The Secretary of State was asked—
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Economy
Before I reply to the questions, let me welcome the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), back to her position. I wish everyone Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda for the coming season.
I hold regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and other Cabinet colleagues about our exit from the EU, including on the Euopean Union (Withdrawal) Bill. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and I recently met local government leaders in Wales to discuss the issues that affect them as we leave the European Union.
In the run-up to the referendum, voters were assured by the leave campaign that Wales would not be one penny worse off as a result of leaving the EU. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the benefits of EU structural and investment funds in Wales will continue after March 2019?
We have already undertaken to honour the commitments made on EU structural funds until we leave the European Union, and we are seeking an implementation period that may well also involve such commitments. We have a manifesto commitment to create a UK shared prosperity fund, and I will ensure that Wales has its fair share.
The fact that this imperialist UK Government have excluded the Welsh Government from Brexit is putting at risk the devolution that has lasted for 20 years. The Welsh Government have always played an integral part in EU negotiations. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to continuing that well-established practice and avoid a constitutional crisis by ensuring that the Welsh Government are directly involved in both Brexit and trade negotiations?
I do not accept the tone or the content of what the hon. Lady says. It should be recognised that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is largely technical, but we are deeply engaged with the devolved Administrations, particularly the Welsh Government. Only a week or so ago, the First Secretary of State and I met the First Minister, and yesterday we had a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee—in which a further ongoing warm relationship was developing—with the aim of securing the right deal that works for every part of the United Kingdom. It is, of course, in my and the Welsh Government’s interest to ensure that Wales is well represented.
My hon. Friend rightly points out that leaving the European Union provides new opportunities. We want a frictionless trading arrangement with the EU so that we can negotiate trade deals with other nations around the world. Since the referendum vote, Wales has attracted some of the most remarkable inward investment projects, and we are continuing on that basis.
Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to remind Welsh Government Ministers, or indeed Opposition Members, that more than 850,000 people across Wales voted to leave the European Union on a turnout of over 70%? The most important thing is to respect the referendum result, get on with governing Wales, and look forward to the future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. He recognises that Wales voted to leave the European Union, as did the UK, and that we have an obligation to respond properly to that result while also respecting the constitutional settlement. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill does that, but we are working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that it meets Wales’s needs.
The Secretary of State has already been quizzed about the effect on the Welsh economy of the loss of European structural funds. May I ask him specifically whether the Government’s flagship growth deals will result in similar or even greater funding for the four growth and city deal areas of Wales?
I do not need to take any lectures on funding from the Labour party, which refused to reorganise the Barnett formula during its 13 years in government. The new fiscal framework that was signed this time last year enhances the Welsh settlement; furthermore, the growth deals are in addition to the enhanced Barnett settlement. I remind the House that over the last 16 years more than £4 billion of European structural funds has been spent, and that the greatest number of people voted to leave in the areas where the most money was spent. That hardly suggests that the Welsh Government’s policy is successful.
Leaving the EU: WTO Tariffs
We remain confident that we will reach a trade agreement that is in the mutual interest of Wales, the UK and the EU, and we remain committed to delivering a trade policy that reflects our status as an outward-facing nation at the forefront of global trade.
I have had the pleasure of spending some time on Mark and Helen Williams’s farm near Welshpool. What reassurances can the Minister give them that their lamb exports to Germany will not be hit by a 40% tariff if we fall back on to WTO rules, and that they will not be affected by large-scale imports from New Zealand, which operates to lower welfare standards than the United Kingdom?
I can give the same assurances that I have given to Welsh farming unions and farmers across Wales. This Government are working for a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, but we also see opportunities to export Welsh lamb to other parts of the world. We have had recent success in exporting Welsh lamb to the middle east, for example. I can assure Welsh farmers that the Government are committed to markets within the EU, and also to expanding opportunities throughout the globe.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Opportunities are being grasped by Welsh businesses as we speak. Exports from Wales have increased dramatically—by 18% in the last year—and it is interesting to note that while there has been a 16% increase in exports to the EU, there has been an increase of over 22% in exports to the rest of the world. Welsh manufacturers and businesses are taking the opportunity to export to all parts of the globe.
The position of the Government is very clear. The breakthrough last Friday means that we can move on to what is important for Welsh businesses, Welsh farmers and Welsh communities: the trade talks that are absolutely essential for us in Wales. The hon. Gentleman should congratulate the Prime Minister on her success last Friday.
What are the Government doing to ensure that Wales continues to benefit from positive UK-wide announcements, such as the Toyota investment in Derbyshire and the plant at Deeside? Companies such as Toyota and Airbus are very important to the success of the Welsh economy.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she knows Wales extremely well. Airbus and Toyota are key parts of the north-east Wales economy, and investment in those plants, and the success in terms of the efficiency of those plants, means that they are well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities that will come our way once we leave the EU. All employees at those plants are committed to working hard to ensure that their employers have a healthy future after we leave the European Union, but that success is based on ensuring that they are also competitive in the world market.
