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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 630: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

Jobcentre Closures

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the proposed closures of jobcentres on local communities in Scotland. (901324)

Most jobcentres are staying put. We are merging some into neighbouring offices to create bigger, multi-skilled teams, moving them into better buildings, or placing them into shared local authority space, all of which can lead to better customer service.

In Glasgow, unemployment has consistently been higher than the national average, child poverty is rising, and the use of food banks has increased by 20% in the past two years. How can Ministers justify closing so many jobcentres, which provide vital support for people struggling to access the labour market?

I can confirm that Glasgow will continue to have a considerably higher concentration of jobcentres not only than the large cities in England but compared with most other large cities in Scotland. We have redesigned the estate to make sure that we can provide well for our client base, but from bigger jobcentres. There are a number of things we can do from larger jobcentres to help unemployed people that it is not so straightforward to do from smaller ones.

Bridgeton jobcentre in my constituency will close and people will have to take two buses to get to Shettleston. Will the Minister give a commitment that not a single one of my constituents will be sanctioned for being late because they could not get there on time because of his cuts?

We expect people who are not in work to have the working week effectively available for their job-search activities, including visiting the jobcentre and, of course, applying for jobs. As I think the hon. Lady already knows, the rate of sanctions is down significantly. The vast majority of people do not get sanctioned every month, and we run a policy of having a reasonable approach. If people have a good reason for not being at an appointment, they will not be sanctioned.

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the need for jobcentres is declining with the growth of online services, but in the constituency of Glasgow East, which has one of the highest claimant rates in Scotland, at around 35%, many do not have access to the internet and 51% are not IT literate; yet the Government are still closing three jobcentres, one of which serves three homeless shelters. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of closures on service users, many of whom rely on face-to-face interaction with jobcentre staff?

We did of course make an assessment of the effect of the changes. Where the changes would involve people having to travel more than 3 miles or 20 minutes by public transport, we had a public consultation. [Interruption.] In one case, we changed the plan in the light of the consultation, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) well knows. We think it is right to move to larger jobcentres in which we can do more. They are better equipped and have computers to ensure that that facility is there, and there are specialists in the jobcentre who can help people with the computers and get through the problems of digital exclusion that the hon. Lady mentions.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am afraid it is not very convincing or particularly reassuring. He knows full well that equality impact assessments have been conducted, as the Secretary of State for Scotland told me in response to my letter. The Secretary of State also said in his letter that if I wanted to access that equality information, I would have to make individual freedom of information requests for every single jobcentre. It is outrageous that the Government are covering up this vital information. They claim to value openness and transparency, but they refuse to publish information that should be freely available, no matter how much it shames them. I have in my hand an FOI request—

Order. I am sorry, but I need a single sentence and a question mark at the end of it. There is a lot of pressure on time. I apologise to the hon. Lady, but she is taking far too long. She must be very quick.

The key point is that an equality impact assessment is not just a document; it is an entire way of thinking and working and it runs throughout these processes. I can confirm that we have been absolutely compliant with our duties under the Equality Act 2010, as we should be.

Brexit: Further Devolution

2. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901325)

8. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901331)

10. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901333)

14. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901338)

We are in agreement with the devolved Administrations that common frameworks will be necessary in some areas but, as I have made it clear, we expect that there will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved Administration.

We hear about this powers bonanza all the time, but the Prime Minister was unable to give us details on Monday, and it seems that the Secretary of State was unable to do so yesterday at the Scottish Affairs Committee. Let us give him another opportunity: can he name one power that will definitely come to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit?

We hear repeatedly from the Scottish National Benches about engagement with the Scottish Government, and this engagement will be with the Scottish Government. That is where the discussions are going on in relation to the transfer of powers. I am absolutely certain that, at the end of this process, the Scottish Parliament will have more powers and responsibilities than it does right now.

Among all the fluff of that answer, there was absolutely no substance. For a second time, may I ask the Secretary of State what new powers will be coming to Holyrood as a result of Brexit?

Order. Mr Linden, you are a most over-excitable individual. Calm yourself. I understand your interest, but the question has been put—[Interruption.] Order. There is no need for excessive gesticulation. Whether or not you like the answer, Mr Linden, you must pay the Secretary of State the respect of hearing it, preferably with courtesy.

This is all about grandstanding; it is not about the substantive issue of ensuring a transfer of very significant powers from the 111 powers that were listed to the Scottish Parliament. I believe in devolution. I am committed to devolution and I want to see the maximum number of powers transferred. The Scottish National party does not believe in devolution.

Can I, for the third time, ask the Secretary of State to name one power that is coming? If he is struggling for powers, may I suggest that he considers immigration, so that we can tackle things such as the skills immigration charge, which will be causing a skills shortage and damaging the economy in my constituency?

I can give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer on the last part of his question. Immigration is not being devolved to Scotland. The Smith commission process identified those areas of responsibility to be devolved, and immigration was not one of them. The Scottish National party accepted that report and, on the basis of that, we implemented it in the Scotland Act 2016.

I am disappointed that, after three questions, we still have not had an answer. On immigration, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State was disinclined to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). Perhaps he will listen to Nobel laureate Joe Stiglizt who, over the weekend, said that Scotland should have the powers to go its own way in migration policy. He knows a bit more about this than we do, so is he right?

