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Public Services: West Midlands

Volume 632: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2017

Q5. What recent assessment she has made of the (a) economic performance and (b) level of provision of public services in the west midlands; and if she will make a statement. (902779)

I am pleased to say that employment in the west midlands has risen by 198,000 since the 2010 election. In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that people living and working in the west midlands will benefit from a second devolution deal and a £250 million allocation for regional transport projects.

The devolution deal, the Budget and now the establishment of the national battery research and development centre in the west midlands put the whole region at the very heart of European autonomous-drive and electric-drive cars. So will my right hon. Friend commit to continuing to support this important industry? Will she make a very important promise to me? [Hon. Members: “Ooh!] Yes. Will she get rid of that gas-guzzler Jaguar of hers in No. 10 Downing Street and get a modern Jaguar, an electric one, from the west midlands, because we are the party of the future, not the old Labour dinosaurs opposite?

Perhaps I could just let my hon. Friend know that, sadly, the Jaguar in No. 10 Downing Street is not mine, but he is absolutely right that the west midlands is at the heart of this important industry. We are investing £31 million in the west midlands for the development of testing infrastructure for connected and autonomous vehicles, and we will also build on west midlands expertise in self-driving cars as we invest a further £5 million in an initial 5G testbed. I certainly look forward to seeing this technology developing further.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister regarding the late Jimmy Hood and pass on the condolences of Scottish National party Members to his family and friends?

I am sure the House will also want to join me in welcoming Billy Irving, one of the Chennai six, who has arrived back in Scotland this morning.

So now we know that the deal that was done with the DUP to keep the Prime Minister in office gave the DUP a veto over Brexit. It is embarrassing that it was being briefed on Monday morning that the Prime Minister had a deal, only to take this off the table after a call with the DUP. Is this a Prime Minister who is in office but not in power?

What we are doing is working for a deal that will work for the whole United Kingdom. There are particular circumstances for Northern Ireland, because it is the one part of the UK that shares a land border with a country that will be remaining in the European Union. But as we look ahead, and during the negotiations, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, we are consulting and talking to all parts of the UK—the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government. We want to ensure that we get the right deal for the UK. That is the deal that I have set out: we will be leaving the European Union; we will be leaving the single market; we will be leaving the customs union; but we will ensure that we get that good trade deal for the future.

The clock is ticking, and we need a deal that keeps us in the single market and the customs union—to do otherwise will devastate our economy and cost jobs. Will the Prime Minister recognise that such a deal will resolve the Irish border question and protect jobs throughout the UK? Anything less will be a failure of leadership.

The right hon. Gentleman continues to bark up the wrong tree. We are leaving the European Union. That means we will be leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. We will take back and ensure that we can do trade deals around the rest of the world. That will be important for us. He references jobs and it will be important in ensuring jobs in this country. We will get a good deal on trade and security, because this is not just about trade for our future relationship. I set out in my Florence speech the deep and special partnership we want to continue to have with the European Union. That is about a trade deal that ensures jobs and prosperity across the whole United Kingdom.

Order. I just politely observe that the Front-Bench exchanges have absorbed a disproportionately large share of the time, but I am determined to accommodate Back Benchers who are waiting to ask their questions.

Q9. The bottle- neck on the A417 continues to cause dreadful accidents, as well as traffic misery in Gloucestershire. Following the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and with the support of Members from Gloucestershire, the vital consultation stage on the shortlisted improvement proposals will begin shortly. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister back the scheme, and does she agree that by committing hundreds of millions of pounds to this crucial project, the Government are backing the Gloucestershire economy? (902783)

I know that my hon. Friend has been working tirelessly on this issue. I understand the concerns and frustrations of drivers in his constituency and elsewhere about this vital strategic road, which is vital for not only Gloucestershire but the wider region. I am happy to assure him that we are backing the development of the multimillion-pound Air Balloon roundabout scheme, which was announced in 2014. A consultation will begin shortly, so that we can develop the right solution to tackle this pinch-point and continue our support, which, as my hon. Friend said, is good for the whole of Gloucestershire’s economy.