Some 90% of Welsh red meat is sold in the EU. That market is already being destroyed by meat from Romania and Spain. If Brexit happens after the confirmation referendum that we might have following the advisory referendum, the only remedy that has been suggested is to send more Welsh lamb abroad on the hoof rather than on the hook. Is the Minister happy with that, and will Brexit mean more suffering for sentient animals?
The whole House will be interested in the hon. Gentleman’s conversion to being the defender of Welsh farmers, which would be a first for the Welsh farming community. The Welsh farming community is proud of its animal welfare standards. It is proud of the fact that Wales has the best lamb and beef available in all parts of the EU, and it will be successful, regardless of any scare stories peddled by the hon. Gentleman.
Prince of Wales’s Regalia
I commend my hon. Friend’s commitment to this issue. I would be delighted to see the return of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’s regalia to Wales. The display would present an excellent opportunity to boost tourism across Wales, if a suitable home could be secured.
I am very glad to hear the Minister’s answer, because he will know that almost 50 years ago, 1 billion people around the world saw the investiture. Wales was in homes around the world. His Royal Highness Prince Charles’s regalia is, I believe, sitting in a vault beneath St James’s Palace. I might be wrong on that point, but it is the principle of the thing: it should be on display. The people of Wales should see it. They should be proud of their heritage. When will we see it?
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Legislative Consent Motion
I hold regular discussions with Welsh Ministers on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. At the end of November, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and I met the First Minister again as part of our ongoing bilateral discussions. Yesterday, Mark Drakeford and representatives of other devolved Administrations met at the Joint Ministerial Committee to consider further details.
I have asked the Secretary of State a number of times, both orally and in writing, what would happen if the National Assembly for Wales were to withhold its consent for the withdrawal Bill, and he has gone from looking hopelessly Panglossian to being unsure, evasive and even furtive. Will he now tell the House what would happen if the National Assembly for Wales withheld its consent for the Bill?
May I add to the hon. Gentleman’s descriptions by saying that I am optimistic? I am optimistic that our work with the Welsh Government will lead to a legislative consent motion. After all, we should be focusing on the outcomes that communities and businesses want while respecting the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom. I am sure that he and I will want the best outcomes for businesses, and that is what we are focusing on.
Given the result of the referendum, should not any Government who claim to represent Wales—and indeed any party that claims to be the party of Wales—support this Government and this Prime Minister in delivering the legislative consent motion and the Brexit that the people of Wales voted for?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Any politician from Wales needs to recognise and respect the outcome of the referendum. That is what the Government are working to deliver. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is a largely technical piece of legislation, but we expect the decision making of the Welsh Government to increase while we also protect the integrity of the UK market to ensure that Welsh businesses continue to prosper in the way that they are now.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is great to be back. I have missed you all so much. I thank everyone for their good wishes and support while I was away, and I give massive thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) for standing in for me at last month’s Question Time.
Does the Secretary of State agree that unless his Government agree a common approach with the devolved nations in advance of phase 2 of the negotiations that is based on proper consideration of the evidence, it is unlikely that the Welsh Government will pass a legislative consent motion ratifying the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?
We are working closely with the Welsh Government, and we have had another productive meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee at which proposals were made, which will rightly be considered. The First Secretary of State and I met the First Minister just a couple of weeks ago, and that built on an ongoing relationship across Government that involves positive engagement not only with the Welsh Government, but with the businesses, local authority leaders and chief executives, and communities that will benefit from our leaving the European Union.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response—I think. Does he agree that the UK Government could avoid clashing with the Welsh Government by agreeing to amend the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Report, by involving the Welsh Government in drawing up amendments to prevent the power grab, and by agreeing common frameworks, which would stop the Welsh Government putting in place their own legislation, which is worked up, in position and ready to go?
As we leave the European Union, we are determined to deliver as much certainty and continuity as we can. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill focuses on delivering that, and I am sure that that is really what the Welsh Government want. After all, we should be focusing on the outcomes. This is about providing a framework in which businesses and communities can prosper. This is where politics needs to fit business and community need, rather than that of politicians.
Leaving the EU: Negotiations
Following weeks of chaos, the Government have realised that their original Brexit promises were the stuff of fantasy. They conceded on continuous regulatory alignment with Europe but, hand in hand with Labour, the Westminster Tory Government remain ideologically committed to severing Wales’s membership of the single market and the customs union. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many Welsh jobs his Government are prepared to sacrifice to placate Brexiteers on both sides of the Chamber?
I am sorry to hear the tone of the hon. Lady’s question. It is almost as though she is disappointed with the Prime Minister’s great success last week in getting an agreement and with the prospect of moving on to phase 2 of the negotiations. I will happily talk about investment and employment opportunities. We are obviously extremely pleased with record low levels of unemployment over recent months. Even since the referendum, we have seen some of the greatest inward investment projects coming into the UK and Wales, and I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome that and support the process.
