Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Public Sector Pay
Public sector pay policy has always been designed to strike the right balance between being fair to our public servants and fair to those who pay for them. The Government will continue to assess that balance.
I thank the Minister for that answer, and I ask the House to note that my wife is a primary school teacher in Scotland. According to an academic report published this week by the UK Government, average public sector earnings have fallen in the last decade by 6%, or up to £3 per hour for some people. With that in mind, will the Minister advise us on whether he supports, and wishes this Government to follow, the lead that the Scottish Government have taken in ending the 1% cap for public sector workers? Or does he support what the former Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday: that it is “selfish” to campaign for an end to the cap?
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman brings up Scottish education, which is, as he knows, the responsibility of the Scottish Government. I point out that in England, where this Government have responsibility for education, there are 15,500 more teachers than there were in 2010. As he knows, the Government have asked independent public sector pay review bodies to recommend what should happen in their respective professions each year, and the House may be interested to know that the Government have accepted every recommendation made by a public sector pay review body since 2014.
The Gray family have a monopoly on Question 1. Of course, we all have every sympathy with public sector pay bodies, and it is right that we listen to what they say. Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to accede to every request, we will have to pay for it by either decreasing spending or increasing taxation? Which would he prefer?
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point. Everyone in this House wants to be fair to public sector workers, but Conservative Members also want to be fair to taxpayers. It is very important that we strike the right balance. If we do not strike that balance, we will wreck the economy, which is what would happen with the Labour party’s ridiculous uncosted policy proposals.
While cutting the real-terms pay of nurses, the police, fire officers and others, the Prime Minister has broken her own £72,000 cap that she advocated for the salaries of political appointees. A third of all her special advisers earn more than that, and her two ill-fated chiefs of staff earned almost double that amount. How can the Minister justify pay restraint for nurses when there is no restraint in No. 10? Will he put an end to the pay cap in the public sector by changing the guidelines that the Government give to the pay review bodies? Finally, will he reject the former Prime Minister’s disgraceful slur that wanting to earn a decent income in the public sector is somehow selfish?
Let me answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions. I hope he recognises that, as I have just said, the Government have accepted every recommendation made by a public sector pay review body since 2014. Striking the right balance between being fair to public sector workers and being fair to taxpayers must be the right way forward. The suggestions that were made during the election campaign, and clearly continue to be made, by the Labour party would lead to the situation that the Greek people have had to suffer: precisely because of irresponsible commitments made by their Government, they have had to slash their public services. Public services get worse under the sort of economic policy advised by the Labour party.
Prompt Payment Code
Since 2015, we have worked closely with the Government’s major strategic suppliers to encourage them to sign up to the prompt payment code. I am pleased to say that all 32 strategic suppliers that we targeted in 2015 have now signed up.
Will my hon. Friend explain to me exactly how we are speeding up payments to companies? Cash flow from Government contracts is so important. Also, is there a way to make sure that Government contracts are of a size such that small and medium-sized companies are more able to bid for them?
We know how important prompt payment is to smaller businesses, and we are committed to making further improvements to payment practice. We are working to remove all barriers facing small and medium-sized enterprises bidding for Government contracts, and we are committed to increasing spend with SMEs, both directly and through the supply chain. We have also opened the free-to-use Contracts Finder website for suppliers to advertise subcontracting opportunities.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. The Government are committed to paying our suppliers promptly. All public sector buyers must include a 30-day payment term in new public sector contracts, pay undisputed invoices within 30 days, and require that this payment term be passed down the supply chain. Our own payment performance is published quarterly, and the Government are doing brilliantly well in meeting our targets.
When my party becomes the Government of this country very soon, we will declare war on late payments, requiring companies bidding for a public sector contract to pay their suppliers within 30 days, and going beyond that with heavy fines for late payers. Will the Conservatives in opposition support us in passing the necessary legislation?
The prompt payment code simply has not done enough to address the scourge of late payment, with £26 billion owed and an average of 72 days being taken to pay invoices across the country. May I say to the Minister that she should stop paying lip service to the problem and take the action needed for smaller businesses, which just want to be paid on time?
The hon. Gentleman is of course right to point out what a problem this is for small business in particular. However, I want to draw his attention to the Government’s mystery shopper service, which has secured a positive outcome for the vast majority of companies that have brought disputed payments to our attention, and indeed to the signatories to the independent Prompt Payment Code Compliance Board, to which we would encourage all those who have not been paid on time to report such cases.
The Government believe that electoral fraud is unacceptable on any level. We have a clear path to building a democracy that is both clear and secure, and we will work closely with key partner organisations to deliver a comprehensive programme of work for reforming our electoral system and strengthening electoral integrity.
The offence of double voting that my hon. Friend mentions is completely unacceptable. Indeed, it is nothing less than an abuse of our democracy. I am meeting Sir John Holmes, the chair of the Electoral Commission, this afternoon, and I intend to raise this with him as a priority. Let all of us in this House be clear: this is a crime. If anyone has any evidence of people voting twice, they should report it to their local returning officer and the police, who must take this issue seriously.
The IER digital service operated by the Cabinet Office checks the details provided by the applicant, including their national insurance number, against government data before passing on the application to the relevant local electoral administration teams.
