immune from legal accountability. We know that there is more that can be done, and that is why the CQC is looking into ways of improving its processes and increasing its efficiency. The Minister for community health and care, will be writing to the CQC shortly to see how we can improve what it does. It is the CQC that deals with these issues, and we have that in place. Is there more we can do? Yes, and we are doing it.

The problem seems to be that that home was understaffed. We should not blame often underpaid and hard-pressed care workers; we should be ensuring that there are enough of them—properly paid— in all such homes. There was a serious problem of understaffing, and it was the last Labour Government who established the CQC. A warning notice is insufficient —we need stronger action than that.

Yesterday, the Government proposed that patients may have to show passports or other ID to access non-emergency healthcare. Have the Government considered the impact on elderly people? The last census showed us that 9.5 million people in this country do not have passports. Instead of distracting people with divisive, impractical policies, could the Prime Minister provide the NHS and social care with the money that it needs to care for the people who need the support?

Over this Parliament, the Government will be spending half a trillion pounds on the national health service. The right hon. Gentleman asks about a process to ensure that people who are receiving NHS treatment are entitled to receive that NHS treatment. For many years, there has been concern about health tourism and about people turning up in the UK and accessing health services but not paying for them. We want to ensure not only that those who are entitled to use the services are indeed able to see them free at the point of delivery, but that we deal with health tourism and those who should be paying for the use of our health service.

Simon Stevens told us two weeks ago that the next three years will be the toughest ever for NHS funding and that 2018 would see health spending per person cut for the first time ever in this country. The National Audit Office has reported that the cost of health tourism is over a hundred times less than the £22 billion of cuts that the NHS faces from this Government. The reality is that under this Government there are 6,000 fewer mental health nurses and a record 3.9 million people on NHS waiting lists. All of us who visit A&E departments know the stress that staff are under and that waiting times are getting longer and longer. One million people in this country are not receiving the social care that they need. Instead of looking for excuses and scapegoats, should not the Prime Minister be ensuring that health and social care is properly resourced and properly funded, to take away the stress and fear that people face in old age and the stress that is placed on our very hard-working NHS and social care staff?

Billions of pounds extra into social care through the social care precept and the better care fund; half a trillion pounds being spent on the national health service; a record level of investment in mental health in the national health service—[Interruption.]

Order. Members must not shout down or attempt to shout down the Prime Minister. The question has been asked and was heard, and the answer must be heard.

There is a fundamental point that the right hon. Gentleman refrains from mentioning: we can afford to pay for the national health service and for social care only if we have a strong economy creating wealth, and that is precisely what he is going to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a few minutes’ time.

Q4. On 23 June, my constituents voted by a margin of 62% to 28% to leave the European Union. Many of those people are unhappy and frustrated by what they see as delaying tactics from some remainers, who do not seem to understand the meaning of the word “democracy”—[Interruption.] (907429)

Order. This is very discourteous. The hon. Gentleman has a legitimate question and it and every other question should be heard fully and with politeness.

Thank you, Mr Speaker—and I will repeat it. Some remainers do not seem to understand the meaning of the word “democracy”, which I would remind them is government by the people, especially the rule of the majority. With that in mind, what reassurance can my right hon. Friend give my constituents and me that article 50 will be triggered by March next year?

I am clear that we will trigger article 50 by the end of March next year. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the key point: it was decided by this Parliament, six to one, that the people should have the opportunity to vote on membership of the European Union. The vote was held, the turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. There must be no second referendum and no attempt to weasel out of this, and this is the Government who will deliver on the vote of the British people.

We on the Scottish National party Benches have repeatedly brought up the issue of the devastating impact on disabled people of the UK benefits system. The Government plan to cut support for people with long-term health difficulties by £30 a week. Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) proposed a motion, which was passed by this House with support from both Labour and Conservative Members, for these cuts to be postponed. Will the Prime Minister act on the vote of this House?

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we have been doing in relation to benefits for disabled people: the overall funding for disability benefits will be higher in every year up to 2020 than it was in 2010; we have been focusing support on those who most need it—those who are not able to get into the workplace; and for those who are able, at some stage, to get into the workplace, we have been providing a wider package of support. I am pleased to say that over the last three years nearly 600,000 more disabled people are now in the workplace, with the dignity of having a job, which is what many people with disabilities want to have. So we are focusing help on those who most need it and helping those with disabilities who want to get into the workplace to do just that.