I spent some time this morning with the Brexit Secretary’s sectoral analyses. They provide an interesting snapshot, but they do not provide any views about the future. I want to take the Secretary of State back to June 2016, when he said that 100,000 jobs in Wales are
“directly linked to our place in Europe.”
In fact, he also said:
“The economic argument trumps everything else, at the end of the day this is down to the economy, jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Will he indicate whether he stands by his remarks of 18 months ago? Will he tell the House how many jobs in Wales he is prepared to sacrifice and in which sectors?
It would be interesting to know whether the hon. Lady wants to respect the outcome of the referendum, in which the majority of Wales voted to leave the European Union. Leaving the EU provides new opportunities. We want frictionless trading arrangements and to exploit new markets around the world. Exports to markets outside the European Union are growing much faster than exports to the European Union, and the figure for Wales is above the UK average. I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that businesses are already seeing the opportunities.
Last week, Northern Ireland was given a carte blanche final say on the Government’s phase 1 Brexit position. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time for the same privilege to be afforded to the accountable and sitting Parliaments of Scotland and Wales?
I have said this several times, and I will continue to repeat it because it is extremely important: we will negotiate a Brexit deal that works for every part of the United Kingdom. Yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee was positive, but the differences will be debated, as is only right and proper. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respect the outcome of the referendum that the UK voted for.
Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda i chi, Mr Speaker, and to all Members. Last week showed how important the Irish dimension is to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the negotiations. Will the Secretary of State give me a categorical assurance that Welsh ports, especially Holyhead, will be safeguarded and given the same treatment as those in Northern Ireland when it comes to trade?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s interest in Welsh ports. Holyhead is clearly important, as is Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. Leaving the European Union provides new opportunities for both north-west and south-west Wales. After we have left the European Union, they will be gateways to Europe in a way that they have not been previously, and local authorities and businesses will need to respond to new opportunities for growth.
Order. I remind the House that an hon. Member should not leave the Chamber until the exchanges on his or her question have been completed. It really is the height of parliamentary discourtesy, and I hope that I do not have to say it again. I have just been alerted to someone doing that, and it should not happen again.
Leaving the EU: International Business
Leaving the EU allows us to establish new trading opportunities across the globe, forging ahead as a global leader in free trade. Welsh exports have outperformed the UK average over the last year, and I am working closely with the International Trade Secretary to build on that success.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has established the UK Board of Trade, and I am pleased that Lord Rowe-Beddoe and Heather Stevens sit on it as Welsh representatives—their reputation goes well before them. Businesses are already responding. I have already quoted the encouraging export data, but clearly there is more work to do.
We have published the 58 sectoral analyses, which cover all the sectors that are key to the Welsh economy, from steel to aerospace. Not only have we shared them with the Commons and the other place, but we have shared these 800 pages with the devolved Administrations, demonstrating the open, pragmatic approach we are taking to involving every part of the United Kingdom.
Leaving the EU: Trade
Figures show that exports from Wales grew by 19% last year. Welsh businesses are also looking to markets outside the European Union, where exports grew by 23% over the same period. I will continue to support businesses in Wales to help them make the most of the new opportunities.
In north Wales, like in South East Cornwall, there are amazing businesses that are the lifeblood of the local economy, from first-class tourist accommodation to delicious food and drink producers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Brexit will provide additional trading opportunities for them and for companies across Wales?
My hon. Friend is a strong champion for Cornwall, and Cornwall is already responding, through her leadership, to the new opportunities that leaving the European Union provides. Wales is rightly doing the same. Exports to areas outside the European Union are growing at a much sharper rate than exports to the European Union, and Wales is well ahead of the UK average.
One of the trading opportunities we already have is at Ford in Bridgend, which is at risk of closure after Jaguar Land Rover’s contract ended early. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy met me at Ford yesterday. What is the Secretary of State for Wales doing to help to secure those jobs for the future?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about Ford in Bridgend. I met the unions recently, and I speak to Ford on a regular basis. I am pleased that the Welsh Government responded to Ford’s suggestion that I join their working group. We are determined to work together to come up with the best outcome that delivers long-term, sustainable jobs at the Ford plant in Bridgend.
North Wales Growth Deal
As the Chancellor announced in the autumn Budget, we have now begun formal negotiations for a north Wales growth deal. The local area has shared its initial proposals, and I was delighted to host a briefing session for north Wales MPs earlier this week. My officials are in north Wales today to help develop the proposals into an exciting deal for the region.
