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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 628: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

Economic Opportunities: South Wales and the South-west

1. What steps his Department is taking to foster economic opportunities between south Wales and the south-west. (900689)

I am keen to strengthen the relationship between south Wales and the south-west. After all, Bristol is the most productive city in England outside of London. Abolishing the Severn tolls will strengthen the links between communities and help to transform the joint economic prospects of south Wales and the south-west of England.

Will the Secretary of State be a strong voice in Cabinet not just for Wales, but for the regions of our country, especially for places such as—oh, I don’t know—Cornwall? Will he also make sure that the shared prosperity fund is distributed fairly and on the basis of genuine need?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question because his area, like large parts of Wales, benefits from the current European Union structural funds. The shared prosperity fund offers great prospects of a much more streamlined approach to supporting some of the most needy parts of the United Kingdom. I am determined to ensure that the shared prosperity fund is a much more efficient delivery system with fair distribution around the UK—to serve my hon. Friend’s region, as well as Wales.

What would have strengthened Wales’s economic development links was the electrification of the railway between Cardiff and Swansea, which the previous Tory Prime Minister described as “vital”. By scrapping that, have not this Tory Government once again let down Wales?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that advances in bimodal technology mean that electrifying the line between Cardiff and Swansea would not save passengers any journey time. In fact, there would be significant disruption and delay, adding costs to travellers and businesses alike without any time saving. The advances in bimodal trains mean that we can take the most modern fleet of trains further in west Wales than we would otherwise with solely an electrified railway.

The scrapping of the Severn tolls is a huge benefit to businesses across Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is also of vast benefit to businesses in places such as Wiltshire, where HGV operators have been paying £20 a time to get across the Severn? All of a sudden, they will be able to do business in Wales much more profitably.

My hon. Friend has rightly recognised that scrapping the Severn tolls is a significant boost not only to the south Wales economy, but to the economy of the south-west of England. He welcomed it along with the South Wales chamber of commerce, Business West and many others. It seems that the only people who have not welcomed the scrapping of the Severn tolls are the Labour party and the Welsh Government.

Further to the Secretary of State’s first answer, will he give a categorical commitment that all areas in Wales that are in receipt of European structural funds will continue to be eligible in the near future?

The UK shared prosperity fund can do even more because we will not have the same restrictions that the European Commission puts on European structural funds. It hardly makes sense that some of the most deprived parts of Wales are excluded from the European structural funds map as it stands because of European rules. The UK shared prosperity fund allows us to introduce a much more efficient and responsive scheme.

One project that could provide significant economic opportunities on both sides of the Bristol channel is the provision of a regular ferry service between Ilfracombe in my constituency and south Wales. It has been considered by a commercial company. What support could the Wales Office give to that idea?

I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss the prospects. Like me, he recognises the major economic opportunities of binding the regions together. Between the south-west of England and the south Wales economy, we have one of the largest digital clusters and one of the best cyber-security clusters. We can do more to encourage economic growth, including the sorts of subject I have mentioned and tourism, which would benefit from the Severn crossing we have talked about.

Transport Infrastructure

2. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on transport infrastructure in Wales in the last 12 months. (900690)

I hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Welsh Government on improving transport infrastructure in Wales. The UK Government are investing significant sums in infrastructure, delivering improved journey times for passengers on the latest trains. This will provide tangible benefits to people and businesses in south Wales and boost access to jobs and new opportunities.

Has the Secretary of State specifically discussed with his Cabinet colleagues funding for the redevelopment of Cardiff Central station in my constituency? Will there be redevelopment funding—yes or no?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the question. Yes, I have discussed with Cabinet colleagues the need for investment in new stations in Wales. There is the prospect of new stations, and there is the prospect of further investment. I have met Cardiff Council to talk about that. I have spoken about it to the Welsh Government. I am keen to explore the opportunities that exist there, and also the opportunity to attract private investment, so I have also spoken to the private developer around that site.

Returning to the subject of electrification, it is true that the bi-mode trains are good, but they are a second-best solution. However, looking to the future and further rail infrastructure investment in Wales, does my right hon. Friend agree that there are major questions to be asked about Network Rail’s ability to deliver projects on time and control its costs? What more can be done to create a more competitive and cost-effective environment for rail infrastructure investment in Wales?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the efficiency of Network Rail. Earlier this year, the Public Accounts Committee called on the Government to reassess the case for electrification on a section-by-section basis, partly as a result of the increased costs that have been delivered by Network Rail. However, to improve rail access to west Wales—to Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and other places—we have the opportunity to explore opportunities for new stations, which could well deliver bimodal trains on a regular basis to parts of Wales that do not access fast trains at the moment.

12. Following a delegation I led in 2014 of four councils, two universities, many AMs and MPs, industry and Admiral, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged to extend electrification to Swansea, saying it would have a huge economic impact on developing employment in an area of neglected infrastructure, so will the Secretary of State stand up to the Prime Minister, as the previous Secretary of State did, and deliver the promises of the previous Prime Minister on electrification, which we so urgently need? (900700)

That was far too long. I will not call the hon. Gentleman again in a hurry if he is going to be so long-winded. He has got to do better than that.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the new, most modern trains will be available and in service in Swansea within a few weeks. Swansea will benefit from the latest, most modern trains and from 15 minutes of saved journey time when the project is complete. There would be no time saving—in fact, there would be significant disruption to Swansea—if we continued with the electric-only model he seems to be advocating.

Is it not the case that Swansea’s connectivity will be improved by the new Kingsway project, which is creating a digital district? Is it not a shame that Opposition Members do not recognise this important move? Perhaps they do not know what a digital district is.