Q2. The Prime Minister has been unable to provide us with a single plausible Brexit scenario that will meet her red lines and be acceptable to her Cabinet, to Ireland and to the DUP. Is it not therefore time that she dropped either her red lines, the DUP, or the pretence that she can govern this country? (902776)

The hon. Lady is just completely wrong. The Government have published a number of documents that set out the various options that can be taken forward with respect to the future trade relationship, that address the whole question of the customs relationship and that would address the issue of the Northern Ireland border. We have already published those proposals in detail. Those details are not part of the negotiations at the moment; they will become part of the negotiations when we move on to phase 2.

Q13. When the British people voted to leave the European super-state, they voted to end the free movement of people, to stop sending billions and billions of pounds to the EU each and every year, and to make our laws in our own country, judged by our own judges. Are we still on course to deliver that? If we have a problem, would it help if I came over to Brussels with the Prime Minister to sort it out? (902787)

I am always happy to spend time in my hon. Friend’s company. I hope that his petition on chicken farms went down well the other evening. The answer is, yes, we are on course to deliver what the people of this country voted for when they voted to leave the European Union.

Q4. Will the Prime Minister support new trans-Pennine rail links, namely High Speed 3, and also the restoration of the Skipton-Colne link, which, as well as providing an economic boost to Pennine towns, has the additional merit of starting in the constituency of the Government Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith)? (902778)

We are of course looking seriously at and have been supportive of the concept of the trans-Pennine railway. As I understand it, we are waiting for specific proposals to be brought forward. We will of course look at those proposals very seriously.

I am sure the whole House is aware that 40 years ago today, this House came together and voted for a new charity, Motability, which has transformed the lives of disabled people and their families. Does the Prime Minister agree that the success, started by Lord Goodman when he was chairman and now continued by Lord Sterling, should be carried forward? Motability gives a golden opportunity for disabled people to get into the workplace and enjoy the things that everybody else in this country does.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for marking the 40th anniversary of Motability in this way, and I am very happy to join him in that. I am looking forward to becoming a senior patron of the charity, because it does excellent work for people with disabilities, enabling them to stay mobile and active. There are more people with a Motability car today than there were in 2010. I also wish my right hon. Friend well, as I understand that he will be going to the Palace tomorrow to receive his well-deserved knighthood.

Q6. In the light of the news today and the reported terrorist threat on the Prime Minister and others, may I assure her of our prayers for her and Her Majesty’s Government and thank the security forces for their sterling efforts?Can the Prime Minister give a specific commitment that nothing will be done that creates any barrier, constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom? (902780)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The simple answer to his question is yes. He will know, as will other Members of this House, that there are already areas in which there are specific arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—for example, the single energy market that exists between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that there is no hard border; that is exactly what we are working for. We are also working to respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and to protect the internal market of the United Kingdom, and I think that we share those aims.

The Prime Minister will be aware of a Citizens Advice Scotland report, which was issued yesterday, that said that, in Scotland, up to a million consumers pay on average 30% more to have parcels delivered than the rest of the country. In my Moray constituency, this is a huge issue where ridiculous prices are put on to deliver to our area, and, in some cases, companies refuse to deliver at all. Will she tell me what the UK Government can do, with me, to ensure that we right this wrong once and for all?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue and speak up on behalf of his constituents in this way. As I am sure he knows, Royal Mail does provide a universal postal service that includes parcel services five days a week at a uniform price throughout the United Kingdom, but there are commercial issues that play outside this service. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be happy to meet him and discuss the issue.

Q7. The recognition by Donald Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will do grave damage to the prospects for a just and lasting peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which has been British, and indeed American, foreign policy for decades. Was she consulted about that announcement, and, if so, what did she say? Will she, here and now, unequivocally and clearly condemn it? (902781)

I intend to speak to President Trump about this matter, but our position has not changed—as the right hon. Gentleman says, it has been a long-standing one. It is also a very clear one: the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states. We continue to support a two-state solution. We recognise the importance of Jerusalem and our position on that has not changed.

Today, GlaxoSmithKline joined Merck, AstraZeneca and many other companies and charities investing in British bioscience genetics. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this investment in science and research underpins not only jobs but a revolution in medical treatment, which will save lives and give hope to many patients for new treatments?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She has highlighted a very important sector for the United Kingdom, and I welcome the investment to which she has referred. That is why this sector is one of the sectors that have been given such significance in the industrial strategy that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has published. It is exactly an area where we see benefits in the form not only of investment and jobs in the UK, but, as she says, of improving the treatments available for patients and of improving their lives.

