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.