My hon. Friend has great expertise in all things Welsh, but particularly in relation to digital projects and the Kingsway project he talked about. The Swansea Bay city deal is an exciting project that will complement the private activity that is taking place, and that will improve connectivity by digital means, as well as rail connectivity, with new trains in operation very soon.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I love the new haircut and the tie. You look great.

Before the summer recess, the Transport Secretary—the Secretary of State’s Cabinet colleague—sneaked out news that the UK Government would break their promise to electrify the main line from Cardiff to Swansea. People in Wales are now rightly asking whether the Government can even be trusted to deliver electrification as far as Cardiff. Will the Secretary of State promise that that electrification will go ahead and not join the ever-growing list of broken promises the Government have made to the people of Wales?

The hon. Lady will be well aware that work is under way on electrification to Cardiff. The bimodal trains will affect service times and when the project is completed it will be of major benefit not only to Cardiff, but to Swansea. The major advantage of the bimodal trains means that we can take the latest rolling stock further in west Wales, whereas the electric-only project would have meant that any benefits stopped in Swansea.

Funding in Wales

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on whether additional funding announced for Northern Ireland in the Government’s deal with the Democratic Unionist party will have consequences for funding in Wales. (900691)

The agreement with the Democratic Unionist party is about delivering for the whole of the United Kingdom so that we can get on with our plan to get the best Brexit deal for our country and create an economy that works for everyone. It is part of the Government’s commitment to support growth across all parts of the UK, including commitments to investment in city deals in Wales and the introduction of the Barnett floor to provide the Welsh Government with fair funding for the long term.

Given the cash deal with the DUP to prop up the Government, did the Secretary of State demand an increase for Wales under the Barnett formula, or was he simply sidelined?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State and I have been successful in achieving city deals for Cardiff and Swansea, and we are working towards a north Wales growth deal as well. That additional funding from Westminster was not subject to any Barnett consequentials with regard to any other part of the United Kingdom.

Does my hon. Friend agree that last year’s fiscal framework agreement secures long-term, needs-based funding for the Welsh Government, and that that can act as an enabler for improved public services across Wales?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right: this Government have delivered a fiscal framework for Wales that was called for for 13 years, when the Labour party did absolutely nothing. That fiscal framework gives certainty of funding for Wales and the people of Wales, and it will be beneficial to the development of the Welsh economy.

The Secretary of State and the Minister have been having some problems with the Conservative party in Wales. Does the Minister agree with its leader, who said:

“Any potential incentives considered for one nation in securing the majority must also be considered for Wales”?

When are the Secretary of State and the Minister going to do their job and at least follow the line of their leader in Wales on securing additional funding for the people of Wales?

The leader of the Assembly group in Wales has the right of his own position, but the situation is very clear: this Government’s commitment to Wales is unprecedented. We delivered a fiscal framework when the Labour party did nothing. We have delivered city deals for Cardiff and Swansea, and we will deliver a growth deal for north Wales. This Government’s track record is one of additional investment to Wales, which needs to be matched by the Welsh Government.

As part of their arrangement with the DUP, the UK Government will contribute £150 million over two years to the improvement of broadband in Northern Ireland. As I am sure the Minister will be aware, of the bottom 10 UK constituencies for average download speeds, more than half are in Wales. What discussions has he had with Cabinet colleagues to ensure similar funding to improve broadband infrastructure in Wales?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question and I welcome him to his place. The situation is very clear: constituencies such as Ceredigion and my own of Aberconwy have lagged behind in broadband connectivity in a Welsh context. He will be aware that broadband roll-out in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. It is interesting to note that Labour constituencies in Wales were prioritised over constituencies such as Ceredigion and my own of Aberconwy.

The May magic money tree, celebrated by the Tories during the general election, has been found planted and flourishing in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Wales withers under Tory austerity. Some Tories have taken a principled stand on the use of pork-barrel bungs to Northern Ireland. The Tory Secretary of State for Scotland said that there should be no “back-door funding”, and the Tory leader in Wales, Andrew R. T. Davies, said:

“Any potential incentives considered for one nation…must also be considered for Wales.”

When is the Secretary of State for Wales going to do his job and stand up for Wales?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position on the Front Bench, and I welcome him back to the House. I will repeat the comments that I have already made. For 13 years between 1997 and 2010, he was a Back Bencher when there was a Labour Government in this place. That Labour Government did not deliver any change to the Barnett formula, and they did not deliver a fiscal framework for Wales. This Government are delivering for Wales, and we will deliver a north Wales growth deal, which will be beneficial to his constituents.

Hendry Review: Tidal Lagoons

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the date of publication of the Government response to the Hendry review on tidal lagoons. (900692)

The Wales Office has had close discussions with ministerial colleagues following the publication of the Hendry review. The lagoon at Swansea is an exciting project, but it is essential that it delivers value for money for the energy consumer and for the taxpayer.

It is nine months since the Hendry review strongly endorsed the tidal lagoon at Swansea, where the rise and fall in the tide is the second highest in the world. It would unlock power for generations, not only on the Welsh side but on the other side of the Bristol channel. When are Ministers going to make a decision?

My hon. Friend is undoubtedly a champion for this new technology. However, it has to be stated on record that although the Hendry review was supportive of a tidal lagoon in Swansea, no real financial issues were dealt with in that report. It is necessary that we make the right decision not just in terms of the concept of a tidal lagoon in Swansea, but for the energy price that the consumer will pay and for the taxpayer. We will make the right decision in due course. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I want to hear the views of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on the matter of tidal lagoons.

As has been indicated, the Hendry review was set up by the Conservative party, and the framework to finance these big projects was set up by the Conservatives. It is time, now, to stop talking and start delivering for Wales. I urge the Wales Office to stand up for Wales on this project and deliver for Wales.