Will my hon. Friend outline how the north Wales growth deal will build on the positive cross-border work that is already taking place, most notably through the Mersey-Dee alliance? I am sure he is aware that the alliance is of unspeakable interest to the good people of East Renfrewshire.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that cross-border connectivity, which is essential to the success of north Wales, is a key part of the north Wales growth deal. Such connectivity allows the north-west of England and the north of Wales to benefit from the economic success story that is available on both sides of the border.
The hon. Gentleman will remember from the joint ministerial visits we undertook to both Chester and north Wales that there is enthusiasm for this deal on both sides of the border. Can he assure me that that enthusiasm will carry through not just to the north-west of England but all the way through to the Humber region, given the alliances between Liverpool and Hull?
I do indeed remember the visit to Chester, which was a great success. I am proud to say that the new northern powerhouse Minister was at the briefing we had in the Wales Office on Monday. Businesses and local authorities in north Wales understand the power of the northern powerhouse, but we also know that north Wales has a lot to offer to the northern powerhouse, and this cross-border deal is essential to the economic wellbeing of north Wales.
The hon. Gentleman is the chair of the all-party group and I would be delighted to meet it. I am well aware of the work it has done. This is a deal for north Wales, which means we will have to work with all stakeholders and all partners, including the hon. Gentleman.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I am aware of his support for this growth deal. It is fair to say, however, that the unemployment situation in Wales has dramatically improved since 2010, with 54,000 more jobs in Wales and unemployment falling in most constituencies in Wales. My constituency has the lowest unemployment it has recorded for a long time. But I assure him that if a cross-border deal will help his constituency, we will help to deliver it.
At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced additional support for universal credit claimants. Advances to people who need them will be made available earlier, more generous and interest-free. All claimants will be eligible for universal credit from the first day they claim it, and we will improve the transition from housing benefit to universal credit.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ own analysis shows that half of those with rent arrears under universal credit said they had gone into arrears after making a claim. Is the Secretary of State content with the fact that more Welsh families who are currently not in arrears will begin 2018 in debt once they have made their UC claim?
I simply do not recognise the hon. Lady’s doom and gloom. I have visited jobcentres throughout Wales and staff are telling me that UC is the biggest change in a generation. I met the regional manager for north Wales, and he said that in his 40 years of working for the DWP this was the most positive and customer-focused change he had been aware of. This change is helping people back into employment. The hon. Lady should support the changes and the efforts the Government are making to get people back into work.
The Prime Minister was asked—
This week marks the sixth-month anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. I will be attending the national memorial service tomorrow, and I am sure I speak for Members across the House when I say that it remains at the forefront of our minds as a truly unimaginable tragedy that should never have happened. Many who survived the fire lost everything that night, and I can assure the House that we continue to do everything we can to support those affected and to take the necessary steps to make sure it can never happen again.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I think the Prime Minister will be able to take to that memorial service the thoughts and prayers of every Member in this House, from across all parties.
My right hon. Friend has said that at the end of the Brexit process Members of Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on the deal. Can she confirm that it is still her intention to hold such a vote?
I am very happy to confirm to my right hon. Friend that we will put the final withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force. As we have said, we expect the UK Parliament to vote ahead of the European Parliament, so we fully expect Parliament to vote well before March 2019. To be clear, the final deal will be agreed before we leave, and right hon. and hon. Members will get a vote on it. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has set out today, we will then bring forward a withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill to give the withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect, which will itself be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. And of course, after we leave, the withdrawal agreement will be followed up by one or more agreements covering different aspects of the future relationship, and we will introduce further legislation where it is needed to implement this into UK law, providing yet another opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny.
This week does indeed mark six months since the avoidable and tragic fire at Grenfell Tower that took the lives of 71 people and injured and traumatised many more. I, too, will be at the service in memory of them tomorrow.
That fire also shone a light on the neglect of working-class communities all over this country. Since the Government came to power, homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has doubled. Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010. Will the Prime Minister pledge today that 2018 will be the year when homelessness starts to go down?
Across this House, we do not want to see anybody who is homeless or anybody who is sleeping rough on our streets. That is why the Government are putting £500 million into tackling homelessness, it is why we backed the Bill that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), and it is why we have ensured that we are putting in place several projects that will deal with the issue of rough sleeping.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that when we look at the question of housing, we need to look at ensuring that more homes are available to people and that we are giving people support to get into those homes. That is why in the Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out a whole range of ways in which we will be helping people to ensure that they have their own roof over their head. That is compared with the situation under Labour, when house building went down by 45%, the number of homes bought and sold went down by 40% and social housing went down by 400,000.