I seem to remember that Professor Joe Stiglizt supported independence for Scotland, but the people of Scotland knew a bit more than the professor and decided to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend has been crystal clear that Brexit offers opportunities and powers. The SNP talks down Scotland, and specifically Aberdeenshire, the city that has managed to recover from the oil downturn. Why cannot it recognise that the new powers and EU withdrawal offers opportunities to Scotland, specifically to Aberdeenshire?

I am disappointed that the SNP is here in Westminster adopting this sort of pantomime approach to the very important issue of powers rather than engaging in a constructive way. Fortunately, it appears that the Scottish Government are adopting a more responsible approach, which is why there are substantial discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments.

12. May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the new inquiry on devolution and Brexit launched by the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs? As well as promoting discussion among the governments of the United Kingdom, we want to promote discussion among the parliamentarians in the four parliaments of the United Kingdom in order to resolve these very difficult issues. (901336)

I very much welcome the contribution to the debate of my hon. Friend’s Committee. Of course, it is very important that there is engagement across Parliaments, and I will be appearing before both the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee and the Finance and Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament in the next couple of weeks.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Scotland’s trade with the UK is worth four times as much as its trade with the EU. Does he find it confusing, as my constituents and I do, that the SNP is quite happy for us to stay in one single market, but advocate Scotland leaving the greatest single market right here on its doorstep—the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that some of the powers and responsibilities that come back from Brussels are subject to UK-wide frameworks so that we can continue to benefit from our internal market in the United Kingdom.

Leaving the EU will inherently make the Scottish Parliament more powerful as we take back control from Brussels. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SNP Government’s confused EU policy would simply see the new powers gained handed straight back to Brussels?

It is very important that the 500,000 yes supporters who voted to leave the European Union are absolutely clear that the SNP’s position is to take Scotland right back into the EU.

We all know that the Tories have a dubious record on devolution. After all, they opposed the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the first place. In stark contrast, the Labour party laid the foundations for the Scottish Parliament and will always act in its best interests. The Secretary of State says that the Scottish Parliament will get new powers eventually. Well, new powers require additional resources to deliver, so will he tell us how much more money the Scottish Parliament will obtain to fund these new powers? Will he also guarantee, unequivocally, that Brexit will not result in the Scottish Parliament’s budget being cut?

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of devolution. I have been in this Parliament to see through both the Scotland Act 2012 and the Scotland Act 2016, which have seen a significant transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament. I am determined that Brexit will see a further transfer of powers and responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament. Of course, it will need to be done in an orderly way, which will be the purpose of clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. We will work closely with the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to ensure that that transfer of powers is orderly.

Does the Secretary of State agree that Scotland’s two Governments—the UK Government and the Scottish Government—should work together in co-operation to get the best Brexit deal for the people of Scotland?

The London School of Economics has said that a hard Tory Brexit will cost Scotland £30 billion, the Fraser of Allander Institute has said that 80,000 jobs could go and a former Department for Exiting the European Union official has said that Scotland will be get the hardest impact. The Secretary of State said at the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs yesterday that economic impact assessments are available for Scotland. Will he release them to the Scottish people so that they can examine them and know the full scale of this disastrous Tory Brexit?

It would not be Scotland questions if we did not hear from the doom-monger-in-chief. Let me be quite clear, as I was in my appearance before his Committee. Both Governments have carried out important analysis, which they will share and discuss, but this Government—as Parliament has approved—will not be publishing anything that would be detrimental to our negotiating position.

In evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday, the Secretary of State suggested that a common framework should not be imposed on the devolved Administrations by the UK Government but should instead be the output of a collaborative process. Will he confirm that that is indeed the Government’s position?

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s important question, which gets to the heart of the issue—in marked contrast to the pantomime stuff we had earlier. I can absolutely confirm that. A UK framework does not mean the UK imposes a framework; it means agreement is reached between the UK Government and the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Four times the Secretary of State has been asked to name a single power that will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and four times he has declined to answer. I see little point in asking him a fifth time, but let me ask him this: when will the Government publish a schedule setting out which powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and which will not? [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) really should not walk across the line of sight.

I am grateful for the apology. It was unfair to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard).

If the hon. Gentleman had not prefaced his question with those initial remarks, he would have asked a sensible question. I have set out that there is a dialogue ongoing with the Scottish Government in relation to the 111 powers. I set that out in much more detail at the Committee for which he was present yesterday, so I will not repeat what I said, but I am hopeful that, in early course, we will be able to publish exactly that sort of list.

The right hon. Gentleman’s refusal to name a single power, or even to set a timetable for saying when he will do so, can lead us to only one conclusion: that there are forces in his Government that do not want to see any powers devolved at all. How does that sit with his Department’s responsibility to protect the devolution settlement?

I have rarely heard such complete and utter nonsense. I will be judged by the Scotland Office’s record on devolution, and that means implementing the Calman commission in full, implementing the Scotland Act 2016 in full and taking forward the return of powers from Brussels, with a presumption of devolution. We will deliver, and the people of Scotland will see that we have.

Oil and Gas Industry

3. What steps the Government are taking to support the oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland. (901326)

4. What steps the Government are taking to support the marine oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland. (901327)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers on a wide range of issues, including fiscal policy across the UK, fisheries, and the oil and gas industry.