Q8. When the Prime Minister rings up Donald Trump to express our concern about his moves concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy, will she also inform him that we will be proceeding to recognise the state of Palestine as a central part of keeping the two-state process in play? (902782)

We want to see a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We believe that that should be based on a two-state solution, with a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, but also a secure and safe Israel. That should be a matter for negotiation between the parties.

The whole House will support what the Prime Minister said about the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen during her visit to the middle east last week. Will she continue to provide the maximum amount of pressure to lift both the humanitarian and the commercial blockades, and use Britain’s good offices at the United Nations to secure a resumption of some sort of political peace process that is inclusive and that does not have any preconditions?

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am sure that everybody across the whole House is deeply concerned about the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the lingering threat of famine there. As he said, I raised my concerns when I visited Saudi Arabia last week. I made it clear that the UK wants to see Hodeidah port open not just for humanitarian vessels with aid able to get in, but for commercial vessels as well. This is crucial and important. My right hon. Friend referenced the need for peace talks. That is our top priority. The best way to bring a long-term solution and stability is with a political solution. We will continue to support the efforts of the UN special envoy and to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts to ensure that a political solution can be reached.

Q10. Due to the £1 billion deal, the Democratic Unionist party MPs revel in an analogy that each one is worth more than Ronaldo. When we look at the value of the Scottish Tories, we need to consider the £2.5 billion cut to Scotland’s budget, the £600 million rail shortfall, the £200 million in common agricultural policy convergence that has been stolen, and the £140 million VAT refund that we are still due. Each one of these Scottish Tories costs Scotland £265 million, so can we free transfer them? (902784)

It is time that the hon. Gentleman actually looked at the facts when he stands up to ask his questions. It is my Scottish Conservative colleagues who have ensured that we were able to take steps in the Budget in relation to the VAT status of Police Scotland and the fire services in Scotland. He obviously had not noticed—but I am happy to repeat this to him—that £2 billion extra will go to Scotland as a result of the Budget.

In 2010, the Conservative-led Government set out to reform the school curriculum in order to give our children the skills they need to succeed. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that yesterday’s reading standards results are a vindication of our reforms and our amazing teachers’ efforts, which will allow our children to forge a truly global Britain?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. I am very happy to agree with her on this. Yesterday, we learnt how the UK’s revolution in phonics has dramatically improved school standards. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for School Standards, who has worked tirelessly to this end throughout his time in the House. I also pay tribute to the hard work of teachers up and down the country. I will just give the House the figures. In 2012, 58% of six-year-olds passed reading checks; that figure has risen to 81% this year. We are, indeed, building a Britain that is fit for the future.

Q11. In October, the Prime Minister wrote an open letter saying that“EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay.”But my constituent, Francoise Milne, was told this week by UK Visas and Immigration that she had to wait until Brexit was done and then take her chances. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the EU citizens living here are just pawns in the Brexit negotiations, or will she change UKVI’s operating systems to ensure that EU citizens can stay? (902785)

The position on EU citizens that I set out in my open letter is the position of the United Kingdom Government. If the hon. Lady has a complaint about something that UKVI has said, I suggest that she sends that information to the Immigration Minister.

Yesterday, the all-party parliamentary group on cancer held its annual Britain Against Cancer conference—the largest one-day gathering of the cancer community in the UK—to launch our report on the cancer strategy. We heard from the Government and NHS England about the many good things that are happening. But there is one issue that is causing real concern to frontline services: the delay in the release of the transformation funding to those frontline services, courtesy of an additional requirement applied to the funding after the bidding process closed. I have discussed the issue with the Secretary of State for Health, who is a jolly chap. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the matter further?

Of course this is an important issue. As my hon. Friend said, we have seen great progress in providing higher standards of cancer care for all patients. Survival rates are at a record high and about 7,000 more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago. Of course we want to do more on this issue. He raised a very specific point. I understand that the Department of Health is adopting a phased approach to investment, as the national cancer programme runs for a further three years. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.

Q12. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s previous answer on this subject, only her Government can remove barriers to universal credit for terminally ill people in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Will she answer the question again? Will she end the cruel requirement for people across the UK who do not want to know they are dying to self-certify on universal credit? (902786)

I will ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look at this issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are working on how universal credit is rolled out and how it is dealt with in relation to individuals. I am sure he will understand that if particular things within universal credit apply to people in particular circumstances, they can be applied only if the jobcentres are aware of those circumstances. I will ask the Department for Work and Pensions to look at the matter.