It has been highlighted that all someone needs when they go to vote is a name and an address. In theory, someone could get hold of a telephone directory and vote all day in different polling stations. Does the Minister agree that it is time to use photo identification to prevent electoral fraud?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People deserve to have confidence in the security of our democratic system of elections. Voter ID has been in place in Northern Ireland for decades, and the use of photographic ID was introduced in 2003 under the previous Labour Government. The Electoral Commission has consistently called for use of ID in polling stations to protect the integrity of the polls. The Government will conduct voter ID pilots in the local elections in May 2018 to enable us to learn what works best, and to ensure that we develop a system in which there is full public confidence.
Are we not supposed to have policy driven by evidence, and is it not significant that the Minister gave not one shred of evidence in his reply? Quite frankly, in every election there are one or two cases of people being convicted of fraud, out of tens of millions of voters. This is straight out of the Donald Trump disinformation playbook, because Ministers are again trying to suppress voter participation. The Minister cannot come up with any evidence—if anyone has such evidence, they should take it to the police—and he should be ashamed of himself.
I missed the last part of that rant, but this idea has the backing of the Electoral Commission and electoral authorities, so that we can deliver a secure democracy that has the confidence of the public. The last Electoral Commission report on the subject shows that 38% of people felt that electoral fraud was an issue. Since 2010, 2,394 alleged cases of electoral fraud have been reported to the Electoral Commission.
Electoral fraud, whenever it occurs, is a serious business. The fact that there were two successful prosecutions in 2016 shows the size of the problem. Does the Minister agree that the bigger crime is having 7 million people off the electoral register?
When it comes to the size of the electoral register, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will share my delight that we have the largest electoral register since records began, at 46.9 million people. A record 3 million people registered to vote at this election. The Government believe in a democracy that works for everyone. Tackling electoral fraud means making sure that people are not disenfranchised by losing their vote, and protecting the most vulnerable communities, such as those in Tower Hamlets.
But surely the time has come for automatic electoral registration. How can it possibly be fair that, according to the Office for National Statistics, in my inner-city Nottingham constituency, less than three quarters of adults are on the electoral register, but in the Minister’s constituency, over 97% of adults are? Is not the real electoral fraud those policies that stand in the way of citizens exercising their democratic rights?
The introduction of the individual electoral registration website has seen 27 million people register to vote using that system. We want to ensure that registering to vote is as easy and effective as possible, but voting and registering to vote have individual responsibility at their heart. We need to protect the integrity of the polls and, equally, all MPs have a duty to encourage registration in our constituencies.
In Eddisbury there was clear evidence of double registrations, even within the constituency. Does the Minister agree that we should have a central system that flags up people who are double-registered, wherever they are in the country?
The electoral register is held by 380 electoral registration officers. It is right that that remains locally accountable to communities. We do not intend to introduce any central registration system, which would cost upwards of £80 million, but we are interested in looking at this issue, which is a serious one. As I said, I am meeting the Electoral Commission and look forward to taking forward proposals in due course.
This new ministerial team would be wrong to pander to the near-obsession of their own Back Benchers with the idea that the principal problem of our electoral system is voter fraud. In fact, the biggest thing that undermines our parliamentary democracy is that more than 14.6 million of those who were registered to vote did not do so four weeks ago. Will the Minister make good on the promises, which I have received twice already in this Chamber, to bring forward proposals to increase democratic participation in our country?
The hon. Gentleman mentions a 14 million figure, and we heard a 7 million figure earlier from a Labour Member. What we know from the data is that there is a specific churn of people moving properties, particularly renters and home movers. The Government want to address that to make sure that we have better data, so that we understand where people are registering and why they are registering. That is why we will bring forward a democratic engagement strategy to ensure that we have a democracy that works for everyone.
We have worked closely with electoral administrators across the country to make use of their experience and expertise when consulting on promoting democratic engagement. With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the whole House, to thank our returning officers and registration officers for their hard work in ensuring that the recent general election ran so smoothly. They are the unsung heroes of our democracy.
The Government’s principle is clear: participation in our democracy is a fundamental part of being British, however far people have travelled. We are committed to scrapping the 15-year rule in time for the next scheduled general election in 2022. Although the manifesto commitment to legislate for votes for life was not in the 2017 Queen’s Speech—the manifesto was a programme for the Parliament, not just for this first Session—we are determined to ensure that British voters, wherever they are, have the right to have their say.
In terms of democratic engagement, we had unprecedented problems in Newcastle-under-Lyme during the general election with late and missing postal votes, and with people being turned away from polling stations over registration issues. I have written to the First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office about that, an investigation is under way, and I will apply for an Adjournment debate. In the meantime, will the Minister urgently remind council chief executives and returning officers of their responsibility to resource electoral services sufficiently to carry out their legal responsibilities?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will report that specific point on Newcastle-under-Lyme to the Electoral Commission, which will produce a review of the general election that the Government will look at closely. The Cabinet Office has provided funding for local authorities and registration officers over a five-year period. We are looking at those claims, but he is absolutely right that our elections are a centrepiece of local democracy, and local authorities should take this seriously.
Indeed. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, and the 90th anniversary of women getting the equal right to vote, but there are still some women and groups in society who, by virtue of their circumstances, are unable to vote. Survivors of domestic violence are unable to register because they do not want to put their safety at risk. We are determined to take forward legislation to ensure that we expand the range of attesters and documentation to give those women the chance to vote in our democratic elections.