My right hon. Friend will know as well as I do the importance of the oil and gas industry in north-east Scotland. Considering the recent decision by the First Minister in Scotland to abolish the Energy Jobs Taskforce, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK Government remain fully committed to our North sea industries and will work with colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure the brightest future for the oil and gas industries in the north-east of Scotland?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I share his disappointment. Through challenging times, the broad shoulders of the UK Government have supported the oil and gas industry to the tune of £2.3 billion. We have invested in surveying the seabed, established a new independent regulator and invested in developing world-leading infrastructure, research and technology through the Aberdeen city deal. [Interruption.]

These are very important matters affecting the people of Scotland, and I think we ought to respect them by having some attention to our proceedings.

I welcome the announcement last month of the Scottish Business Taskforce. Would my right hon. Friend like to expand on what its role will be with the oil, gas and sub-sea industries, which are predominately based around my constituency?

I recognise that my hon. Friend, although a new Member, has become a champion of the oil, gas and sub-sea industries. I can confirm today that the Scottish Business Taskforce, which was announced last month, will meet for the first time on Friday. The taskforce will provide expert advice and guidance on how best to support our most important sectors—not least oil, gas and sub-sea—and strengthen Scotland’s economy. I will be announcing its membership later today.

It is difficult to see how we can support the oil and gas industry in Scotland when the Secretary of State refuses to release the assessment of the impact of Brexit on the Scottish economy. Will he tell the House whether the Secretary of State for Brexit was correct today at the Exiting the European Union Committee that that assessment has been shared with the Scottish Government? When will it be shared with the Scottish people?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not follow the Scottish Affairs Committee’s deliberations; he used to be a very prominent member of it. I made it very clear yesterday that there was a sharing of analysis, as is appropriate between Governments, but we will not be publishing anything that will be detrimental to our negotiations, and that is what the people of Scotland would want.

Given that, as we have heard, information has been shared with the Scottish Government, would it not be appropriate to make it public and perhaps to impress on the Scottish Government that they should also do that? The people of Scotland should see what the impact of Brexit is going to be in order to make a proper assessment of it.

We are regularly called on to respect the Scottish Government. I respect the Scottish Government and this Government respect the Scottish Government—that is why we are working with them on Brexit. But it would not be in the interests of Scotland or the United Kingdom to publish any information that would be detrimental to our negotiating position.


5. What recent discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on VAT exemptions. (901328)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers on a wide range of issues, including fiscal policy across the UK.

Will the Secretary of State have a word with his very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about VAT in Scotland to try to help clear up the mess created by the Scottish Government when they centralised police and fire services in Scotland, making them liable for VAT?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s contribution.

Borderlands Growth Deal

Only last week I hosted a meeting with local MPs to review progress. I am pleased to report that we are driving forward the innovative, cross-border borderlands deal and hope to agree a deal next year that will see investment to transform the local economies within the borderlands area. [Interruption.]

I want to hear the question and I want the people of Dumfries and Galloway to have the chance of hearing it.

Hear, hear to that. Will my right hon. Friend commit to ensuring that local communities have the opportunity to feed their thoughts into what the final deal will look like?

I am sure that the people of Dumfries and Galloway will be absolutely delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says. I was very pleased to receive a submission from all five local authorities involved in the borderlands growth deal. I hope that we can now move forward with local communities being able to include their ideas and contributions in this process.

There is a risk that the Secretary of State is prioritising the borderland deal over the Ayrshire growth deal. In a simple written question, I asked how many meetings he has had on the borderland initiative, with who, and on what dates. His answer was that he has had numerous meetings. Will he answer the question directly, or otherwise I will report him to the Procedure Committee again?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman displays an unpleasant SNP trait of seeking to create division within Scotland. I want to see all areas of Scotland benefit from growth. At least the people of Ayrshire know that in their new Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), they have a real champion of Ayrshire.

Brexit: Joint Ministerial Committee

7. What discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (901330)

The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations provides a valuable forum for the UK Government and devolved Administrations to discuss exit issues. We held a very constructive meeting on 16 October and I hope to convene another meeting shortly.

It was agreed at the last JMCEU that common frameworks would be needed in certain areas. What update can the Secretary of State give the House on talks with Scottish Government Ministers on the establishment of common frameworks for progressing, and is he able to identify areas where the need for common frameworks is anticipated?

I gave very extensive evidence on this matter to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to access the transcript.

13. When the time comes for decisions to be taken about the fate of the 111 devolved powers coming back from Brussels, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that those decisions will be taken by consensus at the JMC rather than unilaterally by the UK Government? (901337)

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), he would know that the position is that although there is a UK framework, the framework is agreed between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Universal Credit Roll-out

9. What assessment he has made of the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on families in Scotland. (901332)

Families are benefiting from real, positive employment outcomes as people move into work faster and progress in work. Of course, and rightly, extra support is there for those who need it.

Almost 2,000 universal credit claimants in my constituency, along with thousands more across Scotland, are stuck in limbo after seeing the vote in this place to pause the roll-out but no action from the Government. What is the Secretary of State doing to reassure and represent those people?

We will continue with the roll-out in a very careful and staged way. It is happening over nine years, and we continue in very active dialogue with Members across the House and people outside it.

Welfare Powers Devolution

11. What progress he has made on the transfer of welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016. (901335)

We have made significant progress on the Scotland Act 2016 welfare powers. All DWP sections of the Act have been commenced, and we are working with the Scottish Government to support them in taking on these responsibilities, to ensure that the transition is safe and secure.