The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly a champion of energy projects across Wales and, indeed, in his own constituency of Anglesey. He will understand, as I do, that such decisions must be right in relation to the costs for the taxpayer and the energy consumer. We will ensure that the decision, when it is made, takes all issues into account, and that it is right for the energy consumer and the people of Wales.

Will the Minister make renewable energy in Wales a priority so that it can play its full part in delivering our important goals on energy security and tackling climate change?

The development of energy policy in Wales is about energy security. It is about securing our energy supply for the future, which is why I and my colleague in the Wales Office are always involved with projects such as the new Wylfa power station in Anglesey. We are looking at small modular reactors for parts of Wales, and we are, indeed, still looking at the tidal lagoon in Swansea.

Wales has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to become the world leader in tidal lagoons. The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon alone will generate 2,000 jobs and contribute £300 million to the Welsh economy during its construction. Welsh Labour MPs, the Welsh Labour Government and many public faces and campaigners have declared that they “Love the Lagoon”, so why are the Government refusing to publish their response to the Hendry review and, in so doing, putting the project at risk?

At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say that the hon. Lady highlights the fact that there is support for the concept in Wales—indeed, there is. But she also needs to be honest about the fact that the Labour Government in Wales, Labour MPs from Wales and Labour Assembly Members from Wales have highlighted the danger of high energy prices for the steel industry, for example. We need to make a decision that is right for industry in Wales and for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, but we need to do that on a calculated basis, looking at the facts. That is what we will do.

Renewable Energy Projects

The Government are committed to supporting renewable energy to deliver more secure, cleaner energy. For example, in March we gave consent for the Glyn Rhonwy pumped storage project, which will support other renewable technologies by capturing and storing excess energy from solar or wind. It will support 250 full- time jobs at peak construction, and it is a great example of the essential role that Wales plays in energy supply.

Following on from questions from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for Neath (Christina Rees), the issue of the tidal lagoon does need a response from the Government. It is eight months since the review. Will the Minister say now when the Government will publish their response? There is a very real risk that the investors that are needed to fund the project will walk away unless a decision is made very soon by the Government.

In the previous Parliament, the hon. Lady was an Opposition Front-Bench Treasury spokesman, so she will be aware that we need to analyse the benefits and costs of a tidal lagoon. The decision will be made and announced in due course by the relevant Ministers.

There is great support for the tidal lagoon in my constituency, where GE Energy would manufacture the turbines. Is the Minister concerned that our lead in this sector might be lost if we do not make a swift decision?

Having read the Hendry review, I am aware of the technology’s possible benefits to industry across the UK. That is why we are giving such serious consideration to the report produced by Charles Hendry.

Community hydro schemes throughout Wales have faced business rates increases of up to 900%. In Scotland there is 100% relief and in England there is a cap, but Labour Ministers in Wales are sitting on their hands. I am told that the basic problem is made here in London because of the regulations. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the sector to seek a full and quick solution?

The hon. Gentleman’s constituency, like mine, has a number of hydro projects, and I would be more than delighted to meet him to discuss where the problems lie. My understanding is that the problems lie in Cardiff, with the Labour Government, but I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to make sure that we deal with this.

Exiting the EU: Welsh Economy

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential effect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on the economy in Wales. (900694)

I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on how all aspects of our exit from the EU will affect Wales. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will maximise certainty to individuals and businesses across Wales and the rest of the UK.

Fifteen months after the referendum result, progress on Brexit is still too slow. About two thirds of Welsh exports go to the European Union and thousands of Welsh jobs depend on this trade, so what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that our Welsh economy is not wrecked by a cliff-edge Brexit that would damage these vital ties?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be debated tomorrow. I hope that he will support that Bill because of the certainty and security it provides by closing loopholes and ensuring that we have appropriate frameworks in place. Those in themselves present the issue of a cliff edge that he mentioned.

Since the referendum result, we have seen record inward investment in Wales, record levels of employment and a proposal to scrap the Severn bridge tolls. Does that not show that under the Conservative Government the future for Wales is very good indeed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He is a passionate campaigner for not only the UK and Wales, but the benefits of leaving the European Union. We want a stronger, fairer, more united and outward-looking Union, and Members on both sides of this House have a role to play in that.

One hundred years ago, y Gadair Ddu—the Black Chair—was posthumously awarded at the Birkenhead Eisteddfod for Hedd Wyn’s awdl “Yr Arwr”. I would like to congratulate the poet’s nephew Gerald Williams and Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri on safeguarding for Wales the family farm, Yr Ysgwrn, which will be opened officially today.

This month also celebrates the referendum 20 years ago that brought devolution to Wales. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is a bare-faced Westminster bid to take back control against the will of the people of Wales. Will the Minister tell the House what his Government will do when Wales denies consent to the Bill later this year? Would it not be political folly to press ahead in such circumstances?

Order. I am most grateful to the hon. Lady. If colleagues could show some sensitivity to time, that would be appreciated.

I would certainly underline many of the points that the hon. Lady made in relation to Hedd Wyn, whose former home is being opened today.

The hon. Lady will recognise that withdrawal is about creating the smoothest form of exit that we can possibly deliver. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and I met the First Minister earlier this week, and we are keen to deepen our engagement even further. We want the Welsh Government to respond so that we can come up with the sort of frameworks that will work for every part of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State has said in the past that there will be more powers for Wales, but is not his banal rhetoric undermined by the Government’s record of broken promises? The tidal lagoon—no decision; S4C funding—slashed; rail electrification—cancelled. Will he list the powers that Wales can look forward to and say when we will hear what they are?