The last Labour Government cut homelessness by two thirds during their time in office, and when Labour left office, the number of children in temporary accommodation was a lot lower than it is now. I asked the Prime Minister for a pledge to reduce the amount of homelessness next year; that pledge was not forthcoming. One hundred and twenty-eight thousand children will spend Christmas without a home to call their own—that is up 60% on 2010. It is too late for this Christmas, but will the Prime Minister promise that by Christmas 2018, fewer children will be without a home to call their own?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman again that of course we want every child to wake up in their own home, particularly at Christmas. It is incredibly important that people know that they can keep a roof over their heads, even in the most desperate circumstances. That is why we are making sure that councils can place families in a broader range of homes if they fall into such circumstances. Since 2011, councils have been able to place families into private rented accommodation so that they can get a suitable place sooner. We have changed the law so that families with children should not find themselves in B&B accommodation, except in an emergency. By implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 we are making sure that families at risk can get support before they find themselves homeless. I have been clear, as I was a few weeks ago, that we are going to be a Government who put a clear focus on housing, on building the homes that people need, on ensuring that people are given help to get into those homes, and on acting to prevent homelessness before it happens. That is what we are doing, and that is what will make a real difference to people’s lives.
The sad reality is that one in every 100 children in this country are homeless at any one time. That is a national disgrace, and it is getting worse. For all the Prime Minister says about the private rented sector, I shall quote from a letter I received this week from Rachael, who says:
“I have a knot in my stomach every New Year period when we are due to sign a new tenancy agreement…After renting the same flat for ten years, never being in arrears and keeping the property in good order we were given notice to quit out of the blue”.
Will the Prime Minister help people like Rachael and back secure three-year tenancies for all private renters?
I think the right hon. Gentleman was present in the Chamber for the Budget, and that point is precisely why we said that we are looking at ways in which we can encourage longer-term tenancies. What is important is ensuring that people are able to have the accommodation that they need and that they want on the basis that is right for them. That is why, as I have said, we are dealing with the issue of longer-term tenancies.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about people renting their homes, but his response on renting is to bring in rent controls. Rent controls have never worked. They result in reducing the number of homes that are available for people who want to have accommodation and a roof over their own head. It is not just me who says that Labour party policy will not help people who are renting; Shelter says that it will not help people who are renting.
Evictions by private landlords have quadrupled since 2010. There is no security in the private rented sector, and the Prime Minister well knows it. She also promised one-for-one replacement of council housing sold off through the right to buy, but just one in five council homes have been replaced. Hundreds of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists. Will the Prime Minister apologise for what she said and tell the House when she will deliver this one-for-one replacement?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are increasing the flexibilities to enable councils to build homes. We have put more money into affordable housing. He talks about the right to buy, but I have to say, what a contrast: we actually want to give people the opportunity to buy their own home; the Labour party would take that opportunity away from them.
What do we see on housing? The shadow Housing Minister recently said that fewer people owning their own home is “not such a bad thing”. What the Leader of the Opposition is offering to people on housing is this: if you live in a council home, he will take away your right to buy; if you are looking to rent, Shelter says that his policies will harm you; and his shadow Housing Minister does not want to support people owning their own homes. It is only the Conservatives who will deliver the homes that this country needs.
If only that were true. Under the Tories, home ownership has fallen by 200,000. Under Labour, it rose by 1 million. Forty per cent. of all homes sold through right to buy are now in the private rented sector. The latest figures show that a quarter of all privately rented homes are not up to decent standards, which means that many families are living in homes with damp, that are not secure and that are very poorly insulated. Does the Prime Minister support homes being fit for human habitation?
Of course we want homes to be fit for human habitation. May I just remind the right hon. Gentleman that the number of homes failing to meet the decent homes standard is down by 49% since the peak under the Labour Government? While I am talking about the record of the Labour Government, statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour Government and is down by more than 50% since then. It is this Government who are delivering for people on housing. It was his Labour Government who failed to deliver over 13 years.
I would just remind the Prime Minister that 1 million homes were brought up to the decent homes standard under Labour. I would also assume from what she has said that she will be here on 19 January to support the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) to make privately rented homes fit for human habitation.
When it comes to housing, this Government have been an absolute disgrace. After seven years, more people are living on the streets, more families are in temporary accommodation and homes not fit for human habitation, and fewer people own their own home. When are this Government going to get out of the pockets of property speculators and rogue landlords, and get on the side of tenants and people without a home of their own this Christmas?
Under Labour, we saw house building down, homes bought and sold down, and social housing down. The one thing that did go up under the last Labour Government was the number of people on the social housing waiting list, with 1.74 million people waiting for a home. We have delivered over 346,000 new affordable homes since 2010. More affordable homes have been delivered in the last seven years than in the previous seven years under a Labour Government, and we are building more homes—last year, 217,000 homes were built in this country. Apart from one year, that is a record for the last 30 years. It is the Conservatives who are doing what is necessary. Labour would produce failure for this country once again. It is the Conservatives who are delivering the homes that people need, the economy that people need and the standard of living that people need.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Isabelle on receiving the award, on her sporting achievements and on her incredible bravery; she is an inspiration to us all.