But it is widely trailed that the Prime Minister will make changes that will impact on benefit recipients in work. Will she confirm that she has no intention of helping people with disabilities and medical conditions? Why should people who are unable to earn a living be punished for their disability or illness by losing £30 a week? Does she have any intention of changing that?

I have just set out for the right hon. Gentleman the ways in which we are providing support and help for those people who have disabilities. As I said, the overall spending on disability benefits will be higher in every year to 2020 than it was in 2010. But it is also important to recognise that when we give support for people with disabilities, it is not simply about the benefits system and how much money they are given; for those who are able to get into work and are on that part of the employment and support allowance, we provide packages that are outside the benefits as well, because we recognise that people want the dignity of getting into the workplace. That is what we are helping people with disabilities who can work to do.

Q6. Does my right hon. Friend agree that thousands of road commuters, including many of my constituents who use the A12, are travelling on roads that need to be repaired and upgraded? To improve connectivity and to speed up daily commute times, does she accept that the proposed £1.3 billion investment in improving our road network is warmly welcome and will do a great deal to enhance connectivity in the country? (907431)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of infrastructure expenditure in helping to deal with productivity in our economy, and I am pleased that that £1.3 billion for new roads does show us investing in the long-term future for Britain. It is about delivering jobs and economic growth, and about making sure that this economy works for everyone. It is just one part of the package that we are proposing, but of course my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be setting our proposals out more clearly in a few minutes’ time.

Q2. My constituent Nazanin Ratcliffe, a British national, is in prison in Iran. She has been separated from her husband and her two-year-old daughter for eight months. She has been on hunger strike and is now suicidal. The Prime Minister needs to reunite this mother, this daughter and this wife with her family. Will it take Nazanin’s death for the Government to start taking her seriously? (907427)

Obviously, this is a very difficult time for the whole family. I am sure that we are all concerned about the reports of the impact that detention in Iran is having on Nazanin Ratcliffe’s health. This is an issue that has repeatedly been raised with the Iranian Government by the UK Government—by both the previous Foreign Secretary and the current Foreign Secretary. I personally raised it with President Rouhani on 20 September in New York, and I stressed the importance of finding a resolution as soon as possible. I have since written to President Rouhani requesting confirmation of the charges, the sentence and the appeals process, and I have asked for assurances that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe will be allowed full legal representation and regular contact with her family. We will continue to do everything that we can for the family, and that includes the British Government remaining ready to help to bring back Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter to Britain if that is the request.

Q9. Does my right hon. Friend agree that most of our social problems are either caused or aggravated by the acute shortage of housing, so even if we manage to reduce the net immigration to this country, as I hope we will, we will have to build far more new homes? Is not the recommendation by the European Banking Authority to increase by 50% the reserves that banks must hold against house building, which makes it even more costly for them to lend for housing than for unsecured credit cards, profoundly unhelpful and perverse? (907435)

I am sure my right hon. Friend will recognise that we are subject to our own Prudential Regulation Authority, but the overall point that he makes about the importance of house building is absolutely correct. We do need to build more homes. That is something that the Government have been doing. We have seen about 900,000 new homes being built since 2010, but there is more for us to do, and that is what this Government are working on.

Q5. The Brexit Secretary and the Foreign Secretary are described by a senior German politician as having no idea what Brexit really means. The Times reports today that EU ambassadors think that the Foreign Secretary’s more colourful outbursts are damaging our relationships with member states. When will the Prime Minister get a grip on her Ministers and demonstrate to the country and to our EU colleagues that she has a coherent, workable plan for Brexit? (907430)

I have been very clear in this House on many occasions about the plan that we have for Brexit. Crucially, we will be leaving the European Union and we will be triggering article 50 by the end of March next year, and that is when the formal negotiations will start. It is absolutely right that we do not set out at this stage every single detail of our proposed negotiating strategy, because that would be the best way to get the worst possible deal for Britain.

Q12. As we leave the European Union, maintaining the UK’s cutting edge and world leadership in scientific and technological discovery is of paramount importance to our industries and universities. May I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that, each year, we will invest a further £2 billion in research and development to boost our science and engineering base? Is not this just the type of vital support that our businesses and researchers need, rather than the threats from the Labour party to slash the R and D tax credits, which would hamper innovation and harm our economy? (907438)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The extra investment that we will be putting into research and development is a crucial part of our long-term task of ensuring that we have the economy and the growth and prosperity that we need in this country. The new funds will help to put us at the cutting edge of scientific discovery. That is already happening. I visited the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridge on Monday and saw for myself the really exciting and transformational work that is being done, and it is coming out of the knowledge base and the scientific research of the United Kingdom. We want to see more of that, which is why we will be investing in it.