I am disappointed by the tone of the hon. Lady’s question. She is well aware of our strong record on devolution. Earlier this year, we passed the Wales Act 2017. Last December, we agreed a new fiscal framework, which gives Wales a very fair settlement, and we are trying to work as closely as possible with the Welsh Government to deliver an exit from the European Union that works for every part of the UK. Wales is obviously my interest in that.

I am sure that the Secretary of State knows that the Welsh economy could be damaged by careless talk about Brexit. The public narrative from the Welsh Government is often alarmist and could even scupper future foreign investment. What can my right hon. Friend do to reassure potential foreign investors that Wales is open for business and remains a first-class destination for foreign investment?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a shame that many Opposition Members and remoaners fail to recognise the opportunity that leaving the European Union creates. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was in Japan just last week, she announced a deal in relation to Aston Martin—yet another significant trade arrangement with Japan on the back of those with Nissan and Toyota—and the Vale of Glamorgan and the midlands will benefit further from it.

Employment Trends

In the past year, the employment rate in Wales has reached a record high. Wales benefits particularly from thriving tourism, which, with the help of UK Government initiatives, such as the coastal communities fund, grew by a massive 36% last year. Ten per cent. of Welsh workers are now directly employed in tourism—up from 7% in 2014.

Does the Minister agree that, post-Brexit, it is essential to maintain the current level of rural agricultural support to Wales? What will he do to try to ensure that that happens?

The Wales Office is committed to maintaining the employment growth stats that we have experienced in Wales in the past seven years. The investment that the Secretary of State mentioned from Aston Martin is a fine example of our ability to attract investment into Wales that will create high-quality jobs.

Employment trends within Wales are important, too. What on earth, as a north Wales MP, is the Minister doing supporting the transfer of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs jobs from Wrexham to Cardiff city centre?

There will be more HMRC jobs in Wales as a result of the reorganisation than is currently the case. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the situation in Wales is one of employment growth—99,000 more jobs than in 2010, and 119,000 more jobs in the private sector. The employment story in Wales is a success of which the hon. Gentleman should be proud.

Today’s important report from the Institute for Public Policy Research provides a damning indictment of direct Westminster rule over the Welsh economy. Does the Minister agree that the only solution is greater economic powers for Wales?

The hon. Gentleman is like a stuck record on this issue. Rather than citing reports from high-flown companies, he should highlight the real, on-the-ground success story: unemployment in Wales is falling and fewer people are dependent on welfare. We are creating jobs and a successful economy in Wales. The hon. Gentleman should celebrate that.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


As we return from the summer recess, I am sure that the thoughts of Members across the House are with the friends and families of the victims of the tragic Barcelona terror attack last month, including seven-year-old Julian Cadman.

I want to reassure the House that the United Kingdom has ensured that assistance, in the form of military and humanitarian resources, is already in place for those countries, including the overseas territories, that are preparing for Hurricane Irma.

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.

Of course everyone agrees with my right hon. Friend about the thoughts that she has shared, particularly in relation to all those who perished in the terror attack in Barcelona—especially Julian Cadman.

As part of the process of leaving the European Union, it is imperative that we transfer existing EU laws, regulations, directives and the rest into substantive British law. There are many concerns—very serious concerns—among Conservative Members about the means, not the ends, of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will look in particular at amendments that seek to change the Bill so that it does not become an unprecedented and unnecessary Government power grab?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I know that she, like me, wants to see an orderly exit from the European Union, and that she will support the Bill, which will enable us not just to leave the EU but to do so in an orderly manner, with a functioning statute book. As we do that, of course, we will require certain powers to make corrections to the statute book after the Bill has become law, because the negotiations are ongoing. We will do that via secondary legislation, which will receive parliamentary scrutiny—the approach has been endorsed by the House of Lords Constitution Committee. Let me reassure my right hon. Friend that as the Bill undergoes its scrutiny in this House and the debate continues, we will of course listen very carefully to that debate. I shall be happy to meet her to discuss the issue further.

I agree with what the Prime Minister said about Barcelona. The attack was abominable and appalling. I believe that we should think of the victims, but also thank the people of Barcelona for their wonderful community response to what was a threat to all of them.

I hope that the whole House will join me in thinking also of the victims of the terrible floods in Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sierra Leone and Texas. Obviously, our thoughts are with those who are facing Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean as we speak.

Every Member on both sides of the House should be concerned about the fact that inflation is once again running ahead of people’s pay. This week, workers at McDonald’s restaurants took strike action for the first time in this country. The boss of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, is reported to have earned £11.8 million last year, while some of his staff are paid as little as £4.75 per hour. Does the Prime Minister back the McDonald’s workers’ case for an end to zero-hours contracts and for decent pay?

Obviously, what is taking place at McDonald’s is a matter for McDonald’s to deal with, but the questions—[Interruption.] Let us focus on the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, such as zero-hours contracts. In fact, the number of people on zero-hours contracts is very small—[Interruption]—as a proportion of the workforce, and there are people who genuinely say that it is of benefit to them to be on those contracts. However, for the 13 years the Labour party was in government, it did nothing about zero-hours contracts. It is this Conservative Government who have put the workers first and banned exclusive zero-hours contracts.

My question was about McDonald’s, whose chief executive is paid 1,300 times as much as his staff—and approximately 800,000 people in Britain are on zero-hours contracts.

When she became leader of her party, the Prime Minister pledged:

“I want to make shareholder votes on corporate pay not just advisory but binding.”

She put that in her manifesto but, like so much else in her manifesto, it has now been dumped—or archived, or however we want to describe it. Was the tough talk on corporate greed just for the election campaign or is it going to be put into law?