A Lancaster University study found that 24% of people with learning disabilities had registered to vote, but that only 9% of them used their vote. The survey also found that some voters were turned away from polling stations by clerks who perceived their learning disability to be the reason why they were not allowed to vote. What are the Government doing to ensure that all voters, regardless of their disability, have their right to vote in elections?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. The Cabinet Office has established an “accessibility to elections” working group; its members include Mencap and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. I am concerned to ensure that in the 21st century, disability and sight loss are not barriers to voting. We will look at bringing forward proposals to ensure that we make our elections as accessible as possible.
Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and assets; deter our adversaries; and develop the skills and capabilities we need. Our experts in the National Cyber Security Centre provide advice and guidance to help both public and private sector organisations be more resilient to cyber-attacks.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Only 10% of the global cyber workforce is female. That represents a huge pool of untapped talent. As part of our ambitious plans to transform the nation’s cyber capabilities, we have launched new initiatives, such as the incredibly successful CyberFirst Girls competition to encourage young women to pursue a career in the industry—it has more than 8,000 participants. We also want business to do more to encourage women into that exciting and rewarding sector.
I agree that it is important that our young people have the skills they will need to support the nation’s future security and economic prosperity. We are working with industry experts and organisations such as Cyber Security Challenge to reach out and inspire children, parents and teachers through a range of extracurricular activities, mixing teaching with real-world challenges and hands-on work experience.
My hon. Friend raises a really important issue. The impact of WannaCry was felt by the NHS as a result of a legacy of some unsupported IT systems and inconsistent software patching. NHS Digital is taking a proactive approach to ensure that security patches are applied promptly, and the National Cyber Security Centre has provided expert guidance to CareCERT and is supporting individual NHS trusts and organisations in their migration from unsupported systems.
The Cabinet Office rejected a Public Accounts Committee recommendation that it should set out a detailed plan for how the National Cyber Security Centre will enable those under attack to get help. We heard evidence from many people in large organisations who were very confused about where to go for that help. Will the Minister now reconsider the rejection of that requirement and look again?
Our advice is very clear: we have funded a substantial national cyber-security programme, which goes alongside expertise from the National Cyber Security Centre. That is directed specifically towards improving the cyber-security of Government and the wider public sector. Our collective focus is on ensuring we have the most secure systems, and that public services and buildings are kept up to date so that our information is safe.
In their 2015 manifesto, the Government committed to sign up their major suppliers to the prompt payment code. This voluntary code commits signatories to fair payment terms across all UK transactions. Prompt payment can make a real difference to small businesses, boosting their cash flow and allowing them to invest in growth. Since 2015, we have worked closely with the Government’s strategic suppliers to encourage them to sign up. I am pleased to confirm that all the suppliers we targeted in 2015 have now signed up to the code.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We recently introduced a new statutory duty for large companies to report on a six-monthly basis on their payment performance and practices. It is important that this protects small and medium-sized enterprises. We encourage businesses to report any instances of poor payment practice in public sector contracts to our mystery shopper service.
The House will be aware that we are currently having the first parliamentary by-election of this Session. It is happening over in the other place; it is the hereditary peers by-election, with just 31 electors. Does the Minister agree that that is a farce in a modern-day democracy?
The Government have been clear, in the previous Parliament and in their manifesto, that reform of the House of Lords is not an immediate priority. However, a Lord Speaker’s Committee in the other place is looking at the size of the House of Lords and we are determined to consider its recommendations. The situation relates to legislation passed by a previous Labour Government in 1999. We are determined to ensure, above all, that the House of Lords is an effective revising Chamber.
The Cabinet Office plays an important role in ensuring that Government business is effectively co-ordinated, including on important issues around Brexit. Cabinet Office Ministers are working closely with colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union and others across Whitehall to ensure that we get the best deal for the whole United Kingdom.
T2. The Government’s coalition of chaos extends, unfortunately, as far as cyber-security, with responsibility shared between the Cabinet Office, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Can the Minister tell me the prevalence of XP machines in the Government estate, the public sector and the private sector, and what she is doing to reduce it? (900210)
We have made good progress on reducing dramatically the number of XP machines in the Government cyber-estate. The hon. Lady will know that the National Cyber Security Centre takes the lead on this issue and is co-ordinating work across government.
T7. Further to my earlier question about students fraudulently voting twice, may I ask whether, when my hon. Friend meets representatives of the Electoral Commission, he will ensure that the police are involved as well? (900215)
T3. If the Government are really committed to modernising the electoral register, will the Minister confirm that they will allow universities to block-register students during enrolment and re-registration, and ensure that schools and further education colleges give details of people who are approaching voting age to the electoral registration office? (900211)
No. We do not agree with block registration. What the Government have done is to ensure, through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, that universities have a duty to encourage registration. We will publish ministerial guidance on the issue in 2018.
I know my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that, through the devolution deal with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the Government have pledged up to £770 million of new funding to support local economic growth. I look forward to working with the excellent James Palmer, the new mayor, to support growth in Cambridgeshire.
T4. At the last general election, the Government made very little attempt to ensure that voting registration and participation took place, and large swathes of the electorate were unable to vote properly. Will the Minister outline the steps that will be taken to ensure—[Interruption.] (900212)
A record number of people are now on the electoral register. We have a democracy in which more people are participating than ever before. I shall be delighted to work with the hon. Lady on the question of visual impairments, which I believe is a cross-party issue, and we look forward to presenting proposals to ensure that elections are accessible to visually impaired people.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Today marks the 69th anniversary of the NHS, and last week saw the 80th anniversary of the 999 service. I know that Members on both sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to the incredibly dedicated men and women who work tirelessly to save and improve lives day in, day out.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today. Later this week I will attend a meeting of the G20, where I will discuss the global economy, counter-terrorism and sustainable development with my fellow leaders.
