The Prime Minister was asked—
A very happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and I would like to extend that to everyone in this House.
It has been more than six months since the European referendum. Embarrassingly for the Prime Minister, the Scottish Government are the only Administration on these islands to have published a plan on what to do next. Has she read it yet? When will she be publishing her own plan?
I join the hon. Gentleman in wishing everybody in the House, not only Members, but all the staff of the House, a very happy new year.
As I said to the Liaison Committee when I appeared in front of it before Christmas, I will, in a matter of weeks, be setting out some more details of our proposals on this issue. I would like just to remind the hon. Gentleman, when he talks about the Scottish Government’s plan, that of course it is his party, the Scottish nationalist party, that wants to leave the United Kingdom and therefore leave the European Union.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that new nuclear does have a crucial role to play in securing our future energy needs, especially as we are looking to move to a low-carbon society. The industrial strategy that the Government will be setting out will have a strong emphasis on the role of regions in supporting economic growth and ensuring that the economy works for everyone. Like him, I very much welcome the proposals from NuGen and Toshiba to develop a new nuclear power station at Moorside in Cumbria. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continues to work closely with NuGen and other developers as they bring their proposals forward.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is nice to get such a warm welcome, and may I wish all Members, as well as all members of staff in the House, a happy new year?
I hope the whole House will join me—I am sure it will—in paying tribute to 22-year-old Lance Corporal Scott Hetherington, who died in a non-combat incident in Iraq last Monday. I am sure the whole House will also join in sending its heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of seven-year-old Katie Rough, who tragically died in York earlier this week. I think it is right that we send condolences to her family.
Last week, 485 people in England spent more than 12 hours on trolleys in hospital corridors. The Red Cross described this as a “humanitarian crisis”. I called on the Prime Minister to come to Parliament on Monday, but she did not—she sent the Health Secretary. But does she agree with him that the best way to solve the crisis of the four-hour wait is to fiddle the figures, so that people are not seen to be waiting so long on trolleys in NHS hospitals?
First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in sending our condolences to the family of Lance Corporal Hetherington, who, as he said, died in a non-combat incident in Iraq? From everything I have seen and read about Lance Corporal Hetherington, he was a very fine young man. He delighted in being in the armed forces, and we are proud that such a fine young man was in our armed forces. I also join the right hon. Gentleman in expressing condolences to the family and friends of little Katie, who died so tragically.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the pressures on the NHS, and we acknowledge that there are pressures on the national health service. There are always extra pressures on the NHS during the winter, but, of course, we have at the moment those added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population. He also refers to the British Red Cross’s term, “humanitarian crisis.” I have to say to him that I think we have all seen humanitarian crises around the world, and to use that description of a national health service that last year saw 2.5 million more people treated in accident and emergency than six years ago was irresponsible and overblown.
Some 1.8 million people had to wait longer than four hours in A&E departments last year. The Prime Minister might not like what the Red Cross said, but on the same day the British Medical Association said that
“conditions in hospitals across the country are reaching a dangerous level.”
The Royal College of Nursing has said that NHS conditions are the worst ever. The Royal College of Physicians has told the Prime Minister that the NHS is
“under-funded, under-doctored and overstretched.”
If she will not listen to the Red Cross, who will she listen to?
I have said to the right hon. Gentleman that I of course acknowledge that there are pressures on the national health service. The Government have put extra funding into the national health service. The fact is that we are seeing more people being treated in our NHS: 2,500 more people are treated within four hours every day in the national health service because of the Government putting in extra funding and because of the hard work of medical professionals in our national health service. It is not just a question of targets for the health service, although we continue to have a commitment to the four-hour target, as the Health Secretary has made clear. It is a question of making sure that people are provided with the appropriate care for them, and the best possible care for them in their circumstances.
The right hon. Lady seems to be in some degree of denial about this. She will not listen to professional organisations that have spent their whole lifetimes doing their best for the NHS, but will she listen to Sian, who works for the NHS? She has a 22-month- old nephew. He went into hospital, but there was no bed. He was treated on two plastic chairs pushed together with a blanket. Sian says that
“one of the nurses told my sister that it’s always like this nowadays”.
She says to us all:
“Surely we should strive to do better than this.”
Do the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary think that is an acceptable way to treat a 22-month-old child in need of help?
I accept that there have been a small number of incidents in which unacceptable practices have taken place. We do not want those things to happen, but what matters is how you deal with them, which is why it is so important that the NHS looks into the issues when unacceptable incidents have taken place and learns lessons from them. I come back to the point that I was making earlier: the right hon. Gentleman talks about the hard-working healthcare professionals, like Sian, in the national health service, and indeed we should be grateful for all those who are working in the NHS, but on the Tuesday after Christmas we saw the busiest day ever in the national health service, and over the few weeks around Christmas we saw the day on which more people were treated in accident and emergency within four hours than ever before. That is the reality of our national health service.