I am surprised to hear that only a small portion of the powers that have been devolved to the Scottish Government are being used, given the complaints that we hear from some Members in this House. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is yet another example of the Scottish National party griping rather than governing?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that the people of Scotland agree that it is of concern that we have no clear plan from the Scottish Government for how they will use many of the powers. This Government are focused on delivering for the people of Scotland. It is time for the SNP to stop ducking its responsibilities and use its considerable powers to do so as well.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure that all Members from across the House will want to join me in wishing all the home nations teams the very best of luck in the rugby league world cup, which starts this week.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Social care services in England are in crisis. Since 2010, the local council in Manchester has had its annual social care budget cut by £32 million. By March, the Government will have taken £6.3 billion out of social care. Why will the Prime Minister not match Labour’s commitment and invest £8 billion in social care in next month’s Budget?

As I have said in this House before, we recognise the pressure on social care as our population ages. I have said before that there are short-term, medium-term and long-term answers to this. In the short term, we have made extra funding available to local authorities. The announcement made in the last Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was for an extra £2 billion for local authorities. In the medium term, we need to make sure that best practice is observed across all local authorities and NHS trusts. Delayed discharges are higher in some cases than they are in others, and we need to make sure that best practice is followed. In the long term, we need a sustainable footing for our social care system. That is why we will, in due course, be publishing a full and open consultation on ideas and proposals to ensure that we can have a sustainable social care system in the future.

Q3. The Prime Minister will be aware of the vital role that supported housing plays for many vulnerable people in Torbay. What reassurances can she give me about the ongoing support that the Government will give to those vital services? (901386)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and this is something that we have been looking at very closely over the past year since my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) commissioned work on it in September last year, when he was Work and Pensions Secretary. I can confirm that we will be publishing our response to that consultation on Tuesday 31 October, and it will look at a wide range of issues. We need to ensure that the funding model is right so that all providers of supported housing can access funding effectively. We need to look at issues such as the recent significant increases in service charges, making sure that we are looking at cost control in the sector.

I can also say today that as part of our response to the review, we will not be applying the local housing allowance cap to supported housing; indeed, we will not be implementing it in the wider social rented sector. The full details will be made available when we publish our response to the consultation.

I join the Prime Minister in wishing the rugby league team all the very best in the competition. I hope they win it.

Last week, the House voted 299 to zero to pause the roll-out of universal credit. Will the Prime Minister respect the will of the House?

As I have said before, we acknowledge the fact that people have raised concerns with universal credit. That is why, as we have been rolling it out, we have been listening to those and changes have been made. Perhaps I could just update the House on where we are on the roll-out of universal credit. Currently, of people claiming benefits, 8% are on universal credit. By January of next year, that will rise to 10%. The roll-out is being conducted in three phases, and the intention is that it will be completed by 2022, so it is being done in a measured way, and I am pleased to say that four out of five people are satisfied or very satisfied with the service that they are receiving. Universal credit helps people into the workplace and it makes sure that work pays, and that is what the welfare system should do.

I would have thought that if only 8% of the roll-out has taken place and 20% of the people in receipt of it are dissatisfied with it, that is a cause for thought and maybe a pause in the whole process. Last week, only one Conservative MP had the courage of their convictions to vote with us on suspending the universal credit roll-out. Then a Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly, Angela Burns, said:

“For the life of me I cannot understand why a 6 or 4 week gap is deemed acceptable.”

She called universal credit

“callous at best and downright cruel at worst”,

and concluded by saying she is “ashamed” of her Government. Can the Prime Minister ease her colleague’s shame by pausing and fixing universal credit?

As I have said to the right hon. Gentleman, we have been making changes to the implementation of UC as it has gone through the roll-out, but let us be very clear about why we introduced universal credit. It is because it is a system—[Interruption.]

Order. Members are getting rather over-excited. The question has been put, and the answer will be heard.

We introduced universal credit as a simpler, more straightforward system that ensures that work pays and helps people into the workplace. Let us look at what happened in the benefits system under Labour. Under Labour, the low-paid paid tax and then had it paid back to them in benefits. Under Labour, people were trapped in a life on benefits for years. Under Labour, the number of workless households doubled, and Labour’s benefit system cost households an extra £3,000 a year. What the Conservatives have done is given the low-paid a pay rise, given the workers a tax cut and ensured we have a benefit system that helps people into work.

Under Labour, 1 million children were lifted out of poverty. Under Labour, we introduced the principle of the national minimum wage—opposed by all Tories over there.

If the Prime Minister is not prepared to listen to Angela Burns, perhaps she could listen to the architect of universal credit, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who said:

“One of the reasons I resigned from Government was I didn’t actually agree with the additional waiting days. This is something the government needs to look at”.

Does the Prime Minister agree with him?

This is the answer that I have given not just three or four times in this PMQs but in previous PMQs: as we look at universal credit roll-out, we look at how we are introducing it. The right hon. Gentleman talks about what happened under Labour, and I am happy to talk about what happened under Labour—[Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise and finger pointing on both sides of the Chamber. The responses from the Prime Minister will be heard, as will the questions from the Leader of the Opposition and every other Member without fear or favour.