Q7. Aleppo’s hospitals are destroyed and Syrians who avoid the barrel bombs and the chlorine gas are starving from the Russian-backed blockade. We must do more. Will the Prime Minister revisit the prospect for aid drops, and will she look at backing the campaign to stop this daily perpetrator of war crimes by stripping it of its right to hold the 2018 World cup? (907432)

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of the appalling atrocities that are taking place in Aleppo, and it is right that we, along with our international allies, should be doing all that we can to try to bring this to a stop. He will recognise that the issue of who hosts sporting events is not in the Government’s remit. What is in the Government’s remit and what we are doing, as I say, is working with our international allies to put more pressure on Russia to stop the appalling atrocities—the appalling attacks—that are taking place in Aleppo. What we want to see is an agreement for a political transition to a Syria without President Assad.

Q13. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the UK is to remain competitive and our citizens are to enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution, it is essential that we should be at the forefront of the deployment of both ultra-fast broadband and 5G mobile connectivity? May I therefore welcome the announcement, which we are led to believe may be made shortly, of a £1 billion investment to achieve this? (907439)

My right hon. Friend will, of course, be waiting in anticipation for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s autumn statement, but he is absolutely right that, as we look at improving productivity in this country and as we look to the economy of the future, the provision of superfast broadband and those new technological opportunities for people is absolutely a crucial part of that, and that is something that this Government recognise and will act on.

Q8. One day last week, four police officers in my constituency were assaulted over a single 24-hour period. There were over 23,000 assaults on police officers last year, and an assault on a police officer is an assault on society. What will the Prime Minister do to ensure that the toughest deterrents are in place to protect front-line officers, and when will she reduce the need for unsafe single crewing by restoring the number of police on our streets? (907433)

May I send our best wishes to those police officers who were assaulted in the hon. Lady’s constituency last week? It is important that we recognise that when police officers go out on duty—and, indeed, for many off duty—they sometimes find themselves intervening in situations where they are on the receiving end of assaults and violence against them. They are willing to go forward in the line of duty, where others are not, and we recognise that. One of the things we want to do in relation to this is to identify rather better the number of assaults that are taking place. That is why last year we issued some provisional figures. We are improving those figures now this year. Sentencing guidelines already allow for an assault on a police officer to be taken as an aggravating factor into account, but also new developments, like the body-worn videos, actually help to provide the evidence that ensures that people can be brought to justice and that actually deter assaults in the first place.

I know that the Prime Minister shares my concern at the level of acute hospital bed blocking. Does she agree that part of the solution is to promote community hospital beds, where they still exist in places such as Warminster and Shaftesbury, as part of the sustainability and transformation planning process?

As regards the STP process, of course, that will take place at local level—it will be at the local level that these proposals will be considered and put forward by local clinicians—but the concept of being able to deal with bed blocking in a variety of ways is absolutely right. There are good examples around the country of where having those step-down beds available is actually resolving the problem of bed blocking. There are other ways in which that is being done—in those parts of the country where social workers are being employed by hospital trusts, for example. But is it very good to recognise the good practice when it is being done, and we shall see more of that across the country.

Q10. Earlier this month, IRA man turned lawyer, Kieran Conway, confessed to the BBC that he took part in robberies, bombings and gun attacks that murdered British soldiers. He stated that he will never disclose information on any fellow IRA man, despite knowing details of IRA actions that he defines as constituting war crimes. Can the Prime Minister assure me that Her Majesty’s Government will apply for the extradition of this terrorist for questioning from the Republic of Ireland? (907436)

The question of whether or not an individual would be extradited or a request would be made for extradition is for the appropriate investigation and prosecution authorities to decide. We do, of course, recognise the concerns about those cases where it is still possible to bring people to justice, and obviously we want to see that being done.

During the past six years we have had three major referendums, all eliciting varying degrees of excitement. Does the Prime Minister agree that one can have too much excitement, and will she therefore rule out any further referendums in this Parliament?

