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Volume 621: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2017

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.

Yesterday, the campaign group fighting cuts at West Cumberland hospital was due to deliver a 30,000-strong petition to Downing Street. Despite having a slot booked, they were turned away at the gates and told, “Today isn’t a good day. Come back after Thursday.” How can the Prime Minister justify this disgraceful dismissal of the people of Copeland?

A petition was indeed delivered to No. 10. The petition was accepted by No. 10 Downing Street yesterday, so I suggest to the hon. Lady that she considers what she said in her question. I am aware of the issues that have been raised around West Cumberland hospital. I am aware of them because the very good Conservative candidate in Copeland, Trudy Harrison, has raised them with me. She has made it very clear that she wants to see no downgrading of services at West Cumberland hospital. She has made that clear to me and to Health Ministers.

Q3. I recently met many of my local headteachers in High Peak, and they are concerned about the new national funding formula. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that when we decide on the funding for our schools, we will look at unavoidable costs, such as the national apprenticeship levy, to ensure that our schools have the money that they need to educate our children? (908790)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. The question of schools funding, and the system we have for schools funding, is important. I think the current system is unfair. It is not transparent and it is out of date. That has been the general view for some time now. The problem is that it cannot support the aspiration of all our children to get a great education. We do, indeed, want children to be able to get the education that they deserve and that ensures that they can go as far as their talents and hard work take them. The Labour Government did nothing to address the funding system. We are looking at that funding system. It is a consultation, and I am sure that the comments and the issue my hon. Friend has raised will be noted by the Secretary of State for Education.

When hospitals are struggling to provide essential care, why is the Prime Minister’s Government cutting the number of beds in our national health service?

Thanks to the medical advances, to the use of technology and to the quality of care, what we see on hospital stays is actually that the average length of time for staying in hospital has virtually halved since the year 2000. Let us look at Labour’s record on this issue. In the last six years of the last Labour Government, 25,000 hospital beds were cut. But we do not even need to go as far back as that. Let us just look at Labour’s policy before the last election, because before the last election, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the former Labour shadow Health Secretary, said the following:

“what I’d cut…are hospital beds”.

Labour policy: cut hospital beds.

In 2010, there was the highest ever level of satisfaction with the national health service, delivered by a Labour Government. The British Medical Association—[Interruption.] It’s doctors. The British Medical Association tells us that 15,000 beds have been cut in the past six years, the equivalent of 24 hospitals, and as a result, we have longer waiting times at A&E, record delayed discharges and more people on waiting lists. The Prime Minister claims the NHS is getting the money it needs, so why is it that one in six A&E units in England are set for closure or downgrading?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is happening and what has happened since 2010 in A&E: we see 1,500 more emergency care doctors—that includes 600 more A&E consultants—and we have 2,400 more paramedics. We have more people being seen in accident and emergency every single week under this Government. He talks about what the NHS needs: what the NHS needs is more doctors—we are giving it more doctors; what it needs is more funding—we are giving it more funding. What it does not need is a bankrupt economy, which is exactly what Labour would give it.

I asked the Prime Minister why one in six A&E units are currently set for closure or downgrading; she did not answer. One of the problems—she well knows this—is the £4.6 billion cut to social care, which has a knock-on effect. Her friend the Tory chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, has said that

“extra council tax income will not bring in anywhere near enough money to alleviate the growing pressure on social care”.

Two weeks ago, we found out about the sweetheart deal with Tory Surrey. When will the other 151 social services departments in England get the same as the Surrey deal?

The right hon. Gentleman refers to the questions he asked me about Surrey County Council two weeks ago. Those claims were utterly destroyed the same afternoon, so rather than asking the same question, he should stand up and apologise.

Far from my apologising, it is the Prime Minister who ought to be reading her correspondence and answering the letter from 62 council leaders representing social service authorities who want to know if they are going to get the same deal as Surrey. They are grappling with a crisis, which has left over 1 million people not getting the social care they need.

