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Volume 624: debated on Wednesday 19 April 2017

I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in offering our condolences to the families and friends of Andreea Christie, who died following the London attack, and of Chris Bevington, who was among those killed in the terrorist attack in Sweden. Our thoughts are also with the family and friends of Hannah Bladon, who was murdered in Jerusalem last week.

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.

I would also like to join the Prime Minister in offering the condolences of the people of South Leicestershire and myself to the families of those individuals.

Strong countries need strong economies. Strong countries need strong defences. Strong countries need strong leaders. As the nation prepares to go to the polls, who else in this House, apart from my right hon. Friend, can provide the leadership that is needed at this time?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are three things that a country needs: a strong economy, strong defence, and strong, stable leadership. That is what our plans for Brexit and our plans for a stronger Britain will deliver. That is what the Conservative party will be offering at this election, and we will be out there fighting for every vote. The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) would bankrupt our economy and weaken our defences and is simply not fit to lead.

I concur with the condolences that the Prime Minister just sent to the families of the three people who so sadly and needlessly died. It is important that we recognise that as a cross-party proposal today, and I thank the Prime Minister for it.

We welcome the general election, but this is a Prime Minister who promised that there would not be one—a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted. She says that it is about leadership, yet she refuses to defend her record in television debates. It is not hard to see why. The Prime Minister says that we have a stronger economy, yet she cannot explain why people’s wages are lower today than they were 10 years ago or why more households are in debt. Six million people are earning less than the living wage, child poverty is up, and pensioner poverty is up. Why are so many people getting poorer?

I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I have been answering his questions and debating these matters every Wednesday that Parliament has been sitting since I became Prime Minister. I will be taking out to the country in this campaign a proud record of a Conservative Government: a stronger economy, with the deficit nearly two thirds down, a tax cut for 30 million people, with 4 million people taken out of income tax altogether, record levels of employment, and £1,250 more a year for pensioners. That is a record we can proud of.

If the Prime Minister is so proud of her record, why will she not debate it? Wages are falling and more children are in poverty. Page 28 of the Tories’ last manifesto said:

“We will work to eliminate child poverty”.

They only eliminated the child poverty target, not child poverty. In 2010, they promised to eradicate the deficit by 2015. In 2015, they promised to eradicate the deficit by 2020. Austerity has failed, so does the Prime Minister know by which year the deficit will now be eradicated?

I know that it has taken the right hon. Gentleman a little time to get the hang of Prime Minister’s questions, but he stands up week in, week out and asks me questions and I respond to those questions. With a stronger—[Interruption.]

We have a stronger economy, with the deficit two thirds down, but people will have a real choice at this election. They will have a choice between a Conservative Government who have shown that we can build a stronger economy and a Labour party with an economic policy that would bankrupt this country. What voters know is that under Labour it is ordinary working people who pay the price of the Labour party. They pay it with their taxes, they pay it with their jobs, and they pay it with their children’s futures.

Only this year the new Chancellor pledged to eradicate the deficit by 2022. I admire Tory consistency: it is always five years in the future. Another Tory broken promise.

The Prime Minister leads a Government who have increased national debt by £700 billion, more than every Labour Government in history put together. Debt has risen every year they have been in office. We know their economic plan was long term. Does she want to tell us how far into the long term it will be before we get the debt falling?

The right hon. Gentleman stands up and talks about debt. This is a Labour party that will be going into the election pledged to borrow an extra £500 billion. What does that mean for ordinary working people? Well, I will tell him what it means. We know what Labour’s plans would entail because we have been told by the former Labour shadow Chancellor. He said that if Labour were in power,

“you’d have to double income tax, double National Insurance, double council tax and you’d have to double VAT as well.”

That is Labour’s plan for the economy.