The right hon. Gentleman is talking about rolling out new benefit systems, but let us think about what happened when Labour rushed to introduce tax credits. I was not the only Member of Parliament who had people in my constituency surgery who had filled the forms in properly and given information to the authorities only for the Government to come back years later and land them with bills for thousands of pounds. That is what happens when you rush into a system rather than introducing it properly, as we are.

I thought that we had passed a threshold last week and that the Prime Minister was going to answer questions, but we obviously have not achieved that yet. Labour introduced working tax credits to help people on low pay out of poverty and it made a very big difference. The sad truth is that universal credit is in such a mess that councils are forced to pick up the Bill. Let me give an example. Croydon Council, which piloted the scheme, is now spending £3 million of its own budget to prevent tenants from being evicted due to rent arrears caused by universal credit. Does the Prime Minister think that it is right or fair that hard-pressed local authorities, having their budget cut by central Government, should have to dip into what little money they have left to prevent people from being evicted when they know full well that it is this Government and their system of universal credit that are causing the problem?

Labour introduced working tax credits and then clawed thousands of pounds back from people who were working hard. The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of rent arrears and I know that Members have concerns about people who are managing their budgets to pay their rent. For the vast majority of people on universal credit, managing their budgets is not an issue. After four months, the number of people on universal credit who are in arrears has fallen by a third, but we recognise the issue so we are working with landlords. We have built flexibility into the system so that landlords can be paid directly, and I want to be clear that nobody can be legally evicted from social housing because of short-term rent arrears. That is an important point for us to get across to people, but I come back to the essential point about universal credit: this is about a welfare system that helps people into work, makes work pay and does not trap people in a life on benefits for years.

I note that the Prime Minister could not say anything about people being evicted from the private rented sector because of universal credit problems. The costs in the benefit system are being driven by low pay and high rents. In 2015, the then Chancellor, her former friend, promised a £9 an hour living wage. However, in the March Budget it was sneaked out that the Government’s minimum wage would reach only £8.75. The welfare state was not created to subsidise low paying employers and overcharging landlords, so will the Budget in November put the onus back—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Hoare, I expect better of you. You were much better behaved when you were at Oxford University—what has happened to you, man? Calm yourself.

My question is this: will the Budget in November put the onus back on to employers to pay a decent wage so that workers can make ends meet?

Of course we want to ensure that there are higher-paid jobs in this country. That is precisely why we are investing in the economy for the future. It is precisely why we are investing in our infrastructure and investing in skills for young people, and it is why we are introducing a modern industrial strategy. The right hon. Gentleman says the welfare system was not created to subsidise employers who are paying low wages. That is exactly what Labour’s working tax credits system did.

The Government’s own Social Mobility Commission reported that low pay was endemic in the United Kingdom. One in four workers are permanently stuck in low-paid jobs. That is why Labour backed a real living wage of £10 per hour to make work pay. The Government do not really know whether they are coming or going. The Conservative party and the Government say they have full confidence in universal credit, but will not vote for it. They say they will end the NHS pay cap, but will not allocate any money to pay for it. The Communities Secretary backs £50 billion of borrowing for housing, but the Chancellor says it is not policy. The Brexit Secretary says they are planning for a no-deal Brexit. The Chancellor says they are not. Is it not the case that the Government are weak, incompetent, divided and unable to take a decision—[Interruption.]

Order. I said that the responses from the Prime Minister would be heard and the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman will be heard. You can try to shout him down and other Members can try to shout the Prime Minister down. It will not work. End of.

Is it not the case that this Government are weak, incompetent and divided, and unable to take the essential decisions necessary for the good of the people of this country?

Of course we want to see people earning higher wages. Of course we want, as we are doing, to be able to ensure we can invest in our public services. But the way to do that—the way to have a higher standard of living, to have higher wages, to invest in our public services, to have a better future for people in this country—is to build and continue to build that stronger economy. You do not build a stronger economy by losing control of public finances. You do not build a stronger economy by uncontrolled borrowing. You do not build a stronger economy by hitting people with the highest taxes in our peacetime history. You do not build a stronger economy by voting against progress in our Brexit negotiations. You do not build a stronger economy by planning for capital flight and a run on the pound. That is what Labour would do and we will never let it happen.

Q5. Some people in Plymouth are campaigning, by way of a petition, to say that lifeboats must be launched immediately when a fishing vessel is overdue. I believe this is irresponsible and puts our valiant lifeboat crews in peril if they do not know where they are going. We know this in Cornwall. Will the Prime Minister look at making safety grants available, so that all fishing boats can have an AIS, or automatic identification system, locator beacon on board? This would cost well under £4 million, even if every registered fishing vessel under 15 metres got a grant to cover the whole cost. My late husband had one aboard his boat. (901388)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. As she has just said, I know this is an area where she tragically has personal experience. I would like to commend her for the work she has done in this important area and for championing these causes. She is right: launching a lifeboat whenever a fishing vessel is overdue may be the wrong decision. It could, as she says, be dangerous for the crew involved. That is why the coastguard takes the time to gather valuable information before deciding how best to respond. On the issue she raises, a number of grants are available from various safety schemes. I encourage all those involved in fishing to make the most of the grants that are available.

What is absolutely key is ensuring we have controlled migration in this country. That is what the people of this country want and what the Government are delivering.