Before my right hon. Friend next goes to Brussels, will she apply a new coat of paint to her red lines, because I fear that on Monday they were beginning to look a little bit pink?

No, I happily say to my hon. Friend that the principles on which the Government are negotiating were set out in the Lancaster House speech and in the Florence speech, and those principles remain.

Q14. This morning, London MPs were briefed by the Metropolitan Police Service on the grave challenge of serious youth violence and violent crime, including the scourge of scooter-assisted crime. While robberies are up 30% in London, the police service in London faces a £400-million squeeze that will drive police numbers down to their lowest in 20 years, and my own borough has already lost 198 police officers. Does the Prime Minister still think that we have the police resources we need? (902788)

We are not reducing the Metropolitan police budget. We are protecting police budgets. They were protected in the 2015 spending review. I repeat what I have said in this House before: there is more money and there are more officers for each Londoner than is the case anywhere else in the country. Of course, it is up to the Mayor of London to decide how that budget is spent. The hon. Lady also raised the important issue of scooter or moped crime. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has held a roundtable with police and others in the Home Office to look at how that can be better addressed.

The industrial strategy identifies that the world will need 60% more food by 2050. As we leave the EU, will the Prime Minister commit to supporting our farmers?

I am very happy to commit to supporting our farmers. Markets for British food are growing around the world and we want them to grow even further. Leaving the EU means that we will have an opportunity to design a new approach to agricultural policy—one that supports our farmers to grow more, to sell more and to export more of their world-class products. We will ensure that we have an agricultural policy that actually meets the needs of the United Kingdom.

Q15. This week, motor manufacturers announced a year-on-year drop in car sales of more than 11%. They blame confusion caused by the Government’s incoherent policy on clean air and diesels, Budget measures and uncertainty caused by Brexit. This industry is vital to both the national economy and jobs in the west midlands. What will the Government do to turn this around? (902789)

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), he would have heard how we are supporting the automotive industry—crucially, supporting the future of the automotive industry. We recognise its importance for the west midlands and its importance for the United Kingdom. That is why we are very clear in our industrial strategy that it is one of those sectors that we will be supporting so that we can support these jobs and its prosperity for the future.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she is aware of the very strong enthusiasm for free trade deals with the UK from countries like Canada, Japan, the United States and Australia, and even for UK participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership? But none of these opportunities will come our way if we remain shackled to EU regulation after we have left the EU.

I am very happy to say to my hon. Friend that I do recognise the enthusiasm out there around the rest of the world for us to do trade deals with other countries. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary was recently in Australia discussing just these opportunities. When I go around the world, I also hear the same message from a whole variety of countries—they want to do trade deals for us in the future. We want to ensure that we get a good trade deal with the European Union and the freedom to negotiate these trade deals around the rest of the world.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. On Monday evening, during the opening speeches on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, those on the Government Benches showed their true colours. Revealed were the imperial British Government’s intentions spelled out in red, white and blue. Would the Prime Minister care to echo the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, who said, “It is a power grab, and what a wonderful power grab it is too”? Or would she admit that the scrabble to repatriate powers from Brussels provides a grubby excuse to deny our democratic rights in Wales?

I think the hon. Lady knows full well that what my hon. Friend was saying was that when we leave the European Union we will be grabbing powers back from Brussels to the United Kingdom, and that is exactly right. Following that, we expect to see a significant increase in the decision-making power of devolved Administrations as a result, and that is absolutely right. If Plaid Cymru Members are saying that they want to see powers rest in Brussels, we take a different view—we want those powers to be here in the United Kingdom.

Today, shortlisted cities are making their final pitches in the campaign to be named UK city of culture in 2021. Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing the Stoke-on-Trent team every success in their bid to see Stoke-on-Trent become the next city of culture for Britain?

I have been very happy to visit Stoke-on-Trent on a number of occasions. My hon. Friend is a valiant champion for Stoke-on-Trent, and I wish it all the best, but I have to say to him that I have been asked about a number of other bids from cities around the United Kingdom. I am sure that all those cities that are bidding have extremely good cases to be recognised in this way.