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he looks again at the action that, in government, Conservatives have taken on this issue: it is the Conservative Government who have recently published our proposals on corporate governance; it is Conservatives who gave shareholders the power to veto pay policies; it is Conservatives who forced companies to disclose board directors’ pay; and it is Conservatives who introduced tough transparency measures for the banks. That has been done not by a Labour Government; it is the Conservative party that has been putting workers first.

I note that the Prime Minister uses the word “advisory”, because page 18 of the dumped manifesto says:

“the next Conservative Government will legislate to make executive pay packages subject to strict annual votes by shareholders”.

She has gone back on her word.

To help people who are struggling to make ends meet, many politicians have become convinced that we need to cap energy prices. Even the Prime Minister was briefly converted to this policy. Last week, the profit margins of the big six energy companies hit their highest ever level. I wonder if I could now prevail on the Prime Minister to stick to her own manifesto pledges on this matter as well.

First, on the question of what we are doing on corporate governance, I actually did not use the word “advisory” in my answer, so may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that in future he listens to my answer and does not just read out the statement before him?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about energy prices, because we are concerned about how that particular market is operating. We do expect the companies to treat customers fairly. That is why we have been looking at the action that can be taken, and it is why the Business Secretary has been doing exactly that: he wrote to Ofgem in June asking it to advise on what action it could take to safeguard customers. We are particularly concerned about the poorest customers who are kept on those tariffs that do not give them value for money. So I agree—and it is the Government who are doing something about it.

If only that were the case, because Ofgem’s plans will benefit only 2.6 million customers, but 17 million customers are short-changed by the big six energy companies. The Prime Minister could and should take action on this.

But the Prime Minister is not the only one going back on her word—[Interruption.] When Conservative Members have calmed down a little, I would just like to say this: at last year’s Sports Direct annual meeting, Mike Ashley personally pledged to ban the use of zero-hours contracts in his company. A year on, it is still exploiting insecure workers with zero-hours contracts. Will the Prime Minister join me in now demanding that Mr Ashley honours his words and ends zero-hours contracts in all his companies?

As I have said, it is this Government who have actually taken action in relation to zero-hours contracts, unlike the Labour party.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about manifestos and people going back on their word. I might remind him that the Labour party manifesto included a commitment to support Trident, our independent nuclear deterrent. Shortly after the election, in private, he told people he did not agree with that. For years the right hon. Gentleman sat on the Labour Benches and did not support Labour policy; now he is Labour leader and he still does not support Labour policy.

I listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister said on this occasion and I am struggling to see the connection between what she just said and Mike Ashley, Sports Direct and McDonald’s. Perhaps she will now answer the question: will she condemn what Sports Direct and McDonald’s are doing to their staff? It is quite straightforward—yes or no?

Today, thousands of nursing and other healthcare staff are outside Parliament. They are demanding that this Government scrap the 1% pay cap. Poor pay means that experienced staff are leaving and fewer people are training to become nurses. There is already a shortage of 40,000 nurses across the UK. Will the Prime Minister please see sense, end the public sector pay cap and ensure that our NHS staff are properly paid?

We absolutely value the work of all those who work in the public sector—nurses, teachers and others—who are doing a good job for us, day in and day out, often in difficult and harrowing circumstances. It might be helpful if I remind the House of where we are on the issue of the pay review bodies and public sector pay. There are two pay review body reports for 2017-18 still to be published and for the Government to respond to—for police and prison officers—and that will happen shortly. Then later in the autumn, as happens every year, we will publish the framework for 2018-19. We will continue to balance the need to protect jobs and public sector workers with the need to ensure that we are also protecting and being fair to those who are paying for it, including public sector workers.

We have seen the right hon. Gentleman, in this House and outside it, consistently standing up and asking for more money to be spent on this, that and the other. He can do that in opposition—[Interruption.] He asks consistently for more money to be spent, and he can do that in opposition because he knows that he does not have to pay for it. The problem with Labour is that it does that in government as well. As a result of the decisions that the Labour party took in government, we now have to pay more in debt interest than on NHS pay. That is the result of Labour.

The Prime Minister had no problems finding £1 billion to please the Democratic Unionist party—no problems whatsoever. NHS staff are 14% worse off than they were seven years ago. Is she really happy that NHS staff use food banks? Warm words do not pay food bills; pay rises will help to do that. She must end the public sector pay cap. The reality for working people is lower wages and less job security, with in-work poverty now at record levels. So will the Prime Minister clarify something she evaded during the election campaign? For those struggling to get by, whether employed, self-employed, permanent or temporary, can the Prime Minister categorically state today that they will not see rises in the basic rate of income tax, national insurance contributions or value added tax?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman about the help we have been giving to those who are just about managing. We have taken 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether, and we have given a tax cut to more than 30 million people. We see record numbers of people in employment in this country. We have given the lowest earners the highest pay rise for 20 years by introducing the national living wage, but you only get that with a strong economy. We believe in sound money; he believes in higher debt. We believe in making our economy strong so that we can invest in our public services. Labour’s approach is reckless; ours is balanced. Our approach delivers a strong economy. That is more money for the public services and more jobs for people and families, but you only get a strong economy and a better future with the Conservatives.

Q2. As the Prime Minister has said, this Government have an outstanding record on job creation, with 3 million more people in work than there were seven years ago. It is perfectly true that wage rises have not been as high as we would have hoped, but I am proud that we gave that big boost to people at the low end with the rise in the national living wage. What the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) does not understand is that we can only have sustainable rises in pay with increases in productivity. My question to the Prime Minister is: will she instruct all her Ministers to bring forward proposals for productivity rises in time for the Chancellor to announce them in the Budget? (900625)

My right hon. Friend has absolutely put his finger on it: productivity is crucial to the strength of our economy and to improving it going forward. That is why we are introducing our modern industrial strategy, which will boost productivity, and why we are introducing really good-quality technical education for the first time in this country, to ensure that young people have the skills they need to take the higher-paid jobs created as a result of our industrial strategy.