We all thank NHS staff and we all praise NHS staff, but the Prime Minister’s Government are proposing, through sustainability and transformation, to cut one third of the beds in all our hospitals in the very near future. On Monday, she spoke about mental health and doing more to help people, particularly young people, with those conditions, which I welcome, except that last night the BBC revealed that, over five years, there had been an 89% increase in young people with mental health issues having to go to A&E departments. Does she not agree that the £1.25 billion committed to child and adolescent mental health in 2015 should have been ring-fenced rather than used as a resource to be raided to plug other holes in other budgets in the NHS?
If we look at what is happening with mental health treatment in the national health service, we see 1,400 more people every day accessing mental health services. When I spoke about this issue on Monday, I said that there is of course more for us to do—this is not a problem that will be resolved overnight. I have set out ways in which we will see an improvement in the services in relation to mental health, but it is about the appropriate care for the individual. As I mentioned earlier, that is not just about accident and emergency. When I was in Aldershot on Monday, I spoke to service users with mental health problems who said that they did not want to go to A&E. The provision of alternative services has meant that the A&E locally has seen its numbers stabilising rather than going up. It is about the appropriate care for the individual. We want to see that good practice spread across the whole country.
Nobody wants people with mental health conditions to go to A&E departments—the A&E departments do not want them to go there. Under this Government, there are 6,000 fewer nurses and 400 fewer doctors working in mental health. It is obvious that these people will go somewhere to try to get help when they are in a desperate situation. Our NHS is under huge pressure. Much of that is caused by cuts to social care, which the Royal College of Physicians says
“are pushing more people into our hospitals and trapping them there for longer.”
Will the Prime Minister do what my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) has called for and bring forward now the extra £700 million allocated in 2019 and put it into social care, so that we do not have this problem of people staying too long in hospital when they should be cared for by a social care system?
The right hon. Gentleman asked me those questions in the last PMQs before Christmas. [Interruption.] He may find it difficult to believe that somebody will say the same thing that they said a few weeks ago, but we have put extra money into social care. In the medium term, we are ensuring that best practice is spread across the country. He talks about delayed discharges. Some local authorities, which work with their health service locally, have virtually no delayed discharges. Some 50%—half of the delayed discharges—are in only 24 local authority areas. What does that tell us? It tells us that it is about not just funding, but best practice. If he comes back to me and talks to me about funding again, he should think on this: we can only fund social care and the NHS if we have a strong economy, and we will only have that with the Conservatives.
I am sorry to have to bring the Prime Minister back to the subject of social care, which I raised before Christmas. The reason I did so, and will continue to do so, is that she has not addressed the problem. The Government have cut £4.6 billion from the social care budget. The King’s Fund says that there is a social care funding gap of almost £2 billion this year.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said that she wanted to create a “shared society”. Well, we certainly have that: more people sharing hospital corridors on trolleys; more people sharing waiting areas in A&E departments; and more people sharing in the anxiety created by this Government. Our NHS is in crisis, but the Prime Minister is in denial. May I suggest to her that, on the economic question, she should cancel the corporate tax cuts, and spend the money where it is needed—on people in desperate need in social care and in our hospitals?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about a crisis. I suggest he listen to the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), a former Labour Health Minister, who said that, with Labour,
“It’s always about ‘crisis...the NHS is on its knees’… We’ve got to be a bit more grown up about this.”
And he talks to me about restoring the cuts in corporation tax. The Labour party has already spent that money eight times. The last thing the NHS needs is a cheque from Labour that bounces. The only way that we can ensure that we have funding for the national health service is with a strong economy. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman proved that he is not only incompetent, but that he would destroy our economy, and that would devastate our national health service.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. One of the things I spoke about, when I spoke about mental health on Monday, was trying to ensure that we can provide some better training for staff and teachers in schools to identify the early stages of mental health problems for young people, so that those problems can be addressed. Something like half of all mental health problems start before the age of 14, so this is a real issue that we need to address. We are going to look at how we can provide that training. We will also review the mental health services provided for young people to ensure that we can identify what is working and make sure that good practice is spread across the country.
May I begin with a tribute to Father George Thompson, who died shortly before Christmas? He led a remarkable life as a teacher, as a priest and as the Scottish National party Member of Parliament for Galloway. We extend our sympathies to his family.
All of us in this House and across these islands care about the peace process and about the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, so may I wish the Prime Minister well and the Taoiseach, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the political parties all the best in trying to resolve the serious political difficulties there? Will the Prime Minister tell us what the consequences will be if no agreement can be found?
First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in offering condolences to the family and friends of the Rev. George Thompson, who, as he says, was the MP for Galloway between 1974 and 1979 and, I believe, was the first former MP in modern times to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest.