My hon. Friend mentioned that she was one of those who campaigned for the meningitis vaccine. Meningitis can be a devastating disease, which is why we have taken steps to increase the availability of the vaccine. In September 2015, we became the first country to have a national meningitis B vaccination programme. As my hon. Friend says, she contributed to the work on that. It is, of course, necessary that Public Health England continues to raise awareness of the symptoms. Its campaigns are reaching hundreds of thousands of parents. The NHS has been running a programme to vaccinate teenagers, school leavers and university freshers against four different strains of meningitis. My hon. Friend can be pleased with the impact that she has had and the work she did on the issue.
In 2008, we collectively bailed out the Royal Bank of Scotland at a cost of £45 billion. In 2017, the Royal Bank of Scotland is paying us back by turning its back on 259 of our communities. Given that we are the majority shareholder, will the Prime Minister step in and tell the Royal Bank of Scotland to stick to its commitment and not to close the last bank in town?
As I think the right hon. Gentleman knows, the decision to open and close branches is a commercial decision taken by the banks without intervention from the Government, but we do recognise the impact that such decisions have on communities. The Secretary of State for Scotland raised the concerns that the House has expressed on the issue in his meeting with RBS. Of course, more people are banking online, which has an impact, but we want to ensure that all customers—especially vulnerable ones—can still access over-the-counter services. That is why we have established the access to banking standard, which commits banks to carrying out a number of steps before closing a branch. The Post Office has also reached an agreement with the banks that will allow more customers than ever before to use Post Office services. We recognise the importance of such services to communities and have acted in a number of ways.
If the Prime Minister recognises the importance of this, she should be summoning Ross McEwan in to see her and making it clear that we will not accept towns and villages up and down the United Kingdom losing banking services. There are 13 towns in Scotland where the last bank will be going. This is not acceptable. It is about time the Prime Minister accepted her responsibilities. Will she summon Ross McEwan, and will she tell the Royal Bank of Scotland this must be reversed?
Decisions on opening and closing branches are a commercial matter for the banks. As I say, this is an issue that the Secretary of State has raised with Royal Bank of Scotland. What is important is that services are available to individuals. That is why those are being provided, and alternatives are available. But I also say to the right hon. Gentleman that, actually, an awful lot more people are banking online these days, not requiring the use of a branch. We want to ensure that vulnerable customers, particularly, who do not have access to online banking, are able to have services provided. That is precisely what we are doing through the access to banking standard and the work with the Post Office.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that has been undertaken by University Hospitals Birmingham in support of Heart of England foundation trust. We do want to see strong management across the national health service. I understand there are a number of practical and financial issues still to resolve in this, and I would encourage all of those who are involved to make progress on this important matter, but I congratulate those NHS staff who have seen that improvement and worked hard to ensure that improvement takes place.
I think that Lord Kerslake made the right decision in stepping down as chairman of King’s College Hospital. I am not surprised that the Labour party is interested in this, given, of course, that the noble Lord Kerslake is a key adviser to the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman might care to look at what NHS Improvement said about King’s College Hospital:
“The financial situation at King’s has deteriorated very seriously over recent months and we have now placed the trust in special measures to maximise the amount of scrutiny and support that it receives…It is not acceptable for individual organisations to run up such significant deficits when the majority of the sector is working extremely hard to hit their financial plans, and in many cases have made real progress.”
It called the situation
“the worst in the NHS”.
Perhaps it is no surprise that the noble Lord Kerslake, I understand, is advising the Labour party on matters of debt and deficit.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. First, I am happy to join him in congratulating all those who were involved in setting up this much needed free school. I know that my hon. Friend, as the chair of governors, will ensure that the school does provide young people in his constituency with an excellent education, despite, I understand, the school being opposed by the Labour party. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is not just a question of education; it is a question of social justice. A good-quality education opens the door to the future for the lives of every one of those young people, and that is why it is so important that we ensure the quality of education is there to give young people the best possible start in life.
First of all, as I indicated earlier in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), this Parliament will have an opportunity to vote. We will have a meaningful vote on the withdrawal arrangements. The hon. Lady says that it should be Parliament that makes the decision about our membership of the single market. Actually, this Parliament gave that decision about our membership of the European Union to the people of this country. It is the people of this country who have voted to leave the European Union, and this Government will deliver for the people of this country.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this very important issue, which might, at a glance, seem quite a small issue but is actually very important in the lives of those disabled children to enable them to lead the life that they want to lead. I agree with him that the provision of changing places can make a real difference to disabled children but also to their carers. I understand that the Department for Communities and Local Government has been working to increase the number of facilities. I would certainly urge relevant building owners to consider installing changing places where they can. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary will be happy to discuss this matter further with my hon. Friend.