An American couple, the Felbers, moved to Scotland and invested £400,000 to run an award-winning guesthouse in Inverness. They contribute to their community and the local economy, yet they will be deported because of a retrospective change to Home Office rules. Will the Prime Minister meet me and their MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), to discuss this case and the systemic problems with UK migration?

There are no systemic problems with UK migration. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss the case he has raised, but it is absolutely right that the Home Office work to ensure that the immigration rules are properly applied and that action is taken according to those rules.

Q9. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have composed myself. I was greatly cheered last week, as I am sure were many colleagues in the House, to hear the German Chancellor say that a final deal on Brexit was going to happen. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my assessment that we will get a good deal that works for our country, for the EU and, possibly more importantly, for my constituents? (901392)

I agree with my hon. Friend. Our job is to get the best Brexit deal for Britain. I believe we can get it and that it will benefit all parts of the UK, including his constituents, and that we will maximise the benefits of leaving the UK while maintaining the greatest possible access to EU markets. That is what we are continuing to work on and the vision I set out in my Florence speech, and as we know, the EU is now preparing its response.

Q2. The Prime Minister has previously stated her commitment to apprenticeships. In my constituency, however, the apprenticeship levy has not been helping those for whom it was designed. What steps will she take to ensure that apprenticeships help those from lower-income backgrounds? (901385)

Apprenticeships are important. Under the Government from 2010 to 2015, we saw 2 million more apprenticeships created, and we are committed to a further 1.9 million being created. This is important. The important point about apprenticeships is that they are an opportunity for young people not to feel encouraged down an academic route when that does not work for them. When I meet apprentices, many say that it is the best thing they have done, and we want to make sure they are available for all those who could benefit from it.

Q12. Cherwell tops the leader board for new housing. Will the Prime Minister assure me that the right roads, school places, post boxes and especially healthcare provision will be in place to support both my new constituents and the ones I have at the moment? (901395)

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend and say how pleased I am that Cherwell District Council is doing what we want to do and what we recognise we need to do to tackle our dysfunctional housing market, which is to build more homes? She is right, however, that infrastructure is also an important part of that, which is why we have committed £15 billion for our road investment strategy, why over half a trillion pounds will be spent on the NHS during this Parliament, and why a record £41 billion will be spent on core funding for schools this year. That, I am pleased to say, is the record of Conservatives in government.

Q4. In 24 hours, the people of Dundee will wave off the bid for the 2023 European Capital of Culture. It is a fantastic bid that will generate 1,500 jobs and add 5% to local GDP. Will the Prime Minister, notwithstanding her current difficulties with Europe, back this bid, given that it comes from the most innovative and forward-looking city in the whole UK? (901387)

Of course we are always willing to back bids from any city in the United Kingdom to become the European city of culture. I welcome the fact that Dundee has put forward a bid and is part of the process, but, as I have said, we want to support all cities in the United Kingdom that are submitting bids.

It is a criminal offence for those, such as teachers, who are in a position of trust to have sexual relationships with young people under 18. However, a constituent came to me recently distressed about exactly such a relationship between his 17-year-old daughter and a middle-aged driving instructor. While—if consensual—that is not illegal, I am concerned about the possibility that young drivers might be at risk of being groomed by predatory instructors. Does the Prime Minister agree that driving instructors are, by the nature of their work, in a position of trust, and should be covered by the same rules as teachers? If so, will she ask the relevant Minister to work with me on the issue?

I am concerned to hear about the constituency case that my hon. Friend has raised. I recognise the position, and the role that driving instructors play. I will ask the appropriate Department to look into the matter, and to get in touch with my hon. Friend to obtain further details of that case.

Q6. In March 2017, the Prime Minister told the House that Parliament would be given a meaningful vote on the terms of the Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill. This morning, in the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Secretary of State told us that that vote might not take place until March 2019. Will the Prime Minister please explain how it is possible to have a meaningful vote on something that has already taken place? (901389)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are in negotiations with the European Union. The timetable under the Lisbon treaty allows the negotiations to take place until March 2019, but, because it is in the interests of both sides, and it is not just this Parliament that wants to have a vote on the deal—there will be ratification by other Parliaments—I am confident that we will be able to achieve that agreement and that negotiation in time for Parliament to have the vote to which we committed ourselves.

We enter a week of commemorations of the centenary of the Balfour declaration. Will my right hon. Friend re-dedicate us to the pursuit of peace and justice for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, but will she also celebrate with pride our small national contribution to the creation of a democracy in the middle east, a sanctuary for those who have suffered from anti-Semitism and fear its rise again, and, in the state of Israel, a true friend of the United Kingdom?

We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the state of Israel, and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride. I am pleased about the good trade and other relationships that we have with Israel, which we are building on and enhancing. However, we must also be conscious of the sensitivities that some people have about the Balfour declaration.

We recognise that there is more work to be done. We remain committed to the two-state solution in relation to Israel and the Palestinians, which is an important aim. I think it important for us all to recommit ourselves to ensuring that we can provide security, stability and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through such a lasting peace.

Q7. Trying to get a decision on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon is becoming like groundhog day. Swansea is ready, and the investors are ready. May I ask the Prime Minister when she will be ready? (901390)

As the hon. Lady well knows, that raises a number of complex issues. We were grateful to Charles Hendry for his review. The relevant Department —the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—is still considering his report, and we will respond in due course.