All her Government have delivered is more debt and less funding for schools and hospitals. Schools funding is being cut for the first time in a generation. The Prime Minister is cutting £3 billion a year from school budgets by 2020. She says that the Government have created a stronger economy, so why are there tax giveaways to the richest corporations while our children’s schools are starved of the resources they need to educate our children for the future?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about levels of funding for schools and the NHS. There are record levels of funding going into schools and record levels of funding going into the NHS, but let us just talk about schools. It is not just a question of funding; it is actually a question of the quality of education provided in schools. Some 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools under this Conservative Government, which is 1.8 million more children with a better chance for their future. What would Labour give us? It would be the same old one-size-fits-all, local authority-run schools: “No choice, good or bad, trust your luck.” We do not trust to luck, and we will not trust the Labour party. We will provide a good school place for every child.

Many parents taking their children back to school for the summer term will receive a letter begging for funds to buy books and fund the school. The Conservative manifesto promised

“the amount of money following your child into school will be protected.”

It is not. It is another Tory broken promise.

For the first time in its history, NHS funding per patient will fall this year. The NHS has been put into an all-year-round crisis by this Government. Why are more people waiting in pain, with millions of elderly people not getting the care and dignity they deserve?

I am proud of our record on the NHS. We saw more doctors, more nurses, more midwives, more general practitioners and more people being treated in our national health service last year than ever before, with record levels of funding going into our national health service. We can only do that with a strong economy. What do we know we would get from the Labour party? Bankruptcy and chaos.

That is a very good reason for why we should have a debate about it, because it is another Tory broken promise. A broken promise of the Tory manifesto, which said that they would continue to

“spend more on the NHS, in real terms”.

Say that to those waiting in A&E departments and to those who cannot leave hospital because social care is not available.

Is it not the truth that, over the last seven years, the Tories have broken every promise on living standards, the deficit, debt, the national health service and school funding? Why should anyone believe a word they say over the next seven weeks?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will be out campaigning and taking to voters the message of not only the record of this Conservative Government, but, crucially, of our plans to make Brexit a success and to build a stronger Britain for the future. Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for those who want to stop me getting the job done. Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the European Union. And every vote for the Conservatives will mean we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future for this country.

Q2. For years I have been campaigning for fairer funding in Wiltshire schools. Will the Prime Minister please reaffirm her commitment to this and to a review of the pupil premium to encompass other forms of key disadvantage, such as being a young carer, having mental health problems and dealing with bereavement? In this way, we can create a country that will work for everyone. (909675)

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I know she has campaigned long and hard in her constituency and worked hard for her constituents on this and other issues. We want to ensure that young people, irrespective of their background, have the opportunity to make the most of their talents, and the point of our reforms is to try to end the postcode lottery in school funding and to support our plan for a fairer society, where success is based on merit and not on privilege. She refers to the pupil premium, and that is of course worth £2.5 billion a year. It is an important part of our policy because it gives schools extra support for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, but I think it is right that schools are best placed to prioritise the needs of their pupils and can use their funding to ensure that they are supporting any pupil facing disadvantage, financial or otherwise.

May I join in the condolences extended by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party?

The tone and content of democratic debates, including in a general election, are very important to all of us, so does the Prime Minister agree that political opponents are not “saboteurs”, and that all elected mainstream parties and parliamentarians have a mandate and that that should be respected?

In this House and in this Parliament it is right that we have proper debate and scrutiny of proposals put forward by the Government, and that arguments on both sides of the House are rightly challenged and those discussions take place. But I say to the right hon. Gentleman that what the British people—what the people of the United Kingdom—voted for last year was for the UK to leave the European Union. We have set that process in motion; there is no turning back. It is clear from statements made by the Scottish nationalists and others that they want to use this House to try to frustrate that process. I will be asking the British people for a mandate to complete Brexit and to make a success of it.

It is disappointing that the Prime Minister did not take the opportunity to condemn intemperate language in describing other democratic politicians as—[Interruption.] There is heckling from the Government side, and I think the Prime Minister should take the opportunity to underline something that we should all agree on: that describing people in the way we have seen them described in some daily newspapers by some leading politicians is not acceptable.

Most people know that the reason we are having a general election is because of the woeful state of the Labour party. If the Prime Minister is so confident that her hard Brexit, pro-austerity, anti-immigration case is right, she should debate it with Opposition leaders during the campaign. We look forward to the straight fight between the Scottish National party and the Tories. Will the Prime Minister tell the people why she is running scared of a televised debate with Nicola Sturgeon?

First, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the crucial things we have in this country that underpins our democracy is a free press? I believe that is important and I believe that people in this Chamber should stand up for the freedom of the press. As to the TV debates, I can assure him that I will be out there campaigning in every part of the United Kingdom, taking out there our proud record of a Conservative Government who have delivered for every part of the United Kingdom.

I might also suggest to the Scottish nationalists that now is the time for them to put aside—[Interruption.] Wait for it: now is the time for them to put aside their tunnel vision on independence and actually explain to the Scottish people why the SNP Government are not putting as much money into the health service as they have been given from the UK, they are not exercising the powers they have been given and Scottish education is getting worse. It is time they got back to the day job.

Q4. I too welcome the announcement from the Prime Minister yesterday, and I look forward to the general election and to taking my positive message to my constituents in Cheadle in June. Over the past two years, I have pressed for first-class transport infrastructure for Cheadle, and this week I launched my transport survey so my constituents can have their say on what is needed to keep Cheadle moving and be at the heart of the northern powerhouse. Does my right hon. Friend agree that residents in Cheadle need to vote Conservative on 8 June to ensure that we get continued investment in transport and infrastructure, not only in Cheadle but across the north-west? (909677)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on that point. I know she has been working very hard for her constituents in Cheadle on transport and other issues. Of course, it is under this Government that the Department for Transport is investing £290 million to improve transport links to Manchester airport through Cheadle, and £2.1 million has been committed to improving walking and cycling routes around the Cheadle Hulme district centre. That is why the choice is so clear. As my hon. Friend says, if she wants to see that funding for infrastructure, we need a strong economy, which only the Conservatives can deliver.

Q3. Because of the Prime Minister’s changes to education funding, every school in the country will face real- terms cuts. Manchester will be hit harder than anywhere outside London—[Interruption.] It’s true. Chorlton High School and Parrs Wood High School in my constituency will each lose the equivalent of more than 30 teachers. I ask the Prime Minister the same question a headteacher asked me: what would she cut to balance the books and from what subjects would she choose to sack teachers? (909676)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, record levels of funding are going into our schools. Everybody across this House has recognised for many years that the current funding formula is not fair across the country, and it is necessary for us to look for a fairer funding formula. We have consulted on that and will obviously be responding to that consultation. As the hon. Gentleman faces up to the election, I note that last year he failed to back—he opposed—the leader of his party. If the hon. Gentleman was not willing to support him as leader of his party then, why should his voters support him as leader of the country?

Q6. The only way to fund crucial infrastructure is with a strong economy. To that end, does my right hon. Friend agree that the St James Mill link road in Northampton would help with traffic flow in the town and unlock development in the enterprise zone? Will the next Conservative Government continue to support me, as the MP, in backing the scheme? (909679)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to have a strong economy if we are to be able to fund that crucial infrastructure. That is why, since 2015, we have increased our annual investment in economic infrastructure by almost 60% to £22 billion per year by 2021, including £2.6 billion for improvements in transport projects. I am happy to see the link road proposal being put forward by his local enterprise partnership; it will improve access to business and unlock development in the area. My hon. Friend has worked hard to see it happen, and I am sure he will continue to campaign on issues like that which matter so much to his constituents.

Q5. Recent changes to housing benefit entitlement for 18 to 21-year-olds will affect 195 young people in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. The Government are constantly challenging young people to train and leave benefits for the world of work, but homelessness charities such as Llamau are concerned that the changes will be a major barrier to learning and training for youngsters who do not have a safe and secure environment at home. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should be doing everything we can to help young people in the job market, including by offering financial support for housing? Will she pledge to strengthen the guidelines so that no more young people risk falling through the net and ending up on the streets? (909678)

The principle behind the changing of housing benefit is the right one, which is to say that it is only fair that people are not able to make decisions when they are on benefit that they would not be able to make if they are actually in work. However, it is right that we ensure that those young people who have a particular difficulty with staying at home are supported through the system, which is why significant exemptions are in place. We recognise that need and have taken it on board.