As I said in response to the questions from the Leader of the Opposition, we do not want to see people without a roof over their head. That is why we are working in a number of ways to deal with this issue. It is why we are committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027. As I also said earlier, a number of announcements have been made in the Budget, and we are now dedicating over £1 billion to 2020 to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. That is across a number of areas; it is £1 billion to deal with this issue and to tackle something that we agree we do not want to see on our streets.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on her election a year ago yesterday, I believe, but on her re-election earlier this year, and on her year in this House? She has raised an issue that is a matter of concern to many rural areas across the country. We remain committed to universal broadband coverage of at least 10 megabits so that no home or business is left behind. Superfast broadband is now available to over 90% of premises in Lincolnshire—up from 26% in 2011—and we have committed over £1 billion for next-generation digital infrastructure. I can assure her that we have not forgotten any community across the United Kingdom. We recognise the importance of broadband to communities, and we are working to ensure that we deliver further so that people can have the services that they need.
I recognise the importance of dealing with domestic violence. When I was Home Secretary, we ring-fenced funding to support the victims of domestic violence, and we have continued to ring-fence that funding. We have also taken a number of steps: we will be introducing a new domestic violence law, we have introduced the criminal offence of coercive control and we have introduced a variety of changes that have improved the support for people suffering from domestic violence.
We are proposing a new funding model for the provision of housing and homes for people who have suffered from domestic violence. There is a very good reason for wanting a change, which is to make this more responsive to the needs of individuals at a time of crisis in their lives, and to make the system work better. At the moment, the funding is not responsive enough to need in local areas. Individuals have to worry about meeting housing costs themselves at a time of crisis, and access relies on welfare claims and eligibility. We are proposing a new model that frees those women from worrying about meeting housing costs themselves, and the overall amount of funding available will remain the same.
Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all the wonderful staff from across the European Union who work in our NHS and social care? Will she give them her personal, unequivocal assurance that they and their families will have the right to remain after Britain leaves the European Union?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking all who work in our NHS and social care sector, including those from across the European Union. They do incredible work, and it is absolutely right that we recognise the contribution that EU nationals make in this sector but also across our economy and our society. That is why we want people to be able to stay and we want families to be able to stay together. I am very pleased that the arrangements that were published in the joint progress report between the United Kingdom and the European Union last Friday show very clearly, on citizens’ rights, that where people have made the life choice to be here in the United Kingdom, we will support them and enable them to carry on living their lives as before.
I responded to the leader of the Scottish National party earlier in relation to RBS closures, which I think is what the right hon. Lady is referring to. She and others need to accept that people’s behaviour in relation to bank branches has changed over the years and there is less demand, but we have the access to banking standard in place. She referred to the bank levy. Let us be very clear: there is a bank levy, and there is also a corporation tax surcharge for banks. This Government are raising more money from the banks than the Labour Government ever did.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the UK’s community foundations, which have just reached the notable milestone of distributing £1 billion to local communities across the country? Does she agree that community foundations are a perfect example of her shared society, and that funds from dormant assets, once available, should be provided to them to continue their very important work?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating community foundations across the UK. I was very pleased to be able to have a meeting with the chief executive of the Berkshire Community Foundation just a couple of weeks ago to hear about the excellent work it is undertaking in Berkshire. I know from what my hon. Friend has said that, across communities across the country, these are an important contributor to and an example of the shared society, as he says.
I understand the dormant accounts scheme has already distributed over £362 million for the benefit of good causes. There has been a report on possibly expanding the scheme, which would have the potential to build significantly on the success of the current scheme. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be looking at this and will respond in due course.
We are seeing a growing number of young people going into apprenticeships, we are introducing the T-levels and we are putting £500 million into technical education to ensure that, for the first time, this country has first-class technical education. I called for it in 1997; in 2017, I am delivering.
As an enthusiastic member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I aim to be a strong champion for the equality of women, and I aspire to the title of honorary sister, as bestowed on you, Mr Speaker, by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Ruth Cooke on her recent appointment as chief exec of Clarion Housing Group, the largest housing association in the country, proving that exceptional women can get the top job in housing and politics?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend, and to congratulate Ruth Cooke on her appointment for the Clarion Housing Group, which does show that women can take on those very senior jobs. I have to say to my hon. Friend that he is aspiring to an accolade that I do not think the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has ever given to me, despite the fact that I am only the second female Prime Minister in this country. One day, maybe, the Labour sisterhood will manage to get a female leader of the Labour party.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that Brexit means Brexit. When it comes to the closure of Grantham A&E, now that the trust believes that it has recruited enough doctors, does she agree with me that temporary means temporary?
I know that my hon. Friend has been a strong champion of his constituents on this matter, and he has been campaigning tirelessly in relation to it. I know that he will agree with me that the first priority must be to ensure patient safety, and that is why a report was commissioned by NHS Improvement. I understand NHS Improvement is continuing to work very closely with the trust, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary would be happy to discuss the detail with my hon. Friend.
Given that the SNP Scottish Government have an extra £2 billion to play with, thanks to this Conservative Government’s Budget last month, will the Prime Minister join me in calling on the First Minister of Scotland to rule out higher taxes for hard-working Scots?