Does the Prime Minister agree that immigration is essential to the strength of the UK economy, as well as to enhancing our diversity and cultural fabric?

As I have said on many occasions, overall immigration has been good for the UK, but people want to see it controlled—that, I think, is what people want to see as a result of our leaving the EU. We can already exercise controls in relation to those who come to this country from outside the EU, and the Government continue to believe that it is important to have net migration at sustainable levels—we believe that to be in the tens of thousands—particularly given the impact it has on people at the lower end of the income scale in depressing their wages.

Last October, the Prime Minister was forced into a humiliating U-turn on proposals to force companies to disclose how many foreign workers they employed. During the summer, 100 EU nationals resident in the UK received deportation notices in error, which caused alarm to them and many others. We need to cherish those who are here, not chase them away. She must stop dancing to the tune of her right-wing Back Benchers and apologise for the disgraceful treatment her Government have shown migrants in the UK. In the first instance, will she pledge that international students will no longer be included in the net migration figures?

In relation to the error made by the Home Office, every single one of those individuals was telephoned with an apology. [Interruption.] It should not have happened in the first place, but the Government did telephone with apologies. As I explained in my first answer to the right hon. Gentleman, however, there is a reason for wanting to control migration. It is because of the impact that net migration can have on people, on access to services and on infrastructure, but crucially also because it often hits those at the lower end of the income scale hardest. I suggest he think about that impact, rather than just standing up here and saying what he has. It is important that we bring in controls, but we want to continue to welcome the brightest and the best here to the UK, and we will continue to do so.

Q3. I know that my right hon. Friend will be as alarmed and angered as many people are at the decision of the Northern Ireland judicial authorities to reopen the so-called legacy cases involving past and present members of the armed forces. These cases have been investigated meticulously and represent just 10% of deaths in the troubles. A line really needs to be drawn. Does she agree that it is wrong to single out any group for this kind of investigation and that the hundreds of thousands of people who served in Northern Ireland should feel appreciated for the difficult job they did and not be hounded into old age by such investigations? (900626)

We are unstinting in our admiration for the role that our armed forces played in ensuring that Northern Ireland’s future would only ever be decided by democracy and consent. The overwhelming majority served with great distinction, and we do indeed owe them a great debt of gratitude. As part of our work to implement the Stormont House agreement, we will ensure that new legacy bodies are under legal obligations to be fair, balanced and proportionate, which will make sure that our veterans are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated and reflect the fact that 90% of deaths in the troubles were caused by terrorists, not the armed forces. Of course, as my right hon. Friend will appreciate, however, the investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland are a matter for it, as it is independent of government.

Q9. The Prime Minister will be aware of the death of my constituent, Kim Briggs, who was knocked over last year by a cyclist on an illegal fixed-wheel bike with no front brake. Does she agree that the law on dangerous driving should be extended to included offences by cyclists and that the 1861 offence of wanton and furious driving, on which the prosecution had to rely in this case, is hopelessly outdated and wholly inadequate? (900632)

First, I extend our sympathies to the family and friends of the hon. Lady’s constituent who died in those tragic circumstances. The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. We should welcome the fact that the prosecution team were able to find legislation under which they were able to take a prosecution, but she makes a general point about ensuring that our legislation keeps up to date with developments, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will look at the issue.

Q4. Living near a natural green space is good for physical and mental health, but people in the most deprived areas of the country are the least likely to do so. My right hon. Friend has committed to reducing inequality and improving mental health, so I ask her to read the new report published by the Conservative Environment Network and masterminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) and to take on board its recommendation to consider the environment across Government policy. (900627)

I thank my hon. Friend for that. She has campaigned on and has a particular interest in the whole question of mental health. I welcome the fact that she has raised the health benefits of green space, which are becoming ever more recognised, and I know that the Conservative Environment Network highlights that in its report. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be producing a 25-year environment plan. It will consider the evidence within that report and will focus on what can be done to ensure that the benefits provided by access to green space are available to all segments of society.

Q13. This summer, a third of all parents across the country went without a meal to ensure that they could feed their children during the school holidays. In Stoke-on-Trent, amazing volunteers came together to provide over 10,000 meals for local kids. I am proud of my constituents, but I am disgusted by this Government, who have turned a blind eye and done nothing. How many kids have to go hungry and how many parents have to go without food before this Prime Minister will do her job and act? (900636)

I recognise the issue that the hon. Lady raises about children who are normally able to access free school meals during term time and the impact that that has during the holidays, which is a matter that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has been taking up together with colleagues in the all-party parliamentary group on hunger. From the Government’s point of view, our focus remains on tackling the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms. That is what is important. Nearly three quarters of children from workless families moved out of poverty when their parents entered full-time work, and we see record levels of employment under this Government. That is why ensuring that we get a strong economy and those jobs is so important. I am sure that Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education will be looking at the proposals that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead has brought forward.

Q5. The reductions in unemployment, poverty and income inequality are some of our proudest achievements in recent years. What more are the Government planning to do to further the one nation principle and to ensure a still fairer society? (900628)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under this Government, we have seen income inequality fall to its lowest level since 1986, the number of people in absolute poverty is at a record low, and we have the lowest unemployment rates since 1975. He is right, however, that there is more to do, which is why yesterday we announced £40 million for youth organisations to boost the skills and life chances of young people living in disadvantaged areas. That will have a transformational effect on the lives of some of our most disadvantaged young people and will help to achieve the fairer society to which my hon. Friend rightly refers.