My hon. Friend is trying to tempt me down a particular route. One thing that I will certainly rule out is a second referendum on whether we leave the European Union.

Q11. Aberdeen Cyrenians have launched a financial appeal because of the increasing number of people finding themselves homeless as a direct result of the UK Government’s pursuit of austerity. How can the Prime Minister sleep in her warm bed at night knowing that her Government’s policies have consigned people to a cold Christmas? (907437)

The Government are taking action in a variety of ways to address homelessness. One of the key things we need to do is ensure that we see more homes being built in this country. The hon. Lady talks about austerity in the tone that she uses, but austerity is about us living within our means. When we talk about the Government providing support for individuals, we should always remember that taxpayers have to pay for that support, and many taxpayers are themselves struggling to get by.

The Prime Minister will be aware that yesterday the Peninsula Rail Task Force launched its report, which was commissioned following the storms that severed Devon and Cornwall’s vital rail link, just as our vital rail link was severed again, this time by flooding. Does she welcome the report and will she commit the Government to ensuring that the vision it outlines is delivered?

May I suggest that my hon. Friend exercises a little more patience and listens very carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has to say?

Q14. In these uncertain times we would all surely agree that Britain needs strong defence, so how can the Prime Minister justify her Government’s decision to scrap all the Navy’s heavyweight surface-to-surface guided missiles without any replacement? (907440)

I do not recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman presents of what the Government are doing in relation to the armed forces. We are investing billions of pounds in ensuring that our armed forces do have the missiles, the ships for the Royal Navy and the other pieces of equipment for the other armed forces. The picture that he presents is not the picture I recognise.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be good for confidence in the rule of law if judges did not enter into speculative public thoughts on cases that they are about to hear?

In this country we value the independence of our judiciary—that is, the independence of members of the judiciary when they come to make their judgments in court. Also, they are independent and it is for them to determine what they choose to put in their speeches. It is not for the Government to tell them what to do.

As millions of public sector workers face another year of suppressed pay, after another week of shambolic Brexit negotiations, and with the national health service facing a winter crisis and crying out for cash, does the Prime Minister worry that her Government are only just about managing?

We are very clear about the amounts of money that we are putting into the national health service. The hon. Gentleman talks about the negotiations. Actually, the negotiations for us leaving the European Union do not formally start until we trigger article 50. We will trigger article 50 by the end of March next year. The hon. Gentleman wants to stop us leaving the European Union by denying the people the decision and the deliverability of the vote that they took, rightly, on 23 June. He wants to deny people what they want; we are going to give it to them.

May I raise with the Prime Minister the concerns of millions of drivers and hauliers across the United Kingdom who worry about the cost of driving and fuel duty? Will the Government look at keeping that down? Will they also look at how forecourt pricing has worked as the oil price changes? The prices jump like a rocket and fall like a feather.

I recognise that, as my hon. Friend says, many people look with very great concern at the cost of motoring in this country. I suggest, as I have to some of my other hon. Friends, that he be a little more patient and wait for the Chancellor’s autumn statement.

The Prime Minister has talked about her worries about social care, but surely we have to judge her by her actions. In the last six years there has been an average 37% cut in local authority funding—57% in my area—and nearly a quarter of all those older people in need of social care have been denied any help at all. What is she going to do about it?

The hon. Lady might have noticed that I have been asked several questions about social care—[Interruption]—and I will give the answer that I have given previously. What the Government are doing about social care is to put more money in through the better care fund, to give local authorities the opportunity that is in the social care precept and to make sure that health and social care come together to ensure that we deal with the issue of bed blocking.

How many of us would charge into a darkened store at night knowing that inside were three mask-wearing, crowbar-wielding thugs trying to rob it? My two constituents, Nigel Dunmore and Grant McGarry, did just that; as a result of their intervention, the thugs fled, leaving the money, and the staff were hurt less, although one of the gentlemen was himself hurt. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising their courage and selflessness in carrying out this extraordinary act of bravado?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and I commend the bravery and courage shown by those two individuals—Nigel and Grant, I think he said—who stepped into that situation to ensure that it was not as bad as it might have been. That is incredible bravery; many members of the public would not have been willing to step forward in that way. Will he pass my best wishes—and the best wishes of the whole House, I am sure—on to those individuals?

I believe that we should see workers’ representation on boards. I make no apology for the fact that this Government are going to deliver on that. For all its years in government, the Labour party did nothing.