Does the Prime Minister agree that as we leave the EU and take control of our land management policy, our manifesto commitment to plant 11 million trees is a critical part of the holistic countryside management framework that we can now build to ensure long-term home-grown wood for our housing industry, as well as increasing our natural carbon capture potential and reducing flood risks?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we did commit in our manifesto to plant 11 million trees. We are putting that at the heart of our work to protect the environment for future generations. I am pleased to say that since April 2015 we have planted just over 2 million trees, but we do have much more to do, and we will be continuing to work with landowners and stakeholders on this issue. My hon. Friend is also right that it is not just about the look of the countryside; it is also about the role that trees play in reducing flood risks and helping to hold carbon dioxide.

Q8. The Prime Minister has spoken on mental health, and I thank her for that. When she was Home Secretary, she outlawed police cells being used for those in mental health crisis. Today, however, parts of our mental health system are in crisis. In my North Durham constituency children, young people and families are waiting two years for autism assessments. The Secretary of State agrees that that is unacceptable. What is the Prime Minister going to do to turn her well-intentioned statements on mental health into action? (901391)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are taking a number of courses of action in relation to mental health, but he raises the specific issue of the autism diagnosis, and the length of time that takes in his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has promised to look into this and will be doing so, because we are very clear that we want to ensure that adults and children should not have to face too long a wait for an autism diagnosis. The Department of Health is working with partners to help local areas address these issues where there are long waiting times for an autism diagnosis, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published clinical guidance which sets out that assessments should begin within three months of referral. Obviously it is for the Department of Health to be working with those local areas to make sure it is possible to achieve that.

Tomorrow at Cornwall Newquay airport the Bloodhound will carry out its first live test run in the next step on its quest to achieve the land speed record. Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing the whole Bloodhound team, especially driver Andy Green, a successful test run, and does she agree that such projects show that the UK continues to lead the world in innovation in science and engineering?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in wishing the Bloodhound team well; indeed, I have met some of the members of the team in the past. I also agree with my hon. Friend’s other point: this continues to show what a world leader in science and innovation the United Kingdom is. We have some of the world’s best universities, with four of them in the world’s top 10, and we have more Nobel prize winners than any country other than the United States. This is a record of which our country can be proud, and I am sure we will all be proud of the Bloodhound team and its achievements.

Q10. Does the Prime Minister agree that the potential downgrading of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary— 479 professionals lost, over 300 hospital beds cut, and a 90-minute journey to the nearest A&E—is not in the best interests of my constituents? Will she meet me to discuss the detrimental impact this will have on Colne Valley and the surrounding area? (901393)

The principle that we want to base all these decisions on is that service changes should be based on clear evidence and led by local clinicians who best understand the local healthcare needs. I understand that Calderdale and Kirklees Councils have referred the proposed changes to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, and I know he will be considering the issues very carefully, and will be coming to a decision in due course.

Next year is the centenary of the first woman Member of Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what leadership and encouragement to the women and girls in his constituency to take part in public life the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O'Mara) has shown in his remarks?

It is important that we mark this centenary next year, and recognise the role that women have played in this House and in public life. I want young women and women to be able to see this House as a place they actively want to come to—that they want to contribute to their society and respond to the needs of constituents and make a real difference to people’s lives. That is what I am in it for, that is why I have encouraged more women to come into this House, and I am pleased to say that we have more women on our Benches than ever before.

Finally, all of us in this House should have due care and attention for the way in which we refer to other people and should show women in public life the respect they deserve.

Q11. Yesterday, the Scottish Parliament voted by 91 votes to 28 to ban fracking in Scotland. May I ask the Prime Minister why she would not consider following Scotland’s lead and introduce a moratorium in the rest of the United Kingdom in order to carry out a full evaluation of the health and environmental consequences of this controversial technology, and in order for the public to be consulted? (901394)

This is an issue on which the hon. Gentleman and I are simply going to disagree. I think that shale gas has the potential to power economic growth in this country and to support thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industries and in other sectors. It will provide a new domestic energy source. We have more than 50 years’ drilling experience in the UK, and one of the best records in the world for economic development while protecting our environment. The shale wealth fund is going to provide up to £1 billion of additional resources to local communities, and local councils are going to be able to retain 100% of the business rates they collect from shale gas developments. We will be bringing forward further proposals in relation to this during this Parliament. This is an important potential new source of energy, and it is right that we should use it and take the benefits from it for our economy, for jobs and for people’s futures.

I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware of the terrifying incident on Sunday in which a gunman held hostages at a bowling alley in my neighbouring constituency of Nuneaton, a facility that is enjoyed by my own constituents of North Warwickshire and Bedworth. Will she join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) in praising the excellent work of Warwickshire police and the West Midlands ambulance service in ensuring that the situation was brought to a swift conclusion without any casualties?

Of course we were all concerned to hear about that incident as it was taking place, and I am happy to join my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton in commending the professionalism and bravery of the Warwickshire police in bringing it to a swift conclusion and of the ambulance service in ensuring that there were no injuries. Our emergency services do an amazing job in protecting us; they do not know, when they put on their uniforms in the morning, whether they are going to be called out to exactly this sort of incident. I was pleased to welcome a number of our emergency services personnel to a reception in Downing Street on Monday. What they always say is that they are just doing their job, but my goodness me, what a job they do for us!