Her face smashed with an iPad, her body beaten, and forced to abort a baby girl: that is only some of the domestic abuse that my constituent Lola Ilesanmi has suffered from her estranged husband because she has refused to allow the genital mutilation of her daughter. Lola is educated, has a mortgage, and had a good job with Royal Bank of Scotland until the Home Office revoked her right to work. I have been writing to the Home Office since March, and have got nowhere. Will the Prime Minister now intervene to prevent the family from being deported, and to prevent that three-year-old girl from being subjected to genital mutilation?
The Home Secretary has obviously heard the case that the hon. Lady describes. The issue of female genital mutilation is one on which I think all of us, throughout the House, are agreed. It is an abhorrent activity; it should not be taking place. Great efforts have been made in recent years in strengthening the law on female genital mutilation, getting information out about the issue, and trying to support people in communities where FGM is practised. The message must go out from the House today that we will not accept FGM in this country.
Q2. In the last few days Iraqi security forces, assisted by coalition airstrikes, have made significant progress in eradicating ISIL fighters from Mosul. That is a significant step forward in the military conflict against ISIL in Iraq, but does the Prime Minister agree that the United Kingdom and the United States, in a broad international alliance, need to work with the Iraqi Government to ensure that there is reconstruction in places such as Mosul, and also to ensure that they are sufficiently strong to withstand the poisonous ideology of ISIL as we seek to defeat it? (900218)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: in order to keep the streets of Britain safe, we must continue to attack Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and the UK is playing its part as one of the 71 members of the coalition. The RAF has conducted over 1,400 strikes, and over 500 British soldiers are on the ground providing further assistance, but he makes the very important point that it is not just about the military action that takes place; it is about how we ensure there is sustainable reconstruction and rebuilding afterwards. Our troops have helped to train over 55,000 Iraqi security forces personnel, and we are providing more than £169.5 million in humanitarian aid and a further £30 million to help Iraq to stabilise these liberated areas. Together, we must also work not just in Iraq but internationally to ensure that the hateful ideology of extremism is not able to poison the minds of people.
May I start by wishing everyone a very happy Pride month, especially those taking part in the Pride march this Saturday and similar marches around the country? We should also be aware that a survey taken by Pride in London found that half of LGBT people in London had experienced hate crime in the past 12 months.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing the NHS a very happy birthday, but I was hoping that she was going to say a bit more about NHS staff and their pay during her birthday greetings, because after a week of flip-flopping and floundering, we thought we had some clarity from Downing Street at last. On Monday, the announcement was that the public sector pay cap at 1% remains, and a rare moment of agreement between Nos. 10 and 11 was seen, but yesterday we heard news that firefighters will be offered 2% this year and 3% next year, so can the Prime Minister confirm whether the public sector pay cap will remain for all other public servants until 2020?
First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing everybody who is going to take part in Pride London on Saturday an excellent day? I am sure it will be a very good occasion, as it always has been. May I also say that I and all Members of this House value the incredibly important work done by our public sector workers, including—[Interruption]—yes, including those in the national health service and others?
I understand why people feel strongly about the issue of their pay, but perhaps I can just set out—[Interruption.] For the information of the House, perhaps I can just set out what the current position is. Three public sector pay review bodies reported in March—they covered doctors and dentists, NHS staff including nurses, and the armed forces—and the Government accepted the recommendations of all three. The firefighters’ award is not determined by the Government—it is determined by the employers—and is not subject to a pay review body. There are outstanding pay review body reports that cover teachers, prison officers, police officers and those on senior salaries. The Government will consider those reports very carefully and respond to them, but while we do that, we will always recognise that we must ensure that we take decisions with regard to the need to live within our means. The right hon. Gentleman and I both value public sector workers and our public services; the difference is that I know we have to pay for them.
The public sector pay cap causes real shortages in nursing, teaching and many other professions, as well as real hardship. I had a letter last week from a teacher called David—[Interruption.] It’s all right: he is a teacher; he is doing a good job—all right? He says:
“I have been teaching for 10 years. I have seen my workload increase. I have seen more people leave the profession than start, and no form of pay increase in seven years. The only thing holding the education system together is the dedication to struggle on for the students and staff.”
He goes on to say that that dedication is “starting to run out”. I say to the Prime Minister that what we are doing through this pay cap is recklessly exploiting the good will of public servants like David. They need a pay rise.
The Leader of the Opposition refers to the number of nurses and teachers working in the public sector. Of course we now have more nurses in our hospitals than we had in 2010, and we have more teachers in our schools. But let me remind the right hon. Gentleman why it has been necessary for us to exercise restraint in public spending, including by capping public sector pay. It is because we inherited the biggest deficit in our peacetime history. We have acted—[Interruption.]
We acted to bring the deficit down by a quarter and then a half, and it is now down by three quarters. At the same time, we have seen the economy grow and record levels of people in employment. Our policy on public sector pay has always recognised that we need to balance the need to be fair to public sector workers, to protect jobs in the public sector, and to be fair to those who pay for it. That is the balance that we need to strike, and we continue to assess that balance.