On the issue that the right hon. Gentleman raises about the political situation in Northern Ireland, we are obviously treating this with the utmost seriousness. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary made a statement in the House earlier this week on this issue. He has spoken to the First Minister and the former Deputy First Minister, and he is urging all parties to work together to find a way forward. I have also spoken to the Taoiseach about this issue, so we are putting every effort into this. The legislation says that if, within seven days, we do not have a nomination for a Deputy First Minister, the matter would go to an election.
The Prime Minister has indicated that she wants to take the views of the elected representatives and the devolved institutions on Brexit seriously. So it stands to reason then that if there is no Northern Ireland Assembly and no Northern Ireland Executive for much of the time before the March timetable that she has set for invoking article 50, she will be unable to consult properly, to discuss fully and to find agreement on the complex issues during this period. In these circumstances, will the Prime Minister postpone invoking article 50—[Interruption]—or will she just plough on regardless?
As the right hon. Gentleman says, we want to ensure that we do hear the views from all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we have established the JMC European committee specifically to take views and the JMC plenary, which is also obviously meeting more frequently than previously. I am clear that, first of all, we want to try to ensure that, within this period of seven days, we can find a resolution to the political situation in Northern Ireland, so that we can to see the Assembly Government continuing. But I am also clear that, in the discussions that we have, it will be possible—it is still the case that Ministers are in place and that, obviously, there are executives in place—that we are still able to take the views of the Northern Ireland people.
Economy/Public Services (Staffordshire)
The fundamentals of the UK’s economy are strong, including in Staffordshire and the west midlands. Employment in Staffordshire has risen by over 20,000 since 2010. We have protected schools and police budgets. We see more doctors and more nurses in the Burton hospitals trust. Of course, we are going further than this in the west midlands by giving new powers to the west midlands with the devolution deal and with the election of a directly elected Mayor. I have to say that I think Andy Street, with his business and local experience, would be a very good Mayor for the west midlands.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for that answer. Unemployment in my constituency—my beautiful Lichfield constituency—is around 0.7%, and that is fantastic, but I want it even lower. I found out that 24% of my constituents work in the area of the West Midlands Combined Authority, so can I press my right hon. Friend just a little further about what she thinks is needed in the West Midlands Combined Authority to improve employment still more?
I thank my hon. Friend, and, of course, I have had the advantage of having visited his beautiful constituency. But in relation to the midlands, we have a very strong ambition to make the midlands an engine for growth in the UK. That is why we have plans for the midlands engine that demonstrate that, when we say we are going to build an economy that works for everyone, we actually mean it. In the autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed things such as the £5 million for a Birmingham rail hub and a £250 million midlands engine investment fund, and we will shortly be publishing a strategy for the midlands engine. But I repeat the point that I made: for the west midlands, having the devolution deal, having the Mayor and having the right person elected as Mayor, who I think will be Andy Street, is absolutely crucial.
The hon. Gentleman will be very well aware that I want to see the best possible trade deal for the United Kingdom with the EU and the best possible deal for trading with and operating within the single European market. When we enter the negotiations, obviously, that is one of the issues that I have said that I want to see, and we will be out there and be delivering on it. Unlike the sort of downplaying that the hon. Gentleman does about the approach that we are taking, I have to say that it is this Government who are ambitious for the opportunities that are available to this country once we leave the European Union.
I think everybody recognises that the way that schools have been funded in the past has been unfair and many pupils have been missing out. That is why I think it is right for us to look at bringing forward a new fair funding formula, making sure that funding is attached to children’s needs. Of course we recognise the particular issues of rural areas in this, and that is why, within the fair funding formula, additional funding for such schools has been included. But, of course, the Department for Education has this out for consultation at the moment, and I would urge my hon. Friend to make her representations as part of that consultation.
I return to the point, Mr Speaker. Decisions about services in the local area are rightly taken by the local national health service, because we believe that it is local clinicians, and also local patients and leaders, who know what is best for their areas. So it is about trying to tailor the services to provide the best possible services for the needs of local people, modernising the care and facilities and making services appropriate to the local area. This trust has an extensive improvement plan to ensure that both hospitals within it can care for patients attending accident and emergency in as timely a way as possible.
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that commitment. What is important is that the industrial strategy will be looking to the economy of the future—what sort of economy we want in this country. Crucial to that will be the growth that is generated by entrepreneurs and by small businesses—by the very passion that he has spoken about. We want to see an environment in which those who can grow can emerge and develop to provide future jobs for people and contribute to the strength of our economy. That is what the industrial strategy is about; I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I am very happy to join him in paying tribute to these two campaigners. Indeed, I am sure that the whole House would want to pay tribute to the work that they are doing. As he says, I remain committed to ensuring that the voices of victims are heard. That is what I did when I was Home Secretary, if we look at issues such as introducing new measures to tackle modern slavery, strengthening the Independent Police Complaints Commission and legislating in relation to police complaints and discipline systems to strengthen public confidence in policing, and a number of other actions that I took. I am very pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary is taking that same passion to ensuring that the voices of the victims of crime are heard and is taking that forward.