Q15. A few weeks ago, the utterly shaming lack of mental health provision in this country was condemned by our most senior family court judge as he sought a bed for a desperately ill teenage girl. The 17-year-old had been restrained no fewer than 117 times in a place not fit to care for her. Does the Prime Minister agree with me in echoing the words of Sir James Munby that the continued failure to tackle our nation’s mental health crisis means the state will have blood on its hands? (900638)

I am sure everybody in this House was concerned to read of the circumstances of that individual and the treatment she received. I accept that we need to do more in relation to our mental health services. That is precisely why the Government are putting more money into mental health; it is why we have introduced a number of programmes particularly focusing on the mental health of young people; and it is why we have reduced by 80% the number of people being detained in police cells because of their mental ill health. As I have said, we have increased the funding, but of course we need to do more. That is why we are pushing forward on further change. We are pledged to reform outdated mental health laws, and we have created targets to improve standards of care. I agree that mental health is important, and this Government are focusing on it and putting more resource into it.

Q6. Given the importance of the fishing industry across the whole United Kingdom, particularly in my constituency of Banff and Buchan, what discussions have the Government had with representatives of the fishing industry in the north-east of Scotland as part of the ongoing EU withdrawal negotiations? (900629)

I recognise the importance of the fishing industry to a number of parts of the United Kingdom, including, of course, my hon. Friend’s constituency. He is right to raise this point. The Government are engaging with a range of fishing stakeholders, including a meeting with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation in July. We do value our fishing communities, and supporting them will be an important part of the action we take as we exit the European Union. We are working closely with the fishing industry. I myself met fishermen on a number of occasions across the summer and spoke to them about the industry. We are working with fishermen and others who have a stake in the industry to make sure that we get this right when we leave the European Union.

The Prime Minister will be aware of my party’s initiative last week to have devolution up and running in Northern Ireland immediately, in parallel with the talks process—an initiative that was welcomed by the Irish Government, Opposition parties and a wide section of public opinion in Northern Ireland. If, however, despite all our best efforts and the agreement of all the other parties, Sinn Féin stands alone and continues to block the restoration of government in Northern Ireland, will she confirm to the House what a Government spokesperson said yesterday evening about the future governance arrangements for Northern Ireland, particularly the very welcome statement that there will be no question of joint authority or a role for Dublin?

The right hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of the talks to restore a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. I am happy to confirm that we will not be looking at a joint authority. He will be aware that the Belfast agreement includes certain responsibilities in relation to the Government of the Republic of Ireland in north-south co-ordination, but the focus for us all should be on trying to ensure that we can resolve the current differences and see that devolved Administration reasserted in Northern Ireland. That is what would be best for the people of Northern Ireland.

Q7. By refusing even to discuss free trade, does the Prime Minister agree that the European Commission is damaging the employment and economic interests of its own member states? For example, by endangering jobs in the German car industry, for which the UK is the largest export market. Will she call on other European Heads of Government to prevail on the European Commission to end this act of wanton economic self-harm and to start free trade talks, which are so clearly in the interests of everybody? (900630)

As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was recently back in Brussels for a further round of negotiations. Those negotiations have been productive and constructive, but of course we want to see the discussions moving on to the future relationship. What the Government have done over the summer, and will be continuing to do, is to publish a set of position papers that set out options and ideas for how that deep and special partnership can be taken forward. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is not just a question of what suits the United Kingdom; it is actually in the interests of the European Union to have that good, deep and special partnership.

What action is the Prime Minister taking to ensure that my constituents, many of whom are paying in excess of £5,000 to travel to London every year, get a better service, not the one that the new plans under her Government will introduce? Under those plans the people of Bedford will lose the inter-city rail services.

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record of this Government, he will see that we recognise the importance of rail services—

He says that we don’t, but I suggest he just look at the funding we are putting into improving rail services across this country. That is a sign of our recognition of the importance of those services.

Q8. One person sleeping rough is one too many. Our party’s manifesto set out to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. Given the important role that charities play in this task, will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the excellent charity Crisis, which is marking its 50th anniversary? (900631)

First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because I know this is an issue he cares about deeply and he co-chairs the all-party group on ending homelessness? He rightly says that we did have a commitment on reducing rough sleeping, with the aim to halve it by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027, and £550 million has already been allocated until 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. I am also happy to join him in paying tribute to Crisis, as it marks its 50th anniversary. Over those 50 years, it has been doing a very important job, and I will be hosting a reception for Crisis to mark its 50th anniversary in Downing Street later today.

The University of Bradford, in my constituency, makes a compelling case for a medical school teaching all types of health professionals. Will the Prime Minister confirm that those universities where the need is greatest will be given the opportunity to set up medical schools?

First, we are of course pleased that we are going to be increasing the number of training places, which means that the Department of Health is looking at the whole question of what places are available and where, and what new medical schools should be set up. So I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health will be interested in hearing the hon. Lady’s pitch for Bradford to have a medical school.

Q10. In the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of women were prescribed Primodos as a pregnancy test, which resulted in profound effects for the babies that followed. Alongside elderly parents, my constituent Charlotte Fensome cares for her brother Steven, who was profoundly affected. Does the Prime Minister agree that those families now deserve justice and that there should be a chance to launch a public inquiry into this terrible scandal? (900633)

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and she is absolutely right to do so. We should recognise the impact that this had on those women who took this hormone pregnancy test during pregnancy from the late 1950s into the 1970s—I believe 1978 was the last time. An expert working group has been set up to look into this issue and it is due to publish its findings in the autumn, but I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue with her.