We have had seven years of tax cuts for the richest and tax breaks for the biggest corporations. Last year, there was a net loss of 1,700 nurses and midwives to the NHS, and in the first two months of this year alone, 3,264 have left the profession altogether—not a great birthday present for the NHS, is it? Last week, the Chancellor said:
“We all value our public services and the people who provide them to us.”—[Official Report, 29 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 797.]
He went on to laud his own economic record by saying that we had a “fundamentally robust economy”. The Prime Minister found £1 billion to keep her own job; why cannot she find the same amount of money to keep nurses and teachers in their jobs? After all, they serve all of us.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the number of nurses. In fact, I think he was talking about the number of nurses who are registered in the United Kingdom. There are about 600,000 nurses registered in the United Kingdom; about half of them—300,000—work in the NHS in England. Contrary to what he says, we have 13,000 more nurses working in the NHS today compared with 2010. I understand that it has been hard for people who have been working hard and making sacrifices over the years as we have been dealing with Labour’s mismanagement of the economy, but let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of what happens when you do not deal with the deficit. This is not a theoretical issue. Let us look at those countries that failed to deal with it. In Greece, where they have not dealt with the deficit—[Interruption.] What did we see with that failure to deal with the deficit? Spending on the health service cut by 36%. That does not help nurses or patients.
I hope that the Prime Minister is proud of her record of controlling public sector pay to the extent that hard-working nurses have had to access food banks in order to survive, and of frozen wages for teaching assistants, paramedics and council workers. But this is not just in the public sector. Across the economy, wages are rising by 2.1% while inflation is at nearly 3%. Six million workers already earn less than the living wage. What does the Prime Minister think that that tells us about seven years of a Conservative Government and what they have done to the living standards of those people on whom we all rely to get our public services and our health services delivered to us?
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what has happened over the past seven years. We have seen record numbers of people in employment—nearly 3 million more people in work. We have seen the introduction of the national living wage—never done by Labour, but introduced by a Conservative Government. We have seen 4 million people taken out of paying income tax altogether and a cut in income tax and a change in the personal allowance that is the equivalent of £1,000 a year to basic rate taxpayers, including nurses. That is a record of good management of the economy—you only get that with the Conservatives.
Order. We have plenty of time. I am quite happy to run on for some considerable period of time. People who are making excessive noise should try to calm themselves and perhaps just give a moment’s thought to whether they would like to be viewed by their constituents shrieking their heads off. It is very downmarket.
There is a low-pay epidemic in this country, and it has a terrible effect on young people. Those in their 20s will earn £12,500 a year less than the generation before. They are the first generation to be worse off than the last. They are less likely to be able to buy their own home, more likely to be saddled with debt, and more likely to be insecure, low-paid work. Except for more misery, what do the Prime Minister and her Government actually offer the young people of this country?
To echo the words of my colleagues, we offer young people more jobs, more homes, and the opportunity to own their own home. Let me just tell the right hon. Gentleman what is not fair: it is not fair to refuse to take tough decisions and to load debts on to our children and grandchildren; it is not fair to bankrupt our economy, because that leads to people losing their jobs and their homes; and it is not fair to go out and tell people that they can have all the public spending they want without paying for it. Labour’s way leads to fewer jobs, higher prices and more taxes. Labour’s way means that everyone pays the price of Labour.
When Tories talk of tough choices, we know who suffers: the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Young people employed on zero-hours contracts are more likely to have worse mental and physical health. Students who have worked hard at university graduate with £57,000 of debt that will stay with them until they retire. Let me spell it out to the Prime Minister: this is the only country in which wages have not recovered since the global financial crash; more people are using food banks; 4 million children are living in poverty; there is record in-work poverty; young people see no prospect of owning their own home; and 6 million people are earning less than the living wage. The low-pay epidemic is a threat to our economic stability. Will the Prime Minister take some tough choices and instead of offering platitudes, offer some real help and real support to those in work and to young people, who deserve better and deserve to be given more optimism, rather than greater inequality?
We actually now see that the proportion of people in absolute poverty is at record lows. The right hon. Gentleman asks for help for those who are low paid, and I reiterate to him the help that we have given to people who are low paid: we introduced the mandatory national living wage—the lowest earners’ fastest pay rise in 20 years; we have cut taxes for basic-rate taxpayers and taken people out of paying income tax; and we are doing what is important for this country, which is ensuring that there are jobs and an economy providing those jobs for people, because the best route out of poverty is being in work. I know that he has taken to calling himself a “Government in waiting”. Well, we all know what that means: waiting to put up taxes; waiting to destroy jobs; and waiting to bankrupt our country. We will never let it happen.
Q4. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I know that the Prime Minister and her Ministers, and many other Members of this House, are committed to better mental health care for everyone. I am a founder of the Loughborough Wellbeing Project, and I recently visited the CAMHS––child and adolescent mental health services—eating disorder service in Leicester. As a result of this Government’s careful financial management, £1.4 billion more is going into mental health services. How can the Prime Minister ensure that that money is getting to frontline NHS services consistently? (900220)
First, let me commend my right hon. Friend on the work she has done in setting up the Loughborough Wellbeing Project, and I am happy to join her in paying tribute to the work of the eating disorders service in Leicester. As she says, it does incredibly important work, and we must do more to transform the mental health services that we provide for young people and mental health in general. That is why, as she says, we are putting more money into mental health, and our spending on mental health reached a record £11.6 billion last year. We do need to make sure that that funding gets through to frontline services. One example of that is the work we are doing to ensure that teachers and staff in schools are trained to better identify and better deal with mental health problems when they are present in children. I saw that when I visited Orchard School in Bristol last week, where excellent work is being done, really improving the quality of services for young people with mental health problems.