We opposed Tory cuts in the NHS which involved scrapping nurses’ bursaries, because we feared it would discourage people from entering training. The Prime Minister’s Government said that removing funding for nurses’ bursaries would create an extra 10,000 training places in this Parliament. Has this target been met?

There are 10,000 more training places available for nurses in the NHS. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the amount of money being spent on the NHS. It is this Conservative Government who are putting the extra funding into the NHS. I remind him that we are spending £1.3 billion more on the NHS this year than Labour planned to spend if it had won the election.

My questions were about social services funding to pay for social care—no answer. My questions were about the number of training places for nurses being brought in—no answer. In reality, 10,000 fewer places have been filled because there are fewer applications. A problem is building up for the future. In addition, the Royal College of Midwives estimates that there is a shortage of 3,500 midwives in England, and the Royal College of Nursing warns:

“The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020 it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation”.

Will the Prime Minister at least commit herself to reinstating the nurses’ bursary?

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about nursing training places, which I answered. If he does not like the answer he gets, he cannot just carry on asking the same question if I have answered it previously. He talks about all these issues in relation to what is happening in the NHS, so let us look at what is happening in the NHS: we have 1,800 more midwives in the NHS since 2010; we have more people being seen in accident and emergency since 2010; and we have more operations taking place every week in the NHS. Our NHS staff are working hard. They are providing quality care for patients up and down the country. What they do not need is a Labour party policy that leads to a bankrupt economy. Labour’s policy is to spend money on everything, which means bankrupting the economy and having no money to spend on anything. That does not help doctors and nurses, it does not help patients, it does not help the NHS, and it does not help ordinary working families up and down this country.

Yes, let us look at the national health service and let us thank all those who work so hard in our national health service, but also recognise the pressures they are under. Today, a Marie Curie report finds that nurses are so overstretched they cannot provide the high-quality care needed for patients at the very end of their lives. The lack of care in the community prevents people from having the dignity of dying at home. There is a nursing shortage and something should be done about it, such as reinstating the nurses’ bursary.

The Prime Minister’s Government have put the NHS and social care in a state of emergency. Nine out of 10 NHS trusts are unsafe, 18,000 patients a week are waiting—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, I repeat the figure: 18,000 patients a week are waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors and 1.2 million often very dependent—[Interruption.] It seems to me that some Members are not concerned about the fact that there are 1.2 million elderly people who are not getting the care they need. The legacy of her Government will blight our NHS for decades: fewer hospitals, fewer A&E departments, fewer nurses and fewer people getting the care they need. We need a Government who will put the NHS first and will invest in our NHS.

First, the right hon. Gentleman should consider correcting the record, because 54% of hospital trusts are considered good or outstanding—quite different from the figure he cited. Secondly, I will take no lessons on the NHS from the party—[Interruption.] Oh, the deputy leader of the Labour party says we should take lessons on the NHS, but I will not take any lessons from the party that presided over the failure that happened at Mid Staffs hospital. Labour says we should learn lessons. I will tell the House who should learn lessons: the Labour party, which still fails to recognise that if you are going to fund the NHS—we are putting money in, and there are more doctors, more operations and more nurses—you need a strong economy. We now know, however, that Labour has a different sort of phrase for its approach to these things. Remember when it used to talk about “boom and bust”? Now it is borrow and bankrupt. [Interruption.]

Order. We must get through Back Benchers’ questions and the Prime Minister’s answers to them. I call Mr Michael Tomlinson.