The issue of bank branches and, indeed, of the accessibility of bank services is one that is for individual banks themselves to take and consider, and of course there are many ways in which people are now accessing bank services other than by going physically into an actual bank branch, but I will certainly look at the issue that the hon. and learned Lady has raised.
I welcome the establishment of the north Wales and Mersey-Dee rail taskforce and the work that it is doing. The plan that my hon. Friend mentions sets out an ambitious programme of improvements for the area, and I am sure it will be prioritising the most promising options. I can say to him that the Department for Transport will continue to work closely with the taskforce and with the Welsh Government to consider what can be jointly accomplished.
Action has been taken on the issue in relation to women’s pensions. The Government took action to ensure that the number of people who were affected and the period for which they were affected would be reduced, and money was put in to ensure that that was possible. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the new structure that is being put in place for pensions, he will see that women will actually be some of the greater beneficiaries of the new structure.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which was of course alluded to earlier in this session of Prime Minister’s questions. We are investing more in mental health than ever before—we are spending a record £11.4 billion a year—and it was of course the Conservative-led Government that introduced parity of esteem between mental and physical health, but as I said earlier, there is more for us to do in ensuring that appropriate care is available for people. I cited an example earlier of where I saw excellent work being done to provide care and support for people in the community, which was relieving pressure on accident and emergency, but also ensuring that people were getting the best possible care for them, and that is obviously what we want to see.
The problems that are facing the health service in Cumbria are widely recognised, and I do understand the concerns of local people about the services that will be available for them. We have put robust national support in place to address some of the long-standing challenges in Cumbria, and we are developing a lasting plan to deliver the high-quality, sustainable services that patients rightly expect.
The hon. Gentleman is right that these specific decisions are being taken locally, and no final decisions have been taken. I recognise the concern that he has raised previously, particularly about services at West Cumberland hospital. There will be considerable involvement in taking those decisions, but as I say, we do recognise the local concerns about some of the long-standing challenges for health service provision in Cumbria.
I know from my career in medicine that the men and women of our East Midlands ambulance service do a brave and sterling job for the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham and others, saving people’s lives every day. East Midlands ambulance service responded to a total of 11,662 999 calls over the Christmas bank holiday weekend alone, 2,500 of which were in Lincolnshire. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to their dedication, particularly over the busy winter period, and tell the House what more the Government can do to support our ambulance services and improve response times in rural areas such as Sleaford and North Hykeham?
May I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and also for bringing her personal experience as a medical professional to this issue? I am very happy to join her in paying tribute to the men and women of the ambulance service for the dedication and commitment that they show. She asks what the Government have been doing. We recognise that ambulance services are very busy, which is why we see over 2,000 more paramedics now compared with 2010, and we are increasing paramedic training places by over 60% this year. Also, the Department of Health, NHS Employers and ambulance unions have agreed changes to the compensation for paramedics, potentially giving them a pay increase of up to £14,000 as they progress. We recognise the excellent work that they do.
May I commend the Prime Minister for her considered statement last night and, indeed, for the words that she has given this afternoon? She knows our commitment to the institutions in Northern Ireland, but does she agree that nothing can be, or should be, gained from threatening the peace process, the progress that we have made or the institutions that we have fought so hard to sustain in Northern Ireland?
The progress that has been made in Northern Ireland has been hard won, and we must all recognise that we do not want to put that progress in jeopardy. That is why it is so important for the Government, and for all parties, to work as hard as we can to see a resolution to this issue, so that we can see a return to the power-sharing institutions and ensure that the hard-won progress can be continued.
I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend said about children’s mental health earlier this week, but may I draw her attention to another burning injustice? My constituent, Paula Edwards, has been battling cancer for four years. She is recovering from an operation and has taken 28 weeks off work. She is still employed and is on half pay, yet her working tax credits have been stopped, which means that she is worrying about how to make ends meet rather than focusing on her recovery. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Treasury to look at this, perhaps in the course of Budget preparations?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments about the mental health announcements that I have made. I am sorry to hear of the particular difficulties that her constituent is experiencing and the distress that they have caused her. Of course, working tax credits provide support for low-income families in work and are designed to incentivise people to increase their working hours. With the new universal credit system, we will obviously have a system of benefits with single, streamlined payments that encourages work, but I am sure the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would be happy to look at the individual case that my right hon. Friend has raised and the issue that she has set out.