Q13. On 29 March, I asked the Prime Minister whether she would help the people of New Ferry after the huge explosion that had devastated the town centre. She said that she was be happy to help and that support would be offered to the community in the future. Two weeks later she called a general election, and her Government seem to have all but forgotten about the people in New Ferry. Well, she may have forgotten but my constituents have not, so I ask her again: precisely when will her Government put their hands in their pockets so that the people in New Ferry can rebuild their town and their lives? (901396)

The Government have not forgotten about this issue. I understand from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that we are waiting for the local council to produce proposals and a business case for those proposals, and we will of course look at those proposals seriously.

In acknowledging the hard work that the men and women of RAF Benson in my constituency did in the Caribbean, will the Prime Minister also acknowledge that the Puma Mk 2 helicopter was ready and available for work in the Caribbean within a couple of hours of having arrived there?

I am very happy to commend the work of all those at RAF Benson and indeed all those in our military and the volunteers who were able to provide support after the devastating hurricanes that took place in the Caribbean. I am also happy to agree with my hon. Friend that, contrary to some of the stories that were being put about, we were there, we were there on time and we were able to act very quickly to give people that support.

Q14. We can all agree that no one should ever be persecuted on account of their sexuality. Last week at the PinkNews awards, the Prime Minister said that we had come a long way on LGBT+ rights, but there is still much more to do. May I ask her to start on that remaining work today by promising that the Home Office will never again deport LGBT+ asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to be persecuted with the instruction that they pretend to be straight? (901397)

This is an issue that we take seriously. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that it was a Conservative Government who actually changed the rules on asylum seeking to introduce the category of those who could face persecution in their country of origin because of their sexuality. I am pleased that that was able to be done, and I am sure that the Home Office treats all these cases—I want it to treat all these cases—with the sensitivity that is appropriate.

As of 2016, 17% of premises in Scotland were without superfast broadband, compared with just 11% for the UK as a whole. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Scottish Government to do more and to engage constructively with Departments here in Westminster to deliver this crucial service to communities in Scotland?

Order. All sorts of very curious hand and finger gestures are being deployed, each trying to outdo the other in terms of eccentricity and, possibly, of prowess, but I am interested in hearing the Prime Minister’s reply.

I say to my hon. Friend that we all recognise the importance of broadband and of fast broadband being available to people in our constituencies. He is absolutely right—the Members of the Scottish National party come down here and spend a lot of time talking about powers for the Scottish Government, but actually it is time that the Scottish Government got on with using their powers for the benefit of the people in Scotland.

Q15. In the past fortnight, we have heard the announcement of the loss of many hundreds of jobs in Lancashire at BAE Systems sites at Warton and Samlesbury, which comes as a hammer blow to workers and their families. Today, I want to raise the proposed closure of the Alstom factory on Strand Road in Preston, which will mean the loss of another 180 jobs. We keep hearing hype about the so-called northern powerhouse, so why are aerospace companies and train manufacturers in the north shedding jobs by the hundred? (901398)

I recognise that this is a worrying time for the workers involved. We will obviously ensure through the Department for Work and Pensions that they have the support they need to look for new jobs, and that does include the rapid response service, which gives particular support to people in these areas. However, in relation to the decision by BAE Systems, for example, I can assure the House that we will continue to promote our world-leading defence industry, and I hope that all Labour Members will continue to promote our world-leading defence industry. I am very pleased that just last month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence signed a statement of intent with Qatar, committing it to the purchase of 24 Typhoons and six Hawks from BAE. Last year, the Ministry of Defence spent £3.7 billion with BAE and is working with it to maximise export opportunities for Typhoons and Hawks in the future to ensure that we can retain jobs here in the United Kingdom.

When it comes to tackling homelessness, prevention is better than cure, so I am delighted that the Government backed my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. However, one of the obstacles for people who choose to rent is putting together the deposit and getting help with the rent. Will my right hon. Friend look at a scheme that would provide 32,000 people a year with the opportunity to rent for an investment of £3.1 million a year? Not only would it do that, but it would save the public purse up to £1.8 billion over a three-year period.

I thank my hon. Friend. He has long campaigned on homelessness and its prevention, and I am pleased that we were able to support his Homelessness Reduction Act, which will be an important contribution in this particular area. On his specific issue, he has made a pre-Budget representation to the Chancellor, who I am sure will be looking at it very carefully. On the more general issue of helping people to buy and helping them with deposits, I am of course pleased that we have been able to announce an extra £10 billion for our Help to Buy scheme, which does make a real difference to people and enables them to get into homes.

The workforce, the unions and the management at Bombardier in Belfast deserve enormous credit for the way in which they have responded to the threats to their jobs and livelihoods coming from the United States, and from Boeing in particular. Can the Prime Minister assure us that she will continue building on the good work that has already happened through herself, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and that she will continue to work with us, the unions and management to ensure that the threat of tariffs is removed, that the C series is a success story and that thousands of jobs in Belfast and across the United Kingdom are protected?

I am very happy to give that commitment. A lot of work has been done in relation to this issue by me, the Business Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers with our opposite numbers in America and Canada. We will certainly continue that work. Obviously, the most recent announcement in relation to Airbus and the C series is important. We want to ensure that those jobs stay in Northern Ireland, because we recognise the importance of those jobs to the economy of Northern Ireland and, obviously, also to the people and their families.