Q4. Brendan Cox will meet today with the Duchess of Cornwall to launch plans to bring communities together over the weekend of 17 and 18 June to mark the first anniversary of our colleague Jo’s death. The aim of this Great Get Together, as it has been called, is for more than 10 million people across the country to come together as communities and neighbours for events such as street parties, picnics and even bake offs. Will the Prime Minister join me in agreeing that such events and moments of national reflection and celebration in our communities will be a fitting tribute to Jo and will remind us all that, as she herself said, we have far more things in common than things that divide us? (908791)

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, and I am very happy to agree that what is becoming known as the Great Get Together is a fitting and important tribute to our late colleague Jo Cox. I commend her husband, Brendan—I am sure that everyone across the House would wish to do so—for the work that he has done. As my hon. Friend said, it is important to remember that there is more that brings us together than divides us, and this is an important moment of national reflection and celebration of the strength of our communities. As we face the future together—these are momentous times for this country—it is important that we remember that being united makes us strong and recognise the things that unite us, as a country and a people, and the bonds we share together. This is a very fitting tribute to our late colleague.

In recent days, the Prime Minister has said that it is a key personal commitment to transform the way domestic violence is tackled. It is hugely welcome that she has called for ideas about how the treatment of victims could be improved and more convictions against abusers secured. Combatting violence against women and preventing domestic violence is the aim of the Istanbul convention, which the UK is yet to ratify. Does she agree with Members on both sides of the House that the convention should be ratified as a priority?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important subject. As he says, I take it particularly seriously—I worked hard on it as Home Secretary and I continue to do so as Prime Minister. There were still an estimated 1.3 million female victims of domestic abuse in the last year and more than 400,000 victims of sexual violence. He is right that we signed up to the Istanbul convention, and we are fully committed to ratifying it, which was why we supported in principle the private Member’s Bill of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) on Second Reading and in Committee. In many ways, the measures we have in place actually go further than the convention, but I am clear that we need to maintain momentum, which is why I am setting up a ministerial working group to look at the legislation and at how we can provide good support to victims, and to consider the possibility of a domestic violence Act.

This Friday, the House will consider a Bill on the Istanbul convention. We know that Ministers have been working hard with my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), who has cross-party support for her Bill. Given the importance of this issue and the Prime Minister’s personal commitment, which she has outlined again today, will she join me in encouraging Members to support the Bill and discourage any attempts to use parliamentary wrecking tactics to stop it?

I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in that. I know that the Minister for Vulnerability, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), has had a number of constructive discussions with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. The Government have tabled some mutually agreed amendments, for which the Government will vote this Friday. I hope that all my hon. Friends who are present on Friday will support these measures. This is an important Bill. The Government have supported it, and I hope it will be supported on both sides of the House.

Q6. Residents in the village of High Lane in my constituency are concerned about 4,000 homes proposed under the Greater Manchester spatial framework, which will more than double the size of the village. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents that the green belt is safe with this Government? (908793)

I am happy to give that commitment to my hon. Friend. The Government are very clear that the green belt must be protected. We are very clear that boundaries should be altered only when local authorities have fully examined all other reasonable options. If they do go down that route, they should compensate by improving the quality or accessibility of the remaining green-belt land so that it can be enjoyed. I know about the particular issue that my hon. Friend raises, and I believe that the Greater Manchester spatial framework led to quite a number of responses. There was a lot of interest in that consultation, which closed last month, and I am sure that all those views will be taken into account.

Q2. Last week, the all-party group on children of alcoholics launched a manifesto for change. Some 2.5 million children are growing up in the home of a problem drinker—I did, too. These children are twice as likely as others to have problems at school, three times more likely to consider suicide, and four times more likely to become an alcoholic, yet today 138 local authorities have no plan to support these children. Will the Prime Minister work with the all-party group to establish the first ever Government strategy to tackle this hidden problem that blights the lives of millions? (908789)

The right hon. Lady raises an important issue. I know that she recently spoke very movingly about her own experience. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House recognise the devastating impact that addiction can have on individuals and their families, so this is an important issue for her to raise. It is unacceptable that children bear the brunt of their parents’ condition. The Government are committed to working with MPs, health professionals and those affected to reduce the harm of addiction and to get people the support they need. We shall look carefully at the proposals suggested by the right hon. Lady.