I have to say that I think this is a very real test of the First Minister and the SNP Government in Scotland. In previous weeks we have heard some rather strange claims being made by the Scottish nationalists in this House about the impact on Scotland of decisions taken at UK level. My hon. Friend is absolutely right—there is £2 billion extra going into Scotland—but let us watch very carefully how the SNP Government choose to spend that money.
Last week I tabled a written question to the Chancellor, asking for the evidence behind his extraordinary claim to the Treasury Committee that disabled workers are responsible for the UK’s productivity problems. Last night I received his written answer; unsurprisingly, there is no such evidence for that claim. It is disgraceful that he has so far declined to express any regret, so will the Prime Minister take back control and order the Chancellor to withdraw his remark and apologise for inaccurate and offensive comments?
The Chancellor did not express the views that the hon. Lady claims he expressed. This is a Government who value the contribution that disabled people make to our society and to our economy in the workplace. This is a Government who are actually working to ensure that more disabled people get into the workplace. We have had some success; there is more to do, but we will continue to work to ensure that those disabled people who want to work are able to do so.
I recently sponsored an event in this place for the UN “Draw a line” campaign, which has helped 6,000 women and girls worldwide to have a better life. However, one in four women in the UK and 70% of girls around the world will experience physical or sexual violence during their lives. Will the Prime Minister confirm that this Government will continue to lead the world on tackling trafficking and exploitation?
I am happy to confirm that for my hon. Friend, who once again raises a very important issue. It is, of course, this Government who introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and we continue to work not only to increase our ability to deal with the perpetrators of these crimes, but to provide support to victims. I want a world in which women and girls have the confidence to be able to be what they want to be, and to know that they will not be subject to exploitation, violence, trafficking or slavery. Of course, slavery applies to men as well. Our commitment as a Government to ending violence against and the exploitation of women and girls is absolute.
Last week it was announced that my wonderful city of Coventry had been successful in its bid to become UK city of culture 2021, and we are bursting with pride. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating everyone who was instrumental in this great achievement and wish Coventry success, prosperity, hope and some fun in the next few years up to 2021 and beyond?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating Coventry on being selected as city of culture. As she will be aware from previous exchanges during Prime Minister’s questions, a number of hon. Members will be disappointed because their cities have not achieved that particular status, but I am very happy to congratulate all those who were involved in putting the bid together and ensuring that Coventry is that city of culture, including the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street.
The Prime Minister and I have many things in common, including, if I may say so, being proud of being called “bloody difficult women”. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) is not in that category, for many reasons. He is, obviously, a man. He is a respected, seasoned parliamentarian and, like many on these Benches, has for many decades been loyal to his party. Nobody wants to be disloyal or to bring about more disunity. The Prime Minister says that she wants a meaningful vote on Brexit before we leave the European Union. Even at this last moment, will she be so good as to accept my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment 7, in the spirit of unity for everybody here and in the country?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point on the concerns Members have had about having a meaningful vote on this particular issue before we complete the deal. As I set out in the answer I gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), that is what we will have. We will ensure that there is a meaningful vote in this House. There will then, of course, be an opportunity for Parliament to look at the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill. The fact that there will be that meaningful vote has been set out and confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary in a written ministerial statement today. We were very clear that we will not commence any statutory instruments until that meaningful vote has taken place, but as currently drafted what the amendment says is that we should not put any of those arrangements and statutory instruments into place until the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill has reached the statute book. That could be at a very late stage in the proceedings, which could mean we are not able to have the orderly and smooth exit from the European Union that we wish to have.
Not one penny has come from Government to fit sprinklers in Birmingham’s 213 tower blocks. Now the city is suffering the biggest cuts in local government history. It is to suffer a further £100 million unfair funding cut, yet Maidenhead is the least hard-hit constituency in Britain. How can the Prime Minister begin to justify one law for her own constituency and another law for the great city of Birmingham?
The local government settlement has yet to come before this House. We have been very clear in relation to fire safety arrangements and on any action that needs to be taken by local authorities. They should discuss that with the Department for Communities and Local Government. We will ensure that it is possible for the necessary safety work to be undertaken.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, an event that will be celebrated with a reception at your house, Mr Speaker, immediately after Prime Minister’s questions. Will the Prime Minister join me in marking 100 years of women’s outstanding service in the Royal Navy, as well as in the Royal Air Force and the Army? Will she join me in welcoming in particular the fact that women are no longer consigned to duties ashore and can now take part in every aspect of service?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. It is right that we mark the centenary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service and that we recognise the contribution women have made across our armed forces. It is important that they are now able to contribute across all aspects of work in the armed services and are no longer restricted, as used to be the case in the Navy, to jobs onshore. That is an important step forward which strengthens our armed forces and I congratulate all women in our armed forces.