As we meet here today, the funeral is taking place at St Peter’s Free church in Dundee of the former leader of the Scottish National party and Member of Parliament for Dundee East from 1974 to 1987. I am sure the House would like to join me in commemorating the life and contribution to politics of the late, dearly missed friend and colleague Gordon Wilson.
The UK government have not announced any measures to address rising inflation and slowing wage growth, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies has described as “dreadful”. As workers face more than a decade of lost wage growth, and endure the worst period for pay in 70 years, does the Prime Minister think she is looking out for the “just about managing”?
First, may I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I did last week, that I am sure all Members of this House will wish to offer our condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of the late Gordon Wilson, and recognise the role he played in politics in the United Kingdom, including in this House.
I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said to the Leader of the Opposition, that what is important is that we ensure that we have an economy that is increasing the number of jobs, because the best route out of poverty is for people to be in work. That is what we are doing. We have seen nearly 3 million more jobs being created over recent years. That is important for people. We also help people by, for example, cutting taxes—that is exactly what we have done for people who are lower paid—and introducing the national living wage. Those are measures that are giving people real help.
Of course it is the forecast of a rise in in-work poverty that should concern us, in particular the likely increase of young people in poverty over the lifetime of this Parliament. Since the 2010 general election, the FTSE 100 has risen by 39.6%. Monetary policy, not least quantitative easing, has helped to drive up financial assets, while workers have paid the price for austerity. Workers will earn no more by 2021 than they did in 2008. Will the Prime Minister give workers a pay rise?
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, particularly with his background, would have recognised the role played by monetary policy, including quantitative easing, in ensuring that we have the jobs in the economy that are so important to people.
Q5. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking to drive value for money and efficiency in the aid budget, to ensure that that taxpayers’ money is used to promote global peace and security in the national interest? (900221)
I am proud that the Government are committed to honouring our international commitments on aid. That is important for this country, because that money is saving lives and building a more stable and prosperous world, and that is firmly in our UK national interest. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to make sure that the money we are spending is being spent properly and efficiently. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is driving value for money and efficiency in the aid budget, focusing on greater transparency, boosting payment by results, and driving value for money from DFID suppliers. In 2011, we set up an independent aid watchdog, together with stronger systems and controls in DFID. It is important not only that we are committed to that money, but that we make sure it is spent well.
Q3. My young constituent paid a £300 house-reservation fee to Pattinson estate agents, but the agents will not refund it after their landlord client withdrew from the contract because my constituent refused to pay 12 months’ rent in advance. She faces having to pay another agent non-refundable fees of £650 to secure a different property. When will the Prime Minister act to put an end to these rip-off fees and stop these agents capitalising on young people and others? (900219)
The hon. Gentleman should look at the Queen’s Speech, in which we referred to what we are doing in this area. We recognise these issues—[Interruption.] He says “When?”, but he will recognise that in this House we need to ensure that we get right any legislation that we introduce, so that it actually works. We recognise the problem and we are going to do something about it.
Q6. In 2008, I tried to amend the Animal Welfare Act to extend sentences for cruelty to animals from weeks to years. Will my right hon. Friend see what can be done to ensure that people who are wilfully cruel to animals are punished far more severely? (900222)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We all share a high regard for animal welfare and it is important to have in place strict laws to ensure that we deal properly with people who are not looking after animals. Anyone who is cruel to an animal or does not provide for its welfare needs may be banned from owning animals, given an unlimited fine or, as he says, sent to prison. My hon. Friend is right that sentencing is an issue, which is why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regularly holds discussions with the Ministry of Justice on sentencing policy for animal welfare offenders.
Q8. With the civil service reportedly having to explain in crayon to the Cabinet that there is no “have your cake and eat it” Brexit option, will the Prime Minister come clean and admit that she is prioritising her own absolutist red lines, not people’s jobs and wages? (900224)
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman and others will have heard the answer before: we want to negotiate the best possible deal for the United Kingdom that ensures we have a comprehensive free trade agreement, that we can continue to trade with our European partners, that we have a new deep and special partnership with the European Union, and that we are growing our economy. But it is not just about our relationship with the European Union; it is about the trade deals that we will do with countries around the rest of the world and it is about ensuring sound management from a Conservative Government.
Q7. Looe harbour commissioners have highlighted to me the valuable contribution that retired police sergeant—and now special constable—Russ Hall has made to maritime policing. Does my right hon. Friend believe that joined-up working with other agencies is essential and can make a positive contribution to beating crime in small harbours and helping to protect our borders? (900223)
I join my hon. Friend in recognising Special Constable Russ Hall’s contribution in her constituency. She makes an important point; indeed, when I was Home Secretary I brought together various agencies—the police, the Border Force and others—to look at how we deal with protecting our borders. That joined-up working can make a real and positive contribution. As she will know, what matters is not only how we do that but ensuring that we have an impact—and crime has fallen by a third since 2010, to a record low.