Order. That is a really unseemly response. The hon. Lady is a new Member; she is highly articulate; and she will be heard.

Parents in my constituency are disappointed. Over the summer they sought to take advantage of the 30 hours of free childcare, but due to underfunding they found that it was not available and not free. Will the Prime Minister apologise to parents across the country for false advertising on what otherwise would have been a welcome policy?

What I can tell the hon. Lady is that we are investing £1 billion of extra funding every year in early years entitlements, and that includes £300 million per year to increase the national average funding rate. This investment is based on work that was done—a plan that was done—by the DFE, which was described by the National Audit Office as “thorough” and “wide-ranging”. There are important ways that childcare providers can get more from their funding—the DFE is offering to support them to do that—but independent research has shown that our hourly funding rate is significantly higher than the average cost for providing a place to a three or four-year-old. I would hope that she welcomed the fact that this issue of childcare is one that this Government have taken on board and are delivering on.

Q11. For the second year running, I am planning the Wiltshire festival of engineering, this time with my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). We hope to inspire 3,000 children to help to challenge stereotypes of engineering careers and to combat the local skills gap. In addition, we want to highlight that Wiltshire is a hub of engineering, design and technology. Would the Prime Minister consider attending this wonderful event? (900634)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her initiative. She raises a very important point: I think it is important that we see more young people moving into engineering and pursuing careers in engineering and science more generally. The steps she is taking with our hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) are an important part of that. We do need to address those stereotypes. I am particularly keen to address the stereotype about women in engineering, because we should see more women going into engineering. If my diary allows, I would be very happy to attend her festival.

Clinicians do not believe it will be safe. Commissioners and providers do not believe it will be feasible. Is it not now time for Ministers to reverse the decision they took in 2011 to close the accident and emergency department at King George hospital?

We have been very clear that we want decisions to be taken at a local level with clinical advice, and that is exactly what the Department of Health is doing.

Q12. As Home Secretary, the Prime Minister was one of the first to appreciate the alarming extent of child sexual exploitation. She responded to calls from many of us to set up the historic abuse inquiry. Does she agree that those who expose and work to root out the criminal perpetrators for the horrific crimes they commit—especially in the face of so-called cultural sensitivities and people hiding behind the cloak of political correctness—should be encouraged and promoted, not castigated and gagged? (900635)

My hon. Friend has raised a sensitive and important issue. As he said, it is one that I took a particular interest in when I was Home Secretary. Anyone who abuses a child must be stopped, regardless of their race, age or gender. Child sexual exploitation is not exclusive to any single culture, community, race or religion. It happens in all areas of the country and can take many different forms, but I am clear and the Government are clear that political or cultural sensitivities must not get in the way of preventing and uncovering child abuse. The freedom to speak out must apply to those in positions of responsibility, including Ministers and shadow Ministers on both sides of the House. If we turn a blind eye to this abuse, as has happened too much in the past, more crimes will be committed and more children will be suffering in silence.

Glenfield’s children’s heart surgery unit has some of the best outcomes in the country, including mortality rates lower than the national average. Professor Ara Darzi says that proposals to change children’s heart surgery are astonishing, embarrassing and plucked out of thin air. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the final decision is made on the basis of sound clinical evidence and when this House is sitting?

The hon. Lady is aware that there are many ways in which MPs can question Ministers about plans. As I said in answer to one of her hon. Friends, decisions about the future structure of the NHS, its services and their provision will be taken, and are being taken, on the basis of clinical need and clinical evidence.

Q14. Britain is among the world’s leading digital economies, and as we leave the European Union technology will be crucial for a successful Brexit and for dealing with issues from the Northern Irish border to customs controls. Does the Prime Minister agree that Brexit can kick-start a further wave of digital investment and that working with the industry through a Brexit technology taskforce could help her do that? (900637)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the position that the United Kingdom holds in science and innovation. We are already a leading destination: we have some of the world’s top universities, three of which are in the world’s top 10, and we have more Nobel prize winners than any country outside the United States. We have a proud history of cutting-edge research in science, innovation and technology and, as he says, Brexit gives us an opportunity to give a further kick-start to our position in relation to the digital economy and technology. We want to attract investment from all over the world and to work with industry to ensure that that can be done.

In her party conference speech last year, the Prime Minister said that

“existing workers’ legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law—and they will be guaranteed as long as I am Prime Minister.”

Will she tell the House how long that will be?

I am happy to stand by commitments on improving workers’ rights. That is something we have been doing as a Conservative Government and will continue to do, and it is something that I will continue to do as Prime Minister.

Tomorrow is World Duchenne Awareness Day, which highlights this devastating muscle-wasting condition that affects young men such as my constituent Archie Hill. If, as anticipated, the current development of a more reliable newborn screening test goes ahead, psychological support must be readily available to any affected family. Will the Prime Minister assure families, and Muscular Dystrophy UK, that NHS England will develop the provision of such vital psychological support?

My right hon. Friend has raised an important aspect of this terrible condition. I recognise the importance of ensuring that people can access appropriate psychological support when a young family member is diagnosed with this serious health problem. On the new screening test, I understand that Muscular Dystrophy UK is working with one of NHS England’s advisory groups to understand how best to meet the needs of parents and carers following a child’s diagnosis. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for having raised this important issue.

Order. It is always a delight to hear the hon. Lady, but I will have to keep her on ice because ordinarily we take points of order after statements or urgent questions. I shall build up, as the House will, a well of expectation and anticipation to hear what the hon. Lady has to say to us in due course. Meanwhile, she may wish to interest herself in the next item of business.