Q12. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for advising me about my blood pressure. When I go to the hospital to see my consultant on Monday, I am sure that he will give me the same advice. My blood pressure rises when I go into hospitals and see all those nurses who are overstretched, overworked and underpaid, and having to use food banks. The Prime Minister pays lip service to them and will not look at ending the public sector pay cap. I now make a plea to her; she should listen not to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, but to those nurses and do something about the public pay sector cap. (900228)
I set out my position in response to an earlier question by the Leader of the Opposition. People may not realise that there is not only the overall public sector pay increase, but, for many nurses, increments or progression pay as well. A typical band 5 nurse will receive 3.8% over and above the 1%.
Q9. It is a strong economy that powers this Government’s investment in the NHS and a strong economy that allows this Government to create 1,500 new medical school places and some new medical schools. Does the Prime Minister agree that Lincolnshire’s unique rurality and sparsity makes a compelling case for a new medical school in this great county? (900225)
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that we can pay for our public services only if we have that strong economy. That is absolutely the basis of it. As he said, we will train 1,500 new doctors every year to ensure that the NHS has enough doctors to continue providing that safe compassionate care that we all want to see. The Department of Health is currently looking at how to allocate these places, and will publish its consultation response shortly. It is also looking at the possibility of new and aspiring medical schools bidding for those places. I am sure that, as he has always been a champion for his constituents and his constituency, he will continue to make an excellent case for Lincolnshire.
Q14. On Saturday, the shadow Chancellor and I joined staff from Picturehouse Cinemas outside the Ritzy in Brixton who are striking because their employer refuses to pay the London living wage and has outrageously sacked their trade union representative. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling on Picturehouse Cinemas, which made a profit last year of more than £80 million, to pay its staff the London living wage and to reinstate the local reps immediately? (900230)
That is about a relationship between employers and their employees. Overall, what is of importance is that the Government are taking the right decisions to ensure that we are growing the economy and providing those jobs for people in the first place.
Q10. I thank the Prime Minister for taking time during the general election to come up to Banchory and campaign in my constituency where we did rather well. Does she agree that it is utterly shameful that the Scottish Government have, for the second year in a row, had to go pleading to the European Commission for an extension to the farm payment deadline? Is that not proof, if further proof were needed, that the Scottish National party is failing rural Scotland? (900226)
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place in this House. I very much enjoyed my visit to Banchory during the election campaign. What he says is absolutely right. Time and again in this Chamber, we hear the Scottish nationalists demanding more powers for Scotland, yet what do we see? We see that they are failing to deliver for the Scottish people with the powers that they already have. Yet again, Scottish schools are now outperformed in every category by schools in England, Northern Ireland, Estonia and Poland. Powers are kept in Edinburgh rather than being devolved to local people and, as he says, yet again we see farmers waiting months for their subsidy payments. The simple fact is that the SNP’s policies are not in the best interests of the people of Scotland.
Order. I say to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), who persists in gesticulating in an extremely eccentric manner, that he seems a little discombobulated from the world he inhabits, which is a very unhappy state of affairs that cannot long continue.
Q15. The Southern rail dispute is causing real damage to the economy of Eastbourne and the south-east. My constituents have had a dreadful time, with a shocking service provided—or not provided—over the past 18 months. This simply cannot go on. Will the Prime Minister enlighten me, my constituents and the House as to why the Department for Transport and the rail operator will not meet the unions at the same time and in the same room together to negotiate a deal? (900231)
I recognise the problems that have been experienced by Southern rail passengers—the matter has been raised by a number of colleagues in the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who raised it last week. I am very disappointed that ASLEF and the RMT have called more industrial action, which is completely unnecessary; all that it will do is cause more disruption and frustration for passengers. The recent independent Gibb report said that the main cause of widespread disruption on Southern rail has been union action, so I urge the unions to call off the strikes, work with the operator and deliver the services that passengers need.
Q11. Businesses across my constituency will be cock-a-hoop to hear that their calls for better broadband are being answered by the digital infrastructure investment fund, which will unlock about £1 billion for full fibre service and help them create jobs, particularly in rural areas. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is exactly the sort of infrastructure spend we need to get our Brexit ready? (900227)
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. This country is already a digital world leader, and we are committed to ensuring that we remain so. We already see 93% of the UK accessing superfast broadband, and we are on track to reach 95% by the end of the year, but we want to see more commercial investment in the gold-standard connectivity that full fibre provides, which is why we have launched the digital infrastructure investment fund. Companies across the UK, including in Brentwood and Ongar, will be able to apply for match funding for projects and see fibre delivered right to the doorstep. Yesterday we also announced 100% business rate relief for those businesses rolling out new fibre. This is important. We want to continue to be a world leader in digital, and the actions that the Government are taking will ensure that we will be.
Police officer numbers in Wales have dropped by 10% since the Prime Minister’s party came to power. If policing were devolved, as it is in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Welsh police forces would have extra funding worth £25 million at their disposal, which would more than replace those lost officers. What justification is there for refusing to devolve policing?
We have been around this discussion before. Let me address the central issue of what the hon. Lady is talking about, which is police budgets and the number of police officers. We have been protecting police budgets since 2015, as I believe is acknowledged across the House. We are also ensuring that the police have the capabilities they need to deal with new types of crime, by creating the national cybercrime unit and the National Crime Agency. Those are all important steps to ensure that the police can do their job of cutting crime, and crime is at a record low.
Q13. I thank the Prime Minister for introducing the trade, agriculture and fisheries Brexit Bills in the Queen’s Speech, which will be welcomed right across the west country. However, we are facing significant challenges with our rural post office network at the moment, with the transition from community branches to community village stores and community buildings. Some of those moves have been smooth and some have not. Will she take a look at that to see whether there is anything more the Government could do to help my constituents? (900229)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is right that we recognise the role that post offices play in rural communities, and not only in places such as Camelford and St Minver in his constituency, but in the constituencies of other hon. Members. We have invested more than £2 billion in the network up to 2018. The number of post offices is actually at its most stable for decades. But he is absolutely right. I urge the Post Office to make it as easy as possible for shops that want to take over postal services to be able to do so.
Some 2,400 people have died as a result of the NHS contaminated blood scandal—more than Hillsborough and all the other disasters over the previous few decades put together. On 25 April, the former right hon. Member for Leigh presented compelling evidence to Parliament of a criminal cover-up on an industrial scale, so will the Prime Minister now do the right thing and order a public inquiry for the whole United Kingdom?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I know that Members’ thoughts will be with all those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy of contaminated blood. Serious allegations have been made, and Ministers at the Department of Health will obviously look at information that has been brought to the House. If any hon. Member has any further information or evidence that they believe is important, it should go to Ministers so that they can properly investigate it. We are providing more compensation than any previous Government, and we committed £125 million extra funding last July for those affected by the contaminated blood tragedy. The Department of Health will look at any new evidence that is brought forward.
Rather than celebrating the NHS, the Labour party has rather shamelessly tried to weaponise it as a mere tool for political campaigning. Will the Prime Minister assure me that decisions on services such as the 999 service will be clinical decisions, not those of politicians who are trying to weaponise our public services?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very important that decisions relating to services provided by the NHS are taken on a clinical basis by those who understand the needs and requirements of people in different areas. That is why we set up NHS England, which has a plan for developing services in the NHS over a five-year period. It is important that politicians allow clinicians and others in the NHS to make the decisions they need to.
I know that the House will be thinking of my constituents Connie Yates, Chris Gard and Charlie at this incredibly difficult time. It is clear that if Charlie remains in the UK no further treatment is available and life support will be switched off. There are differing views about the chances of the nucleoside bypass therapy, which other children—albeit with less severe forms of Charlie’s conditions—have benefited from. I understand that the chances of improvement for Charlie are low, but the doctors would be able to say within three months whether Charlie was responding and whether that change was clinically beneficial. If there is any room for discretion in the court rulings for Great Ormond Street to allow Charlie to leave and to transfer his care to doctors at Columbia University, and if he is sufficiently stable to receive treatment, would the Prime Minister do all she can to bring the appropriate people together to try to make this happen?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the concerns of her constituents in this matter. I am sure that the thoughts of all Members of the House are with the family and Charlie at this exceptionally difficult time. It is an unimaginable position for anybody to be in, and I fully understand and appreciate that any parent in these circumstances would want to do everything possible and explore every option for their seriously ill child. I also know that no doctor ever wants to be placed in the terrible position of having to make such heartbreaking decisions. The hon. Lady referred to the fact that we have that court process. I am confident that Great Ormond Street hospital has considered, and always will consider, any offers or new information that have come forward along with the wellbeing of a desperately ill child.
When the Prime Minister and I left our comprehensive schools to go to university, we entered a privileged elite. Will she confirm that as a result of tuition fees, introduced by Labour and improved by the coalition, more young people from working class and poor backgrounds are now going to university than ever before? Some people say that there are fewer. Are they right or are they wrong?
I am very happy to join my right hon. Friend in recognising that she and I left comprehensive schools and went to universities at a time when the number of people going to university was significantly lower than it is today. I am also grateful to her for reminding the House that, actually, it was the Labour party that said it would not introduce tuition fees and then, when it got into government, introduced tuition fees. Under the current system, we are seeing more young people than ever going to university, and crucially—to address the point she raised—disadvantaged 18-year-olds are 40% more likely to go to university now than they were in 2009.
The Prime Minister herself commissioned Bishop James Jones to report on the experience of the Hillsborough families. Given the painful evidence before us that parts of the state still do not know how to treat bereaved families or the survivors of catastrophe, will she now give me the date when she will publish Bishop Jones’s report?
I have not myself yet seen Bishop Jones’s full report. I am not able to give the hon. Lady a date when I will publish it, but she raises a very important point. The reason why I asked Bishop James Jones to undertake this work was precisely because I was concerned about the way in which the bereaved families at Hillsborough had been treated over far too many years, and obviously we have seen the result of the Crown Prosecution Service decisions last week. This is why we have committed in the Queen’s Speech to introducing an independent public advocate who will be able to act on behalf of bereaved families in cases of public disaster. It is important that they are able to have that support alongside them, because too many families have to fight over many years to get justice, as we have seen in Hillsborough. I want to ensure that they have help and support in doing that.
Given the Government’s record on freezing fuel duty, will the Prime Minister resist recent siren calls to raise it, because this hurts the lowest paid the most? Will she also do everything possible to make sure that when the international oil price falls, that price is properly reflected at the pumps so that we can have a Britain that works for every motorist?
May I first commend my right hon. Friend, who has been championing this issue for all the years that he has been in the House? The work that he has done as a great campaigner on this and, indeed, other issues has been recognised by the Government in changes the Government has made. As he knows, I am pleased that we have been able to do what we have done in relation to holding down fuel duty. I think he is trying to tempt me down a path which I will not go down, because, as he knows, decisions on these matters are taken at the time of fiscal events.